ebogjonson.com's garchival archive

previously published writings by Gary Dauphin

July 31, 2006

blaxploitation, part I

we are black revolutionaries

This article originally appeared in the Village Voice on June 27, 1995.

Nobody showed for my blaxploitation viewing party except for one woman who wanted "Chocolate" as a pseudonym.

Village Voice, June 27, 1995
Blaxploitation, Part I

Nobody showed for my blaxploitation viewing party except for one woman who wanted "Chocolate" as a pseudonym. Cole had gotten green around the gills he night before and taken to a sick bed, while W. called me from a friend's place to explain that they were making "barbecue" and wouldn't be over until later. (That must have been some good barbecue, because they didn't show either.)

I think Chocolate was a little annoyed by the lack of attendance ("You mean it's just me?"), but I knew she wouldn't let me down. In college, we were the kind of overly ironic black people who did recreational drugs and watched cult films and were therefore considered liabilities to the race. These days, reminders of that time tend to fill Chocolate with a nervous nostalgia. I didn't have any weed to take the edge off (it was with the "barbecue," unfortunately), so I just popped a tape in and hoped for the best.

Chocolate had already seen Superfly so we started with Foxy Brown. As the trailers spooled by she asked who was going to be at "the conference."

"What conference?"

"The conference that they're showing all these movies for."

I told her Film Forum was having a retrospective of blaxploitation flicks and these were the first two being screened. She rolled her eyes at me. I wondered out loud if the genre maybe embarrassed her.

"No, I just want to know why they're showing them. White people run the Film Forum, right?"

"As far as I can tell."

"So why are they having it? 'Cause it's the summer so it's time for everybody to get loose or something?"

"I guess."

For a long while Chocolate only comments on Pam Grier's breasts. "Look at her boobs," she says. "They're nice and big and she has this old fashioned black woman's body. She'd have to be harder now to be a star, like she worked out, but she has a really flat stomach even though she's pretty curvy."

"Do you feel affirmed by that?"

"Only when she's not getting beat up and raped."

Chocolate decided near the middle of Foxy Brown that she didn't really like it. "Does Pam Grier always play a prostitute?"

I told her that I had seen her play a nurse, a voodoo priestess, and a magazine photographer, but Chocolate wasn't impressed: "She gets tied up and raped by those rednecks. How come that all goes on forever but the scenes with her [black] boyfriend are so short? I thought these were supposed to be for black audiences. Why would a black audience want to watch a black woman tied up getting raped by some fat rednecks?"

"'Cause it's summertime and everybody wants to get loose?"

"No, seriously."

"What do you expect? American International Pictures was always into the exploitation end of things, like biker flicks and low-budget horror." I knew something about this from when sex was the main event in blaxploitation flicks for me, a neat way to pass off more prurient interests as film connoisseurship and race consciousness. In college, all three melded into endlessly loopy discussions of theory. A room full of my friends (high as kites to the last lit/cinema major) could sit and spin meditations on intentionality and "low" art, on black masculine posturing, on hustling as a functional metaphor for the black intellectual classes and the cut of Pam Grier's bell-bottom pants, as one of us rewound over the same two minutes of Scream Blacula Scream like it was some wigged out Zapruder film.

This wasn't quite happening with Foxy Brown today, though.

"I thought this was supposed to be really funky and crazy," says Chocolate, a little sad. "This is just crazy and trashy."

"Don't you like her clothes and her Afro?"

"The Afro's cool and I like what she's wearing now [black leather pants with a short black leather jacket, a black and white blouse cut on a low horizontal line across her breast] but I don't know..."

"So you don't like it."

"I don't think they should be discarded. I mean, they're like those black collectibles, like those porcelain Mammies and little lawn jockey salt shakers. I don't think they should be destroyed, but I wouldn't want to own one."

Things had gotten a little grim so I ask Chocolate if she thought Foxy Brown's rape is where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the rape scene in Pulp Fiction.


"Well, the rapists are rednecks in both movies and the ropes are very s/m, hence the Gimp."

Chocolate finishes the last of the beer off, mulling that one over. "I can see Sam Jackson being Priest from Superfly...."

"Right. They're both trying to get-out-the-game."

"...but you're saying Ving Rhames is really Pam Grier."

"Exactly. He's Foxy and Bruce Willis is a young Tarantino watching this movie, only he's so twistedly into the black charisma thing that he can't decide whether to identify with Pam Grier or just get in line to fuck her."

"But if that were the case, then Quentin-slash-Bruce Willis would want to get with Ving Rhames."

"True, but Quentin doesn't run deep that way, so he compartmentalizes his desires so that his Bruce Willis stand-in can rescue Foxy-slash-Ving Rhames..."

"Acting out his black-hero identification."

"Right--while he also gets to fuck another Pam Grier stand-in himself because he's married to a black nurse in Pulp Fiction. And Pam Grier plays a nurse in Coffy."

"But that's a whole other movie!"

I smile big, white, triumphant teeth at her. "Your point being?"

Another friend comes over during Foxy Brown's last five minutes. When he chides me for not having enough beer, Chocolate takes to calling him Ripple, O-Dog, Forty-Dog, et cetera. I tell him he'll just be Forty in my piece.

"That's cool. Hey-this is Foxy Brown, right? The thing about this movie is that you're like six minutes in and--Breasts."

"It is," says Chocolate.

"That or she's about to go down on this white guy. Or is that Coffy?"

Chocolate suddenly gasps. One of Foxy's compatriots is about to cut the white drug dealer's penis off.

"Aw shit," says Forty. "This is the best part."

It happens off-screen but Chocolate can't watch anyway.

"Curiously enough," opines Forty, "a lot of these movies were written by white people. That's deep: white guys writing about getting their dicks cut off by black women with big tits."

"This is good too." Foxy is taking the penis to the guy's evil boss-cum-girlfriend and Forty is breaking the scene down for us. "Now boss lady's gone through so much in this movie, right? Business all fucked up, probably going to jail, but what really fucks her up is when her boyfriend gets his dick chopped off. She's like: 'Shoot me!' Like she goes through a whole bunch of shit but she can't live without the dick."

Forty and I go on a beer run and then pop Superfly in. Chocolate gets all excited, clapping her hands together and getting all churchy. Curtis Mayfield had Forty humming and lip-synching.

"Yo! Is that James Baldwin?"

It's the opening credits and two junkies are making plans to rob Priest of his drug money.


"Rewind that. That dude looks just like James Baldwin."

We've had enough to drink to give the possibility that James Baldwin had a heretofore undiscovered cameo in Superfly gets a good deal of discussion. This goes on until all of a sudden Priest is in bed with one of his white women.

"She's just a trick." says Forty. "Priest loves his black woman."

"How so?" I ask.

"He's just using those white women. Not like Shaft who was into that whole Greenwich Village bohemia thing."

"Shaft had a white woman?" asks Chocolate.

"That's ALL he had. That's what always trips me out about it. Shaft has this natural but sleeps with white woman in Greenwich Village, and Priest has this crazy perm [VV editor's note: actually, that was Ron O'Neal's unprocessed hair] but loves his black woman."

As if by divine intervention we find ourselves a the scene where someone yells at Priest, "Look at me, you white lookin'--!"

"Priest is the tragic mulatto," says Forty with mock sadness. "But, damn: he's sure got all the dark-skinned brothers out working for him."

"Chocolate: "And sleeping with all the white women for tricks."

Superfly slides by in fits and spurts, even though we think we're watching it very closely. I ask Chocolate and Forty if they noticed any weird slippage effect.

"It's like there's a hidden movie inside," says Chocolate. "Like that long part with all the photographs in the middle about cutting and selling the coke. I've seen this before but I was really surprised by that, like we were watching the director's cut or something."

Forty agrees. I ask him if he was stoned the last time he saw Superfly, "Yeah?" Forty says.

"Well, about now your first buzz would be wearing off," I explain, "and you'd be getting sleepy, so unless you fire up another joint you aren't really concentrating, whereas you were smoked out for the beginning, so it's all vivid."

"Yeah," says Chocolate. "I thought it was just because the ending was kind of anticlimactic, like the third act wasn't written properly."

"That means you fucked up, Bro," says Forty. "How are you gonna set something up like this and not have any weed? It's like, unscientific."

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:28 AM | Permalink

July 28, 2006

they came before the matrix

we are black revolutionaries

This article originally appeared on Africana.com on May 15, 2003

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction

The Matrix is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction.

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction
By Gary Dauphin

Among the many mysteries of the Matrix is the unexpected yen writer-director siblings Larry and Andy Wachowski have for putting color into science fiction's usually all-white, big-screen frame. The original Matrix was a tantalizingly multicultural affair, from Laurence Fishburne's laconic Morpheus, to Gloria Foster's wryly luminous Oracle, to the eternal question of Keanu's non-descript racial cipher, while the overarching themes at the core of the franchise -- maroonage and slave rebellion -- can't help but speak suggestively to black sci-fi heads. (It'll be a thousand years or more before an American artist can make work about "slaves" without automatically evoking some portion of black life and history.)

That afrofuturistic parade continues in The Matrix Reloaded with the addition to the cast of Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau, Jr, and, of all people, academic (and occasional MC) Cornel West. The Matrix, though, is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction:

1. Black Magic in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
It's no coincidence that some of the earliest mixings of blackness and science fiction took place on movie visits to fictionalized versions of the first black republic, Haiti. Long an object of white fascination and vilification, Haiti's folk religion voudoun was alternately represented as a primitive superstition and as an arcane, crypto-Masonic secret society in dozens of B, C and D-movies from the pre-straight-to-video golden ages of Hollywood exploitation. Flicks like Drums O' Voodoo (1934) titillated and terrorized white audiences with visions of white women under the mind control of black "witch doctors," some of the spells apparently so powerful they required breaking by none other than the extraterrestrial Superman, who made visits to the island in both big screen serials and on TV episodes like Superman #18: Drums of Death (1957). In the movie fictionalization of Harvard ethno-botanist Wade Davis' book The Serpent and The Rainbow, horror director Wes Craven squared the circle of science and mysticism by imagining a pharmacological nightmareland where both the "divine horsemen" (as the gods of Haiti are known) and the Duvalier regime were the products of scary native drugs and freaky native bio-chemistry, thereby giving Haitian religion the "magic mushroom" treatment that the Amazon's indigenous people get in the fantasies of the National Geographic set.

ape shall not kill ape.jpg
2. Fear of a Black Planet
The entire Planet of the Apes cycle took racist anxieties about African nationalism, civil rights and Black Power and did what science fiction does best -- recast the unconscious fears of audiences in forms that were similar enough to the real deal to get a rise, while different enough to pass without a ripple into the popular culture. The Apes series benefited from the placement of the then-liberal Charlton Heston in the opening installment and from there ran roughshod through the political anxieties of white Americans until Conquest of the Planet of the Apes made it plain by depicting a political revolution of ape slaves aided and abetted by, you guessed it, a black man.

darth motherfucking vader3. Fear of the Black Hat: All too often, the only African American face in a science fiction will belong to the villain. George Lucas' black armor-clad Darth Vader was evil incarnate while voiced by African American actor James Earl Jones, his transition away from the Dark Side of the Force (right) signaled by his transformation into a kindly white Brit. In flicks like Total Recall betrayal wore a black mutant face, while in Terminator 2 the end of the world was caused by an over-eager black scientist mucking about with mysterious technology. (Let that be a lesson to every black engineer!)

4. Back in The DayWhile comedy franchises like Martin Lawrence's Black Knight used time-travel to produce easy fish-out-the-ghetto yucks, Haile Gerima's indie masterpiece Sankofa imagined a time travel scenario with a little more bite, when an African American woman finds herself back in days of slavery. The lyrical, quasi-non-linear feature had an art house feel, but re-enacted a basic science fictional question just about every modern-day black person has asked at some point or another: What would I do if I found myself living "back then?" In Brother from Another Planet an escaped alien slave made the trip not across time but space, bringing him into a black neighborhood where the locals band together to protect him.

who am is?5. The White Negro -- Literally
Black essayist and conservative George Schulyer imagined a scientific process whereby black men could be made white and vice versa in 1931's groundbreaking black sci-fi novel Black No More, a conceit that has made it into the movies dozens of times. From spoofs like the Denzel Washington vehicle Heart Condition, to political satires like Watermelon Man and Black Like Me, the transformation of black bodies into white ones and white bodies into black has created endless one-liners about black male endowment and countless opportunities to draw easy conclusions about the similarities and differences between the races. Flicks that focused on actually changing the physical structure of the body, like Black Like Me tended to be both the most lurid and the most interesting, as modifying the racial hardware always raises bigger questions about the software: What's it look like? Who wrote it? Who owns the copyright? And: When is the next version coming out?

6. Angela Bassett's Superpower

Immediately after Kirk and Uhura were forced into TV's first interracial kiss in the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Step-Children," the verb of interracial love gained a new tense -- call it the "future-perfect-freaky" -- and no one uses it better on screen than Angela Bassett. In Supernova and, more notably, Strange Days, Bassett played black-women-of-the-future responding to what must be (by then) a heinously advanced black-man-shortage by bedding down their white male co-stars. While Bassett savaged Halle Berry in the press for her black-on-white love scene in Monster's Ball, in a temporal inversion of "statute of limitations" she was completely comfortable taking roles that not only featured miscegenation, but treated it as a kind of evolutionary advance. Her romance with Ralph Fiennes not only ends Strange Days, but marks the entire world's official entrance into the future, their kiss setting off the fireworks that announce the arrival of the new millennium.

7. What is B.O.G.? Racial Purity and the Coming Beige Apocalypse
In the sci-fi worlds of the "future-perfect-freaky," mixed race, bi-racial people stride the earth, a scarily perfect super-race purportedly mixing the best of black and white. While writers like Octavia Butler regularly re-imagine the encounter between Europe and Africa in the Americas as a regenerative genetic apocalypse where both roots are transformed by their offspring, the theme had no big screen analog until Wesley Snipes brought the brooding Daywalker named Blade to the multiplexes. The big-screen version of the comic book Blade brought the image of the tragic mulatto into the bio-molecular age, the half-vampire, half-human played by Snipes not just trapped between two warring tribes but forced to live in a battleground-body. The product of pregnant (black) human mother raped by a (white) vampire father, Blade faced an identity crisis that also gave the "one drop rule" a creepy age-of-AIDS spin, turning vampire creation into a question of post-coital viral infection. Unlike Butler's vision of a transcendent middle race, which in books like the Xenogenesis trilogy and Clay's Ark takes giddy satisfaction in the survival of the fitter, new-fangled hybrids, the less radical Blade only wants to maintain the status quo, defending the humans in the first picture, and then discovering the nobility of his pure-blooded vampire antagonists in the second, as embodied by fangy-hottie Leonor Varela.

8. Esoterics in the Land of Cotton
Although not always understood as visions of science fiction, there are always strange doings afoot whenever the moist lands south of the Mason-Dixon line are depicted on screen. From Eve's Bayou to Beloved, the American South has always been a big screen haunted house where the sins of the white racist fathers swap spit with Hollywood fantasies of black spiritual resistance, aka rootwork and hoodoo. Black spiritual technologies -- charms, dream books, candles, mojos -- have been so severed from their original contexts by LaLaLand that they could seamlessly provide a tagline for a franchise like Austin Powers, while in the work of Stephen King, most notably The Shining and the The Stand, wise southern black folk warm King's chilly New England nightmares by acting as walking repositories for strange, unexplained energies. Although much, much richer, even the late Gloria Foster's Oracle in the Matrix movies is a play on the image of the aged Negro as spiritual antenna, a trope as old as Harriet Beecher Stowe's god-fearing Uncle Tom beatifically soaking up the good Lord's shine.

9. Substance D: Imaginary Drugs for Imaginary Ghettoes
In 1977, Philip K. Dick imagined a "Substance D" in A Scanner Darkly a drug so powerful it split the novel's undercover narc protagonist into two personalities, one belonging to the cop, the other to his prey. Dick and his readers didn't have to wait long for the lab-cooked super-drugs of the future; a scant half decade after A Scanner Darkly was published, America was in the grip of a crack epidemic. Ghetto real thrillers like Deep Cover, Ricochet and Belly might not seem like science fiction, but their storylines all revolve around black folks hard at work on the high tech creation of heretofore unknown new narcotics, next generation cracks and methamphetamines. Deep Cover imagines a black and white team looking to create an ecstasy-like pill with no side effects, while in Belly DMX learns (from MTV News of course) of a perfected heroin. In Ricochet Ice-T isn't just Denzel's bad seed pal from back in the day, he's a high tech entrepreneur whose inner-city lab is a futuristic playground straight out of Tom Clancy, the street obviously finding new uses for technology long before the newest-latest reaches the suburbs.

I am not made of normal flesh10. Michael Jackson
What's there to say about MJ that hasn't been said? The "Thriller" video and the "Black or White" video (not to mention their associated games) are epic parts of the black science fictional canon, Michael's racial anxieties turning to the power of special effects to allow him to transform his black body in ways far more radical than the puny tools of plastic surgery allow. Few remember, though, that Michael also created a full-length feature called Moonwalker where the King of Pop enacted a slew of Afro-futuristic fantasies, culminating with his climactic transformation not into a white man, but a 400 foot tall Transformer.

About the Author: Gary Dauphin is Editor in Chief of Africana.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:07 PM | Permalink

July 27, 2006

The Africana A-List: June 6, 2003

This article was first published on Africana.com on June 6, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Eunice: Blame it on the U-Rain!

The A-List: 06.06.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. Eunice: Blame it On the U-RAIN!

The A-List has many penpals -- Kola Boof, Howell Raines, Mr. Marcus, several UN Under-Secretaries for African Grain Bio-Diversity -- but our favorite is Eunice, an 82-year-old, retired A&T history-and-civics professor now residing in Missouri. "I have difficulty finding much redeeming historical, educational or racial significance in many of the items presented in this column," Eunice writes in like clockwork every other week. "It seems as if the authors take their greatest pleasure in either making smug reference to obscurities of little interest to most American Negroes, or in shocking the very audience they claim to represent. Matters of great import are either ignored or treated flippantly and great heroes are disrespected, while gossip, bizarre coincidence, and negative reporting is enshrined as the collected opinion of Negroes everywhere. Also, the manner in which the column is written leaves much to be desired. Fiction seems intermingled willy-nilly with factual information, while items are invariably prefaced by lengthy, showy prologues with no discernable relation to the story purportedly being presented. Also sentences in the A-List tend to run-on, veering wildly from subject to subject on the slimmest verbal pretext. Du Bois, whose image is cynically made use of repeatedly by the Africana website, and who dreamt of meaningfully connecting the disparate threads of Negro life in his great encyclopedia, would be disgusted."

The A-List, of course, doesn't believe a word of the above. First off, what's an 82-year-old, retired A&T history-and-civics professor named "Eunice" doing surfing this great, charnel house that is the Web? Does anyone surf these days for anything except pornography, EBay auction updates, bottomed-out stock prices, weather, or to see if their name showed up in their best friend's blog? Getting a letter like that from a regular A-List reader is a bit like getting caught out at the strip club by your great grandmother. ("Well. This is certainly embarrassing, Nana. For you.") Still, on the off chance that Eunice is a real person, with perhaps nothing to live for except writing letters to the editor, the A-List always makes a point of finding an item just for her, something in particularly -- nay, outrageously -- poor taste that satisfies the full range of A-List-specific criterions (linkable, about, or involving black people) while also constituting a special, almost private, back-channel shout-out the woman we have come to think of as "our Eunice."

Speaking of poor taste, this week's "the Eunice bit," as we like to call it, comes from her very Missouri, where a white jail guard, Justin K. Hastings, has been accused of regularly urinating on his jail's black inmates from a grate in the roof of a covered recreation area. While some inmates seem to have instinctively understood that the warm, yellow liquid dripping down from the rafters was to be avoided, others did not. One recent, rainy afternoon, a group of thirsty inmates, fresh from playing a hard game of prison basketball, went so far as to enthusiastically thrust their faces into the downward flowing stream, only to discover that the leaking "rainwater" smelled and tasted remarkably like you-know-what. Equally remarkably, the incident went to trial, CO Hastings facing a 15-day prison term for abusing his charges. Things nearly unraveled when inmate Zewayne "Winkie" Durley called his jailhouse golden shower "racist," a charge apparently so incendiary in Missou that a mistrial was almost declared, but after a brief recess the proceedings turned to the not-so difficult question of positively identifying Hastings. While it's impossible to see anyone through the grate, and no one actually saw 21 year-old CO commit the dirty deed, DNA tests presented at the trial positively linked Hastings to urine samples taken from the grate.

What the A-List wants to know, of course, is how anyone knew to perform DNA tests on Hastings in the first place. It's not as if prosecutors went and collected samples from every guard or even two. Obviously something about that racist urine, some quality or aspect of it, reminded Durley and the other inmates of Hastings, but what could it be, what could it be?

Until next time, Eunice!

[Ebog note: As you likely guessed, there was no Eunice. At the time this particular column was written me and the Africana team were engaged in a bit of a turf war with another with another African American programming team stationed on the AOL mothership in Dulles. That team in Dulles often cited the A-List as why the Africana team was unfit to manage AOL's black business, what with how unruly, inappropriate and all un-around un-DST-like we were. They lost the battle but the forces of mediocrity eventually won the war.]

2. Say it Ain't So, Serena!
A far sadder sports story came from France this week, where Serena Williams was foiled in her shot at Grand Slam history-making, losing in the French Open semifinal to Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne. It's not that Serena lost &151 though that makes the A-List sad, of course -- but that she was brought down by, in addition to Henin-Hardenne's commendably gutsy comeback, a jeeringly hostile crowd and her own rattled nerves. (The A-List loves the French when they're jeering Imposter Presidents, but not when they jeer Serena!) We've always seen the strong, in-control Serena; yesterday's match revealed another side, one more in keeping with the fact that she is only 21 years old. After the match ended, a tearful Serena admitted the crowd got to her: "It was just a tough crowd out there today, really very tough. It's the story of my life. It's a little difficult. All my life I have had to fight."

Any time Venus or Serena Williams steps onto the court, she is the automatic odds-on favorite. Some crowd love winners and some cheer for the underdog (especially if she's local, or from a neighboring country, as was the Belgian Henin-Hardenne). That's just sports, but it doesn't make it pretty. It gets uglier in the case of the Williams sisters, who have endured racist taunts from crowds at home and abroad, no doubt making it at times difficult for the pair to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill stadium boorishness and malicious, mass abuse. Here's to hoping Serena gets to take a few weeks off and comes back and smokes the competition in Wimbledon!

3. Faster than a Speeding Bullet, Charles Taylor Thwarts Coup Plotters
Like the malevolent, African super-villain he sometimes resembles, Liberian president Charles Taylor this week flew back -- whoosh! -- from peace talks in Ghana to quell an uprising that might have sent him to prison -- or worse. Responding to reports that he'd been indicted on war crimes charges by a UN-sponsored court, Taylor invoked the supernatural ("To call the president of Liberia a war criminal? God himself will not permit it") and made sure his thuggish government not only put down the rebel advances, but also turned back the thousands of refugees rushing into Monrovia in hopes of escaping the violent countryside. The world's attention rarely rests for long on West Africa -- troubles there seem too hard to confront, too endlessly circular, too local, too complex. But the nature of Taylor's evil isn't hard to grasp at all. Too bad "regime change" is only the West's stated policy when there's oil at stake.

4. Finally, A Token White Male on Reality TV!

Hooked up to two croaking, used speakers, the television in the A-List's first college apartment doubled as a stereo that stayed tuned to music-vid stations most days and nights. We still clearly remember the surround-sound splash MTV's first Real World season made when it landed into our lives in 1992, the shouting about race, the partying and the primitive sexual innuendo (oh, how innocent the antics of Andre, Becky, Eric, Heather, Julie, #%^@^Kevin and Norman were! Looking at it today is almost like watching The Brady Bunch episode with the tri-racial Musketeers ï¿1⁄2 only with alcohol poisoning) spawning an ongoing obsession with reality TV. Of course, we were most obsessed with "the black guy." Besides the fact that we felt that we should have been on that first series instead of Kevin Powell, or perhaps precisely because we felt we should have been on, the A-list was annoyed and embarrassed by Powell on a nearly weekly basis and by every token reality black man that followed in his footsteps on MTV. Did the Real World only choose bordeline crazy black men, we wondered? Was it a requirement? There was the mellow, be-dredded Muhammad of the San Francisco show, but like all gentle, holistic, spoken-word Negroes, he was just too tofutti, too nice. It just seemed that reality television was doomed to never get the black man right.

Over the years, our convictions about the ignoble yet central role of "the black guy" on reality TV have only been confirmed by the hard evidence gleaned through literal couch years spent mainlining reality crud directly through the optic nerve -- Springer in the morning, videos hosted by reality contestants and game shows all day, reality TV at night. The genre has evolved -- Survivor, Road Rules, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, The Osbournes -- but "the black guy" has not. Trapped between the Klieg lights of celebrity and the cave walls of racism, he casts a pantomime shadow across America's television screens that is interpreted by most as "black maleness," but that bears no resemblance to the genuine article as experience by the A-List and our friends and family. It would take nothing less than a philosopher-king to break through this play of forms and shadows, and since all royal black people are from Africa (or are assassinated Civil Rights leaders, making it hard for them to appear on new shows) our black princes have arrived in the form of -- you guessed it -- an African reality TV show! According to the BBC, the latest craze sweeping the Continent is a show called Big Brother: Africa. Core premise? Eleven young black people from all around Africa trapped in a house with one token white guy. Produced by a South African pay-TV company, the show has been warmly received in the 40-plus African television markets where it is aired, but it seems that the predominantly black cast has not caught on with White South Africans, still the big-get of the African TV ad market. It is as yet unavailable here in the States unless you have one of those crazy, old-skool satellite hook-ups. At which point, the A-List is going to come after you and your TV the way Kevin came after Becky -- only friendly-like!

5. That Lot Is Poison
Click the "Full Story" link below. Go ahead. We promise it's not nasty. You've probably already seen it (you know how these things circulate) and anyway, we would lose our job if we direct-liked to something nasty, or to something that met any legal or corporate definition of "obscene." A good deal of Africana readers log-in from work and we would never do anything to get them in trouble. (This is basic Internet etiquette: Thou Shalt Not Abuse the End-User By Unexpectedly Direct-Linking to Web Pages That May Offend.) So it's not nasty in the slightest. It's more funny, and not even funny really, because there's nothing funny about earning an honest living, nothing amusing at all about diversifying one's professional portfolio in the interests of keeping that income coming in. It's just curious to us, having his face just pop up like that, and the way his palm is holding and pointing at the text, and that suit. The tag-line is pretty great, too -- "A 'New Edition' to Re/Max." He was always the funny looking one, wasn't he? Skinny and aloof with that Zeta Reticulan, Grey alien head. He always seemed vestigial, like the other guys were letting him hang around for obscure reasons buried in the past -- or so you thought until some weird girl you were scheming on confessed in the middle of a basement dance party that he was her "favorite," which would always mess with your head. (Why pick him? What did it mean about us, the A-list, that he was her favorite?) Besides the odd, inverse diminution that afflicts young stars that have grown into men in obscurity, he looks none the worse for wear. Bobbie, of course, we all know what he's been up to and he looks it, while Michael Bivens has the healthy heft that befits the run he's had producing groups like Boyz II Men, but Ronald DeVoe? Have you spent a moment in the last ten years wondering what he's been up to? We haven't, which is why the link is funny to us, but, that could just be us.

"Full Story"

6. Say it Ain't So, Sammy!
News this week that Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa had been caught using a corked bat in a game sparked a conflicted, multilayered response. From Sosa himself: a quick admission of guilt, albeit accidental guilt -- he says the bat was one he routinely used in batting practice, in hopes of pleasing homer-hunger fans. From Chicago-area fans: fervent defense and protestations of endless devotion to "Sammy," a figure of one-name-status popularity there. From the yahoo-talk/sports radio-contingent: self-righteous censure, rantings about highly paid athletes dogging it, blah blah blah. Missing so far has been an overtly racial angle to the Sosa affair, though it's certainly a covert factor in the mix.

Ever since the 1998 home run race between Sosa and St. Louis's Mark McGwire, the exuberant Dominican has been cast in the role of lovable furriner, his broken English and blown kisses endearing as hell -- provided he didn't outshine the laconic redhead who won out in the end. For his part, Sosa has been a proud crowd-pleaser, a role the bat incident indicates he may have taken a bit too far. A Major League Baseball official review of Sosa's other 76 bats (the A-List is semi-astounded that even a major slugger like Sosa owns this many bats!) reveals no other corked specimens; after Thursday's interview with the MLB investigator, Sosa awaits a verdict. If it goes down anything like the handful of other "corking" incidents over the past two decades, Sosa can expect to be suspended for 5-10 games.

So is the incident going to hurt Sosa's legacy? Is it a "say it ain't so" moment to rival that of Shoeless Joe Jackson, forever kept out of the Hall of Fame for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series? It doesn't seem like it. A lot of the ink being spilled over Sosa's transgression seems appropriately focused on just how frequent this kind of thing is, from several recent bat-corking incidents to spit-ball throwing to various other rule-bending that's just part of the game. Unlike football, with its corporate/militaristic soul, or basketball, which is all about style and grace, baseball is at its heart a humbler, more forgiving sport, a game of flaws and quirks, a field of uneven dimensions. The A-List hopes and believes that this whole episode is almost certainly going to blow over fairly quickly, and if it doesn't, it'll only convince us yet again that what this country needs is more, not less, moral relativism, which is to say, the ability to distinguish between a small crime and a large one. Let Sammy do his time, but then let him get on with the game.

7. He's Gotta Have It --
-- the rights to his name, that is. Filmmaker and kid's book author Spike Lee filed a lawsuit against media giant Viacom over the company's recent decision to change the name of the TNN cable network to "Spike TV" in hopes of attracting more male viewers. Viacom plans to achieve this demographic feat by playing reruns of Bay Watch and introducing new cartoons like Stripperella . (Created by Stan Lee and voiced by Pamela Anderson, Stripperella follows the exploits of exotic dancer Erotica Jones, who fights crime in the near future as a secret agent.) Um, we guess that'll work. Since they can't call it the "T&A Channel" or "The Softer-than-Spice, Spice channel" -- sure, why the hell not "Spike"? It's manly, it's pointy, it's hard. That's why when the A-List first heard about the name change back in April, it never occurred to us to associate it with a Spike Lee joint. In fact, quite a few other Spikes came to mind. There was, for instance, that girl named Spike from Degrassi Junior High who got pregnant and couldn't hang out with the gang anymore cause of her kid. (Damn, we miss that show. Now that was some telly.) Then there's the blond, undead Brit, Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, director Spike Jonze, Spike from underground cult film animation duo Spike and Mike, and only the good lord above knows how many cartoon bulldogs have been (and ever shall be) named Spike. You can see where we're going with this. Maybe if all the Spikes united and filed a class action suit could take this one more seriously. So while we still got love for Spike (Lee) -- after all, he is the reason we owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in film school debt and also maxed out all our credit cards to make the best black independent film you've never seen -- we think Spike, (Lee that is), is really reaching with this one. Sometimes a spike is just a spike, Spike.

8. Legal Team Not So Supreme

News came down from up high this week that alleged NY drug kingpin and famed, alleged, hip hop label financier Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff would be sentenced to 37 months in the Federal pen for violating probation. As the A-List understands it, McGriff was just at ye olde shooting range doing what reputed drug lords do at such establishments after serving lengthy sentences and coming out to a few million -- namely cocking, loading and letting off. You know, just trying to keep the skills behind the nine-mill up. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz saw things a mite different, telling McGriff (and we're quoting): "There's no reason for you to keep your skills up." (Now ain't that a grimly wry thing for a judge to say during a sentencing! "No reason for you to keep your skills up!") If the A-List were ever to find ourselves in McGriff's position -- and we won't, but let's pretend -- we would jump up, spit a verse, and tell Judge Motz that, to coin a phrase, "It's Murdaaaahhhhhhh!" True, perhaps shooting is not be the best recreational activity for a man recently released from a ten year bid for drug trafficking and violent crime, but rap and it's associated social arenas can be dangerous for alleged players. This year alone rapper Freaky Zeaky, a member from Camron's Diplomat crew was shot in an altercation, while Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti -- McGriff's "son" in the eyes of many -- saw his brother and a close associates shot in separate incidents. If he's under some kind of threat, McGriff is not the type who would seek out police protection (do police protect convicted drug dealers who aren't in witness protection?) making the safest place for him, oddly enough, either jail or the shooting range that landed him there.

