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we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

21 Nov

Gordon Parks, 1942

Thursday we feast. We who have it good enough to put a turkey on the table and lament the tryptophan-induced ‘itis with loved ones over card tables. And that we won’t include me. I won’t be home for the holidays but here in Harlem and I haven’t done turkey for more than a decade. I’ve done vegan field roasts, the palate-spoiler that is Tofurky (rebuke it family), the delightful but not vegan Quorn Turk’y Roast, tofu cutlets, Sophie’s Kitchen extraordinary vegan calamari, the list of faux meats goes on and on.

But my outsider status is a privilege–I could partake of the slain bird (yes, I’m judging) and cough up the small fortune to fly home to Seattle–and that we is a lie. It doesn’t cover my behind much less the choppy waterfront. That presumptive we excludes folks whose holidays evince neither Hollywood’s disarming dysfunction nor the heartwarming diabetes of the black cinematic tradition. Not to mention the rent remains too damn high and just getting by too damn prevalent. But there is a we that works. A we that will order our steps nowhere near Wal-Mart this Thursday or any other day of the week (consider sponsoring a striker). A we that raises ruckus about public housing conditions in the immediate wake of Superstorm Sandy and long after. A we that can keep someone from falling. Better yet, a we that with work finds us all on our feet. A we like my family, bound not exclusively by blood but intentional, inclusive and beloved community. Thursday I’ll miss the comforting grip of their hands during the marathon that is Thanksgiving grace but if anything they taught me there are always hands that need holding and it is all of our charges to find them. When I think about that we. I give thanks. I also get all up in my digital crates.

we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

“Ain’t It A Lonely Feeling” Camille Yarbrough
“Big Brother” Vijay Iyer Trio
“You’ll Never Rock Alone” Tata Vega
“Love Is Plentiful” The Staple Singers
“Brothers & Sisters (Get Together)” Kim Weston
“Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” Willie Hutch
“Sister Matilda” Stu Gardner
“Painted on Canvas” Gregory Porter
“Word Called Love” Brian and Brenda Russell
“People Make The World Go Round” Marc Dorsey
“You Are The World” Donald Byrd
“Don’t You Forget It” Glenn Lewis
“Home” Stephanie Mills
“You’ve Got A Friend” [LIVE] Donny Hathaway
“Keep On Movin’ On” Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things


so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way

30 Oct

Listen, this isn’t what I expected: adult-onset acne, speech and eating disorders. I would have been struck dumb had you asked me to forecast these grown-up times in my ponytailed private school days. I daydreamed a lot but my imagined life was clipped: a timid choose your own adventure whose stalled plot was as foreseeable as it is now disappointing. And in running from that neuroses-made valley I am daily acquainted with pain, fired in it and conscripted to lay poultices on the skin of my kiln mates.

Girl on fire is a punchline in the ‘buked wail of Alicia Keys’ failed instrument, a dirge when we get stuck, when we forget Smokey’s advice. Just last week it was a black woman’s willful hell, an extreme, yes, and emblem of other private purgatories. But let’s call it our ignition and start: “sail through this to that” by Lucille Clifton’s consecration, by recognition of our own peerlessness. I heard a soprano lift Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats” in a New England parlor last week and I teared up despite my liquid eyeliner. My teacup tottered on a saucer at my boots and for those few minutes I threw it all away. It can all be better with a song. This is what I know, why I push the fader. Well, I also like to dance.

When Dilla refigured Junie’s “Tight Rope,” I’d like to think he was broadcasting more than his genius. “You have come so far, you’ve got so far to go” respects the process, the jerky choreography of our time. These songs wobble something similar. Try and catch the beat.

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way 

“Ghost” Alecia Chakour & The Osrah
“Popular/ Count’s Coda” Van Hunt
“That Girl” Esthero
“So Far” Georgia Anne Muldrow
“Find A Place To Live” Newban
“Find Your Way” Dionne Farris
“Love Me Instead” Melinda Camille
“Lost Where I Belong” Andreya Triana
“The Song of Loving/Kindness” Gary Bartz
“Long As You’re Living” Elizabeth Shepherd
“It’s Our World” Gil Scott-Heron
“I Know Myself” The Sylvers
“Faith” Faith Evans
“Devotion” Ledisi
“Beautiful” Joy Jones


take a load off family: black women, hair and the olympic stage

7 Aug

The author on the move in Harlem.

