Blacklist

“For many young Black feminists, especially on Tumblr and Twitter, the word “hotep” has the same effect that a crucifix does on a vampire.”

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There was a disturbance in the Black Twitter force yesterday.

Blavity, an online magazine focused on news and culture for Black millennials, ran a piece on Hidden Colors 4, the latest in a series of documentaries that explore the possibility that many internationally recognized religious and cultural touchstones assumed to be European in origin actually have African roots and that those roots have been deliberately hidden by historians and scientists to perpetuate white supremacy. The films have a large following among young urban males. Among young urban feminists, not so much.

The trouble began with questions about whether Blavity was being objective in giving Hidden Colors so much space for what some felt was a glorified ad. The conversation then focused on whether Blavity should be featuring Hidden Colors at all, considering that it’s creator, Tariq Nasheed, has the reputation among certain Black feminists as a misogynist, along with the sociologist Dr. Umar Johnson, who is prominently featured in the film series. Before long, prominent Black feminists on Twitter with large followings voiced their displeasure and their followers retweeted in agreement, and the original article was removed by yesterday afternoon.

Hotep vs. Black Feminism Order of Battle

A little background: For many young Black feminists, especially on Tumblr and Twitter, the word “hotep” has the same effect that a crucifix does on a vampire. They see the people who participate in hotep as using Ancient Egyptian symbolism and Afrocentrism as a mask to hide patriarchy, homophobia and hatred of Black women.

The reverse is true for the Black men who label themselves “hotep”. Many of them see Black feminists as agents of white supremacy, using feminism to mask their hatred of Black men and to further the destruction of the Black family. Any online meeting of the two usually results in an insult filled exchange that leaves both sides hating each other more than they did when they first engaged, and Tariq Nasheed and Dr. Umar Johnson are considered the top two Hotep Public Enemies.

Revolutions Devour Their Own

As many a business has found out, you risk the wrath of Black Twitter at your peril. I admit that I’ve enjoyed watching as a racist who makes a hateful comment online gets a one way ticket to the unemployment office courtesy of Black Twitter. It’s a powerful weapon for influence and a platform that launched mass social justice movements, opened conversations about media representation, and created safe spaces for marginalized people. Social media has sparked a revolution in the way that individuals can come together and build group power.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of revolutions, usually the hunt begins for internal enemies, real or imagined. Asking questions becomes treason. Opposing voices are labeled “counterrevolutionary”. Simple disagreements and settling of personal beefs get elevated to purges. I’ve seen this behavior taking place online, in situations where people can’t seem to tell the difference between someone with a genuine question and someone trolling. With people who are in constant attack mode, firing at any perceived threat, even when the target is someone they could have a dialogue with.

For whatever reason, Blavity made the choice to remove the article. I’m neutral on the subject of the Hidden Colors, but I’m not a fan of shutting down discussion of an idea because the idea is one that we don’t like. If you don’t like something, fine. But taking away someone else’s ability to make that choice for themselves is censorship. Ideas need to be expressed freely so they can be tested, debated, and those that don’t hold up can be rejected.
We gotta let go of the idea that unless someone’s worldview matches up exactly with our own, that the other person is trash. They may very well prove themselves to be, but they need to be given the chance to prove it.

The Obligatory Year in Review.

It’s been quite a year.

There’s been a lot of changes, and lot of acheivements I didn’t expect to happen.

I feel like this was the year I took the first real steps on a road that began back when I was writing raps, cutting mixtapes and making beats with a $50 drum machine and a Casio sampler in my room when I was 19. Back then, I wanted to rap. I was always writing, but life and situations sometimes got in the way. I re-dedicated myself to writing a few years ago and this year I began to put myself out there. I completed a short fiction collection. In September of 2014 I got my first article published. I started blogging in January, and soon after I began blogging regularly for Huffington Post Black Voices. At the present I have some even bigger things in the works that hopefully go through.

