Mirror, Mirror

Forgive me for the unusually long hiatus.

It’s not that I’ve been extremely busy (although I kinda was), nor was it the absence of a topic of discussion. I think we all can agree that over the last few months, there’s been nothing but discussions.

Yet, every time I sat down to write about it, I found myself in that unenviable position every one of us has suffered at one point or another, where I just could not.

But now, I’ve been inspired by — of all things — television.

Unlike my younger days, where I sat for hours transfixed to a television with the intensity of a One Direction fan, these days I’m often out of the loop on most things that show up on most-watched lists, and the equivalent of “water-cooler” conversations.

Like a number of people from my generation, I watched TV not only to pass the time, but to transport myself to imaginary worlds where people had money, adventures, superpowers and even cool, talking cars. As a kid in a single parent home, I also got comfort from seeing the family comedies, where there was a mom and a dad who worked together to teach their kids valuable lessons in comedic ways.

As time passed, those shows – “Dynasty” “MacGuyver” “Wonder Woman” “Knight Rider” “Good Times” “The Brady Bunch” “The Cosby Show” “Family Ties” et al – disappeared, and in their place were shows where real people engaged in shameless acts of desperation for attention, exposure and seemingly lucrative payoffs.

That’s when I tuned out. The fantasy of my childhood shows at least gave me hope of a better life than the one I was currently living. The “reality” was just a depressing commentary on the extreme measures people will take to make their own fantasies come true.

And then Shonda Rhimes came on the scene… Making both history, and shows I could somewhat relate to or, at the very least, enjoy.

From “Grey’s Anatomy” to my current addictions “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder”, Rhimes and her team of writers created stories that teetered on both lines of fantasy and reality. In the case of Grey’s and Scandal, the shows would mix raw and genuine human emotions with the fantasy of teasing happily ever after scenarios that often go horribly awry. A couple who pined for each other after parting ways would reunite, only to have one die in a plane crash. A taboo love affair with the President of the United States gets the bizarre blessing from his wife.

I mean, really, how the fuck is that real life?

But this past Thursday, Shonda and her team outdid themselves, when “Scandal” took a much-needed turn from a nonsensical plot line to deliver the most heavy-hitting episode in its history. In it, they tackled a subject that had gripped the country — myself included — for the last six months: The Ferguson incident.

For anyone who’s been living in a self-imposed bubble, the story of unarmed teenager Mike Brown being gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has been widespread news. What had already began as a tragedy with the death of an unarmed youth, escalated further by the police department’s refusal to discuss the case until they had found evidence — which would later reveal to be false — that the victim had committed a criminal act which, in their opinion, justified the shooting. The public’s frustration with the police and media seemingly depicting minority victims as criminals had reached its peak, sparking riots in Ferguson and a wave of protests around the country. Everyone from pundits to presidents in other countries sounded off on what had become a firestorm and a black-eye (literally) for the United States of America.

…So Shonda and her team took every sound bite, every perspective and every character and caricature that has lent a voice to this chapter in American history, and lumped it into one very emotional hour of television drama.

In her version, the father of a slain son becomes his protector by sitting with the body while holding a shotgun until justice has been served to clear his son’s name. The police chief hires a black crisis control consultant to mediate the situation before it escalated to chaos. The president, still reeling from the death of his own son, agonized over the shooting, but is advised not to make any public statements due to the hotbed issue.  The crisis consultant has her team investigate the truth, which revealed the shooting officer’s guilt. The officer is then arrested and the victim is cleared. The father is then taken to the White House by the crisis consultant to meet the president and weep in his arms. Credits roll as the episode is neatly tied up with a bow.

