Monday, December 15, 2008

It's starting...

So, during the Presidential campaign, like many Black people out there, I was scared to the bone by the prospect of an Obama assassination attempt. Now he has won, and I am still scared. And I was on the lookout for the crazies when I found this story (through DRUDGE), and I can't help but to feel like I won't rest easy for the next 4 years:
In Utah, the Parowan Prophet predicts disaster will prevent Obama from taking office - Los Angeles Times

"I think that you should hear what my opinion about the Obama election is: that he will not be the next president. I said on my home page in August that if he lost to expect to see the 'riots' that 2 Peter 2:13 tells us about. He didn't lose. But the story is not finished yet. I still think they may begin the riots before Christmas 2008, as I said."
The crazies are out in force, and we are going to have to learn to live with them, and and watch-out for them... Another testimony to the fact that although America has come a long way, it still has a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some related videos...

Obama WON!!!!!!!!!

(Picture from the Huffington Post)

I will write more about this in the days ahead, but for now, here are two videos, looking back at this historic - and worldwide - camapign and election:

A retrospective from MSNBC:

From Politico:

From CNN:

From the American News Project:

And the Obama victory speech from MSNBC:

I am sure it will sink in soon, but it hasn't yet. Change has come to America, and to the world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

On the eve of History...

I know, I know, many Americans, even some of those who look like epidermally, will say that I have absolutely nothing to say about the US 2008 elections, and on some level they are right. I am, after all, not a citizen of this country. But I have lived here for over 8 years now, and that should count for something, shouldn’t it? And the United States having the position it has in the world, the contentious History it has, and more importantly, the ethnic and demographic make-up that we all know, make an American election something to behold for the entire world.

Even more so this year. Even more so because of a young Senator from Illinois with a funny name – by American standards, with a father from the motherland, a mother from the winter-lands, and a family tree spanning continents – who dared to challenge the status-quo, and challenge the USA to live-up to the fullness of its noble and laudable proclaimed ideals: equality, freedom, and justice for ALL.

As I sat with my friends Jake, Remi and Jill, watching Barack Obama accepting the nomination of his party to run for the presidency of the USA, I couldn’t help but to shed a tear or two. Of joy, of course, but a joy that came as a healing balm for a series of pains. See, most of my fairer-skinned (I mean White) friends understand much of the Historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. What many do not get, it seems to me, is how profound the possibility of a President Obama touches my very being – and the very being of intellectual Black people around the world, Liberal or Conservative.

See, I was born at an American-missionary-run hospital in Kimpese, a laid-back town of Kongo-central province, DRCongo, Africa, to two loving parents, a loving family of 6 siblings, and in relative privilege (at least the last two thirds of my life) within my own society. I was never the stereotypical poor village-kid from Africa, although my parents were, and they are extremely proud of their rural roots. I was raised to recognize, acknowledge and respect the cultural background of the people I met, but never to hold it against them, when forming my opinion of them. I was taught to treat people as individuals first, not as mere representatives of a particular group (race, gender, ethnic group, religion, orientation, etc), and I try to do that in my daily life.

Yet, despite my international upbringing, despite all that my parents have painstakingly done to ensure that I experience a world where I am judged for the content of my character, the very high level of melanin in my skin is constantly – sometimes more directly than others – thrown back in my face like an indictment of my very soul, like a shameful disease that I should somehow be shameful and atone for, as long as I live.