I am no athlete. I have not won an individual sports competition since maybe the second grade. I recall Usaining all comers in the 40-yard dash but, as Kasi Lemmons learned us, “memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others indelibly imprinted on the brain” and I might have photoshopped that one.

My middle school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.

With high school came the freshman basketball team, aka junior varsity cuts. Public school competition and talent defections resulted in us losing every game of the season. Each timeout we, headstrong and skill-poor, loudly militated against the directives of our sweet coach Leo. My dad, a brief overseas basketball pro and former international basketball coach, spent most of my games in laughter and, quite possibly, shame on the loftiest bleacher next to his rugged white bud who my older sister and I affectionately called Mountain Mike. The other Mike, a black Chicagoan, was my dad’s barefoot running friend.

These days, I too am something of a minimalist runner. I have been marathon training since my birthday two years ago and my lightweight racing flats have propelled me to eight and half minute splits on 30 plus miles a week although if 702 shuffles into rotation, I can break seven minutes. Of course, this feeble athleticism does not compare to the kinesthetic genius we are witnessing at the London 2012 Olympiad, particularly in track & field, which commenced Friday, and showcases athletes of the African diaspora. This heightened visibility has called my attention to the hairstyle choices of black women competitors. I know full well that the firestorm that has surrounded teen Gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair makes this a sore subject but know that my distress is rooted in love. I’m confused as to how heat-retaining, scalp-suffocating and often weighty weaves lend themselves to peak performance.

My thick hair is hot on a warm day, let alone during a workout, and I can’t imagine sewing in more. I’ve never worn a weave, nor do I desire to, and, excepting about three years of my life, my hair has been relaxer-free. As a result, I have been able to vigorously c-walk (s/o Serena) to my heart’s content with little concern for root reversion. Madame C.J. Walker does occasionally call and on those occasions, I can’t front, I abstain from exertion for a week. You know how it is.

Beyond my skepticism about the practicality of a skull saddled with multiple packages of Indian Remy in elite competition (and a testament to our excellence is that we still slay), I am concerned about the witness it offers of our esteem, the invidiousness of European beauty standards and the message our adaptations to them send young black girls interested in sport. I am saddened that so many of us equate looking our best with extension-assisted styles. Must we weave, wig, braid in extensions before we hit the pitch, track, mat, slough? I don’t buy that the ubiquity of yaki is about convenience. Show me the receipts. Only thing that accounts for our epidemic edge-sacrifice is history. We been making our way up the rough side of the mountain since the middle passage. Let’s have an honest conversation about what we do not because the world is watching but because we are, would-be Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryces and Sanya Richards Rosses. I’m not proposing a ban on sew-ins but having a conversation about our wholescale investment in them even in the most illogical of circumstances.

Tomorrow I’ll greet the sun with my pillow-dented ‘fro. If I’m feeling vain, I’ll spray bottle my hair with water to define the curl, but most mornings I’m not about that life. I’m about the thrill of coming on the Hudson from my Harlem home, arms pumping, legs kicking, neon lime kicks pounding the pavement to the sounds of Lloyd, Azealia Banks and yes, 702. Sweat beads on my scalp and dots my forehead. It feels good to go hard. The wind blowing through my hair feels even better and, as a bonus, gives lionesque body. By mile five, it’s right voluminous.

a praise song for mamas: cfc mother’s day mix

10 May
my sister, mom and me

my sister, me and mom (flanked by a passionate couple)

I am invested in sepia mamas. My mother lines my eyelids and floats my dreams. She sits on the right hand of the throne she abdicated to all I might become. “Mama gonna work it out,” Martin versioned at his best. Her frame, I shouldn’t calcify. And I’ll leave her flesh be. I know they all can’t be spirit walkers, miracle workers, love lighters but my life tells me so. And just surviving the ‘buking and scorning is worth sainthood. Much more is our mothers’ legacy though, my life, but one humble example. As these years have gone by, I have come to know the women who’ve mothered me as real people with fears and faults and that has not diminished their astounding light. My soul feels good about the ties that bind and with this mix I sound thanks.

a praise song for mamas

“Jalylah’s Theme” Hezekiah & Muhsinah
“Momma” Hodges, James & Smith
“The Sweetest Song” Stu Gardner
“Blessed” The Emotions
“Echoes Of Love” Black Magic
“Mama Used To Say” Junior
“I Wish” Stevie Wonder/ “Hamburger” Eddie Murphy
“I’ll Always Love My Mama” The Intruders
“Mama Says” Black Magic
“Mama Prayed For Me” The Williams Brothers
“Do You Know Where Your Children Are” Birthright /“Mothers and Fathers” Bill Cosby
“Don’t Cry Mommy” Phylicia Allen
“My Love Is Your Love” Whitney Houston
“All I Can Become” Emily King
“The Sweetest Song (Part II)” Stu Gardner


