America America: US Women’s Gymnastic Team

This seems to have not been a huge talking point for many, but for me, the most spectacular thing about the 2016 USA Women’s Gymnastic Team, outside of their domination, is their diversity. The team is comprised of a Latina, two black women, a Jewish woman, and a white woman. It’s beautiful to see. What’s more, is that is seems that all of our women teams do far better than our male teams, and this is not just in Rio so far. The USWNT (Soccer) has won three World Cups, could have been easily been four. The USWNT (Basketball) has won the last five Olympic Golds, and no one thinks it won’t be six straight this year. (Remember the 2004 men’s team?)

The USWNT (Basketball) is so superior that Brittney Griner is looking for individual accolades, which I have no issue with. I hope she gets it. Although this summer Williams Sister had an Olympics to forget, collectively or indivdually they have been more successful than any male tennis player the US has produced in the last 20 years. I agree with Ian Crouch of the New YorkerSerena is the greatest American athlete in my lifetime. Mind you, he wrote that before she turned in one of the great years in sports history.

The only men’s team that is as dominate in their sport as our women’s teams seems to be our swimming and basketball teams. All of this is not to say that US men’s teams offer nothing. They do, even in mediocrity. But when we will start caring about our women’s teams in non Olympics or World Cup summers? When will we support the WNBA more? I do not understand why more Angelinos a Sparks game at the Staples Center? You can at least beat heat! There are tickets for less than $10 on StubHub. It’s cheaper and more entertaining than your best summer flick. And finally, the USWNT should earn as much as the perpetually disappointing men’s team.

[Much of the US women’s dominance is sports can be traced to Title IX further proving that you can legislate equally. Anyway…]

I’m proud of our Women’s Gymnastic Team. Thank you Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles, and Gabby Douglas. They, along with other women athletes, represent what makes America America.

America on this Christmas

Earlier this week, I decided to remove myself from the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram as well as not reading US news as regularly as I had been. For those of you who do not know, I currently live in South Korea. I’ve been here four months, and in those four months, I’ve had the displeasure of staying highly connected to the events and issues back in States. I’ve learned more about Donald Tump, his racism, and the racists that support him than anyone should, but Trump is just the current face of American’s Hate. You can take a page out of any of the Republican candidate’s book and see the hate. This is not a Republican issue. Only 19 Democratic voted against H.B. – 158 . One of these who voted in favor of the bill was a Loretta Sanchez (D – CA) who is currently running for soon to be vacant Senators seats. Discrimination is bi-partisan, cross cultural issue.

Yesterday, I read more swill lobbed at dead 12-year old boy, and I am tired. I’m tired of dealing with America’s ills while living in another country. The worse part is that my entire life has been lived trying to best mitigate these acts on my mind and body. It is a part of me. From the time my father lamented that time he took his hands off the steering wheel when he got pulled over, wishing he had not done that, while indirectly warning me against making the same mistake to getting pulled over only to have my friend in the passenger seat reach to turn down the radio and me screaming at her not to move. The trauma is deep, and the fear is real. Still, I’ve been fortunate. I have male, class, and hetero privilege has helped me. (Imagine if I were a poor, queer, person of color? Again, we don’t have to imagine.)

I’m 31.  Until recently, I lived in America my entire life. I no longer have to be a passive participant in the hate and fear that fuel America. I do not have to be one click away from being reminded how little America values People of Color.

I’ll show myself out.

John Woodrow Wilson

With the recent attention shone on former President and racist (like many US President have been), I cannot help but think of a man who who named after him: John Woodrow Wilson.

I first saw John Wilson’s work while a student at Morehouse College studying African-American History. Naturally, I was drawn to Black Art. HBCUs are the best place to view black art. While black artists were shunned and derided by the white community, Black Colleges accepted and supported them. This is why so many HBCUs have great works by Black artists (like Hale Woodruff).

One of the schools with a great collection of  black art is Clark Atlanta University. I recall walking into their art gallery one afternoon and seeing a painting of a black man in his US Naval uniform, his face down in arm folded arm on his desk as if he were weeping. His hand clinched an American flag. Mr. Wilson painted this image of his Brother who fought in the Second World War only to come home to same racism he left. His story is not unique, yet Mr. Wilson articulated this in a illustration. I will never forget seeing that image and how it rocked me. Instantly, John Woodrow Wilson became my favorite artist.

