Flights of Faith

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Whatcha Think Is Gonna Happen Here?" Oh wow, we already know. Dang.

From Dangerous Minds to Freedom Writers, we're all used to glorified white savior movies. Kids of color who just cannot seem to get their act together until, blinded by the white, they are given a new vision of promise, courage, and success.

Sometimes, I feel as if my white friends blankly nod along when I rage against movies like these. I suspect they don't understand my critique or they feel compelled to hide their secret desire to change the world one Vanilla Ice impersonation at a time. Honestly though, I am not against white helpers. While a white person will not escape my loving critiques when helping out people of color, I will still respect him or her for identifying a need and responding to the call (not anymore than a person of color though; no more white privilege for you!). However, movies like these perpetuate the stereotype that black uplift always needs white strings attached.

It's a shame movies like Akeelah and the Bee are rare events while a film like Freedom Writers is so trite that even MadTV takes advantage of its foolishness. Yet, Freedom almost doubled the box office gross of Akeelah. Like usual, we cannot just point at a black status symbol and be content with some form of progress. The studio system needs to change by hiring more black talent behind the scenes to change the stories that get told. Doug Atchison, the white writer of Akeelah, is great, but we need to share our visions with each other while asserting ourselves and our stories into the dominant framework with the hope that we can becoming an original source of transformative energy for a broken system.

On the side note tip, the Yale community has been subject to some really poor attempts at satire this past year. As a result, a lot of these "humorists" are convinced that people of color don't have a sense of humor or hypocritically indulge in satirical humor privately. I think this sketch is an example of responsible satire, a term I'd define as "explosive with a ready made clean up crew." You've got to be ready to heal the hurt you're about to expose (not necessarily cause, there's a difference). There are devices for this effort, and I think this sketch uses them wisely. Note the African-American woman who fleshes out the problem in her monologue to the "nice white lady." Or even the fact that although she introduces herself, her whiteness is what we are supposed to notice; therefore, it is her title as well. Besides the creepy and lingering domestic violence "joke," the sketch did a good job at presenting the problem and allowing us to laugh at it while not disparaging the students of color or even the white teacher. I had been sleeping on MadTV. Not anymore.

Edit: After Naima wisely tempered my excitment, I'll keep one eye opened, one eye closed. Good lookin' out.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Give me a blank page and let me rage;
Not just for me
But for all those who lost tonight,
Whose struggle was too complicated
Too difficult
And just too unsightly to handle for followers of the Almighty Christ.

Yes, a group that is empowered by the Holiest Being in this universe
Sometimes just gets a bit down
Or, perhaps, too comfortable.
As I write this I understand I’m being unfair,
I am overlooking the weakness of our flesh
and am acting as if communion with God is easy.

Yet, I need to let it out.
I need to scream that inaction is sin.
And not recognizing the least of these
Is not recognizing Christ Himself.

I can’t believe it.
We chose not to help Christ today;
Instead, we decided to favor ourselves:
Fellowship without accountability.

Again, I am the lone radical.
I watch as theology leaps past The Real
As a mandatory, stationary, unmoving
Stake in our hearts.

Now, I believe in its power.
How else would I try to change the world
If not on the strength of the absurd
Or having the courage to be.
But it is so much easier to ignore words on a page
Than death on our streets
That’s why we can’t wait
But we do.

We abandon challenges
We do not trust in God
We seek only spiritual paths that are convenient to our favored lifestyles.
We are so concentrated in focusing on leading the blind
That we mistake our own dim vision
For His clarity.

Yet, we never cherish our glimpses of grace,
Our true vision.
We simply adjust our blindfold
And continue sleeping.

I am stuck in a nightmare
I am reaching out.
Not to be saved
But to save.

My grasp is not enough
Others are falling
I see you sleeping
And I am perplexed at our similar states.
I, conscious of my slumber, continue my efforts.
You, only able to be described as still, are unknown to me.
I await your action;
I pray for you to act.
I give thanks for your presence in my nightmare;
You give me hope.

We are struggling
We are together
We are Christians.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Affirmed Community in Diversity or the Bulldog Days Speech for 2011

So, readers often tell me I post too little so here's the outline of a speech I gave tonight. Pretty bareboned but you'll get the picture. I was asked to talk about what black life is like @ Yale for our admit weekend. Of course, I had to work in Invisble Man. The speech went really well and random pre-frosh keep coming up to me saying they liked it. Looks like the panicking hours and the fresh cut were worth it. Line 'em up, knock 'em down.