Happy and ‘Blackful’: A Mini Playlist

15 Jul
Maze at Wingate Field

Maze at Wingate Field (Photo Credit: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

I dusted up my Keds something terrible Monday night. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly opened the 2011 season of Brooklyn’s Martin Luther King Jr. concert series and I two stepped until my calves cramped. I arrived early enough to get beat down by the late afternoon sun and ate up by the bugs attracted by my all natural insect repellant. The concerts, in their 29th season, are free and the lines are accordingly stupendous. A young man with cornrows hawked ice-cold water to those of us waiting for the gates to open. A middle-aged woman with a blond crimped weave, maybe fourth in line, shooed away a photographer, pleading, “I got warrants.” I struck up a conversation with the three people more eager than her. They told me they had been posted up since morning. I’d like to think I have a bit of their enthusiasm. I passed on a ride from Harlem and took the subway to arrive early enough to secure enough spots in the limited seated section for all of my people.

The concerts are a ‘blackful’ experience to poach from the poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander. They feature artists that we love like Stephanie Mills and the Whispers, who I saw a few years back, or recently departed Teena Marie who performed just last summer after a downpour and The Mighty Sparrow, the Calypso King, who will perform this August. The shows begin with a prayer– we put God first–the national anthem and our anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which we do. It’s populated with a good deal of what Theodore Huxtable termed “regular people.”

Maze took the stage in signature all white– I’d like to say linen, but I wasn’t close enough to confirm–to a warm ovation. They were polished, present and attended the moments well. All of them. “We Are One” got me out of my seat early. I looked at the moon and raised my index finger up as I learned is customary for the number. During a brief interlude, Beverly spoke of the band’s Philadelphia origins, their original moniker (Raw Soul), their mentor Marvin Gaye and misadventures in brokeness and love. He also confessed to once holding some bitterness at their lack of critical recognition–not even a BET honor–that is now subsumed by this peace, “You can have the awards or the rewards.”

I left lifted. “Golden Time of the Day,” “Happy Feelings,” that sweet sepia anthem “Before I Let Go” amongst others gems from their catalogue had put me in a good space: my mind tuned to good thoughts, my ears tuned to good things. That you would do the same, I’d like to share a little of the happy blackful sounds that have been in my rotation.

“Love Me Instead” Melinda Camille [Download]

Connecticut native Melinda Camille is an American Idol veteran but don’t be dismayed. Her 2010 debut, Pure Imagination, is not middling R&B. She’s closer to Tiombe Lockhart than Tamyra Gray and her understated delivery recalls neither big-voiced beloveds JHud or ‘Tasia Mae. This record wins at hello. It’s opening line Camille sings with a side eye but no caricatured sass, “Why you tell me life is like a box of chocolates when really what it is is what you choose to make it?” And then she goes in on bougie black girl scripts. I work out of the same bag. I can understand it.

“Cupid” Lloyd [Download]

This effortfully self-styled thug is bubblegum at heart and his best. “Cupid” makes me want to pop my Trident Splash extra loud, maybe even click my Keds-clad heels. Sweetness has been my weakness since before The Good Girls (Where are THEY now?) and Cupid’s is punctuated with a booty shake-breakdown that makes me want to do squats, lunges, get my weight up and prove a low end theorem or two.  But mostly it makes me want to hold hands.

“Here We Go” Beldina [Download]

The dreamy Donald Glover, rape obsession aside, has worked with this black Swede. Thank the diaspora for ever stretching its tentacles, on this occasion from Kenya, because Beldina Malaika heartens the lithe dance music in which the Swedes specialize. My only complaint are the excessive weave tosses in her video. Maybe she was attempting an homage to Whitney’s “I Want to Dance With Somebody” video. At any rate, “Here We Go” is a great warm up for all manner of whimsy and tomfoolery.