As time passed, I learned that many black artists like Wilson, and the late Elizabeth Catlett, left the United States for Mexican to study art. The colors and broad hands are indicative of 20th century Mexican artists.

I was most recently visited Atlanta May of 2014, and I made it a point to visit Clark Atlanta’s Art Gallery. I had to see this work again. To my disappoint, the gallery was installing a new exhibit. I never the painting.

Mr. Wilson’s work has never escaped me. I placed his work “Negro Woman,”as well as “Negro Man” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, in my film Sex Makes It More Important. (I bought a replica of  Mr. Tanner’s “Negro Man” after living with three white guys and not seeing an black folks on the walls of our apartment. It was the best 3am purchase I have ever made. I even brought it with me to Korea. And that image of “Negro Woman” comes from a miss opportunity I had to see Mr. Wilson in person in 2006 or 2007 at Clark Atlanta. I was able to preserve the pamphlet from the event.)

The Cosby Show once featured an episode in which the Cosby’s bought Black Art. I hope to one day purchase an original work of John Woodrow Wilson. Hopefully, it’ll be the same work I saw as a student trying to understand my place as black man in this world.


 

I wrote this early Friday (11/27) morning – before NY Times published this: Black Artists and the March Into the Museum

 

Thanksgiving 2014

I spent this Thanksgiving in Korea. It was my first abroad, but not my first not in LA. I spend several college Thanksgivings in Atlanta be my Morehouse brethren, and many of those proved to be the most memorable. There was the Turkducken year. Also, the year my sister visited me and our brother as, again, Ben and I teamed up to deep fry a Turkey. So, missing out on Thanksgiving festivities in Compton is nothing new, however it is different this year. I AM IN KOREA. And my family simply communicated with me via Kakao, and it reminded me of last year.

Last year, as usual the Cowboys were losing and I watched hoping they could somehow mount a comeback, however unlikely it seemed. I sat in my grandmother’s house, in the lovely chair that usually asks as an Ambien, watching her busy between the kitchen and her couch. My father arrived after me and my sister, and we for some reason we started talking about Mike Brown. For my sister and I, it was obvious. Mike Brown should not have been killed. He should have able to spend Thanksgiving with his family as I was. He should have been able to watch my Cowboys lose like the rest of America was able to. It was just that simple. My father, on the other hand, did not think it was so simple. Rather, he thought is even simpler. He talked about how if Mike Brown had not been high that dreadful day, he would not have been killed. “What?!??!” is all I could muster. Did my father, the most progressive person in my family not me, just echo a Fox News talking point? Did he really just blame Mike Brown for his own death? My sister and I immediately went in. We pestered him with every variation of “what the fuck are you talking about?!?!” followed by “do you know what you are saying?” All we received back were snarky and hurtful responses re-iterating how that entire interaction started because Mike Brown was high. This is not true, as I pointed out. The officer did not know Mike Brown was high, if he were actually high. Finding weed in one’s system does not mean that person is actually experiencing a high. Furthermore, the officer did not know Mike Brown was a suspect in strong arm robbery, so my father’s responses rang hollow.

He then proceeded to talk about many of the issues Black folks face would be alleviated if we would stop using drugs. Again, I preceded to highlight the fact that black folk do not do drugs at a great rate than whites.  These facts fell upon deaf ears. His response was “we are not white,” and he is right, however expecting black folks to be superhuman is wrong and setups an impossible goal: to be superhuman and not suffer from sins of the flesh like, well, humans. The idea that black folks are more or should be more human than whites is stained in racists expectation as thinking we are less than humans.