Around the same time, I became aware of the Black Lives Matter movement and I began to get involved in whatever way I could. I met amazing people like Bridget Anderson, who has shown phenomenal strength and determination to see justice done after the police shooting of her boyfriend Anthony Hill, and yet still be able to live her life. I saw the incredible photographs of the uprising in Baltimore taken by Devin Allen, photos that landed him the cover of Time Magazine and brought him well deserved fame and opportunities to keep helping and mentoring kids in Baltimore who may find in photography a new way to express themselves. And Nekima Levy-Pounds, standing strong in Minneapolis in the face of a system trying to silence her.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get my feelings and opinions out in front of other people. The gift of social media is that it gives people and news that would never be noticed otherwise a way to be seen travel around the world. The risk is that you have no control over how whatever you put out there is recieved. But for me, that doesn’t matter.

I guess I’m saying all this to make the point that regardless of circumstances, or whatever situation a person is in, we all want to know that someone hears us, we all want to feel like our lives are acknowledged by someone or something larger than ourselves. I’m proof of that.

My gift is storytelling. I want to continue to do that and I hope the people who have heard me so far continue to hear me. I also want to hear you. A new year is coming. Good luck to all of us.

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Did You Miss Me?

Hello everyone, good to see you!

First of all, I owe my Sum City readers an apology.
I have not posted here in quite a while, but that’s because of a series of events that I became swept up in, all positive, but also demanding. It’s good to be back at my literary home base after a crazy four months. I guess the best way to start is to just jump in, so here I go.

Some of you may remember that back in March I became a featured blogger for Huffington Post Black Voices. It came at me totally unexpected. Almost overnight I became a writer for a website with a huge following and added my voice to others I respect there. I joined Huffington Post at a turbulent time in American History, starting with Ferguson, going on to New York and Baltimore, currently with Charleston. Most of my articles for HuffPo have focused on what’s happening and have generated support and controversy. Before I knew it, I had a following of my own, people who seek out my writing. At the moment it isn’t a huge audience, but it’s an influential one. One that is opening doors and opportunities that again, I never could have prepared for.

I can’t say much at the moment but there are media things in the works. I recently completed a series of photo shoots with a very talented photographer and took part in a Vice News series.
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Things are still developing. If you followed my earlier blogs here, a lot of my subject matter focuses on social justice. I will always be interested in that, but i want to expand. No one is one dimensional and I don’t want to be. I joke, I dance, I talk about trivia same as anyone and I will do that here.

I know that a great deal that’s happening can be linked back to me starting this blog. I put myself out here, people here responded. Then other people responded. I plan to share myself with Sum City again and I hope you will respond again.

Thank You.

Torraine Walker

And Now For An Important Announcement:

I have always been fascinated by words. From looking through dictionaries and encyclopedias as a child, to rapping as a teenager, and writing fiction as an adult, I’ve always been intrigued by the emotion and shades of expression the written and spoken word can convey. I wanted to be heard and understood and blogging has been a great way to realize that ideal. I now have an opportunity to take that further; as of yesterday, I am officially a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post.

I have been a fan of what they do for a while and it’s a beautiful thing to contribute to. My debut article is about the apology Levi Pettit gave for the racist chant he and his SAE fratbrothers led.

Without WordPress & SUM City to voice my opinions, I would feel stifled. Without the back and forth dialog my opinions spark, I would feel disappointed. I will continue blogging weekly here of course, and I hope everyone who has read my stuff so far will keep reading! See you next week!

Human Heroes

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm talks about being invited to a party in Ghana as a guest of the Kwame Nkrumah government. He describes being captivated by the music and dancing going on around him and speaks of his desire to dance along but abstaining, because he didn’t want to look undignified. While I understood his meaning, that passage always saddens me.

Last September, Tavis Smiley appeared on Dancing With The Stars. I admit when I heard about it I was surprised. My perception of him has always been of an erudite advocate of issues affecting the Black community and watching him doing his thing on the dancefloor was…interesting. I thought it was a good departure from the idea that stoicism is the only acceptable attitude for a Black man committed to social issues.

Historically, America wants it’s heroes and leaders to be perfect; living statues with no failings or human qualities. Intellectually, I think most people know this is ridiculous but psychologically, many people in American society still want that. There are some who don’t. When the Lewinsky scandal broke, I couldn’t have cared less then and I care even less now. The economy was racing like a Detroit engine and there were plenty of jobs. So long as that continued, Bill Clinton could fly in showgirls from Vegas as far as I was concerned. I prefer the Parisian attitude to situations like that, where as long as he isn’t embezzling money from the government, a politician’s private life is his own affair (pun intended.)

