Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Be or Not To Be: Revisiting the Ebonics Controversy

Please understand that we realize that all these hebe's, shebe's and webe's
Can cause, for connoisseurs of speech, to get the heebeegeebees
But after all, if you don't be and they don't be... who do?
So allow us to personify and conjugate the verb, "to be"---for you
We're the Human Being band!

"WeB. Doinit",  Quincy Jones, Back on the Block

I love you, Quincy! This is one of my all-time favorite albums!

I promise you that I don't set out to create controversy. I really don't. So, what had happened was... Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) tweeted the link to her excellent, intelligent response here in The American Prospect, to what was apparently yet another dumb, journalistic response (this time, Frank James) posting yet another dumb response to an issue of Black culture in the mainstream media. While grabbing the link to Jamelle's post for this blog, I discovered Adam Serwer's smart and succinct Ebonics Primer as well. Please read it.

Now, this Frank Jame's post intimated that he found it rather dubious that the DEA would ask for someone who might be able to translate Ebonics (African American Vernacular English), thus he posted this picture on his brief, snarky blog:

...to show the irony of something as serious as the DEA needing something as "silly" as Ebonics, right? His post reflects that he does not think Ebonics is real or should have any degree of legitimacy in being listed with the other languages outline in the DEA's request, which showed up on The Smoking Gun (yet another example that it should be interpreted as a joke) under the title, "Justice Department Seeks Ebonics Experts: DEA to hire nine 'Black English' linguists" here:

That red arrow is just screaming, "Can you believe this? Ebonics?! EBONICS???!!! BWAAAAHHH".

But that's just ignorance. And The Smoking Gun knows it, too, which is why they went so far as to look it up, undoubtedly with incredulous looks on the writers' faces.

And if there is one thing we must learn, as a people, as Americans or as the last collective of intelligence on the planet (that means you, if you're reading this), we cannot and should not define ourselves based on racist or otherwise ignorant, mean-spirited or just dumb assertions of who we are.

There are pieces of the truth in all stereotypes. It does not mean we need to be defined by them, nor do we need to deny the truth upon which some of them are based. Case in point: Black people like fried chicken and watermelon. And? Perhaps if you fried more of your chicken, you wouldn't be catching salmonella, feel me?

I kid, I kid. But really, watermelon is one of the best fruits on the planet. Be ye not ashamed.

Having said that, my retweet of The American Prospect article led to a flurry of inquiries, debates, assumptions, denials and downright hilarity regarding the legitimacy, purpose and/or use of Ebonics.

The debate led to my swiftly pulling down my (autographed copy, thankyouverymuch) of John R. Rickford and Russell John Rickford's text, Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English (2000). It's a faboulous book, in which I found some great quotes.
Regarding the importance of mastering Standard English, the Rickfords' quote from a Frederick Douglass speech that clearly exemplifies mastery of the English language and insist:
By bequeathing to us such eloquence, Douglass commands us not only to master Standard English but also to learn it in its highest form. And we must. For in the academies and courthouses and legislatures and business places where policies are made and implemented, it is as graceful a weapon as can be found against injustice, poverty, and discrimination...
We must learn to use it, too for enjoyment and mastery of literature, philosophy, science, math, and the wide variety of subjects that are conducted and taught in Standard English, in the United States, and, increasingly, in the world. We must teach our children to do so as well. This, as you know, is no mean feat. It requires time, money and other resources, patience, discipline and understanding, all of which tend to be tragically in short supply in schools with large black populations.
But treating Spoken Soul like a disease is no way to add Standard English to their repertoire. On the contrary, building on Spoken Soul through contrast and comparison with Standard English, is likely to meet with less resistance from students who are hostile to "acting white". It is also likely to generate greater interest and motivation, and as experiments have shown...to yield greater success, more quickly.
 Teach, Rickfords, TEACH!

Still, this did not convince some of the naysayers and disbelievers in Ebonics to convert to the true wisdom of the universe. I even asked "the white man" for help and he verified it:
Tell 'em, white man! LOL! RT @StrandedWind: FYI my background in languages tells me Ebonics IS a real language, a new sort of Patois.
Teach 'em! LOL! RT @StrandedWind: I mean that outside the racist way it's used, programmers know a lot about language syntax & semantics

THIS! RT @StrandedWind: it's ridiculous - can't talk facts due to concerns over racism.
But it wasn't enough. Plus, he was white so you know… the *side eye* ensues...

So, I highly recommended some consult the texts of the preeminent expert on Black linguistics, Geneva Smitherman: Talkin' and Testifyin': The Language of Black America.

Our discussion led me to observe four pertinent issues/questions that arose from the debate:

1. What is the extent of African culture on the Diaspora (especially in America?)

2. To what extent does mainstream mockery of all things Black/African influence our desire to disassociate from them?

3. Does racial discrimination in education and employment mean we should assimilate, fight or be otherwise ashamed?

4. What parts of slavery or slave culture are actually African culture misunderstood and how do we determine the difference?
And now for the weather. Tiffany?
 That's a True Blood reference, forgive me and don't judge me.

These questions led me back to the Rickfords' text and I found more great gems, including the fact that, in 1972, psychologist Robert L. Williams [not the DEA, not "The Man"] coined the term, "Ebonics" and via his varied testing, demonstrated that:
Many of the terms are not slang...these historically "black" words refer to unique aspects of the black experience, including the physical attributes, social distinctions, and cultural practices and traditions of African Americans.
 Perhaps the funniest example is when he relayed the following:
Many blacks don't realize that their use of many of these words differs from that of other Americans....When a group of African American college students was told recently that ashy in the sense of "dry skin" was not standard English usage---you wouldn't find it with that meaning in standard American dictionaries, much less British ones---they were bowled over.
Hilarious. Cue Ashy Larry.

And enter my restraint from putting up Bossip's relentless teasing of Gary Coleman's near-permanently ashy hands. RIP Gary Coleman. You didn't deserve how your wife treated you. We're peeping you, Ms.-Divorced-but-Power-of-Attorney-Shadiness! Curiously, even Bossip's title to the DEA Ebonics Job Search was, "What the Hell?"

The Rickfords went on to explain that this all came about when the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) was being prepared during the 1970s, they conducted surveys among 2, 777 varied Americans of different classes, ages and educational levels: 
One result was a comprehensive picture of which terms were used among Black speakers...[such as]...ace-boon-coon...bid whist...bubba...bad-eye...bad-mouth...big-eye [and even suck-teeth. And guess what?].....Like suck-teeth, these are translations into English of literal & metaphorical expressions in West African languages (e.g. Mandingo da-jgu & Hausa mugum-baki for bad-mouth, and Igbo ima oso, Yoruba kpose, Hausa tsaki, Efik asiama, Kikongo tsiona & Wolof cipu for suck-teeth sound).
"African. Very African. Come and step into my world and see what's happenin'" --- X-Clan, To the East Blackwards. And they continue:
The mention of African languages raises a larger question about the major sources and domains of black vocabulary. Besides African languages, these include music (shout, Amen corner); sex and love-making (grind, johnson, mack); superstition and conjure (obeah, boodoo, mojo); street life, including prostitution, drugs, gangs, fights, and cars (trick, pimp walk, numbers, cracked out, bus a cap, hog); people (cuz, posse, saddity/seddity, the Man); abbreviations (CP time, HNIC, on the DL); and slang or youth culture (fresh, phat, bustin out).
When it comes to slang, which overlaps to some extent with the other categories (e.g. sex and lovemaking), variation by region and social class is widespread, as is rapid change over time.
Perhaps this is where the ignorance of African culture, the denial and mockery of Black culture and the ridiculousness of mainstream media and law enforcement meet. After all, it is often the poor context in which Black culture is introduced that leads us to such misery, mayhem and foolishness. But the Rickfords advise:
As hip-hop culture and the language, body movements, dress and music that embody it spread among young Americans of virtually every ethnicity and are adopted by teenagers in countries as distant as Russia and Japan, the status of black language and culture at the popular level is rising, and young African Americans of every class proudly claim it as originally and most authentically theirs.