By this point of the evening, the Cowboys were – no longer in the game, and my patience was gone. My sister was able to handle this better than I was. She articulated her frustrated with our father fairly exactly. “I’m surprised by you…” she repeated. She was surprised because she too saw our father as the much more liberal counterpart to our mother. I mean much more liberal. As awful as it sounds, we used to jokingly call our mother “baby Hitler” because she spent time as a youth in Germany, but mostly because of her draconian perspective on moral matters (which was steeped in Christianity). On this one, our mother abstained. She tried to play peace keeper, and I tried to oblige with my not so convincing “I’m done. I’m going to ignore to you” statements, but I was not done, and I could not ignore him. I could not ignore him because he seemed to to take delight his perspective. Often, he chuckle as and laugh at his asinine comments. I could not ignore him because he was and is wrong. I could not ignore him because he was supposed to be on my side and understand how systemic racism works. This was the same man who turned my first grade report on Christopher Columbus into a father/son dissertation about how Columbus slaughtered a race of people. This is the man who, upon witnessing me call my brother a “nigger” in elementary school had me look the word up only to find it was not in the dictionary we owned. That weekend we went to the bookstore and bought another dictionary that did have the proper definition for the word. And this was the same man, so wrote an entire book on how police reform should look in the City of Compton. Yet last Thanksgiving, he was someone else. He was the person I least wanted to share a room with. I could not sit there, watch the Cowboys get manhandled by the Eagles (of all teams) and listen to my father’s silly justification of Mike Brown’s death. I could not. I could not because I have had police pull guns on my and friends after following us for more than half a mile, though we committed no violation. I could not because I sat in the kitchen of the apartment I shared with three others listening to Ferguson DA blame Mike Brown for his own death while disparaging protestors who fought for answers. I sat in my kitchen, delaying what should have been a delightful night of playing basketball with friends to listen to nothing happen. Eventually I would play basketball, but not before weeping alone in my parked truck, just out of the orange light shone from the street lamp next to the park I would play a very distracted night of basketball. Mike Brown was dead, and this officer is saying he would have not changed a thing. This is what was on my mind as my father blames Mike Brown for his death. This time, I was not in my apartment. I was in my grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving. One of the few safe havens I felt I had in LA, but today was not the day.

To my grandmother’s grave disappointed, I decided to leave before the food was served and go to my aunt’s house where my mother’s mother and family were. I apologized to my angered grandmother who surely thought my actions were silly and childish, but I had to protect my self.

So much has been made in recent months about microagressions by those who do not understand how difficult and exhausting it is to be black. Any safe space I can have, I take it. Korea has afforded me another layer of protection. I cannot image what is it like to be colored, a women, queer, and lower-class (if only I could imagine).

In the time since last Thanksgiving, I’ve grown to understand my father’s comments were those from a man who lived through two Watts riots. A man who, while in his youth, had issues with drug abuse. I still recall he and my uncle talking about how they would never see American Gangster because they lived through the heroin epidemic of the 70s and saw what it did to their community and people they knew. My father is opposed to drug use, recreational or not, and he wishes for black folk to not use drugs because he sees it as doing nothing but harm. I do not feel that way. I voted for California to decriminalize marijuana, and I’d do it again. He voted against, and he’ll do so again, even after I pointed out how these drugs laws have effected black lives.

I do not fault my father for last Thanksgiving nor his views. We are all a product of our experiences. I do wish he had never shared his perspective, I cannot lie. I could have reacted differently, perhaps.

Later that night when my father arrived at my aunt’s house, I was still very angry, and he knew this enough to provide space. Eventually, it became water under the bridge. I only recalled last year because I am in Korea; though, I’m sure had I watched the Cowboys get thrashed by the Panthers at my grandmothers house this year, I would have been reminded of last year.

F*cking With White People: Bachelor/Bachelorette Effect

I’ve been meaning to write this for sometime, but tonight feels like the perfect night.

Bachelor/Bachelorette Effect: when a white person “has not problem dating a person of color” only to never seriously date one. A great example of this found in Season 10 of The Bachelorette. That season, Andi Dorfman, a Southern Jewish police officer with a J.D., eliminated Marquel Martin, one of two black contestants, was eliminated during episode five. (The other black contestant was Ron Worrell. He left after episode three.) I recall the disappointment on his face (and in his tears) upon being eliminated. I could only think “what did you expect to happen? She is a Southern Jewish police officer with a J.D.” The chances of her choosing to date, let alone engage, a black man is slim to none, but still Marquel believed it could happened. He chose to trust her and hope for the best. I am not saying a Southern Jewish police officer with a J.D. wouldn’t seriously date a black person, I am saying it is unlikely; however, I’ve found the prospects of dating white people in general slim, especially is the person of color if race conscious, no matter how liberal the white partner is.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette Effect is when a perfectly well intentioned white person dates a person of color only end the arrangement for no apparent reason. After so many dates, this usually “liberal/open-minded” white person loses interest in said person of color. I know many of you are thinking “this just happens with dating,” which is true, but the difference between dating  and interracial dating is the cultural and societal barriers that are often unacknowledged and unspoken. For instance, the person of color may bring up a specific incident of racial profiling or racial injustice that the white person does not have to deal with. This realization of not having to deal may reinforce a feeling of “I don’t have to deal with this ‘I’m white.'” They are right. They often choose to opt out.