9. Summer Jammies
In case you haven't received any of the A-List's up close and personal snaps from HOT 97 FM's Summer Jam at New Jersey's Giants Stadium, it's also safe to assume that you haven't seen Lil' Kim's fake breasts. "The girls", as she likes to call them, bumped and grinded their way through her bikini top last week to reveal their surgically-enhanced and surgically-scarred "brown eyes" (the A-List would rather not say the "N-word" in front of Eunice) to the whole world, or, at least, to the entire Summer Jam audience. While the crowd was more than happy to see the dirty diva doing her thing, the A-List couldn't help but think that these were not the perky, pastie-assisted fake breasts Kim had bared over and over (and over) the last few years. These were older, wiser, more withdrawn fake breasts. Sadder fake breasts. Which prompts us to ask: is something wrong, Kim? Something wrong with your fake breasts, we mean. Because if there is, you can tell us about it. Over the last year, the A-List has been privileged to offer counseling to a number of black female celebrities facing various types of crises -- - Beyonce, Frenchie, the Williams Sisters -- and we can help you too, if only you'll let us.

Will you let us?

The A-List would provide our gentle readers with a link to images of Kim, but we won't, because that wouldn't be in keeping with (TRY) our (ALL) high (HIPHOP) journalistic (DOTCOM) standards. We can provide you with links to this story, though: Nas fans will remember that last year the radio station stopped Nas from hanging Jay Z in effigy on stage, saying that Summer Jam was all about the music, and not about airing grudges. While the A-List is categorically against hanging, it seems that the warnings to play nice only extend to God's son, as this year HOT 97 let Eminem bash The Source by bashing his 2000 "Lyricist Of The Year" Source Award to bits on stage. The A-List will be the first to admit that it has been interesting to see Marshall take on someone other than bubble gum groups and Moby, but it's becoming clear that both sides of this beef are only interested in the financial benefits of maximum street cred. As for Em, most of this madface business started around the time a certain, got-shot-in-the-face, certified thug from Queens joined his ranks. Curiously, Em also started to weight train around that time. Hmmmmm. Although the A-List is a firm believer that you don't have to be a piano player to know a bad rendition of "Chopsticks" when you hear it, we do guess having a potentially violent hip hop feud comes in handy when you're managing a reformed hardcase.

10. That's all this week, folks!
Come back next Friday, same A-List time, same A-List channel!

About the Author: The low-pro column gets cut like an Afro.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:55 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: October 10, 2003


This article was first published on Africana.com on October 10, 2003

Every Friday, the A-List compiles a listing of the most important topics African America discussed the previous week. This week on the A-List: Tiger Terror in Harlem?

The A-List: 10.10.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. Amazing Animals: Harlem Man Raises Tiger in the PJs

Sung to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Ben":

Ming, the two of us need look no more
We've both found what we were looking for
With this cat to call my own
My croc won't be alone
And you, my friend, will be
Star of Yates menagerie
(Star of Yates menagerie)

Ming, you're always hiding here and there
(Here and there)
Harlem don't want no tigers anywhere
If you're loose out on the street
And don't like what folks you meet
There's one thing you should know
You've got a place to go
(You've got a place to go)

I used to say "house" and "me"
Now it's "zoo", now it's "we"
I used to say "house" and "me"
Now it's "zoo", now it's "we"

Ming, most folks they would a'euthanize
Me, I don't look out with their frightened eyes
They don't see you as I do
I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd not fear a thing
If they had a friend like Ming
(a friend) Like Ming
(like Ming)
Like Ming

The A-List, as regular readers can attest, is what you would call a real bunch of cynical sonofableep(s), but our black hearts were tickled -- tickled, we tell you! -- by the urban myth come-to-life that is Antoine Yates and his pet tiger, Ming. While Vegas illusionist Roy Horn was living through a showbiz tragedy that echoed Houdini and the Flying Wallendas -- i.e., the life-threatening, on-stage mishap -- away from the bright lights 37-year-old Antoine Yates, who neighbors have alternately described as "slow" and "different," was re-enacting another kind of legend as he recovered this week from his own set of less severe tiger-inflicted injuries. At once addled and amorous, Yates channeled borderline insane and iconic black manchildren from Michael Jackson, to, well Michael Jackson, as he pledged undying love for his misunderstood pet, calling the animal that had almost bitten his arm off "my brother, my best friend, my only friend, really."


Reporters, cops, and prosecutors scrambled for days trying to figure out exactly how Yates managed to obtain a pet tiger in the first place (not to mention the alligator that was also found in the apartment), leaving the A-List with little to do except salivate, animal-like, at the prospect of some curious and hopefully illegal goings-on, this until a more banal explanation surfaced: Yates had just gone out and bought his tiger. What's more bizarre, we wonder: That a dim bulb like Yates could have kept a tiger in a Harlem apartment for three-to-four years, or that he had just hopped onto the Internet bought himself a tiger, and then kept it in a Harlem apartment for three-to-four years? The answer, of course, is: "both." While initial reports tried to paint the picture of a man hiding a dangerous animal in the depths of the urban jungle, Yates' neighbors at 2430 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd laconically told the media a different story, one where everyone in five-block radius (except uniformed police and civil servants, of course) knew about the open case of man-cub love going down at the Yates apartment. (Harlem's drug dealers must all be keeping tigers as well.) The story of Antoine 'N' Ming 4Ever did have one tragic undertone: for at least two of the years that Yates shared his apartment with his tiger and alligator, he also shared it with his mother, Martha Yates and several of her foster children. While Mother Yates had the sense to eventually flee the apartment for Philly (seriously!) one has to wonder exactly what broke the proverbial camel's back and exactly how New York City places foster children in a house with a tiger in it.

2. Music: Did Diddy Do The Dirt?
Sean Combs (we'll use his gov'ment name in order to avoid any confusion) was right when he said "Mo Money Mo' Problems." In what could very well be a classic case of sour grapes, Kirk Burrowes, former president of Bad Boy Records, has been making the media rounds alleging Combs was behind the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Jai "Big Jake" Hassan, friend and bodyguard of Death Row CEO Suge Knight. Burrowes (who signed away an early 25% stake in Bad Boy under what he claims was duress) has reportedly sworn out a statement that Combs directly ordered the homicides, which were carried out by an elite group of bad boys known as, er, "The Enterprise." Burrowes' high-ranking position at Bad Boy may well have made him privy to incriminating info about Combs and assassination supergroups with corny-sounding R&B names, but so far he hasn't done much besides repeat well-known (and discredited) hearsay for New York press. Conspiracies linking Puff and Biggie to Tupac's murder have been floating around forever, while published reports from here to Haiti have fingered Combs crony Anthony "Wolf" Jones as Hassan's alleged (and long un-charged and unconvicted) killer. Unless Burrowes can come up with a smoking gun -- literally -- he's looking at a mighty nice defamation suit. The A-List just hopes that this doesn't affect Combs' ability to run the New York Marathon for charity next month; babies in Brooklyn need that money!

3. New York: African Burial Ground Homecoming
The A-List remembers quite clearly when we first heard the news in 1991 that the remains of an estimated 20,000 free and enslaved Africans and African Americans had been found in NYC's Wall Street area. While we were arguably a pretty jaded collective even back then during the flower of our professional youth, we would not have imagined in our most cynical nightmare that it would be more than a decade before the uncovered bones of those ancestors were properly re-laid to rest.

Over the last twelve years it has taken the efforts of countless activists and civic organizations to prevent the site from being completely desecrated and built over, proof positive that the devaluing of black life doesn't end with death. 419 skeletons (a great many of which belonged to children) and over 1.5 million artifacts were taken to Howard University for study, and the resulting data challenges the misperception that slavery in the North was somehow less inhumane and severe than slavery in the South. Many of the men, women and children died from malnutrition, disease and exhaustion, while the sheer numbers buried at the site repositions New York as the second largest slave-owning city in the 18th Century. When the Howard study was complete, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture organized a Rites of Ancestral Return to return the 300 of the deceased to the Burial Ground in New York City. Thousands turned out in New York to honor the ancestors, and we hope the ceremony brought a little bit of peace to a part of the city that has seen its fair share of death both then and now.

4. Branding: Beyonce's Name is on Your Behind

Hold tight girls and boys-who-like-to-dress-like-girls: pretty soon you'll be able to look just like Beyonce!

Okay, we lied. You will never, EVER look just like Beyonce. But besides treating your hair to a whole bottle of Feria and mainlining Pepsi, you will soon be able to lip sync to "Crazy in Love" in clothes purportedly designed by Miss B (or at least purportedly designed by her mama). How can this be, you ask? Well, in hopes of ascending ever higher up the peaks of brand name superstardom, Beyonce recently announced plans to launch two clothing lines with mom, Tina Knowles. The 22-year-old Star Search alumnus is, of course, far from being the first pop tart with a startup clothing line. Fashion world darling and blond bombshell rapper Eve's recently launched Fetish label appears off to a good start, while the Olson Twins have gone beyond day-into-evening wear into the murky land of jailbait-into-barely-legal with a line of their very own. Savvy clothing companies have obtained permi$$ion to use the names of everyone from Jenny from the Block, to Jay-Z and to even Venus and Serena, with Puffy the only celeb to date to go beyond the cynical licensing game and create an actual couture line. Since she's gonna go ahead and follow suite -- this despite the fact that clothing is difficult biz where margins can fit on the head of a pin -- all the A-List can do is pray Ms. B doesn't pull a Kathy Lee or Michael Jordan and get in bed the sort of company that violates the human and labor rights of young brown or yellow girls in Third World countries by paying them pennies a day to play with dangerous machinery and toxic chemicals.

5. Games: Monopolizing Cliches in Ghettopoly
The A-List's inbox has filled to capacity with complaints about a new game called Ghettopoly. In this rip-off of the board-game favorite, Monopoly, ghetto iconography -- street corner drug dealers, graffiti-covered subways, and crack houses -- replaces the street repairs, railroads and hotels of yore, the standard money-earning gameplay turned inside out by inane stereotypes and caricatures of black icons like "Malcum X Blvd" and "Martin Luthor King, Jr." (The get-out-of jail-free cards are, naturally, retained.)

When asked about the game, Michael Chang, the Asian American creator of Ghettopoly, protests that when it comes to racism, we're all in the same gang in 2003: "Should I boycott every single black comedian who makes jokes about Asian Americans?" he asks. "Is Jay Leno a racist because he made a comment about Asian people eating dogs? How about Dave Chappelle, is he a racist too? Do you think the puppets they use on Crank Yankers are stereotypical too? How about Snoop dog, is his show on MTV racist?"

Very post-modern defense of your business, Mr. Chang, but while the A-List can't help but feel that marshalling the civil rights troops to protest a board-game is a bit, well, wasteful in a time of illegal war, official malfeasance, imposter presidencies, economic collapse and the election of cartoon characters to major offices, we do understand where the critics are coming from. No matter how you flip it, frame it or even try to forget it, the urban ghetto of 20th and 21st Century America is strongly associated with black people and our experiences in such neighborhoods, making any game (or art, for that matter) about said neighborhoods about us in profound and usually troubling ways. For younger African Americans who came of age around racial categories that are significantly more fluid than those our parents faced and inhabited, balancing free-and-easy post-black cultural cosmopolitanism with wariness at the persistence of stubborn, undying negative images is difficult work, and our own complicated relationships to some of these images (Pimp nostalgia: Harmless fun or dangerous stereotype?) makes it easier for outsiders to appropriate and recombine them in ways we might not appreciate

At its core, the whole Ghettopoly fracaso is less about a deliberate insult to African America and more about how easily a calculating commercial scheme can use the heat from the still boiling racial pot to produce quick profits. While we may not exactly share the outrage of some of our elders, we do feel a more matter-of-fact version of the sentiment conveyed by Naughty By Nature's 1991 "Ghetto Bastard:"

If you ain't never been to the ghetto
Don't ever come to the ghetto
Because you wouldn't understand the ghetto.
So stay the f_ _ _ out of the ghetto.

6. South Africa: Steve Biko's Alleged Killers To Get Off

Sometimes justice is just denied, denied, denied, and you may as well not even hope for it. Such is the case when it comes to the murder of South African activist and writer Steven Biko. Killed in 1977 during the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, Biko became a potent symbol of that freedom fight - he was immortalized in Hollywood's Cry Freedom by Denzel Washington - but hero status means little when it comes to the South African justice system. Sadly enough so do truth and accountability. News comes this week that the five men who killed Biko are going to continue to elude justice for their acts. Biko died after being tortured and interrogated for his acts against the apartheid state - acts that primarily consisted of writing and publishing essays about freedom - and his death was a serious public, as well as personal, loss. All of which makes it unforgivable that his killers still walk free.

7. Politics: Bugs Found in Philly Mayor John Street's Office
The A-List has been feeling echoes of the '70s lately, and they're only getting stronger. High unemployment, daily body count numbers from overseas, and an unsettling sense that the government scandals we hear about are only the tip of a conspiracy-filled iceberg - yep, freaky days are here again. The news out of Philly reminds us how when paranoia strikes deep, it strikes deeper when you're black. And you know what they say: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. In the case of Philadelphia's African American mayor, John Street, it would appear he's got reason to feel suspicious. Not only is he locked in a close electoral race with Republican challenger Sam Katz, but aides found bugs in his office this week, the FBI confirmed that they placed the bugs there as part of an investigation. Who are they investigating, and why? The Feds aren't saying, but Street's people suspect the bug and inquiry are related to either a Black Muslim Street supporter, Imam Shamsud-din Ali (whose allegedly no-show adult ed classes have already been a target of investigation), or to Street's involvement in a big contract for airport renovation (which is already under grand jury investigation). Hey, big city politics are complex - few are the major urban mayors who haven't been under some kind of investigation at one point - and we have no idea how this'll play out. But the news of the bugging, the whole gritty, shaky, The Conversation-esque vibe to it, has us feeling itchy, man.

8. Racism: An All-White Delivery for Racist Parents
Despite the evidence of Butterfly McQueen, as Sissy in Gone With the Wind, fluttering her hands, rolling her eyes, and declaring she " know nothin' about birthin' babies," countless thousands of white folks have relied upon black domestic help to assist in the birth of their young'uns. We're not talking just during slave days, when the circuit-riding country doctor arrived just in time to share a congratulatory cigar after some longsuffering housemaid did the real work, but even today, in big hospitals whose staffs are stacked with black and brown help at the scut-work level (while white doctors and executives serenely preside). It's not usually inconsistent with white racist values to let a black woman help you push one out - which is why we're so surprised by the news this week of a hardcore racist couple in Pennsylvania who requested that no black workers assist in the birth of their own little Damien. What upset us even more was the hospital's willingness to go along with this request. We guess good help ain't that hard to find, in today's crappy economy - but the hospital that alienates its black nurses is gonna have a hell of a time functioning efficiently, because in the hospitals we've seen, that's who gets things done. We hope the local NAACP protest, which extracted promises of changes (including diversity training), has the desired effect of changing, if not hearts and minds, at least policies.

9. Hollywood: Ice Cube Replaces Vin Diesel in XXX Sequel

Black folk in Hollywood sure love them some Vin Diesel leftovers! First Tyrese took Diesel's place as minority man-of-the-minute in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and now Ice Cube replacing Diesel as furloughed-convict turned super-agent in the sequel to XXX. The A-List is happy to see Ice Cube getting that raptor money, but anyone who saw Ghosts of Mars already knows where this film is headed if it's not seen early carefully: straight to video. (Has Ice Cube ever been in a successful action flick, anyway? Three Kings doesn't count because he was following Clooney and Wahlburg's lead, and Boyz 'N'The Hood is more properly understood as a drama. But we digress. ) More important is why Cube was picked for this movie at all. The A-List is almost positive that posters and old CDs of Cube's mean muggin' days as a Nigga With Attitude are prized accessories in the smoke rooms of half the male exec under 40 in Hollywood, which means that when they get to thinking of black men to cast as tough guys they're gonna be looking further and further away from acting schools and closer to Billboard. Thespians beware.

10. And that's all for this week, folks!
If you like what you read here, forward it. If you think the A-List is a hater, forward it to all your friends and tell them to complain. If you don't understand our sense of humor, send it to every civil rights org in America and demand that they PUT A STOP TO US


If you want more A-List, come back to www.Africana.com, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel! If you want the A-List stopped, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel so that you can collect more information for your anti-A-List prayer circle. No matter what you do, just keep coming back and forwarding those links!

About the Author: The A-List loves our kitty, and we hug him and love him and kiss him all day long, we do!

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:08 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: June 13, 2003

This article was first published on Africana.com on June 13, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item 1: The NBA Finals are nothing but net! (and sippy cups).

The A-List: 06.13.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. Nothing but net (and sippy cups!)
The A-List contains multitudes, as you know, and some of us like the Lakers and some of us loathe the Lakers, but even Lakers-loathers have to admit: the NBA Finals this year truly suck. It's enough to make us yearn for Shaq and Kobe! How can we care about games in which neither team shoots more than 35% from the floor; where the big men are the supremely charisma-lacking Kenyon Martin, Tim Duncan and David Robinson; and the most exciting drama came weeks ago, when a Boston-based sportswriter admitted he wanted to smack Jason Kidd's wife? Between the false hype over lackluster play and the lackluster news this week that BET's Bob Johnson just named his newly-acquired franchise the Charlotte Bobcats (get it? Bob...cats?) we were yet again instructed in the deep, cynical, all-consuming narcissism that accompanies all corporate mediocrity. (Although, let's face it, the Charlotte story made us glad Colin Powell didn't buy himself a sports franchise.)

If you think you're suffering, consider the lot of Mark Walker, Jr.. First of all, if this league gets any staler or more pathetic, by the time he's ready to lace up (at age 15?) the NBA will be just about as exciting as Bowling for Dollars. Don't recognize his name? Perhaps then you've seen his face, the face of tomorrow's basketball. Just as Sports Illustrated would have you believe Tiger Woods came out the womb with a nine-iron in his hand, and that Venus and Serena became stars in the tennis firmament soon after erupting, fully formed, from the forehead of their mad-scientist dad Richard, so too does three-year-old Mark Walker, Jr., a KC-area toddler, explode on the basketball scene! Walker's basketball skills -- shooting only, so far as we can tell, but to be fair, what chance has he had to rack up real defensive numbers yet? -- have already led to an endorsement deal with Reebok, who has been touting the kid as someone who's "destined for the big league." Right, and Shirley Temple sure filmed a lot of hit movies after she hit puberty, didn't she?

The exploitation of children is a story with a long history and a shifting center -- one century it's hard labor, the next it's premature celebrity -- but nobody except the professional moralists can be very surprised by Reebok's decision to run with the cute kid during this season of snore-inducing parity. (Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan vying for a title?! What's next, a ring for Allen Iverson? Chris Webber!?) Little Mark's freak-of-nature moments aside, (and let's be honest: watching a blank-faced child drain 18 shots in a row on video is cute; being alone in the room with him when he does it is some Damien-type stuff) he is pretty adorable, and it sounds like it would be hard to resist the full-bore publicity machine that is his mother. A former high school athlete herself, Mom reportedly initiated the kid's 90-minute training sessions a couple of years ago, which is to say when he was one, and after BET and ESPN carried clips of Mark some KC television stations claim they had to rebuff her lobbying for local human interest coverage. Why? Mom was "too pushy." (Under normal circumstances we would interpret that "too pushy" as the all-to-common white misreading of focused blackwoman energy, but stage-mothers are a race unto themselves.) Between Mom and the sneaker campaign, some Mark-watchers have been carping that the shoe companies are out of control, that they pander to and hook black kids like the neighborhood pusher, but that's old hat and misses the point: for every kid out there who does something crazy for a pair of sneaks, there are six mowing lawns in order to save up for them -- and 20 pining away until something else comes along to catch their consumerist fancy. And for every Mark Walker, Jr. who is exploited by Reebok, well, there are ten thousand more laboring for chump change stitching Nikes in Asian sweatshops. So: which kid do you wanna save?

The Nets win on Wednesday, BTW.

2. Looking for a Cover-Up?
The New York tabs are reporting that police-shooting victim Ousmane Zongo had not been dead for a day when the NYPD raided his apartment, emptying drawers and overturning tables. His roommate, another immigrant, reports ransacking and terror, while the cops report a routine attempt to "confirm Zongo's identity" -- that is to say, a routine attempt to confirm that the deceased was a drug user who deserved to die. The cops deny it, but stealth eyeball reconnaissance of apartments is common after fatal weapon discharges, searches that are usually conducted with a little more subtlety than in Zongo's case, or, for that matter, Amadou Diallo's. (His apartment went topsy-turvy during a posthumous police visit, likely in search of something to render Diallo's wallet more threatening-seeming.)

Since the A-List, like any collective black news log, faces the possibility of random police violence every day, we've decided to pre-publish an inventory of things in our apartment that could potentially be used to assassinate our characters in the event of their untimely, police-related demise:

Item: Year-old bottle of Vicadin
Explanation: Prescribed after extraction of wisdom teeth
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Narcotic addict / dealer

Item: .mp3 collection
Explanation: We like beats
What it makes us according to the NYPD: CD piracy ring ringleader

Item: Stray cat
Explanation: We love that cat!
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Animal rights terrorist. (If mispronounced "chat" during police briefing, we can also be identified as a "drug user" and/or "Somali warlord.")

Item: Snapshots from yearly Africana office trip to Paint Ball range
Explanation: Yearly Africana office trip to Paint Ball range
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Gun enthusiast and loner

Item: Marijuana cigarette
Explanation: Uh, Rastafarian religious sacrament
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Drug addict / dealer

Item: Bootleg The Matrix Reloaded DVD
Explanation: Feeling that the movie would not be worth 10 dollars
What it makes us according to the NYPD: DVD piracy ring ringleader

Item: Porno collection
Explanation: Downtime between significant others; kinky significant (and not-so-significant) others
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Sex offender and loner

Item: Paperback copy of Edward Said's Orientalism
Explanation: Unfinished masters degree
What it makes us according to the NYPD: Al Qaeda member

Is there something innocent in your apartment that you don't want the NYPD (or John Ashcroft) to use against you? If so, email the A-List and if your list is innocent enough, we will document it here for all posterity!

3. Remembrance of Monkey Dog Pox Past
You can tell the A-List the truth: when you first heard about "monkey pox" you thought about monkeys, right? Monkeys from the country-of-Africa, yes? Don't be ashamed. Your Pavlovian conditioning by the news has been total and complete for many years, so no one is that surprised that the media's never ending game of subliminal word-association took you in one fell, frisson-filled swoop from 50 or so sick Midwestern prairie dog enthusiasts to Africa. Like SARS and West Nile Virus, diseases that cull the 2% of the population that was literally born yesterday or lives in an iron lung while giving everyone else the flu, monkey pox is a mostly conceptual, low-mortality epidemic designed to keep Americans in front of their televisions and away from foreigners, what with their foreign germs and ways and ideas. Since the A-List is a higher form of life evolved past the control of matrix tricknology, we, of course, didn't think of Africa when we heard about the monkey pox, but of our beloved Kansas.

You see, back when the A-List was a small child growing up in Kansas, we were fascinated by prairie dogs, the collectivist critters implicated in the current pox outbreak. We even wanted to be one the pocket-sized, yellowish rodents, standing attentive on their hind legs like impish little Stalinists. This was back before we were assimilated into the anonymous collective that is the A-List, but even then the notion of being part of a mammalian hive-mind seemed tantalizing and attractive. We never saw a live prairie dog, of course, but there were rumors and simulacra. For example, the Natural History Museum had the animatronic prairie dog that would pop its head out of its diorama hole every 60 seconds or so, fiendishly confounding impatient grade-schoolers, who would invariably tire of waiting and turn away just before -- pop! -- he did it. Then there were the schoolyard reports in third grade about someone's uncle having a real-life prairie dog farm, with prairie dog barns and everything! And then there was the roadside attraction advertised on old-school wooden billboards along I-70, promising visitors a chance to see "The World's Largest Prairie Dog," a hoax if you wanted your dog made of meat, blood and fur instead of concrete. Yes, for many years we pondered the nature, inner life and divine purpose of these creatures, bur when we left Kansas we didn't think we'd have much occasion to marvel at them again.

That all changed this week, sending us down memory lane to the American heartland while the media sent everyone else packing to a more Conradian heart of darkness via screaming headlines about THE FIRST OUTBREAK OF MONKEY POX IN WESTERN HEMISHPERE! (As Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's Daily Show quipped: "Hell-lo Monkey Pox! Welcome to the White Folk Buffet!") Still, despite the Kansas connection, Africa ended up being (place)name-checked more explicitly as the story unfolded, with reports that the pox was passed on to the prairie dogs by a continental cousin: the more prosaically named Gambian giant rat.

That's right, America. Blame the African relative.

4. Original Men Found Even More Original
Unlike Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, skeletons identifying Africa as the birthplace of the human species just keep getting found and found and found! The latest find: three 160,000 year-old skulls in Ethiopia. For non-believers, the skulls are three more proofs of humanity's African heritage to ignore, but the A-List knows that someday the truth will run free and wild in the streets. The only potential negative to this story is the added impetus it provides white hippies and white-identified black folks to silkscreen even more of thise corny "Race: Human" t-shirts.

5. The Negation of the Negation
Check it, we've seen it before: white entertainer attaches self to black style star power only to reap success beyond measure. Usually this is a matter of borrowing culture or energy -- Elvis and blues, all of rock-n-roll and blues, Madonna and black gayness, Quentin Tarentino and the n-word -- but in this, our sensation-starved age, the latest appropriation craze might just involve bringing back an old favorite from the days of Jim Crow: black death. No, lynching's not making a comeback, but it does seem Sly "Yo! Adrian" Stallone is all set to write, direct, and star in, no less, a film about the slayings of hip hop immortals Biggie and 2Pac. Don't worry, he hasn't proposed to play one of the fallen rappers on the screen, but is instead planning to portray renegade LAPD Detective Russell Poole. Poole, long a staple of WH1's Behind the Music, believes that Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur were the victims of a conspiracy planned by a nasty menage-a-trio of dirty cops, rap moguls and gangsters. Yah think? Either way, what we cram to understand is why Stallone has asked Suge Knight of Death Row Records to play himself, who we all know has been implicated a number of times by Poole in both murders. Suge has a reputation, for, shall we say, being touchy, and while he was recently cleared of the Radar Magazine smeared feces prank (it seems the editors of the new monthly got a letter smeared with poop signed "Suge" after they named him one of media's "monsters") we don't necessarily advise getting on his bad side. At best, the casting proves Sly ain't so sly, and at worst it proves this movie isn't about heart, but cash money and multi-media cross marketing. Rest easy, Christopher Wallace and Tupac Amaru Shakur; we know that can be hard at times like these, but still.

6. Help Liberia Help Itself
Only a week after we complained that the international media wouldn't touch the troubles of Liberia with a ten-foot pole, the West African country has started showing up all over the headlines. While we're gratified that the collective attention of the media has focused -- like the dread Eye of Sauron! -- on the A-List, the mo' news coming out of the country is still depressing. President Charles Taylor announced yesterday that there will be no peace in the country, where more than 300,000 people have died since 1990, if a UN-backed court does not drop war crimes charges it has leveled against him. Meanwhile, two different rebel groups are closing in on Monrovia, the country's capital, where a longstanding humanitarian crisis -- no electricity or running water for more than a decade -- has been worsened by the recent tribulations. Other West African nations are making a final bid for peace, but these are grim days for Africa's oldest modern nation, one founded in 1846 by freed black slaves from the United States.

7. Impeach the Imposter President, part 2
If the Dubya knowingly lied about weapons of mass destruction -- notice in recent appearances he has taken to talking about the search for WMD programs as opposed to the actual, you know, weapons -- then he can and should be impeached.

Now, the A-List isn't a fancy policy expert or a constitutional lawyer, we just know what we believe. And what we believe is that Bush needs to go. We've said it a few times already -- the "part 1" to this item is, for convenience's sake, an aggregate of all the times we've used the words "impeach" or "imposter" previously -- and we have since started to observe the sparks, pockets and bubbles of similar opinion. As the months drag on without discovered WMD's, and once the Blair administration in the UK falls over its decision to wage an illegal war on the basis of deliberate lies, those sparks, pockets and bubbles will grow into a consensus -- we have been lied to -- at which point all bets are off.

So will leave the fancy analysis to the experts, and instead plan to do what we do best, which is repeat ourselves. We will keep repeating ourselves here until either Bush is voted out or WMD's are found. So: Impeach the Imposter President!

8. Bush To Apologize for Slavery Next Month in Africa!
Sike! However, the White House did confirm this week that Dubya is making a weeklong visit to Africa next month that will sweep through Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa. Bush staffers like to boast that this President has met more African heads of state than any other in history and his $15 billion pledge to fight AIDS on the continent has just been approved on Capitol Hill. That may be the case, but what we'd like to see is the Imposter President touring the slave dungeons at Goree Island in Senegal.

About the Author: The A-List will break you down with a quickness.

Posted by ebogjonson at 6:53 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: May 16, 2003


This article was first published on Africana.com on May 16, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: The Blair Smear Project.

The A-List: 05.16.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. Jayson Vs ...?
Since the Jayson Blair affair broke like a rotten egg against the back of the A-List's various screens last week, at least six of our acquaintances have commented that what young Master Blair needs most at this point is not therapy but a good, old fashioned ass-whipping. Three have wondered whether the "troubled" young man will commit suicide, two expressing worry, while the third (a pal, but one with a fondness for shocking utterances) offered to help him. Seen from the standpoint of community self-policing, all these suggestions have a certain cathartic seductiveness to them, especially when made by reasonable professional folk without a violent bone in their body. Everyone feels a little dirty now and is looking for ways to get clean ASAP, and there's nothing like a little imagined violence to soothe a troubled collective soul, especially when the object of that violence is a universally vilified hustler with few defenders beyond his folks, lawyers, shrink and (eventually) book agent.

The awful feeling that needs out breathing, this anxiety about guilt-by-association (even as the vast majority of us are practically -- heck, wholly -- unassociated), might be a psychic disorder created by endured racism, but that doesn't mean it isn't common. Moreover, the feeling of implication in Blair's misdeeds isn't just a feature of this story, it's also its whole reason for being. If this one man's fraud didn't offer an opportunity to shame an entire race it wouldn't be half the story it is now. It would wax and wane in the familiar rhythm of a normal news cycle, as opposed to the current hyperventilating frenzy. The firestorm that has erupted around newsroom diversity, the attacks on The New York Times' "liberal" editorial page, the immediate appearance of reverse racism ambulance chasers like the odious Jim Sleeper -- all these things are signs of a story that jumped several quantum states to become of greater value to one or another constituency than the sum of its parts might indicate. The Times is a fit news organization even at its worst, so it will root around in its own muck and identify the organizational whys-and-hows that allowed this to happen, but for the rest of us Jayson Blair has transitioned from news subject to national symbol, a magic mirror who will reflect whatever the observer's needs and biases are at any given moment.

The reflections so far have run the gamut, ranging from predictable white whining to its black opposite number. (As The Black Commentator website richly intoned: "Blair's alleged transgressions are proof only that The New York Times is a bad judge of Black people -- as is normal among racists.") The A-List's reaction has been that while this story does not necessarily prove anything about hiring, it is proof that peculiar, shady things go on between white and black people in purportedly "liberal" work environments. Racist work environments have an awful clarity to them where white disdain structures everything, but shops where white people have explicitly taken up the challenge of doing the Lord's racial work (or been told to by their managers) can have freakish racial cross-currents, pockets of self-consciousness, blindness, over-analysis and back again where racism's traditional playing field has been re-drawn by the emergence of new playing pieces and new strategies. The new peculiarities of the board allow for a pathological personality like Blair to subvert the system to be sure, but it also allows closet racists to carry on business as usual, their actions camouflaged by the new backdrop. These new kinds of familiarity also breed new kinds of contempt. The great secret of environments like a New York Times' newsroom isn't that black people working there are coddled by weak white liberals, but that the vast majority of black and white co-workers don't socialize and don't really like each other much for reasons having very much to do with race. Everyone still manages to get their respective jobs done most of the time anyway. The old, idealized mythology of integration required that we all hold hands and get along, but today all you really need do is produce. Ironically, Jayson Blair produced alright, but just not what anyone wanted or expected.