We shouldn't let this mention of teenagers delude us into thinking, as many do, that Spoken Soul figures in the identities of young people only. Black adults of all ages talk the vernacular, and it functions to express their black identity, too. While it is true that African Americans with less education and earning power use the grammatical features of Spoken Soul more extensively than do those with more education and earning power, the vernacular is often wrongly associated with ignorance. The use, enjoyment and endorsement of the vernacular by blacks who are well educated and hold good jobs reveal that much more is going on.
Hence, finally, one of the quotes I particularly enjoyed was found in the chapter, quite appropriately entitled, "The Crucible of Identity":
One of the most frequent explanations that the parents gave for wanting to retain the vernacular was its role in the preservation of their distinctive history, worldview, and culture---their soul. The sentiment is not unique to African Americans. As T.S. Eliot observed some fifty years ago: "For the transmission of a culture---a peculiar way of thinking, feeling and behaving---and for its maintenance, there is no safeguard more reliable than language."
In other words, talk that talk, talk that smack and fight the power! Or, as I concluded, I just want some of you all to:
1. Understand that code switching is important

2. Language / Cultural retention is all we have

3. Be Ye Not Ashamed
Enjoy a small snippet of the engagement and hilarity from my Twitter Timeline (largely out of order and highly excerpted, with deepest apologies to anyone omitted). For those unaccustomed to Twitter, any words that appear before the first "@" or "RT" sign or after "@drgoddess" are likely to be mine.:

With words to live by:

RT @TheRealJayMills: @thepbg we determine the difference by discovering our African roots and overstanding our bloodline

RT @HoneyBuzzz: the danger is not that we speak our own language- it is that we do not acknowledge that it is in fact, a language, HENCE..

RT @LDaialogue: Black Amers' linguistic duality is not respected in a sense. Latinos has Spanglish & others have their own patois of sorts

Yes! RT @bmockaveli: Yes! And many Afr languages don't conjugate infinitives -- so we be talking like dat, 'cause dey be talkin like dis :)

DIS!! --->>RT @kozmic_kid: #ebonics is a afrikanization & personalization of something foreign. a healthy hybrid.. but yea.. speak both!

THIS!! -->>RT @kozmic_kid: speaking #ebonics is a link back to our ancestral energy.. speech is an expression of mental+spiritual energy.

And my absolute favorite of the day:

THIS!!! ---->>> RT @laurenriot: BEV/Ebonics is not ignorance or bastardized english (chitterlings), it is an heirloom.

And more from the Discussion and Debate:

@FrenchieGlobal @drgoddess @balancedmp but my mom made it clear to us that she didn't escape Duvalier Haiti so her kids cld act/speak like stereotypes in US

@1SunRisen We are not born into miseducation. We are born into culture. Ebonics is not miseducation. Miseducation is miseducation.

@BLAKOBEN Many of us do African cultural things all day, everyday and would be appalled by the knowledge of it, actually...

@BLAKOBEN I agree with that but being aware of one's culture is not a requirement for practicing it, doing it. Case in point...

@TheNewsHawk Yes, I think the DEA wanted Black thug codes, slang AND pronunciation but used #Ebonics to make their request less embarrassing

@BLAKOBEN: You never answered my question.. HOW YOU DOING? Thats important to me. Your conclusions on this #ebonics topic I CANT & WONT!!

THIS! RT @Amesoeur: @FrenchieGlobal the disadvantage comes in if people don't code switch or never learned to speak standard English.

RT @Jazzzyone: Why the hell are you on Twitter if you can't fathom the possibility that your opinions/facts could be misguided or incorrect?

RT @FrenchieGlobal: RT ..should understand #Ebonics, it's recent immigrants < we understand the futility of it as something that typecasts u

I am here crying laughing. RT @kiarapesante: @OwlAsylum you just kept saying "I don't agree with @drgoddess" and I kept asking "why?!" Lol

RT @Jazzzyone: I'm talking to YOU AND ALL OF THE PEOPLE who keep putting @drgoddess's patient ass in #twitterjail w/stupidity.

@FrenchieGlobal If anyone should understand #Ebonics, it's recent immigrants. They tend 2 speak standard Eng at work & native lang at home.

So can I. It's called "code switching". RT @OwlAsylum: All blacks don't have the same speech patterns. I can say, "TH" quite easily!!

RT @kiarapesante: I'm proof lol RT Yes they do RT @OwlAsylum Black children that don't grow up in impoverished/all black communities don't speak it

Yes, Maam RT @prettypoodle09: #Ebonics as an expression of Black identity? Really? RT"...it functions to express their black identity, too."

LMAO! RT @GQMJoy: Tell it! I joke about how I have to get My head and mouth back to "mainstream" after a solid week with My family.

LOL!! RT @OwlAsylum: @kiarapesante Meaning I dont support the notions that @drgoddess is presenting with regard to the concept of "ebonics".

Yes! RT @Orig_Glamazon: or as specific 2 the language used by ur fam unit. Toni Morrison is a master of the many idiolects of black ppl #IMO

Yes, minus the "minority". Every culture has language. RT @Call_Me_Liz: so it its simply a venacular pronunciation in a minority dialect?

Yes! RT @rw_ny: Shouldn't it be pointed out that Ebonics has been a part of US English for [a pretty long time]? (Louis Armstrong, anyone?)

Cultural retention, communication... RT @FrenchieGlobal: also, what is the utility of ebonics if you cant get a job speaking in that way?

Word, keep it up! RT @thepbg: See, i know some stuff, but i don't comment much cuz #Pegroes don't respect well-read ppl. Only degreed ppl.

Teach! RT @bmockaveli: but chitlins are food. kept slaves alive RT Not true! RT @_Basiyr_: Ebonics is language as chitlins to food

@OwlAsylum Ebonics is a CLEAR demonstration of the RETENTION of our African culture even w/in colonial rule & slavery.

RT @FrenchieGlobal: but there is no standard "ebonics" I barely understand what Too Short& the CA peeps are saying in comp to Southern slang

No.. RT @OwlAsylum: One of my issues is that the similarities aren't based on our African roots, they are based on colonial rule & slavery.

YES! @TheFreedomTweet just said that. GREAT example bcuz retention of African language is stronger. RT @aquababie: or the Gullah language

No, no, No, not true! RT @_Basiyr_: @aisha1908 @1SunRisen Ebonics is to language as chitterlings is to food

@NaijaCandy Sarah Palin speak is just her slang, regional accent or otherwise... #youbetcha

"TH" is not a common African phoneme. RT @Call_Me_Liz: @soulrebelJ re: etymology of 'dem', could u plz explain? It was a Lil over my head...

Yes! RT @thepbg: i learned abt in in a Public Speaking class. Black professor. Black school. She said it was important that we know. *shrug*

Teach! RT @saitonne: not just with ebonics but even on the continent, urban youth are less likely to know their mother tongue.

YES! RT @izabellaspoppa: @drgoddess has said much of what needs to be said. 4 those who are having a hard time grasping the diff betw slang & ebonics look at how Jamaicans speak english; it's a perfect example of African speech patterns being applied 2 the english language

@prettypoodle09 It may seem odd but one day, somebody on twitter came on w/ "chall tambout?" (what are yall talking about?) & I *DIED*!!!!

Yes! & more! RT @prettypoodle09: so when the DEA says they want an Ebonics expert, u think they want some1 2 translate "dem", "dis", "dare"?

RT @CoachMalikCCSF: I'm glad drgoddess has distinguished slang and ebonics! Nothing irritates me more when the 2 are mixed up....nice going!

Perhaps one of the best dignified examples of Ebonics & our culture lies within ALL of Zora Neale Hurston's novels. Right, @jonubian?

Peep da thrill RT @jonubian: YASS!! I can't think of any1 who captured our dialect better than Zora & partly b/c of her ethnography studies.

This RT @jonubian: I also love Zora cause she showed our complex systems of belief, folklore & philosophy in such a simple way & w/OUR words

TY! RT @schomj: Of possible interest 2 ur readers "Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English" by J.R. Rickford amazon.com/gp/product/047… via @amazon

Interesting! RT @ShantaFabulous: it makes me think of gil scott heron's "ghetto code"

Yes! ----> RT @bmockaveli: drgoddess is playing the post on #Ebonics; @bmockaveli playing the wing

Hilarious Responses:

RT @Jazzzyone: LOL! Cc: RT @candicecd: @Jazzzyone http://bit.ly/bG1DHU

MT @dannahbear: @drgoddess has SO much patience. I wlda told yall to READ A BOOK, READ A BOOK, READ A M'F'ING BOOK 

Shout Outs to Dr. Robert L. Williams, Dr. John R. & Russell R. Rickford and Dr. Geneva Smitherman

@DivaliciousMoni @drgoddess I feel u.. I got spoken soul too... Its been years since i looked at it! LOL

@ Negrointellect @drgoddess Small world...Dr. Williams was one of my mentors at MU...just talked to him last week. Much respect for him.

@quincee [I love all her books] @drgoddess Perhaps Geneva Smitherman's "Talk that Talk:The Language of Black America" will suit your fancy?

RT @izabellaspoppa: that's my SH*T!!!! RT Perhaps Geneva Smitherman's "Talk that Talk: The Language of Black America" will suit your fancy?