Mosaic – Diversity within Yale, diversity within communities, different part makes us a greater whole, a clear picture that displays our strength.

Invisible Man
Coming into consciousness
South, North, brotherhood, underground
Where is the community?

I didn’t have it when I was growing up.
My family and me
Only black kid in my school
I came and it was like being delivered from that

Cultural Connections introduced me to the diversity and strength of our blackness.
No one’s experience is universal here
Some kids came from schools like mine. Others went to schools in big cities where they were only around blacks and Latinos. Some went to private schools and we’re used to this environment already.
It was amazing meeting blacks from across the Diaspora: the Caribbean, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other parts of the world.
Freshmen year my three really good friends were a guy from Detroit, a woman from New Jersey whose parents were from Nigeria, and a Ghanaian women who went to boarding school in the states.

These diverse people join even more diverse groups: You’ve got the mainstream groups that a lot of us belong to but also groups founded from a cultural perspective:

If you like to sing: Shades, ASEMPA, and Yale Gospel Choir
Acting/Performance: Heritage Theater Ensemble, EPGY, WORD any level of experience
Sankofa, a fashion group.
Writing: The 2-1-1, The North Star
Dance: Steppin’ Out, Rhythmic Blue, and Konjo
Political: NAACP, BSAY, CCU
Tutoring/Service: Urban Improvement Corps, Power NOW
Worship: Black Church at Yale , SALT of the Earth

We have world renown professors here that teach extraordinary courses about African-American History from Professor Jonathan Holloway whose intro to Af-Am course always enrolls a lot of students to Professor Hazel Carby’s classes on examining race and gender. In addition, we have professors in Sociology, Psychology, English, and Philosophy, to name a few that are doing exciting interdisciplinary work to make these more traditional departments become reflective of this country and our world. We also have one of the best programs in the country for aspiring scientists and doctors of color called STARS. And if you have something you want to see that isn’t here, you should just contact a college dean or an interested professor. They’ll want to help you get your project started.

And we have a house where all this comes together. It’s a place open to all students just like the other cultural houses but it also serves as a main hub for black life at Yale. At events sponsored by The House, I’ve seen tons of student performances, been to many parties and dances there. I’ve also seen August Wilson, the playwright, Lani Gunier and Juan Williams debate, Jeff Johnson, and Spike Lee.

It’s a place you’ll go to find a community, affirm your identity, challenge yourself with the differences and contradictions in that identity and that community, but in the end it will be a safe space for all this growth and development. It will be a place you can call home.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Obama/Imus Timeline: breaking out of the white storyteller and black storylistener existence

After reading a widely used AP article a few days ago about Senator Obama, I was pretty sure Senator Obama's quotes were taken out of context. In the original article, the question was not reported. In the other two, his comment about rap was an answer to the question of what inspired him. Ridiculous, I thought. It just didn't make sense.

After some investigation, here is one account from Charleston's The Post and Courier that provides a lot more context:

The only time the topic drifted away from education came when a young man asked Obama about what inspires him. Obama replied that he was inspired by God and past civil rights leaders, and then he talked a little about what doesn't inspire him.

"We've been focusing on Don Imus lately," Obama said, referring to the New York shock jock fired Thursday for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

"I've got two young daughters, both of them tall, and I hope they get basketball scholarships. ... I don't need somebody on a radio station degrading that," Obama said, "but I think it's fair to say that there are a whole bunch of young rappers who look like us, who use the words that Don Imus does, who are on our radio stations. ... That doesn't inspire me.

"That does go back to education," he said. "Part of our best is instilling in our young people that you should be pursuing excellence and having high standards."


This is very different from the original quote where Obama is portrayed as randomly attacking black rappers. The problem I have is with white storytellers who record and frame everything Obama has to say. I think of the media as an incentive based system, not a teller of truths. The incentive for the media in misreporting this story is to set up a war between Obama and popular rappers. Think of the headlines, interviews, and white fascination with it all. I think that's why we're seeing entire articles based solely on an answer to one question as opposed to anything substantive that tries to pull together a timeline of Obama's reactions throughout this Imus controversy. I understand that we shouldn't rally around Senator Obama just because he's black. But we also can't call him a traitor to his race without realizing that, perhaps, a largely corrupt media system wants us to think exactly that. I hope the following timeline illuminates our discussion and gives us a resource to sidestep the media's heavy focus on the AP article. Instead, let's wrestle with what seems to be our central question: how does a public black figure not contribute to pathologic arguments of black failure but still hold the people who fail accountable in a way that focuses on transforming them and our community?