As for Jayson himself, if he isn't beyond caring about such details, he will be soon. A book agent recently speculated that a Jayson Blair tell-all would be worth seven figures, as if this young man who reportedly just moved out of a ruined, dirty shamble of an apartment and into a hospital, as if hecould get it together to finish a book proposal, let alone the actual book. (To suggest that he would have the agility to profit form his current notoriety is both cynical and cruel, while the other possibility -- that an agent will put the whole deal together for him and hold his hand while he signs the contract -- is equally unpleasant.) In any case, Jayson is about to enter that rarified zone of infamy where he doesn't really need a book deal. Like OJ, all he'll needs to do is just walk the earth while everyone around him stops and stares and marvels that he'd have the nerve to show his face, keep breathing, whatever. The A-List once literally ran into OJ in a revolving door in Vegas and what struck us about him was his awful invulnerability to our shock at bumping into a double murderer. Men like OJ are invulnerable to libel, slander and public opinion; call him guilty and he'll head to the craps table with the same equanimity as if you'd high-fived him. Jayson Blair is going to have to develop that kind of disconnected toughness if he's going to survive, which might be the ultimate shame. After all, it's not like he killed anyone.

2. To Be Young, Black, Gay, and A Morehouse Man
Homosexuality on black college campuses has always existed but usually in invisible networks deep, deep underground. Only the most scandalous gay rumors made the gossip on the HBCU yard -- like the occasional frat boy whose roommate caught him messing around with the quarterback or the evergreen rumors that some of the guys in the choir sleep with, well, some of the other guys in the choir. So, last week when we heard that Morehouse College had sent out a e-mail survey designed to take the temperature of student's attitudes about homosexuality, we gasped, "Lord, how things are changing!" Our excitement was short lived, dying down after we heard that Morehouse's gay students were uhappy with the survey, calling the questions on it insensitive and homophobic. The A-List agrees that activists have an imperative to play watchdog, especially since the school's policies in the future would rest on results from a survey like this. Although we're probably being naive, we think everyone should wait to see what conclusions Morehouse administrators reach in June before tearing their effort apart. Morehouse and Howard are the only HBCUs with any kind of pro-active effort in place to address the needs of homosexual students and we should applaud, encourage and counsel those initiatives -- not protest them.

3. Aww Shucks, Hush That Fuss
When we were kids we remember laughing at the way our grandparents dismissed hip hop as that "bumpity-bump music" that was bringing black folks down, mostly it seems, by popularizing "hoodlum hairdos" like locks and cornrows. Those criticisms seemed pretty flimsy even to our third-grade sensibilities, since their elders probably said the same thing about jazz, conks and zoot suits. Sure, maybe they had a right to be appalled by NWA fringe of the culture, but most of the rappers we listened to were about uplifting the race one way or another, a message we're quite sure our grandparents would have connected with had they bothered to look past the ruffian surface. That's exactly why Rosa Park's continuing legal fight with Outkast is so maddening. What should have been an opportunity for some cross-generational alliance-building between a Civil Rights icon and a progressive, popular rap group is now a costly, messy lawsuit. Someone should have been able to explain to Ms. Parks and her attorneys that Outkast was trying pay creative tribute, not smear her name. Or if she really, really just wanted a royalty check, she should have been up front about that. It's hard to imagine Outkast saying no to a reasonable, private negotiation. But now, with the case being kicked around Midwest appeals courts, it's too late for anyone to back down.

4. The Thieves of Baghdad Hit Nigeria
Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, the oil services company Halliburton, is in the news again this week -- well, sort of, since the story didn't make the American news media. A Nigerian newspaper, The Vanguard, reports that officials from Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton (already criticized for winning a closed bid postwar contract in Iraq), bribed a Nigerian tax official with multi-million dollar payola. But the deception doesn't end there. Last week Senate Democrats in Washington also questioned the military about Halliburton's Iraq contract, which was originally supposed to be for fighting fires but now includes the operation of oil wells and the distribution of oil. Hmmm. Take the most corrupt cohort of businesspeople/politicians America has seen in its recent history and mix them with Africa's most corrupt politicians/business people (Nigerians) -- what else could you possibly get?

5. Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Coalition of Hip Hop Artists Fight Rockefeller Drug Laws
It's easy to be cynical about Russell Simmons' evolving persona as hip hop's political guru/(pied piper?), but he's fighting some good fights lately. Maybe there is a hidden bottom line agenda in play, but so far it seems like he's just accepting his responsibility as a rich, powerful black man and putting his executive skills to good use. First he organized a well-attended emergency rally in protest of proposed budget cuts in the New York City school system (last spring?). Not only did thousands of students, parents and teacher mobilize at Simmons' behest, but some of his friends in the rap community did as well, giving the protest enough media-savvy celebrity polish to freeze the planned cuts. Now he's joining the motley coalition organizing around the fight to repeal New York's Rockefeller drug laws. (The laws impose long, mandatory sentences on non-violent drug offenders, most of whom are black or Latino.) The fact that Dr. Ben Chavis, Andrew Cuomo and Al Sharpton are among the strange bedfellows leading this charge gives us a moment's pause, but the issue is important enough that we'll take comfort in their collective naked ambition. Those guys wouldn't sit at the same dinner table unless they smelled victory cooking.

6. Dennis Rodman Marries Girlfriend But Won't Live With Her
Remember how your mom always said, "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" (Remember how seriously you took her, as you frantically hid all signs of cohabitation -- including that boyfriend or girlfriend you somehow let move in -- before each of her visits, pretending you were pretty much a virgin?) If it's a well-known fact that living together before marriage is, if more or less accepted among certain age groups, still considered scandalous by Mom and her crowd, what on earth do you think she'd make of its opposite: marriage without cohabitation? Ever breaking new lifestyle ground, former NBA star/embarrassment Dennis Rodman recently announced that he and longtime girlfriend Michelle Moyer (with whom he shares two children) will not be living together once they are married next month. She can come over on weekends, he says -- unless it's poker night, we guess -- but as far as Rodman's concerned, we're guessing he feels like, why drink all that milk just because you own the cow? And hey, what if you don't want to have to drink the same milk from the same damn cow for the rest of your life?! We're not sure, but somehow we think Mom wouldn't approve of this arrangement either.

7. What's Your PSA?
The A-List wants, just for a moment, to get serious. We are inspired by reading that the Howard University Medical Center has launched a new center focusing on prostate health, and that Louis Farrakhan has lent it his name and blessing at an event last Sunday night. Prostate cancer is a leading cause of death in African American men, who are disproportionately at risk for dying of the disease. Among the rolls of black men who have faced prostate cancer are Cornel West, Andrew Young, Boston-area newscaster Charles Austin and Africana's own health columnist, Dr. Ben Carson. It's a killer that takes far too many men far too long before we are ready to lose them. Guys, we know you don't like strangers messing around down there but hey: talk to your doctor about prostate health. If you are 40 or over, get yourself tested. Do it for us -- your sisters, brothers, parents, children, lovers and friends. Live long enough, and who knows? Maybe they'll name something after you.

About the Author: Defending the free city of Zion against the machines to our last gasp.

Posted by ebogjonson at 6:17 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: March 14, 2003

This article was first published on Africana.com on March 14, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: In Praise of Black Mediocrity!

The A List: 03.14.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. God Bless Black Hollywood Mediocrity!
The A-List wants to be a little less negative, seen? So we've been trying hard not to attack Queen Latifah for making a huge pile of loot by starring in and executive producing a single bad film. The way we see it, that the eye of history has captured (now indelible) images of the Queen of Self Respecting Hip Hop ("Who you callin' a sell-out?!") shucking, jiving, singing and carrying-on for white folks in the box office record-breaking Bringing Down the House is hardly an injury to the race. If anything, those images are racial advances. After all, the true measure of equality for black people in places like Hollywood (or your average corporation) isn't the freedom to succeed, it's the freedom to fail and still get paid the same way white people do.

The burden of blackness has always been the burden of having to be better than the white counterpart in order to succeed, but in Hollywood the rules of the playing field are perverted and then inverted by the fact that words like "success" and "better" have no functional relationship in the entertainment biz. In order to succeed, black Hollywood rarely needs to be better, but it usually needs to be worse on the daily: more craven, more desperate, more willing to prostitute itself, more eager to win at the dirty Hollywood game -- more, more, more, and all of it adding up to less, less, less in terms of enduring black film culture. Consider how many rich black people there are in the film business and how few great artists. Consider how the awfulness of House becomes an asset in Latifah's Oscar quest for Chicago, Latifah's willingness to fall on her racial sword in order to protect Hollywood capital during troubled economic times an indication of her "seriousness," "staying power" and mogul-potential. With the exception of maybe Spike Lee and a few independent directors you'll likely not heard of, the mission in life of every black worker/player in Hollywood is to fall on that sword over and over again, and the ones who survive then proceed to chop each other to bits in hopes of being the one anointed to serve black audiences (and white executives) their next helping of the re-hashed, warmed-over movie mediocrity that fills black screens small and large every hour of every day -- chiltlin' circuit comedy, Arabesque-esque romantic comedies, fake ghetto realness straight outta 1989, feature-length music videos replete with vide-hoes, stupor-inducing black history docu-dramas destined for Lifetime and other cable burial grounds, de-sexed and emasculated black buddies, hyper-sexed inter-racial love interests, manipulative tear-jerkers and so on, not a frame of it worth the celluloid it's been exposed on and yet still able to support vast infrastructures of self-congratulation from here to the NAACP Images Awards.

In such an environment the true heroes aren't the innovators but the one-hit wonders and the persistent hangers on, the folks who day in and day out do nothing more than earn a living. (And we all know there's no sin, no form of cultural suicide or self-degradation that black folks won't forgive as long as the offender ambles up and swears up and down that they were just trying to earn a living, like there's something special about doing what everyone else has to do, only with much better looking people and for millions of dollars.) From Jaleel White, to Halle Berry, to Cuba Gooding, Jr., black Hollywood is a kind of moral and creative swamp of such low standing that its only possible analogue could be the cesspool that is white Hollywood, making dream factories of LA ironically enough the only places in the country where black and white are in the end, truly equal. So, we're not mad at you Latifah; in fact kudos for bringing us one step closer to Dr. King's dream of a colorblind America!

(Next week, the A-List will present: "God Bless Black Hollywood Mediocrity, Part 2: The fall of Cuba Gooding, Jr." Keep an eye out!)

2. Wubacked ubout pubedubophubile
Haven't read, seen or heard enough bizarre stories about Michael Jackson? Us neither! That's why we quite literally ran out to buy the April issue of Vanity Fair which, besides dissing Denzel, (see A-List item #3), also contains a lengthy expose on the alleged precariousness of MJ's finances, sanity and nasal organ. Among the article's many, many WTF?! moments, the one that particularly struck us was the revelation that little Michael Jackson regularly denigrates other black people using his own personal racial slur -- "spabooks." Now, maybe it was the recent passing of Mr. Rogers, or maybe it's the particular brand of spring fever that sets fire to the A-List's collective brain each year about now and leaves us as antsy as a schoolgirl (44 days and counting!), but for some reason that one-word window into Wacko Jacko's complex matrix of internalized racism/self-loathing tickled something in the part of the A-List's brain that stores memories of kiddie TV. Last week the A-List asked, "what the hell exactly is the derivation of spabook?" a question that rattled around in our heads all week along with the word itself -- spabook, schwa sound, roughly rhyming with "cahoot" -- until out popped the time-misted memory of a younger, more innocent A-List lying on a shag rug with our siblings, soaking up television rays while watching PBS's Zoom. And then it hit us: "spabooks" is none other than the curiously retro slur "spook" rendered in Ubbi Dubbi, the Zoomers' native tongue! For those of you too young, old, or unlucky to have been edutained by the kid-produced public television show, Ubbi Dubbi is like a post-hippie Pig Latin, a lingua franca for Zoom fans looking to talk over, under or past their parents' comprehension. Translating English into Ubbi Dubbi is easy -- you just insert the syllable "ub" before each new vowel sound in a word. For example, "Michael Jackson" becomes "Mubichubael Jubacksubon," whereas "spook" becomes "spubook," or, in the case of Vanity Fair's hearsay transcription "spabook!" Another pressing cultural mystery solved by the A-List! (And you better believe it: Michael would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for us meddling kids!)

But, in the way of all Jacksonia, our new understanding of yet another completely bugged aspect of Michael's life only opens the door to more troubling questions: Why use a kids language to transmit racial slurs unless you're cracking wise with Macaulay Culkin about the cuboluborubeds? Did a young Emmanuel Lewis ever hear Michael use the word during sleep-overs? And what of Bubbles -- or, as we now know him post-Ubbi Dubbi decryption, "Bbles" -- was he silenced to prevent him from sharing what exactly he knew about Michael and when? Rest assured the A-List is on the case, and as for "prubomubise nubot tubo tubell thube pubolubice whubat hubappubened uband Ubi'll gubive yubour pubarubents uba nubew hubouse uband uba mubillubiubon dubollubars!"

You're smart; you can translate that one all by your lonesome.

3. Vanity No Fair
Wanna know the longstanding conventional wisdom that drives the covers of your favorite mainstream magazine? Put a black man on the cover and stand back as newsstand sales plummet, what with all the myopic, middle-aged white folks mistaking the title for Essence or Vibe. (Black women fare marginally better on non-black magazines, although the statistics are likely being queered by the phenomenal success of the all-Oprah-all-the-time O Magazine.) As a cynical old media whore, the A-List knows the score, but we were still truly disappointed by Vanity Fair's April cover. Hollywood heavyweights Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford mug for the camera, but reigning Best Actor Denzel Washington is conspicuously absent. The cover is a triptych fold-out and while Sam Jackson and Don Cheadle hold it down on the middle panel, the whole thing is just too damned white for words. Rumor has it the magazine offered Denzel a spot in the middle panel, but the Academy Award winner and director declined. This is not the first time Vanity Fair has done Denzel wrong. Back when he and Halle won Oscars last year, neither made the cover, and the last time Denzel graced it was in the '80s. Curiously, Denzel is also absent from the April Essence cover dubbed "Box Office Chocolates" which features Don Cheadle, again, as well as Omar Epps, Morris Chestnut, Mos Def and other black luminaries. Whubat's ubup wubith thubat?

4. Welcome to the US of A! Would you like freedom fries with that?
It's not enough, we guess, that we have had to endure, lo these past months, our unelected president's endless posturing in pursuit of illegal oil war. Nor that prior to this year's saber-rattling we had to watch as our Oilman-in-Chief snubbed our global neighbors in the matter of the Kyoto accord. No, America wasn't quite an embarrassing enough place to live, world-community-wise. Not yet, at least. Like a burger sitting alone and bun-less on a plate, our deepening depression needed the perfect side dish to make it complete, and this side dish arrived right on cue this week with the bizarre decision by Capitol Hill eateries to angrily rename French-fried potatoes something more...stupid in protest of France's refusal to play ball on the American overthrow of Saddam. That's right, we want some "freedom fries" with those massacred Iraqi babies and disgustingly bloated oil profits! Like Soviet communists airbrushing out the photos of the discredited (and deceased) from group shots of the Politburo, the Congressional cafeterias (with the help of two idiot Republican congressmen) have plunged us all into an Orwellian nightmare by deciding to "ix" the French out of their greatest cultural partnership with America: the burger and fries. Now dubbed "freedom fries" by morons everywhere, the new form of politico-gastro-intestinal distress is by far the craziest thing the A-List has ever heard of this side of, well, Mubichubael Jubacksubon!

5. Theft is the sincerest form of flattery, we swear!
The other day the A-List was walking down the street, past our local Crate and Barrel store. As our gaze lingered on the overstuffed chairs, the leather ottomans, and sleek bookcases, we indulged our favorite fantasies of home-ownership (we often think about home-ownership as we make our daily journey from cramped, cluttered apartment to cramped, cluttered cubicle, and back again). Our eyes then fell on this -- the "harvest" rug from the store's new collection of floor coverings. The colors were so interesting, the pattern so inviting, it was all somehow familiar --then it hit us. Those concentric squares, set just slightly off-kilter, eerily mimic the "housetop" quilt pattern seen recently in the glorious "Quilters of Gee's Bend" show at the Whitney Museum (and the accompanying coffee-table book) which detailed the stunningly beautiful work of African American quilt makers. We of all people know good ideas come from everywhere -- shoot, every story in the A-List is ripped-off from somewhere; what did you think? That we're reporters or something? -- but then again, the A-List isn't a hugely profitable purveyor of middle-class comfort and style. (Yet.) We also aren't ripping-off the idiosyncratic yet communal aesthetic products of a historically powerless community in order to sell them to Dockers-wearing, Wall Street Journal-reading urbanites (...yet), people who, for just $899, can enjoy a knockoff of a folk art that distills centuries of poverty, isolation and pain without ever having to confront the historical context that makes the whole thing possible. Now, that, friends, is progress!

6. Racist domestic terrorists moonlighting as cops in Georgia
What's a black person in Georgia to do when the Klan comes a knockin'? Can't help you there (we live in Boston). But we can tell you the answer to that question is absolutely not "run to the cops!" The FBI is charging that a 42-year-old Georgia dad and poh-poh Chester James Doles, along with a whole rack of his fellow local law enforcement officers, are proud members of the -- yes, you guessed it! -- Ku Klux Klan. That's not so surprising considering the history of the South, but it is hard to explain how a felon with convictions for burglary and assault on an interracial couple manages to serve in law enforcement in post-9/11-background-check America. While the men, described by the arraigning judge as "domestic terrorists," sound nothing like the fine southern police officers the A-List is familiar with -- Carroll O'Conner's William "Bill" Gillespie, for example, as well as Enos and Roscoe; maybe Boss Hogg -- our soft, televisual side was genuinely touched when Doles, being led out in handcuffs, barked to his wife and two young sons, "You know what's on trial here! Step up to the plate! You boys got to!" (Which roughly translates as a message to the boys to grow up fast and kubill lubots ubof bluback pubeopuble. His wife, God bless her, responded, "they will!"

7. Give me Your UN Votes -- and maybe I'll give your hungry, huddled masses (yearning to eat free!) some grub
As voting members on the United Nations Security Council, the African nations Angola, Cameroon and Guinea probably got more western press this last week than they've gotten since the end of their various civil wars and wars of independence. With the Bush administration in need of Security Council votes in order to legitimate its Iraq attack, the trio of very poor countries find themselves in a precarious situation between the dueling Americans and French, both of whom provide them with foreign aid. Not above buying votes (witness the aid promised Turkey if only their legislators would allow US forces to use their country as a giant staging area) the United States has made it clear that it will be very grateful for any assistance the countries may offer.

8. Supreme Court Stays Texecution
Delma Banks had just ten more minutes to live -- literally, just enough time for one hand of Texas Hold'em -- when the US Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday night to stay his pending execution. His lawyers had argued that Banks, who is black, didn't get a fair trial after being charged with the 1980 murder of his coworker Richard Whitehead, who was white. Given the blatantly racist machinations of Texas-style justice over the years, the Court has had its docket full lately just trying to correct injustices (another black inmate, Thomas Miller-El, was taking off death row just last month after the Court found he had been convicted by a racially skewed jury). File this all under "things we are not surprised by," although the Court's willingness to reprieve Banks makes us hopeful that we as a nation may be moving away from the barbarous, unjust and morally bankrupt system that persists in places like Texas. Pass the freedom fries, Tex, and free that man before you fry him!

9. R. Kelly's Bedtime Story Book
Back in 1998, the R. joined a growing list of entertainers who have -- to varying degrees of success, been involved in the publication of children's books. The list includes Will Smith, Doug E. Fresh, L.L. Cool J and Spike Lee. Hell, even Michael "spabook" Jackson penned a Moonwalker Coloring Book. Well, amazingly enough, Fuzzy-Feelings Books saw fit to re-release I Can Fly: The R. Kelly Story -- due to popular, sex-scandal driven demand. Appropriate for 4-8 year olds, the hardcover book tells the life of R. Kelly in rhyming verse from his humble beginnings as an impoverished shortie crooning songs into a broomstick for an audience of imaginary invisible little girls to a bigtyme star. The book tells kids to believe in themselves and make their dreams come true. Now the A-list is all for telling kids to believe in themselves but this is just too much! Suspected child molesters should not be allowed to have children's books written about them unless they are cautionary tales.

10. Youssou Crazy!
If you didn't know, the A-List is international, mama. When Miss Dynamite and George Michael remixed "Faith" with an anti-war angle at the Brit Awards last month the A-List was there running recon for the American Grammys. Confident we would use the week in between the two shows to prepare a proper AMERICAN comeback, the A-List was positive that our former colonial masters wouldn't be able to out-do the home of rock and rap in terms of outspokenness. But after the only stateside artist brave enough to even mention the you-know-what was Limp Bizkit front-man Fred Durst, well you can imagine the A-List's disappointment.

Last weekend, though, our faith was restored when Youssou N'Dour, Africa's best-selling musician, cancelled his US tour in protest of the nation's -- sorry -- the president's planned you-know-what against Iraq. The A-List would like to take this moment to salute Youssou for choosing courage over currency. If Youssou can sacrifice the funds from 38 scheduled tour dates, then the A-List thinks a few American acts can do the same. These acts abuse drugs, make music about their awful mothers, and even get caught on tape sexing children and the records still sell. Protesting the war N'Dour style would/can only help their careers.

That's it for the A-List, so check back next week for more. (And if you liked what you read, make sure to forward it to 10 people, or else our voodoo priest will get you!)

About the Author: Feelin' on the booties of consenting adults!

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The Africana A-List: March 7, 2003


This article was first published on Africana.com on March 7, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: R. Kelly's on top of the charts... and your daughters!

The A List: 03.07.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. R. Kelly's on top of the charts (and your daughters)
In its ongoing effort to remain true to the hallowed mandate to be your Gateway to Black World, Africana.com has over the last year-and-a-half seen fit to throw quite a few pixels at the various scandals occasioned by the alleged pervy predilections of singer R. Kelly. This coverage has run the expected gamut--pro-R, anti-R, sad-and-confused-about-R--but, surprisingly, the numerous articles produced a mini-flood of email, not attacking Kelly, but professing staunch support for the R. Our reaction to these letters was, as you'd imagine, negative. Constant exposure to everything from amateur psychologists suggesting Kelly was emulating a child-marrying Elvis, to Cochran-like cautions "not to rush to judgment," to poorly-written screeds instructing us to "be real and stop fronting" because sex between young girls and rich and famous R&B stars must be, by definition, consensual as "all those girls watching him on BET are dreaming of getting with him sexually anyway," to the literally dozens of maddening, rote and ultimately inane one-line missives opining that "I guess age really ain't nothing but a number after all!" --well, you'll understand if those letters had the A-List just a little convinced that black folks must really be the most screwed-up, self-hating, in-denial population in all god's creation. After all, here was a vaguely unattractive singer with a so-so vocal range and a lazy eye, a songwriter whose great professional innovation has been the idiot savant-like ability to reduce the complicated realties of black intimacy to chintzy, lyrical prime-numbers along the lines of "you remind me of my jeep" or "let's go half on a baby," a grown man who definitely married (and presumably had sex with) at least one underage girl and allegedly videotaped himself having sex with and urinating on another, and yet, not only was there no universal outcry against him, but dozens of morons were writing in to Africana every day demanding that we stop defaming their favorite (alleged) child molester. Shameful and sad was the only way to describe it.

After receding into blissful remission for almost a year with the ebb of R. Kelly-related headlines, our depression came back full bore when we learned that his latest loveman oeuvre, The Chocolate Factory had debuted at number one on the album charts last week. The A-List isn't in the demographics business, but we've got a strong, sad feeling that most of the over 500K consumers who ran to stores last week to buy were likely grown black women (who at some point or another were girls) or the genuine article itself: black girls exactly like the ones for which Kelly is accused of having an unhealthy yen. This means that, perversely enough, the same population that has been at greatest risk from Kelly is in large part helping pay for his still forthcoming legal defense, a defense that could quite likely leave him free to, as he so eloquently puts it in his latest hit "Ignition," "stick my key in" more underage girls. Kelly has denied any wrong doing (on The Chocolate Factory he croons ''It's all because I'm famous, you know what I'm sayin' I mean, if I wasn't famous, then all this wouldn't be happening'') and only with a few notable exceptions, the success of his latest album has been greeted with a kind of shrugging "go figure" cynicism by a groggy celebrity/music press still suffering from Michael Jackson insulin shock. What's clear to the A-List, though, is that the non-reaction to Kelly's alleged transgressions is par for the course in a culture that de-values black girls as completely as does ours. Had Kelly been accused of molesting boys a la Michael Jackson he'd be under hot lights crying for Barbara Walters faster than you can say "20/20." And if there was a video circulating with images that may or may not be Kelly having sex with a girl that looked like one of the Olson Twins, you'd better believe he'd be in a CO's office begging not to be put back in general population faster than you can say "protective custody."

But hey, what do we know, right? We don't have children the age of Kelly's alleged victims and except for the cuts featuring Ronald Isley, we don't really like his music. That's why the A-List wants to hear from you. Are you the African American parent of a girl aged 13-16 who went out and bought The Chocolate Factory with your own money in the first week of its release? If so, we'd like you to write and send us a short essay (<500 words) explaining "Why I can look my daughter in the eye." The best essay will be published on Africana.com, and the winner will receive a copy of Sapphire's Push appropriately inscribed with a personal message from the A-List.

2. MSNBC = "Mighty Stupid Network Broadcasting Crap"
In a desperate bid to out-fox the right-wing Fox News, low rated cable network MSNBC has hired the lunatic fringe's favorite author and radio commentator Michael Savage as a talking head. Known for racist, homophobic and sexist nonsense rants along the lines of " [Latino]'s breed like rabbits... The white people don't breed as often for whatever reason. I guess many homosexuals are involved," as well for calling non-white countries parts of the "turd-world," Savage is a bottom feeding shock-jock whose hateful antics are beyond the pale even in the increasingly extreme world of talk TV. MSNBC's black, Latino and gay staffers are organizing in hopes that they can mount an internal campaign to keep Savage's show from airing, and the A-List plans to support our fellow media workers by writing network honchos and informing them of our intention to boycott the channel until they publicly disavow Savage and cancel plans to put him on air. (If you write in, make sure you let them know the Africana A-List made you do it!)

MSNBC Feedback

Erik Sorenson, MSNBC President

Neal Shapiro, NBC News President

3. Reparations lawsuit lays groundwork for future justice
Just as Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund followed a careful, step-by-step plan to lay precedent for the overturning of legal segregation, so now has Harvard law prof Charles Ogletree's Committee on Reparations begun the groundwork for a legal revolution that could overturn centuries of uncompensated neglect. The A-List finds this a healthy, exciting development - and unlike some of the more, uhm, fanciful reparations demands (Indian casino-like dispensation to print money, say, or a lifetime discount on all cotton goods), this is a case we can all get behind. Even those white "friends" who get a little nervous when we start talking armed revol - we mean, reparations, seem to relax when we point out that the Tulsa Race Riots, for which Ogletree et al are now seeking redress, happened just 80 years ago and left behind specific identifiable victims (and their descendants). Surviving records even finger specific individual rioters who can be held accountable (seeking redress for the government's improper encouragement of the rioting, which left at least 300 victims, the suit has Oklahoma's current governor standing in for the man who held the office in 1921). We don't know enough about the law to handicap this case's chance to make history, but we admire the approach and applaud the lawyers for their crafty strategy of incremental dues-settling.

4. Black Girls Rule! All by their lonesomes :`(
Last week Newsweek magazine featured a trinity of black women on the cover. Can you guess why? Story about three member girl groups like Destiny's Child? Nope, even though A-List fave and futurebabymama, Beyonce Knowles is the one smiling on the left. (And you need to be real and stop frontin' and just call us, seeing how because you remind us of our Jeep. Let's go half on a baby, Beyonce! We can touch the sky, baby if only we believe!) Was it an an expose on --choose one --single mothers, poverty, AIDS, or public assistance? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! (Although if you picked "single mother" you were half right.) The cover story, titled "The Black Gender Gap," frames the increasing gains black American women are making professionally as a marriage liability, mainstreaming the conventional wisdom of black female consumer mags like Essence that well educated black women are statistically doomed to live alone for lack of equally educated or monied black male partners. The standard set of options is outlined as solutions: A) date and marry other races, B) negotiate a relationship with a black male partner who is not intimidated by our superior intellect, vast wealth, and our mysterious alien technology, or C) pull a Celie-n-Shug and start kissing up on other women. (Okay, the article didn't mention that last option, but it makes a pretty mental picture and we wanted to put a plug in for our lesbian sisthren, who go unmentioned in the article.) While all this is hardly news --and it's nice that the story for once wasn't about prostitutes, poverty, AIDS, welfare queens or three member girl groups --the A-List is kind of tired of reading about the can't find/get/keep'a'man blues.

5. Air National Guard leader dismissed for racism, plus a mess of other violations
We're not quite sure whether this is a happy story or a sad one, as it can play either as "oh, how long we've come, that a roughneck Mississippi soldier is actually getting terminated for allowing racism to flourish under his watch!" or as "when will said Mississippi outgrow the racist impulse?" At any rate, with war looming, the A-List for one is glad that Col. David Weaver won't be representing the USA overseas. (Nothing undermines your respect for your enemy like being bombed by a racist.( According to published reports, Weaver not only undertook a systematic campaign to drum out his unit's only black flyer, he also ran an illegal liquor store on his base, cheated on exams and plagiarized papers. Now that's what we call one crazy southern boy!

6. Oprah says reading is fun-damental, revives book club. (Turns out she's hecka rich, too!)
A year after putting her phenomenally successful Oprah Book Club on hiatus, the talented Ms. Winfrey has just announced its imminent return. This time, however, Oprah says she'll eschew modern literature to focus on the classics: papers report she's been boning up on Shakespeare and Faulkner lately, and as a result, pretty soon so will you. The A-List loves reading as much as the next collective news blog, and even has harbored some fond hopes of writing something memorable someday, so --predictably --we're a tad conflicted about the new iteration of the OBC. Trading a multicultural stable of living authors for a wax museum comprising mostly dead white men could feel like backward progress. On the other hand, can Ms. Winfrey and her recently announced billion little friends be so wrong? If some extra money finds its way into the pockets of those kooky Hemingway survivors, so be it. The rich getting richer --Hemingway kids, Winfrey--just plain makes sense to us, in a way the lightening strike starmaking power of OBC never quite did. And we ain't worrying; we figure that novel will be done by the time the third OBC is unveiled.

7. Michael Jackson gets hit by (hit by!) a smooth voodoo priest!
There are always two sides to every story. And for Michael Jackson, one side is typically nutty and the other, much, much nuttier. Even the A-List's old eyes, scaled by cynicism, desensitized and lidded, were dazzled by the sheer craziness packed into the latest MJ narrative being offered up in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. If the mag and its sources are to believed, three well-worn Jacksonisms are now proven as unequivocally true. First, the vitiligo-defense of his whitened skin is really B.S. (he really has been bleaching); second, his features are as fake as they look (he wears a pageboy wig and a prosthesis on the tip of his nose); and, third, his blackness spooks the hell out of him (he disparagingly calls black people "spabooks" --whatever the heck that means. This cat is so weird he even has his own private ethnic slurs! Seriously, what in sweet Jesus' holy name is the derivation of "spabook?") What really had the A-List going, though, is the allegation that Jackson paid what is described as an "African voodoo priest" $150,000 for a ritual intended to cast death spells on director Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and 23 others on his personal blacklist. Apparently salty after not getting the Peter Pan role in Spielberg's 1991 movie, Hook, Jackson ordered the voodoo ceremony in Switzerland, which included a "blood bath" and the slaughtering of 42 cows. Crazy, you say? Yeah, and that's our Michael!

8. Shame!
The A-List is simply horrified by this next item. Back when the A-List was a girl growing up in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, we remember many a snowball fight on Adelphi Street with the bigger kids from Rothschild JHS --aka Ruffchile --who would fire off iceballs at us and the other kids at our elementary school, P.S. 20 (and yes, nosey, we were in the same class with Kimberley Jones aka Lil' Kim, only she wasn't so beautiful and famous and perfect like she is now.). Fortunately for us, their aim was pretty bad and they drew a few tears at worst and a hail of return snowballs at best. Which is how snowball fights should be. This tender upbringing of ours leaves us wholly unprepared to process or understand the dementia of adults like Cynthia Powell, 36 and Joseph Best, 32, who --after Sunday church service no less --drove up to a group of school-aged girls and opened fire with guns to avenge their daughter being hit in the face by a snowball. One of the five bullets fired hit 10-year-old Ebony Smith in the head, who, as if this matters, was not even involved in the snowball fight. The common-law husband and wife have both been charged with attempted murder while Ebony lies in a hospital bed in Philadelphia fighting for her life. We're praying for you, Ebony and may your assaulters rot in hell.

9. Friends Jumps Shark and Finally Gets a Black Cast Member
Five years ago if you had told the A-List that NBC's hit sitcom Friends would someday have a black cast member we would have laughed our cynical little butts off. But, golly! were we shocked when we heard that the ever-loquacious Aisha Tyler would be joining the cast. The colored addition to the all-white line-up is, of course, long overdue, with Tyler (best known for her slapstick commentary as the host of Entertainment Channel's Talk Soup as well as the dating show Fifth Wheel) slated to play a professor of paleontology trapped like negative Oreo cookie filling between potential love interests Ross (David Schwimmer) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc).

