Monday, July 21, 2008

Reclaiming the Drizzle Dizl…

Moderator and CNN Journalist Soledad O'Brien “Yes, we can?”

So… I watched Black In America: Reclaiming The Dream . Ye-e-a-h… so much I could say, but I will hold back. I will say they asked the pseudo-tough questions… but that’s about it. As well, I think my self-esteem was tested by all the statistics they kept lobbing before each commercial break letting you know just how far back Black America is versus … well… the usual suspects. Also, my first reaction to the airing was “wasn’t this originally slated for February?”

Oh, I noticed how every month Black In America got pushed back. Was this supposed to be CPT for Black programming? Might there actually be something in the show that the ‘powers that be’ had to cut out because it might trigger some uplifting movement amongst Blacks that America just wasn’t ready for… whoa… was I actually starting to get intrigued? Actually, yeah, come Cinco De Mayo, I was anticipating this event. [Sidenote: Nothing says "back of the bus" like programming that was delayed until the summer repeats. Let that marinate.] Well, Black In America is finally here. And I sat down for the first installment (Reclaiming the Dream aka Keeping Up With The Kardashians ) and took notes point by point, so that you could come to and find out that YOU DIDN’T MISS A THING! Here, let’s just start with a run through of how things went. [Sidenote: The program was like a Harvard reunion too. Not hating on my Ivy League homeys, just letting 'em get ready for their two degrees of separation.]

The initial panel (which later rotated) started with:

Bishop TD Jakes Bishop T.D. Jakes - Famous pastor. 30,000 multi-racial congregation in Dallas. Not to mention the plethora of folks that consume his message through media.

Ed Gordon Ed Gordon - 60 Minutes , Black Enterprise Magazine and a former BET correspondent (when they had news). Many remember his “Unless you got a real twin …” to R. Kelly about the “Pied-Piper’s” remarkable resemblance to the buck in the “R. Kelly Sex Tape(s)”.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux Dr. Julianne Malveaux - President of Bennett College, Author, Economist. “One of the most influential Black women in America,” as declared moderator Soledad O’Brien (…ah…Soledad O’Brien ).

Professor Cornell West Professor Cornell West - Author and professor at Princeton University. Essentially every time we need to know the official Black opinion on anything we go wake up Mr. West, Mr. West, Mr. West, Mr. West . If you don’t know… ask somebody.

Family: “Marry yo baby daddy…”

“Seven out of ten (7/10) children are born to unwed mothers” reported the program. My first thought was “d*mn, i thought we were at least half and half,” which, when you think about it, isn’t acceptable either but is sadly something to which we could aspire. “Enter Maryann Reed… she started the ‘Marry Yo Baby Daddy Program’” [::sigh::] which aims through counseling and a culminating marriage to re-establish these couples and kids as role models for other disjointed Black families. [Right then the head-shaking began, think about it, they just said we're in remedial "home-ec" - but let me hold back.]

Moderator Soledad O’Brien posed the question “To what degree do you think, Professor West, that [the situations of] unwed moms or single-parent families are at the root of a lot of problems in Black America?”

Professor West kicks off saying marriage was really a side point whereas the lack of “mature love” between two individuals has severely diminished. He quickly explained that love requires a “sense of responsibility and the temper to master the art of intimacy” beyond today’s focus on pleasure/power/property. Explaining further, West professed that “intimacy” entails allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the other person, thus in today’s focus on pleasure/power/property how many would actually risk loving another person maturely? Thus it’s not a matter of having more marriages but figuring out how to nurture more “mature love in a community that has been taught to hate itself”.

Bishop Jakes was asked how the church can help, replying that the church has to move beyond solely preaching ideals and move toward addressing realities. He added that the church can help people get back on track to creating family through supportive infrastructures as opposed to just saying “you were wrong”. [Then -not even 9 minutes into the discussion- Bishop kicked off the same ole same ole. ] “The problem is not unwed mothers but that men are not stepping up to the plate.” Jakes essentially said there was no father-role-model for these men so fatherhood is “asking them to play a role for which they have no script”.