Black America in particular has always required those ideal paragons. We needed those of us in leadership positions to be hyperdignified, upstanding moral compasses to counter the broad slurs against Black intelligence, morality and dignity that racists used to deny Black people advancement. Most Blacks equate W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and MLK with the images of their legacies and monuments. But they were men. Brilliant, but fallible, human beings. That’s why I loved seeing Barack Obama dancing and singing to his wife in public and looking even more dignified while doing so. Technology is a leveler, twitter and Facebook has removed a lot of the mystique from the leadership process and placed public opinion into the hands of regular people. Regular people by and large are not impressed by people adopting the stoic personas of past eras.

Why should enjoying life be seperate from social justice? Smiling doesn’t dilute the message. I love Duke Ellington and Gucci Mane.I love sarcasm. I use business English and hood talk, depending where I am. I think sex is an amazing experience. Especially with a partner. It’s okay to be a human being and still fight for the causes you believe in.

Fifty Shades of Facepalm

My first encounter with 50 Shades of Grey was about a year ago; I was in Target, passing by the book section and I saw a copy sitting in a rack. I picked it up and skimmed through it. As I read, various sensations came over me: the first was amusement at the writing, but I kept reading, hoping it would get better. Next came disbelief because I couldn’t believe that someone had actually written this, said to themselves that it was good, and found a publisher to put it out. Finally, anger, as I began to lose faith in the American book buying public as I thought of all the talented writers toiling in obscurity while this thing was flying out of stores like free meth in a trailer park. At no time during my ordeal was arousal one of the sensations I felt.

Obviously, I’m not a fan. I pride myself on being able to get through difficult books to find something enlightening but I have to be honest and say that this was literally the worst book I have ever read in my life. I couldn’t get through more than 3 consecutive pages without cringing. However, the 50 Shades series has sold about 100 million copies and the film of the book is currently the #1 movie in America. What that says about the American moviegoing public I will not speculate on, but obviously it’s working for E. L. James so I can’t knock her hustle.

Erotica has of course always been around, but in America it’s always been a shadowy associate of so-called legitimate literature, flimsy paperbacks with cheap covers stocked in bookstore romance sections purchased rapidly and discarded just as fast. But 50 Shades has changed that. People are reading it in the open, discussing it in book clubs. The covers are so well known that there is no mistaking what you are reading. I just hope it doesn’t stop there.

There are excellent writers of erotic lit who have found success like French art critic Catherine Millet, who wrote a memoir that described her sexual adventures as a young woman in Paris in graphic, but elegant detail. There’s Zane, who has been writing erotica for almost 15 years now with much more believable scenarios and better skill, and the majority of her characters are men and women of color. E.L. James’ popularity may help readers to seek out different authors working in the same genre.

I guess that’s the redeeming quality 50 Shades has for me. Not in the book itself, but for what it represents. It opens the door for writers inspired by the sexual to have a chance for their voices to be heard. I look forward to reading them. All the way through, without cringing.

Ill Communication

I once dated a woman who’s sole form of communicating with me was by text message. Except for the day we met, everything we couldn’t do in the same room was done by text. Exchanging personal information…scheduling dates…planning encounters…everything. We had 1 telephone conversation over the 2 months we saw each other and when it ended, that was one of my main reasons for doing so. I know some men reading this probably think I’m crazy for finding a woman who doesn’t want to talk on the phone all the time and not feeling that. While it’s true that I’m not a fan of talking on the phone for hours at a time, I do crave human interaction that doesn’t require a computer or a smartphone.

We live in the most socially connected age in human history but people are connecting less on a personal level. Consider this: out of all your friends on social media, how many do you actually know? Out of those you know personally, when was the last time you actually saw them and when you saw them, did you really talk, or did you sit around looking at your phones? I’ve been to far too many social events where people either talk nonstop about themselves or are almost monosyllabic in verbal exchanges.

Remember the movie Clueless? There’s a scene where Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash’s characters are talking to each other on cellphones even though they’re right next to each other. It seemed absurd at the time but now that’s normal. I think it’s important to look at a person when you talk to them. The inflection in their voice, their facial expressions, and tone of voice inform a conversation more than what you say to each other and can avoid the misunderstandings that often occur with electronic communication.