@girlybap @drgoddess I have that Spoken Soul book. It's a good read.

@odell_jackson @drgoddess I had never heard of John Rickford before today. Just bought Spoken Soul on Amazon. Thank you!

@areefuhstanklin RT @drgoddess: FYI, Robert L. Williams, a psychologist, coined the term "Ebonics" in 1972 (MY PSYCH PROFESSOR IN COLLEGE! HE'S AWESOME!)

Shout outs to Dr. Goddess (I thanks ya kindly!):

Thank u, Sweetie! Humbling. I'm just tweeting. RT @thepbg: I'm so glad i put u in my TwitterFaves group. I never miss ur awesome Tweetage.

RT @CeeTheTruthy: Yes! I love me some @drgoddess! Can't join in due to work but lovin it! Ibo folks in SC & GA is a great example too! #bye

RT @Marvelous1908: Thank you to drgoddess for presenting a different point of view on Ebonics and for making me think.

@janico44 @SocialLifeAvl Check out @drgoddess' timeline for some Ebonics knowledge. I learned a WHOLE lot from her today. (This is why I love Twitter)

@aaw1976 @Jazzzyone @drgoddess Dr. Goddess girl you need to get yourself a twitter jail account. that way you can continue to debate the raggedy

@TheFreedomTweet @drgoddess been in meetings all afternoon & couldn't jump into the thread. Tonight it's a cup-o-coffee & your timeline!:-)

@angiewrites I ♥ @drgoddess . Follow her and learn ya something... Amazingly she never (publicly) tires of teaching!

(Special thanks to my Twitter family for your stellar contributions, RTing the blog and adding to a great discussion. Follow the hashtag: #Ebonics)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our Fascination with the Antoine Dodson Situation

Antoine received his own Brown Twitter Bird. He's Our Hero.
So, I was trying to at least partially explain why Black people love Twitter and what we do on the medium when I decided to include the overnight sensation of Antoine Dodson.

Thus, I wrote the following:
Thus, if they can't understand something so simple, then they wouldn't understand why, even though we are really (really!!!) appalled by both home invasion and rape, we love the Antoine Dodson story and find he, his sister, Kelly, (and his other family members) so funny.

And if that's the case, they REALLY wouldn't understand why a remix (auto-tune) song was made of his rant, why Antoine has 13 Twitter accounts, a website, is selling T-shirts and has a hotline---all this from the attempted rape of his sister by a roving rapist in their Huntsville, Alabama, Lincoln Park neighborhood. America, gotta love it.
But I couldn't let that be the end of my commentary on Antoine. His story, how and why he became an overnight sensation says so much about America, Black folks, race, class, gender and sexuality, so I HAD to write on it.

The Reasons Why We Love Antoine And Think He's Funny is Because:

1. His sister, Kelly Dodson, said she was "attacked by some idiot from out here in the projects...and it ain't just 'cause I'm cute. I KNOW that! Okay, first, we all know an idiot in our community but we think it's hilarious that she applied this term to an attempted rapist. Second, saying "in the projects" is just funny, period, probably because it's unnecessary or maybe because it's even funnier that she pointed it out. Third, because unlike the popularized notion that poor people who need public housing are synonymous with lacking intellect or reason, Kelly is here to let you know otherwise, hence the distinction---and we love it! Kelly also seems to have a very healthy self-esteem...

2. Antoine begins the (aired) phase of his interview with "Well, OBVIOUSLY, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park". For me, it sounds like a retort to the reporter who, undoubtedly asked something akin to "So, what do you think about your sister's attempted rape?" And, despite lacking media training, Antoine delivered (well!) what media experts say you should do, breaking down his thought into three main points:

a. They're climbing in your windows
b. They're snatching your people up
c. They're trying to rape you

And then a call to action:
a. Hide your kids
b. Hide your wife
c. Hide your husband

With a repeated main point and public warning:
a. They rapin' everybody out here!

3. Antoine is signifying VERY well. Not only does he know his multiple audiences, he is unafraid of the camera, so he tells the news reporter what is "obvious", warns the community and then has a message for the rapist, while personifying and rolling up on and into the camera.

4. Antoine threatens the rapist with bodily harm, even though he looks like he weighs approximately 105lbs, soaking wet. Nevertheless, when Antoine heard his sister scream, he ran into her bedroom and fought off the attacker, who eventually got away The camera shots in the bedroom demonstrated some heavy physical activity in the bedroom, which shows that Antoine is a man of his word. Still, the footage was funny because it points us back to Antoine's use of his lean, muscle mass.

5. Antoine produced an excellent soliloquy (in exactly 14 seconds) ending with, "cause they rapin' everybody up in here". How Antoine turned one home invasion and attempted rape into a maelstrom of kidnappers and rapists to inspire public mayhem is beyond me; but then, if there was more protection perhaps hyperbole wouldn't be necessary. (Update: After I wrote this, I found out how real this statement actually was. Keep reading...)

6. We are a bit unsure as to where we should hide everybody. And, yet, we feel safe with Antoine. What I most appreciate about his soliloquy is that he holds marriage and the family unit in high esteem (hide your kids, wife, husband). It's not the religious right, it's Antoine that knows about family values!

7. Antoine exposed the utter lack of concern for security in "the built environment" of the projects by demonstrating how easy it was for someone to just to a "two-step" (garbage-can-to-ledge, ledge-to-window) climb up into a resident's bedroom. It's appalling, really---and yet shamefully funny when we laugh to keep from crying.

8. Antoine's (lack of) faith in (or understanding of) the justice system that leads him straight to a declaration that is simultaneously inclusive of the police investigators ("you left your fingerprints and everything!") and completely devoid of their further involvement ("we gon' find you and when we do...").

Do recall that "9-1-1 is a Joke" was a very popular song by the rap group, Public Enemy.

9. Although it would be easy to try to classify Antoine as one of the lesser visible "homothugs" in the Hip Hop music world, it is probably more accurate to simply acknowledge that Antoine is just a more "feminine" man and/or gay. He is also neither a rapper nor a musician.

10. Interestingly, in this interview, the newscasters revealed that they received some backlash at the station for airing Antoine's interview. And we certainly know why, don't we? Lazy news reporters usually find the first (and sometimes only) ignorant person they can find (usually with rollers in her hair or him only partially dressed) to interview about a story in the Black community, despite how many other persons are standing around that could offer a more articulate analysis (and a seemingly better representation of Black folks).

And in that context, they are most certainly right.

But herein lies the problem of what Cornel West calls "the white, normative gaze" and our seeming need to promote middle class sensibilities; because there is nothing wrong with Antoine. Or his story. Or how he chose to express himself. Kelly and Antoine were very clear...they live in the projects. They are also Southern...they live in Huntsville, Alabama. And they both had a right to be exceptionally angry about Kelly's attempted rape. Yet, even in their rage, they exhibited more intelligence and articulated a sense of well-being than many of the persons who have been elected or otherwise appointed (and some self-appointed) to represent us.

Embarrassed by Antoine?! Please. We should be thankful he's here. He may just force us to redefine our priorities and how we think we understand one another.

Antoine Dodson's character seems to be better than most.

This is what led me to delve further into his story. I had written all of the above before talked to a girlfriend who sent me to this NPR news story. I like it and agree with it. It just did not go far enough for me. When I found Antoine Dodson's YouTube Channel, I watched an NPR Interview.

What I Learned from Antoine’s Interview on NPR, August 11, 2010:
1. The damage done to the room in which his sister and he fought off her attacker was much worse than what we saw on television.

2. His sister, Kelly and her mother were so afraid during the attack that they both urinated on themselves.

3. Before calling the police, they called six friends to help and for support.

4. After telling the Housing Authority officer, she just laughed the situation off and never took it seriously.

5. The police “eventually” showed up and opened an investigation.

6. It was Antoine, his sister and friends who were infuriated that no one was taking the situation seriously, so they started calling the news stations themselves. They did not receive an answer. They called WAFF first.

7. To their surprise, WAFF News showed up and Antoine and Kelly willingly gave interviews because they wanted everyone to know what happened to them and what could potentially happen to others.

Unsurprisingly, some people wondered if Antoine was acting, to which he offered a negative and said, “I was so mad, I wanted to choke the camera…” and when he was asked whether or not the perpetrator had been found, he answered:
No, they haven’t found the guy, yet, that’s why it’s still not safe to bring the kids out… hide your kids, hide your wives and hide your husbands…but when he do get caught, we will let the world know.
Just remember, Antoine, that catching the perpetrator is not your responsibility.

Now, I enjoyed The Gregory Brothers’ AutoTune The News Remix and heard it, for the first time, driving down the highway in Los Angeles. I, too, was shocked by the popularity of the “bed intruder”. And by the time you have read this post, Antoine Dodson will have been viewed 10 MILLION TIMES.