Ed Gordon said the men should be responsible because each of their kids is “yo baby too”. Adding “C’mon now people” at the over-acceptance (and even pride) toward the “baby mama” situation. Then he promoted his website.

Soledad O’Brien asked how finances come into play using the example of one of the couples in which the man said he hadn’t married the mother of his children because he wasn’t where he wanted to be financially.

Dr. Malveaux questioned marriage (as well, the societal conditioning of women toward marriage) as the ideal for a single mother, particularly if the woman could economically provide for her children.

Ed Gordon jumped in saying ideally you need both, adding that for too long ‘black men have sat back and simply let women carry that burden.’ Then he promoted his website.

Cornell West corrected Gordon’s point saying it takes more than the parents in the ideal situation. The community serves as a “backdrop” for the two parents, stopping short of a cliché “it takes a village”.

Bishop Jakes adjusted all the previous points adding that money isn’t the only thing the man brings into the relationship, arguing that his presence is influential on the self-esteem of the children. Preaching that we don’t have the same communities we did 30-40 years ago, noting “Frankly, I don’t want my neighbors saying anything to my children!” Suggesting that we nurture our kids amongst our own families and friends. Lastly suggesting to unwed mothers that because their sons will be someone’s father/husband one day, “raise him to be the man you wish you had”.

[Okay that play-by-play was way too long so we're going to summarize editorially henceforth.]

Family: “We have got to…”

Hill Harper So the panel then rotated tagging in Hill Harper (actor/author) for Cornell West.

Moderator Soledad O’Brien asked ‘how do we break the cycle of single-parent children growing up to have broken families?’ After most everyone moved linearly from ‘holding friends with kids “to [the] task” of actually parenting’ to ‘fostering community around the child’ to ‘not praising unwed mothers but accepting them’ to how ‘expectations have deteriorated’, Hill Harper finally hit upon the fact that most everything discussed tonight will be at naught if they ignore the underlying issue of Black self-worth. To which I was like “BOUT TIME?!” Harper worded it best pointing out that the solutions are “future-based ideas” and that most of the expectations presented thus far (better education, getting a good job, marriage, raising a family) are dependent upon these kids believing they have a future to work toward or else lose. As well, Harper noted that most of the younger generation’s deviations from the aforementioned “expectations” are attempts to attain/feel they have value. Daughters wanting to be mothers for the love of the child or a man. Sons wanting to be athletes, entertainers, hustlers for the esteem from peers. So the goal is to instill self-worth in the kids so they don’t feel a need to be noticed in a more precarious manner. Everyone agreed with Harper and for a minute there you thought the discussion might vary from the conventional outcome of these panels until the very next person changed the subject. Why? Maybe they weren’t ready for that discussion. Maybe they wanted to offer generalized summations of the problems coupled with vague solutions like “we have got to do better” whilst plugging whatever they were torn from to be there. But essentially the rest of the program was no different than these types of forums ever are: Raising a plethora of problems in Black America (with statistics to make you go “we f*cking up”). Telling you things you already know, unless you are the least self-aware of us. Then running out of time before any implementable solutions are actually offered. In fact, I thought about splitting this recap into parts (even put it aside for a day or two to set it up right) but really… why bother?… let’s just knock out the rest of the program while we’re here.

Education: “Brandon, we come here to get you back in school…”

…door in the face. See after a video segment about our dropout rate, in which they actually showed Brandon Gully (a senior) refusing to go back to high school - actually, “refusing” is too strong. Brandon just turned and zombie-walked back in his grandma’s house as if Vice Principal Keys and his peers on his porch wouldn’t notice. ["and if you fee-eel me put your hands up... hoo-oooood" ] Which is sad, considering I went to the same inner-city high school. Yep, according to a 2007 Johns Hopkins University study, Brandon’s and my high school is a “dropout factory”. ["Lowered expectations..." ]

Musical chairs time:

