• Basic Training: An interview with Kahlil Ashanti

    “There’s some words that I think people aren’t used to hearing. Words that we in the Black community don’t particularly care for. But I thought, I owe it to the audience to tell them what really happened and let them be the judge of how they want to perceive it. I think people need to know that there’s just as much racism among our people as there is outside of our people. The first person who ever called me a nigger was my step-dad. I felt it was my responsibility to tell the truth … what you don’t want to get into is try to please everybody because you’ll never get anywhere.”

    - Kahlil Ashanti


    These words from author and performer from a dynamic one-man show now being featured at the Diesel Playhouse, called Basic Training, summarise the sometimes heart-wrenching experiences which Kahlil Ashanti recounts on stage.

    Speaking to AfroTornto.com recently, Ashanti admits that he was first apprehensive about exposing the harsh abuse he endured growing up from his step-dad. But, as he puts it, “There’s some hard moments but you want to be able to leave theatre, or wherever you are, thinking... I got my money’s worth.”

    A worthwhile time the show indeed is. In Basic Training, Kahlil Ahsanti recounts the true story of his years growing up under the oppressive shadow of his step-father whom, for many years, he thought was his real father. It was by trying to get away from him that he finally learns the truth from his mother. Shortly before leaving home to join the Air Force, his mother casually mentions that the father-figure who had been such a tormenting symbol in his life isn’t in fact his real father.

    As Kahlil Ashanti recounts, a major reason why he chose to join the Air Force was because his step-father had tried and failed to pass the required entrance tests and had to instead join the army. Like many young African-Americans in his situation, university was not an option. The young Kahlil joined the Air Force with the wish to become an architect. But he soon realized that the recruiters lied to him as he found himself becoming the mailman at his base. Refusing to let his spirit be defeated, Kahlil decided to make use of his performing skills to join the talent show on the base. Eventually, he had the great honour of becoming part of the elite U.S. Air Force entertainment troop known as Tops in Blue.

    For 4 years, Ashanti toured the world performing to thousands of troops in over two-dozen countries along with a tightly knit group of Tops in Blue comrades. Certainly, the most entertaining part of the show is to witness the amazing talent of Kahlil Ashanti in playing a mind-boggling range of characters spanning those Tops in Blue comrades to his family members and others he encounters throughout his tremendous journey of courage, hardship, show, and ultimate redemption as he is finally reunited with his real father. Ashanti credits Richard Pryor and the legendary voice behind the Looney Toons characters, Mel Blanc, as major inspirations for his versatility on stage.

    Ashanti succeeds in getting the audience involved in his interactive show. As he acknowledges, “when you’re performing in front of audiences, they demand something better and in a way the audience help write the show as much as I did because they wanted to know more.”

  • The Hidden Politics of the Black Hair

    An Interview with the White Guy Who Uncovered the Korean Domination of the Black Hair Industry

    Aron Ranen is a gifted filmmaker and professor who has received a litany of accolades for his groundbreaking documentaries, along with a couple of
    fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Here he talks about his latest opus, Black Hair, an incendiary expose’ which is currently generating plenty of conversation in black communities all
    across North-America.

    For his eye-opening investigation revealed that Koreans have come to control virtually every aspect of the multi-billion dollar, black hair care industry, from manufacturing to distribution to retail sales, while simultaneously employing tactics to put African-American merchants and wholesalers out of business.

    KW: How did a white guy like you develop an interest in the black hair care industry?

    AR: I made a TV pilot with an African-American host, comedian Chey Bell who also happens to cut hair. She told me about all the dollars black women spend on their hair. I was amazed, and decided to make a fun film about that. But when I began shooting in Oakland at a hair expo, I met some
    black folks who told me of the Korean takeover.

    KW: How did you decide to make a movie about it?

    AR: I knew that the black hair biz has the potential to bring dollars andemployment to inner city neighborhoods. I decided that if my skills as a filmmaker can help, then that''s my path.

    KW: Did you learn a lot about the history of the industry as you researched the subject?