In response to his newfound fame, Antoine offered the following and as he shared his story, it forced me to spring into action:

I went to bed a nobody. Woke up, all of this happened. Woke up again the next day and it’s like, bam, Antoine Dodson, everybody knows him.
We wanted our stories to be heard so, be careful what you ask for… ‘cause now the whole world knows and now I’m glad because I want the whole world to know. You can’t sweep situations like this under the rug… and it’s been a lot of complaints…and even before my sister [was] attacked, there was a lot of people complaining about how people [were] getting raped in the projects…and people would just sweep it under the rug and not talk about it.

The next day [after] that happened, a lady came to us and was like, “There was a man standing at my window but I called my boyfriend, he went to the window and the guy left. Same projects, the very next day. So, I’m like, are you serious, you know what I’m saying? Like, what do we need to do as people to keep our community safe?...You know what I’m saying like..’cause nobody’s talkin’ about it now, I mean, the world knows but here, locally, here in Huntsville, it’s like, okay, it’s a joke, everybody’s takin’ it to be a joke, it’s funny to them, you know what I’m sayin’… I’m makin’ their city look bad, I’m makin’ their community look bad, you know what I’m sayin’ so, I guess…?
Stupid interviewer guy sweeps that issue under the rug (even after Antoine told him earlier that Kelly WAS hurt in the struggle) and reminds Antoine that “thankfully, no one got really hurt…it was an intrusion, you intervened…everybody’s okay, people need to watch out for this guy who’s on the run…but I mean, as far as how you’re dealing with it now, as someone with a celebrity status…”Can you believe it? He goes right to Antoine’s newfound fame on the internet. Darn you, interviewer! Darn you!

Antoine thinks the Gregory Brothers’ Remix is quite funny, also. It makes him laugh and since it doesn’t seem as though Antoine is a singer or a rapper, he seems to enjoy the part-fantasy of himself as a singer. But Antoine is not so blinded by his fame that he ignored the central issue nor abdicated his responsibility to articulate what other community members have shared.

So, I have a different message for Antoine because Kelly and his family are VICTIMS and although I appreciate their resilience, the interview makes it clear there is a pattern of disempowerment, disengagement and even disbelief that these issues keep being “swept under the rug”.

Kelly and Antoine Dodson, I just sent a letter to Mayor Battle and Mr. Michael Lundy of the Huntsville Housing Authority on your behalf because I am a concerned citizen and can’t just sit back and laugh at the hilarity of the videos on YouTube and then not do something to assist you all.

Since YOU were the ones that were proactive about the lack of proper safety in Lincoln Park and having your needs taken seriously, please make sure you follow up with these persons and please pass this information on to every single one of your neighbors. You all do not have to be silent and, although the auto-tune song is funny, all of you all’s claims need to be taken seriously. So, please use this information as you see fit and I will encourage everyone else to do so as well. Your story has only just begun, Sweethearts!

Please keep us updated and I'll do the same. We have to hold these people accountable.

Your City Housing Authority Office is:
Michael O. Lundy, Executive Director/CEO
His Email
200 Washington Street • P.O. Box 486 • Huntsville, Alabama 35804-0486
Phone: (256) 539-0774 • Fax: (256) 535-2245
Assisted Housing (Section 8) Fax: (256) 539-5982

“Growing community one family at a time.”
HHA's next Board Meeting is scheduled for
Wednesday, August 25, 2010, at 12:00 noon
Oscar Mason Center, 149 Mason Court.

Your Mayor and Boss of the Housing Authority is:
Mayor Tommy Battle is on Twitter!
@TommyBattle  (<---Tweet Him!!!)
Facebook Page

Your City Council Representative is:
Dr. Richard Showers, District 1, Huntsville City Council
308 Fountain Circle
7th Floor
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
256-427-5011 Tel
256-427-5024 FAX
His Email  

Your Regional HUD Office is:
Cindy Yarbough
Field Office Director (205) 731-2617
Fax (205) 731-2593
Email Region IV
Atlanta GA

Birmingham Field Office
950 22nd St North
Suite. 900
Birmingham, AL 35203-5302

Your State Representative is on Vacation but can be found here.

Your Congressional Representative is:
Congressman Parker Griffith, 5th District of Alabama
He doesn’t have a regular email address and only wants to hear from Constituents.
Others can contact him here:

Huntsville District Office
2101 Clinton Ave. W. Suite 302
Huntsville, AL 35805
Phone: (256) 551-0190
Fax: (256) 551-0194

Antoine, I want you and Kelly and the community of Lincoln Park to have "the last laugh", so here is a letter any of your supporters can use to contact the Mayor and the President of the Housing Authority. I sent a longer one already that I will email to you for your records. Your supporters should feel free to change this letter or write their own. Let's make sure they take care of the issue and protect the community.

August 13, 2010

Dear Mayor Tommy Battle and Mr. Michael O. Lundy:

I am writing out of concern for the safety and quality of life of the Lincoln Park residents residing in the Huntsville Housing Authority properties, in general, and Kelly and Antoine Dodson’s family, in particular.

When I looked on the Huntsville Housing Authority website, I observed that, “the mission of The Authority is to eliminate the negative influence of poverty in public housing.” I am inspired by your mission but troubled by what appears to be the lack of application of your mission by one or more HHA employees. When I listened to Mr. Dodson’s interview, I was struck by his narrative (outside of the hilarity of his flamboyance and the creativity of the two brothers who created the song now popularized on the internet) because it pointed to a particular failure on Housing Authority officials to take the home invasion and subsequent attack upon his family members seriously. They did what they were supposed to do. They called the police and reported it to the Housing Authority.

According to Antoine Dodson, despite his internet fame, no one is addressing the issue locally and his story is treated as more of a joke and an embarrassment to the community and the city, as opposed to the real threat of public well-being that their horror demonstrates.

I am writing this open letter to you because the situation is already out in the open and by the time you read this, 10 MILLION people will know about Antoine Dodson, his sister Kelly and the attempted rape in the Lincoln Park projects in Huntsville, Alabama. As you know, being poor does not have to mean being a perpetual victim and never heard. This is why we love Kelly and Antoine Dodson, are proud of their heroism, resilience and outspokenness.

The only thing embarrassing about this situation is the manner in which the Dodson family has been dismissed by the very persons who are supposed to represent them and help provide for their well-being.

I would appreciate hearing back from you and wish you and the community the best as you seek to resolve this issue and further empower your residents to live in a safe and wholesome environment, “Growing community one family at a time.”



UPDATE: Both @happybrowngirl and @Wakandan_Knight sent me this video of North Carolina A & T's band playing the Gregory Brother's Auto-Tune "Bed Intruder" song:

This is amazing talent and I love it.

All that I ask is for all of you reading and all of you making pictures and T-Shirts and all of you posting & RT'ing the videos and sending it on your phones (and that makes about 11 MILLION (!!!) of you now, PLEASE just take 10 more seconds to post this blog, email a letter and RT this message:

Petition Mayor @Tommybattle to protect Kelly and #AntoineDodson and the Lincoln Park Comm. http://act.ly/2aq RT to sign

Please remember there are Human Beings and a Horror Story behind this great curiosity and explosion of creativity. Taking a moment to help Kelly and Antoine Dodson and the entire Lincoln Park community will make all of you as genuine a hero as they are. Let us support their resilience with a piece of ACTION to end the nightmare.

I say this especially to all of you White people and Black college students on the internet and the Brothers and Sisters in the hood on their cell phones. You don't realize how influential you really are. Take 2 seconds to tweet the Mayor by signing the petition on Twitter.

Poor people deserve civil and human rights, too, no matter what they look like, no matter how they sound, no matter how much or how little education they have had.

And often times, we as young people, as Black and Brown and/or poor and/or White and poor, rarely understand how policy decisions affect our lives and how we can live as empowered beings.  You have a voice. Use it. Antoine and Kelly did, so follow their great example.

Sincerely and With Love,

Dr. Goddess

(Special thanks to my Twitter family for keeping this story alive, RTing the blog and adding to a great discussion. Follow the hashtag: #AntoineDodson)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why "They" Don't Understand What Black People Do on Twitter

President Barack Obama Signs BrownTwitterBirds into Law
Original Graphic by http://lidia-anain.com/
Yesterday, Twitter was all a-flutter for yet another ignorant article trying to tell readers about Black people. For me, the best response to the Slate article on "How Black People Use Twitter" was not the poor manner in which the article did NOT explain how Black people use Twitter. Rather, it was the immediate response of one Tweeter named @InnyVinny who, in her frustration, wrote on her blogsite in all caps, "BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT A MONOLITH" and then went on to, literally, remix the basic brown twitter bird with the diverse array of Black people---on Twitter. Hers was a visual art protest that parallels, if not supercedes the artist who created the Fail Whale and other popular images on Twitter. In one fell swoop, (now a hashtag: #browntwitterbird), @InnyVinny put on display what is so painstakingly obvious for most of us --- "you don't know me! You don't know my LIFE!"