Well intentioned white folk, do us folk of color a favor and do not pretend you are open-minded and willing to date person of color. Be honest with yourself and with us.

One of the best films that deals with the complexities of interracial relationships Ali: Fear Eats Soul.

A Wu-Tang Kind of Love

I’m not a huge Wu-Tang fan; however, they represent the ideal relationship. What makes Wu-Tang special is that each member is spectacular on his own. It’s quite uncanny. They are really like Voltron, even when a piece is sorely missing. Wu-Tang is Wu-Tang, each member has a distinct voice and style, yet they are still one. No member is better nor more important than other. When they are not together, each member is free to record his own solo album. Sometimes, they team up with non-Wu-Tang members. It’s the ideal partnership.

Imagine a non-platonic relationship behaving like that. When all the persons in the relationship are together, each still carries his or her distinct individualism, but together – they act as one unit. Although they are together, each person, at one’s own choosing, can leave the group for solo projects (maybe make music with other artists), but always have a home with the group. It’s the Wu-Tang love.

Because I’m Male: Notes on Gender Roles and My Father

This post was going to be about something else, but the reason for writing it felt wrong. It felt wrong because it was reactionary, which is not wrong in itself, but I also had a difficult time trying to articulate my points without being too mean-spirited. One of the many lessons bell hooks has taught me was that simply stating truth is not enough; the truth must be stated with love. My first piece, while it was (hopefully) going to be stated with love, its root began elsewhere, not to say from hate, just elsewhere. Then I thought of my father.

I thought of my father because he loves me and my siblings. I know he does because not only does he state it, but the he’s cared and nurtured us for some thirty plus years. It continues to this day, and frankly I do not see it stopping. I am grateful for it. I am happy for it. The worst thing he has done over the last few years is force me and my grown-ass siblings to answer his semi-annual “was I good father” question. It’s a question my sister easily deflects because she was always his favorite, but a question I begrudgingly answer last Father’s Day – a week after he had asked…via an mp3 file. Maybe it wasn’t so difficult to answer, but I didn’t want to answer. I think the answer is evident, but I realize he’s generally concerned about his parenting; though I would/could never say this to his face, he was good father. A lot of fathers are good fathers. A lot are not. Mine was better than good, if solely because he never placed limits nor expectations on me as a male.

There is not one time in my youth, nor by adulthood that I can recall my father saying “be a man” or anything of that sort. In fact, I can recall him crying during a toast in my honor after I graduated from college. A great friend of my joked aloud “you’re about to cry Mr. Dowell” to which my father quipped “I’m man enough to cry.” This is my father. This is reason I am who I am. I recall him checking me as a kid when I questioned the athletic ability of women. He simply said “some of them are better than you.” He was and is right. This is the man who took me to USC Women basketball games to meet Cheryl Miller, who was then SC’s basketball coach, and Lisa Leslie. I still remember waiting after the game to get Ms. Leslie’s to sign the little whiteboard they had given out at the game. Later, with him, I saw Tina Thompson play. I learned about Title IV as a middle schooler, but more importantly the idea that gender, class, race, nor sexuality was an indicator of one’s worth or potential. Mind you, those of you who know me, know some of these lessons did not sink in until high school and other until college, but when they sank, they sank deep. They only sank deep because I was primed from an earlier by a father who understood the complexity and intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality, however, he may not have known this (though I think a man whose favorite writer is Octavia Butler does).

Because of him, I do not justify my actions by prefacing them because “I am a man”, “I am a woman”, “I am heterosexual” nor anything of that sort. The reason people who are similar by appearance or what have you tend to do the similar things is not inherent to that commonality. It is a product of socialization and culture. Culture is learned behavior. “Being a ______” is no reason for actions nor beliefs. It may have informed, but at the end of the day, it’s just a construct, and I am thankful that my great father planted that seed in my youth.

http://www.npr.org/2014/07/14/330183987/the-3-scariest-words-a-boy-can-hear

bound

i’m attempting not to be bound to
in a world that binds me to
i’m attempting not to be bound to
in a world that binds me to
i’m attempting not to be bound to
in a world that binds me to
i’m attempting not to be bound to
in a world that binds me to
i’m attempting not to be bound to
in a world that binds me to
i’m attempting.