31 October 2006


A very interesting All Hallows Eve here in B-town. A group of African American politicians from the DC suburbs have thrown their support to Republican candidate Michael Steele (mainly it seems because he's black and his Democratic opponent is white -- certainly can't be because of what Steele stands for, since it seems he doesn't stand for anything beyond the Bush party line). Trick or Treat?

Yesterday a friend sent a photo of a white couple on their way to a party: the guy was in blackface, wearing a dreadlocked wig, beliving himself the image of the perfect 'Rasta'.

To be fair, I did see a young white kid today wearing dreads also -- but he also had a fake sword and was dressed a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribbean. He was sitting not far from a young black kid in black face -- which matched the rest of his all black "Ninja" outfit.

Older kids, however, seem to be auditioning for episodes of everyone's favorite reality show "Whites Behaving Badly"

Johns Hopkins University and Hospital are my neighbors on two fronts. My neighborhood is within walking distance of the University campus, and part of their Kennedy Krieger Institute is directly down the street from us. At work, one of our locations is almost literally surrounded by the growing Hospital complex, and will be moving in 2007 to make way for another Hopkins building.

It is something of an open secret, particularly when it comes to the Hospital, that they are not 'good neighbors.' Both are extremely insular organizations, and their relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods is weak at best, and filled with condesention at worse.

So the following news item doesn't surprise me in the least:

"Johns Hopkins University suspended a fraternity Monday afternoon following a racially themed Halloween party Saturday night at an off-campus house.

The uproar began shortly after the “Halloween in the ’Hood” party was advertised on the Web site Facebook.com. The invitation encouraged racial-stereotyping costumes, included references to the late attorney Johnnie Cochran and O.J. Simpson, and prefaced descriptions of Baltimore as “a ghetto,” “the hood” and “the HIV pit” with a four-letter epithet"

From The Baltimore Sun:

"A picture of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accompanied the posted invitation, BSU members said.

"ps we STILL don' discriminate against hoodrats, skig skags, or scallywhops," it read.

Rob Turning, the university's coordinator of Greek Life, told the chapter president, Richard Boyer, that the advertisement was "racist and offensive" and asked him to withdraw it, according to a statement from Johns Hopkins officials.

The ad later reappeared in an "altered but still offensive form" without the coordinator's knowledge, said the statement.

The BSU students, who met Saturday night, agreed to send a contingent to the party, said Christina Chapman, 20, a senior and BSU president.

Ten students went to the party, at the fraternity's house at 235 E. 33rd St. Ashlea Bean was one. Bean said she expected to be upset but when she and the others saw the skeleton-cum-pirate dangling from the roof of the fraternity's house in a rope noose and heard fake gunshots, she was outraged.

In a statement, President William R. Brody said he was "personally offended" and called the incident "deeply disturbing."

"The invitation to this party represented a serious and unacceptable misjudgment on the part of the fraternity chapter that organized it," said Brody. "We will move quickly to address that appropriately with the chapter."

More than 100 students attended a lengthy campus forum last night before a panel of the university's top administrators.

A wide range of topics surfaced during the meeting - which at times became heated - ranging from discrimination against gay and lesbian students to the scarcity of tenured minority professors."

There was one JHU frat that seemed to have a rolling party, with brothers and others beginning to gather on Friday afternoon, leading to the main blow out bash on Saturday night, and a little 'hair of the dog' follow up Sunday afternoon (once the unconscious had awakened). I also once had the odd experience of having a Middle Eastern cab driver pick black male me up rather than a group of white JHU students. He expressed to me ("his brother") his dislike of the students, how those he had carried in the past had acted, treating him as if he were stupid, 'probably a terrorist', and something less than human.

The school has a long standing problem in both recruiting and maintaining black instructors. I know from an African friend who was in one of their Language programs, that the head of that department was quite hostile toward him as he was working toward his PhD, and has continually refused to hire minority instructors. A few years ago Hopkins hired a brilliant young black (gay) professor -- then let him go and committed 'sin of omission' by not informing him of the fact that funding for his position was available and he COULD have stayed on if he wanted to. In talking to a number of black staffers and others on campus, many consider the atmosphere there toxic. However, because of their small numbers, and the fact that they need their jobs, they are loathe to say or do anything to jeopardize their positions.