The writers of Friends argue that adding a black cast member will give the show a more universal appeal, and that they hope to close the black/white viewer-ship gap for the sitcom, which ranks as the sixth most watched show with white audiences, but 65th among African Americans. (Tiger Woods is probably one of those viewers.) But like Happy Days' decision to have the Fonz jump a pool of sharks on water skis, the addition of the black cast member also heralds that unfortunate, fateful moment in every creatively exhausted sitcom's life when it goes and does something so outrageous that it undermines its own underlying creative logic, thereby hastening cancellation. (Picture that "Very Special" episode of What's Happening when ReRun bootlegs the Doobie Brother's concert, or the episode of Diff'rent Strokes where poor little Dudley is "touched" by R. Kel--we mean Gordon Jump!) As much as NBC may deny it, having a top rated sitcom about a group of "friends" who live in a bland, insular, all-white fantasyland is basically what this show is, has been, and forever shall be about, making the addition of Tyler officially the first scene of the show's last act. Bye bye, Friends! We always hated you all!

10. And that's all folks!
That's it for the A-List, so check back next week for more. (And if you liked what you read, make sure to forward it to 10 people, or else our voodoo priest will get you!)

About the Author: The A-List doesn't want R. Kelly in the same state as our kids.

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The Africana A-List: 02.21.03


This article was first published on Africana.com on February 21, 2003

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: News flash -- Tyson acts crazy before bout!

The A-List: 02.21.03
Compiled by Africana Staff

This week on the A-List:

1. Fight On! Fight Off! Tattoo On! Nose Off!
When the A-List was a young lad, we spent many a Saturday night at the illegal, impromptu automobile and motorcycle drag races that waxed and waned in time to police patrols on the long stretches of desolate service road that ran parallel to the city's highways. Conspicuous consumption colored car culture in the days before 24's, street races and their admirers have since been recently immortalized by crap Hollywood (think the Fast & Furious pics, with a little Biker Boyz and Torque thrown in) as an adrenaline pumping, underground Shangri-la of masculine self-actualization, each race an epic confrontation between manchild and machine, when the truth is that it was all about the accidents. Sure, money changed hands, and pride and reputations were on the line, and girls in stretch-minis got stuck clambering in and out of rolled-down windows, but at the end of the day the secret dream of every spectator was to be on-site for one of the yearly fatal crack-ups, while the secret dream of every driver was to come thisclose to the edge as possible while still living to tell the tale.

The recent fracaso around the on-again, off-again heavyweight bout between a rusted Mike Tyson and yet another potentially dangerous no-name fighter reminds us of those races. At this late date, Tyson fights find themselves drained of all drama, leaving the possibility of disaster as their only legitimate allure. Finding its natural, low level early on, the build-up to this weekend's bout with Clifford "The Black Rhino" (?) Etienne was a series of increasingly bizarre sub-plots that had little to with the art/science of boxing, the usual pre-match excitements replaced with the kind of lurid sensations you find in the average episode of MTV's Celebrity Death-Match. From the cameo appearance of Tonya Harding on the under-card to speculation that Mike's new tattoo could burst like blood sausage if hit properly (Mike's Maori warrior glyph has been repeatedly mis-identified in the press as an "African tattoo"), this past week felt like the lead-in not to a bout but to the history-making, self-immolating disaster we've all been waiting for from Mike ever since he stopped entertaining us with the awesome destructiveness of his fists. In the aftermath of his surgical dismantling by Lenox Lewis last summer, there is no hope of a real comeback and nothing new for Mike Tyson to offer, except, of course, everything, which in the context of boxing basically boils down to dying, or (to flip the same coin) killing someone in the ring, and when one of those things happens, for every shout of horror or outrage that leaps up out of the audience watching at home there will be a sigh of relief. Finally, Mike! You kept us waiting so long!

Think the A-List is exaggerating when we say audiences are out for blood? Consider that last week the number one non-war related story in the universe was the Michael Jackson 20/20 interview, a media event which made its audience two very clear promises: You will get an up close and sustained view of Michael's ruined nose, and you will get a sneak peek of him actually abusing two children, i.e., the baby "Blanket," whom he nearly suffocates while trying to feed, and the young cancer survivor Michael admits to having in his bed and whom he clings to throughout like a life preserver. If you take seriously the notion that Michael Jackson is somehow bad for kids, than it should also occur to you that having those kids on television where their abuse can be recorded (or perhaps even elicited for the camera) can't exactly be a seen as a good or responsible thing either. Instead, the Jackson interview was television gold, while PPV pre-orders of the Tyson fight are looking good. We'd end by saying: "Black mothers! Don't name your boys Michael," but better advice might be, paradoxically, to just make sure they don't end up famous.

2. The Butchers of Clubland
The A-List extends sympathies and condolences to the friends and families of those who lost their lives in Chicago this week in the tragedy at E2. Having spent enough time in enough clubs in various states of sobriety, the horror and confusion of the Chicago tragedy hit us, if not quite where we live, than where we party. While the snow piled high like a mountain of blame, the A-List monitored the airwaves using our the giga-channel scanner, watching with rapt horror as Chi natives weighed in on the disaster. Nearly to a man and woman, Chicagoans had one question: Who was responsible? Was it the club's owners who knowingly exploited the patrons? City inspectors who turned a blind eye (or didn't push hard enough to enforce previous orders to close the club)? Police officers who did the same? Mace-happy security who couldn't stop two women from brawling with their bare hands? Patrons familiar with the club's consistent and dangerous habit of over-admitting? Tom Ridge for putting us on Orange Alert and making everyone ultra-paranoid? Jesse Jackson for swooping down wherever there's a camera, everyone's favorite ambulance chaser and last ditch activist rolled into one?

The A-List says all of the above, and here's why: E2 has a posted maximum capacity of 375 on the first floor and an unsafe second floor space, of which Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce said "the owner knows damn well that he is not to open the second-floor facility." There was a police station only a matter of blocks from said facility, which makes the city's claims of ignorance implausible. And while the patrons are in no way at fault for just trying to have fun, a little less "go-for-self" pushing and shoving at key points in the room might have saved some lives, although in the age of chemical terror, you can't blame folks for being scared to death of airborne irritants. The one thing the A-List knows for sure is that everyone involved except the patrons knew certain parts of E2 were supposed to be shut, city officials included. And everyone should pay, city officials included.

3. Quota exceeded for suits filed against Bush in affirmative action case!
Proving once again that the Bush administration is out of step with at least some major portions of the electorate (which didn't, after all, elect it), a new crop of briefs have been filed against the administration's side in the affirmative action fight. Lining up with the University of Michigan --and against the right-wing funded white plaintiffs and their friends in the White House --are Harvard, Yale and three other Ivy League universities; another collegiate consortium consisting of Stanford, MIT and others; and Persian Gulf War hero "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf. (Stormin' Norman must be out to get his old aide de camp, Secretary of State Powell, as the ailing retired general also recently came out against an invasion of Iraq.) The recent flood of pro-affirmative action filings comes after a brief cosigned by some of the nation's largest corporations. So, what do all these successful, intellectually rich organizations know that Bush et al don't? Perhaps that diversity is a goal worth working for, or more simply, that our nation's motto is correct, and even instructive: e pluribus unum only works when we acknowledge and celebrate just how plural we really are.

4. Say it ain't so, Frenchie! And if it is, send us .jpegs!
How on earth will we ever teach our children about fairness when the TV is filled with travesties like the NFL playoffs, Election 2000, and now, American Idol? We almost thought we had a good object lesson in the show, sitting down with little Junior and Sis, in order to watch Simon, Randy and Paula mete out harsh but fair justice, separating the worthy from the unworthy in a weekly display of entertainment-world Darwinism. But now! How the show has let us down. By ditching Frenchie, the thick (and we don't mean Alan) singer who tore up "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" --and who also apparently lent her brick house loveliness to the framesets of various underage girlie sites --AI has abdicated any claim to moral superiority, or even clarity. The diss looks even worse when stacked up against the forgiveness shown by other reality shows when confronted with other girls with...uhm, pasts. Joe Millionaire kept a bondage queen tied up in emotional knots for weeks, while last year's AI featured at least one pole-dancing ex-stripper. These girls, the A-List is saddened to point out, weren't just ho's, they were white. So what're we gonna tell Junior and Sis? Beyond demanding they turn off FOX and pick up The Autobiography of Malcolm X, just the usual: be careful what dirt you do, as the penalties for youthful indiscretion are neither meted out nor created equal.

5. Zimbabwe's Mugabe feeling a little "Frenchie" himself
Like a hormone-addled adolescent, France is acting up, so intent on pissing off Britain, America and the rest of its allies that it invited Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe --a pariah throughout the EU --over for a visit this week. Dogged by protestors objecting to his regime's violent oppression of gays, as well as opposition forces within his own country (who scoffed that inviting Mugabe to Europe was like inviting Saddam Hussein to a G8 summit), Mugabe seemed to welcome the opportunity to snub his enemies at home and abroad while enjoying some excellent Bordeaux. His official newspaper celebrated the visit, declaring that 2003 would be Mugabe's year to "arise and shine" --but don't call it a comeback, he's been there for annes.

6. Like the A-List?
Show your love and forward it to everyone you know!

That's it for this week. Check back next week for more A-List!

About the Author: Writin' is fightin'

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:19 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: February 14, 2003

This article was first published on Africana.com February 14, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: Is it L-O-V-E?.

The A-List 02.14.03

This week on the A-List:

1. Black Media and Valentine's Day: An Africana Roundtable
So, it's a little after 5pm on Thursday, February 13, 2003 when the A-List's editor calls us into his office, sits us all down, says: "You've been doing great work, kid(s), great work."

"Thanks, chief."

He pulls a drawer in his desk open, a locked, bottom left drawer he calls "the Africana medicine cabinet." Inside is a carton of cigarettes, a stack of Jet magazines from the late sixties, a copy of the Uganda-era Transition signed by Rajat Neogy, a souvenir baggie of stale, crusty cocaine from when he was an intern at Spy Magazine, a souvenir baggie of stale Northern Lights he stole from the offices of The Source a few years ago, his unpublished novel, two rejected magazine business plans for what he keeps swearing is going to be the "black Vanity Fair," an incomplete business plan for an African American video game company, a solid gold floppy disk from the launch party for his first internet gig ("You wouldn't believe how much money they were just giving away on the web back-in-the-day"), a liability release he makes all the interns sign, a series of angry letters from an Africana reader calling him a sell-out ("Lookit how he keeps misspelling 'social responsibility.' It's bizarre."), and three bottles of Johnny Walker -- black for when he's pleased with you, red for when he isn't, blue for the next round of lay-offs.

"Want something?"

"Uh, no, thanks," we say. "You know, we've been wanting to tell you that we really appreciate the support you've given us with the column over the last few months. Not every editor would let us write the kind of -"

"Right," he says, shutting the medicine cabinet and turning away from us to fiddle with the playlist on his ITunes. "Actually what I wanted to know was what you had planned for Valentine's Day, because I'm going to need 500-600 words about black love by midnight or else someone is going to be in deep trouble."

We like our editor, but it's always either controlled-substance-or-stick with that guy.

"Well, we were thinking about tying all the items to Valentine's Day or love somehow, and leading off with a bit about all the men and women we've ever loved. You know, the usual A-List type thing: funny, cynical, self-referential-"

"What do you mean by 'loved?' These are people you've had sex with? Are you planning to use their real names? Links to personal web pages?"


"Do we have art?"


He waves us off. "I don't know if this is a good week for the experimental, post-black stuff. It's not testing well with the older demo and I'm having troubling meshing it with the educational and diasporic parts of the site. You know how it is. Folks want feel-good, soft-focus on Valentine's. Dating tips, how to find/keep a man, how-to pieces for building strong black marriages." He opens another drawer, pulls out a laminated poster which he unrolls on his desk. It's a Black History Month/Valentines promotional piece sponsored by a beer company called Great Black Romances of the Great Black Kings and Queens of Egypt. "Look at that. You got anything like that?"

"Not really."

"Huh." He puts his hands behind his head, knits his fingers, leans his chair back as far as it can go. "Is everything alright?"

"Excuse us?"

"Anything going on personally you want to talk about? My door is always open, you know."

"No, not real-"

We about jump out of our skins when he slams his desktop with the palm of his hand. "I'm not understanding exactly what the problem is. It's Valentine's Day, guys. Where are my goddamn chocolate-covered strawberries?"

"Well, it's just that Valentine's Day is one of those greeting card company holidays that's hard to get a black angle on."

"What the hell are you talking about? So what if it was all the greeting card company's idea? You don't love your mommies? That was Hallmark's idea, too."


"No but. No bleeping but. There is no more pressing issue in the black community than that of finding and keeping love. Do you know how many books a day are published about finding love? How many black folks are using internet dating sites? How many people are cruising chat rooms from their work PC's at this very minute instead of filing reports or doing whatever it is people with real jobs are supposed to do? What do you think, that's just 'cause we're extra libidinous?"


"Do you know how many black spoken word artists a day write crappy uplift poems about love?" He reaches into yet a third drawer and produces a print-out. "You in the back. Read that out loud for everyone."

Just because, BLACK WOMAN
Just because, BLACK WOMAN,
Just because no one has been fortunate enough to realize
what a gold mine you are, that don't mean you shine any less.
Just because no one is been smart enough to figure out
that you can`t be topped, doesn`t stop you from being the best.
Just because no one has come along to share your life,
doesn`t mean that day isn`t coming.
Just because no one has made this race worthwhile, BLACK WOMAN
it doesn`t give you permission to stop running.
Just because no one has realized how much of a woman you are,
doesn`t mean they can degrade your femininity on BET.
Just because no one has come to take loneliness away,
doesn`t mean you have to settle for those brothers with lower quality.
Just because no one has shown up who can love you on your level,
doesn`t mean you have to sink to theirs.
Just because God is still preparing your king, BLACK WOMAN,
doesn`t mean that you`re not already a queen.
Just because your situation doesn`t seem to be progressing out of the current situation you're in right now,
doesn`t mean you need to change a thing.
Keep shining, Keep running, Keep hoping,
Keep praying,
Keep being exactly what you are already.....COMPLETE!
Just because!
-- Anonymous

"That is a terrible, depressing poem, chief."

"You're missing the point. The story isn't your aesthetic judgments of the poem or the poet. The story is the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of regular folk feel similarly compelled to speak to their needs in ways that your critical vocabulary can only process in terms of dismissal. I can't hit a black woman's dating profile on a dating site from here to Timbuktu without running into that poem. It means something."

"It just means that that you and that poet are, as your friend jimi izrael once put it, cruising the Internet for some anonymous trim. That's not speaking to anything on any kind of higher plane."

"What? And your love life is an unbroken string of soul-connections and spiritual unions? You know, what poetry there is in the lives of most people is to be found in the regular details of their lives. If you were ever inclined to go out and do some actual reporting instead of just recycling stories from the web, you might discover that you can tell the entire history of black America in terms of nothing more than the obstacles set up by everyone from the earliest slave-owners to the local Department of Family Services in order to control, regulate, organize, and pathologize basic human impulses associated with love and desire and the need for basic companionship. And that's not just looking backwards in time, but forwards. While you're sitting here taking up space in my office, close to twenty percent of all black people on the planet are either infected with or at risk of infection by HIV, a disease that has had the perverse genius to make a home in the places where love, sex, shame, culture, pride, pleasure, risk and reward intersect, a disease that turns every encounter with the possibility of love into a simultaneous engagement with the possibility of death. What impact do you think that's going to have on how future generations think about love? And you have the nerve to sit up in here and tell me there's no black angle."

"First you tell us people want 'feel good' stories for Valentine's Day and now you've got us on the genocide beat."

"You know, if you whine at me one more time I'm going to take my belt off and beat each one of you to within an inch of your lives."

And what's to say, really, when your editor says that? "Okay, okay. We're on it."

"Excellent. Now think fast: what's the first thing that pops into your mind when I say 'Valentine's Day' post our little tete-a-tete(s)?"

"We got an email from Sudanese poet Kola Boof. She's the lady who says she was Osama Bin Laden's sex slave. She's going to do a reading of her work topless in Central Park. We've been exchanging email with her and she's been very charming."


"We're not 100 percent sure exactly what her deal is, but we're kind of developing a crush on her."

"Is she topless in her publicity photos?"

"Just about every single one."

Our editor smiles for the first time that day, his teeth white and canine sharp. "Now that, kid(s), is what I call a story."

2. Can a black female senator ever be America's sweetheart?
When she was elected in 1992 Carol Moseley-Braun made history as the first African American woman to win a seat in the US Senate. She didn't just bring X chromosomes and melanin to those august chambers, though; Moseley-Braun also packed a wide-open smile, a quick wit and a sense of style. The A-List was smitten. Sure, her term in the Senate was marred by allegations of financial impropriety, and, yes, she was defeated in her 1998 re-election bid. But we've never stopped missing her -- especially when we place her side-by-side with the newer Senate sorors, the overcoiffed and duplicitous Mrs. Dole and the long suffering Mrs. Clinton. This week news broke that Moseley-Braun is poised to file papers for a presidential run. She joins an already crowded Democratic field -- and as the longest shot among them -- but still, it does our hearts good to see her back in there. If, as SNL recently posited, the positions of US President and Vice President are filled in a manner more or less analogous to that employed by reality TV's The Bachelor and Bachelorette, then we can only hope that someone gives this woman a rose.

3. Afro-Latino A-List blues
For the second Valentine's Day in row, the A-List's more introverted, less actualized side has nothing to keep us warm with but an epic case of East Harlem blues. We moved there a year after school, in, uhm, the l-word with an Afro-Latino sorceress we'd met a fine liberal arts college, the two of us enchanted with the idea of building alternative black-on-brown unity spaces, our nose open to the possibility of sparking an East Harlem Renaissance at the turn of the twenty-first century. It's pretty cold comfort by now, but there was a time when we were so spellbound it seemed the sun rose from the Jefferson projects and set behind the Park Ave viaduct. It wasn't the (now-cliched) post-Black bohemian theme-park known as Ft. Greene -- home of Carol's Daughter beauty products and the original stomping grounds of Spike Lee -- it was better. The black art enclaves of Brooklyn, with their righteous, head-wrapped honey-dips and striving ex-Jack and Jillers, was already home, but the cross-roads of El Barrio, well, that was our very own Stateside Diaspora.

Along with learning the difference between a coquito and a piragua, between Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon, we also learned a few things we probably could have done without, chiefly how not to flinch at the sight or sound of live gunplay. Though aggressive policing had been pushing crime stats down, El Barrio was still a neighborhood where New Year's toasts might be punctuated by the staccato pops of an assault rifle and young boys sometimes celebrated the arrival of spring by testing out their new .22 pistols in broad daylight. This is why the recent publicity stunt staged by Manhattan Libertarian Party struck us as so completely insane. In order to protest a new set of laws banning the sale of overly realistic toy guns (you know, the kind that get black and brown boys shot every now and then), the pro-carry Libertarians handed out toy water pistols to children in East Harlem on the logic that "water pistols, noise makers and other plastic gun-shaped novelties are the stuff of any red-blooded American childhood." Why anybody seeking elective office would choose that particular neighborhood to stage a campaign stunt that involved giving children toy guns is beyond us, but the Libertarian party apparently didn't realize it was bad idea until an angry crowd of locals chased them out of the nabe with threats of non-fatal physical violence. We'd never endorse beating the crap out of someone over a incredibly stupid idea (there'd just be too many people to fight), but we were still glad to hear that residents and community activists -- our favorite Santera no doubt among them -- sent them pa' carajo.

4. We don't hate the South, we don't hate the South -- old, new and in-between
Even though we live in Boston, the A-List is endlessly fascinated by the land below the Mason-Dixon. But we are confused, we have to confess, by the politics there. In the most heavily black region of the country, what kind of crazy political idiot would want to bring back the Confederate flag? Actually we get why some people want to bring it back - they're stone cold racists! -- but we can't wrap our heads around the politics of it. Why would anyone be so open about their racism? Doesn't anyone, anywhere need those black votes? And don't they fear repeats of the NAACP boycotts that have already crippled convention and tourism business in South Carolina (where presidential hopeful John Edwards has reportedly stayed at friends' houses while campaigning, to avoid betraying the boycott)?

Apparently not in Georgia, where the newly elected Republican governor is set to host a referendum to reinstate the old state flag, the one that proudly displayed its Confederate side (it was replaced by the state's recently retired Democratic governor, whom analysts believe lost in part because of his decision to dump the stars and bars). Come 2004, Georgia voters can will themselves back to 1956, at least in terms of the flag they fly. As for whether the change will also herald a return to segregated schools and Jim Crow drinking fountains, look away, look away, look away... well, you unfortunately probably know the rest.

And yet, Dixieland is unpredictable. Virginia, home of the former Confederate capitol, just swore in its first black Chief Justice in the state's 224-year history. Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. became just the fourth black chief justice of any state's Supreme Court. This doesn't rise to the level of Thurgood Marshall's appointment to the nations highest court, but in a way it's more revolutionary-and, we hope, more duplicable.

We love you, Virginia!

5. Ebola (or something just as *bleeped*-up) breaks out again in Central Africa
No jokes here, what with seventy-three deaths and counting. Ebola, the highly contagious and cruel guarantor of rapid physical deterioration and death has reportedly surfaced again in a rural swath of Central Africa that includes Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon. The World Health Organization dispatched a team to investigate and perhaps quarantine the epidemic causing widespread hemorrhagic fevers, but when pressed officials confess they aren't even sure that Ebola is their bad guy. For now they're only certain that the outbreak began in October and intensified over the last two weeks, perhaps sparked by tainted meat eaten from infected dead animals

6. Whitney beams up on Wendy Williams
As if the Diane Sawyer wasn't strange enough, Whitney's interview on Wendy Williams's radio show made us almost want to applaud Bill O'Reilly for filing a complaint with New Jersey's child welfare office. (And we mean almost as in "not quite.") The A-List is usually all excited when we hear the phrase "wild circus sex" but truth be told, this time it's never sounded sadder.

Believe it or not, we still love you Whitney. We'd just also love it if you got some real help.

7. Possible pedophiles need love, too
Back when The A-List was a little girl growing up in the Midwest, we played on an all-girls softball team coached and sponsored, if we're remembering right by a 30-something, childless man named Mr. Sours. The team -- a bunch of 12-year-old girls, all with bouncing ponytails, about half with bouncing prepubescent chests too -- were his pride and joy, and he named us "Sours' Sweets," giving us all overly-tight, mid-riff baring T-shirts to prove it! Looking back, it's only natural to wonder what was up exactly with the heavily side-burned, musty smelling, nervously huggable and constantly sweating Mr. Sours. The team took no road trips that we can recall without the aid of hypnosis, but we bet he would have obliged a tired group of "his" girls by offering space on his bed to at least a couple of us "Sweets," especially after a big loss when we really needed hugs! And why not? He did teach us to play softball and moreover and all kidding aside, he did keep his sweating, pudgy hands to himself. (As far as we can recall.) He was our Mr. Sours, and although in light of hindsight we probably wouldn't let him keep our kids over-night in the big house of his magical ranch ("Sweet'n'Sourland"?) while we slept in a locked guest cottage two towns away, we'd be lying if we said we didn't love him.

Now, another problematic lover of children finds himself under attack. In a defensive explosion after last week's 20/20 airing of the Martin Bashir interview that he feels portrayed him a bad light, Michael Jackson has arranged with FOX TV to air the outtakes from said interview, clips he claims will exonerate him of all suspicion of child abuse. Perhaps. But maybe it's just that, even on Valentine's Day, some loves are just never going to look right, some hearts are just a little too crooked.

Call us crazy, but we still love you Mr. Sours!

About the Author: Who loves you, baby?

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:54 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: 02.07.2003

This article was first published on Africana.com on February 7, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: Black Astronaut Dreaming.

The A-List: 02.07.03

This week on the A-List:

1. The People Could Fly: R.I.P Columbia
Buried early in the chronology of things the A-List wanted to be when we grew up --cosmologist, fighter pilot, comic book writer, FX expert, professional videogame player, literary theorist, sci-fi novelist, internet columnist --is astronaut. This was back when we were in the fourth grade, an innocent time before we realized that getting to the stars (preferably faster-than-light; we needed to get back in our friends' lifetimes) would not only involve violating basic laws of physics, but would also involve understanding said basic laws in the first place. While the A-List was always one of the smart kids, highly placed in the cohort of bright bulbs, our brilliance was of the flashy verbal sort that, while impressive to teachers of Language Arts, made it hard for us to concentrate on things like numbers or (hypothetically) relativity. As a result, we made a fateful, pre-emptive decision in about the sixth grade that it'd be much more interesting (and fun) to write to stories about black folks in outer space than it would be to flunk out of the Air Force Academy training trying to get there. (When we saw the film version of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff we felt confirmed in our choice, over-identifying with ballsy, iconoclastic test pilots like Chuck Yeager, who in the film's fictionalized history of space flight find themselves overlooked by the Mercury program in favor of well-scrubbed, good-two-shoes astronaut/poster-boys like John Glenn.)

Looking back, we recognize that sixth grade moment for what it was: a failure of imagination, the sort of thing that distinguishes the tiny handful of people who are life's actors from the slightly larger handful who are its theater critics. (Of the good people in the audience, the less said of them by critics the better, this despite the fact that it's always the audience's collective tale being acted out on stage.) Presumably, Michael P. Anderson and the other crew of the Columbia did not suffer the failure of imagination that afflicted us, and neither did Ronald McNair, who died in 1986 aboard the Challenger. Black men in fields long viewed not just as the exclusive province of whites, but as the culminating acts of white civilization, they had fought their way into what's likely human endeavor's most exclusive arena because at some point or another they dreamed it was possible, this when there was very little proof to support them. Described almost universally by their colleagues as focused, mild-mannered and even-tempered, these were black men who, like poets working in rhymed verse, were able to make their dreams flower within the rigid structures of institutions and hierarchies. They not only survived in the tightly knit, socially conservative military-industrial culture of the space program, they thrived on teams organized around the grand themes of nation and species, and they died in spectacularly public ways while attending to the banal details of their trade: strap in, watch the dials, walk through the check-list, trust in the technology and your team-mates, wait. In the Buck Rogers fantasies of the A-List's childhood there were no such men as Anderson and McNair. For a black kid from Queens to end up in space, we thought he would have to be abducted by aliens or fall through some kind of wormhole on Jamaica Avenue; that he might end up there by tackling calculus, by going to medical school, or through voluntary military service would have struck us as absurd and naive, in fact it did, at least until the Andersons and McNairs of the world started riding rockets into the sky.

The A-List is not exactly sure what we'd do if we had a chance to do it all over (being a dreamer has its moments) but we do know that that a world with black astronauts is profoundly different than a world without. Somewhere out there is a kid who is mourning the deaths of the Columbia crew by making airplane noises and thinking, Buck Rogers-like, about how he or she would have piloted the shuttle down against all odds. Somewhere else is a kid drawing little squares on a piece of paper and thinking through the composition and placement of the perfect heat-resistant tile. Find the kid with the paper and the squares and nurture and protect her as best you can; she has important work to do where Anderson and McNair left off.

2. A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Street Sign
Say it three times fast: Amadou Diallo. Having gone from anonymous immigrant to symbol in a hail of bullets, Diallo has now become a place as well, namely the newly declared Amadou Diallo Place, Bronx, USA. Before becoming part of New York City's street grid, Diallo's name evoked a rush of (sometimes) conflicting emotions --four-year-old fury, put-to-sleep pain, reluctant joy --and New York officials hope that re-christening the one-block stretch of Wheeler Avenue where the 22-year-old Diallo lived and died will add a new sentiment to the mix, namely peace. The event itself was an object lesson in strange bedfellows. Besides city officials, anti-police brutality activists (the sort of movement folks who rarely grace a government ribbon-cutting) showed up, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton, Diallo's mom and about a hundred locals. Although the A-List finds the logic behind the move appropriate and kind, we have to wonder: what's a street sign compared to the writing on the courthouse wall in Albany, where the four officers who shot the unarmed Diallo got off scot-free? Not much, in our book.

3. Michael, Patron Saint of Children
The three whole hours of prime TV real estate ABC devoted to Michael Jackson this past Thursday will likely be misunderstood as either a scandal or sad spectacle, but contrary to what you will be reading in the papers and on the web, February 6, 2003 could likely be remembered Jackson's greatest triumph. Sure, the three hours were basically devoted to calling him the world's craziest rich man. And yes, during Jackson's heyday, his various television appearances --from award shows to Motown anniversaries --are among the highest rated in history. But neither of these observations compares to the fact that there is no one outside the world of politics and disaster who can command the attention Jackson can just by being weird. The suits at ABC gleefully threw what all assumed would be Jackson's on-screen demolition up against Nielsen juggernauts like CSI and ER, the network secure in the knowledge that even if it lost the ratings war it would win the news battle, the extended sit-down the day's top story after the Columbia investigation and impeding illegal oil war in Iraq. But the interview itself is instead a kind of creepy masterpiece, as Jackson successfully moonwalks the tightrope between coming clean about his habit of sleeping with kids, and coming off thoroughly believable when he claimed that all he does is tuck and cuddle. Jackson was clearly lying about his plastic surgery and seemed unable to manage the basic details of parenting without a nanny's assistance (he had obviously never fed a baby in his life before the feeding staged for Bashir), but on the subject of his non-sexual adoration of children he displayed the kind of visionary fatigue and outrage of a Christian being fed to lions, his worldview so totalizing and secure that he repeatedly and eagerly proclaimed it at risk to life, limb and career: I sleep with kids, and it's non-sexual. Deal with it.

Of course, the main thing such a revelation teaches is not that Jackson is dangerously out of touch (he is) or that there's nothing wrong about habitually taking strange kids to bed (there is), but that Jackson is the world's biggest star. It's an obvious point, but what became viscerally clear on Thursday was that being a global superstar (or, for that matter, a non-sexual-child-sleeper-with-er) calls for a unique mix of arrogance, selfishness and disconnect, for the ability to keep your eyes on what are (at first) highly idiosyncratic prizes long enough for the rest of the world to come around. While the lion-fodder Christians were part of a movement that would in due course change the world, Jackson's effort to save pop culture by hugging a child a night is a religion of one that he remains completely devoted to, despite its being radically out of sync with the rest of the world's mores. That it has brought him no greater punishment or censure beyond the occasional out-of-court-settlement (indeed, it's likely kept him in the public eye he loves so much) is a testament to his stardom, as is the practiced ease with which he ignores everything except his own desires on the matter. Jackson regularly accuses his father of abuse, but his behavior doesn't seem to be that of a grown-up victim, so much as it is that of stunningly spoiled child who has never been forced to face-up to or admit any limitation. After all, Jackson was willing to endure physical pain in order to make his face into what he wanted it to be; what's a few difficult interviews in order to allow him to keep him in a lifetime of kids to tuck in? In his mind he's done nothing wrong, and moreover, the adulation of fans, like the German girls who, at this late date, still melt into incoherent blond puddles at his touch, constantly amplifies the inner voices that must be telling Jackson on an hourly basis that no matter what nasty members of the press say, he is in the right. If anything was truly creepy about Thursday's interview, it wasn't Jackson's singular obsession but his fans, the millions of people (mostly German from the looks of it) who still chant his name despite rumor, scandal, decline and disfigurement. Who are they sleeping with, is what you can't help but wonder.

4. Hip Hop Generation Boycotts Pepsi: Russell Simmons Says Charge!
Russell Simmons and the Hip Hop Summit Network are urgin' the hip hop generation to boycott Pepsi products because the company dumped Def Jam South recording artist Ludacris. (Conservative yahoo Bill O'Reilly assailed Pepsi on "The O'Reilly Factor" for casting the profanity prone rapper in ads.) Now while the A-List is happy to see black folk back in the non-violent protest mind frame (we suggest Russell take it to the next level and order one of his umpteen artists to pen a vicious diss record/commercial for Pepsi rival Coca Cola) it worries us that Russell is merely doing this because of how this affects rap money, meaning his bottom line. The A-List suggests that if Russell really wants to flex some muscle he should look for something that the hip hop generation can relate to. Somehow fighting for million dollar commercial deals doesn't seem like on of them.