In between all the fantasy, there were bits of reality: The anger of the community over another unjustified physical and character assassination. The charismatic, boisterous and occasionally manipulative black activist who uses rhetoric under the guise of good intentions, which ultimately encourage further destructive and counterproductive crowd behavior. The politician who jumps in to give their two cents in hopes of bolstering their presence and agenda with the fifteen minutes of media fame they’ve been allotted. The police chief who’s more concerned with the image of his department than the situation at hand, or the respect and trust of the people he’s supposed to protect and serve by resolving things peacefully and professionally. A crowd of people who are justifiably angry over their mistreatment, but unaware of how their own actions and reactions further alienate them from the sympathies of society and, sadly, justice. The police officer whose resentment over the attitudes of the community and his own deep-seeded disdain for their ethnicity severely clouds his judgement and makes him a ticking time-bomb in a job he clearly should not have. And a president who’s damned if he does say something, and damned if he doesn’t.

As stated before, I’ve had difficulty putting into words what I’ve been feeling over the last few months. As I’ve listened and watched people sound off on this, the Bill Cosby allegations and even stupid shit like a reality show based on sorority girls, I’ve wondered — sometimes out loud — how African-Americans pick and choose what they’re outraged about.

For instance: Why is it hilarious when women act a damn fool for ratings and lauded for their ambition in one show, but dragged to hell and “read to filth” because they wore letters in another? Why is it funny when Kanye West slut-shames Amber Rose for being an exotic dancer, when his wife had sex on camera with another man and built a fucking family empire from it? Speaking of “Empire,” why are people up in arms over the character depictions on a show that is a fictional scripted drama, when we grew up watching soap operas with absurd and borderline psychotic plot lines? Why is it okay for rap artists to spit lyrics about putting “molly” in a woman’s drink, but when it’s revealed that everyone’s favorite TV dad did it in real life, suddenly the women are liars? Where is that same outrage that prompted the now famous #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, when a video of black people fighting goes viral? Where is the same call for action when another black youth or innocent bystander falls victim to revenge and/or gang violence, or just a kid with anger management issues from being abused at home or school?

Maybe it’s just too hard to see ourselves, or own our hurtful behavior, beliefs and habits when they’re reflected in so-called “art” for public consumption and scrutiny. It’s easier to point fingers and talk about what any other race but our own have done to embarrass or degrade our culture.

We spend a short month reminding ourselves how wonderful and majestic our history is; how many people of color changed the world by inventing groundbreaking medical and scientific techniques and countless household items, and blazed trails that have set legal and human rights precedents. How important it is to recognize and support black achievement. We quickly — and loudly — derided the Academy Awards for “snubbing” the movie “Selma”and its director, Ava DuVernay, citing the monumental impact of the event on which the film is based.

But for all the pomp and circumstance we built around the historical significance of honoring the movie on the fiftieth anniversary of the march itself, upon closer inspection, we failed to notice that the box office take of “Selma” was significantly less than the average Kevin Hart movie. Meaning we also snubbed the movie by not supporting it in the theaters!! In fact, we snubbed it more by not doing so, sending a far more dangerous message about our hypocrisy than an Oscar nod ever could.

As much as it makes people uncomfortable, I’m happy there are now shows that rip the band-aid off of the once taboo subject of talking about race and the issues we all face. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Jewish. African. Arabic. All. Of. Us. Be it discrimination, or even quiet-as-kept subjects like sexual abuse and incest — which was covered in a searing episode of “How To Get Away With Murder” (and may earn Cicely Tyson another award) — we need to see ourselves and our stories so we can maybe… hopefully… start the conversations and actions that create necessary changes.

Understandably, people get rattled when the lines between fantasy and reality get a little blurry, when all they want is to escape to a world where they can be entertained. But more and more, society is showing us that we can no longer look away or tune out when something doesn’t appease us.

If we can hold sports, entertainment and political figures accountable for their “scandals”, surely we can do the same for our own… Can’t we?

It all starts by looking in the mirror…

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This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…

All A Twitter…

In what is probably one of the more ridiculous admissions made in this lifetime, I must fully acknowledge that I have a bizarre love/hate relationship with Twitter.

Sometimes just using the word makes me feel like just I substituted a dirty word in the presence of children.

“That girl can be such a twitter!”

“He’s a son of a twitter.”

“That gymnast just cracked their twitter on the balance beam. Ouch!”