You see, in this list are the loc-wearers, the wig doners, the sports enthusiasts, the hometown reppers, the Afrocentrists, the ghetto fabulous, the afro'ed up, the regal ones and the graduates, the lovers of Prince, Michael, Rick James or even Grace Jones...and the hi top fade. Other than the celebrities, it's clear that not only Slate but the rest of mainstream America has no real idea who Black people are, no real clue about our humanity, in general, so of course they would have no real idea what we're doing on Twitter and how we express our culture. For us, Twitter is an electronic medium that allows enough flexibility for uninhibited and unfabricated creativity while exhibiting more of the strengths of social media that allow us to build community.

Sadly, when the mainstream attempts to describe or otherwise represent us and our lives, they choose the #browntwitterbird with the boombox, watermelon (and no Blackberry) in hand, standing next to the bucket of chicken. Yes, mainstream America, that is how you see us and, truthfully, that's a slice of how some of us are (at times). You, however, think it's us in totality, so we laugh at your lack of intelligence and observation skills and continue to 'Make Me a World'. This is why @InnyVinny's Brown Twitter Birds were adopted, in less than 12 hours, as a revolution on Twitter, by throngs of users expressing, adopting and requesting customized birds that reflect our beautiful, Black and multifaceted selves.

Indeed, the best part of the Slate article (outside of the wisdom of quoting @Baratunde Thurston and @ElonJames White) were the revelations that more Black Twitter users than not create a far more balanced, reciprocal relationship to one another, as opposed to the silly, somewhat mindless, stalking behavior of "following" a celebrity and never receiving a response:
Nevertheless, Brendan Meeder thinks he's got a good hypothesis about what's going on. Meeder, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, has downloaded the tweets of more than 100 million users. (Twitter gave him special permission to do so for research purposes.) He's been probing this collection to see how Twitter users interact with one another; he's particularly interested in how trends begin and spread through a social network. While analyzing his database a few months ago, Meeder noticed something strange—he found a cluster of hundreds of users whose profiles were connected to one another. When he looked up the users, he noticed that a lot of them were black. It's in exactly these kinds of tight-knit groups that Twitter memes flourish, Meeder says.
Understandable, right? But it gets better!
Not only are the people who start these trends more tightly clustered on the network, they're also using the network differently. Most people on Twitter have fewer followers than the number of people they're following—that is, they're following celebrities, journalists, news organizations, and other big institutions that aren't following them back. But according to Meeder, the users who initiate blacktags seem to have more reciprocal relationships—they're following everyone who follows them.
For the record, Black people use Twitter hashtags, thanks! But one final piece of wisdom from the only person to do any actual research here (Brendan Meeder):
These patterns suggest that the black people who start these tags "are using Twitter as a social tool," Meeder says. "They're using Twitter like a public instant messenger"—using the service to talk to one another rather than broadcast a message to the world.
Actually, we talk to each other AND we broadcast a message to the world, hence the popularity of the Trending Topics and Twitter usage, yes? Now, if only we were left alone in the real world the way we are on Twitter, perhaps we could effect more change.

It's not until the third to the last paragraph that, authour, Farhad chooses to explain, in any intelligent manner the obvious flaw of the entire article:
There is an obvious problem with talking about how black people use Twitter, as many of the black Twitter users I spoke to took pains to point out: Not all black people on the service are participating in these hashtags, and there are probably a great many who are indifferent to or actively dislike the tags.
Okay, so "many of the [B]lack Twitter users" Manjoo spoke to "took pains to point out" how we are not a monolith and, yet, you all over there at Slate (editors and all) still decided to run with the title, "How Black People Use Twitter", eh? Brilliant.

wonders (aloud) how and why the trending topics begun by Black people on Twitter are so "successful" without bothering to consider the numbers game. How do I explain that comedian, MarlonWayans, who, with his brothers, captured the attention of the next generation with hilarious films such as "White Chicks" and "Scary Movie", has been a source of some of the sillier hashtags ever since he arrived on Twitter? At present, he has 310,00 followers, quite enough to produce a Trending Topic all by his lonesome, yes? And with masses of Black teenagers following him, it just makes sense, right? I suppose this was too logical an answer...

Thus, if they can't understand something so simple, then they wouldn't understand why, even though we are really (really!!!) appalled by both home invasion and rape, we love the Antoine Dodson story and find he, his sister, Kelli, (and his other family members) so funny.

And if that's the case, they REALLY wouldn't understand why a remix (auto-tune) song was made of his rant, why Antoine has 13 Twitter accounts, a website, is selling T-shirts and has a hotline---all this from the attempted rape of his sister by a roving rapist in their Huntsville, Alabama, Lincoln Park neighborhood. America, gotta love it.

As for what trends, I wonder if we should bother sharing that in addition to the more fun, unpredictable, silly or outrageous Trending Topics, we can also (proudly, thankfully) add the hashtags of #OscarGrant and #AiyanaJones to the list. And would Slate's audience even know who these people are? Probably not, which further exemplifies the segregation of our communities as well as the problem of race in the 21st Century.

Dare I even mention the Black Weblog Awards or would that be going too far and doing too much? Would we overwhelm the populace?

Over this last year, I observed the fascinating manner in which Black people were expressing their culture and building community on Twitter, particularly those of us in the "Hip Hop Generation", which is why I decided to focus upon how we were using the medium to effect change. Thus, I put a panel together for Netroots Nation 2010. As it turns out, not all of my panelists could attend but "Tweeting the Revolution: How Hip Hop Transformed 140 into 360" was, nonetheless, an excellent panel---and videotaped and live streamed just for you!

I felt the need to frame our conversation (because unlike Slate, I KNOW Black people are not a monolith), so I wrote up an introduction (which was a gamble), that proved to be quite fruitful and elicited major response from attendees. And it's funny because I was in my room typing up the last edits and trying to add some of my favorite Tweeters' names and folks who had answered my questions prior to the panel, so I am glad I did the intro. During the run down, comedian and co-panelist, @ElonJames White (This Week in Blackness) tweeted "@drgoddess is giving a State of the Black Twitterverse speech". Hilarity.

I promised to provide it for you in written form---and I shall. Oh yes. I shall. <-----[Melodramatic repetition included for ultimate effect and to inspire shivering due to fright and/or impending doom}

In the meantime, for the mainstream and those trying to figure out Black people on Twitter...

Jesus Be a Brain and a Human Heart.

(Special Thanks to @Punch_VJ @EbonyStarr55 and @Vizionheiry for the links!)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Real Questions for Haiti and Its Presidential Candidates

Don't Believe the Hype---or Your Own Press
If you want something done right, you'll have to do it yourself. So... These are the questions that I have yet to see asked by the media to Haiti Presidential Candidate Wyclef Jean, to any of the other Presidential candidates or to current President Preval:

1. President Preval, what do YOU think have been the primary obstacle to getting sufficient aid into Haiti (immediately after the earthquake to now preparing for the Hurricane Season)? We can understand not having an airstrip; but once it was rebuilt, what then?

2. What of the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged to aid Haiti? How do we get those pledges to become actualized assistance for Haiti?

3. President Preval, why are you banning the Fanmi Lavalas party from presenting their own candidate? You do realize this is anti-Democratic, right?

4. President Preval, why does the Constitution not allow for members of the Haitian Diaspora to run for office? Why is the residency requirement five years prior to placing a bid for office? At bare minimum, Haitians in the Diaspora should have dual citizenship.

5. President Preval, if you allow for Wyclef to run by subverting your Constitution (which should be amended, anyway) and yet do NOT allow for Fanmi Lavalas to have positioning in the political structure, you will have (further) failed on all accounts. What do you say to that?

6. What makes you qualified to run for political office in Haiti? How will you parlay your experience in Haiti with making sure the country is prepared to take advantage of the 21st century?

7. Why run for the Presidency? Is there no other way for you to see change in your country without being in the highest office of the land?

8. What is your vision for the status of women in Haiti? As you know, "a nation can rise no higher than its women." And that's a platitude worth repeating... how will you empower the women in Haiti?

9.  How will you manage and leverage the competing interests in Haiti, from the wealthy families, to the neocolonialists, to the U.S. and France, to the NGOs, etc.?