5. He's LeBron James and You're Not
While we were finding it tough to cry a river over LeBron James's valiant struggle to keep his high school eligibility AND drive a Hummer AND wear free gear, the A-List has always been a champion of the exploited amateur athlete. We're also highly appreciative of finely elaborated hustle, leaving us pleased as punch to hear that a court has ruled LeBron's gravy train can keep on truckin'. It's more obvious than ever that the metastasizing corruption in college and high school basketball has tainted all interested parties, which is exactly why trying to apply the old rules to young men groomed to break records (shooting percentage, luxury box sales, endorsement) is just an exercise in false piety. Sure, James and his family had their hands out, but the worst thing about their grab was the diclassi bad timing, as whatever it is they took was what was just a taste of the goodies coming to them in six months anyway. Anyone with an iota of insight could see the James scandal (such as it was) coming the day ESPN developed an interest in bringing high school games to national audiences, and although there is something distasteful about his mother using him as collateral in order to take out a loan, the folks with money and who run institutions --the sneaker companies, the sports agents, the clothing merchants, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, St Vincent's-St. Mary's, and the NBA --all have hands that are way dirtier than those of LeBron's family, who at worst are grimed by the stains a lifetime in the PJ's produces.

6. Common is uncommonly sensitive to the rights of animals!
Ex-thug turned black-love pitchman Common, may be appearing in ads for Coca Cola, but don't let it fool you: Common's crunchy. In a new ad for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, he comes out as a vegan, a sort of straight-edge vegetarian who shies away from all meat, dairy and animal products including two of the A-List's faves: honey and leather. The PETA ad, which reads: "Think Before You Eat. Go Veg For Life," shows Common preparing to bite into a veggie burger and it screams "Sensitive Black Boho" about as loudly as the periwinkle blue knit pants he rocks in this month's ESSENCE. (The A-List was so inspired by those pants that we're contacting Nacinimode, the man who knit Common's footless pajama bottoms in hopes that we can get a lime green knit jumpsuit with a giant scarlet "A" for "A-List" embroidered on the buttocks.) Common is not alone among hip hop heads for forsaking meat. Russell Simmons and The Roots have long avoided dead flesh, while Missy claims that becoming veggie helped remove some of the junk in her previously ample trunk. Shoot, we wanna lose weight too, and we would too, if it wasn't for the fact that the thought of Beyonce's face all slick smeared with fried chicken grease after a visit to Popeye's gets our knickers all in a bunch. Until a great body and empathy for the animal kingdom comes in easily swallowed one-a-day pill, we'll just have to satisfy ourselves with VEG LIFE tattoo we're planning to get on the A-List's collective belly.

7. Mandela Criticizes US Actions on Iraq, Accuses West of Disrespecting Kofi Annan
Step back, y'all! There's fire in the old man yet! The A-List was tickled this week to see former South African president Nelson Mandela come out with feisty public rebukes for Bush and Blair's promises to ignore UN recommendations on Iraq. "One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust," Mandela said last week. Later, just before Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiled his pro-war show and tell at the UN, Mandela reiterated his statements, "I'm not changing a word, not even a comma, of what I said, because I said so because I believe it," he said.

8. Newly Race-Conscious Republicans Rally Around Right Wing Latino
Just when the A-List is in danger of falling into deep, wretched cynicism about American politics and the prospects for racial harmony, along comes a Mormon from Utah to renew our faith in the basic goodness of humanity. According to the righteous Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Democratic questions about the political opinions --and potential judicial decisions --of sphinx-like Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada are, according to colorblind crusader Hatch, merely the actions of folks trying to "smear anyone who would be a positive role model for Hispanics." Preach on, Brother Orrin! It's just like when racist liberals like Anita Hill tried to high-tech lynch poor Clarence Thomas, thereby potentially depriving black children everywhere a positive example of Uncle Tom-ism! I tell you, the A-List is appalled that anyone --anyone! --would ask about the qualifications or potential opinions of a little-known colored nominee whose most notable past experience was as a lawyer in the firm that represented then Republican Nominee Bush in his successful attempt to overcome his little popular vote problem by invalidating the votes of thousands of African Americans in Florida. Yup, we definitelysee an attempt to deprive Latino children (you know, the little brown ones, as Bush pere once famously described his own half-Mexican grand children) of an object lesson in what it takes to succeed in Bush's America! And to think: all this insight from a group of people who never really noticed or believed in racism before! Is this a wonderful world, or what?

9. What's Love Got To Do With Phil Spector?
Like Ike Turner and Suge Knight, Phil Spector knew that great American pop is best produced under threat of violence. Kicking off a bad week for creepy pop geniuses, Spector's arrest for murdering a former actress seems to confirm his longstanding reputation as a dangerous eccentric. Spector wrote some of the biggest hits of the newly integrated post-Elvis era (including the Ronnettes' "Be My Baby" and the Righteous Brothers's "You've Lost That Loving Feeling") and pioneered the girl group concept that has brought black women fame from here to Destiny's Child, but he was also known to have explosive relationships with his artists. His marriage to Ronnette lead singer Ronnie lasted only five years, and punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone alleged that Spector once pulled a gun on him during a recording session argument. What's even wilder than the charges and the fact that he hired OJ's other attorney, Robert Shapiro, to defend him, is the revelation that Spector admitted to suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in an interview published just weeks ago. We're not going to say the words Bobby Brown, but, damned if we're not thinking them.

That's it for the A-List this week. Check back next Friday for more of black America's definitive list!

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:26 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: 01.17.03


This article was first published on Africana.com on January 17, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of what African America was (or should have been) talking about this week. #1 on the A-List this week: Shaq's wack anti-Asian attack.

The A-List: 01.17.03

This week on the A-List:

1. Shaq's Wack Anti-Asian Attack
Nearly six months after mocking the Houston Rockets' Chinese Yao Ming rookie sensation on national television ("Tell Yao Ming, 'Ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-so.") LA Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal offered a lame apology this week, giving Asian America the mixed message that while he was sorry if anyone was offended, they should all lighten up and learn how to take a joke. "I'm an idiot prankster," Shaq explained. "I said a joke. It was a 70-30 joke. Seventy percent of the people thought it was funny. Thirty didn't." It was the kind of bullsh*t non-apology that if applied to a slur against African Americans would have black folks steaming, but in the context of a slur against America's model minority, the performance quickly won the stamp of approval of the NBA, the Lakers and the ex-jocks and waterboys in the sports press. O'Neal went so far as to signal his complete disregard for everyone involved by staging another "prank" (he sat at his locker pretending to learn how to say "I'm sorry" in Mandarin), but rather than further indict him the antics were pointed to as final proof of Shaq's harmlessness. If Mike Tyson had made the same remark we'd all be talking about how thoughtless, crazy and sad he'd become, but with Shaq the rule of the day seems to be hate the sin, but love the sinner. Call the A-List a cynical old media whore but the only difference seems to be that Iron Mike isn't the kind of black athlete that can push sodas and burgers.

Like John Rocker, O'Neal doesn't believe he's racist, no matter how many of the offended tell him otherwise. There is a blunt cynicism to the "idiot prankster's" use of percentages that a pitcher like Rocker might appreciate. Shaq's humorless thirty percent, when applied to the pool of 300 or so million potential fans can easily contain 10 Asian Americas, making the enmity of an entire ethnic group relative small potatoes in a Shaq-sized fame economy. Although Asian American outrage (powered mostly by the internet, which kept the story bubbling below the mainstreams radar since last June) had scaled enough to make the NBA take notice last week, it had not scaled so much to force anyone non-Asian to cross party lines and take O'Neal seriously to task. A few African American talking heads on the sports beat winced at the irony of it all, this just before chastising Shaq the way you might an overactive, overgrown puppy --bad Shaq! --while others, stalwart defenders of the everything black, explained at length to their white co-hosts exactly why black folks can never be racist, the internationally famous multi-millionaire reduced to a powerless victim-waiting-to-happen. The threads of the "no-institutional-power-no-racism" argument have always frayed around the question of how dis-enfranchised groups interact with one another (by its logic, a black man can't be sexist or homophobic either) but they're particularly weak in the sports world, an abstract, endorsement-driven arena where talent, winning percentages and likeability all combine to create success, celebrity, and, yes, power. At the end of the day Shaq represents something, and it's precisely the idea --created by advertisers and the NBA for consumption by fans --that he represents something worthy that unravels when he cheerfully tosses racist jabs at an athlete of color who has been called "the Chinese Jackie Robinson."

Last month, five months after he'd uttered his slur, the Celebrity-Ass-Kissing Department at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund gave O'Neal a "Young Leader" award. The good folks at NAACP LDF (i.e., the folks who do the actual legal work, and who have partnered with the Asian American Legal Defense Fund on countless cases) should strip him of his award until he makes a more genuine apology. The A-List doesn't think O'Neal should be fired by the Lakers (Trent Lott still has his main gig) but Shaquille O'Neal isn't fit to represent black folks or reap accolades from our leading civil right organization.

2. Affirmative Action is Racism Itself! Exclaims Yale Legacy Bush
Martin Luther King, Jr., a master of the use of the English language, would be spitting mad at the mistreatment it has received at the hands of Supreme Court-appointed, imposter president, George W. Bush. Bush's administration is filing an amicus (or "friend of the court") brief against the University of Michigan, whose affirmative action policies are about to come under consideration by the High Court, with the Bushies, in a typically Orwellian twist of logic, assailing U Mich for employing a "quota" system. Yeah, right. In much the same way that conservatives describe estate taxes as "death taxes" and automatically cement "frivolous" to the word "lawsuit," the quota bit is demagogic sophistry, high-level, linguistic tricknology designed to make fair assessment of U Mich's system impossible. The A-List's dictionary defines "quota" as "a proportional share, as of goods, assigned to a group or to each member of a group," and we can cite real-life examples from Harvard College once-upon-a-time imposing a quota on Jewish students, to the US government imposing limits on the number of immigrants from a given country will be allowed to settle here in a given year. Those are quotas. What the University of Michigan does, in both its undergraduate and graduate admissions policies, is assign a value to minority status --just as it assigns a value to family history with the school, being a varsity athlete, being from the Great Lake State itself, and so on, all of which factor into a student's application for enrollment there. That, dear reader, ain't a quota, and if Bush tells you otherwise --or if he has the gall to echo conservatives who try to draft MLK into the anti-affirmative action camp based upon a willful misreading of his "I have a dream" speech --then he needs to renounce his college degree, because we all know there's not a chance in aych-eee-double-el hell Shrub would have gotten into Yale if his daddy hadn't gone there first.

3. NFL Hands off to Marvin Lewis and Avoids Sack by Cochran
Until the start of the 2003 season, and as of this past Tuesday night, the A-List's favorite NFL team is the Cincinnati Bengals! Why? Well, in case you haven't heard, Cincy, otherwise known as the home of Jerry Springer and "Race Riot Central 2001" (this in the aftermath of the police shooting yet another unarmed, fleeing black man), has tapped Washington, DC's defensive wiz Marvin Lewis to be the Bengals' head coach. (Before joining the unfortunately named Redskins, Lewis called defensive plays for the 2000 Super Bowl champs, who set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.) The A-List would like to take this opportunity to write on a big piece of oaktag "'Nuff Respect Ray!" The A-List recalls Africana pitching Lewis as a credible head coaching candidate back in 2001, and although we're glad to see the rest of the world finally catching up to us we're still wondering about two things: Is the NFL's suddenly seeing the light about Lewis the result of pressure brought to bear on the league's 32 teams by Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Cyrus Mehri? And why did they give a brother the worst team in the league? We're glad he was hired and all, but asked to choose between Dr. King's dream of a color-blind society coming true and the Bengals going 8-8 this century, we're betting on King to cover.

4. Two Channels Down, Too Many To Go
The A-List isn't bragging, but we get over three hundred channels on our digital cable service. (It's true. You should come over and watch TV with us sometime. It's fun. We're a good host and we serve fine wine and we have a nice fluffy rug by the TV that you can lay out on while we change the channels back and forth, over and over and over.) This tele-visual bounty is deceptive, though, as there's still but one channel dedicated to the demographic that is the collective black A-List. (PPV porn doesn't count.) This why you can imagine how, er, excited we were to hear that Comcast and black/urban-oriented FM behemoth Radio One were teaming up to smash the more than 20-year black boob-tube reign of Bob Johnson's BET.

The big question, of course, is whether there will there be enough advertiser support to make the venture successful in the long. It's early, but new network proposes to "compliment" Johnson's teen-focused cash cow by gearing "quality" programming towards the more mature 25-to-54 market segments, which takes money. (The perverse logic behind BET's stranglehold on the youngblood-type cooning is that booty-videos come pretty cheap.) The strategy raises a few fiscal flags, especially at time when advertisers are increasing interested in maximizing dollars by targeting the a du-rag demographic and their proven ability to influence buying patterns across geographic, age and ethnic lines. The A-List is optimistic but also skeptical --we've been getting treated like our money's not green for far too long. Still two things are certain: first off, about this time next year, the stock photo companies will have another major market for black-and-white profile portraits of MLK looking non-violent. And second off? What with all the recycling that goes on in black media, expect the news heads that rolled away from BET last month to be back in business by '04. Welcome back, Ed!

5. God Bless Us and the Little Biracial Children!
Martin Luther King, Jr. urged us all to judge people by the content of their characters, not the colors of their skin, and would likely have been appalled by statements attributed to Jendra Loeffelman, 52, a teacher at Crystal City Elementary School in Crystal City, Missouri. Accounts diverge as to the exact details of the teacher's comments, but the school district, now holding hearings to determine whether or not Loeffelman can keep her job, alleges she not only expressed disapproval of interracial marriages, but added that biracial children were dirty and inferior. "She basically said I shouldn't have been born," biracial eighth-grader Billy Bingham told the local newspaper after testifying in the hearing. The A-List feels your pain, Billy. We know what it's like to be first person but plural, to be neither print column nor weblog. Sometimes the blogs, they accuse us of acting column-ish and say that we're not "real" because we're an AOL Time Warner, Inc. property. But the columns? They're not any nicer. They act like they're better than us and they never respond to our forwards, especially Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman, who we used to have huge crushes on until we heard them saying bad things about the Internet. So we feel your pain, Billy, but don't worry: sounds like Miss Jendra about to take some early retirement. ;)

And while we're on the race-mixing tip, why did The Today Show's Matt Lauer feel the need to (fumblingly, blushingly) assure viewers that the two participants in the morning show's recurring segment on modern matchmaking --a black man and a white woman --were NOT going to be dating each other? All embarrassment and innuendo, his blurted protestation was like something out of Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes' richly layered evocation of repressed desire and stifling conformity in Eisenhower's America. Lauer either doth protest too much (wink-wink) or any reminder of Katie Couric and former co-host Bryant Gumbel's tempestuous relationship (we'd wink here, but we don't want to get sued) still gives Today show staffers the heebee-jeebee's.

6. Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap, Serena! (And Then Cut Your Hair!)
Being the pragmatic Christian that he was, the-Good-Reverend-Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. would have forgiven Serene Williams her profane purple outburst, wherein she cursed to herself after losing a point in her winning match against France's Emilie Loit at the Australian Open earlier this week. And although we'd have to live a few additional lifetimes before we could ever attain Dr. King's moral sense and clarity, we forgive her, too!. Who the A-List doesn't forgive --good Gaia/Lord/Yaweh/Allah, no! --who we just can't forgive, is whoever it was that lied and told that girl a platinum weave was a good idea. Now don't get us wrong, Serena and Venus are beautiful women --and we'll take the weave over multicolored plastic beads any day --but we think the $1500 fine, which is supposed to support some international tennis charity, was aimed at the wrong offense. Somewhere there is a hairdresser that should be fined to the fullest extent of the law will allow and there's no line judge in the world with the power, will, or inclination to find them.

7. Yes Virginia, There is a Death Chamber...
Now that Virginia has decided to try sniper suspect John Lee Malvo --a minor under the influence of a crafty, dominant father figure --as an adult, Malvo faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted. Statistics suggest this isn't a popular position among black folk, but what the heck: as far as the A-List is concerned, state-sponsored killing is an absurd, barbaric practice rightly abhorred by most of the world except for the United States, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea. Additionally, Malvo has been charged with one count of murder under newly terrorist laws enacted in the post-September 11th whirlwind. Few will likely lament the conflation of murderous categories like "serial killer" and "terrorist," but Malvo is just the first high profile example of how the hurriedly composed and broadly worded expansions of police power post-9/11 can be re-purposed to serve just about any prosecutorial end. If MLK were alive today he wouldn't know where to begin.

8. Saint George of Tarsus, IL
Virginia's fevered casting about for the fastest way to kill John Lee Malvo this week was in stark contrast to events in Illinois, where Republican Governor George Ryan capped a years-long drift to the anti-death penalty camp by blanket-ly commuting the sentences of 137 prisoners on the state's death row. The spectacle of Ryan --white, conservative, plain-spoken and rubber-faced --evoking Civil Rights, abolitionism, Lincoln and (of course) MLK as a build-up to his historic act was profoundly American in a way that brought a tear to our cynical eyes. Ryan, who in the complex way of things is under threat of indictment for fraud and corruption, is both a classic American hero and a classic American crank, the Governor doing the right thing by evoking an obscure (and some would argue anachronistic) power derived, not from the people, but from the pre-Enlightenment "divine right of kings." Like monarchs of old, Ryan found himself invested with the power to grant life and death, and like a kindly king he offered life (in prison) to the 137 mostly black men in his custody. Although there are plenty of folks in Illinois who have suggested the Governor acted mainly to secure a legacy under threat of being marred by allegations of corruption (most of it is the sort of graft that plagues most city and state bureaucracies, like the charge that IL driver's licenses were for sale while Ryan was Secretary of State), the A-List can imagine no better spokes-model for the cause of death penalty abolition. Walking down the road to a fat, comfortable, Midwestern retirement, Ryan --who not only supported the death penalty as a state legislator, but drafted Illinois' statute --was struck by a righteous lightening and now walks the earth with no other purpose than testify to his change of heart. Death penalty advocates beware: there is no more rabid (and radical) believer than the convert.

9. GOP Meets With Black Conservatives
The A-List had to stifle a yawn upon hearing that black members of the GOP were going to be meeting with party leadership in order to discuss race, African American issues and the question of the party's unpopularity with colored folk. Now don't get us wrong. Black Republicans taking on the question of the party's racism is a monumental existential leap. (Imagine a fish suddenly becoming cognizant of, like, water.) Our suspicions were confirmed, though, when Armstrong Williams, the self-proclaimed "principled voice for conservative and Christian values in America" urged everyone to maintain proper perspective, opining that while the GOP "has to realize that it cannot be lily white any longer," being lily white "doesn't mean that they are racist." Whatever Armstrong. MLK's birthday is next week and Black History Month is next month and we made a pact to be nice to as many black people as possible from now until March. That, unfortunately, includes foolish black Republicans who still haven't realized that the Party of Lincoln is now run by the ideological sons of the Confederacy.

That's it for this week A-List. Join us next week, same Africana Channel, same Africana time! And if you like the A-List, please do send it to a friend or two or seventeen. Forwarding articles is what makes the wide world web go round...

About the Author: The A-List is the Original Afro-Asiatic Man

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:07 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: 01.03.2003

This article was first published on Africana.com on January 3, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Two Black Coaches in AFC Wildcard Game; For the Black Man to Win, the Black Man Must Lose!

This week on the A-List:

1. Two Black Coaches in AFC Wildcard Game; For the Black Man to Win, the Black Man Must Lose!
Once upon a time the A-List had a white friend, a genial young man from La Jolla, CA who dreamed of becoming a doctor and helping folks of every hue. Our friendship grew and grew and grew, until one day it reached the ultimate stage of bonding: we decided to watch the Super Bowl together, specifically the 1988 XXII contest where the Washington Redskins, led by Doug Williams, spanked the Denver Broncos and John Elway 42-10.

Now seeing how neither the A-List nor our white friend was from DC or Denver, our Super Bowl partner expected gameday to be a non-partisan affair, a gentlemanly idyll of appreciation for the sport that is football, but there the A-List was, making a whole lot noise and rooting for Williams and the Redskins like we had money on it. (Which we did, but that's another story.) At first our white friend was just perplexed, but as Williams threw his way to four touchdowns and 340 yards passing, as our celebrations grew more ecstatic, our taunting of Elway more cruel, his confusion got the better of him.

"But why," our white friend wanted to know. "Why are you rooting for the Redskins, A-List? They have a racist, anti-Native American mascot, and, moreover, you're from Queens, which used to be home of the JETS, at least until they moved from Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands."

"We hear you about the mascot," we replied, "and the A-List is indeed from Queens, onetime home of THE 1969 SUPERBOWL CHAMPION NEW YORK JETS. But the thing is that the Redskins have a black quarterback, a black quarterback who's about to win a Super Bowl, an MVP, and the trip to Disney."

"But if I rooted for Denver just because they had a white quarterback I'd be a racist."

"Exactly," we explained. "You'd be a racist and worse: you'd be typical. You'd be sitting there cheering for business as usual. But us, we're cheering for not just for the race, but for history in the making."

"But there must black people in Denver," said our dear, dear confused white friend after a long pause. "Who are they rooting for?"

At the time we didn't give his question much thought, at least not until recently, when the stage was set for this Sunday's upcoming AFC Wildcard game between the NEW YORK JETS and the Indianapolis Colts. As history-in-the-making would have it, both teams are coached by African American men -- the gritty, valiant, heroic, AFC Champion JETS by Herman Edwards, the wildcard Colts by Tony Dungy. In the NFL's modern era, there have only been five black coaches: Edwards and Dungy, as well as Art Shell, Dennis Green and Ray Rhodes. Edwards and Dungy aren't just part of a tiny black coaching fraternity, though. Like the A-List and its white friend, they're also buds, Edwards having apprenticed under Dungy as an assistant while Dungy was head coach at Tampa Bay. To complete the picture, the pair are also part of the even smaller fraternity of NFL coaches who fall under the press-defined category of "nice guys." Dungy and Edwards are invariably described as so upbeat, so positive and decent that the back channel assumption must that they're slightly soft (or barring that, some kind of Bible-thumpers). In the build-up to the playoffs, everyone from the NY dailies to ESPN has latched onto the "nice, black...and friends!" angle, pairing pictures of the happy-but-competitive couple with breathless prose to the effect that with guys like Dungy and Edwards there are no losers.

Of course, those of us who live in the real world know that for there to be a winner there must be a loser, and that, furthermore, there's something invariably truly and deeply wrong with the loser, who loses not just because the other team was "better," but because they were "worse" and, in some way, likely evil. In that moral universe, a black-on-black coaching collision like the JETS-Colts game should present the kind of philosophical problem hinted at by our white friend, but fortunately this isn't a fantasy football match-up between Dennis Green's Vikings and Art Shell's Raiders. This is JETS-Colts, and to tell the whole, honest, unvarnished truth, Indianapolis could be coached by Malcolm X, with MLK as offensive coordinator and Harriet Tubman calling D, and the A-List would still root for the JETS, because, you see, we're from Queens. And you likely don't know what it was like growing up in that most terrible of boroughs, finding yourselves fans of a troubled team, the roots of your allegiance lost in the mists of childhood and your entire sports history reducible to little more than ancestral mutterings about a brash, mythical prince named "Broadway" whose most immediately discernable legacy isn't the single, long-ago trophy (or the street) but all those long, unbroken years of defeat.

To be a JETS fan is to learn how to pick out the tantalizing highlight produced against a backdrop of abjection, the occasional monster game by Ken O'Brien or The Sack Exchange or Freeman McNeil, a thing of beauty whose perfection lay in the fact that it was always marred by the rest of the team's numbers and the record and, lord help us!, the coaches, the Bruce Coslets and Rich Kotites who let us down year after year despite the pre-season promises of change. (And the less said of Bill Parcells the better, he who blustered into our lives Pat Riley-style, flashing all those rings, only to deliver nothing but heartbreak.) To be a JETS fan is to root for a team with no real home, to believe in the possibilities of a rag-tag, fugitive franchise whose only monument to the optimism that must have founded it is the linguistic flourish of a forward-propelled name, a team that win or lose plays in a stadium with someone else's logo on it. It's hard believing when all the world tells you your team is nothing, but what are you gonna do? You are who you are. Or more specifically, the A-List is who we are, and we've decided that if there's one thing being a JETS fan is akin to, with its peculiar mix of pride and loss, it's being black. So a black head coach leading the JETS into the playoffs against a black Colts coach isn't just a win-win for the race but a sign from heaven. It's okay if the rest of you don't understand what's happening, but when we win the Super Bowl, you will.

2. Opposition Wins in Kenya; Former Pres. Moi Leaves Inauguration Ceremony Early
A down year ended on a good note for East Africa, as Kenyans celebrated the swearing-in of a new president, and possibly of a whole new political era. Mwai Kibaki, leader of an opposition ticket, swept into office in the wake of departing, 24-year president Daniel Arap Moi, defeating Moi's handpicked successor Uhuru Kenyatta -- who, despite having the most blackest, most militant name in all creation, was, reportedly, a bit of an empty suit. In Nairobi Monday, huge crowds shouted, "no more bribes!" as Kibaki took control of a country that's lost an estimated $870 million a year to corruption from 1990 to 1997. It's a hell of a challenge, but the A-List wishes him the best. Meantime, we got a kick out of reading about the inauguration, at which everyday Kenyans felt free to satisfy their deep loathing of outgoing president Moi, shouting, heckling and throwing so much clumped mud at him that he reportedly left the ceremony early (no doubt to look into classes at BU's school for former African, uhm, "leaders").

3. Do You Know Where You're Going to?
Another day, another diva caught-up in an (alleged!) down-market drinkin' and druggin' debacle. According to published reports, Diana Ross was arrested at 12:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 30 in Tucson Arizona, after another driver reported a vehicle swerving all over the road while going south in northbound lanes. Police tracked the car to a handicapped parking space in the parking lot of a video store, where they found a visibly confused Ross, 58, who claimed to have gotten lost while driving to rent a movie. (We don't know what's more sad: the bad driving, the misappropriation of the handicapped parking space, or the spectacle of Diana Ross showing up at Blockbusters all bleeped-up and clutching a VHS copy of Mahogany.) Those dear friends of the race at The New York Post published Ross' police report, which detailed that while Ross agreed to a sobriety test, she failed the bonus portions devoted to alphabet-reciting (missing several letters and repeating "c" multiple times), and one-leg-standing (she fell down and laughed when asked to count to ten). We don't know about y'all but this definitely sounds like a case of DWBFD -- driving while black famous and tipsy -- to us!

4. The Fact of Life Is That Ex-Stars Need Love, Too
Kim Fields is making her dating debut on a new show called Star Dates, on the E! Channel. Grafting two reality trends into one unholy, hybrid monster, Star Dates attempts to capture celebrities in their natural habitat by having them go out on blind dates with...(inhale) normal people (gasp!). Despite our fear that our beloved Tootie would make a complete and utter fool of herself, she's been deemed "celeb of the week" by E! teevee. Show previews, though, tell a different story, as she was apparently matched up with a date so insufficiently educated in Fields' oeuvre that he tried to praise her by saying how much he enjoyed In Living Color. Uh-oh, looks like "there's gonna be trouble!"

5. Conflict Diamonds: They're Not Just for African Terrorists Anymore
Charles Taylor is crazy -- like a fox. We don't exactly believe every top-secret intelligence report that comes out of Babylon (the A-List is a font of well-honed skepticism, as you well know), but this one has a particular, shall we say, ring of truth: the Washington Post is reporting that a year-long European investigation has found that Taylor's Liberia and neighboring West African nation Burkina Faso both harbored al Qaeda operatives who were raising money by cornering the region's diamond market. For his troubles, Taylor received an alleged $1 million gift, while al Qaeda bought up an estimated $20 million in stones (bling bling, indeed). Two big questions remain: what's al Qaeda gonna do with all their profits? And, how's that ring on your finger feeling right about now? The pretty, shiny one, with the blood dripping from it? Forget those BS PSAs about weed-smoking teenagers funding terrorism. The true bankrollers of terror are sitting in millions of gas-guzzling SUVs at this very moment, stuck in traffic, and admiring the deadly sparkle that comes off their hands when they turn the wheel.

6. Sonny Carson Dies, But the Fighting Continues
The 66-year-old Carson, who fathered both X-Clan's Professor X (born Lumumba Carson) and the term "street activist," died December 20, 2002 after spending two months in a heart-attack-induced coma. Carson is probably best remembered by most non-New Yorkers as the subject of the colorful, urban biography and 1974 bio-pic The Education of Sonny Carson. In the New York City press, though, his legacy has come up for grabs, as those who regard the Brooklyn firebrand as a venerable leader face off against those who only remember him as an amplifier of New York's ethnic tensions, most notably during the Korean grocer boycott of 1990 and the Crown Heights riot. Angered by the consistently ugly image painted of Carson, his family banned mainstream media outlets from his funeral, which prompted a series of unflattering, revenge obituaries about the deceased, particularly in the reactionary New York Post. As the A-List remembers him, Carson was a tireless defender of black people whose zealousness put him on the wrong side of a number of issues late in his career, but that's absolutely no cause to misrepresent his legacy or disrespect his grieving family.

7. In a Completely Unrelated, Non-Black Obituary, Another Legacy is Questioned
No, Virginia, there is no Bigfoot. A Washington State man by the name of Ray L. Wallace apparently made the footprints most commonly pointed to as proof of the monster's existence using giant, wooden, foot-shaped flip-flops. Wallace passed away last week and his children finally owed up to the hoax, this, 44 years after the 1958 footprinting spree that started the Bigfoot phenomenon. Who knew?

8. Rangel Calls for a New Military Draft
Before you start muttering about maps to Canada, faked "psycho" behavior and other commie-pinko, draft-dodger talk, consider this: a "volunteer" army is disproportionately black, brown and poor. A conscripted army is at least theoretically more democratic, as, barring abuse of exemptions, it draws equally from all classes -- and is therefore more likely to contain at least a few folks our elected representatives might conceivably know and miss. Harlem's own Charles Rangel, a US Congressman and decorated war vet (Korea) says that Congress might be less likely to blithely vote for war if its members' own sons and grandsons had a chance of seeing some action. His proposal doesn't stand a chance, but we can see where he's coming from -- nobody wants a war less than the parent (or lover/sibling/child) of a soldier.

9. Mandela Christmas Party Mayhem
Oh god, the children! The A-List is sad to report that the latest in a series of annual Christmas parties hosted by Nelson Mandela -- this one attended by our very own Oprah Winfrey! -- erupted into a stampede, as thousands of children pushed toward a pile of dolls and soccer balls brought for them by jolly ole Saint O. In a scene reminiscent of the K-Mart "disturbances" sparked in the 1980s by the Cabbage Patch Kids and the 1990s by Tickle Me Elmo, at least three children were injured; thankfully, nobody was killed. All of this merely confirms what the A-List has been saying (over drinks, into drinks, to drunks) for days now: thank God the holidays are over

That's it for this week A-List. Join us next week, same Africana Channel, same Africana time! And if you like the A-List, please do send it to a friend or two or seventeen. Forwarding articles is what makes the wide world web go round...

About the Author: Queens is the loneliest borough.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:47 PM | Permalink

July 19, 2006

The Africana A-List: 10.17.03

This article was first published on Africana.com on October 17, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Kobe, York, and Prince.

The A-List: 10.17.03

This week on the A-List:

1. Kobe: Quick and Dirty Sex Lives of the Rich and Famous
Decent people can legitimately disagree about Kobe Bryant's guilt or innocence, about his moral fiber, his ignored marital vows and his childish, vacant approach to anything that isn't basketball related, but as the Kobe Rape Trial Circus officially set up shop court-side (that's the judge kind of court) one fact has surfaced on which we can all agree: Bryant's lawyers -- Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon -- are clearly the best bottom feeders money could buy. Setting a combative and ugly tone early by repeatedly using the accuser's name in court, Bryant's lawyers have responded to the awful crux of the accuser's testimony -- five tear-filled, non-consensual minutes bent over a chair, a hand around the throat -- with attack-dog cross examinations, innuendos about her "excitement" at meeting the Lakers star (translation: she wanted it) and the legally irrelevant bombshell that she arrived at the hospital for medical examination wearing a white male's semen and pubic hair. (Note to Mackey and Haddon: the fact that someone is sexually active doesn't make it "impossible" for them to have been raped.)

While the testimony being offered up by both the prosecution and the defense makes for powerfully tawdry headlines, it's most valuable as the next round of salvos in the already declared public relations war. Kobe, of course, has powerful weapons he can bring to bear in hopes of winning public opinion: fame, good looks, a pretty and publicly supportive spouse, another contending Lakers team to keep the focus on what we used to like about him, and, of course, gobs and gobs and gobs of money. If anything, the moves laid down by Team Bryant this week in Colorado tell us much more about what it means to live in KobeWorld than it does about the events of June 30, Bryant inhabiting the kind of personal reality where lawyers boldly risk contempt charges secure in the knowledge that their boss's deep pockets will see them through, and where the moral tarnishes of adultery and victim-bashing can be washed off as long as there are more highlights on ESPN, more wins and more championships coming. If you had any doubt that Team Bryant would do anything to ensure the star player keeps playing (and in so doing, keeps earning) they should have been erased by the performance of Mackey and Haddon last week. In KobeWorld the only thing that matters, that has ever mattered, is basketball, common decency be damned.