Racism – whether overt, indirect, or internalized - is not simply about hatred, see. For the victims of racism, it is about the erosion of the foundations of our dignity. You know:
  • when you are tailed and followed around the store at Dillards’ here in the United States,
  • or when people switch sidewalks as you walk towards them, 
  • or when you are presumed dumber and less knowledgeable,
  • or when you are repeatedly singled-out as a potential criminal through profiling,
  • or when you enter a convenience store, and the White, or Arab, or South- Asian teller cannot help but to look towards his gun-rack to make sure the gun is easily accessible,
  • or when people in Berlin, Germany refuse to believe that you are an American citizen,
  • or when you are refused entrance into a plush restaurant in Harare, Zimbabwe,
  • or when taxis refuse to stop for you in Casablanca, Morocco, or right here in New York City,
  • or when you are seen as slave-material in Mauritania,
  • or when you are called a monkey, a gorilla, or a savage in Chennai, India, or in Shanghai, China,
  • or when you are vilified verbally and/or abused physically in front of your own children,
  • or when, in my 99.9% Black Congo, you are barred access to a hotel by a security guard, who simply cannot conceive that a fellow high-melanined person could have any business in the 5-star hotel he guards, simply because that person is wearing flip-flops, jeans and a t-shirt, instead of the Western business attire which even Westerners don’t wear in Africa most of the time, because it makes no sense with the climate there,
when all this - and other things - occur to you simply because of your DNA, something you had absolutely no hand in, tell me it does not affect your dignity, and your self-esteem. Tell me it does not start to raise unholy questions in one’s mind, which are extremely hindering to daily life.

Keeping strong, and staying proud of our Black roots, and learning to find and value the power, the dignity and the rich History of our African ancestry, and doing all that while staying civil to all others, and not holding the prejudices of some against all others, is a daily struggle for me, and I dare say for most Black people. We all have different ways to cope with it (blissful and willful ignorance, or outright anger, or intellectual research and response, or active struggle, or depression, or suicide, etc), but it is a constant struggle, all over the world.

And that, among many things (the fact that I have progressive convictions would be one of them), is why I shed a tear for Barack Obama’s nomination. Obama, a proudly self-identified Black man is poised to become arguably the most powerful person on the planet. And mind you, he is not just any Black man. No, he is an intelligent, knowledgeable, scholarly, charismatic, articulate, shrewd, methodical, worldly, Harvard Law man, who has masterfully and legitimately made his case for the presidency, to a people whose racial majority considered him and his "kind" subhuman only a century or so ago... I mean, wow!!! I mean Woooooooooow!!!!!

Barack Obama’s candidacy has dealt – and will continue to deal – so many mighty blows to harmful stereotypes about Black people the world over, that all of us Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, will end-up benefiting from it. Because aside from being “Black”, Barack is also Bi-racial. He not only embodies in him the pride of Blackness, but also the wonders that this world can produce when we all work together. And that is a lesson the entire world needs.

But, let us be clear. The “change we need”, the “change we can believe in”, is not just his DNA, and his worldwide family tree. It is definitely partly that, yes. But it is also, and maybe more importantly, the fact that attached to this wonderful biography, comes a philosophy that seeks to attempt to put into practice in the United States, and around the world, the principles that made his existence possible; the fullness of the noble ideals that those people in Philadelphia 200 years ago claimed to believe in, and put on paper: freedom, equality and justice for ALL.

I support Barack Obama because he is socially progressive, and economically common-sensical. I expect from Barack Obama a greater capacity for understanding cultural and regional nuances in Foreign policy. I admire Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, because they had the temerity and the courage - and my friend Hillary M. added the "audacity of hope" - not to let society’s low expectations for their "kind", hinder their own high ambitions. I am proud of Barack Obama because, win or lose, he has ALREADY proven to the world, that I am neither more nor less able, neither more nor less intelligent, neither more nor less competent, neither more nor less human than others, because of my skin-color. And for that, I will be forever grateful to him. I was always proud to be who I am, despite the tribulations. But he made me that much prouder.

And so we are now, November 3rd, 2008, one day before a potential dramatic and everlasting change in the History of this country, and the History of the world. People, do you realize this? I mean, do you realize this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not yet in the bag. Obama can still lose this election. As he says himself, “never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw this up”. But people, we are that close!!! I am young, and I honestly never thought I would see the day in my lifetime where this is even this close!! Please call your friends who are citizens and tell them to go vote for this man. This country needs to do better. The world can do better. We can all work harder, work smarter, and do better.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Anti-black racism still alive, and as insiduous as ever

It just struck me today (well that is not exactly true, I have thought this for years, but just roll with it): the problem is not just difference, the problem is - LITERALLY - "blackness"... Well, no, that is not exactly right either. Maybe more accurately, it's hair type... I don't know. Well, a combination of both. Let me explain.

