Archive for April, 2007

Somehow I Knew

Monday, April 30th, 2007

There are things we know that we don’t know we know. It’s called instinct, intuition, a hunch, gut feeling, or sixth sense. It’s a gift that God gives to each of us. With this gift, this intuition, people have been known to make split second decisions.

Tracie Dean drove 300 miles out of her way in January 2006 to follow up on a gut feeling she had about a little girl she happened upon at a convenience store. The little girl seemed frightened by the man in whose care she was the day Dean encountered them at an Alabama convenience store. The look on the child’s face staring up at Dean told the older woman that something wasn’t right. Luckily, Dean took down the man’s license plate number. Four days later and back home in Georgia, Dean was unable to find the girl’s picture on any of the missing children’s databases she located on the Internet. Dean then got in her car and drove three hundred miles back down to Alabama. She persuaded the convenience store owner to let her view the surveillance tapes of the day she met the little girl. While viewing the tapes a sheriff’s deputy walked into the store. Dean convinced him to view the tapes with her and to look into the matter. He did. Clues led the deputy to a mobile home in Alabama, where the horror story of extensive child abuse at the hand of a convicted sex offender began to disturbingly unfold.

Asked what made her drive back down to Alabama, Dean responded: “It was a God thing,” she said. “It was in my heart just to keep driving.”

Thoughtful Westerners look with contempt upon intuition, describing it as emotional, hysteria, unreasonable, or women’s foolishness. That brings to mind a woman in the bible whose instincts were dismissed. Based on a dream she’d had the night before Pilate’s wife sent a message to her husband warning him to look beyond appearances at the man who would be dragged into the governor’s court that day for sentencing (Matt. 27:19).

Each of us makes important behavioral predictions on our own all the time, without the help of experts. We make predictions about danger. “Should I chance it across the parking lot to my car this time of night?” “Can I trust this stranger?” Come to think about it, we have been studying people since we were infants, picking up clues from our environment on who feels right and who doesn’t, who we can trust and who we must go out of our way to avoid.

Poet and professor Nikki Giovanni had to threaten to quit in order to get her department to remove Cho Seung-Hui from a poetry class she was teaching there at Virginia Tech in 2005. His demeanor was menacing and his poetry was so disturbing that it became impossible to teach the class. “I’ve taught crazy people,” said Giovanni. “It was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak.” Then head of the department, Lucinda Roy, agreed to tutor Cho privately. But after a few sessions with him she grew scared and devised a “code word” she gave to an assistant so that if she felt threatened by the guy, the assistant knew to call the police.

Intuition is just listening. Listening for whispers from the soul.

Overlooking the Lioness

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Historians have always paid more attention to the lions of a movement. Very little interest is paid to the lionesses even though they are the more agile of the species and tend to be the ones who do much of the hard work.

Judging by the comments of some, you would think that black women have been silent about being called out of their names. As far back as the early 90s the late C. Delores Tucker used her post as president of the National Coalition of Black Women to launch a fiery campaign against rap music. She took it upon herself to pass out leaflets with the lyrics to gangsta rap to everyone she met, calling the music “pornographic filth” and claiming it was demeaning and offensive to black women. Despite her legendary contributions in the civil rights movement and despite being the first black woman to be named Secretary of State (serving the commonwealth of Pennsylvania) Tucker’s campaign against degrading lyrics against women fell largely on deaf ears. To many she was an eccentric old woman who was out of touch with the lyricism of the times. To add insult, rappers like Eminem and Tupac Shakur blasted Tucker, a civil rights giant and a woman old enough to be their grandmother, by targeting her in their lyrics, using some pretty filthy, derogatory language to shut her up.

Since C. Delores’ Tucker’s death in 2005, and long before the debate that has ensued after Don Imus’ remarks against the Rutgers women’s basketball team, others like Essence Magazine and Oprah Winfrey have spoken out against the sexist and demeaning lyrics in some of the rap songs heard on radio. But you wouldn’t know that for many years now black women have been challenging women’s exploitation and degradation in popular music. You would think that black women have been content to be insulted by the music we hear.

Enter the lions.

After days of conversation with executives in the music industry, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons released a statement earlier this week recommending that words like “b**ch,” “h*os” and “n***ger” be banned entirely from the recording industry. His recommendation has met with mixed reactions, but there’s no denying that he’s gotten the attention of the industry. Similarly, in the early days of the fall out from Don Imus’ remarks activist Al Sharpton brought a repentant Imus on his “Keeping It Real with Al Sharpton” radio program and gave the shock jock a platform to apologize to black America for his comments. Sharpton later managed to secure spots for himself on CNN and “Larry King Live” boldly calling for Imus’ firing.

