Jun 16 2012

Happy Birthday to Me, Tupac and a White Dude Who Dyed for Freedom (not a typo)

Today is my birthday. And Tupac’s Too.

Another June 16th human being I really love is John Howard Griffin.

6/16/20 – 9/9/80

I hope you already know all about this man, but if not, he was a White anti-racist who grew up in the South and wanted to do something to reach the hearts and minds of White Americans, most of whom were in denial about the conditions under which Black people lived.

Griffin conducted an experiment in 1959 that included shaving his head, darkening his skin with lamps and pharmaceuticals and living as a Black man in the deep south.

Though he endured for several weeks, he ended up cutting the experiment short, as he found that being a Black man was too difficult for him to maintain for long. He wrote a book about his experiences that made him a celebrity and (to some) a villain.

“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: “What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?”

“Suddenly I had had enough. Suddenly I could stomach no more of this degradation- not of myself but of all men who were black like me.”

“When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark.”

Mr. Griffin knew when he conducted his experiment he would forever be putting himself at odds with those in America who didn’t want the ugliest realities of racism to be exposed and so vividly expressed by someone White. After his book “Black Like Me” was published in 1961 he and his family received continual death threats. They left their Texas home and eventually moved to Mexico.

“John Howard Griffin was one of the most remarkable people I have ever encountered…He was just one of those guys that comes along once or twice in a century and lifts the hearts of the rest of us.” -Studs Terkel

Here is an excellent article about Griffin’s life, his experiment and his writings: JimCrowMuseum <<–Highly suggested reading!

“It seems to me that our country is involved in a kind of mass insanity where you can abuse the gift of sight in order to use it to discriminate against somebody.”

♥ HIM !


May 26 2012

How Do I Love Thee, @ScandalABC? Let Me Count the Ways

Scandal. Scandal. Scandal.

♥ I love how writer/producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) created a television drama in which the lead character could have been portrayed by a bold, brilliant, beautiful woman of any ethnicity, and ABC cast a black woman in that role (first time in 38 years a black actress has been the lead in a network TV series), and viewers eagerly embraced it.

♥ I love how every one of the supporting characters in this show is a multi-dimensional combination of qualities that make them fascinating and fabulously flawed. And we’re just getting to know them. (That First Lady is a piece of work! And Cyrus? Complex and riveting.)

♥ I love how Olivia Pope’s core mission is to do good in the world–and how interesting it is to watch her try to maintain that mission in her, ahem, “complicated” line of work.

♥ I love how Olivia Pope & Associates and the “scandal-neutralizing” work they do, ensures, as a plot-driver, that the show’s writers have an amazing vehicle for creativity, variety and diversity whose wheels will never fall off.

♥ I love that the show is based on a real-life black woman, Judy Smith, who worked as a press aide in the Bush administration and left the White House to run her own successful crisis management firm. So, no, you cannot write the Scandal concept off as “unrealistic” if it doesn’t quite mesh with your preconceived notions about who can and cannot guide and advise the White House.

♥ I love how Kerry Washington’s complexion is outing these critics who characterize a black Olivia Pope as a “post-racial fantasy” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker) while they drool unabashedly over the racially homogeneous new HBO “Girls” like it is the cultural second coming of the equally homogeneous “Friends.”

♥ I love how some folks are oddly “disturbed” by this TV rarity —that is— a bright, beautiful, brown-skinned female boss who inspires admiration and loyalty in everyone who knows her, yet whose ethnicity isn’t a focus in the show. (No, this ain’t “Get Christie Love,” and nobody’s going to call Olivia Pope the “N” word, folks–get over it.) Shonda is career savvy like that.

And if one more blogger disrespects the REAL LIFE POWERLESSNESS of 13-year-old Sally Hemmings at the hands of Thomas Jefferson by comparing that child’s plight to this FICTIONAL, grown, free, educated, voting, wage-earning black woman who can drive her luxury car out of the White House gates and never look back if she so chooses–I think I will puke.

I’m not all that thrilled with the adulterous love triangle of FLOTUS, POTUS and Pope, but it definitely does add a layer of complexity to each episode, and also helps bring Olivia down from her “not normal” pedestal where we can more clearly view her as the human being she is. Regardless of how you view the married President’s pursuit of Olivia as his “soul mate” and “the love of his life,” that story line is definitely in perfect alignment with the title of the show.

“I hope that Olivia Pope being a lead of a television series and being smart and vulnerable and the most desirable woman in any room that she walks into changes something for someone in the way they perceive women of color. But I also hope that people watch it and find it to be good entertainment.” – Shonda Rhimes

Good entertainment is exactly what I find Scandal to be.

Can’t wait ’til next season.

Until then, inquiring minds want to know…

Who the hell is Quinn Perkins?


May 8 2012

Justus, Joshua and James: 3 Black Chess Players Achieve Master Ranking at Age 12

There are some 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation and fewer than 2 percent of them are excellent enough players to be called “masters.”

Of those masters, just 13 of them are under the age of 14.

Of those 13, three are African American boys from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black, Jr. — each achieved master status at age 12.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, the only black chess master to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”

Maurice Ashley, World’s First Black Chess Grandmaster

Ashley, now 45, became a master at age 20 and a grandmaster at 34.

The Chess Federation uses a rating system to measure ability based on the results of matches won in officially sanctioned events. A player reaching a rating of 2,200 qualifies for master.

Justus was the first of the three boys to get to 2,200, making him the youngest black player ever to obtain the master rank. Not long after Justus achieved that rare honor, Joshua replaced him in the record books by achieving master ranking while still a few months younger than Justus was. James, now 13, became a master at age 12 in July, 2011.

Although they are competitors, the boys are also friends who recognize that others see them as role models.

“I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African American kids who want to take up chess,” James said.

All three of the boys have set their sights on becoming grandmasters by the time they graduate from high school, a feat only a few dozen players in the world have achieved.

One of my all time favorite movies is “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” about a young chess wiz. This scene stands as one of my top ten favorite scenes ever. You have to see the whole movie for the “trick or treat” reference to have its full impact, but you gotta love the suspense this director was able to create in a game that could be a boring spectator sport for the uninitiated:

“You’ve lost, you just don’t know it.” Ahhh, I LOVE this movie. That scene makes my eyes water every time.

Please share this if you believe the story of these three young black chess players who are friends and rivals in a world where they are considered a “curiosity” would make an awesome movie.

By Kathleen Cross for rollingout.com

(Originally published 11/2012)