But I digress.

My initial reaction to the invention of this game-changing app was blatant disregard. The purist in me thought it was a further nail in the coffin of human interaction, which would enable my already half-hearted desire to be in a room with people on a regular basis. Then it morphed into semi-hatred when it became clear that in order to satisfy the 140-character limit, you end up decimating the English language with barely translatable text. (Sometimes I think my brother learned his entire vocabulary through this method.) Prior to people realizing they could simply send multiple messages to convey a thought, ppl tlkd lk no1 wnt 2 skool.

Once it became clear that it wasn’t going away, and had, in fact, grown in popularity as even politicians began using it, my intrigue set in. As staunchly against abbreviated thoughts as I’d been, there was no denying that the influence of Twitter was evident. Hell, Corey Booker’s entire political career might exist because of it. For celebrities and other influencers, the number of followers they had were equated to human currency.

So I created an account… and quickly got bored with it. I was more interested in the real-time news and confirming rumored deaths and other gossip than anything. The idea of sharing random thoughts to the “Twitterverse” disturbed me… although one of my girlfriends in D.C. and I made a regular habit of doing award show commentaries on it as if we were the two old puppets on “The Muppet Show”.

Twitter was our heckling paradise.

While some would say it’s the same as writing a Facebook status, or possibly even blogging, one can at least control the level of exposure and/or response to some extent via those platforms. Whereas on the flip side, I inexplicably found myself being “followed” by people with porn star names, and getting spam messages about checking out sites that probably lead to viruses.

Then one day it became clear to me why this newfangled social media thingy was so damn popular…

While flipping through the timeline, I saw a “tweet” from Vanity Fair in which they quoted the rapper Chamillionaire. Instantly, my thought was two things: the first was that their account was being tasked by someone likely born in the ’90’s, and the second was how awesome it was that a magazine typically associated with covering socialites and the scandalous misdeeds of the rich and famous from the “old-money” set was mentioning a man made famous by a song called “Ridin’ Dirty”.

In fact, it struck me so oddly fantastic that I wrote a tweet about it, in which I said “Whenever I wonder why I’m on Twitter, I see something random like @VanityFair quoting @Chamillionaire.” And promptly signed off.

Hours later, while checking my email, there was a message telling me Chamillionaire re-tweeted my message. Apparently, he was just as amused as I was.

It was then that I realized that as much of a bitchfest as Twitter can be, the draw is that the “Average Joe” has an opportunity to be acknowledged by people they normally only see in the media. Very often, you’ll see re-tweets from celebrities where the initial sender literally begs for one. They also have the perfect platform to publicly stalk, scold, and shame people with minimal risk of an arrest or being slapped with a restraining order.

Even after getting a direct message from a rap artist asking about an artwork I posted a photo of, ribbing an actor friend — who I’d later date — about an ill-fated picture, and exchanging occasionally humorous dialogue with notable personalities, my feelings about Twitter were still teetering on ambivalent.

Until this morning… when I got an email informing me that Amel Larrieux was now following me. A significant upgrade from wannabe porn stars. It’s one thing for them to respond to you, it’s another thing for them to follow you.

I nearly twittered my pants.

Suddenly, the pressure to write better abbreviated thoughts become tenfold when you learn an artist of her caliber might be reading them.

And just when I thought I had reached my crazy zenith for the week, a photo taken by a well-known entertainment reporter I used to work with popped up on Instagram (another stalker hotbed). It was of Grace Jones re-tweeting him, with the caption: “This. Just. Happened. I Die.” (I fear should Liza Minelli or Dolly Parton ever do the same, he really will die from the excitement.)

Validation ensued.

At first, I contemplated ending this post with a pledge to tweet responsibly and encourage you all to do the same. But who are we kidding? Some of the best and/or most memorable stuff are the off-the-cuff epic meltdowns of legend, i.e. Weiner, Bynes, Baldwin, Cyrus, and the queen of ’em all… Rihanna (as hot as that girl may be, she is a whole bag of crazy — and we love her for it).