10. Tell us your story. Who are you? What do you do in Haiti and why do you care?

To Wyclef Jean:

1. What have you done with Yele Haiti since the initial investigations and the money started flowing in immediately after the earthquake in Haiti? Can you present a full report, pictures and an accounting? Can you have people and organizations you have helped report back on your progress and assistance? If you have not spent much of the money, why not? The people need immediate and longterm relief. Is it true you have over $8 million dollars that have NOT been spent. If so, why?

2. While it may be true that you were not the accountant in charge of Yele Haiti's funds and, certainly, no one would put you at the helm of the Haitian Treasury, the fact of the matter is that you MUST take responsibility for the sloppy bookkeeping and management of Yele Haiti. For those of us who do not believe you did anything inappropriate yet are still concerned that you did not enact enough oversight to prevent your problems and, thereby, these accusations, how can you convince us that you won't make similar mistakes with the Haitian Treasury and the donations that will continue to come into the country? What safeguards will you put into place to ensure that no one (else) takes advantage of your lack in management skills?

3. Who do you plan to have in your cabinet and what roles would they fulfill? You know you are inexperienced as a political office-holder, so how will you compensate for your lack of experience?

4. You spoke about jobs, security, education, agriculture and housing. As always, the devil is in the details. Please tell us your specific policy plans and ideas to bring these ideas into fruition?

5. Please clarify your position on Aristide, why you supported the rebels against him and asked him to step down (in the MTV interview in which you've been quoted on this issue)?

6. What is the relationship like between you and "Uncle (Raymond) Joseph"? Why is he running against you? And if you win, will he be in your cabinet? And vice versa?

7. What do you envision for the Haitian Diaspora's relationship to Haiti if you win? You have called for the assistance of the Diaspora in providing monetary assistance but I suspect you envision much more for the role Diasporans can play in building Haiti for the 21st Century. What does that look like to you?

8. As an artist with a unique position in the world, what is your relationship like to the rest of the international community? What did you do to spread "goodwill" as the Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti and how will you leverage your international relationships to pull down the rest of the aid pledged and create more opportunities for Haiti?

9. What, exactly, is your relationship like to Bill Clinton beyond being "a fan" as you stated in the interview with Wolf Blitzer on Larry King Live? How will you talk to and deal with former President Clinton's complex relationship to Haiti moving forward in the 21st century? Surely you know that even Bill Clinton has regrets regarding his policies towards Haiti when he was in office? How will you learn from HIS past and try to do better for Haiti with the United States's foreign policy as a backdrop to its future?

10. You have mentioned receiving your calling and being "drafted" to be the President of Haiti by so many of the young people in the country. And yet, you know that young people are also easily duped by conspicuous consumption, uber-celebrity and great promises. How will you prepare yourself and the Haitian people for the extremely unglamorous side of nation-building that requires the kind of change you have discussed in the past? Further, you said you did not mind giving "5 years" but what if the people need you for a second term. Will you give ten years of your life to Haitian governance?

Bonus: What has it been like having an adopted Haitian child? And when you look in your daughter's eyes, what do you see as the future for Haiti?

Bonus+: You've seen "The Matrix Revolutions", right? At first, being Neo seemed fun. All that training under Morpheus, swimmingly dodging bullets and leaping from cars to taste the crisp air flowing underneath his trench coat... But remember when he came back to the ship and all of the hungry, the tired, the poor were waiting for him to attend to them and he had to postpone having sex with Trinity until later? Do you have the level of compassion that would make you want to tend to the needy and yet the discipline to postpone sex with Trinity? Inquiring minds want to know...

I'm serious. If you can answer these questions (well), not only will you be a great President, you just may be one of the greatest persons ever!

Updated: Interestingly enough, I saw this interview a few hours after I posted my questions. See if you think Wyclef is "incoherent" or ANYTHING like Sarah Palin. I think he did a GREAT job, kudos to Wyclef Jean and see for yourself!:

A Low Blow to Wyclef

In a New York Times article entitled, "Haiti's (Would Be) Hip Hop President", author, Charles M. Blow took a few cheap shots at Wyclef Jean, echoing the now-consistent phrase among quite a few bloggers and pundits that Wyclef is "incoherent". I already knew he was trying to start something with the title of his piece, although sometimes editors choose titles, so it would still mean they were trying to start something, especially upon the heels of the disastrous, Kwame Kilpatrick, former "Hip Hop Mayor" of Detroit. That's another blog topic for another day but the association is purposeful and clear.

I learned from Mediahacker's article, "Wyclef Jean: Haiti's Sarah Palin" that the above picture is the first picture that comes up when anyone googles Clef. Mind you, I have never seen this picture before but you know somebody paid to have that listing pop up first, to showcase all of the hedonism, conspicuous consumption and narcissism that has come to define Hip Hop---and is oh so American!

As I wrote in my previous blog, I disagree with the charge that Wyclef is incoherent; but what bothers me about the accusation is the unfairness of it.

First, there is this description of Wyclef's interview on CNN:
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer put the question to Jean on Thursday on “Larry King Live.” Here is the sum total of Jean’s rambling, somewhat incoherent, answer: “Well, after Jan. 12th, I would say over 50 percent of the population is a youth population. And we suffered for over 200 years. Now that our country has a problem, it’s a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up. And I don’t even say I’m trying to be president. I’m being drafted by the youth of Haiti. Right now is a chance for to us bring real education into the school, infrastructure, security and proper jobs. So this is some of the reasons that I’m running.”
Wow! Let’s just say that he’s no Demosthenes.
No, Wyclef may not be Demosthenes but he's also not the bionic man. There were sound/connection problems from the start of the interview, to the point where Wolf had to stop it and come back to Wyclef. Further, you could hear the chanting and cheering of the people behind him, as he struggled to hear the question and there was a clear delay. Yes, that paragraph, seems "somewhat incoherent" as WRITTEN; but it also seems like the attempt to start (or restart) a few independent thoughts that were being interrupted by background noise during a live interview (such as why he's running, what made him run, what the people seem to want, Haiti's history and what he wants to fix). This was clear to anyone who watched the interview. Look, Wyclef is not dumb, so if you don't want him to run for President, then just say that.

Wyclef is not Barack. But he's not Sarah Palin either.

Another unfair and rather slick editing job came with the description of Wyclef's troubles with Yele Haiti. After repeating the whole $400,000 allegation (something which has never been proven, no fines, no fees, no penalties), Blow then writes:
Jean has denied any wrongdoing and stepped down from the foundation on Thursday.
It's interesting. Both of these statements are fact and, yet, Wyclef denied any wrongdoing when The Smoking Gun first accused him of improprieties with Yele Haiti---in January 2010! It is now August and, for the purposes of running for President of Haiti, Wyclef stepped down from the foundation. Two separate and unrelated facts, seemingly put together to throw even more shade upon Wyclef.

As I've said, it's entirely fair to hoist a mountain of scrutiny and questions upon Wyclef. After all, he asked for it and it comes with the territory. I just expect for people (especially journalists) to be fair.

Having said that, Blow's last paragraph definitely struck me and it is something that has been weighing on my conscience for a while now. Yes, I am excited about Wyclef's candidacy in the same way I was excited about Al Sharpton's candidacy for President of the U.S. At the time, things were so bad, I did not care if Sharpton was simply clamoring for attention and raising his political profile (and therefore, speaking engagements, relevance, etc.) but the fact is, unlike Sharpton running for President of the U.S. with little chance of success, Wyclef has an actual chance at becoming the President of Haiti, so when Blow offered this final thought, it has echoed what others have shared regarding their concerns and I have to admit that it scares me, too. Blow stated:
Jean seems sincere, earnest and eager. He wants to help, and that’s noble. And the country has had so many poor leaders that it’s tempting to simply say: “Why not Wyclef?” But now is not the time to gamble. Haiti needs a serious and seasoned leader at this critical juncture — someone dedicated to the difficult and unglamorous work of applying the principles of good governance on a daily basis. In addition to rebuilding from the earthquake, Haiti’s next president must have the commitment and know-how to build viable health, educational and security infrastructures to support the country’s citizens, nurture domestic industries and attract foreign investment. It’s hard to see Jean as that leader. A Jean presidency could not only prove unwise, it could prove disastrous. And the last thing Haiti needs right now is another disaster.

That hurt...because it's true. Now is really NOT the time to gamble and, yet, I would greatly appreciate learning more about the other candidates that have the experience Haiti needs.

These latest articles, posts and challenges have inspired another post on what is NOT being asked about Wyclef or his Presidential run, that I think should be asked. As usual, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Stay tuned... and see you on Twitter! (#haiti #wyclef)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wyclef for President of Haiti?! NAW!

