ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I wonder how America would be responding to Barack and Michelle if they were raising two black
boys instead of girls. Would the media find the boys adorable? Would they be viewed
as a “crisis” growing up inside the White House? (Ethelbert)
Black Boys and Burning Midnight Oil
A ChickenBones Forum
I find it amazing how folks are upset with Obama already because of some of the decisions he has made. It’s juvenile to think you’re going to agree with everything a person does. . . .Without compassion, understanding and especially forgivenessthe darkness will never end.Ethelbert
In the forest, I am decidedly a night person, especially when the stars are out and the clouds have migrated to the sea. Constellations shift toward the western mountains; a crescent moon rises above the pines after 2 am. All is silent except the faint sounds of insects in the darkness, and the rush of breezes in the pine tops. All in the house are abed. I like this aloneness, especially when there are three teenagers in the house their heads filled with the noise of the streets and ipods. They and their mother just moved northeast to Jerusalem from the fast-paced world of Austin, Texas. They are black with misery in the silences of my joy.
Their misery is not dissimilar from most teenagers here in Sussex. All have some sense of the busy-ness and the hoodlum opportunities available in the urban jungles for mischief they call fun. They like the crowded, noisy well-lit streets. The neon signs, the bars, the clubs, the restaurants that are opened at least until 2 am. Except for the gas stations that serve I-95 and its traffic going north and south, the little excitement that exists shuts down at midnight when spirited drinks (including beer and wine) are not for sale. So the Austin folk are miserable here in the countryside, where I can more easily do the work of ChickenBones: A Journal in the wee quiet hours of the morning.
There will be no satisfying all children all the time. This too applies to adults who have their narrow issues as well. For their children, most black parents cannot afford other than a public school education. Many of these parents too have had unsavory experiences with public schools as students and parents. And their children know it because seldom do their parents (because of their jobs or other callings) show up at PTA meetings. One cannot always reason with children, especially those who feel that they are as old and experienced as their parents, though without the same financial resources even if they have part-time jobs at MacDonalds. Of course, ways must be found to compel children to do that which they are unwilling to do. The same is true of parents.
My star-gazing disrupts my sometime day job substituting at the county high school. I must be up and getting ready by 6 am to be there by 8 am. I went in today so I had to stop at Starbucks for a large cup of strong coffee in order to stay awake. Luckily for me, it was only a half day. After about a year, it seems I am making advances among the students and the faculty. I have had my conflicts sufficiently with students that they know my limits and I have become sufficiently callous enough to know that I have my limits in instructing them on appropriate behavior in the classroom: they have their sexual gossip and innuendos; the N-Word this and the N-Word that; their inappropriate dress for teenagers, like sagging pants and hoods (boys), and spike heels and rump-tight jeans (girls). The two most popular words or phrases now in the schools are: “She has a donk” and “Spank that monkey.”
These children and their parents are not adorably middle-class. Sussex, about 10,000 souls, is the poorest rural county in Virginia. Three state prisons are within forty miles of one another for residency and jobs as guards. A few county jobs are available as well. But the children want what all kids want:: cell phones, ipods, play stations, and expensive cars. And too many of the boys have costly sneakers, and the sagging pants in which the crotch comes down to the knees. The school demands no dress code more appropriate for an academic culture.
The boys want benjamins for their girlfriends like the crack gangsters they see on You-Tube: the more daring wear hoods and caps in the school out of respect for their heroes. There is an air of leniency at home and in the schools, while academically too many of the students are falling into the cracks of gangster rap culture. All of these “G-Lo” activities occur in a brand new modern edifice with internet connections in almost every classroom, which much too often are used to access the lowest profane forms of American culture.
I finished reading Why Monkeys Live in Trees by Raouf Mama. (Why? Greed! and wanting to be like God.) Mama ends his book of Benin tales with a poem titled, The Wise Old Man, in which two impudent kids plot to make foolishness out of wisdom. The poems coda seems appropriate in our hour of dismissing an unpopular president who has caused so much pain and anguish, and in our anticipation of inaugurating a new president who happens to be of African descent and whom we have placed so much of our hope and love:
Whether we make our country great and a beacon unto the nations or a laughing stock and a derision to the whole world is in our hands, my friends. And whether we leave this world a little better than we found it, or leave in our wake hatred, sorrow, and despair, that, too, lies in our hands, my friends (p. 84).
I also finished W.E.B. Du Bois Prayers for Dark People (1980; edited by Herbert Aptheker). One of my favorite prayers is the one on Ambition:
The difference between man and beast is this, that Thou, O God, hast planted in us aspiration, ambition, outstretchings toward the dim and far possible, the unresting desire to be more than what we are and truer and better. Bless to us this mighty passion, our Father, and make it a true inspiration and not a selfish temptation. May we realize how wonderful a thing it is to be a healthy human being here on the threshold of a great new centuryto taste the heritage of a mighty past, to pile the endowment of a greater future and above all to realize in our own souls all that God meant us to be. Amen (p. 70).