And does the accuser's story tell us anything about KobeWorld? At the risk of sounding as if we doubt her story (and let us say upfront: the A-List has an admittedly kneejerk pre-disposition to believe the accuser), the saddest thing about her description of the events of June 30 may just be that, with the exception of the tears and the "no's", little went on that should shock anyone familiar with the sex lives of the male, famous and groupie-rich. While the common fantasy about fame is that one of its perks is a plenitude of mind-blowingly great sex, any woman (or man, for that matter) who has gone through a raging groupie phase can tell you that you don't rack up 20,000 sexual partners by wasting too much time seeing to their sexual satisfaction. Taken as a whole, the graphic details that the press has seized upon -- the ignored bed, the duration of encounter, the position, the obscene self-involvement of Kobe's pillow talk ("I love Vail!"), the casual post-encounter demand that the accuser clean up and get out -- give us very little definitive sense of Bryant's guilt or innocence, but broken down into pieces they are the primal constituent elements of classic groupie sex, that numbers-based encounter where instead of intimacy, connection, and exchange, there is only the tabulation of two parallel but disparate totals: total ballers bedded down vs. total groupies. In much the same way that the accuser's sexual habits have no bearing on whether she was raped, Bryant's proclivities have little bearing on whether or not he is a rapist, as both stories should be judged on the basis of real, preferably physical, evidence. Still, we can't help but wonder how many girls there are in KobeWorld (and in RapperWorld and DirectorWorld and ActorWorld and SingerWorld) who are reading the papers and thinking: Now that reminds me of the night so-and-so was in town...

2. Justice: High Court, Weighty Issues
Pro-pot, agnostic on God, and concerned about the free speech rights of internet porn peddlers: for once, the Supreme Court is on exactly the same page as the A-List! The Court, which began its yearly session last week, declined to overturn a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (the notorious SF-based left-leaning appeals court that earlier this year threw our more than 100 death sentences) that allows doctors to tell their patients about the medical benefits of marijuana. This is a victory for the free speech rights of medical professionals, the pain maintenance of those battling cancer, AIDS and other illnesses, and the general sanity of the nation -- thank God we seem to have left "just say no" back in the vault of '80s trivia, where it belongs. Speaking of God, when is it legal to do so, and when does the public invocation imply an illegal coercion? That's another case the Court will take on this year, specifically centering on whether public schools that begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance ("...one nation, under God...") are themselves commiting the unconstitutional act of establishing a state religion. This one, too, comes to us from the 9th Circuit, which ruled along the same lines you might expect -- it said, in a 2002 decision, that the words "under God" do in effect cross the line, entangling the state in the religious life of its people in a way that violates the first amendment. The Court, which itself begins each session with an invocation, has never before tackled this issue head on, and this year may also sidestep it, as a 4-4 tie is not unlikely -- Justice Antonin Scalia having recused himself for speaking publicly (and volubly) on the issue. However, the tie in this case would go to the runner -- ie, the 9th Circuit's ruling. For the A-List, whose completely neutral memories of reciting the pledge butt up against an icky feeling about the whole enterprise -- the mass recitation, the groupthink implied by it, the false air of weighty history assumed by a clause added in 1954 -- the whole thing ought to be moot. Reciting the pledge of allegiance ought to be an opt-in, like prayer circles or boy scouts, or any other not-quite-nonpartisan activity. We shouldn't be in the business of forcing schoolchidlren to take a loyalty oath, God-reference or no.

And on to porn. Overturned, upheld, revisted -- such is the history of the Child Online Protection Act, an as-yet unenforced 1998 law meant to shield kids and others in public places from accidentally clicking on innocent-looking teasers and inadvertently falling into one of those endless, Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole-like porn loops. The ACLU has always opposed it, as have nearly all librarians out there -- the filters block more than porn, they block educational and even life-saving resources about things like breast cancer and STDs -- and we can't really tell who's for it. It is unenforceable and totally technologically illiterate. The good news, family-values-wise? It turns out the only thing that can protect kids from online ugliness is -- get this -- parental supervision. Which, in a shocking turn of events, the A-List is for.

3. Sniper: John Muhammad Pleads Not Guilty

As jury selection continues for the trial of John Muhammad, the elder of the two DC sniper suspects, Muhammad entered a plea earlier this week of not guilty. He's being tried in Virginia, in a trial moved down to ultraconservative Virginia Beach, for just one of the murders (out of a total of ten). Next month his alleged prot�g�, Lee Boyd Malvo, goes on trial in nearby Chesapeake, Virginia. The A-List knows our journalistic cousin, Jayson Blair, found these characters compelling and even sympathetic -- it was the sniper story, after all, that finally exposed his ethical lapses, and it was to the sniper story that he drew comparisons in attempting to describe how angry and destructive he felt while working at the Times -- but we can't really agree. The snipers' victims were black, white and other, and more than a few of them could have been our real cousins. So, while we feel some empathy for the possibly brainwashed kid, Malvo, we have nothing in our hearts but contempt for Muhammad, a toxic daddy figure who offloaded trigger duties to avoid legal responsibility for the senseless murders he planned.

4. History: Honoring York

If history isn't history until it's memorialized in a way gradeschoolers can digest, then chalk up a history-making moment in Louisville, Kentucky. This week the city honored York -- a one-named wonder, like Cher and Prince -- the African American who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famed expedition to map the Louisiana Territory back in 1803. To celebrate the bicentenniel of that journey, Louisville erected a larger-than-life statue of native son York, who went along as Clark's slave but by all acounts acted as a "full partner" in the exploration. Although not quite as big as the statue, which stands 8 feet tall and weighs 1500 pounds, the historical York was reportedly tall and well-built -- his body a source of fascination to the Native Americans they encountered along the way -- and even bigger in significance. Clark freed York in 1815, an action that one of the statue's crew describes as "a seed of freedom that took root."

5. NBA: Manute Bol To Become The World's Tallest Jockey?!

After The A-List saw Manute Bol box William "The Refrigerator" Perry, our favorite G.I. Joe figure (Remember his weapon? The swinging football?), we thought it couldn't get much better than that. A 7'7" African giant going against a 400-plus pound immovable object -- classic! -- and doubly so because the money all went to Manute's Ring True Foundation charity. Truth be told, the charity factor kept Bol from tying with Cuba Gooding for the A-List's Coon of the Century contest, but as Africa is plagued with problems that are never an international concern until someone says "terrorists!" we were glad for the chance to do good and make fun at the same time.

It seems that Manute's still at it. This weekend Bol is slated to become the tallest horse jockey in history when he races at Anderson, Indiana's Hoosier Park. Again, the proceeds will go to charity. And again, the A-List will find a way to behold this classic sight. But while Manute's intentions are honorable, isn't this all starting to parallel old school freakshows a little too closely? Will his legacy be his NBA career, these stunts or how the money was used? The A-List, hopes, no we pray, that it's a combination of the last two. (But if it isn't, we suggest the next stunt have something to do with our favorite new spectacle: Slamball. Now that is a freakshow!

6. Hollywood: Vivica Fox Most Ghetto Woman in America
Behind every strong man is a woman -- with her foot up his ass, or so thinks the A-List after hearing that 50 Cent changed the staging of a performance in order to satisfy his new woman, Kill Bill cannon fodder Vivica Fox. The A-List has seen 50 with the jewels on screen plenty of times, but looks like the world is finding out who really wears them. The word on the street is that right before 50 went on stage to perform at the World Music Awards, Vivica laid down the law: no female dancers were to be up on stage touching her man, no no no NEVER. (Obviously she hasn't seen this). Initial phases of this negotiation took place in public, but Vivica then took 50 to a dressing room for a more thorough tongue lashing, after which he stormed onto the stage, where he dodged women a lot better than he does bullets. As love oriented as the A-List is, we refuse to use this incident to support The Source's claims that 50 Cent is less a man than he seems. Instead, we'll use his decision (and that of nearly every heavy weight rapper) to boycott and demean The Source Awards as evidence of his being real gangsta. As we learned from Elliot Wilson, speaking out against The Source is a surefire way to test your might.

7. Liberia: Businessman Sworn In

The A-List is proud to have participated in a campaign for Africa that is showing immediate results! With the installation of nonpartisan businessman, Gyude (pronounced Joo-deh) Bryant as Liberia's interim leader this week, signs of peace and stability are finally appearing in the offing. Following nearly 14 years of death, destruction, civil disorder and dictator Charles Taylor's corrupt and murderous regime, the sense of pessimism that paralyzed the hopes of Liberians at home and abroad is making way for a more hopeful, while still guardedly optimistic, view of the country's future. With over 25,000 ex-combatants running around the country (some of them still armed and 70% of them child soldiers), shortages on food and medicine and still no electricity or running water, the return to normalcy, let alone prosperity, is some time away. But Bryant's inauguration is encouraging.

8. Religion: Prince in the Kingdom (Hall)

Let's not go crazy, but imagine this please: It's Saturday morning, you just made it through one of the toughest work weeks ever and you're still paying for that final drink you forced down just before last call in a desperate attempt to party it up Friday night. You're trying to catch up on some zzzz's and beat that throbbing hangover when the buzz of the doorbell at 9 a.m. startles you out of your sweetest moment of REM sleep. You make it to the door and there before you stands -- can it be!? -- Prince, all shiny and little and spectacled and ruffled and sexy. Is Prince here to take you away to Paisley Park? No. Did he discover your old demo album in the trash and decide to cover your forgotten ode to teenaged love? Uh-uh. Is there some freaky-ass all night party going down next door that he's been attending and now here he is at your house looking to borrow some ice? Nope. What his Purple Majesty is doing is trying to give you a copy of The Watchtower. Yeah, we can't believe it either, but apparently the residents of the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie have experienced exactly what we described. Prince (yes, that Prince, folks. For real!) has apparently become newly spiritually activated and has launched an new phase of his multi-phase life as a Jehovah's Witness. Serious and dedicated man that he is, Prince is driving (albeit sans little red corvette) door-to-door evangelizing. According to reports, Prince has become so saved and sanctified he has banned 50 explicit songs from his touring playlist since his spiritual renewal. Now, If Prince's religious rebirth ain't a shockadelic sign o' the times, we don't know what is, but until the old Prince comes back, he had better stay away from our house in the morning.

9. Baseball: What the A-List Did During the War

bomani (7:36:49 PM): not at a pub watchin the game?
the A-List (7:36:54 PM): soon
the A-List (7:37:11 PM): gotta finish writing the column before I can raise my voice for my yankees from within this awful red sox hell!
bomani (7:37:36 PM): you're rooting for the empire....?! you new yorkers don't give a damn about the rest of our needs.
bomani (7:37:51 PM): can't root against the lil guy with the jheri curl!
bomani (7:42:00 PM): you're a brooklynite, right?
the A-List (7:47:34 PM): i grew up in Queens as a mets hater
the A-List (7:48:05 PM): when I was a kid in catholic school, mets fans were these racist irish and italian kids from Astoria, which is a very good analogue of your average red sox fan, hence my hatred of them too
bomani (7:48:23 PM): lol...completely understood.
the A-List (7:48:25 PM): the empire may be evil, but it had reggie jackson
bomani (7:48:36 PM): i've always hated everything boston...but i love pedro and manny.
bomani (7:49:02 PM): but no self-respecting southerner can love your wing of the empire...the wing of the empire - AOLTW - that cuts me checks is just barely cool enough to evade persecution.
the A-List (7:49:23 PM): I just can't stand these so called "blue collar" teams. that always sounds like media shorthand for angry white working class
the A-List (7:49:24 PM): lol
bomani (7:49:44 PM): and yes, "blue collar" is slang for angry white folks.
bomani (7:50:03 PM): i just have the pain of being a braves fan, also owned by that check-cutting wing of the empire.
the A-List (7:54:46 PM): i feel your braves pain
bomani (7:55:00 PM): i blame jim leyritz for everything.
the A-List (7:55:04 PM): it's sad that they will never get the credit they deserve because of the lack of rings
the A-List (7:55:14 PM): and i don't say that in a mean way!
the A-List (7:55:21 PM): i say it in a compassionate way
the A-List (7:55:38 PM): as someone whose team could easily spare a ring or two
the A-List (7:55:41 PM): O:-)
bomani (7:55:51 PM): yeah, but all that bad karma will come back...god don't like ugly.
the A-List (7:55:59 PM): true
the A-List (7:56:40 PM): but when it comes to sports, I'm a republican. why worry about tomorrow? I mean, absent biblical proofs we don't even know for sure that earth is round, so you can't really prove that tomorrow is coming
bomani (7:57:10 PM): lol...can't blame you for that one.
the A-List (7:57:30 PM): hey, can i cut this IM convo into the A-List?
bomani (7:57:33 PM): you know, this would be a great installment in "slanted reality," my first column !
bomani (7:57:35 PM): oh. ok feel free.
the A-List (7:57:48 PM): want your IM in it? or another name?
bomani (7:58:17 PM): only if you put yours...
the A-List (7:58:22 PM): lol
the A-List (7:58:24 PM): hell no!
the A-List (7:58:30 PM): it will say "The A-List"
bomani (7:58:35 PM): and i will be "bomani"
the A-List (7:58:44 PM): excellent! Someday you will get that column, man! we promise!
bomani (8:20:34 PM): first pitch is about to be thrown....back in a few.
the A-List (8:21:48 PM): l8r!
Auto response from bomani (8:21:48 PM): *bleep* the evil empire!

10. Religion: John Paul's 25 Years of Silence = More than 20 Million Dead
As the world's Catholics celebrate the silver anniversary of Pope John Paul II's reign, the A-List has a quibble -- okay, more than a quibble. While we're a little afraid God might strike us dead for pointing it out, we can't help noticing that JP2 was first installed the year the AIDS crisis first gained worldwide attention. The death numbers were small then, mostly gay white men (as far as the world knew, anyway). But in the years since then, more than 20 million have died, the majority of them straight men and women in the developing world, especially Africa. There are currently six African nations where HIV rates exceed 20% of adults, many of them parents, a setup that will result in millions of orphans in countries already struggling to provide adequate healthcare and jobs to their youth. While nobody would argue this situation is John Paul's fault, it would be equally foolish to acquit him of any responsibility. This is a man who heads a church that, through its missionary and hospital systems, is by proxy one of the largest healthcare providers in the developing world. One word from John Paul and restrictions in the hardline anti-condom message could have eased, saving who knows how many lives. Silence = death, the ACT-UP posters used to say, and in the case of our lovable old pope, it's all too sadly true.

11. Outrage: Ghettopoly Boarded Up
It's good to know the NAACP roll-up-your-sleeves-and-sign-some-
damn-petitions fervor can still affect change. Largely as a result of unrelenting negative pubilcity, Yahoo has closed the storefront formerly occupied by Ghettopoly, the game the A-List criticized last week for its trafficking in offensive stereotypes. Bravo! Now if only we could end this damn war and get some jobs.

12. Books: Two Black Writers Finalists for National Book Awards
Congratulations Kevin Young and Edward P. Jones! We'll be rooting for you on November 19!

13. And on lucky #13, that's all for this week!
If you like what you read here, forward it. If you think the A-List is a hater, forward it to all your friends and tell them to complain. If you don't understand our sense of humor, send it to every civil rights org in America and demand that they PUT A STOP TO US.


If you want more A-List, come back to www.Africana.com, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel! If you want the A-List stopped, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel so that you can collect more information for your anti-A-List prayer circle. No matter what you do, just keep coming back and forwarding those links!

About the Author:All 20,000 of our ex's still love us.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:17 AM | Permalink

July 18, 2006

The Africana Racism Threat Index: 10.13.03


This following appeared on Africana.com October 13, 2003.

The Africana Racism Threat Index is a weekly indicator assessing the level of threat racism poses to African Americans and black people throughout the African Diaspora. As a public service, every week the editorial staff of Africana will re-assess the Racism Threat Level and upgrade or downgrade our assessment as needed.

Following a week of mixed indicators on the international and domestic scene, the Africana Racism Threat Level holds steady at HIGH...

I had been planning to re-post these old articles without comment, but can't resist a word or two here, as the Racism Threat Index is my favorite of the new feature I introduced to Africana. The Threat Index was a kind of universal bullshit magnet, offending large numbers of people and also provoking a ton of humorless "hear hear!"s and "it's about time!"s from folks who saw no irony in our appropriating a tool of Republican fascism.

The column started with little more than an intuition that there was some fun to be had with an Africana graphic riffing on Homeland Security's bullshit terror threat level alerts. Once our designer created the image I then (doh!) was faced by the problem of actually writing the thing, and was very quickly completely terrorized by the thought/possibility that the Index indicated or pointed to something bigger than my yucking. The "joke" (whatever it was; even I couldn't have told you) had come unmoored from its origin, and once it was unmoored it set about (of course) reproducing. I stared stumbling into a Racism Threat Index buttons on random blogs and website and each time got a thrill/chill that I really can't describe. The thing was fucking alive. It was out in the world doing something, but what?


The Africana Racism Threat Index: 10.13.03

The RTI holds steady at HIGH.

The Africana Racism Threat Index is a weekly indicator assessing the level of threat racism poses to African Americans and black people throughout the African Diaspora. As a public service, every week the editorial staff of Africana will re-assess the Racism Threat Level and upgrade or downgrade our assessment as needed.

Following a week of mixed indicators on the international and domestic scene, the Africana Racism Threat Level holds steady at HIGH.

Assessment: Last week saw the great state of California elect as its new governor a man whose history of groping women, admiring Hitler and former Nazi Kurt Waldheim, and reportedly using the N-word when referring to black bodybuilders ought to give us all pause. Instead, the Total Recall Terminator Man is now happily ensconced in Sacramento, while his buddy Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ponders the bill he introduced in the US Senate back in July that could clear the way for a future Schwarzenegger presidency. Oy vey!

On the flip side, the same electorate did shut down the latest hostile ballot measure to come from the foul imagination of Ward Connerly. Connerly, architect of the dismantling of affirmative action in California's higher educational system, had been pushing his "racial privacy initiative" for years -- its defeat was a shining triumph of the forces of commen sense (and decency!) in an otherwise sordid "special" election.

In non-electoral news, today is the day we are meant to celebrate the feats of Christopher Columbus, who was neither the first person to set foot on American soil nor the first European to do so. The holiday, which once was presented as a commemoration of the spirit of exploration and discovery that gave birth to a whole "new world," is lately seen as a twisted glorification of colonization, exploitation and genocide. Whichever way you like to think of it, we hope you enjoy the day off!

Indicators: The number of Austrian-born bodybuilder/tycoons in the upper echelon of American politics is RISING. The potential "privacy" Ward Connerly enjoys, as his political star falls, is RISING. Our childlike admiration for Christopher Columbus' brave adventure is FALLING, while our ironic glee at celebrating his holiday while gambling in an Indian Casino is RISING.

If you would like to add the Africana Threat Index graphic to your own webpage or website, please cut and paste the following HTML code and insert it where the graphic should appear:

[redacted; the code, she is dead.]

Check back every Monday as we update the Africana Racism Threat Index!

About the Author: As a public service, every week Africana's editors and staff writers take the nation's racial temperature and update the Africana Racism Threat Index.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:44 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: 08.01.03

This article was first published on Africana.com on August 1, 2003.

Every Friday, the A-List compiles a listing of the most important topics African America discussed the previous week. This week on the A-List: Item #1: LAPD wins again?

Compiled by Africana Staff

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]
This week on the A-List:

1. Donovan Jackson: Another Round of Videotaped Cops Get Off
What exactly does a black man assaulted by uniformed police officers have to do in order to get justice in an American court? The most obvious (and absurd) answers to that question -- get shot in the back on videotape, for example, or, at a lesser extreme, get beaten to a pulp on videotape -- are not so obvious, as the cases of Donovan Jackson and Rodney King have taught us, and the case of Marquis Hudspeth likely will. The mistrial declared last week in the LA trial of the two cops accused of beating 16-year-old Donovan Jackson while the teenager was handcuffed goes down with the King verdict as proof that there is no assault upon a black body that can't be excused by the claim that the big, bad, prone black man made their white batterer afeared for their safety, what with the way they were twitching and trying to escape the blows. "I feared for my safety" is the among the most consistent of white excuses for their irrational hatred of black men, the lie skipping backwards in time from King's case to that of NYC vigilante Bernard Goetz to countless lynchings. Next up: possible re-trial for the officers in the Jackson case in LA, while in Shreveport, LA, an entire county watches and re-watches the video tape of Marquis Hudspeth being shot repeatedly in the back while running away and prepares to debate the question of just how scared scared has to be for two armed white police officers to get off for shooting an unarmed, fleeing black man dead.

2. A Death in Florida: Southern Trees Still Bear Strange Fruit
The A-List believes in a bunch of things that others do not -- in voudon, in true love, in R. Kelly being a perv. We also believe in collective memory -- not just as a clever literary device utilized by Toni Morrison -- but as a real for true thing. Take the chilling image of the slack, defiled body of a black man hanging from the bough of a tree. We've never witnessed such a thing, but that we somehow know and share in the horror of it. And why not? Forget mom's apple pie and baseball -- there was a time not very long ago at all when nothing was more American than a lynching, and for better or worse, the A-List was born in US of A.
This collective memory thing is why, after the lifeless body of Feraris "Ray" Golden was found hanging from a tree outside his grandmother's home in Belle Glade, Florida, the A-List felt sure that Golden's death was not the suicide local officials quickly described, but a modern-day lynching. The local NAACP chapter was soon involved and Golden's May 28 hanging launched Palm Beach County's first public inquest in 18 years. The resulting investigation, led by a white officer who was supervised by a black detective, supports initial assessments that Golden (who was rumored to have been involved with the white daughter of a local police officer) committed suicide. The findings include a lack of any sign of struggle, extremely high levels of cocaine and alcohol in Golden's body, the fact that the sheets found around his neck were taken from his grandmother's home, and the grandmother's descriptions of him as a depressed man who had, indeed, threatened to kill himself. At the end of the day, all this means, though, is that in 2003, southern trees still bear strange fruit.

3. Jayson Blair Watch: NYT Scribe Gets More Work
While we here at the A-List had lots of fun following the Jayson Blair scandal, venting our outrage variously at institutional racism, media-world star-system politics and the spectacularly boneheaded Blair himself, we have to confess the whole story left us a little bummed out. Probably, this is personal. Why are we still here, laboring in the low-paying vineyards of online journalism, when someone like Blair gets fat gigs at plush places like the New York Times? The energy with which we pursued the story of his fall was tinged at least a bit with the envy we felt when contemplating his rise. New news this week revives the envy while doing nothing on the schadenfreude front: Blair, it seems, has landed on his feet, not only with the still-anticipated big book deal but now with not one but two high-profile glossy magazines assignments. For Esquire, Blair will review the memoir out from proto liar-performance artist Stephen Glass. And for Jane he'll pen a bit on "dealing with workplace pressures." What about the pressure of watching Jayson Blair get a big fat payday for being essentially being a complete *bleep*- up?

4. Councilman Davis' Murder Story Takes Strange Twists
Just in time for Harlem's Gay Pride celebrations comes news that James Davis' killer wasn't just crazy, he was also a crazy closet case. According to a slew of speculative but well-sourced reports, Othniel Askew's main beef with the man he would murder was fear and anger that Davis would out him in order to undercut Askew's bid for Davis' seat. The news of potential electoral dirty tricks on Davis' part have put the media in a tough spot. After canonizing the slain man, reports have to now factor in the possibility that Davis' mudslinging may have played a role in his death. Also, a media corps that has made peace with the ethics of outing public figures must now measure the implications of a public figure threatening to out someone for reasons of their own.

5. Criminal Justice: Black Men Make Up Most of the Prison Population
For the umpteenth and third time, the number of black men in prison tops the number of whites and Hispanics in the big house. That's more than half a million incarcerated black bodies (586,000) and just under half (45%) of the entire male prison population. You've heard this one before, but we can't say it enough: African Americans only make up no more than 12% of the population.

6. Politics Watch: Bush Pretends to Court Black Voters
Proving once again that half of politics is preconception, this week President George W. Bush came to the National Urban League's annual convention, gave a speech that was by all accounts responded to with applause, and left having gained exactly no traction with black voters. This a week after three Democrat hopefuls got their hands spanked for failing to do the same before the NAACP -- and the Democrats lost exactly no traction with black voters. Bush's appearance at the NUL sounds like an especially farcical event, in which he talked of "hopeful signs" in the economy -- perhaps the applause was a kind of ploy to simply shut out the sound of his lies -- and perhaps explains why he's never addressed the NAACP, whose less polite stance might prompt an audience to boo that kind of blatant BS. Later, seven of the nine Democratic challengers (everyone but Kerry and Graham, whose absence this week attracted little attention) took on Bush, performing riffs on the same theme before what was by all accounts and appreciative crowd (not surprising, given that Bush got about 9% of the black voter last time out and has alienated a few points off of that!). Half of politics is "what have you done for me lately?" and Bush does next to nothing to meet the needs of most black voters, and he knows it. Showing up and pretending to court those votes is neither necessary nor sufficient. The Dems, on the other hand, still (mostly) stand (somewhat) behind the middle-and-working-class that the vast majority of African Americans still inhabit. So no matter what brand-new GOP chairman Ed Gillespie says about the potential "drift" in black voters from the Democrats to the GOP, we don't foresee the party of Lincoln coming anywhere close to winning black hearts and minds in our lifetime.

7. The Patriot Act: Racist Immigration Enforcement Must End!
As an enemy of racism in every form, the A-list does not discriminate when it comes to responding to both overt and covert attacks on any non-black group. This is why we're more than thrilled that a lawsuit has finally been launched to contest the USA Patriot Act. Saudi-born American citizen Alaa Abunijem is bringing the suit against the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the USA Patriot Act's anti-immigrant provisions. We applaud these efforts and stand in solidarity with our Arab brother Abunijem! This isn't just a matter of fellow traveling for us: Let's not forget, as the Schomburg Center's event on Racism and Repression reminded us last year, that there are parallels between the tactics used in '70s COINTELPRO and today's ubiquitous Homeland Security Acts. The A-List would also like black America to take note that anti-immigration laws are particularly harmful to brothers and sisters who speak in all kinds of languages and come in all shades of brown. Part of the A-list is only first generation American, our family has been subject to racist immigration enforcement while lighter immigrants -- Cubans, for example -- are welcomed with open arms. Had racist tactics of previous years prevailed, the A-list might not be writing this right now...

8. Drugs and Docs: Why are Pharmaceutical Trials Race-Based?
Used to be, when people talked about separate doctors, drugs and medical care based on race, that it was the white patients who got Dr. Kildare-type care, while black patients got, you know, free syphilis and the like. But lately, a new trend in identifying genetically-based differences in the way drugs interact with the human body, has seen some medications and therapies being offered specifically to folks with an African heritage -- even if they don't work at all on people in the Social Register. This is what we call progress! But we won't really buy into this whole new world of race-based medicine until we can be sure it isn't the same old race science all over again: you remember, back when phrenology "proved" the Nordic brain superior to the Ethiopian one, and they kept the Venus Hottentot in a jar in a museum in Paris. Still, if new technologies that perceive racial difference can be used to help the disproportionately black victims of prostate cancer, uterine fibroid tumors, or high blood pressure, we are all for it.

9. Heavy D's Weight Loss
After loosing Big Pun and Barry White to weight-related illnesses the A-List has become worried about its big bubbly and cuddly friends in and out of the limelight. Cushin' for the pushin' aside, overweight lovers are out of style, folks, officially (plus, the only reason they were ever in da house was because that's where the food is). The A-List has learned that fallen (in weight and status) rapper Heavy D has lost an astonishing 135 pounds, without narcotic assistance! Though Heavy is telling folks that the loss is because a director was actually kind enough to pull him aside at an audition and tell him that he would have had the part if not for his weight, the A-List thinks otherwise. Big guys are like hightop fades in the 50 Cent get-muscles-like-you-were-locked-up era -- played out. (Disclaimer: The A-List has never seen Life, The Cider House Rules, Big Trouble or sat down to eat Cheese Doodles and watch Roc, Living Single or Boston Public, so Heavy D's acting career is nonexistent to us.) If he stopped trying to deny his obesity and just say he did it to be healthy, then he might actually get some steady work -- replacing Subway's geeky pitch-guy Jared!

10. That's it for the A-List
If you like what you read here, forward it. If you think the A-List is a hater, forward it to all your friends and tell them to complain. If you want more A-List, come back to www.African.com, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel! If you want the A-List stopped, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel so that you can collect more information for your anti-A-List prayer circle. No matter what you do, just keep coming back and forwarding those links! Not everyone can pay for this content in dollars, but they can offer the three minutes it takes to prepare and email and hit "Send."

About the Author
We are not Jayson Blair. [Kate Tuttle, Zakia Carter and Ken Gibbs all stirred the pot on this A-List, throwing in items and ingredients. I miss you guys!]

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:40 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List: 07.25.03

This article appeared on Africana.com on July 25, 2006.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Kobe, James Davis, Liberia and "the Negro Problem."

Compiled by Africana Staff

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

1. Poor Little Rich Negroes
During numerous recent conversations about Kobe Bryant, the A-List has been accused of being a player-hater. Usually black folk scramble like startled chickens when tagged with the PH stick, but to us it's pure magic -- the sound of someone swinging "player-hater" at us makes us want to sing, "true, true, true!" Don't get us wrong: the A-List is not only for the children, it also gets all swole up with pride at the sight of genuine black achievement. What bothers us is not black success, but the false pomposity that attends those forms of black enterprise where individuals (invariably men) become fabulously rich for little more than entertaining white people, dancing, throwing a ball, or, in the case of Bob Johnson, skillfully sucking at the pink teat of Federal and municipal minority set-asides. Jazz critic and provocateur Stanley Crouch likes to call black people "Negroes," but we have always hated the term, not because we view it as painfully anachronistic, but because no word better encapsulates for us the sort of contemporary hypocrisy that allows us to turn an adulterous 24-year-old into a potential fallen hero.

The true Negroes of America aren't the brave people time-traveling out of archival footage from the tumultuous fifties, they're the rich and the famous black men of America's corporate-entertainment complex, huffing and puffing about role models, glass ceilings and racist cabbies while chasing the minimum wage earning coat-check girl (black or white) around her 15-square-foot place of employ. The central pair at the core of the Kobe affair isn't just a black man and a white woman, but also a classic Negro -- male, rich, pompous -- and the (relatively) poorer woman serving him.

Sound like somebody else's stereotype? Sure. And despite all the anger we feel about black men being stereotyped as sexually ravenous predators, you will find more cheats, adulterers, sex addicts and borderline polygamists at your average "Talented Tenth" networking event -- be it an NBA draft day party, music industry event or a conference of black MBA's -- than you will find in your average housing project. You know it, and we know it, so why act as though otherwise were true when among friends? Like a figure walking around a globe who starts in one direction and comes back to his beginnings from the other, the behaviors middle class black folks pathologize in poor people -- promiscuity, sex out of wedlock, adultery, serial abortion -- are a basic privilege of the rich. When exposed, these privileges become "lapses" that are apologized/whitewashed away by either lawyers or doctors and sometimes both. The great irony of course is that cheating on your wife wasn't invented by black men. Kennedy claimed he got a headache if he didn't get a piece of "strange ass" every other day, while the troubles of our first White Negro president have been well documented. Watching Kobe cry, though while his diamonds shimmered as brightly as his tears, and his model-pretty lite-bright wife soldiered on, her eyes on the financial prize at their marriage's horizon, we couldn't help but think: like every previously all white sport we've taken over, we've truly redefined the game.

Go team!

2. Brooklyn Do and Die and Do

The A-List has an affinity for most all things Kings County, so the death of Brooklyn Councilman James E. Davis was a blow. Davis' mama's house is just two streets up from one of our mama's houses in Crown Heights, so we'd spoken to him on the block a coupla times over the years -- and yes, we had voted for him a few times more. Before his death on Wednesday, we would have recalled Davis as Brooklyn's last living old school politician, the retail type who attended every community event, involved himself in every civic organization, kissed every baby and shook every hand. His omnipresence was precisely why we were so startled to see his photograph in the news, his face frozen in time as images of the dead so inevitably are. That same face had looked back at us for nearly a decade, plastered on stickers for Davis' Love Yourself - Stop the Violence organization, stickers that were in turn plastered on countless lampposts and tenant association bulletin boards in Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant. We would be lying if we said we hadn't shaken our head once or twice at their ubiquity, but when it came time for voting we went with the man we had seen out on streets. Davis like any human being was imperfect (he recently came to Robert Mugabe's defense) but he was also clearly about doing something -- not just talking.