I was reading the following - and very interesting - article on the Huffington Post today, about:
Who Is Bobby Jindal? The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

"...But in an interesting development, the same quarters that have raised doubts about freshman Sen. Barack Obama's national security bona fides seem relatively unconcerned about Jindal's potential place on a ticket headed by a 71-year-old whose heath has been the subject of focus by the media..."

And it got me thinking: There really hasn't been as much of an issue with Bobby Jindal being a potential VP for John McCain, even though he is darker, and of Indian-descent (and I mean from India) - and that is just GREAT!!! And the VP is a heart-beat away from the Presidency (something that is made even more critical with John McCain's old age). Yet, we saw a great deal of resistance in Appalachia towards the similarly hued Barack Obama, specifically because he identifies as a Black man. That, and the whole foreign-sounding name, but I contend that if his name was Bill O'bummer, the situation would still be the same.

And this has to do with many realities. Part of the reason skin color is the problem, is the long history of denigration of people with darker skin by people with lighter skin, in many places in the world; particularly the long history of vilification, demonization, and/or animalization of melanin-endowed Africans (and Aborigines) by melanin-deprived Europeans.

With the European conquest of the world, and the control of world media by the West, the prejudices of Europe came to create, regenerate and/or reinforce the prejudices and complexes across the planet (including in Africa itself, but that is another, long and complicated story), thus generating our current situation, in which, consciously or subliminally, the world has been forced to internalize the tall White European male, and the skinny white blonde female model, as somewhat of an ideal to aspire to.

As a result, and for other related reasons, such as the rise in social status and safety that comes with "White-washing" in this West-dominated world:
  • some Africans (and people of African-descent) bleach their skin, relax their hair and wear weaves,
  • some "mongoloid" (for lack of another term in my head, if you know one enlighten me) Asians mess with their eyelids,
  • some light-skinned Black people tried to "pass",
  • some Asians, Arabs and light skinned people of African descent carry parasols to stay as light-skinned as they can,
  • thick black women are under-appreciated,
  • a lighter skin is considered a mark of greater beauty and status than a dark skin in many places around the world,
  • some Jews (as well as some Latinos of European-like pigmentation) worked hard to be integrated in the domain of "Whiteness" in the US, with varying degrees of success, etc, etc.

But I digress. All this is to say that the racial issue is still real, and more internalized and insidious than we give it credit. And it has raised its head in the US campaign for President in a special way, and I am tired of people trying to dismiss it, instead of dealing with it. As a dark-skinned, Black man, I am not, nor do I feel, inferior to any person who happens to be born in an area in which his/her ancestors developed less melanin. Yet there seems to be a number of people out there who think I am, without ever even meeting me, simply on account of my African-descent. That is simply outrageous, and I keep on wondering why this is not addressed more vocally, more passionately, and with more seriousness... by White people who claim not to be racist.

And that is when I start wondering: what makes me different from White people, Asians, Melanesians, etc? I am so used to focusing on all the things we have in common (that is my way to survive the daily small denigrations, like being followed around Dillard's), that I don't often ask myself that question. What is it that, besides History, makes it so that people of African descent seem to be more vilified and denigrated - and by more sections of humanity - than any other group in the world? Why is it that it seems like so many humans seem to feel they have more in common with every other section of humanity than they have with Black people? I mean there has to be a reason!

I thought it was skin-color at first. I mean it seems like the most obvious one. But then again there are Indians who are as dark as I am, even darker; and although they may be less-considered in their country because of their skin, it is still not the same kind of abhorrence. What did I ever do to the world to be considered inferior, evil, lazy, useless, demonic, corrupt, or cursed, by default, simply for being born with a higher level of pigmentation, under the radiant sun of the motherland? Why should Obama be so vilified today, not for the evil of his actions, but for the origins of his Y chromosome? Aren't we human too? What was it that bothered some White people so much about us, that they would consider any other race before they would consider Black people?