    AR: You should have seen my reaction when someone first told me about Madame CJ Walker... I mean, come on...this thing is fixable, doable and the film can help. And I hope Oprah leaves her legacy, just like Madame CJ, and opens up a thousand black beauty supply shops with training, and product discounts for the employees.

    KW: Were you surprised to learn the extent of Korean domination of the hair care market?

    AR: No.

    KW: Why did you put your movie on the Internet in several installments?

    AR: To comply with the rules of YouTube.com.

    KW: Won''t that hurt potential film sales?

    AR: Perhaps… Is there money in documentary?

    KW: Ask Michael Moore. He made over $100 million with Fahrenheit 9/11. Is what the Koreans are doing, the way they’ve gone about taking control of the manufacture, wholesale distribution and retail sales of black hair-care products illegal?

    AR: We would need help from the NAACP to determine that. I am a filmmaker not an attorney.

    KW: Playing Devil’s advocate, let me ask you if it’s a form of reverse-racism to suggest that black consumers should only buy from black businesses?

    AR: Just think, it''s a business in which 99% of the customers are black, and 99% of the owners are Korean... That just seems a little off...don''t youthink?

    KW: Yep. What has been the response of blacks, whites and Koreans to your film?

    AR: White people say it''s one-sided, Koreans don''t like it either, but African-Americans give me hugs and tell me to ignore the white people.

    KW: Do you think black people will now organize and change their behavior afterbeing educated by your documentary?

    AR: I think it will take investment bankers like William Lewis and Vernon Jordan, and major media figures like Oprah, Ed Bradley, Spike Lee, or Sean Combs to take this to the next step in terms of economic development. I mean, these giant foundations give micro-grants to poor Africans in the
    Sudan for pottery businesses, why can''t some of that seed money go to develop black-owned, retail hair supply stores in America?

    KW: Were you surprised when one of the black distributors featured in your film was arrested for arson for allegedly attempting to burn down a Korean competitor who opened up down the street from him?

    AR: I have no comment, since I have not seen any of the exact charges.

    KW: How did he get caught?

    AR: Are you trying to get me in trouble?

    KW: I’m just asking logical questions. Why do you think the black community is so involved with their hair that they could be 10% of the population but purchase 80% of the hair care products?

    AR: That''s not my area of expertise. My documentary is a simple story of the obvious truth that is out there for everyone to see. By shining the media light onit, perhaps we can spur some positive economic changes in neighborhoods that could use some good news.

    KW: When did you get interested in making movies?

    AR: At the age of thirteen.

    KW: Why do you also teach filmmaking?

    AR: It''s fun, and I get to meet people from all over the world who attend my workshops. I also learn a great deal by teaching, and thus become a better filmmaker. I teach "Organic Documentary" at my film school in San Francisco. People interested in learn how to make their own Black Hair-style
    expose’ should visit my website at www.dvworkshops.com.

    KW: What other projects are you working on now?

    AR: A history of LSD in the Sixties is also up at YouTube.com I am
    looking for an investor to get it to feature-length.

    KW: Is Black Hair officially finished, or is it still a work in progress?

    AR: Black Hair will only be done when we get stores open and effect some real change. Until then, I will always release updates on the web and on DVD

  • The Klan Coming to Your Town? Who Ya Gonna Call?

    Interview with Daryle Jenkins, the Klanbuster

    Everybody admires the bravery firemen exhibit by rushing into a burning building when the human survival instinct calls for exactly the opposite behavior. It is for similar reasons that you are likely to find Daryle Lamont Jenkins so fascinating, since this 37 year-old black man born in Newark devotes most of his free-time to monitoring the movements of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

    When you’re watching the evening news coverage of the latest Klan rally, odds are Daryle’s there as part of the counter-demonstration, shouting at the racists to crawl back under a rock. Just as importantly, he’s there to take photographs in order to expose their identities by posting their mug shots on his website. Daryle has been compiling information about white supremacists since 1988, and in 2000 he joined with some like-minded activists in forming One People’s Project in order to monitor racist right-wing activity. Established in Morristown, NJ, in the aftermath of a Klan rally, the watchdog organization currently maintains a database of records and information not only on hate groups but on their individual members as well.