When two kids were shot by cops who mistook their toy guns for real weapons, Davis worked to end the sale of look-alike guns in toy stores, setting up his press conference in front of Toys' R' Us and getting Geoffrey to change his lucrative ways. That kind of engagement was Davis' hallmark and it was the consistent thread of his short life. Before he fought for his community's interests in City Hall he was a 20-year-old from the streets of Brooklyn who one day found himself accused of stealing his own mother's car. The two white cops who had set upon him with guns drawn ignored his mother's protests and proceeded to beat and arrest him. Davis' response? Join the police force, not as a bruiser eager to join the winning team, but as an activist eager to change the system from within. There is little irony in the fact that issues of gun-violence were his primary concern as both a police and legislator, less so in that Davis was shot and killed by a man whom he had escorted past City Hall security himself. There is as much cause for pride as there is for sadness, though. In the Bedford-Stuy from which James hailed, the basic life options of young black men are famously reduced to two: Do or die. Don't let the circumstances of his death obscure the fact that from beginning to end, James Davis did.

3. Are you there, God? It's me Pat
Despite half-assed backpedaling in which he insisted he was only praying that Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens and Sandra O'Connor retire from the court soon, religious nut Pat Robertson this week came off as the political assassin he not-so-secretly is. Did he really say that his supporters should join him in praying for the deaths of Stevens, Ginsberg and O'Connor? You be the judge. His Christian Broadcasting Network website contains the following quote: "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?" Yeah, that's what cancer causes-retirement! When pressed by CNN's soft-focus media assassin Paula Zahn, Robertson defended his prayer circle of death by saying that "the American people" simply "want conservative judges." Last we checked, our passports said we were Americans, but we guess Pat didn't include us in his monthly poll of "People God should kill off." Oh well, maybe next month!

Meanwhile, we have decided to take Pat's advice regarding his prayer habits: "If some of these folks don't like what I'm praying for and want to pray the other way," Pat explained, "have at it. Let the Lord decide." Bet, Pat! Bring it on! As an aid to all you liberal heathens out there, the A-List has created a handy, internet prayer circle inviting everyone who cares to to please pray for "Pat R.'s" retirement. Just click on the link, leave your comments, get down on bended knee and remember: we're all God's children, so if someone is going to be sent to Hell, it might as well be them.

4. Sleeping Across the Room from the Enemy

First off, the A-List would like to say our thoughts are with the family of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy during this time of extreme need. And since this is America (innocent until proven guilty, for all you Kobe haters), the A-List would, secondly, like to tell the Dotson family to be strong during this nightmarish ordeal. Thirdly, the A-List would also like to take this opportunity to fight the good fight and say: down with the death penalty! Why? Because after Patrick Dennehy disappeared from Texas last week, Carlton Dotson, Dennehy's college roommate and accused killer pulled a disappearing act of his own, falling off the radar before surfacing in Chestertown, Maryland where he finally called 911 for some police assistance on Sunday. The local gendarmerie and the FBI promptly charged him with Dennehy's murder, a terrible crime in Maryland, but not quite as terrible as it is in the hang-'em-high, burn-'n'-fry Lone Death Star State.

If you think the only reason a guy travels from Texas to Maryland after his best friend disappears is that he's guilty, think again. Unlike rape, where you can't "accidentally" force someone to have sex with you, you can, as Jason Willams discovered, accidentally shoot someone pretty dead. The A-List is no Solomon, but we would have a hard time executing a man for an accident, issues judges and juries in Texas got over about 200 corpses ago. The local carpenter who let the pair shoot guns on his property said they were obviously inexperienced and "visibly shaken" from just target shooting, making an accident that much more possible. The A-List isn't saying that getting rid of the death penalty would have made Dotson feel safe enough to stick around and explain himself, but it would definitely stop us all from knowing that one senseless death will only lead to another.

5. Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth-Later
We probably won't agree to cheese for a photo-op, but you'll never, ever, find the A-List complaining when Republicans -- in this case Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) -- feel called upon to challenge their ideological soul mates in the Bush White House. The rift between right-wing rank and file comes because Allen and Forbes want to provide computers and technology upgrades to historically black colleges and universities. Critics charge that the men have ulterior motives having to do with Virginia elections and the need to endear themselves to black voters, to which the A-List says: "Hey, just don't knock yourselves out loving me, baby! (Just be gentle...)"

Forbes and Allen's push -- whether designed to bridge the "digital divide," or the "black-people-voting-Democratic divide" -- passed the House last week but is now pissing off a slew of conservatives. (We're not so naive to think this represents any real change. Republican policy is never to increase black republican votes but to depress black voting in general by using good deeds to make folk less outraged at the mere sight of Republicans.) The Bushies claim to oppose the plan because it would raise "constitutional concerns," what with the way an HBCU explicitly targets race and not class, as if Yalie Bush, BAP Condi, and middle class immigrant Colin want anywhere near a real debate on class. Bush et al, have obviously never tried waiting in line for a terminal in a computer lab during exam week at any HBCU in America, as the experience would illustrate for them all possible configurations of race vs. class deprivation to be hand in the so-called land good and plenty.

6. Will and Jada Return to their Sitcom Roots, While Eve Shows Roots

Ah, television. The A-List can vividly recall the knee-slapping antics of Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and how we cried after the last episode was aired. Like the A-List, Will has gone on to bigger things, releasing multi-platinum albums and starring in huge blockbuster movies, so this week's announcement that the megastar is returning to his humble roots on television made us feel all the more pleasant and homey like. The UPN series, All of Us, is the brainchild of Will and wife Jada (who also got her start on the small-screen), and will be loosely based on the couple's domestic life -- only without the millions.

Also coming this fall on UPN is a series from platinum-selling, hip-hop artist Eve, who, unlike Will, has no television experience. (From the looks of photographs that were released last week of a pre-fame, stripper-era Eve, she does have plenty of other, er, core competencies.) The sitcom called -- what else? Eve -- will follow a young woman who is trying to find love in today's fast-paced, hectic world. Okay, that's not very original, but the A-List is willing to give her a break since it's her first time out and she did pretty well in Barbershop. Just keep your clothes on this time, girl!

7. James Brown Gets Goofy
What do James Brown and Goofy have in common? They're both ridiculously lovable (to the A-List, at least!) and they're actually about the same age. Moreover we can learn from both of them what "not" to do. Goofy's misadventures offer opportunity after opportunity to marvel at deep questions of moral choice, personal responsibility and "cause-and-effect", while Brown periodically engages in bizarre personal behavior that suggests the "hardest working man in show business" has a little too much time on his hands during his twilight years. We'd like to think the Godfather of Soul was just joking around with his plastic when he took out a full page ad in Variety to announce his separation from his third wife, Tomi Rae. The accompanying picture was of the couple and their two year old son happily posed beside Disney's very own Goofy, the Disney moment intended to highlight the "good times." Now we would never presume to tell anyone, especially the Godfather of Soul how to run a romance, but if Goofy is the high point of your relationship, it's no surprise that the third time wasn't the charm.

8. Liberia Marks its 156th Independence
The proud founding fathers of Liberia must be rolling in their graves right now. On Saturday, the country marks (celebration is impossible) an Independence Day that makes it second only Haiti in the ranks of independent black nations. Much like Haiti, Liberia doesn't have much to show for its elder nation status except for news clips of senseless murders, random mayhem and the overarching lunacy of civil war. In a severely under-reported development, a delegation of African American dignitaries ranging from Cornel West, to Al Sharpton, to high-ranking members of the Nation of Islam are in nearby Ghana trying to mediate between all opposing sides. Godspeed and good luck.

[Africana has launched a campaign for greater US involvement in Liberia. To participate, just follow the links in the Action Alert below. If you'd like to put an Action Alert up on your own website or page, just cut and paste the code located here. ]

9. White House Lie Scandal Gathers Steam, Victims, Historical Metaphors
Meanwhile, back at the illegally occupied headquarters of our fictitious, unelected executive branch -- thanks, Michael Moore, for putting it all into such clear context for us! -- the anxiety is rising as blame spreads for Bush's infamous "uranium from Africa" statement during his State of the Union address. (Bush is gonna be mumbling "Africa, Africa, Africa" under his breath before this is over.) The latest news is that despite all those knives in his back (courtesy of that fun couple Condi and Rummy) CIA chief George Tenet actually did warn the White House, on more than one occasion, that the "Africa" line was a lie. Problem was, the aide in charge of delivering the warning just plum forgot about it. Memory lapses? Lies about issues of grave international importance? Rogue governments? And we thought the Reagan years were over!

10. That's it for this week's A-List

If you like what you read here, forward it. If you think the A-List is a hater, forward it to all your friends and tell them to complain. If you want more A-List, come back to www.African.com, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel! If you want the A-List stopped, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel so that you can collect more information for your anti-A-List prayer circle. No matter what you do, just keep coming back and forwarding those links! Not everyone can pay for this content in dollars, but they can offer the three minutes it takes to prepare and email and hit "Send."

About the Author
The A-List is half playa-hater, half playa-prayer -- sixteen persons in one column. [Kate Tuttle, Ken Gibbs, Zakia Carter, and Tanu Henry contributed items to this column.]

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

my favorite movie ending ever - November 17, 1998

This item appeared in the Village Voice on November 17, 1998

Movie endings are always sad for me, a forced reintroduction to the outside even when they work and please as ''film.'' I like movies that end with the promise of a worthwhile sequel or films whose momentum ends in a kind of stasis; think Tarkovsky's Solaris. The movie ending that comes clearest to mind just now doesn't technically exist, being the end of an unfinished, advance print of Blade. The cgi-jocks weren't done with the effects, so the film ended with Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff taking their final, climactic/conflict poses just before the words ''To Be Continued'' slammed onto the screen. I liked how they actually ended Blade, but I keep coming back to that other moment, the way it suggested a movie that never stopped, a movie perfect in its incompleteness and therefore never able to disappoint.

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:56 PM | Permalink

The Faculty (review) - January 5, 1999

This review appeared in the Village Voice on January 5, 1999.

In the latest Kevin Williamson script to hit theaters (this time directed by Robert Rodriguez), the old small-town alien-invasion gambit gets the Scream treatment, with a little teen alienation (alien nation, get it?) thrown in for good measure.

January 5, 1999

The Faculty
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

In the latest Kevin Williamson script to hit theaters (this time directed by Robert Rodriguez), the old small-town alien-invasion gambit gets the Scream treatment, with a little teen alienation (alien nation, get it?) thrown in for good measure. Reassuringly derivative of everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Puppetmasters to The Stepford Wives (even Men in Black gets both a dialogue name check and a plot-point nod), The Faculty riffs on the ''parents and teachers just don't understand'' thing as a question of species, introducing us to a demographic cross section of Anywhere High School, America, infecting their authority figures with extraterrestrial earwigs and asking the kids to, like, save the world.

On the side of individualized humanity and good, there's the Cheerleader (Jordana Brewster), the Jock (Shawn Hatosy), the Nerd (Elijah Wood), and the cig-smoking Cool Guy (Josh Hartnett). Arrayed against them is the efficiently evil gang from the teacher's lounge, led by the diabolical alien infected Bitch Principal (Bebe Neurwirth) and Football Coach (Robert Patrick). Since the codes of science fiction are different from horror's cant, the patented Williamson method doesn't make a perfect fit with the material; Faculty's fun, but less fun than it could be. Williamson and Rodriguez don't ruminate on impaled, violent death (i.e., sex) with much gusto, choosing instead to go a half-baked ideological route: the alien's perfectly regimented communal order squares off against what one kid identifies most succinctly as the freedom to ''be a D student.'' Although The Faculty provides effective action set pieces, quite a few scary sneak-up scenes, and some good wiser-than-their-years repartee, it's only subversive touch is its hep-cat attitude toward drugs: the test to determine if someone's been taken over by aliens involving snorting home-brewed (albeit caffeine-based) speed. In the end, Faculty offers none of the unsettling half-closures or frame-shattering outburst of FX and violence that mark the best of its chosen genre, but there is something cool about a mainstream, teenmultiplex outing that identifies chemically altering consciousness as a fundamental part of being human.--

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:43 PM | Permalink

I Got the Hook Up (review) - June 09, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on June 09, 1998

Multimillionaire rapper Master P's second film, I Got the Hook-Up, is a typical sophomore letdown that keeps it real only in traditional, bad-meaning-bad ways: real dumb, real stupid, really badly made.

June 09, 1998

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Directed by Michael Martin

Multimillionaire rapper Master P's second film, I Got the Hook-Up, is a typical sophomore letdown that keeps it real only in traditional, bad-meaning-bad ways: real dumb, real stupid, really badly made. Unlike his single-minded debut, the straight-to-video revenge fantasy I'm 'Bout It, I Got the Hook-Up is a disjointed comedy about two street-corner hustlers (bigman P and A.J. Johnson as his gruff, Chihuahua-like sidekick) who luck into a batch of cell phones. Running afoul of the mob and the feds, the pair skitter from half-baked gangsterism to aimless rounds of the dozens to pointless mack set pieces. Having managed to will two feature films into existence, P apparently didn't have time to spare on things like character or story. Few shots are fired, and the fantasy ghetto P creates is full of wild Jerry Springer--meets--William Gibson flourishes (the transvestite prostitutes and hot-sex skeezers give head and hack databases with equal skill), but I Got the Hook-Up is really no more than another interesting footnote in the ongoing story of how people can get rich selling the same old shit.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:35 PM | Permalink

on the suckitude of commercial black film - July 07, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on July 07, 1998.

The first clue that you've entered the land of the black formula picture is usually the title. Booty Call, How To Be a Player, I Got the Hook-Up, Phat Beach, and BAPS don't have the punch of Black Godfather, Hell Up in Harlem, or Foxy Brown, but they serve a similar function, signifying that the pictures will feature young black folks and urban spaces, will crack a lot of dirty jokes, and will be accompanied by the so-called slammin' r&b and hip-hop soundtrack. Those pieces of the marketing puzzle are so well laid out that companies like Miramax and New Line have taken to turning out black-oriented comedies with an ease that would make the masters at American International Pictures proud.

July 07, 1998



The first clue that you've entered the land of the black formula picture is usually the title. Booty Call, How To Be a Player, I Got the Hook-Up, Phat Beach, and BAPS don't have the punch of Black Godfather, Hell Up in Harlem, or Foxy Brown, but they serve a similar function, signifying that the pictures will feature young black folks and urban spaces, will crack a lot of dirty jokes, and will be accompanied by the so-called slammin' r&b and hip-hop soundtrack. Those pieces of the marketing puzzle are so well laid out that companies like Miramax and New Line have taken to turning out black-oriented comedies with an ease that would make the masters at American International Pictures proud.

The other given about the new type of picture being directed at black audiences (call them post-gangster romances, or maybe bupploitation) though, is that they almost invariably stink. (The exceptions include gems like F. Gary Gray's Friday and Set It Off.) From the dizzying technical ineptitude of a cartoonish ghetto farce like I Got the Hook-Up to the bizarre, almost willful lack of humor of the Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle Woo, to the aggressively crass and genuinely mean-spirited sexual politics of How To Be a Player and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, these are films with next to nothing to redeem them except the feeling that some black person somewhere got a check, a movieland analog to the ''It's still legal'' defense offered by tobacco lobbyists. Produced cheaply enough that even modest box-office and video afterlife add up to a profit, these pictures make sense for the studios the way teen-sex flicks or low-budget horror films do. But in an industry still slow to support black filmmaking that can't be summed up in a catchy title, BAPs and '90s players sometimes seem to be the only game in town, much the way pimps, ho's, and dealers out to make their last big score ruled certain screens in the '70s.

The bulk of these pictures have been urban romantic comedies, the slapsticky, R-rated sexual misadventures of a new black leisure class. Detailing the trials of folk in love and lust was once a slightly serious or at least glamorous endeavor--from Mahogany to She's Gotta Have It--but today's view of fast and cheap black romance owes more to Porky's with a little of The Mack tossed in for street cred. The unholy love child of male-centered early-'90s gangster flicks and the ''ain't got/can't get a man'' keen of the post--Waiting To Exhale moment, the new bupploitation offers images of a well-earned but contextless middle class.

The central narrative question isn't how black people make a living but what they do with their cell-phone-equipped free time. Progress of a sort, except that players here aren't anywhere near the realistic representatives of the not-so-new black middle class you'll find in films like Love Jones, Hav Plenty, or even more-conventional genre winners like Soul Food. Instead, you find dick-and money-hungry skeezers and obsessive-compulsive cocksmen whose sexual appetites and prowess would put Dolemite to shame, only without the deep-frying grease of the '70s' unique cultural moment. Women get fucked in all the expected ways. We had the aging nutcase whose sanity is being drowned out by the loud ticking of her biological clock in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, and virgin/whore dichotomies aplenty in Booty Call, where the limp leading good girl is never complete without the superfreaky best friend. And since every pimp needs his ho's, there are the endless, tightly skirted extras that round out every party or club scene: Stripper #2, Gold Digger #5, Freak #6.

Black men of course are the oily superdicks they've always been, but if the new black formula picture offers a new spin to the likes of Superfly's Priest, it's in the appearance of the awkward, big-eyed, but gainfully employed nerd, the sort out of which Tommy Davidson seems to be making a career. These men aren't drug dealers or pimps, but they're another kind of assault, tarred with the same sticky yuk brush that once mired black actors in bumbling stereotypes from Amos and Andy to Steppin' Fetchit.

In the books of the white-owned and -run companies that develop and/or distribute these pictures, the numbers tell a curious story. Since white audiences tend not to cross over and buy tickets to black films, $20-30 million is the most that film executives expect from these comedies. That number suggests to Hollywood that spending the time and money to do a black picture right, the way, for example, even the most ridiculously familiar $60 million action flick is handled, just doesn't make financial sense. Unfortunately, the new $1-$2 million blaxploitation flicks have reinforced that logic. Except for wholesale failures like Phat Beach or BAPS, pictures like Thin Line ($34 million cumulative box office for New Line), Booty Call ($23 million for Sony), and Hook-Up ($10 million and climbing for Miramax's Dimension Films) exist in a double comfort zone for white-run studios and distributors, offering steady, dual-stream box-office and soundtrack returns on little financial or creative risk.

Paul Hall, producer of John Singleton's Higher Learning and the upcoming Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, sees these films as just the tale of the box-office tape. ''Hollywood's a business,'' he says, ''and studios are making certain types of movies for young, urban audiences the way they make action films for a particular demographic.'' Hall isn't interested in remaking any pimp movies, but he doesn't think that we're entering a new '70s-style era. ''I don't agree with labeling films 'exploitation' or 'blaxploitation' just because the audience is young and black. The people who are making these films are part of the industry in ways that African Americans working during the '70s weren't."

Bridget D. Davis, who oversees the development and acquisition of films at Babyface's Edmonds Entertainment (producers of Soul Food and Hav Plenty), also sees the current trend toward low-budget comedies in a business context. ''We've been very careful in choosing what we put out there. But there isn't a conspiracy. This industry is in constant flux, and what works today will not work tomorrow.''

Even a legendary polemicist like Spike Lee says he's ''not against black people making a living,'' so the question boils down to the more abstract problem of values, how people work and how that work reflects their ideas about how the world is and how it could be. For Christopher Cherot, whose Hav Plenty mines its humor from the contradictions of black success and prosperity, values are the key to making good black movies. ''I just want to tell stories,'' says Cherot, ''but a lot of people are dishonest about why they want to be in this business. I know plenty of guys who either want to make films so they can hang out with Halle Berry or who want to make films to save the race. You're going to make bad movies if you worry too much about either.''

Quality aside, everyone knows which way the numbers are pointing, especially filmmakers trying to make that first film. Says Kay Shaw, an African American producer and distributor who's worked on indies like Daughters of the Dust and The Keeper, ''Things remind me of the period soon after Boyz in the Hood, when younger filmmakers were bringing me gang picture after gang picture. Now they all want to do romantic comedies, Booty this and Player that. The younger filmmakers often think, 'If I can just get my foot in the door, I'll be able to make the kind of films I really care about later.' The problem is that there very often isn't a later.''

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:31 PM | Permalink

He Got Game Plan - an interview with Spike, May 5, 1998

This interview with Spike Lee appeared in the Village Voice on May 5, 1998.

Spike Lee doesn't want to tell people what to think about race and the movies, but that doesn't mean he's without opinions. ''I don't want to sound like Amiri Baraka or something,'' he says, ''like I'm the gatekeeper of black cinema, but c'mon. A lot of these films that are coming out are just bullshit. Bulllll-shit.''

May 05, 1998


BYLINE: Gary Dauphin

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Spike Lee doesn't want to tell people what to think about race and the movies, but that doesn't mean he's without opinions. ''I don't want to sound like Amiri Baraka or something,'' he says, ''like I'm the gatekeeper of black cinema, but c'mon. A lot of these films that are coming out are just bullshit. Bulllll-shit.''

It's a true enough assessment, and one that probably pains Lee more than he lets on. With his 1986 debut, She's Gotta Have It, Lee helped inspire and solidify a number of trends that are still doing good box office--mental and otherwise--12 years later: a commercially viable independent cinema, an aggressive rhetoric of black filmmaking as political or public good, a guerrilla-warfare take on indie movies where any unknown with a few dollars and a dream can envision leaping into the national consciousness, and an artist-as-brand-name philosophy where black filmmakers want to scale not only the heights of their own profession but also the worlds of ready-to-wear, record production, and advertising. That's a hefty list of ''created''s and ''inspired''s, but despite breaking all that ground Lee sees a messy, woefully incomplete construction site, the list of black films since 1986 including a few good entries but many, many more that are deeply flawed.

''Booty Call. How To Be a Player. I like Ice Cube, but I didn't like Players Club. Ride. B.A.P's--I mean, did you see B.A.P's? I don't understand how some of these films get green-lighted. It's just not a good thing when you look at someone's resume and you see one of those films on the first line. You can be as talented as you want, but if you compromise in the beginning, you'll still have a hard time getting any other films made.''

Lee says he still faces a fight getting his own films made, but he's managed to finish two in the last year, the Oscar-nominated documentary Four Little Girls and his upcoming 12th feature, the Denzel Washington basketball drama He Got Game. And that's just the filmography, as Lee never forgets to cite being a husband and father, running an ad agency (SpikeDDB), teaching directing at New York University's graduate film school, and, of course, ''getting the Knicks in.''

He Got Game is the long-awaited Spike Lee Sports Film. ''I didn't plan it like this,'' he says. ''I always thought my first sports film would be the Jackie Robinson story, but we're still looking for the funding on that. After Get on the Bus, my wife, Tanya, told me, 'You should write another original screenplay,' that she'd been missing my voice. My first thought to myself was 'And what do you know?' But after some reflection, I realized she was right. Once again. Jungle Fever had been my last original screenplay, and that had been six, seven years ago. So I started writing, and basketball was the first thing that came to mind.''

Lee didn't want ''Sportscenter addicts'' to be the only people to see the film, and he didn't want to do ''that hokum Hoosiers, Rocky kind of sports movie. No underdogs, no team from the sticks. No glorious return to the days when teams were teams and there was no such thing as the fast break, when we didn't have all this fancy nigger shit with behind-the-back passes and jams, when basketball was 'pure.' I also didn't want to do one of those fake schoolyard films. No stunt doubles, trick photography, or lowered baskets like they did for Above the Rim. It's like a karate movie the way they have bodies moving through the air, like they're on wires and trampolines.''

Directing the picture was akin to coaching basketball. ''I didn't want to be like a lot of these coaches in the league that are just like, plod plod plod. So some court sequences were choreographed, but mostly we gave the players the leeway to create and improvise. That's the way I've always directed my films. You have directors out here where an actor can't change one single word. That's one way of directing, which is fine. You have your coaches like Pat Riley, and you have your Phil Jacksons. I want input from actors and I don't treat them like robots. Some of the best moments in Game came completely from Denzel.''

Craft is clearly important to Lee, which is why, try as he might, he can't stay away from Amiri Baraka--sounding comments once he's been asked to talk about other people's films. ''I'm happy people are getting work and opportunities,'' Lee says. ''But I'm not happy with most of these films. You have to raise the bar eventually, at least try to. You can't pitch or green-light a film on the possibility of selling a hip hop sound track. You have places like New Line and Miramax that are cornering the market on certain segments of the black audience, companies with no black people in the top executive ranks.''

He knows black folks aren't rejecting these movies. ''That's the sad thing. The black audience is going for the bullshit. You'll have a stampede for Booty Call, and no one'll go see Rosewood. And black people'll be the first ones kicking and screaming about b.s. black movies. You can't just keep blaming Anglo-Saxons, though,'' he says, ''because there's also a whole Matty Rich syndrome where filmmakers are like, 'I'm real, I didn't go to film school, this is the first time I've ever picked up a camera.' I don't understand how you can tout your ignorance as a badge of courage.''

When offered bell hooks's line, ''White people worship at the altar of black mediocrity,'' Lee laughs. ''My biggest fan. But it's true. A lot of times when white people are in a position of power and there are two black people, a competent person and an incompetent person, the incompetent one will get the job. That's how they view us as a people. Incompetent. But where's Matty Rich now? Where are those lack of skills that he was championing? They're busy not getting him any more work. Black people, kids especially, almost seem to fail on purpose because they want to be real, because they don't want to be ridiculed as acting white. Now that's seeping into the arts.''

Lee's version of keeping it real means having feet planted in both independent filmmaking and Hollywood. ''I maintain complete creative control of my films, but I use Hollywood for their money and distribution. So I have complete control to make a film, but it's not like I can do anything I want. I can do anything I want under certain budgetary constraints. Which is fine. It teaches you to find new ways of solving problems. I'm just not getting $50 million.''

Asked to look ahead, Lee says he doesn't know what he's working on next, but ''whatever it is, we start shooting in July.'' Other projects are floating in his head: a musical (''Don't have a story yet, but it'll be all singing and dancing''), as well as a redoubled effort to get The Jackie Robinson Story made. He also wants to break into television, ''but that's a tough nut to crack. Forget how we are in the movies, look at those sitcoms on the U Peoples Network and We Brothers.'' Asked to look back, he declares himself a man with no regrets, but after a pause he reaches all the way to the beginning for one thing he wishes he could do over.

''I would take the rape scene out of She's Gotta Have It.''

Asked why, Lee responds, ''Rape is obviously a very violent act, and I just wish I hadn't put the scene in. It brought a lot of things into the picture that didn't belong there, and it just wasn't necessary. It was my ignorance at the time that put it there.'' Lee bristles just a little when he's asked if he's reevaluated it because of long-standing criticisms. ''No, nobody TOLD me. I'm 41 now. I was 24 when I wrote that script. It just didn't belong in the movie. You grow and you learn.''

All of which goes to show why, if black film is going to have a gatekeeper, it might as well be Spike Lee: When was the last time you heard Amiri Baraka, or any other self-appointed defender and definer of anything black or white, admit they made a mistake?

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Woo (review) - May 19, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on May 19, 1998.

The unlikely couple brought together in Woo are on a blind date, but that doesn't mean audiences haven't been here before. This Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle written by David C. Johnson is a retread of Booty Call, and anyone who liked that previous outing will appreciate this new night of horrors.

Directed by Daisy V. S. Mayer

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

The unlikely couple brought together in Woo are on a blind date, but that doesn't mean audiences haven't been here before. This Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle written by David C. Johnson is a retread of Booty Call, and anyone who liked that previous outing will appreciate this new night of horrors. Woo is the unexplained moniker of Pinkett Smith's character, a borderline psychotic who's set up with nerdy paralegal Tim (Tommy Davidson, doing 90 minutes of reaction shots). Intended, I imagine, to scan as a hyperactive handful who needs aggressive male keeping-up-with, Woo is really just annoying, a walking compilation of neck rolls who veers wildly from glossy r&b bitch to black valley girl to club kid--cum-- drag queen. Woo takes Tim on the town and watches blithely as he suffers a range of indignities, the couple drifting through stylized black New York subcult spaces until they can appreciate each other's quirks. There are a few decent gags (the lowest yet most intriguing involves something called a ''Chicken 'Ho''), but overall Woo is the usual bottom-feeding crud aimed at black audiences.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:19 PM | Permalink

Black Beatty (on Bullworth) - 5.26.1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice in 1998.

Cruising the Negro streets for some kind of fix, some kind of juice, energy, or spark with which to reanimate moribund arts and politics has a long history, one that's managed to produce some interesting things despite the distorting effects of white America's ongoing quest for darktown excitements and sexual chiaroscuro.

May 26, 1998

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Cruising the Negro streets for some kind of fix, some kind of juice, energy, or spark with which to reanimate moribund arts and politics has a long history, one that's managed to produce some interesting things despite the distorting effects of white America's ongoing quest for darktown excitements and sexual chiaroscuro. There may be something chillingly mercenary about white folks who use the black inner city as the backdrop for their perennial passion plays of outlawry, idealism, and transgression, but that doesn't mean there aren't definite sparks and energies to be had up in that particular ghetto motherfucker nonetheless--this no matter how many white folks get off in weird, sometimes embarrassing ways while in the pursuit of their fantasies of getting funky with the other. And anyway, at this late date, slumming is a national pastime on which white people have no monopoly. The sort of ecstatic niggerization that's landed Warren Beatty and Bulworth kudos from here to The New Yorker is the stock-in-trade of legions of black folks too, professional others who invoke the ghetto and its narrow band of realness for authentication and moral authority every single day of their lives.

No, if there's anything off about Bulworth it's not so much Beatty's belief in the old liberal verities or the sorbetlike, palate-clearing powers of black people, but the little details that are supposed to give that belief life. There is something admittedly odd and curious about an old-school Hollywood idol rapping and gamboling with the tuneful lovelies of Compton, California, but the odd and curious thing is how fundamentally ludicrous a spectacle Beatty's created, a kind of sideshow that speaks as much truth to the ridiculous as it does to power. Beatty's film is chock-full of extended and admittedly commercially risky tough talk, but by choosing to package its sermons in satirical, surreal images of the star rapping badly about insurance companies or grinding against Halle Berry like some wild, supernaturally animated noodle, Bulworth inadvertently chokes the life out of the very people it wants to speak for, reducing the particular textures and colors of inner-city life, style, and especially art to the broad strokes of an abstracted political truth about disparities between rich and poor. That truth is important and raceless to a certain extent, but there comes a point when, if an aging white guy really and truly wants to be anyone's nigger, he has to display what the kids like to call skills, abilities that J.Billington Bulworth sorely lacks by satirical design. Folks might want to hold the truth-and-content side as distinct from the skills side, but in a country where white boys from coast to coast can do quite passable imitations of black boys, why settle for Warren Beatty's unless you believe black people are just plain funny?

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:13 PM | Permalink

Black Box Office: Weekend of February 21st, 2003

This article appeared on Africana.com on February 21, 2003

Crimson clad Daredevil made out like a bandit last weekend, with a $45 million gross -- almost doubling the take home of previous Presidents' Day weekend record holder John Q ($23.6 million). Lets see if audiences prove to be as blind as the films titular vigilante superhero by supporting this boring tripe in subsequent weeks.

Black Box Office: Weekend of February 21st, 2003

Compiled by Africana.com Staff

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Crimson clad Daredevil made out like a bandit last weekend, with a $45 million gross -- almost doubling the take home of previous Presidents' Day weekend record holder John Q ($23.6 million). Lets see if audiences prove to be as blind as the films titular vigilante superhero by supporting this boring tripe in subsequent weeks. Bumped down to number two, Chicago continues to reel them in at $14.5, million while Kangaroo Jack maintains its top three spot with $5 million, in flagrant defiance of our consistent hateration.

This weekend, folks in New York and LA can look forward to Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony, an independent labor of love that follows the rise of South Africas anti-Apartheid movement through its protest songs. Also, a pair of new films parse Americas racial disharmony: Gods and Generals examines the Civil War, while Dark Blue trains a lens on crooked LA cops during the Rodney King riots of 1992.