Of course the somewhat ironic thing about JHU is that there's been an increasing number of South Asian and Indian students attending the school in recent years. With their dark skin color, some of them would be as unwelcom in some neighbhorhoods here as I would be. But then, I suppose, one of the functions of Black People in America seems to be to act as the floor upon which everyone else stands (or walks all over).

So this Halloween Party doesn't surprise me in the least. IMHO it's just an example of how well many of the students at JHU are being educated.

One part of this incident, however, that also disturbs me is this: If we as Black people have problems with these objectifications of our community by others, how much responsibility do we also have for the negative images of Black people some African Americans traffic in as well? If we have negative attitudes toward ourselves, expect the worse of our brothers and sisters, pour big bucks into the pockets of minstrels and fools, how can we expect those outside our community to behave any differently toward us?

All Saints Day UPDATE: The story continues as the Hopkins Black Student Union uses the incident to discuss broader issues on campus (some of which I've mentioned above). Also be sure to check out the growing 'Comment on this article' section: some people 'get it' others think this is an example of the Political Correctness Police at work...

24 October 2006

Steve Reich, "Classical" Father of Sampling?

I am a major fan of the form of 'classical' music known as Minimalism. As with the visual artists we now know as "The Impressionists" that term, Minimalist, has as often been avoided by the composers creating these works as it has been embraced. In any case, the repetitions, the stasis and slow evolution of changes, even the occasional way in which the music might be seen as 'boring' more often as not engages and transports me. My CD collection is heavy with the work of John Adams, Michael Nyman, Philip Glass -- and Birthday boy Steve Reich.

Reich, along with LaMonte Young, Terry Reily, Glass, and Pauline Oliveros, is one of the founding figures of the music. Holding to his convictions the creater of a once reviled music is now the subject of a major retrospective at that temple of the musical establishment, Carnegie Hall. Ah, to be back in New York again!

One of the things that has consistently fascinated me about Reich's music is his use of 'sampling' (while most Hip Hop artists were dreaming of big wheels for Christmas) and its relationship to African and African-American music and speech. In 1970 he studied drumming at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra (before heading on to study Balinese gamelan music and the singing of Jewish cantors). But even before that, in early Process Music pieces like It’s Gonna Rain (made up of recordings of a sermon about the end of the world given by a Pentecostal minister, 1965) and Come Out (a line of testimony given by an injured survivor of a race riot, 1966), he sampled African-American voices to create music. 1972's Clapping Music always struck me as a 'highbrow' version of the kind of rhythmic clapping I grew up watching the girls in my neighborhood doing (Think Miss Mary Mack goes to Juliard) There have been any number of Reich's pieces I've found myself bopping my head to.

I've also been to a party where the art school student DJ showed up with his masterwork Music for 18 Musicians in the milk crate along with his other records. DJ's Coldcut, Mantronik, Spooky (That Subliminal Kid) and others have returned returned the favor on Reich Remixed.

Personally, I was somewhat disapointed by the Remix CD, and continue to like my Reich 'straight'. Here's a VERY short list of some favorites for the uninitiated:

African Rhythms A mix of works by Reich, the late great Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, and the singing of the Aka Pygmies. A haunting and glorious recording.


Music for 18 Musicians

Different Trains A True Masterpiece of 20th Century music.

City Life

Triple Quartet

Happy Listening! And get ready for next year's celebration of the 70th Birthday of Reich's friend and former roomate, Baltimore's Own Philip Glass!

18 October 2006

Who Needs Freedom?

"The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions." -- Anthony Romero, President, ACLU

One of the many things I learned reading James A. Monroe's Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History is this: almost every law 'reformers' have passed in order to curb some perceived 'national sin,' has turned out to have far more unexpected consequenses than those reformers could have ever possibly imagined -- and they have succeeded in expanded the role and power of the national government.

Today, President Bush signed "The Military Commissions Act of 2006" and, in the name of pursuing terrorists, kissed habeas corpus goodbye.

Secret Detentions? Sure no problem

Torture? Why not!

Human Rights? Who needs 'em...

The President says 'trust me'. He says he won't use it to toss in jail those who disagree with him (possible and 'legal' under this law). "We're going after the terrorists," he reminds us.