    It is Daryle’s aim to make certain that these groups are not allowed to function in any capacity. Thusfar, his group has been successful in outing several neo-Nazis and those that give them financial support. Don’t think that being the very visible spokesman of an organization dedicated to the outing of hate groups all across the country doesn’t come with considerable risks. As Daryle explains, he routinely receives anonymous death threats, and frequently finds his website the subject of sabotage. In fact, he didn’t even feel comfortable sharing his home address or the nature of his day job with me, which is understandable, given the information he had recently received from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. On June 16th, a couple of neo-Nazis already in custody for possession of bomb-making materials admitted that Daryle’s name had been prominent on their hit list.

    While I don’t necessarily recommend joining Mr. Jenkins on the frontlines, I do hope folks will consider visiting his homepage and sending a contribution to his most worthy cause.

    ONE PEOPLE''S PROJECT - http://onepeoplesproject.com


    AfroToronto: How did you get started chasing the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk?

    DJ: Well, monitoring politics is something I’ve done since I was a kid. I was always fascinated by the struggle for civil rights. And as a student of history, I developed an interest in those who had opposed it, trying to figure out what made them tick, so to speak. I probably began collecting data on hate groups around the time when Oprah featured some skinheads on her show and Geraldo had that incident when he had his nose broken by neo-Nazis. So, I’ve basically been doing this since I was in my teens.

    AfroToronto: I remember years ago once checking into a motel in a rural part of Western Connecticut, picking up the local paper and seeing the front-page story about how the Klan had a permit to march up Main Street the very next day. Needless to say, I decided maybe I wasn’t too tired to drive another 100 miles, and I checked right back out. Besides, I don’t think I would have slept well knowing Klansman could be in the room right next door. When most black people hear that the Klan’s in town, they want to get away.

    DJ: I don’t know that people of color are necessarily afraid of them, but I will definitely say that there is some confusion about what to do about them when they come around. One People’s Project is here to help people find the answer to that question.

    AfroToronto: What is the ethnic make-up of your group?

    DJ: It’s predominantly white. In fact, I’m one of the few people of color in the underground, anti-Fascist scene that is this active. There are a number of us, but you don’t see a lot. I’m always trying to encourage others to get involved.

    AfroToronto: About how many die-hard black activists are involved in the anti-Klan movement?

    DJ: Ironically, maybe two or three, and I’m one of the founders. That has to change. I’m definitely interested in recruiting more people of color.

    AfroToronto: Why hasn’t that been a priority before?

    DJ: Basically, because a prime way to get information is by being inside these groups. And there aren’t too many black people who could work undercover in that fashion. A lot of white people who have been a part of this organization have extracted the information that we need by infiltrating a hate group.

    AfroToronto: What makes you want to show up at a Klan rally to confront them?

    DJ: [laughs] I love a good fight. Basically, I’m a guy that wants to find some solutions to the problem. We can’t keep on allowing groups like the Klan, the Aryan Nation, the National Alliance, the National Vanguard, and the National Socialist Movement (neo Nazis) to hold society at-large hostage. You have to take them out.

    AfroToronto: How do you go about that?

    DJ: The first thing you have to do is get as much information as you can on them, determine their weaknesses, and then you go after them on that level.

    AfroToronto: What type of help is your organization looking for besides financial contributions?

    DJ: The main thing we need are volunteers to do research. And we also need writers. Unfortunately, we’re so short-handed that we often get frustrated by the fact that we can’t deal with a lot of things we are aware of. We’re also frustrated by our very limited finances. Everything is out-of-pocket.

    Since I’ve made myself high-profile, the white supremacists have taken to going after me in any way they can. For instance, after a demonstration in March, the neo-Nazis put out a totally false press release saying that One People’s Project passed out the rocks and eggs that were thrown at the police, when none of us were even there. That inaccuracy was reported by CNN, which in turn, affects our credibility. So, we could also use some pro bono legal help to respond to libelous allegations like that.