Well! What a difference a day and a filing of election papers makes, yes? Whew! The dialogue has been off the charts about Wyclef Jean running for President of Haiti. Did you see his arrival and welcome in Haiti, yet? Look no further!:

While we were gone, I thought of 10 facts that should be clarified about Wyclef but I will save that. Instead, I will give you the Top Ten Criticisms I have read, heard or seen for why Wyclef should NOT be the President of Haiti. I am still excited about his candidacy but here goes:

1."Wyclef couldn't keep The Fugees together." Lauryn's mad at him. Pras isn't even endorsing him and if he couldn't keep his own band united, what makes him think he can unite the country enough to take it into the 21st century? For me, this is the funniest and probably the most irrelevant criticism. If Wyclef ran the predatory music industry, then I might be able to concur but since he doesn't, I can't.

2. "Wycelf did a bad job with the books for his charity foundation, Yele Haiti, so he shouldn't be in charge of Haiti". This past January, months after the earthquake hit Haiti and after Wyclef was on television fundraising for Yele Haiti, The Smoking Gun published an article claiming impropriety and illegal activity. Clef hadn't filed taxes for 3 years (turns out, if you've not made money during the first 3 years of your non-profit organization, you did not have to file taxes. They have since changed the rules. Darn you, Wyclef!). Still, it wasn't illegal. Further, TSG alleged that Clef's tax return showed payments to himself for a charity show he did (it was lazy book keeping) and later on, TSG accused him of paying off a mistress who was also an executive in the organization. None of these accusations have been proven, to this day and the media became suddenly silent. You know what that means, when they accuse you on the front page and then print the retraction in a tiny box on the backpage. Just shameful. In any event, there are still doubts out there and many of Wyclef's critics are saying just to be in this situation, to do a sloppy job with one's own charity demonstrates one's inability to run a country---and certainly the budget. I agree with the latter but not the former but let me stay focused here. The mistress question leads me to:

3. "Wyclef is a Lothario who has demonstrated bad judgment and bad character." I certainly can't deny this. We all know the story of Lauryn & Wyclef by now and if you haven't heard, then listen to the song, "X Factor" off of the album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. For the record, I still love Lauryn and I blame Wyclef for this. But as Warren Buffet says, "every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Besides, let me know if a hungry Haitian gives a damn about Wyclef's infidelities if his belly's full. That's how we felt about Bill Clinton and our economy, right? Right. Let's stop being so hypocritical here. But I digress...

4. "Wyclef supported the coup with his Uncle Raymond" (currently the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti---or is that the reverse?), who also supported it, against democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide, still presently in exile in South Africa. Now, I don't exactly know what "supported" means in this case but perhaps you should listen to this interview Wyclef gave with Davey D in 2004 and let him explain how he felt about Aristide.

5. "Wyclef supports Bill Clinton." Ooookay, so did/does the majority of African America and for far less than bringing business and tourism (which translated into millions of dollars) to a country we own. Hell, we like Bill Clinton for playing the saxophone and eating McDonald's and had the nerve to call him the first Black President. Now that we have Barack Obama, aren't you ashamed of yourself for thinking so low of us? Tsk. First Lady Michelle Obama replaced McDonald's with the first, organic Whitehouse garden and Barack doesn't sing, dance or play an instrument. Thank God!

But back to Bill. Supposedly, Bill Clinton wants to turn Haiti into a neocolonial business venture for himself and the U.S., paying $1 - $2 per hour for Haitians to work in factories and to engage in tourism. It's all relative. If $1 - $2 an hour is the equivalent of minimal wage in the U.S. and it can provide food, clothing and shelter, it might not be so bad, especially to get the country up and running and remain "open for business" as Wyclef said.

This is an ongoing debate. On the one hand, brilliant Civil Rights Historian and friend to Bill Clinton, Taylor Branch offers this analysis he presented in 1994. And on the other hand, this is a scathing criticism of Bill Clinton's legacy in Haiti.

I know we all want to revel in ideological perfection but, my people, we are dealing with people who are destitute but still prideful, illiterate but still trying. If the Haitian people are okay with this general set up, then please let them shape their lives as they see fit. If they are NOT okay, then let us raise our voices and assist in the best manner we can. Until then, it would be great to hear from some economists about the best path with which Haiti should take.

6. Sean Penn is upset with Wyclef because, as he said on Larry King Live (hosted by Wolf Blitzer that evening), he has not seen Wyclef around much, he was appalled by the "vulgar" display of large vehicles rolling (undoubtedly Hip Hop style) through Haiti, he wants to know where $400,000 of aid that allegedly came through Yele Haiti's hands have gone and stressed that Haiti doesn't need a social revolution built upon the cult of personality.

It appears as though Sean Penn has some real concern for Haiti, so I won't clown him for talking about the "vulgar" display of vehicles but he should understand that the people dream of precisely what they see on television and in ads from the country Penn represents---America, not Haiti. Media culture is America's greatest export and Sean Penn has been quite the beneficiary of the film industry, so I feel it's something called "you reap what you sow". If it's vulgar, it's vulgar because it's what our own hands have wrought and we sell American pipe dreams all across the world, so much so that everyone thinks Americans are rich. Obviously, since most of us are literate, we have running water, public housing and clothes on our backs, we ARE richer than the rest of the world but the gaudy display of spoils is misrepresentative and certainly not Wyclef's fault. I won't pin that on him for the people wanting to see such a display themselves.

I also found Sean Penn's unwillingness to address the class disparity and signifying involved in that "vulgar" display to be rather interesting. In any event, Wyclef responded to Sean Penn, stating:

It is unfortunate that Sean Penn is unaware of Wyclef's magnificent commitment to the people of Haiti and his independence.  His campaign has nothing to do with corporate or special interests and everything to do with his calling and belief he can lead and make a difference.  Some of Mr. Penn's comments seemed so out of sorts that those close to Wyclef worried about Mr. Penn, who has also done important, life-saving, inspirational work for the people of Haiti. This is a time to think productively about solutions and long-term strategies to rebuild, not to insult anyone who dares to care.  Haiti needs everyone to collaborate for a 21st century safe, productive nation..
 That actually sounds like an answer from Wyclef's PR team but I'll take it!

7. Many Haitian Americans aren't satisfied with the idea of Wyclef as President of Haiti. I'm getting a lot of pushback from Haitian Americans about Wyclef running and it's understandable. Many Haitian Americans also have dreams for a better Haiti, came to the U.S. for better opportunities and with staunch intentions to assist their beloved homeland. I get that. I also get that there is a great level of debate regarding what ex-pats are doing throughout the Diaspora, how much they are or are not sharing and why the brain drain remains consistent in Haiti. So, I don't know. I enjoy hearing from Haitian Americans, though and I intend to keep an even closer eye on Haitians who will be voting. It's important to see, hear and feel what the people want whose lives will be most affected by the election.

8. "Wyclef is just a rapper who thinks he's in a Hip Hop video. He's an opportunist of the worst sort." This is probably the weakest argument against Wyclef. As a rich Haitian man who "made it" in America, Wyclef could do absolutely nothing, spout platitudes and continue to travel around the world making music and earning more millions. We should keep in mind that before Hip Hop became a curse word, we had (and still have) some great artists in the genre. Wyclef is one of them. Before Hip Hop was dumbed down by corporate media, Wyclef was reppin' for Haiti and policitizing his music, like most of the Old School. And before Hip Hop became synonymous with apathy, sloth, hedonism and narcissism, Wyclef, Pras and Lauryn emerged on the scene as a group called "The Fugees". You cannot make that up or recreate history. Their music was presented upon an historically collective platter, so eat that up if you can. Besides, he's not the only entertainer who has taken political office, get off his back.

9. "Wyclef is not educated enough." According to this article, Wyclef graduated from a Newark, NJ school with his high school diploma. Since he has not gone to college or earned any professional degrees, he is not qualified to be the President. I disagree with this assessment but I have heard it frequently. I find it elitist and inaccurate. Wyclef is not running to be the Secretary of Education for Haiti. As President, he can hire excellent staff and appoint persons to his cabinet whom are supremely educated and can pointedly map out an excellent plan to increase the literacy rate and prepare Haitians for the 21st Century. Why does he have to be a rocket scientist just to articulate the needs of the people? He doesn't. Let's move on to another criticism:

10. "Wyclef doesn't have enough experience". This pointed criticism is probably the most valid anyone can offer to Wyclef. Because, in truth, he doesn't have enough experience to just jump up and be the President. And if he does not intend to have an extraordinarily strong cabinet with persons who will support and challenge him when necessary, then he will be doing the country he claims to love, an incredible disservice.

There are 19 other persons who believe they can do a better job than Wyclef, including his own Uncle Raymond!!