This new law disturbs and terrifies me. To my mind, todays signing means the terrorists have won. Our governemet has survailled us, tapped our phones, ramped up the fear levels, turned us against our better selves and our history, and have gotten us to give away basic liberties, all for the sake of some kind of 'safety.' And no one seems to care (one glorious nightly exception: MSNBC's Keith Olberman)

"The Congress just gave the President despotic powers and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to Dancing With the Stars." Jonathan Turley

And again I come back to Hellfire Nation. Even if we agree with these and other moves 'for our own safety', even if we think President Bush will use this law sparingly and judiciously, what about the future? What's going to happen in the next administration, or the next, or the one after that?

My partner and I have always loved A Man for All Seasons, and enjoyed and memorized a number of quotes from that film. This scene is one of our favorites, and seems chillingly apt for our own times:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

The United States now appears to be lead by William Roper -- and he's been handed an axe.

16 October 2006

Quick Cave Canem poetic photo round up

A Great Day in Manhattan: Cave Canem Faculty and Fellows pose for a 10th Anniversary portrait (photo by Mignonette Dooley)

Till I can get my photos up (and my camera DIED during the Friday evening reception!), peruse these for shots and news from last weekends Black Poetry extravaganza

Thanks to Jacqueline Johnson for these...

Cheezin with Jacqueline Jones LeMon, Dwayne Betts, Tim Seibles, and Tyehimba Jess

Your Humble Correspondent with Herman Beavers and Tracy Morris

From Remica Bingham

"Inner Workings" Panel discussion: Dante Micheaux, Ronaldo Wilson, Gloria Burgess, Phebus Etienne, Jacqui Johnson, and Ross Gay.

Our takeover of the Harlem restaurant Native Sunday evening

From Amanda Johnston's blog

An Atmospheric Curtis Crissler

A Regal Toni Lightfoot

Amanda with Cave Canem Office Manager (and Official Muse) Dante Micheaux

From John Keene's blog

Ronaldo Wilson's 25 push up "Closing Statement" at the Inner Workings panel

And from the Official CC Events Blog Dog Bytes

Cave Canem Prize winners

Tracy K. Smith(Winner of the 2002 prize), Major Jackson (2000), Constance Quarterman Bridges (2005), Kyle Dargan (2003), Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (2001), Amber Flora Thomas (2004), Dawn Lundy Martin (2006)

More beauty and talent all in one place than one can possibly imagine. And these folks/we are also the most the huggin-est, kissin-est, people in the world...I'm exhausted!

15 October 2006

Happy Anniversary!

In New York City for the amazing gathering, reunion, readings, panels, and general love fest that is the Cave Canem 10th Anniversary Celebration. The readings have been glorious, the fellowship heartwarming, and its been thrilling to meet so many people I only know as words on the page, on blogs, or via e-mail. Last night's amazingly fleet (30+ poets in 2 hours!) and enriching Fellows reading on the 3rd floor of the NYC GLBT Center (as Leather/Fetish folk gathered for a dance on the first floor -- two aspects of my life in the same building at last!:) did what Cave Canem always does for me: The work took the top of my head off, made me feel honored to be part of such an extraordinary company -- and inspired me to stay up till close to 3 am writing and revising! Thank you (I think:) Cave Canem!

Reading with other GLBQ Fellows and Faculty at the Archive Section of the Schomburg Library in Harlem this afternoon. More on that, the weekend, and photos later. In the meantime, here's a poem I'll (probably) be reading there:


Basquiat's on the back steps with my niece
helping her to draw a picture of us all,
tossing back gray dreadlocks as they fall
into his eyes. My sister argues politics
with Martin and Coretta in the back yard
over ribs -- Romare Bearden's cooking --
Malcolm puts his two cents in between
bites of peas and rice. My grandfather
flirts with Billie as tey remember the old
days on The Avenue in West Baltimore. Pres
brushes off pork pie hat and stands, offers
to gey my grandmother something from
the desert table. She declines, full from her
second helping of Ellington & Strayhorn's home
made apple pie. Essex and Joe Beam line dance
with Audre and Pat Parker while Assotto Saint,
Melvin Dixon and my partner critique them
from the picnic table off to one side.
Shamefaced, my father shows up late,
as always, with Charlie Parker and Bud Powell in tow.
Where've you-all been? my mother asks.
She gets a kiss and sheepish grin, but no reply.