“I Need It Just As Bad As You” Marcia Hines [Download]

I was digging for an episode of my radio show, There Ought To Be More Dancing when I encountered this Boston-bred woman of Jamaican descent (cousin to both Colin Powell AND Grace Jones). She migrated to Australia in the seventies where she is kind of like a big deal, I mean, Queen of Pop stature. After a spell in musical theatre–Hines starred in the Australian tour of “Hair”–she debuted as a recording artist with 1974’s Marcia Shines on which “I Need It Just As Bad As You” appears. It’s all the way funk and she’s all the way authentic about her sexual desires, her partner’s failure to meet them and her subsequent outside dalliances.  She’s unapologetic about her wants and, like Betty Davis stateside, opened up expressive possibilities for Black women’s sexuality that our brutal history and its continuing legacies too often harness. I find listening to her quite useful as I try an open up my armor of upstanding black womanhood.

Bonus Track: “Golden Time Of The Day” Maze [Download]

How do you solve a problem like Montana?

17 Aug

Montana Fishburne in 2006

Since Montana Fishburne’s ignoble entry into public consciousness, many have publically chastised Laurence Fishburne’s teenage daughter for lack of sense, sanity and unblemished behind. I am less interested in casting stones and more interested in the trauma behind the tragedy and without a doubt her porn debut is tragic. Remember her in the video footage as she sat silent, smirking next to the swollen and cubic zirconia laden physique of porn performer Brian Pumper. After he concluded his shifty eyed spiel on his newest “girl”, she chimed in with a nervous response to a vague and rambling question by an interviewer from the web site. Makeup free, her curly hair haphazardly pulled back, the eighteen year old looked like a college student catching a harried breakfast in the school cafeteria before a morning class. Casual attire notwithstanding, she sounded desperate to impress, “I have a lot of at home experience,” she said of her porn debut. She was going for old hand. I understand the impulse, not wanting to feel like a novice. She was declaring her graduation from the kid’s table all miniature proportions and juvenile conversation. ” Her hands flush against her décolletage, eyebrows raised, smizing (© Tyra), she boasted, “I mean, I know what I do and I do it well.” Ok, Montana. “Was this a goal for you?” The interviewer then asked. She replied, “I mean it wasn’t a goal but it’s a step—in a direction.” A direction she had clearly yet to charter. And when the interviewer’s “That’s what up” comment, a seal of approval, elicited a bright, beaming smile from her, I knew she was walking the wrong way.

Bewilderment is what Montana broadcasts underneath the posturing and vacillation. With reports that she was arrested for prostitution, with allegations her high school “boyfriend” Jerome “J-Pipes” Greene is a pimp and news of charges brought against her for assaulting the “ex-girlfriend” of her pimp, I wonder why so many in the blogosphere and twitverse, spend inordinate amounts of time speculating the source of her butt blemishes (cigarette burns, herpes scars). I am not at all interested in the “black girl lost” meme favored by so many concept poor rappers and lazy commentators. They are but invidious indictments to distract from any thoughtful internal reflection by Black men and defenders of their privilege. I am invested in Black women’s health and safety both of which are clearly in peril in the case of Montana Fishburne. I like to laugh but her misadventures do not tickle my funny bone, they curdle my stomach.

Montana summarized a conversation with her mother after news of her porn debut broke for TMZ with two short and telling sentences. “She loves me and is concerned and worried about me. She wants me to be ok and wants whatever is best for me.” Concerned and worried are the operative words and the appropriate responses. Although Montana has tried to spin her porn entrance with sex positive rhetoric about exploring her sexuality, the space that the manipulative tandem of Pumper and Pipes have allowed for that is governed by exploitation. No way is this healthy sexual expression and no way is this Black Hollywood scion well. Worse still, as many observers have noted, is that there is no coming back from these types of sexual indiscretions for Black girls and women. White AND Black America have no sympathy or patience for those who they portray as jezebels. None.

Montana told TMZ that her famous father Laurence Fishburne told her, “I’m not going to speak with you ’till you turn your life around” and “You used your last name. No one uses their real name in porn.” The full extent of their conversation and the background are beyond my scope of knowledge but I would hope that we as kin and concerned folk of young Black girls in need would offer more to them than shame blame and admonitions to get right. Indeed this sister may not want to be well but the love of community, the warm words are family are what encourages, heals, changes. Without them Montana will remain under the spell of the slick talk of plastic pimp porn stars cum rappers like Brian Pumper and scrawny scumbags like Jerome “J Pipes” Greene.