I still believe in Wyclef. But I thought you should know there are at least 10 reasons why at least a cadre of other people are NOT excited about Wyclef's candidacy and potential win to become the President of Haiti. We must remember, however, to let the Haitians speak for the Haitians. Fas a Fas!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)

Wyclef Jean Files Papers for Haitian Presidency, is Received by the People
(photo credit: @MelkyJean)
If I Ruled the World (imagine that) / I'd free all of my sons / I love 'em, love 'em, baby / Black diamonds and pearls (could it be? If you could be mine, we'd both shine) / If I ruled the world (still livin' for today, in these last days and times)

I remember how long we, lovers of Hip Hop, rocked Nas' 1996 political manifesto, asking us to imagine what the world would look like if he ruled it. His was a collective narrative that asked us to see ourselves in power and the problems we would correct if that were so.

My favorite part of the song is when Lauryn Hill (then of The Fugees) bursts into her melodic, "If I Ruled the World..." and Nas breaks in with an inviting and almost sarcastic "Imagine that!" because he knows that you know it would be tough to imagine.

Now, here we are in 2010 and Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States and, imagine that, a Black man. I have great fondness for our President and his mission (and that is the first time I have ever written that, let me tell you) but I'm not uncritical of his role as head of the American Empire. That, friends, is another post for another day.

Today is my first blog post in quite some time. It is inspired by, well, me and the revelations I had when I found out that Wyclef Jean might run for President and subsequent conversations with my Twitter family, especially @sjean70, @FranceinCairo, @sablikatriumph , @FreedomTweet, @EmpressVal and @AfaceAface and I thought I'd start it off right by giving you the:

Top Ten Reasons Why I'm Excited Wyclef Jean is Running for President of Haiti!:

1. I've been teaching about the importance of Haiti and Toussain't L'Overture for years. Haiti's independence (January 1, 1804) had a direct effect upon North America and inspired the strength and courage for my then-enslaved ancestors and freedmen to not only continue to revolt against slavery but to also imagine themselves independent and free, rulers of their own destiny. It appears as though that is what playwright, Ntozake Shange, envisioned when she wrote For Colored Girls Who've Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1974), in which the lady in brown summons her girlhood, imaginary, Creole boyfriend (who bore the namesake of "Toussaint"). She thinks he is the famed Haitian soldier and leader, living in New Orleans---whether audience members believe it or not. It's one of my favorite scenes. And brown is the only color not in the rainbow. Hmmm... sing it, Nas:

"More conscious of the way we raise our daughters"

2. There is something extremely romantic, biblical and karmic about "the lowest of these" and the first becoming last and the last becoming first. Having a Haitian boy come to America, become a super celebrity rapper, musician and producer extraordinaire and then return to the country of his origin to elevate the quality of life of the people is amazingly wonderful to me. Eighty percent of Haiti lives in poverty and it's one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. This is totally unacceptable. Hip Hop, at its core structure, is democratic, innovative and technological. In a song similar to that of Nas' tome, Wyclef made a song entitled, "If I Was the President" in 2004 (thank you @redbully04 & @jazzzyone), which was serious, contemplative and offered great socio-political commentary. Wyclef is not dumb, by any stretch of the imagination and, thankfully, he comes from Old School Hip Hop, not the kind of clap-trap the mainstream is used to these days.

3. Like you, I sat in horror watching so many people die in Haiti as a seemingly cruel Mother Nature pelted people with falling rocks and crushed their bones between rubble. It's in these times that I wonder where is God in the presence of human suffering? I don't know the answer but I believe that Wycelf's run for President will maintain attention upon a country that still requires great assistance. Haiti is already "old news" in the U.S. media and I am so excited to see the country infused with even more reasons to stay at the forefront of our consciousness. Sadly, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture that will keep their eyes on Wyclef, if for no other reason than to catch him if he messes up. But either way, if they follow Wyclef, they will follow Haiti and that's all that matters. Americans tend to have short memories.

4. I have read and heard the criticism about Wyclef running and, while some of it is most certainly valid, like @FreedomTweet's insistence that Haiti needs experienced leadership and can't afford a gaffe at the Presidency, I am not sure that experience, alone, is necessary and it seems as though something more along the lines of a miracle is needed for Haiti. Divine intervention. I believe that, having seen these dead bodies and the extent of the destruction in Haiti up close and personal, Wycelf's spirit was shaken to its core, his humanity was touched in a manner unparalleled and he feels "called" to do something much bigger than bringing in $10 million into Haiti via his foundation, Yele Haiti. I have no proof. It's simply what I believe. There's a reason why Wyclef was crying on television and that level of shamelessness in a hypermasculine culture is only brought about through divine intervention.

5. I'm appalled at the present government infrastructure in Haiti. I will never forget the looks of exasperation on @AndersonCooper and @SanjayGupta's faces as they struggled to comprehend the reason why so much aid was poised (and stopped) along the airstrip and unable to reach the people that needed it. Since their looks of horror and outrage, I have since learned from @EmpressVal that President Preval is an alcoholic (who apparently remained in a drunken stupor throughout this travesty) and that people were actually taking bribes to get aid through certain passageways. I have no words for this type of criminal activity. No words...

6. I believe Wyclef can do a good job. I know it seems outrageous that someone with little official, political experience would be able to govern; but we must accept that Haiti is still in a state of emergency and remains a disaster area. What is needed in this particular day and time is for someone to keep the attention on Haiti, collect the projected $105 million dollars pledged to the country, BE VISIBLE and PRESENT and put together an excellent cabinet that can meet the needs of the people. Wyclef must surround himself with excellent cabinet members. But as the President, it seems as though the greatest qualification is to care enough to seek new opportunities and bring about the impossible dream. I believe Wyclef can do that.

7. We must let our Western expectations relax a bit. Wyclef does not need to figure out how to turn the Haitian people into rocket scientists (at least not overnight). Haiti's needs, at this point, are massive but fairly basic. Food. Clothing. Shelter. Education. Jobs. Security. A major reconstruction project can put people back to work rebuilding their country and a major push for educational infrastructure will elevate the literacy and capacity levels of the people. Not that this is easy but he will have alot of support as President, including that of the U.S.

8. It will be interesting to see what it will be like if Wyclef is the President of Haiti while Barack Obama is the President of the United States. After all, the U.S. offered temporary status swiftly, and humanely, I might add, after the earthquake. These are new and trying times. They are also times for new possibilities. I have read criticism that Bill Clinton wants to turn Haiti into a new colony (as if, in its tremendous poverty and need, it isn't already), working in factories and engaging in tourism. Well, if I recall correctly, that's exactly what drew Americans (especially African Americans during the Great Migration) to the North. We came for new opportunities, to work in factories, to have jobs and to make new dreams. Let the Haitian people grow and if they want those jobs, let them take them. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with working in factories and it's 99% better than what they have now---which is next to nothing! As for the tourism, Royal Caribbean was still docking on Haitian water during the immediate post-earthquake period but how much of that revenue was shared and how much made it into Port-Au-Prince? We must stop fooling ourselves. There's nothing wrong with tourism, as long as we have more fairness and opportunity for the Haitian people.

9. I saw this article in 2000 when I was still a graduate student in American and Africana Studies. I have never forgotten how insulting it was to read the headline, "Ordinary Dutchman is African King" and I think it's important for us to remember how African people (which includes Haitians, by the way) are seen throughout the rest of the world---and why. So now, let an "Ordinary Haitian" be a Haitian President and let us re-imagine what the African can do and be in the world. Haiti is the size of the State of Maryland in the United States. Wyclef can do this.

10. And finally, my last reason is because it seems as though THE MASSES OF THE POOR PEOPLE OF HAITI want Wycelf to be their President and he is clearly inspiring a level of hope in a people so downtrodden and disgusted by their present leadership and longterm corruption (Duvalier, etc.), that they will accept the leadership of a seventhsonofaseventhson to come and lead their country. Further, Wyclef's work in Haiti has been in the poorest, roughest "scariest" and apparently most violent and gang-ridden neighborhoods. If he can go in as peacemaker and provide aid to "the least of these", then he should be able to help everyone from the bottom up. I couldn't care less what the Haitian elites want, quite frankly. Over 50% of the Haitian population are YOUNG people who want something new. And they seem to want Wyclef. Who am I to argue with the people? All I can do is pray for the country, offer my support when I can and, for certain, encourage all of us to dream of a better world filled with great possibility and allow for the unexpected.

"Better livin' / the type of place to raise kids in"

Imagine that!

Stay tuned for more posts, I would love to hear from you and if you follow this on Twitter, please use the hashtags: #Haiti and #Wyclef