Instead, my PSA for the day is more in the lines of don’t drink and tweet, mind your grammar, and resist the urge to post “selfies” of any nature.

It’s all fun and games til something goes viral…

So follow me @lrbnyc and let’s see how much fun — or trouble — we can get into…

Tea and Empathy

Every now and then, my Anglophilia kicks in with a vengeance.

In the past, it has served me well when it comes to some of my career choices, music, fashion and entertainment interests and a few friends who are always solid sources of good times.

Adversely, it has also served me two of my last three significant love interests…

Ummm… yeah… how ’bout this year’s Wimbledon tournament? Well done, Andy Murray!

Anyway, this week it was tickled blue with the news of the Royal baby being born. Although I did not personally deliver this child, his arrival was exciting because I can briefly obsess about a Kate other than Moss, and be confident that his parents won’t name him something stupid like “Knot” Windsor. (For the record, I’m having difficulty with his birth name, George, because it always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the “abominable snowman”. Yes, I’m different.)  

Coming down from that high could only be done one way: by watching Idris Elba in “Pacific Rim”. While the crush I once had on him has gone the way of my days of wearing long hair, he’s still a great actor, and that movie restored the joy in sci-fi fantasy that “Iron Man 3” briefly snatched away (effectively nullifying my other crush, Don Cheadle — they’re dropping like flies).

What made this picture so great, you ask?

Besides it feeling like a sick mash-up of a live-action “Voltron vs. Godzilla and Friends”, the overall theme of the characters being “connected” mentally and emotionally is always a topic that resonates in my book.

“Drifting”, as they called it, was the concept of being in your partner’s thoughts and memories to enable a cohesive — and stronger — team. In other words, understanding and working with someone’s strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between overcoming an enormous life-altering obstacle, or watching in horror as your brother gets snatched and eaten. (That last part is totally changeable to fit your own life story, by the way.)

It’s funny to me that I should come to watch a film that incites putting oneself in other’s minds when, just two days ago, a discussion with a guy friend about my writing “voice” prompted him to advise me to “be angrier” about my subjects. My first reaction was to laugh, as anyone who has irritated — or dated — me in this lifetime can attest that I have “hulk-like” abilities when it comes to temperament. That is, when I care to even feel any kind of way about something.  

These days, I feel the only thing worth fighting for is make-up sex. Watching the world get pissed off about everything from race to real-estate is more exhausting than empowering. Frankly, it’s all counter-productive. When people spend more time thinking about how they feel about something instead of actually finding a solution to the challenge, what, exactly, gets accomplished?

As much as I’d love to say I’ve conquered my anger, and have made great strides for the better in the last few years, there are of course moments that can’t be denied. It usually occurs when someone hurts women or children, or when someone close to me has shown me great inconsideration, betrayal or disrespect. When you have a history of childhood molestation and parental abandonment, it tends to come gift-wrapped with trust issues and an occasional desire to be a vigilante. Nowadays, I would prefer any baggage of mine to be by Samsonite or Tumi.

Of course, there’s never a easy transition. People often feel a lack of passion about their plight equates to dissidence. Perhaps choosing peace over war is a confusing concept, because historically “war” has always come before “peace” in sentences and titles of books and songs.

And that’s why it’s ironic that I’m drawn to British culture, given it’s history of wars and colonization… now known as the American way. It’s like watching “All About Eve” starring the Queen as Bette Davis’ character. (If you’ve never seen this movie, now’s the time.)

I’m not sure if I can attest this to my love of tea, or my sadomasochistic idolization of Naomi Campbell.

Just to play it safe, I’ll say it was a mix of things like Corinne Baily Rae, Laura M’vula, Adele, Burberry and all things Virgin.

Okay… and Idris. “Pacific Rim” was that good.

 

In Slave

It’s February already.

The shortest month of the year, and the only one where you could run into timekeeping issues with your age if you were born at the very end of it during a Leap one. Thankfully, my dad dodged that bullet by a day… although sometimes I felt it would’ve explained a lot of his behavior.