1. Daredevil (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Stars Michael Clarke Duncan
Weekend Gross: $45,033,454
Total Gross: $45,033,454
Weeks in Release: 1

2. Chicago (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Taye Diggs and Queen Latifah
Weekend Gross: $14,503,231
Total Gross: $82,606,872
Weeks in Release: 8

3. Kangaroo Jack (WB)

Black Quotient: Stars Anthony Anderson
Weekend Gross: $5,035,455
Total Gross: $58,954,899
Weeks in Release: 5

4. Deliver Us From Eva (Focus Features)

Black Quotient: Written and Directed by Gary Hardwick; Stars LL Cool J, Gabrielle Union, Essence Atkins, Yuri Brown, Dartanyan Edmonds, Johnny Gill, Meagan Good, Mel Jackson, Robinne Lee, Jaszmin Lewis, Nicole Lyn, Duane Martin, Kenya Moore and Mark Swenson
Weekend Gross: $4,415,505
Total Gross: $12,281,586
Weeks in Release: 2

5. Biker Boyz (Dreamworks Pictures)

Black Quotient: Co-written and Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood; Stars Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Tyson Beckford, Lisa Bonet, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Meagan Good, Kadeem Hardison, Djimon Hounsou, Terrence Howard, Orlando Jones, Eriq LaSalle and Larenz Tate
Weekend Gross: $2,473,937
Total Gross: $19,306,932
Weeks in Release: 3

6. National Security (Sony)

Black Quotient: Stars Martin Lawrence
Weekend Gross: $540,323
Total Gross: $35,501,244
Weeks in Release: 5

7. Rabbit-Proof Fence (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Everylyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury and Ningali Lawford
Weekend Gross: $315,047
Total Gross: $4,332,013
Weeks in Release: 12

8. 25th Hour (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Directed by Spike Lee; Stars Rosario Dawson
Weekend Gross: $269,143
Total Gross: $12,455,669
Weeks in Release: 9

9. Far From Heaven (Focus)

Black Quotient: Stars Dennis Haysbert
Weekend Gross: $258,434
Total Gross: $14,124,878
Weeks in Release: 15

10. Lockdown (Rainforest Films)

Black Quotient: Written by Preston A. Whitmore II; Stars Richard T. Jones, Gabriel Casseus, Deaundre Bonds, Bill Nunn, Clifton Powell, Anna Maria Horsford and Master P
Weekend Gross: $250,000
Total Gross: $250,000
Weeks in Release: 1

11. Antwone Fisher (Fox Searchlight) )

Black Quotient: Written by Antwone Fisher; Directed by Denzel Washington; Starring Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson and Novella Nelson
Weekend Gross: $247,151
Total Gross: $20,178,500
Weeks in Release: 9

12. City of God (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva and Seu Jorge
Weekend Gross: $239,368
Total Gross: $1,275,136
Weeks in Release: 5

13. Maid In Manhattan (Sony)

Black Quotient: Stars Jennifer Lopez
Weekend Gross: $181,047
Total Gross: $92,828,756
Weeks in Release: 10

14. Drumline (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Directed by Charles Stone III, Written by Tina Chism, Stars Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Earl C. Poitier, Leonard Roberts and J. Anthony Brown
Weekend Gross: $118,344
Total Gross: $55,489,662
Weeks in Release: 10

15. Star Trek: Nemesis (Paramount)

Black Quotient: Stars LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn and Whoopi Goldberg
Weekend Gross: $247,151
Total Gross: $42,976,760
Weeks in Release: 10

First published: February 20, 2003

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:40 PM | Permalink

The Africana A-List - 05.30.03

This was first published on Africana.com on May 30, 2003.

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Diallo Déjà vu

The A-List: 05.30.03

The A-List is a compendium of the most important things African America discussed this week. This week on the A-List: Diallo Deja vu

Compiled by Africana Staff

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

1. Diallo Deja Vu
Living while black is a hazard to your health, especially in New York City. Over a seven-day period, two unarmed black people -- a grandmother who worked for the city and a merchant -- were killed by the cops by so-called accident. In the case of Alberta Spruill, twelve heavily-armed popo knocked down the 57-year-old's Harlem door, tossed in a flash grenade, burst in and handcuffed her, only to realize they had the wrong woman and the wrong apartment. Ms. Spruill obviously knew she was innocent, but that conviction offered her little protection the NYPD's homegrown version of Shock & Awe. She went into cardiac arrest and died soon after. Though Spruill's death was ruled a homicide by the New York Medical Examiner's office (which means her death was found to have been caused by human hands, as opposed to being the result of natural causes), the early word is that no charges will be filed against the cops. While the police admit to having faulty intel, they also contend that they didn't act improperly by entering the apartment as they did, the risks of using flash grenades in confined spaces apparently acceptable when compared to the NYPD's previous mode of entry: guns blazing.

Less than one week later, Ousmane Zongo had a similar NYPD encounter. Zongo's fatal mistake was, like Spruill's a simple matter of being in the wrong place (i.e., home) at the wrong time. Zongo entered the Chelsea warehouse where he maintained a repair shop at the same time that the NYPD were conducting a raid on a bootleg CD operation, the end result being three bullet wounds to the chest, abdomen and upper back. The shooter, plainclothes police officer Bryan Conroy, was guarding confiscated materials nearby, and he alleges that Zongo reached for his gun after an as yet unexplained skirmish. As Amadou Diallo proved for the umpteenth time, there's no penalty associated with cops shooting black men for no apparent reason at long range, so Conroy's clichéd claims that Zongo reached for his gun during an up-close-and-personal encounter in what has been described as a "cramped hallway" should not only exonerate him, but earn him a medal. Zongo leaves behind two children and a wife. And by the way, no gun.

2. Leave No (Middle-Class) Child Behind!
One of the least sexy but most outrageous stories of the week came out of Capital Hill Wednesday, when it was reported that President Bush's tax cut plan -- the one approved by Congress at a total cost to government coffers of $350 billion -- does not extend the child tax credit increase (from $600 to $1000 per child) to families making between $10,500 to $26,625. Which is to say, the folks who could most use the extra 400 clams will not get it. Extending the child tax credit to these families would have cost an estimated $3.5 billion, one percent of the total bill. Employing their by now well-known Orwellian doublespeak when asked about this truly heinous case of mass child neglect, hardline Republicans blamed it on Democrats and moderates within their own party, who had sought to limit the President's outrageous tax cut (his original target was $850 billion) in hopes of controlling an already mushrooming deficit. In other words, what Republicans are saying is that when given the choice between holding the line on scores of billions of dollars in cuts to dividend and capital gains taxes (paid only by the richest among us) and extending a tax credit to poor families, they voted to protect the interests rich.

Some have argued that at least the Imposter President's tax cut offered some families a tax credit increase, but that (yet again) only highlights the perverse logic of the liars, innumerates, imperial adventurers and petro-dollar fascists who now run our country. Imagine a famine-relief program that specifically targets the well-fed at the expense of the starving, or a hospital that only treats the healthy, and you get an appreciation for the pre-historic, crass and compassionless social Darwinism that now guides our so-called democracy. We thought our outrage was all worn out -- it's been working overtime since Florida -- but we were wrong.

3. He's Not Heavy, He's My Rusted, Corroded Iron Brother
The A-List wanted to say something pithy and on-point about Mike Tyson's latest grab for headlines, but really, what's the point? That the onetime Iron Mike could look back on his 1992 rape conviction during a televised interview and not only declare himself innocent, but so angry over his wrongful conviction that "now I really do want to rape [victim Desiree Washington] and her ... mama" should surprise no one. Tyson has a long history of inexplicable, random, Tourette's-like outbursts and the sentiment itself, while outrageous, is of a piece with the kind of brutally unreconstructed masculinity that is Tyson's last marketable asset.

What's much more newsworthy is that the notoriously racist class acts at Fox News are the ones behind this drivel. Scientologist-cum-"Extreme Makeover"-contestant Greta Van Susteren presented her interview with Mike Tyson as a tense confrontation with a "ticking timebomb," but this confrontation had no news value and was associated with no event, anniversary or upcoming bout that the A-List could discern. That only leaves ratings, of course, as the rationale for this little bit of cable news theater, with a past-his-prime Tyson performing ably in the only arenas in which he still has a chance of taking the title: insanity and opprobrium.

4. Dams: The Gift That Keeps On Taking!

See, the A-List had our retirement strategy all figured out. We were going to cash in some old stocks before they completely tanked, get a friendly helping hand from a government agency interested in global entrepreneurship, and invest our stash in a small business in one of Africa's most stable economies: Ghana. But just as we were dusting off our business plan (it's top secret, but it involves a revolutionary, yet respectfully ancestral, form of hair grease), we found out the Feds are mad at the Ghanaians. So mad, in fact, that the Overseas Private Investing Company (OPIC), which provides low-interest loans to US companies abroad, has suspended funding new American investment in Ghana. Why? A dam. Apparently the US government built a dam in Ghana in the 1950s to help power the aluminum extraction operations of American multinationals. The dam was "given" to the Ghanaians in exchange for a guarantee that the locals would never charge market rates for their power. With water levels receding though, the Ghanaians want to charge more than the measly 1.1 cents per kilowatt-hour allowed by the 50-year-old contracts. They're asking for a 5.6 cent increase, which, as a point of reference would raise the price above the 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour companies pay in the US.

The Ghanaian government argues that energy costs have risen since Leave it to Beaver was on the air, but the Feds are unrelenting. "Ghana is being seen as not acting in a commercially reasonable manner that would ensure investor confidence," OPIC President Peter Watson warned the Ghanaian ambassador to the US. He went on to say that all US investment might be at risk if the Ghanaians raise the energy costs. This is, of course, just so much globalization gamesmanship, but with the A-List's retirement hanging perilously in the balance, we hope the US and Ghanaian governments, who are meeting this week, iron things out. While the A-List categorically objects to all forms of black-people-getting-took, that 5.3-cent per kilowatt-hour difference might not exactly be worth the loss of all the American investment in Ghana. Most indicators suggest the country is hitting economic stride, so, maybe, our Ghanaian brothers should just go ahead and file the underpayments to under the category of "historical blaxploitation" with, you know, all that other stuff. And let this be a lesson to all of you: the next time Greeks come a'calling bearing high-powered hydroelectric dams and papers to sign, read the fine print with your third eye before signing.

5. Made for TV Black Genetic Action Heroes! From Howard!
The Howard University College of Medicine, in partnership with a Chicago-based company, First Genetic Trust, got all movie-of-the-week on us recently by announcing plans to set up a bank of black DNA samples. Over the course of a project dubbed Genomic Research in the African Diaspora (uh, GRAD), the academic-industrial collaborators plan to seek clues to causes and cures of diseases that disproportionately affect blacks, while also insuring that black DNA samples find their way into more genetic research.

In a (distantly) related story, consensus is building that genetically specific, anti-black bio-weapons developed by South Africa's apartheid era government have made their way onto the international, er, black market. Apparently the genetic specificity of the weapons is of interest to folks eager to wipe out entire types of people, giving antagonists new ways to prosecute longstanding ethnic wars. Of extra interest to terrorists are new forms of "stealth" communicable hemorrhagic fevers that don't show up in conventional tests for the diseases.

So picture this, gentle reader: A major American city comes under attack by a communicable bug (think something along the lines of the Captain Trips virus from Stephen King's The Stand) that near-automatically kills a percentage of the local population roughly equal to its number of black folks. (Heck, forget roughly. It just kills all of -- gulp! -- us.) How does a state with a history of unequal application of the law (not to mention tacit approval for current inequality) respond? How does the general population respond? While SWA (sneezing-while-Asian) will not get you shot, as any Asian American brother or sister unlucky enough to have come down with a bad case of hay fever since SARS broke can attest, it sure will clear a room! Now imagine SWB (sneezing-while-black) in an environment where CNN is running daily bio-terror death tallies and doing feature stories on tow-headed midwestern girls named Ashley bleeding out from their blue eye sockets. Howard-trained NAACP lawyers have saved the Civil-Right-day on numerous occasions. But is there a black, Howard trained epidemiologist in the house?

6. Whitney, Bobby, Ariel and Ben -- The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews
News that Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown have taken up with an obscure cult known as the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem brought a joyful tear of remembrance to the A-List's eyes. Back home in Crooklyn, the local version of the Hebrew Israelites were a well-known and highly entertaining fixture of downtown's Fulton Mall. On any given day, rain or shine, winter or summer, they could invariably be found in front of The Wiz or V*I*M Jeans and Sneakers with a crudely-drawn sign that explained their belief in correspondences between the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the African Diaspora (Levy = Haitian/Dominican, for example). This being the era of hip hop they also had a microphone plugged into a massive old skool boom-box, the better to amplify the biblically-inspired obscenities being directed at fornicators, devil-pig-eaters, white-devil-people, homosexuals, mix-raced people, mix-raced couples, women in tight jeans, men in baggy jeans, single women, women not living with their daddies, daddies not living with their women, pot-smokers, artists and other degenerates -- in short, just about everyone the A-List loves or, at the very least, likes to get down with on weekends.

The Hebrew Israelites are, of course, thoroughly bananas, but like all apocalyptic sects given to raising black men out of the various lower circles of urban hell, they are not only concerned with introducing recruits to the word (the Bible and the Koran) and its instrumentalities (reading, writing and testifying), but also to the sect's particular sense of style. The NOI has their suits and bow-ties, but the Hebrew Israelites are fond of more post-Arabian garb: elaborate, flowing drapes of purple, gold, orange and red silks that tuck into metal-studded leather cuffs or shiny pirate boots. In much the same way that the group claims to be descended from the original, "true" Hebrews, they identify their garb as harkening back to the authentic period uniform of the original, "true," black Jews. If that's the case, then those were some forward looking brothers, indeed, as Hebrew Israelites tend to resemble nothing so much as Rick James circa the cover of Fire it Up, only without the cowboy hat.

As industry people, Whitney and Bobby understand the power of style. Their religious pilgrimage was most notable for the curious photo-op it created for them and Ariel Sharon. The Arab press reported that while she was willing to stand with the "Butcher Of Sabra And Chatila," Houston (in shades) refused to shake his hand, while the American and Israeli press reported that Whitney just about whispered wet sweet nothings into his ear, murmuring of Israel: "It's home. It's a friendship I've never had with any other country." Either way, she was soon whisked off to a spiritual retreat with her black hosts, who in the finest tradition of outlier religions will get down on their knees with anyone, even Whitney and Bobby. Still, the whole thing is funny to us. If you had told the A-List way back when that the beliefs of the impassioned, slightly unbalanced men on Fulton Avenue would play even this marginal, short-news cycle role in world events we would have laughed -- and that is perhaps the moral of this story. The men on Fulton, sweating in their silk and leather and trying to beat a path through a world of wickedness with nothing more than the power of their convictions knew their day would come, and thanks to the intercession of two R&B junkies, it finally did.

7. A Shoe-In for Fame?
In the wake of last week's inking of a $90 million endorsement deal between Nike and 18-year-old basketball phenom LeBron James, a contract worth only $1 million sounds like chump change. Since the athlete in this deal is only 13 (14 on Monday!), however, that one million marks a first in the annals of athletic footwear financial extravagance. The scary thing, unlike LeBron, the kid-kid may be worth every penny. Though he's only in eighth grade, Ghanaian-born Freddy Adu (who came to this country with his mother just six years ago) is by all accounts poised to become the US's first soccer superstar. His mastery of the game has brought comparisons to Pele and Maradonna, as well as European junior team interest since he the day he turned 11. Despite all that going for him, by all accounts he is a well-adjusted, well-mannered kid, a good student with a charming personality. The A-List wishes him all the best.

If only we could feel as good about LeBron. Sure, the kid (the fact that he could now buy and sell us doesn't buy him a Mr.) is mega-talented and just as handsome and charming as a celebrity oughta be. And sure, we all agree that what with NCAA exploitation of its "student"-athletes there's no real crime in bypassing the opportunity to play for U. when the NBA is coming calling. Still -- James' appearances on NBA playoff broadcasts last weekend turned us off a bit. The A-List is a collective, so it's hard for us to take him seriously as a team player when he repeatedly hopes whatever team drafts him will "surround" him with "talent," positing himself as the center not only of his own universe, but everyone else's too. We're also already shuddering to think what his mother, who already bought herself a Hummer with her son's earlier (and vaguely sketchy) earnings, will do with $90 million. A word to the coach or GM who ends up having to turn him from immature financial freak of nature into franchise player: the only thing worse than discovering that there is no "L-E-B-R-O-N" in "TEAM" is discovering the hard way that there is now a sports "M-O-M."

8. The Racists Could Fly
At the inauguration last year of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, a trio of planes flew over Atlanta, dragging behind them banners bearing the image of the state's former flag -- which featured the Confederate battle flag -- and the words "Let Us Vote, You Promised." The last was a reference to the position that many feel won Perdue, a Republican, the election, Perdue pledging to let racist-white-people speak in a referendum on returning the state colors to their former, regressive glory. Confederate sympathizers, Civil War re-enactors and other shady characters have been dogging Perdue ever since, demanding the chance to return to a stars-and-bars version of the flag, which was scrapped by Perdue's predecessor Roy Barnes in the wake of threatened NAACP boycotts of the state (not to mention the political pressure brought to bear by the state's black -- and sensible white -- voters). Twice since the inauguration the mysterious flyovers have occurred, but the company whose planes were used is mum on the source of the money and the special instructions. (Besides flying the banners, the company are also supposed to photograph the planes and the crowds below, and email the images to local political reporters). Georgia Republicans, at whose mid-May convention the most recent flyovers occurred, claim the flights are Democratic dirty tricks. (Well, they should know about dirty tricks, right?) Meantime, Perdue has signed a bill authorizing a vote on the flag -- but none of the new designs features the familiar Confederate logo.

9. And so it was this week in African America
If you like what you read here, forward it. If you think the A-List is a hater, forward it to all your friends and complain. If you want more A-List, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel! If you want the A-List stopped, come back to Africana, same A-List time (Friday), same A-List channel so that you can collect more information for your anti-A-List petition. No matter what you do, just keep coming back and forwarding!

About the Author

The A-List is basically just trying to live-while-black. [Actually, me Kate Tuttle, Zakia Carter and Ken Gibbs all contributed to items to this A-List.]

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Men Swear - 8.16.00

This review of the Original Kings of Comedy originally appeared in the Village Voice in 2000.

There is a particular cut of suit favored by black men of a certain age, girth, and means--a long, three-quarter-ish jacket paired with loose-fitting slacks that provide extra room for big asses.

Men Swear
The Original Kings of Comedy
The Village Voice August 16 - 22, 2000

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

There is a particular cut of suit favored by black men of a certain age, girth, and means--a long, three-quarter-ish jacket paired with loose-fitting slacks that provide extra room for big asses. As young, small-framed, or unemployed African American men tend not to wear the Suit, it not only conveys a certain sartorial sensibility but confers a kind of survivor gravitas that middle age and prosperity bring to folks who are commonly expected to achieve neither. Everything a man wearing the Suit says is important, even when it isn't. Don't tell him he's an aging overweight clown, though, because if The Original Kings of Comedy is any indication, he'll threaten to get "ghetto-ish on your ass."

In Kings, a concert film featuring the stand-up talents of Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer (both of the WB's The Steve Harvey Show), D.L. Hughley (UPN's The Hughleys), and Bernie Mac (of countless bug-eyed supporting roles), the Suit is definitely in the house, prowling the stage while the men inside serve the standard Def Jam Comedy Hour riffs to the audience. The material hews to a familiar range of topics--"Whatever Happened to Big Mama?" "Why Kids Today So Crazy?" "My Mama Wore a Housecoat All Day," "Funny Shit White Folks Do," and of course, that great universal, "How I Ain't Got No Pussy Since I Got Married." Although this is ostensibly a Spike Lee Joint, the direction is unobtrusive and sparely functional, very unlike the Suits.

But the actual performances do feature small amounts of individuation, variations on the theme of being a pissed-off aging black man with money. Harvey wears his suit extra long and shiny, and has an older man's penchant for complex tall tales involving church and a dislike of that hip-hop foolishness. Youngblood Hughley, clad in an agitated canary yellow, delivers similarly high-energy, staccato outbursts that suggest a man with too many jokes but too little time. Cedric the Entertainer takes the greatest risk with his suit--no arms!--and has the most technically proficient onstage persona (he's the most accomplished physical comic of the bunch). As there can only be one king, the crown goes to Bernie Mac, a goggle-eyed marvel of old-school Chicago weirdness whose basic gimmick is drumming the audience into a frenzy about how it's time to bring back "beatin' our chillrun." Just about every word out of his mouth is simultaneously hilarious and reprehensible, a situation Mac understands given his admissions that he's only saying what "you think but are afraid to say." Not really, but you don't tell him that to his face unless you're wearing a bigger and shinier suit.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:24 PM | Permalink

the dust and bones of youth

So, for TOP SECRET reasons related to a gig I may or may not be in the running for, I'm going to be posting a ton of old articles of mine into the garchival category of the ebog blog. These are portfolio items of limited contemporary interest, so don't feel obligated to read them, although I am (for the obvious reasons) inclined to believe there may be a few items of lasting value.

That's pretty much it re: these reposts, although I do feel strangely compelled to add that the basic reason I've been forced to build this archeological exhibit is that AOL has completely ethered and disappeared the entire Africana.com archive. None of the links to original Africana.com content (as opposed to Encyclopedia Africana entries) in google or anywhere else work anymore, meaning that AOL effectively disappeared the work of literally hundreds of black writers from the Internets. (Lets not even get into the disappearing of thousands of black things those writers wrote about that were never covered anywhere else.) Sure, there is google cache and the wayback machine, which is where I am pulling a lot of this stuff from. But a "fuck you" remains a "fuck you" in my mind even when there are ways for the clever among you to get around it.

Having managed Africana.com and built AOL Black Voices, I can tell you with some authority that this is an actual fuck you. There is no compelling technological, legal or copyright reason for AOL to have evaporated the archive so completely, making the act basically one of spite, that and disregard for the community of readers and writers associated with Africana. At some point or another, someone likely told the new AOL Black Voices staff that they had to get all the articles into some masterstroke AOL content management system, and no one on the new team felt inclined to do the heavy lifting to preserve the archive. Definitely their call and I'm really not sweating it. I'm just making sure I remember who it was that did what to who.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:28 PM | Permalink

January 25, 2006

about Final Fantasy VII

The new year is getting off to a slow start at ebogjonson.com, so in order to keep the page from timing out I'll be reposting some old writing. This is an article from January 06, 1998 about video games and movies that I wrote for the Village Voice. Looking back at the piece today I cringe a little bit at the amply evident traces of both writerly and editorly haste, but I still like some the general ideas.

My line of work means I get to spend most of my daylight hours on things most people of a certain age and temperament consider entertainment or leisure. There are the usual distractions like television, movies, and books--media that I'm lucky enough to make a meager, vaguely itinerant living off of consuming--and then there are video games, a lifelong obsessive-compulsive habit. The extrovert side of that habit saw me spend most of my teens parked in front of coin-op machines. The internal cocooning side involved a series of home game consoles (a Pong box, a Magnavox Odyssey*2 machine, an Atari 2600, 8- and 16-bit Nintendos, and now a Sony PlayStation). If I were forced by a desert-island scenario to choose one part of the mediascape with which to spend the rest of a marooned life (something akin to a day job), nine times out of ten I would pick the movies. But a funny thing happened this year. In November, Sony and vid-game maker Squaresoft released a three-CD role-playing game called Final Fantasy VII, and besides being one of the biggest and most extravagant home-console video games ever made, it's also the first game I've ever played that was in its own way at least as good as a movie.

It's not the kind of thing that will play at the New York Film Festival anytime soon, but some games are starting to feel a lot like what get called ''the movies'' by the vast majority of consumers, evoking a nascent, electronic Hollywood where the pleasures of the multiplex are reproduced in a set-top box. Final Fantasy is a sprawling sword and sorcery game, familiar to anyone who ever tried to fight their way out of adolescence with a handful of Dungeons & Dragons dice, but with its broad-but-tiny characters engaged in outsized struggles, its righteously straightforward narrative, and its glossy virtual eye candy, it not only matches your average midlevel genre pic but also beats it in one very important respect: you're the star.

If you want to give a name to FFVII's novelty, you'd have to use a previously oxymoronic phrase: interactive movie. Like any Hollywood movie, FFVII is less the product of individual vision than corporate investment and manpower, costing in the $10 million to $20 million range and using the talents of over 100 technicians, most of them animators and character designers who put together the game's many full-motion video sequences. Cool video sequences are basic ingredients in most games--even the non-narrative fighters and shooters offer them as goads and rewards for mayhem--but in role-playing games like FFVII, the movie within the game unfolds in animated sequences that interrupt the flow of play, providing exposition, alternate endings, and rewards for an obscure find or a difficult kill. A game like Final Fantasy surpasses the rest of the pack, though, the way any good, big-budget Hollywood movie would--with scale. Strung end to end and without the hours of traveling and monster killing, a tape of the full-motion sections in FFVII would be about four hours long [EBOG note: This actual runtime is closer to three hours.] and look like a well-executed digital anime: a very, very long movie (are you listening, Kevin Costner?) with characters, a recognizable plotline, and dazzling views of surreal, digitally animated vistas (a city built in the shape of a cannon, or a misfired rocket ship tilting on its pad like a moon-bound Tower of Pisa, minutely rendered curlicues of smoke drifting from its belly).

Unlike the cinema's one-way string of directed pleasures, the movielike gems inside the game have to be fought for and discovered, the player's skill and decisions opening up certain options while foreclosing others as the game and the player work together to produce a coherent story whose visual and narrative limitations are often smoothed over by the pleasures of game play. That's why although FFVII's visions of small-screen apocalypse (your job here, as in most genre entertainments, is, of course, to save the world) might not compare to ID4, and its characters' deaths (replete with sad, trilling soundtracks and the slow-motion roll of pixilated tears) might not carry the same punch as Darth Vader's death in Return of the Jedi, they do provoke an emotional response. They've been earned by wit and luck over the 70 or so hours it takes to finish the game, an investment that sutures the user into the story in a way that previously only books or episodic television have achieved.

Hollywood itself has always had a vague interest in interactive moviemaking, various corners of the film industry seeing a bit of the future but finding themselves unable to do much about getting there. Attempts have been made to jazz movies up on the receiving end, but they've almost always been reduced to the status of gimmick by a basic truth of the medium: movies often play in theaters. Would-be interactive paradigm shifters have tried to work with the primal scene of the darkened communal screening space and have ended up with niche jokes, weird echoes of the script-by-committee production process (audiences choosing the next scene by pushing a button), or winking attempts to widen a film's sensory bandwidth (3-D, putting fart smells on scratch-and-sniff cards).

Even that barrier will fall, though, and someday soon. Online interactive play spaces, like the Web site based on the old-school Ultima role-playing games, allow thousands of users to inhabit the same universe, fighting, living, and building up their hit-points in a reactive universe that mimics the communality of the moviegoing experience. Ultima Online doesn't look as good as Final Fantasy or even Spawn, but eventually it will, at which point Hollywood will have a smaller range of pleasures to call wholly its own, namely art lensed through a director's distinctive vision or, on the other hand, simultaneous experience in an atomized, electronic age--the celluloid industry eventually having to sell itself on the body heat in theaters.

The thing that strikes me most while playing today's games and watching today's movies, though, is that old boundaries and borders between different parts of culture and media only grow thinner while pleasure (like William Gibson's information) gets freer, moving between venues that are simultaneously more personalized and more far-flung. Arguments about creativity wax and wane, but you can't deny that the broad pleasures that used to be confined to the movies have become spread pretty wide, popping up in theaters to be sure but also contained in soundtracks, action figures, and, of course, video games. Nine times out of ten, the movie version beats the game, but there are other times (whole weeks even) when the game isn't just better--it's the movie, too.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 15, 2005

mr howard's globe

Terrence Howard's been nominated for a Golden Globe. Back in '99 I had occasion to interview him for Interview (which really needs a better web presence) about the release of The Best Man. It was a phoner, but he managed to create a rather vivid persona for me by letting loose with a string of off the wall pronouncements about what a bad/troubled man he was. Looking back I get the impression he made some assumptions about me based on the venue - i.e., that I was white and gay - and accordingly decided to tart himself up with a bunch of weird mess.

Back in 99 his biography included a masters, but in a recent interview it's a BS in chemical engineering. At the time of our convo, me and my editor had a feeling he was slightly off his rocker, but in a considered way that now recalls the seduction DJay puts together for Skinny Black.

Anyway, best of luck Terrence. Stay out trouble!

[Originally published January 12, 2000 in Interview magazine.]

Terrence Howard may act, play about six instruments and know enough about physics to have earned a master's degree, but just now what he's most enjoying is being bad. Unlike the standard array of pretty boys, thugs, and would-be pimps that patrol Tinseltown's margins, Howard has been making a career out of taking the usual suspects offered black actors and imploding them from within, his personal brand of big-screen pathology explained not with nods to the cliched hard-knock streets, but to particularly biblical spectacles - the preacher who glories in going wrong, the angel who eagerly falls. Howard has done the up-and-corner's sitcom shuffle and his big break technically came as a misunderstood kid in Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), but the roles that have made him a newly hot commodity are drawn from what seems like a shadow filmography: a crazed Vietnam vet turned pulpit hustler in the downbeat Dead Presidents (1995), a cagily confused child-murderer on last season's NYPD Blue, and now Quentin, the slickly demonic instigator from the black-love flick The Best Man.

Depending on his mood, the well-spoken and fast-laughing Howard explains his facility with not-very-nice men in different ways, talking craft here and referencing a multifaceted artistic childhood there, all before nonchalantly mentioning that he watched his father kill a man one Christmas Eve over exactly whose kid was next in line to sit on a store Santa's lap. The detail and delivery are pure Howard, the line between impulsive concession and coldly considered media savvy typically blurred. The only thing that's clear is that Terrence Howard isn't just good at messing with audiences and interviewers' heads; he likes doing it, too.

GARY DAUPHIN: Everyone who's seen Best Man keys in on your character, Quentin. Could you tell me a little bit about him?

TERRENCE HOWARD: Quentin is that young rich kid who's not satisfied. He's gone through a period of trying to tear down his life and now he's just going to watch, see what happens. But he's truthful. He's half-demon, half-angel, because he knows the truth. He could fix things, but he chooses to let life handle its own self instead.

GD: He's definitely a trickster, but on the other hand he seems wounded.

TH: Somebody has hurt him in a bad way. I can relate. I've done some pretty bad things in my life, and I hope not to do them anymore. I'm sitting here in a hotel trying my hardest not to do them now.

GD: [long pause] OK. Watching Quentin on screen, and talking to you, there's a definite sense that both of you enjoy playing with people's minds. How much of you is in Quentin or vice versa?

TH: I'm not sure. I know I can't separate myself from him anymore. He's always going to be a piece of me. Just the same as [crazy Vietnam vet] Cowboy from Dead Presidents will always be there. And the psychotic from NYPD Blue.

GD: There's this kind of weird buzz around you fight now. You're like the black prince of darkness.

TH: [laughs] Is that what they call me, the black prince of darkness? OK, as long as they want me to come out and be the angel, too, because every prince of darkness started off as an angel. Very few people say, "Wow, you were so wonderful in Mr. Holland Opus." They say, "I remember you in that." Then they say, "Boy, I knew that guy in Dead Presidents." And they liked watching him get beat up.

GD: Does that bother you?

TH: It's all right. People like what they like. I like it from the back. I'm speaking a little more candidly here because I don't want to be misinterpreted as to who I am or what I'm about. I'm not the nicest guy in the world, but I'm definitely honest. If there is any part of Quentin that's a part of me, it's that brutal honesty. But I'll play those kind of characters, mostly because I don't see anybody else who's able to do it. I look forward to somebody who can come and relieve me.

GD: You talk about acting in terms of challenge and power a lot.

TH: It's emotional warfare. I'm pulling no punches.

GD: So what's up next?

TH: I'm about to do this movie called Sextet with Djimon Hounsou and Omar Epps. It's about a hip-hop band. The character that I'm playing is gay - in-the-closet gay. And he likes to abuse young men. He's not just having sex with them; he's doing it in a very abusive, debased manner. But he's a man and when I say that, I say it in the sense that most people think when you're gay, you're not a man. He's a man who happens to like boys. Sextet's a challenge because of the things I'll have to deal with and come to grips with emotionally. Am I homophobic? Can I really portray someone who's gay and say I've never had those feelings? How do I approach that and how do I surrender to it? And then there's being an epileptic.

GD: He's an epileptic, too?

TH: Yeah. I'm going to have seizures. I've never done that. I may not get it on the first take, but before it's over, before the day is done, I'll have it.

GD: How about further down the line?

TH: I want the Oscar. Not the supporting actor Oscar, but for best actor. I also want the Nobel Prize.

GD: In what?

TH: Science.

GD: That's right - you studied physics.

TH: I got my masters in physics. I figured out the shape of the universe. And I want the Grammy, too. I want it all! And not for the glory of it, but just for something to do. If I've got to be in this game, why not win? I'm in it for the battle.

GD: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

TH: Thank you. Have fun with the article.

GD: I will.

TH: Don't let them put one of those bad pictures of my fat side on there.

GD: I'll pass that along.

TH: Thanks.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:17 PM | Permalink