So, let’s see, what are the odds that when history is written and the move to clean up hip hop music is accomplished we find folks like Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton getting all the credit?

That the lioness was the first to sink her teeth into the prey will be all but forgotten.

The View from the Fence

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Which candidate gets my vote in ’08? Obama or Clinton. Dunno. I’m what you call a fence-sitter. My heart is definitely with the senator from Illinois. But my mind keeps trailing off to hear the latest stump speech by the senator from New York. It’s actually a great place to be right now as an African American woman—on the fence, that is. With two candidates on the ’08 ballot with whom I have something in common I think I’ll take my time deciding. But it’s gonna take more than being black or female to win my vote. I’ve been betrayed by both. (Did I mention that I like John Edwards too?) Still, the senator from Illinois is charismatic, and the one from New York is tough. And a win by either is sure to be a glass breaker.

Thanks to TV shows like Commander-in-Chief and 24 American audiences have had a chance to imagine what it would be like to have a white woman and what it would be like to have an African American man in the Oval office. Judging by the popularity of both shows it was not a far fetched possibility. Still, some political analysts say that the country is more poised to accept a woman as president than they are an African-American becoming president, even one as popular as Barack Obama. It helps, I suppose, that women make up 51% of the population compared to African Americans who make up around 20% of the nation’s population. But this is not about numbers, is it? It’s about attitudes. Attitudes towards race in this country have not changed as radically as those toward gender. Voting patterns are one indication of the shifts in attitudes. Seventy-one women were elected to Congress this past January — one of whom elected by her peers to be the first female speaker of the House — compared with 25 when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run as a major-party vice presidential candidate in 1984. By comparison, 43 blacks joined Congress this past January, compared with 13 when the Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1969.

Like I said, I’m content to be a fence sitter for now. Not because I’m cynical about politics. I’m actually passionate about politics and am involved in a number of organizations devoted to seeing that a new social, economic and political course is cast for the US in the next election. I share the view of scripture, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the land to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7). I’m just waiting to hear the candidates tell me something I haven’t heard before. I’m also eager to see which, if either, candidate manages to ignite the heart and imagination of young (black) voters in whose hands the future of this country rests.

For now I like the view of the race from the fence.

Stop the Violence

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

While we spent the last two weeks railing at each other about racial insults, sexist jokes, hip hop music, apologies that won’t fly, and weighty matters related to the First Amendment, a deranged college student sat plotting the mass murder of his classmates along with his own suicide on the idyllic campus of Virginia Tech.

Now that the fog of horror is beginning to lift everyone is scrambling to find someone to point a finger at.

Last week rap music was to blame for the arsenal of racist and sexist insults that are at the disposal of shock jocks like Don Imus. This week the NRA and Hollywood are to blame. The NRA, says the Left, makes it possible for mentally sick young men like Cho Seung-Hui to get his hands on an arsenal of weapons to act out their private fantasies of murder and suicide. At the same time, says the Right, Hollywood is to blame for churning out an arsenal of violent movies like Quentin Tarantino “Grindhouse” that feed our appetite for carnage and violence.

Nothing like hateful speech and violent rampages to keep things in perspective.

If we’re going to blame NRA, Hollywood, or even video games we all have some blame to shoulder. Lord knows, ours is culture that is fascinated with violence.

I am as liable as the next person for indulging in the guilty pleasurable pasttime of watching crime dramas on television every week (e.g., Law and Order, CSI, Cold Case). I don’t know when it happened. Recant: I do know. But that’s another story. What I also know is that figuring out the motivation behind the murder is half the” fun” of watching the crime show. But the rampage at Virginia Tech is a sobering wake up call, or it should be.

It doesn’t matter what “motivated” the gunman behind the Virginia Tech shooting. I won’t join the media detectives in pouring over the identity of the killer’s family and the putative ethnic nature of his rage, nor do I care to watch as journalists shove a microphone in the face of every person who ever bumped up against him in the hallway or try reconstructing what he had for breakfast the morning of his rampage. Besides, we haven’t bothered to do the same type of psychological and cultural analysis upon those who four years ago committed our youth to the bloodbath and carnage reported weekly out of Iraq. Enough.

Stop the violence by keeping up the protest against pro-gun lobbyists and by boycotting movies that showcase gratuitous violence. Better time is spent praying for the tortured souls that commit these acts of violence. Stop the violence by turning it off in ourselves. After tragedies like the one this week, says one Virginia Tech student who also survived the Columbine massacre of ten years ago this week, normalcy never returns.

After a steady diet of violence all these years, can any of us say what normal — or decency and civility, for that matter — is anymore?