Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And the Grammy Goes to......Purple St. James!!!

Many of you may have missed my column in Saturday’s News & Observer/The Durham News. In it I argued that Durham is in the midst of an amazing creative movement. I call it the Durham Renaissance. The best way to explain what is happening is to evoke the spirit of that notable era in American history-The Harlem Renaissance. There is a assemblage of young, gifted, African American artist that are shifting the way we think about what it means to be African American.

Their music, their art, dance, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression, is way out of the box. In that column I listed a few of them. I am proud to know them, to witness the growth of their craft, and to support them as they speak truth to life through their work. I indicated how they are surviving under the radar. As gifted as they are, we don’t hear about them.

Part of the blame is with the local media. The local outlets have been slow in understanding and promoting our local creative geniuses. For the most part, the Independent Weekly, the paper positioned to help us see the light, has been out of touch and late in reporting on this movement. We can’t blame them for that. They lack the staff that possesses sensitivity for what is happening among the African American creative community.

Cliff Bellamy over at the Herald-Sun does an amazing job of reaching out, staying connected and promoting the work of The Durham Renaissance. He is one person with a limited staff. He would do more if he could, but what’s up with the black press. The Triangle Tribune, Carolina Times and Spectacular have failed to fuel this movement.

One of the biggest stars of the Durham Renaissance is Purple St. James, formerly Yahzarah. She is counted among the elite artist in the nation, yet her music isn’t played in rotation in this market, and she stands as a giant among us void of the celebration she deserves.

Many of my readers may think I’m blowing smoke. Yeah right, that’s a bunch of bull. Thus, I challenge all of you to show up and see for yourselves. Purple St. James has her first official North Carolina EP listening part on Friday, June 27th at The 202 Lounge & Art Gallery, 6905-202 Fayetteville Road in the Renaissance Center at Southpoint above the Bake House Bristo.

The special guest will be another member of the Durham Renaissance crew- 9th Wonder of the hip-hop group Little Brother. The show starts at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

It’s critical that we support the artist who prove great things are happening in Durham. It is the place to be if you’re interested in seeing and hearing the emergence of new creative voices. We have a good thing in Durham, but it feels bad when no one shows up to celebrate what it means to have you in our midst.

See you on Friday.
For more information, Email:thejaxtoncreative@gmail.com or call 919-475-0831

Monday, June 23, 2008

Robert Mugabe: My Big Mistake

I will never forget my encounter with Robert Mugabe. I was part of a delegation of African American journalist sent to study the truth about Zimbabwe. It was, for all intents and purposes, a propaganda trip. Mugabe was bent on assuring that his spin on his controversial policies would be printed back in America.

The delegation spoke to White farmers about Mugabe’s move to take possession of farms owned by whites and transferring ownership to blacks. The justification was simple. The land was taken from them, and it was time to repay for all those years of oppression. It was difficult to dispute Mugabe’s argument. Studying the conflict in the former Rhodesia left me and other members of the delegations overcome with emotions.

It didn’t take much to convince most members of the group. We were told that the white controlled media was fueling the flame of decent by casting Mugabe and his government as a hate crazed band that was destroying the countries economy. We visited farmers, went to a hospital and orphanage. We left contemplating ways to support the people in Zimbabwe. We wanted to make a difference. We saw black men, women and children who were suffering with AIDS. We saw hospitals ill equipped to provide the level of care the people needed. We saw children left with no parents because of AIDS.

We left crying for the people. We left blaming a history of oppression for the plight of Zimbabwe. For this, I must repent. I repent of being blinded by the rhetoric we were being sold. I repent of writing columns that failed to dig deep enough to read past the garbage we were being sold.

I remember the empty cabinet at the hospital. “This is where we place the medication to treat the patients,” a nurse told us. There was nothing there. The ward was filled with babies infected with AIDS. Outside the hospital were mothers and other relatives mourning the death of a child. Across from the hospital was a coffin maker. A simple walk across the street was all it took to prepare for the end of life.

From the hospital to the orphanage. We were greeted by a hoard of children. I held in my arms a little girl less than a year old. I cried as I held her. I wanted to take her away from that dreadful place to provide a home where meals and nurture would not depend on the donations received to promote the work. I didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t hide my tears.

My tears clouded my perspective. My aching heart denied me the advantages of years of training. I saw it there, but my heart wouldn’t allow me to write the truth. What is that truth? Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe. The economy is in ruin, to a large extent, due to his poor leadership.

Back to that meeting with Mugabe. We were told he would meet us at noon. Our day was free to do what time had not allowed, to expand our horizon and talk to people. I had taken advantage of interviewing some of the natives, but the schedule minimized our contact with the real people of Harare. During breakfast we were told the President was ready to meet us. We loaded the bus parked in front of the hotel and took a long trip.