I couldn't find an answer, so I decided to have fun with this, and came to the conclusion that it has to be the hair. It is the one fundamental difference between Black people and the rest of the world. So different in fact, that Don Imus used it as a racial epithet ("nappy headed h@#$") with the consequences that we know. Our hair creates a very different experience of life. Just ask any Black woman you know. Or even better, asked any mixed woman, with a white mother, who had no idea what to do with her hair because she inherited so-called "bad-hair".

I will always remember a White female friend of mine who asked to touch my hair, and compared it to carpet hair (if she wasn't a woman, I am not sure I would have been so gracious in my response to her). I mean it is quite distinctive. Most people, even the straight-haired Japanese ladies, can go to any hair-salon in the US, France, Australia, South Africa, and even Congo, and they are relatively sure to have their hair treated properly. But for a Black woman, it's a whole different ballgame She has to find a specific hair-salon, with people (generally Black people) who specialize in Black people hair. The same is true for men. I mean the fact that we often cannot share a seat at a barbershop must be the reason why we are vilified, right? right?

Help me out here!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New York, Congo, Family, Chubo

There are short moments in life that one would enjoy freezing in time, and living them over and over again, at least for a little while. Yesterday's celebration of my aunt Therese's 60th birthday was one of those moments for me. We had family and friends gathered in Long Island (that's a suburb of New York, for those out there who don't know), at my cousin's house, and there were people from at least 10 countries, on five continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America), and it was simply the kind of free-flowing celebrations that reminds one of the importance of family, friends, caring for one another, and keeping the flame of conviviality burning at all times. My aunt was ecstatic at all the guests we managed to gather, and all in all these were good times.

Another of these moments occurred today. Today, I got to meet a wonderful friend of mine... that I had never met! Well, I mean, not in person, since we met online, in this wonderful world of blogs. Kim used to live in Congo - my country - and maintained a blog on his life working in Congo with the UN, and later on with other organizations. Since I was also maintaining my own blog on Congo, we kind of met each other, and kept in touch, and finally got to meet, in New York City, at an impressive little restaurant in East Village (South-East Manhattan) called Chubo, which I discovered today (and where I will go again!!!). Not only did I get to meet Kim, but I also met a group of other wonderful people who worked in Congo around the same time as Kim, some of which I had already heard of through Kim, and some of which - like Lionel - also maintain their own blogs. I was quite nervous, because I wanted to make a good impression on all of them, and so, as it happens to me in those cases, I over-compensated... by talking too much! But it turned out okay, and it did so because this was a group of nice, kind, like-minded people, from different horizons, who happened to have the Congo in common. I am quite grateful to Kim for giving me the opportunity to meet this great group of people.

It is funny how this world works sometimes. I mean Kim turned out to be exactly how I imagined he would be ( EXACTLY!!: tall, thin, funny, smart, mundele :) ), and I really wish things had worked out a little better so that we would have had some more time to hang out, talk about Congo, solve all the world's problems in one day, etc... but oh well. That will be for next time, right? No, what I am more upset about is that in a meeting of at least 3 bloggers, including one who is a professional photographer, we did not even begin to think to take any picture - not one - of this unique gathering of monumental importance (okay, I am exagerating, but it was important to me!). I mean what are the chances? Between Lionel, Kim and myself, someone should have thought of that!!! That just means we have to do this again.

But this gathering shows me the power of an open mind, an open heart... and New York City! The number of people one can end-up meeting in new York is phenomenal. With little effort, one can interact with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-faith group of people. And when one is simply open enough to tap into the people they meet, by design or by chance, the connections and affinities that you will discover with one another will simply blow your mind!! I guess that is why the Spanish-language radio MEGA 97.9 calls New York - quite ostentatiously, I might add - El centro del mundo (The center of the world).