In his “prayers,” Du Bois speaks several times about the honoring of our puritanical fathers and mothers. The world to come belongs to the youth of today. All that is old (the Du Bois prayers were probably written around the turn of the 20th century) should not be trashed. There is a lot amiss in many of our homes and it is not just the lack of money in the economy. Yet I’m afraid Du Boisean wisdom has become rather old fashioned among the hip hop generation (in our near geriatric years) to have faith in that which is immaterialthat there are such things as sacred forests that exist. Though there is a lack of wealth in Sussex, there is much that should earn the respect of our children. Without due belief and respect, the forest will have its vengeance. (Read Louis Magbo in Why Monkeys Live in Trees.)
I am not the only one concerned about our children up at this hour. My friend Ethelbert has sent me another riddle:
I wonder how America would be responding to Barack and Michelle if they were raising two black boys instead of girls. Would the media find the boys adorable? Would they be viewed as a “crisis” growing up inside the White House? Would the Secret Service be hired to protect us from them? When Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago I know he must have met Bigger Thomas on a number of occasions. Bigger is still with us even as the poolrooms of America are turned into cafes. Bigger has no laptop and he is trapped inside yesterdays blues.
How do we raise black boys in a post-racial society? Trick question? OKlet’s try a few others. How do we raise black boys in a racist society? Is there a stimulus package for black fathers? Here is one of my “Race Koans” that might shed some insight into the matter.
why do black boys
with their belts?
Our children reside in a frightening cultural forest of revenging spirits without a faithful understanding of what is a worthwhile exit: neither the boys who gravitate toward a world of crack and rapping gangsters, nor the girls who are sexually attracted to these would-be men who cannot afford their babies. But they want out. The urban centers however hold out little promise for those without a solid educational foundation. Distressingly, at the school, I have seen a couple of bright intelligent young female students in the 12th grade with fetuses growing inside their bodies. As a father, would I have urged an abortion? Probably.
There is a dangerous hunger in our children fed by a far-reaching profit-seeking (at any cost) consumer culture that creates wants that beguile parents and teachers, and an unregulated cultural war with political and further economic implications among the black poor, whose children are headed toward greater penal disasters if parents and schools do not step up to the plate and establish tighter parameters for appropriateness in speech, dress, and sexual behavior. With so many poorly educated parents educators must take the lead with inspiring demands on parents and children, and themselves, toward a greater appreciation for that which is far beyond the present sloppiness and laziness of their children and charges, namely, embracing the immaterial values of scholarly work well done. I urge more principal-led student assemblies, including inspiring guest speakers.
There is too little or no burning of midnight oil in the homes of the black poor. Books seldom leave the school campus, except maybe urban literature with its extolling of the sexuality of a poverty of values. Our young would-be scholars are too anxious or too impatient to read for the pleasure of words. Educators must become more than administrators and scorers of “standards,” they too must become organizers of and activists of higher values in impoverished communitiesRudy
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Dear Rudy and Ethelbert, Your delightful exchange provokes a new question: Why would we want to raise anyone in a post-racial society? Perhaps I am blinded by the amazing grace of history and can not find the coordinates for such a society.Jerry
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We need to explore the relationship between the Beloved Community and the post-racial one. When should “lovers” of race -divorce race? Are we Catholics in our thinking or Buddhists? Are we afraid of the world changing or ourselves?Ethelbert
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Here are the tentative and much debatable answers. 1) Lovers of race should divorce race when they jointly decide not to sleep in the dictionary. 2) We are neither Buddhists nor Catholics. We are people. 3) The world is constantly in a process of change; it has been doing so for several billion years, without and with the “help” of people. People are less afraid of changing, I think, than they are afraid of being duped by Lord Krishna.Peace, Jerry
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A Taste for Snot
wiping snot with the back of his hand, grabbing you can have whatever you want
slipping it in the pockets of sagging pants, or skintight britches (on the bitches)
because they learn early how to do da butt, etcetera:
are no mere abstractions
this is the reality
of my people:
1 son, 7 nephews, 1 daughter, 2 nieces, and
frighteningly, even a granddaughter,
and a grandson who chants:
i’m a gansta–and he’s not yet 5 years old?
caught in the crosshairs
of a culture beyond my grasp to understand
so low, so deep
it invades my sleep
and my prayers ring hollow
to a god that i try to believe in
for the sake of my sanity
and the fear that i, too,
might have fallen into the depths
of a living inferno
had not my mother’s constant
lamentations rang in my ears
because being triflin’ is so easy
you just drop your drawers,
your pants, your aspirations,
and you wake up whenever you feel like it
because you stayed up until 5:00 a.m.
and you don’t have anywhere to go
or you just don’t feel like going
so you become a slave to cigarettes,
greasy food, shallow and hurtful intimacies,
often imprinted at conception, gestation,
or later because
that’s the way we be
and we grin, text, and have sex with our pseudo friends
yes, we wear the mask,
and the uniform
because there’s safety in numbers.
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Im still meddlingtrying
to meld a minor
Trying to make significance
Into a major key player: anything but a g
Because gee-whiz the wind speeds past like a tsunami.