We drove for close to two hours. All around the city. No word as to where we were headed. My frustration mounted as the bus headed back in the direction we had started. We ended up back at the hotel. There we were told to remain on the bus. We stayed there for close to 30 minutes. Then we were told to get off the bus. We walked across the lot to a building. It was the government headquarters. We had driven across the city only to find ourselves back were we had started to enter into a building that was within walking distance of our hotel.

I knew then that Mugabe had orchestrated this move to prevent us from talking to people in the city. Nothing was on the agenda, so we had to be occupied with meaningless activity. I repent for not reporting this sad affair. I repent being so livid over the history of Zimbabwe that I didn’t write about Mugabe’s madness.

That was back in 2001. Now Zimbabwe is locked in a bitter election that has abruptly ended after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the violence filled runoff. He declared the election is no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

Sadly, his announcement cleared the way for Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite condemnation from across the globe .Human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Yes, I repent for failing to write more; for refusing to see past my skin long enough to see the real enemy robbing the people of their promise. I repent of celebrating the work of Mugabe during the freedom movement, and measuring the man based on past victories rather than condemning him for the hypocrisy of his rule.

I learned an important lesson. We speak of being impartial as reporters. The truth is standing outside of certain stories is complicated when the story tugs at your heart strings. In reporting on Zimbabwe, I wanted to believe in Mugabe. I wanted to celebrate the work of this black man. Deep down, I contended that an attack on Mugabe was an attack of black leadership. How sad a claim!

This experience had tremendous bearing on the way I engage as a journalist. We should always dig deeper. We should never assume a position based on some familiar ground. It’s a lesson I took with me in reporting on the Duke Lacrosse rape case. My position there was not to look only at the specifics of the case. My concern was not to assume the guilt or innocence of the players on the team, but my reporting had more to do with the issues that made that story such a big one.

It was the story beneath the story that I wanted to explore. It is a story about race and class. It is about NCCU/Duke relations and town/gown matters. It dealt with mistakes made, and how we view those blunders. It is not about standing with a person due to race, for race, as a variable, can deceive. It can trip you up when you align yourself with a person because they share the common bond of race.

That’s the lesson of Robert Mugabe. I pray that I never make that mistake again. It takes work, but I’m working on the work.

Friday, June 13, 2008


NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER……..That was the response coming from Anonymous to my recent blog post. Mr. or Ms Anonymous took time to write that detestable word well over 1000 times. Anonymous must really love that word. Enjoy using it dude. The venom of its sting was lost long ago.
He must have thought it would trigger some negative reaction. Sorry, it only made me laugh. Truth is it shocked my white friends more than me and the other black folks I had take a look at your deplorable attempt to make a point. It’s sad that in 2008 we still have a person convinced that black people can be scared into running for cover after hearing those words. It simply doesn’t work.
One of my readers took a stab. “Wow, Anonymous. Your vocabulary is so vast! People like you are exactly why we will never move past things like this. You are not interested in dialogue but rather, tearing people down. It is a sad attempt at tearing someone down.......that word doesn't even sting anymore because most black people know who they are.”
Whiteman responded to that post. “Jazzcomic, you got it all wrong about yourself! You see, us white people knows more about black people than black people knows about themselves!” I can only assume that Whiteman is Anonymous. Dude must have decided to take off his white sheet and expose himself as a proud Whiteman.
I hesitated in responding to this racial rhetoric for a number of reasons. First and foremost is my desire to be the source of racial healing rather than the cause of greater division. Those who have read my columns in the Herald-Sun, The Independent Weekly and the Durham News know I have been as critical of black leadership as I have been the source of criticism of white people. Mr. Whiteman, a.k.a. Anonymous, and the others who raise issues related to the assumptions black folks make about whites, failed to do their homework.
Check out the columns dealing with Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Curtis Gatewood, Joe Bowser, Jackie Wagstaff, the critique of the Black Church, the chastisement of absentee sperm donors and my analysis of the achievement gap. Whiteman didn’t know that I have black folks calling for my head on a silver platter for reason similar to the assumptions he and others have made-that I’m nothing more than a radical black man who makes excuses for those, excuse me for using his own words, NIGGERS.
Many black folks accuse me of being the spokesperson for the white agenda. That’s right Whiteman, I’m charged of being an Uncle Tom. Ouch. That hurts much more than that nasty word you have used to describe the type of man I am. As painful as it has been for me to endure the criticism coming from my own peeps, I take it out of a sincere desire to bridge the gap between the races. I’ve stood in the middle of extremism to engage people in a deep, meaningful discussion surrounding the assumptions they make.
The second reason has to do with refusing to promote another persons agenda. Whiteman and his cohorts have attempted to invade my blog with an ideology that is counter to the mission of my work. With that being said, I will not censor Whitman or anyone who has views counter to my own. I believe in freedom of the press and expression. I hold firmly to John Stuart Mills contention that empowerment comes in opening up the marketplace of ideas. Whiteman has the right to use that word, and I have the right to call him crazy.
It doesn’t astound me that a person sill uses that word. I’m not shocked that it would be posted on my blog. There are some narrow minded people who refuse to get past those mean assumptions that rob them of meaningful relationships. It get that. I also understand that not all white people think like Whiteman, and I refuse to make a judgment of a group of people based on the inferences of a few.
So, Mr. Whiteman, I have a few thoughts for you. I don’t eat watermelon and prefer my chicken baked over fried. I don’t eat pork and my parents are still married. They have been for over 50 years. I listen to classical and jazz music, have Picasso and Kadinsky hanging from my walls and I read and write and have numerous degrees. You can call me Dr. Kenney if you wish, but I prefer being called Carl.
You can hate me for my intelligence, detest me for possessing the ability to put more than one sentence together without having to paste NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER over and over again to make a point. You can use those words if you want, Mr. Whiteman, but get this. Listen to me loud and clear. This boy is not your average NIGGER, so bring it if you like, but recognize this, Mr. Whitedude; my readers are smart enough to understand that the Nigger in this conversation is you.
This page is for those who are moving past that history of hatred that you want to stir up. Sorry, I have too much love in my heart to grant you that wish, but you can speak if you wish on my page. Keep reading and write if you desire. In time you may learn a little bit more about me.
One last thing Mr. Whitedude, If you would like to meet this Blackman I’m open! Don’t be scared. I don’t own a gun and many of the members of my posse are white people with master degrees and PhD’s. We prefer using words versus violence to resolve matters. Got some black friends too, and they have loads of credentials that prove my point.
You can’t judge a NIGGER by the cover.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What Dream Team?