When you limit the means of expressing thought, you limit thought, which might be why  so many people can only speak in half-sentences and type lyk dis. Factor in short attention spans, and the belief that every moment of life must be documented and you have a recipe for self-absorption that ignores everything except the ego.

The danger of social networking is it gives the illusion of having a personal relationship without actually having one or making any effort to sustain one. For any truly intimate relationship to work you have to be present, physically and mentally. You have to go out in public and meet people. And not stare at your phone when you do.

People are busy. Being a busy person myself, I totally get that. But it’s also true that people make time for the things and the people they want to make time for. The internet is a wonderful tool for connecting people but it can’t be the only one. Social media is here to stay; I just wish it was more social. If anybody has any ideas how to make that happen, give me a call; I’d love to discuss it over coffee somewhere.

Or you can text me.

On second thought… shoot me an email, and I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.

Or by the end of the week.

Next Monday at the latest, I promise.

Ratchet Television: Watch In Disgust

At the risk of sounding like a grouchy old uncle, I remember when to be on TV you had to have a skill. You had to be a singer, a dancer, an actor, or a rapper, a writer, a comedian; you had to do something. The only talent you need to be on television now is a talent for self-promotion and self-abuse, and most importantly, a lack of self respect. Ever since shows like Real World, Jersey Shore, and Bad Girls Club hit the air, we’ve been subjected to the tantrums, mood swings, and delusions of grandeur from overgrown children with maximum egos and minimum talent.

The overwhelming majority of modern reality shows have mostly Black women in them. Shows like Married to Medicine, Love and Hip-Hop, The Real Housewives of Atlanta (although I want to know how you can be called a “Real Housewife” if you’re not real, you’re never at home and you’re nobody’s wife) are a parade of loud, ratchet Black women doing what ratchets do: backbiting, gossiping, throwing drinks at each other in clubs and getting into physical altercations.

A lot of people in the Black media community have pointed out that these shows feed into the worst stereotypes about Black women. Mostly they have been ignored but it looks like things have finally reached the tipping point with the backlash over VH-1’s Sorority Sisters. Black sororities have been extremely vocal about the way their organizations, which have historically been instrumental in promoting the dignity and education of African-American women, are being represented on the show. I admit I haven’t watched it but looking at the trailer, I can see that it’s more of the ratchetness that Black reality shows are known for but this time, sponsors, probably mindful of the extremely high racial tensions in America right now, are deserting the show as fast as they can.

The uproar has sparked renewed discussion about the future of a type of programming that uses stereotypes as a hook.

In the days of blackface minstrelsy, people worldwide paid dearly to watch Black and Caucasian men in blackface act out racist parodies of African-American culture that degraded performer and audience alike. And always behind the curtain was the ringleader, racking up money while his “darkies” capered for the hicks.

From a production standpoint, these shows are cheap to produce and are very lucrative, just like the old minstrel shows, and Mona Scott-Young and Andy Cohen are the two most successful modern day ringleaders. They are the producers of VH-1’s Love & Hip-Hop and Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises respectively, and have grown very rich by using a formula that record label execs and far too many rappers long ago learned to exploit: double down on ignorance and cooning, reduce yourself to a stereotype, and people will throw money at you to reinforce their feelings of superiority.

I’m not saying these shows don’t have a place on the air. The problem is they take up so much of the programming that features women of color that it feels like a deliberate insulting response by networks to complaints about the lack of diversity on television by finding the lowest of the lowest common denominator of programming to box Blacks into.

There is something else that’s not being discussed in regards to the Sorority Sisters backlash: class. The sororities represented on the show are some of the most prestigious Greek-letter organizations in Black America, with a great many wealthy and accomplished women of color among their members. I can’t help but wonder how much of the outrage at this particular show is because it is the “talented tenth” being degraded this time, as opposed to the “ghetto hoodrats” on the other shows? These shows are a detriment to the image of American women of color regardless of their economic or social background. The average viewer of these shows is not going to waste time making distinctions between a loud wannabe singer and a loud sister wearing a Greek letter pin; all they see is a bunch of black women looking ignorant.