How can we write our own stories?

The Imus/Obama Timeline

4/4/07 Imus says "nappy headed hos."
4/6/07 Imus apologizes.
4/7/07 Sharpton calls for Imus to be fired.
4/11/07 The Boston Globe writes a piece about Obama's silence on the issue thus far. Sharpton, who has not endorsed any Presidential candidate, is interviewed.
4/11/07 Obama is interviewed by ABC and is the first presidential candidate to demand Imus' firing.
4/11/07 Obama appears on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room. He condemns Imus without mentioning rap.
4/11/07 Imus is fired from MSNBC.
4/12/07 Imus is fired from CBS.
4/13/07 Obama speaks at Florence High School in Florence, South Carolina. His speech is about education. He answers one question about what inspires him. After saying God and former Civil Rights leaders, he said Don Imus does not inspire him then acknowledged neither do rappers who use the same language.
4/13/07 Obama's comments start to go viral and the preface of Don Imus not inspiring him is dropped from most reports leaving a seemingly harsh and out of place critique of rap.
4/13/07 The second article Andom linked to provides a context of misogyny in rap but not a context of Obama's speech.
4/13/07 6:56pm "Obama Compares Rappers to Imus" The definitive AP article that has limited context and the widest readership comes out and is reproduced in hundreds of publications.
4/13/07 A gala event occurs that is not covered by mainstream press. At this event, Obama receives a standing ovation from the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus after saying about Imus' comments, “That’s not funny, it’s not amusing, it shouldn’t be tolerated. But we’ve got to admit to ourselves it’s not the first time we heard the word ‘ho'....[It's] the same language we’ve been permitting in our homes and schools and iPod....If it’s not good for Don Imus, I don’t know why it’s good for us.” The State covers it.
4/14/07 An article claims Obama "launched an outspoken attack on rap singers" with his comment from the 4/13 AP article that has limited context.
4/14/07 Article with context comes out revealing that Friday's AP article entirely left out Obama's critique of Imus. It also shows that Obama disapproval of rappers who use the word "ho" was a truthful conceit to the audience. This article does not mention the gala event.
4/15/07 "Black Candidate's Burden" The editorial asks why "should Barack Obama be more outraged than anyone else...?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quotes That Are Driving Me

"Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down." —Oscar Romero

"Be the change you want to see in the world." —Gandhi

"If you ask what we want, we will unashamedly answer: 'To open a crack in history.'"
—Subcomandante Marcos Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN)

"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world." —Karl Barth

It's a Movement, ya'll. Get on board!
Happy late Easter everyone.
It was solidified on the Cross!
More lengthy and substantive posts hopefully coming soon.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Do Not Look

Do not look at me, supposed ally.
Do not look at me as I burn at the racism that appears on the screen while you laugh at my blaze.
I do not know or care if you have had the experiences painted on my skin that inform my hurt and my proposed actions when I experience racism or bigotry. But do not look at me simply to enjoy my outrage.
Do not mention these incidents to provoke a response that you will not share or even try to understand. The casual and throwaway reference dismisses the power of our potential response.
This is not an icebreaker.
And that blackface party is not the weather. And I certainly am not helpless to the forecast that is Global Racism 24/7.

Your snorts roll back The Movement as you legitimize the type of racism that creeps and oozes its way into the national consciousness making everyone say,
“Oh, you’re just too sensitive. And seriously Josh, if this is racist then how did it get past the executives.” You know, the ones who never look like their suits. Who never have quite anything to say when attacked except for that classic white finger pointed to the token who okayed it too. Better yet, it was his idea.

And if you are of color the irony is as rich as a dollop of cream in some black coffee.
Listen, I am not forcing you into the trenches. Lord knows you have to want to be there.
But I am asking you to reject the reproduction of racism in any form where you are stationed and, perhaps, to be an ally when I shout out.

And if you say no, then fine. If we are too different now forty-four years after fighting for the same thing, then so be it. That will be our legacy as the “post” generation. But don’t revel in what you would say is my obsession with my oppression. Do not toy with my mission of raising racial and diversity consciousness (with a focus on revision and social justice) everywhere that does not escape me.
Do not hide your discomfort, disapproval, or lack of commitment.
But whatever you do, do not look and laugh while I am burning because these dark eyes will someday spirit you away to the depths I have reclaimed as my liberation.
In this gaze you will find where I long for you to be.
Home in a world of displacement.
Taken not by a look, but an understanding.