It is also most notably Black History Month, which used to mean reports and special school plays in honor of famous people of color during my childhood.

Today, it means I spend the weekend watching the NAACP awards, frying shrimp the way my grandmother taught me in Savannah, catching “Django Unchained” finally, and taking to Twitter to read and review commentary on the performances and ads during the Super Bowl while simultaneously trying to watch the game and contain my audible reactions to the game. All in that order.

Like most New Yorkers, I went into watching this game more for the ads and Beyonce’s halftime show because the Giants weren’t in it and could therefore care less who won. I moderately appreciate football as a sport, but fully enjoy the uniforms and the use of words like “tight end”. I’m crass. Get over it.

That said, it turned out to be an awesome game.

But the NFL went full-on “Sista-girl power” with a line up that began with Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, and ended with that fem-bot Sasha Fierce leaving no questions about live performances… or why she now performs without the other members of Destiny’s Child. It was like a precursor to the Essence Music Festival.

Anyway, back to the point of this story…

The NAACP awards turned out to be emotionally overwhelming. After tearing up from the story of Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, I was then struck by the iconic moment of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte standing on stage together, as the former presented the latter with the Spingarin award in recognition of his tireless charity work. That’s when the cosmic shift in the room occurred.

Mr. Belafonte is no stranger to calling out black celebrities for not taking a more active role in enriching the lives and opportunities of the black youth. But on this particular night, he used his moment in the spotlight to challenge all of them to use their influence to make and be the change needed in the communities to ensure kids today are educated instead of incarcerated. His speech was so moving, it jarred Jamie Foxx to the point of getting him to stray from his rehearsed speech of the season (only briefly, unfortunately).

For me, it sparked thoughts of the days when black actors were “actorvists”, and entertainers were outspoken in their community and in turn the community responded. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Poitier and Belafonte, Paul Robeson. All walked alongside the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Today, the number of celebrities willing to get their hands dirty are few, with exceptions such as Don Cheadle, who after making “Hotel Rwanda”, began campaigning and co-authored a book in efforts to end genocide in Darfur. The going trend is now to sign large tax-deductible checks or make photo-scripted appearances to boost one’s PR.

His speech stayed with me as I watched “Django”, which, when one isn’t focused on the graphic and gratuitous violence or the use of the N-word, you can appreciate for what it is: a good — no, great — revenge fantasy. Just like “Inglorious Basterds” before it, this movie takes a very real and very traumatic page in history for a race of people and asks the question “what if the tables were turned?” If you go looking for inaccuracies or expecting to be offended, you completely miss the true story buried within; the one where slaves were whipped, torn apart by dogs, put in “hot boxes”, and subjected to numerous atrocities — least of which is being called an N-word — worst of all being conditioned to betray and mistrust each other for their own survival.

And there it is… centuries later, we’ve become our worst enemies .

As Mr. Belafonte calls for an end to the penitentiary mindset that has been steadily crippling our communities over the last few decades, the city of Chicago has just tallied over forty homicides just in the month of January. Before the ball dropped to mark the end of 2012, they had notched over 500 murders in total for the year. Crime in minority neighborhoods have risen with the desperation of those who see more opportunity in guns, drugs, and professional sports than with degrees or specialized training for careers that can’t be outsourced.

It’s become customary to point the finger of blame at our lighter-hued counterparts for the lack of progression in our community, but we are squarely to blame for it. When we fail our children by denying them basic things such as quality education, stable and healthy home environments and just a strong sense of pride and self, we set up the future generations to follow suit.  When we put programs on where our women fight over men and money, put out songs that glorify violence and misogyny, and teach our kids at a young age to value expensive, high-tech and designer items they can’t possibly afford  — we are mixing a recipe for disaster. We are enslaving ourselves.

I’m sure they’d be remiss to admit it, but if Spike Lee had done that movie instead of Quentin Tarantino, they would be hailing him as a genius for sparking a conversation about slavery that hasn’t been explored since “Roots”. Personally, I think Spike should have done the film, so more people would be talking about it instead of fixating on a word.

