Category Archives: Culture

I Spent the Week at Alyssa Rosenberg’s Crib on ThinkProgress

My friend, Alyssa Rosenberg, asked me to guest post on her blog on ThinkProgress this week.  I accepted and it was a really effin good time.  Her commenters are awesome and spending time at her crib really forced me to step my game up. I think I did ok.  

What do y'all think?

Beauty Unqualified

This open letter from model Leomie Campbell to the Sunday Times about racism in the fashion industry is fascinating. Not so much for the tales about the racism.

Nope, what is most striking to me is how Campbell equivocates throughout the entire piece and then ends with:

I don’t think talking about racism in fashion will change anything. Even if fashion changes, it’s not going to change the world. I’d rather just have a positive attitude. If I were feeling discriminated against, I might go into a casting thinking I’m not going to get this job. It’s negativity that will disadvantage me.

Well, what's the point of writing this open letter if not to "talk about racism"? Lawd!

It's interesting to watch the millennial generation – Campbell is 19 – tie themselves in knots trying to talk about race in a world where they have been told that it is not something that we need to talk about anymore. Clearly they want to. Clearly Campbell wants to talk about what it is really like to be a black model, but she knows she can't just call the entire industry racist — even though the primary goal of the fashion industry is to reinscribe whiteness and white beauty standards around the world, i.e. racist.

If anything, despite her prostestations, Campbell's letter makes the need to address racism in the fashion industry more critical than ever.

(H/T The YBF)

Tribute to E. Lynn Harris

E Lynn

Yesterday, I woke up after sleeping most of the day away to find a text on my phone from my friend Randy saying that E. Lynn Harris had died.

E. Lynn is an icon.  For a lot of gay and bisexual men, E. Lynn wrote our lives (or, in his later books, the lives some of us wanted to live).

I discovered his books in 2002 when I was trying to decide what to do about my life having lived the previous years as a celibate man.  Invisible Life‘s cover art, a man caught between a man and a woman, drew me in immediately.  I saw it in a bookstore and I just picked it up and read that two-page prologue right then and there.

I was hooked and I bought it and Just As I Am up right there.

Unlike most, I think, E Lynn’s Invisible Life novels — Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me — confirmed for me that I was bisexual and that that was something that was okay to be.  I thought Raymond’s story was beautiful and it spoke to a tug of war that I was dealing with that I didn’t even know I was dealing with.

Though Raymond decided he was gay in the novels, I knew after reading Raymond’s story that bisexuality was real and that I was bisexual.  As E. Lynn wrote it, I understood perfectly why Raymond would fall in love with Nicole and Quinn and though I understood why the plot unfolded the way it did, for me, I knew that I would never make the choice that Raymond did, choosing one gender over the other.  And I set out to live my life as a bisexual man, of course, having no idea how to even go about doing that (still don’t, by the way).

E. Lynn gave me that.

Over the years, I’ve followed E. Lynn’s career, reading all of his books, attending his readings, and debating with my friends about whether Boris Kodjoe or Rick Fox would make the better Basil Henderson.  Though I haven’t enjoyed his books much since the Invisible Life saga, I appreciated that our stories were being told.

People often criticized E. Lynn’s later work for being simplistic and formulaic, which it was.  And the elements of the earlier work that I liked least — the name dropping and preoccupation with status — eventually overwhelmed his work. But even if he continued to turn out serviceable fiction like his latest, Basketball Jones, nothing he could have done would diminish the beauty, sincerity, and heartbreaking prose in the Invisible Life saga.

Raymond and Nicole were ambitious buppies, but they had deep insecurities and struggled to find a center in their frequently tumultuous lives, all of which made them relatable and human.  And Basil Henderson is probably one of the finest, most fully realized portraits of black male humanity in contemporary Black fiction.  While Raymond eventually receded into the background in later books, Basil’s emergence as the most complex individual in E. Lynn’s world was surprising, rewarding, and frequently quite moving.

E. Lynn apparently used to tell folks that he was no James Baldwin.  He’s wrong.  Invisible Life, Just As I Am, and Abide With Me are still completely unique, incomparable works that should be read every bit as much as Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone.  Like Baldwin, E. Lynn wrote about black love.  About its redemptive power. Its sometimes frightening intensity.  And its haunting, elusive beauty.

E. Lynn is a hero.  Little confused black boys and girls will pick up his Invisible Life saga for generations to come and get yet another glimpse of the beauty of black humanity and love.

Rest in Peace.

For the record, I still think Rick Fox has the stronger acting chops and would the better choice to play Basil, though Boris is what I see in my head when I think of Basil.

Collective v. Individual; Where Does Racism Lie

(cross posted at Forbes Avenue)

Skip I work for a progressive organization in Washington, D.C., with a wonderful group of human beings. We work side by side on any issue you can think of and, mostly, we get along while we do it.

Two days ago, four colleagues and I were talking about the degree to which race played in the Skip Gates arrest controversy. I and a fellow Black colleague were pretty confident, given what we know from news reports about how the incident went down, that race played a role.

My other colleagues, you can imagine, were skeptical. They argued, rightfully, that someone made a call and the cop had an obligation to follow through and secure the home. They asked "what are the standard procedures" in situations like this? Also, not surprisingly, they wanted to make it about the cop's ego, an idea that is picking up traction online, as if it couldn't then be about race as well.

Later that night, two other Black friends told me similar stories that they had with White colleagues. Everything they told me was the same as what went down in the conversation I had with my colleagues, almost down to the language.

White folks are quite comfortable with this notion that there is a pattern of racist behavior in America. They are reluctant, however, to say that any individual instance is about race. So what happened to Skip Gates wasn't racist. Neither was what happened to Shem Walker. Or Sean Bell. Or Oscar Grant. Or Officer Omar Edwards.

Every individual instance must be rationalized, but then at the end of the year when the stats are compiled we rant and rave against a pattern of behavior, against institutional racism.

Institutional racism is nothing more than a pattern of individual behavior that has become instituationalized. Redlining is just a lot of White folks deciding where non-whites can live. Poll taxes were nothing but a lot of White folks making it really hard for Black folks to vote.

They say the personal is political. Well the individual is the collective.

The goal here isn't to call the cop a "dirty racist" and write him off. What I said to my colleagues was that acknowledging that what the cop did to Skip Gates was racist, doesn't make him a bad person. This isn't "i hate niggers" racism, but it is still racism.

The goal is to let him (and other non-Black cops) that this kind of behavior is a problem. We need to have processes for training police for how to deal with different types of people. And we need processes to handle situations after they happen. We simply do not have this anywhere to the degree we should.

Behavior like this can be involuntary; a lot of White folks have tremendous guilt that they lock their doors in a "bad neighborhood" and clutch their purses in an elevator alone with a Black man. But rather than live in the guilt, we gotta acknowledge it and begin to unlearn it.

Until we do, we are going to keep seeing these individual instances and keep being surprised that the year-end statistics haven't changed.