Glitches: The Ballad of Ebony Brown

12 Jul

Black Thought & Questlove in Prospect Park 7.11.2010 (Photo Credit: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work” concluded The Roots’ Sunday evening set in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  In the swelter, a paunchy Black Thought perspired through the rap standard while his legendary crew capered Pip-like in the background. A master of breath control, Black Thought expelled not a pant and it was an exhausting exercise. The Roots are serious showmen and I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained but going to a hip hop concert and hearing that repeated declamation “Men at Work”  prickled as a reminder that for too many “Men at Work” remains hip hop’s definition.

I still soared: rapped all the lines to “The Next Movement” and imitated Greg Nice’s spry wop atop a metal folding chair during he and Smooth B’s impromptu encore performance.  It was only when I had made my way from my old borough to my Harlem digs did my shoulder’s shrink. I cued up a DVR recording of the latest episode of the animated series “The Boondocks” titled “The Lovely Ebony Brown.” It began with the grandfather, Robert Freeman, committing Facebook hara-kiri (deactivation) because of some misadventures in dating or in his words “batshit crazy bitches.” His black male workout buds, Uncle Ruckus and Tom DuBois, took the opportunity to offer relationship council on the next morning’s jog. Uncle Ruckus, a self-hating character whose hyperbole dangerously dovetails with prevailing stereotype, unleashed a diatribe against women like me less than three minutes into the episode. Here are a few choice excerpts:

“The key to happiness is to eliminate all black women from your life.”

“Black women don’t want to be happy.”

“A black woman’s body is the temple of doom.”

“Black women don’t jog. That way they don’t sweat out all them industrial strength toxic avenger chemicals they use to straighten out their hair.”

Forgive me for not LOLing.

"The Lovely Ebony Brown"

The episode proceeds with Robert crossing paths with a young buxom black woman jogger, the episode’s namesake, in contradistinction from Ruckus’ broad indictment (although per the comment section of the Onion AV Club’s episode review, there is some debate about whether black women jog). In fact, the whole episode Ebony Brown absorbs the insults, brushes off the enmity and proves herself the exception to the cabal of angry ugly unfit broke black woman monsters roaming so much of the world’s rampant imagination. Her “perfect” physique (not too Serena Williams), complexion (not too Serena Williams), credit, childlessness, lack of a criminal record are topped by perpetual good humor in the face of all manner of foolishness and on her list of accomplishments is discovering the cure for a devastating disease. In bed with the old flabby Robert, Ebony acquiesces to his preference for lights-off lovemaking by purring “Whatever you like.” (Recall that in 1988, “Whatever you like,” was a deal breaker #akeem #zamunda)

Robert eventually bungles their relationship with his own insecurity and Ebony lets him down oh so easy after he tracks her down in Malaysia delivering aid to typhoon victims, “You look exhausted and stressed and, I don’t know, I don’t want to have this effect on you. You don’t look happy.” Robert returns to his Woodcrest home where Uncle Ruckus, converted by Ebony’s cherubic ways, seeks her out to propose. Robert reactivates his Facebook account with renewed faith in select sepia segments of the opposite sex.

This black woman character’s transformative influence on the ornery Robert and Ruckus offered little levity to my viewing experience. The episode’s whole premise landed as “how does it feel to be a problem?” And Ebony’s superhuman contours, eventually begrudgingly appreciated, reinforce the stratospheric bar that has to be met for black women to break even. It takes so much more for us to be in the black, in life and in imagination, than it does for our other sisters. But that’s not what struck a nerve, it was Ruckus’s opening sermon on our inhumanity. Even in jest, it’s tired. It’s centuries overplayed. The record has long since been worn down. I want to be able to turn on the TV and not hear so much disparagement directed exclusively at us. It’s a downer. How am I to thwart the angry black woman stereotype when television puts me in a sour mood?! (Right now NBC’s “Community” is doing it for me a long with reruns of “Seinfeld”-Kramer be damned-and “The Bernie Mac Show”).

The novelist and poet Paul Beatty once wrote, “not being ticklish, I see laughter as a learned response and not a reflexive one.” Reflecting on his own developing sense of humor, Beatty recalled being the butt of the first joke, a jibe about the darkness of his complexion, he’d ever heard.  I’m the butt of many of the jokes in the television and film I watch.  It’s difficult to laugh from that crappy station although not for “The Boondocks” miraculous Ebony Brown who giggles after being called a wildebeest by Uncle Ruckus at dinner with Robert and then picks up the check. Aaron McGruder is a sharp, if sometimey, satirist but I conserved my chuckles last night. The episode prickled as a reminder that the joke is disproportionately on black women. The skin we’re in.

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