It’s great that we celebrate the achievements of accomplished people of color. It would be even greater if we didn’t just allot a month out of an entire year to make them feel special. It’s almost akin to picking one day out of the other 364 to express your love for someone (hmmm… coincidence that it’s the same month?). It would be fantastic if we could make a habit out of excellence, instead of pointing people out like zoo animals, but I guess in some way it inspires one to aspire to something more.

But enough about this.

How about those Super Bowl commercials?

Winner Take All

The Closing Ceremonies have now ended, signifying the completion of the London 2012 Olympic games.

With that, a range of thoughts and emotions run through my head…

Things like: “Am I really that old where I recognize about 90% of the music and artists (dead and almost) they’re featuring?”, “Did Victoria Beckham just model her designer duds while the rest of the Spice Girls actually sang for their supper?”, “Should the guys who did the ‘McKayla is Not Impressed’ web sensation add one with her next to the Queen looking equally unimpressed during Opening Ceremony?”, “If I eat Chobani yogurt on a regular basis and use my Visa card more, will it make me feel better about myself after sitting on my ass for two weeks looking at the most chiseled humans on the planet?”, “When Oprah has the inevitable sit-down with Gabrielle Douglas, will there be a verbal smack-down somewhere in the interview for the ‘haters’ who were so vocal about her hair and mother’s financial situation?”, and “Did anyone else find themselves talking about the Beijing ceremonies because they were so bored with London’s?”

But in all seriousness, my main thought was how amazing and ridiculously stressful it must be to be an Olympian… especially an American one.

With the entire world watching, over 200 countries and 10,000 athletes came to London to compete for the privilege of being declared the best in their respective sporting events. Having already predetermined a number of bankable, marquee athletes to keep the cameras on, the daunting task for those competing against a Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Sanya Richards-Ross is how to stay motivated and not be intimidated by their star power.

We watched in awe as the men and women of the United States and beyond showed superhuman strength and endurance in some of the most grueling sporting events. We shared in their joys as they achieved their ultimate goal of being recognized as the greatest ambassadors for their respective homelands. We felt their pain when a lifetime of training for that moment are dashed in a matter of seconds. We witnessed historic achievements, personal triumphs and tragedies, and incredible sportsmanship that moved us to tears.

To be honest, this was the first Olympics that I’d been fully engrossed in since Atlanta hosted the games in 1996. That year was particularly special for me, as I had scored the honor of actually working in the Olympic Village. That Summer, I walked amongst the gladiators, so their stories and achievements felt almost personal. Ironically, this year’s games have been compared to that year because it was the last time Team USA had dominated events such as Women’s Gymnastics and Track and Field. For the first time in sixteen years, the memories of seven petite young women walking as one even when they weren’t on the national stage, and a bunch of good-nature guys who happen to run really fast when they’re not joking around and stock-piling fruit flashed through my head. Perhaps there’s always something about London that sparks a fire within me — although it sure as hell wasn’t either of the ceremonies.

It’s sometimes easy to forget what these athletes go through to get to these games. The sacrifices of time, money, and other opportunities they make for that one shot of making their countrymen proud and potentially earning millions in endorsements to compliment their newfound national recognition are unimaginable. Add the pressure of having the hopes of an entire population of people you aren’t related to resting on your shoulders, and you have an unbearable situation. One athlete had been told that she couldn’t run for the country her husband was from — which she now called home — and had her passport taken in a show of force to run for her native country. As we muse about Ryan Lochte’s grill and unsanitary pool habits, or the ungrateful scowls of people with Silver and Bronze medals, we rarely give thought to the men and women in lesser developed regions whose dream of a better life often fall flat when they come in fourth.  

While my admiration goes out to all the athletes who competed, I am especially proud of Team USA for coming out on top. Their dedication, selflessness, and inability to accept defeat provided the world and the younger generations not only valuable life lessons, but it embodied what we stand for as a country. My only lament is that during these two weeks where we should be focused on the unity and sportsmanship of our team and country, we get distracted and caught up in the diversity that accompanies an election year and subsequent campaign season.