Silencing Ourselves, Silencing Others

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:12-17)

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. 28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. 30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. (Lamentations 3:25-30)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about silence (and consequently, speech). What a powerful tool Christ gave us to close our mouths and still our minds. It is the way we all prepared ourselves for the acceptance of Christ in our hearts. We silenced our mouths, cleared our minds, and took that leap of faith hoping God would reveal Himself and accept us into His kingdom. Throughout the past two weeks, I have been focusing on the tools that allow us to come to Christ and then seeing what we do with them after we become Christians. I’ve realized that post-salvation silence is either avoided or used way too much. That is to say, silencing ourselves from God is common along with slipping into a silence that supports the fallen nature of humans.

Both of these Biblical passages are a bit difficult but here’s what I got from them after some prayer and reflection. The second shows us that silence is a tool for spiritual growth and that it takes multiple forms: silence to hear God, silence to reflect on His message, and silence as submission in order to become an example. The first two should not stop with our declaration of Christ as Savior. They can’t stop there because then our faith would not be an active one. Silence can be a tool for asking God what is the next step in our spiritual development. Pray more meaningfully? Engage in theology? Disciple to non-Christians? Take up the cause of social justice? If we do not connect to God meaningfully ourselves, we either allow our faith to be compromised by the world or allow someone else to live out our faith from a different body. Our decisions must be ratified by God precisely because the inspiration for them comes from Him as well. Silence is one way to connect to Him.

However, this does not mean silence should be used because of a lack of complete understanding of something related to our faith. In fact, the first passage asks us to silence ignorant men with our righteous actions right after saying that we should submit to authority for the Lord’s sake. (Sidenote: I think “the Lord’s sake” is our escape route to question or challenge something that is clearly against God. My understanding of the verse is that it tells Christians we can remain free in God while following someone else’s orders. Something that was sure to be a big issue after Jesus’ ascension.) This silencing by Christ-like behavior challenges us to follow Jesus and not our culture. If we think something is wrong, we must rebuke it with our actions, even our speech. If not, we are giving it a green light. And because we named ourselves after our savior, others might take that as a green light from Christ. We can’t let our comfort given to us by the Truth of God limit ourselves from the uncomfortable nature of presenting our beliefs (in words, actions, or productive silence) to others who need a loving critique of their actions. And as the verse 17 says, we must have respect for everyone. This verse calls us to act with Christ in our hearts for those who need us, including those who have the most disrespect towards others and ourselves. By allowing silence in our lives to let God’s voice become clearer, we become empowered to respectfully silence others with the strengths of our living, breathing, and acting convictions.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Top Ten: On The Radio...

1. Akon - Don't Matter

Sometimes, I wonder how pop culture is allowed to progress so much faster than other facets of life. While Keith Ellison fends off criticism to get sworn in using the Qur'an, suburban soccer moms are blasting this Muslim rapper's songs all the way to #1.

Gwen Stefani ft. Akon - The Sweet Escape

Then again, some things never change. Gwen Stefani's minstrelsy act must end. The song is catchy. The Japanese girls have been caught.

Mims - This Is Why I'm Hot

I'm hot because I'm fly. You ain't because you not. 'Nuff said. Seriously though, where did he come from and why am I not a rapper?

Fergie ft. Ludacris - Glamorous

Gotta admit it. Brilliant pop song. Still have huge problems w/ her and the retro 80s throwback that she's trying to conquer w/ Gwen. Too soon!

5. Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend

Innocent enough, I guess. I hope old Avril is still present on the album. Hey, we all need our angst.

Beyonce and Shakira - Beautiful Liar

They look the same in this video. I've never tried to comprehend the lyrics. The hip drop in the dance break = stuff of legend.

Gym Class Heroes - Cupid's Chokehold

Brown Cupid krumping. I'm there.

Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around

Great song. Horrible video. Affirms my slight contempt for Scarlett. Affirms and reproduces sexist discourse.

Daughtry - It's Not Over

Am I a lunatic if I claim to like Nickelback, Daughtry, but not Hinder? Hope not.

10. Diddy ft. Keyshia Cole - Last Night

"Preserve my sexy" Still waiting for that single.

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