    AfroToronto: About how many white supremacist rallies a year do you monitor?

    DJ: Over the past five years, an average of about five to ten.

    AfroToronto: When you attend a Klan or neo-Nazi rally, how close have you come to a violent confrontation?

    DJ: One People’s Project really tries to stay away from that, but you can’t guarantee that it won’t explode into that like what happened in Valley Forge in 2004, and in York, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2002. That one was huge.

    AfroToronto: How huge? Were you outnumbered?

    DJ: There were about 150 of them, but there 300 on our side.

    AfroToronto: How did it escalate into violence?

    DJ: The police didn’t keep the people apart all that well, and the next thing you know, all hell broke loose. That was one of the biggest confrontations in the past 30 years.

    AfroToronto: What happened?

    DJ: One neo-Nazi who ran over a dozen people with his truck, you had a number of arrests. It was crazy.

    AfroToronto: As an expert on the subject, what areas of the country would you say are hotbeds of white supremacy?

    DJ: In the Northeast, definitely Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is insane, because a number of groups are based there. As a matter of fact, I think the Southern Poverty Law Center lists it as the state having the largest concentration of white supremacists. Then there’s Florida in the South,
    but also Portland, Oregon that has a number of Nazi groups.

    AfroToronto: How do other counter-supremacist groups located close to those areas, like Anti-Racist Action, deal with the Klan?

    DJ: They get into underground wars with them, by getting into battles with them in the streets, by going after them at rallies. Most of the press doesn’t cover what’s going on at that underground level, but it’s very intense and heats up.

    AfroToronto: How large a contingent can One People’s Project get to attend a counter-demonstration?

    DJ: We’re small. I’d say there are only about 20 or 30 people in our group right now. So, whenever we go out to an event, there are usually just a handful of us, so our main mission is to gather information. We want people to understand exactly what’s going on. We’re there with our notebooks
    and pens taking down names, and with our cameras taking pictures and videotaping everything. We want every moment documented, so that people know what’s going on. One of the main features of our website is our “Rogues Gallery,” it’s loaded with a long list of people we’re concerned about that we used to call “The Scum of the Earth.” And we post their names and home addresses.

    AfroToronto: Is what you’re doing legal?

    DJ: Yes, we do not wish them harm, or call for anybody to do anything illegal with our information.

    AfroToronto: They must still get upset about being outed over the Internet. Do they try to retaliate?

    DJ: Yeah, we expect for them to try to respond and we’re prepared for it. Our website gets hacked and our servers get threatened with lawsuits.

    AfroToronto: Are you at all afraid for your personal safety?

    DJ: What protects me is the fact that I move a lot. So, by the time they put my information on a website, I’m pretty much out of there.

    AfroToronto: You’re single, but what about your folks?

    DJ: My parents have gotten calls from white supremacists, but they know how to handle the situation. My siblings haven’t been hassled as much.

    AfroToronto: So, you have some enemies who would like to silence you?

    DJ: Yeah, and it’s not for a lack of trying. I just won’t let them. I got a call from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office yesterday about the case of a couple of New-Nazis who were arrested on weapons charges and for conspiracy. They were caught with bomb-making materials. My name came up during the interrogation of one of them, and I was told during that call that the bomb was actually meant for me. Apparently, I was mentioned on an FBI transcript of all this.

    AfroToronto: Does that scare you?

    DJ: Needless to say, it’s something that I have come to expect. It’s nothing that’s going to slow me down. But it’s definitely something to stay mindful of in this line of work.

    AfroToronto: Speaking of work, what’s your day job?

    DJ: Sorry, but I can’t divulge that for security reasons.

    AfroToronto: I suppose you wouldn’t want to answer what I call the Jimmy Bayan question, namely, where are you living now?

    DJ: I can’t.

    AfroToronto: Well thanks for the interview and keep up the good work.

    DJ: Not a problem.