And so, this closing ceremony saddened me not because it lacked any spectacle, but because it essentially sends us back to the harsh reality of what the country has become, as opposed to what it is perceived to be to the rest of the world.

To the world… we are winners. We are a team that is united and willing to take stands for each other in order for us all to collectively win.

But internally, we are a nation divided in class and beliefs who constantly judge and bicker and indulge our own personal interests and goals at the risk of others’ suffering and loss. For a brief moment, the world caught a glimpse of our weakness in the form of the “black eye” that was Ralph Lauren’s Team USA uniforms, which were manufactured in China. But it was quickly forgotten once our swimming team began their show.

The thought makes me long for another two weeks of watching our gladiators run, flip and swim to golden glory.

…Or at least another opportunity to see Annie Lennox give another legendary performance, and watch a stunt double for the Queen jump out of a helicopter with James Bond again.

Now those were winning moments to me!

News to Me

There are days when I’m truly concerned for the direction of the American heritage. This morning, when I scoped the covers of the morning papers in my local deli, it became clear that this was going to be one of those days.

During an election year where gun control has just resurfaced as an issue with scores of people succumbing to gun violence over the last few weeks — the most notable being a midnight massacre in a movie theater — the biggest story of the day was that Kristen Stewart cheated on her boyfriend.

Hours from now, the world will convene for the Olympic games in London — sans the Greek athlete who was expelled for her racist comments on Twitter (as if Greece didn’t have enough trouble) — but let’s take a moment to ponder on the indiscretion of a wooden actress who rose to fame for playing in a vampire movie.

In the course of a few days, we lost Sylvia Woods, a trailblazing restaurateur who put Harlem on the map for politicians hoping to get a slice of the African-American vote with their serving of soul food, and Sherman Hemsley, an actor who made every black family believe they could make it like scrappy George Jefferson before the Huxtables showed us the beauty of educated affluence.  

While the rest of the country was focused on the psychotic musings of a man who opened fire on innocent people watching the latest Batman installment, very little focus was put on the fact that Christian Bale, the actor who played Batman, visited the victims and the memorial in honor of the dead. Those victims, many of whom are young and uninsured, have just been given a reprieve by having most — and possibly in some cases all — of their medical expenses taken care of.  

Newspaper publishers muse about the decline of their industry and blame the wealth of access to information available through the internet and virtually any smartphone, tablet or other gadget. While it’s certainly a factor in a society being weened on instant gratification, those of us who still value the touch of paper and the occasional practice of clipping or highlighting things still like the idea of a newspaper giving us real news.

But it doesn’t just stop with the papers. American media overall chooses more sensational and occasionally mindless things to report as so-called news. Before stories of the “Vamp Tramp” broke (I must admit I love the caption writing sometimes), we could not escape the “news” of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing. It would seem that the only way of getting real news is to tune into a cable channel like CNN (or even The Daily Show), wait for a designated hard news program, or go online.

Meanwhile our counterparts in the rest of the world have BBC, Al Jazeera, et al informing them of international news stories that prepare them for interaction with the global population and markets on a continual basis. They are more versed on the ongoing events that have changed the commercial and financial climate of each nation, and are adapting accordingly.

Perhaps we’ve become so closed off in our own beliefs and subscribers to the “too big to fail” hubris that we find it acceptable to push frivolous pop culture and reality television into the forefront of conversations. That our schools are underperforming, our workforce is shrinking and our GDP is teetering on nonexistent doesn’t concern us as much as whether Kanye and Kim will really get married and who the next American Idol judge will be.

But please, let’s not concern ourselves with the 17-year-old boy who gunned down a 4-year-old because he was retaliating gunfire… let’s pontificate on the future of whether the actors who played Edward and Bella will survive her dalliance with a married father of two.

Yeah, that’s a real news story… no one’s ever heard that one before.