It’s a shame that so many professional sisters are lining up to damage their credibility by appearing on these shows. It’s tragic that there are so few roles for Black actresses that so many are signing on to shows like Hollywood Divas for work that will irreparably damage their brand. Saddest of all is the fact that these shows are so avidly consumed and obsessed over by Black women who don’t seem to realize their complicity in the ongoing degradation of their image. These shows make Black people, Black women in particular, look like the grotesque deformed characters that minstrel shows traded on. It’s even worse because the Black performers in those days had no choice. The women in these modern day coon shows, ringleaders and performers, do it voluntarily.

Feel the Bad Vibrations

I have never been a fan of Mark Wahlberg, mostly because I remember “Good Vibrations” being played incessantly during the summer of 91, and back then he struck me as yet another white kid trying too hard to mimic hip hop slang and attitude who was being foisted on a gullible public by the music industry. By the time he transitioned into film, my distaste had faded into indifference. Some critics heralded him as a great new talent but I just thought he was blessed with great agents; it’s pretty hard not to look good when actors like Burt Reynolds, Danny DeVito, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Denzel Washington are your co-stars.

He wasn’t on my radar until I was bored one day and found some movie he was in on imdb and read the comments. There was some talk about him being a racist and getting locked up for it, so I googled around and came across his record. For those who don’t know, Marky Mark was arrested in Boston in two separate incidents; one involving throwing rocks at an interracial group of schoolchildren on a field trip, hitting two young girls in the head. Another involved the unprovoked beating of two Vietnamese men, resulting in one of the men losing the sight in one eye. For the last attack, he did a total of 45 days. For blinding someone in a hate crime.

Last week, Wahlberg petitioned the State of Massachusetts for a pardon for the felonies he committed, apparently so he can license his restaurant chain nationwide. Since the story broke, internet comment boards concerning the issue have filled up with supporters making excuses for his actions using rationales like “we all make mistakes”, or “who hadn’t misbehaved as a teen?” While it’s certainly true that lots of teens get into trouble, most of them never blind a man in a hate crime.

It made me think about how differently troubled white kids and troubled kids of color are perceived in American society. There is a tendency for the misbehavior of white teens and young adults to be dismissed as “just kids being kids” even when other people are hurt by them, or worse. When drunken fratboys riot over losing a game or the ouster of a coach following a pedophilia scandal, that is looked on as youthful indiscretions by good kids just letting off steam. In situations when prejudice comes into play, you can be certain that there will be people ready to explain why a hate crime wasn’t really a hate crime, whether it is nooses hanging on a college campus, a vicious gay bashing, or the harassment of people of color by police.

Factor in money and it gets worse, like the case of Ethan Couch, a trust fund kid in North Texas who stole beer from a store then killed four people while driving drunk. His sentence? Rehab in a country club treatment center. There seems to be an almost subconscious belief among many white people that the transgressions of white kids are supposed to be indulged and met with an expectation of forgive and forget: forgiveness of the part of the victim, and forgetfulness in the mind of the perpetrator.

On twitter, the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite has become an open forum exposing the double standards inherent in how police respond to situations involving whites and people of color; it’s an endless, enraging litany of tales of white people being caught red handed shoplifting, or with drugs, or driving drunk or high, and being escorted home or waved off by police.

Black people in the same scenarios are not that fortunate, provided they survive the encounter at all. When they actually are guilty of violent felonies, very rarely do they get short time and they certainly don’t get pardons. In cases where the circumstances surrounding those encounters come into question, the same people who extend the benefit of the doubt to frat boys from the right schools or with the right last names automatically label the victims “thugs” or look for ways to explain away their demise. It’s a mentality that allows people like Wahlberg to brush off his disfigurement of another human being with a clear conscience or for a cop to take a young black life without fear of repercussions, and gets them both thousands of admirers willing to allow it. It’s the reason for movements like “Black Lives Matter”, because with every dismissal of the worth and loss of Black lives, America reinforces it’s belief that they don’t matter to anyone else.

If Mark Wahlberg gets a pardon, which he most likely will, it will be yet another example  that America has the greatest justice system that money can buy. If not, at any rate he will continue to enjoy a productive life. I hope his victims were able to do the same.

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