     

  • Oprah's Hip Hop Nightmare - Part II

    The Debate about Negative Hip Hop

    Despising the negative lyrics of some hip hop artists is not a crime. It is most certainly a sentiment that Oprah shares with very many people. It’s also a topic which has been discussed in many venues including Essence Magazine. According to MTV.com, Byron Hurt''s documentary, “Beyond Beats & Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture” - takes rap to task over its preoccupation with “gunplay, killin'' other men, bein' tough and invulnerable, feminizing other men and puttin' fear into other men''s hearts.” He quoted as saying,

    “I love hip-hop, man," Hurt continued. “But I hear the hyper-masculinity, the sexism, the violence, the homophobia and the materialism and I say, ''Man, this ain't cool. We gotta demand a lot more from hip-hop …

    "All these young guys are spittin' all of these crazy rhymes, all of this sexist stuff, all this homophobic stuff. Then when I challenge them on it, they give me all of these positive rhymes on the black experience, about Africa, about their community. But when the camera is rolling, they were doing what they thought would get them on Sony or Bad Boy or Def Jam.”

    The fact is that many young people, especially black males, look at the rappers as role models and take what they do and say literarily, even of the more discerning people in society know that it is an unrealistic feat. The young ones copy the rappers fashion style, try to copy their bling ling culture and many misinformed ones end up selling drugs to maintain the materialism that is promoted in videos. For those who argue that it is ridiculous to link an issue like gun violence among teenagers in North America to listening to songs which promote it, perhaps they should try and remember how many gun violence related crimes among teenagers we heard about or knew about (not everything is in the news) before the gangsta rap era. Toronto, for example even as far as 10-15 years ago, did not have the alarming gun violence issues among youth it has today. These issues were just limited to child soldiers in some African countries.

    I do not agree with everything Oprah says or does, however, she is an intelligent woman and like these rappers, who are voicing their frustration over not being invited to her show, she too is entitled to her opinion. She may not be a saint, as she has made her own share of mistakes, but crucifying her for not promoting negativity is just barking up the wrong tree. A lot of people call Oprah self-righteous, but for a ‘self-righteous’ woman she is brutally honest about her flaws and the many mistakes she has made. She may have faults (show me a human being who does not) but she has done many amazing things, all the while remaining a strong and proud black woman. She had done so many things that few other people have been able to do.

    Understanding Her Audience

    For guys who have made it thus far, and from their success have shown that they do have business skills, it is surprising that they fail to understand this about Oprah. Oprah is a business woman. Period. She did not get as far as she is without her business skills, which require good marketing, and in her business understanding the demographics of her audience. Business has no colour. In business you cater to the people who buy or subscribe to your products. Bill Gates and Donald Trump, whatever their imperfections might be, understand that. How many black people who have done talk shows only catering to blacks are still in the game? In Oprah’s case, the key word is global thinking, as in opposed to being a regional thinker. If Oprah had only relied on a black audience, she would not be as rich as she is now. The fact is in North America, the black population is considerably smaller than the white population. Her studio audience may include a lot of white women but that is a fraction of her audience, which is spread out throughout the world.

    Global Thinking Versus Regional Thinking

    Oprah understands the need to be global, so 50 Cent is wrong when he says she [only] caters to old white women. He left out the many black women, old or young who watch her. The Oprah show is watched by millions of viewers all over the world, including countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean where there are not that many old white women. In fact many young people watch it, even many men who would never admit they do. In America only, over 23 million viewers each week watch her. So if 50 Cent has derision for her show’s audience, why does the fact that he is not invited bother him? Why is the issue of being on her show such a big issue in the first place? Wouldn’t being on her show force him to show his soft side? Won’t it kill his street credibility? Now that just ain’t gangsta, is it?

    The argument that Oprah only caters to old white women is a poor one. The gangsta rappers are definitely not catering to black people. If they were, they would be uplifting them, not poisoning their children with their lyrics. In fact most of the people who buy their records are young white male. This was confirmed on a BET hip hop documentary which aired last year. Fiddy admits is when he says,

    “Oprah's audience is my audience's parents.”