Its hard on the kidz,
But Im still trying
Trying to ameliorate
A situation that I may have partly created
On my first date, reinforcing the hands of fate,
First love from which I could not, would not escape
And so the shape of my future was molded
Somewhat, sometime back, but hindsight is a bitch
Isnt it, yall?
Nonetheless, nevertheless, therefore,
as I will fill my life with transitions
Im still plotting trying to clone a human being,
Even though the Petri dish aint been cleaned,
And other little viruses might be mutating
Under the glass, in the pipette,
(But I havent been in a laboratory for decades
Tenth grade when I last plotted the path
of Mendels peas, no porridge) so
Why should I call it quits?
Gods not through with me yet . . .
©Dorothy Rice 2008
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What We Can Do
By Amiri Baraka
1. Push Unity of the People based on the precedent of Unity in the election and the Pronouncement of a Post Racial Coalition. We must seek to make such a coalition, which existed as a force for the election of Obama into a permanent feature of US society.
a. Unity against White Supremacy, Racism and National Chauvinism and National Oppression. Even to laws against Ku Klux Klan (a murder gang) and all groups urging racism and national oppression or white supremacy. Unite to make these scourges ILLEGAL
b. Drive for Reparations could proceed under this
c. Drive for a Cabinet post of Afro American Affairs
d. Isolation of Republican Party and emphasis on need for multi party ie Parliamentary system & eventual transformation of US Political Culture
2. Unity Against the War & for diversion of those funds (10 billion a month) to US infrastructural (e.g., Katrina & Gulf Coast) & Community Development, e.g.,
a. Universal Health Care
b. Education for Community Service
3. Unity against Monopoly Capitalism. Those bailouts should be SALES. Push for nationalization of the Banks. NATIONALIZATION of the auto industry. Cutting the overhead & creating more jobs and more training
4.We must come out of the purely oppositional mode of thought against US govt now that there is an Obama government and find out and organize around what we can do to push this government toward the support of Afro American and The US Peoples interests.
E.G., We must urge talks with Cuba: the dropping of the embargo, the closing of Guantanamo. Talks with Iran and the progressive states of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua.
We must seek a public works program for the rebuilding of the infrastructure and rebuilding and redirecting of National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities and support for local arts programs tied to education and employment.
We must at the same time oppose specific aspects of that government which openly oppose a Peoples Democratic agenda.
Support FIRST ONE HUNDRED DAYS CONFERENCE in Philadelphia in April, Coordinated by Muhammad Ahmad, Amiri Baraka, Ron Walters, Mack Jones in collaboration with the Temple University Black Studies Department to Evaluate Obamas first hundred days and provide some analysis of that period and project what we think should be done in the next period.For more information email Prof Max Stanford c/o Temple Black Studies.
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Very enjoyable analyses and koan. thank God for your insomnia.Kam
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Dear Rudy: As a sub myself, I have to get up earlier to report earlier. I feel ya! It has become politically ‘expedient’ to work with the girls of society, to the detriment of boys. Unfortunately, when we ‘forget’ that boys are supposed to be providers, and keep them in the roles of consumers, who are the girls gonna marry? Good point, though. If Obama had two sons instead of two daughters, how would America react?
America, Rudy, has become ‘feminized.’ Pure and simple.
We have put logic on the back burner. We have done away with recess, competition, etc. We have raised the girls and let the boys roam, without instruction. How do we reverse the trend? Simple. Bring back consequences. Show the knuckleheads that actions have consequences, and let them spend some time in a jail cell, as a dropout, or as a statistic. Second solution? Work with the bright kids. Those making Cs or better, no Ds no Fs. For the last ten to fifteen years, America has been on this ‘kick’ to help those who don’t want to achieve, and have been letting those who want to achieve ‘twist’ in the wind. Of course, teachers rarely allow their children to attend the same school where they are teaching; those kids usually go to a private, parochial, or suburban school. But, you get my point. It has been ‘cool’ to be an idiot. This same mentality exists in the criminal justice system, the workshop, the school and even in the church! Let the fools twist and work with those who want to achieve. Stop and think about this. In the average class of 30 students, roughly 18 of them don’t care about an education, and another seven of them are bad or fair students. Thus, you have about 5 who are achievers. Focust on the five, and they will pull up the other seven, who will ‘cut off’ the rest…or, at least, force them to conform. The system is broke, and is about to crash. This happened to the criminal justice system back in 2003 as juvenile programs across the country crashed because of the poor economy. Same thing is about to happen to education, thanks to this looooong recession. Basics learned will equal meat on the table. Last thing; the streets have always had a strong pull. A real education; a real dream within a person will give them the strength to resist. Want to see a change in our young men and young women? Ask them what they want to be when they grow up! FEW people have the courage to ask them this question; fewer have the courage to ‘step up’ and show them how easy it is to job shadow and learn to get an education so they can be more than consumers. Bill Gates worked on computers. Ice T worked on his vocals. Who is worth MORE? Nuff Said. Bro Ramey
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 20 December 2008
Related files: Dust Bowls and Wading Pools