Roland Fryer Roland Fryer (Professor of Economics at Harvard) swapped in for Bishop T.D. Jakes

Jabali Sawicki Jabali Sawicki (Principal of Excellence Charter School) swapped in for Ed Gordon

Tom Joyner Tom Joyner (National Talk Show Host) swapped in for Hill Harper but soon swapped back for Cornell West

Cutting back to the discussion, the panel essentially talked circles around how to get kids interested in education. Everything from emphasizing their futures to actually paying kids for good test scores was mentioned. [::sigh::] Notably, Sawicki’s response to Joyner’s question about youth’s incentive was that his school only speaks of college as a “when” as opposed to an “if” thus battling any nascent low expectations. However in the 45th minute, Dr. Malveaux finally brought up the 2nd cliché I’d been waiting for all night: the images in Hip-Hop. Cornell West, though, quickly backhanded her point and kept things moving. Then he went and called Lil’ Wayne a genius. Why? I dunno, maybe he meant on the business tip (see Lil’ Wayne Sells One Million ), maybe he needs a verse on his next mixtape, who cares?! Anyway, as far as discussing incentives to redeem our zest for eduction and present examples of successful scholars as role-models for youths, they essentially settled on “we have got to do better”.

HIV: “Know your status…”

Sheryl Lee Ralph Tagging in Sheryl Lee Ralph for Cornell West. The panel addressed the issue of HIV/AIDS.

Apparently in non-televised/sponsored discussions around the nation, the panelists found that Black folks don’t realize how deadly AIDS is still. Why? Magic Johnson. No really. Not gone lie… cats think he has the cure. When in actuality, Magic has great health care (or “platinum health care” as Ralph put it, but i doubt you will here that phrase amongst your favorite rappers next 16 bars). Sadly humorous, even in the best case delusions folks act like they have the same bankroll Magic has to afford the myriad of pills he takes daily were they to contract HIV. To waylay this pipe-dream we say, he might be “ok” but you will die. Fortunately, Sheryl Lee Ralph pointed that out … in very dramatic fashion. ["Dumb it down" ] The topic was closed on her simple “know your status, people”.

Sidenote: Sheryl Lee Ralph, I appreciate your passion, but your approaching the line of “scary” and just past the line of “I hope no White people can see this”.

Leadership: “Be the dream…”

Surprisingly Tom Joyner finally suggested that we as a people stop waiting for that next Dr. King to make the changes we want to see. BOUT TIME! Besides, that hypothetical leader would still need you to become motivated and start/join/do something to fix what you need to correct in your life and community. 01.20.09 ain’t gone solve everything either. So let’s just skip the wait and get on it.


Most of the problems really do come down to self-worth. As much as I like to blame the current policies and centuries of conditioning us to strip ourselves of dignity, pride, self-esteem, value, education, rights, wealth, family, etc, we have been “free” for about the last 45 years. You think we might at least have stopped being our own enemy; which is part of why I’ve been so lenient in my critique of Black In America: Reclaiming the Dream . Some of us are still f*ckin’ up and we do need to look at ourselves. But no one can make you want ‘better‘ for yourself and no one is going to give it to you. If you continually focus on what another man has, you will miss out on what you have and could have had. Yes, we were denied education (as in you read, you died) but then some of us seized it like wealth regardless. Others not so much. Yes, we were turned away from their businesses, so we started our own (which would be the only positive of segregation) . Others not so much. Some choose to be men for their families and help raise their children. And others… by now you get the point. As well, I do mean only some of us are f*cking up (well, according to the statistics a majority of us) but yes, some of us are wreckin’ shop . However, we all have the potential for excellence - though we may need to tweak our definitions, stop all that “ghetto fabulous” BS. Most of us came from nothing. And it seems their is still little difference between those of us that become CEOs and those of us in (or seemingly hoping to go to) prison. The biggest difference in those of us from the bottom is what we think we can achieve and what we try to achieve. But then again what do I know, I’m a young Black man raised by a single-mother and went to the same dropout factory as Brandon.

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