    I guess Fiddy does not see the double standard.

    The Old Oprah Does Not Support Black People Argument Again?

    So if in between the lines, if this is really an issue of Oprah does not support black people, as her ‘blackness’ always seems to be in question, then perhaps we should mention some of the people who have been featured on her show. They include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Halle Berry, Serena and Venus Williams, Patti Labelle, Beyoncé, Iman, Liya Kibede, Aretha Franklin, Mary .J. Blige, Angella Bassett, Condolezza Rice, and for those who are murmuring that she does not have black men on her show, she has had Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Terrance Howard, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Chris Rock, Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Tyler Perry, Shemar Moore, Barack Obama and so many more. The list is endless. She has also invited other non celebrity black people as well as people from other cultures.
    Let’s not forget that Oprah has given millions of dollars to the black community, reaching as far as Africa. She has donated money to black colleges, universities and other black causes around the world. She donated millions to the Katrina victims.

    She has covered the human rights issues going on in Rwanda, the Congo, Darfur-Sudan and Gulu-Uganda. She has provided for many African war and AIDS orphans. She has helped in the financing of many black films. Let’s not forget that her movies and theatre productions are based upon black-related themes.

    Should Rappers Get Preferential Treatment?

    ILudacris has at least made it to the show. However, he does not really highlight the conversation he had with Oprah regarding why she edited him on her show. According to Allhiphop.com Oprah tells him,

    “Look Ludacris, you are so smart. You are one of the brilliant guys. I used to have the Klan on and the skinheads on and …… I was doing nobody any good [by] putting those people on because I realized that that platform was being seen and heard by a lot of people who weren''t as smart as I am. My idea was, I want y''all to know that this is what''s going on," Winfrey continued to say to Ludacris, “A lot of people who listen to your music aren''t as smart [perceptive, experienced - added by writer] as you are. So they take some of that stuff literally when you are just writing it for entertainment purposes.”

    Rappers taking responsibility for their lyrics? Food for thought.

    As for Cube, granted, now that he is in his mid-30s, and is now more family-oriented, it is clear that he is a different man but that does not give him automatic preferential treatment. It’s interesting how they all complain about Oprah not liking rappers and yet when Ludacris was confronted and criticized as one, he did not like it. Perhaps that seat is a little too hot for comfort. It would be unrealistic for them not to expect Oprah to address their combined misogynistic and violent messages after having seen what happened to James Frey. I guess it’s unfair for Ice Cube who is trying his best to change his image (now that he had kids and sees how dangerous his old lyrics can be for young minds) but perhaps he should be more patient. Maybe she will one day have him on her show. But the bottom line is she does not owe any rapper, or any other person anything. Since everyone has a right to complain though, maybe Oprah should complain that women of her caliber, size and complexion are never seen in these rappers videos. Nor are women promoted in a positive, intelligent light. Isn’t that a form of discrimination?

    Ludacris Still Loves Oprah

    On a more positive note Ludacris has urged fans not to boycott Oprah Winfrey's daily TV talk show just because he's not happy with her thoughts about hip hop music - as she's still an important role model. Perhaps as a result of this entire controversy, Oprah will have more rappers on her show, just for discussions sake, but since she has let us know what she thinks of misogynistic lyrics, she would more likely invite rappers like Lauryn Hill, Mc Lyte, Outkast, the Roots, Wycleff Jean, Talib Kweli, Outkast, Public Enemy, Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, Common and Mos Def. Unfortunately, Ice Cube, Fiddy and Ludacris’ fans will not rest until their ‘idols’ get vindicated. Perhaps one of Oprah’s show ideas suggestions could be to interview them. It would be interesting to see how they will defend their violence and drugs glorifying as well misogynistic lyrics under Oprah’s James-Frey-grilling-style.