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’ll say I’m wrong when the shoe fits. Apologies come easy for me. It comes with growing up. We live, we learn, we make mistakes and we grow as a consequence of it all.
On yesterday I got into a heated debate with my good friend Delbert “DJ Kraze” Jarmon regarding Hillary Clinton. Kraze was vehemently opposed to the notion of having a democratic dream team consisting of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I shared the pure logic of it all. I addressed those close to 18 million voters that Clinton reminds us of each opportunity she gets. It all made since. We have two popular politicians that represent different constituencies.
I left thinking I was right and the narrow minded Kraze need to find Jesus, forgive Clinton for her poor judgment and to find it in his heart to hold hands with all of those Clinton supporters as we begin the journey to victory in November. It all made perfect sense to me. That was until Clinton opened her mouth on last night and robbed America of the privilege of celebrating one of the great moments in our national history.
Those in the Clinton camp would have you think that last night was about her need to do things her way. “This is her night,” one political expert said after another in defense of that speech. That speech, with the request for supporters to tell her what they want her to do next, felt like a dagger had pierced my heart.
You must be kidding me Hillary! They say you are an intelligent woman. Didn’t you know history was made last night? For the first time in our history a black person has been nominated as a major party’s Presidential candidate. Can’t you celebrate with the rest of us and find reason to put your agenda on the backburner long enough to allow us to reflect over how far we have come?
Could it be that she is too pissed at the fact that a black man did it before a woman? Maybe that rage prevents her from seeing the significance in that moment? How dare you fail to mention it in your speech? That’s not leadership; it’s a rejection of what America has accomplished. This is, Hillary Clinton, a moment many never thought would happen. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he talked about his dream. This is what thousand upon thousands marched for, and countless went to jail to fight for.
This is what many thought could never happen. Why couldn’t you acknowledge that and celebrate with the people who believed in you. I was one of them. I wanted to vote for you. I was in your corner up until you made comments that forced me to reconsider my position. My love for you has converted to scorn. Couldn’t you humble enough to speak to this moment? No, you didn’t have to concede. Give yourself the time you need to bow out in way that reflects your emotional need.
I get all of that, but this isn’t about you or those who supported you. It is about America and what it means for us to witness a black man winning the nomination. This is about America moving past race. It’s not about you having an election stolen from you, or you’re pushing for all of those people who voted for you. We needed leadership last night. The type that you used in placing this election within an historical context. Remember that? It was that statement about Bobby Kennedy being killed in June.
It was a night for all of us to be proud. Not just black people. Last nights victory belonged to all of us. Get this Hillary. I would have celebrated with you if you had won the nomination. I would have regarded it in the same way. Your victory would have provided the context for a national celebration, and I would hope that Obama would celebrate with you-for all of us.
What does your response prove Hillary? That you are so engrossed in your own need to win that you can’t see the bigger picture. So, I was wrong DK Kraze. She shouldn’t be placed on the democratic ticket. She’s much too selfish to speak on my behalf.
All of that happened in less than 24 hours. Imagine what damage she could do in four years?