  • Catching Up with Traci Melchor

    She’s a veteran writer, journalist, a new mom to twins (double the fun) and soon to be a radio personality. Perhaps you’ve seen her as a Much More Music VJ or host of Style V.I.P?  Who is this wonder woman? Afrotoronto.com had the chance to speak with the tireless Traci Melchor about her life as a VJ and an entertainment journalist. After working in the industry for over 10 years from production assistant to actress, and from VJ to anchor there’s isn’t much Traci can’t tell you about the business of showbiz. She’s walked the red carpet at the Oscars, interviewed the likes of Denzel Washington, Mary J. Blige and Gabrielle Union and will someday write a book about her adventures. But here’s just a glimpse at the life of Traci Melchor.

    What do you like most about being a VJ and being an actress?

    I love being a VJ because it’s a different job everyday. I interview different people, I write my own throws, I report on entertainment and pop culture news. I really am a curious person and that’s why I got into this industry. But on the other hand, acting is fun too because you get to put on this whole new character and become this whole other person. That’s great too but you still have to perform in both mediums.

    How have you evolved as a VJ, from Rap-city to Style V. I.P to the VJ search?

    Just more experience, being in different interview situations has helped me develop on my feet. But I think I’ve grown the most just in my personal life after becoming a mother.

    Once you become a mother everything else looks really small. Honestly that has been the biggest evolution of my life because it went from being about me, to never being about me and being about them.

    How do you choose what is acceptable to reveal to the public and what is not?

    Well, I was the first person to write about Gabrielle Union’s rape, I did an article on her for Source Magazine and we really got along. I visited her on-set and she just started talking to me about her assault. I was really taken aback and she was like "I’ve never spoken about it openly with a reporter before." In saying that, she was giving me license to use it in an article. It got so much play that the National Enquirer ended up lifting it and using it as a blind item without using my byline in it. In a situation like that if she had said to me, “what did I say, I didn’t mean to tell you that,” there’s no way I would have written about it. However, as a VJ you don’t have as much time as a magazine interview but if there’s a burning question that the public needs me to ask, I’ all ask it. That’s my job; it’s my job to get the story.

    How was it working on the VJ search?

    The VJ search was a lot of fun and lots of hard-work, I admire those finalists because I don’t know if could have lasted the way they did. Not only living with the people they were competing with, but competing with them day in and day out. It’s hard because you don’t want to be a dream breaker. I want everybody to dream big and live out there fantasies and do what God put them on this earth to do. But at the same time, we are making Television and there can only be one winner. I really enjoyed the experience. It was an interesting dynamic for me because we''d shoot and everything would be out of my hands and some of the stuff that was left to go to air were a bit provocative. You didn’t see the build up, you only saw the end point, but you know what that’s television and that’s how we entertain people.

    What’s you advice to the VJ search winner. Tim Deegan?

    Just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s got a really good heart, and he’s willing to work hard and is always asking questions and willing to listen. I think he’s on the right track.

    And what’s next for Traci?

    Well I’m trying to get through the toddler years but I think eventually I’m going to write a book.

    We’ll be waiting to see what this wonder woman does next!

  • I Want to Be a Superstar

    With the bombarding proliferation of reality shows which promise instant celebrity, and the long list of people who audition for them, many of them ready to spend sleepless nights lining up for a chance to audition, it’s clear that many people want to be superstars. Shows like American Idol, Canadian Idol, America’s next top model, Canada's Next Top Model, Making the Cut, the Apprentice, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Wife Swap, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire and so many more are raking in viewers and contestants because of society’s obsession with stardom and fame.

    Even Africa is not immune. The reality show Big Brother was watched by millions of Africans all over the continent and the contestants were catapulted into African celebrity status. The appetite for celebrity culture is insatiable. It is not surprising that as a society we hunger for superstardom when magazines and tabloids equate stardom and its trappings with fame, money, success, attention and popularity. Who would not want that? After all, all human beings want to be liked. Celebrity superstardom in many people’s mind is the ultimate stamp of approval and appreciation to the highest degree.

    We live in a society which rewards and celebrates winners. Writers who win awards are more likely to get publishing contracts with large publishing companies, A-list actors are more likely to win million dollar endorsements, and so are award-winning singers. This is proved with the cases of David Beckham, Madonna, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Beyoncé. However, what many people do not realize is the obstacles, hard work and rejections these winners go through to get to where they are. Although we are fascinated by the overnight success sensational stories, the chances of talented people being overnight successes, is as likely as winning the lottery. In fact the only way they can achieve it is through reality shows and even then, many of these people who audition for these shows have been struggling to pursue their art of choice for years.

    The beginnings are definitely tough, but once they have made it, celebrities have followings which would probably make many religious leaders envious. They say religion is the opium of the masses. Perhaps that was applicable at the beginning of last century, but today, it seems like celebrity culture is slowly becoming the religion of the masses, at least in the Western world. Nowadays many people read more celebrity tabloids regularly than the bible and other holy books. People live vicariously through the lives of celebrities. There is an aspiration towards celebrity culture with many people dressing like them, behaving like them and trying to consume like them, including the expensive cars and homes. Average Joes and Mary’s are more likely to know the name of Tomkat’s or Brangelina’s baby, which celebrity has divorced or separated and who is feuding than knowing their co-workers of five years children’s names. Instant gratification is promoted at all levels. Without wanting to be or not, celebrities are cultural leaders of sorts and role models for many people, especially the youth. Unfortunately this means that bad habits like starving themselves, taking drugs and being anorexic are copied as well by the most vulnerable minds of our society.

    It’s a pity that many celebrities, especially those who are considered authority figures, do not choose to tell the truth about the dark side of the superstardom, beyond the commonality of losing their privacy. It’s a pity that more celebrities do not tell us more about the frustrations, obstacles, rejections, moments of self-doubt, misunderstandings, lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of their talents that they went through and still go through. It’s a pity that many more do not discuss their struggles with the changes fame brings. Not so that we can gloat over their bad moments, but more so that they can be learning lessons for the millions who are aspiring to be them. So that they can be humanized and not viewed as gods or goddesses who can do no wrong.

    Aspiring towards perfection is such an unrealistic feat, yet celebrity culture is promoted as near perfect, with a lot of fans trying and failing to achieve this perfect nirvana state. Celebrity lifestyle is portrayed as a stress-free, easy life. But if that is the case, why do many abuse drugs, alcohol and food? Why did David Chappelle leave a successful show and go to Africa? Why did Mariah Carey have to be hospitalized? Why does Janet Jackson’s weight keep yo-yoing? Why is Whitney Houston now a junkie? Despite some critics stating that celebrity management teams carefully script a star''s downfall and subsequent redemption as publicity ploys, there is definitely more to the story. There is definitely an ugly side to celebrity which is not being discussed.

    However, there are many celebrities who keep reminding average viewers that it did not come easily to them. Oprah is one of them. She is the epitome of a struggling human being who goes against all odds to succeed and be a source of inspiration for many generations. But she always tells the truth about how hard it was for her and this humanizes her and makes people identify with her because she has gone through what many go through. This is what makers her so popular. On the show, The Actor’s Studio , when Don Cheadle is asked if he would advise younger people to be actors, he says that he would not. Then he goes on to say that if some people are offended by what he is saying, then it’s a good thing because he mentions that it was a tough road he would not wish on anyone else. He says you have to really want it and it has to really be your passion because it is strife with heartache and rejections. The temptation to give up is high and it is only the passion which keeps one in the game.

    It used to be enough to have talent, drive and to be ready to work hard to reach ones goals as an artists of any genre. But these days, even those with talent are feeling the threat of less talented ones, who are ready to do anything to reach their degree of stardom. People are even prepared to take off their clothes, strip dance, make fools of themselves, swallow disgusting foods, be insulted (by Simon Cowell,) and many other extreme things to achieve superstardom. But many of those who become instant celebrities on reality shows fall off the radar soon enough, as they do not have what it takes to maintain the status. They do not have the staying power of people like Patti Labelle and Luther Vandross (R.I.P). Who remembers the name of the chick who married the millionaire and then divorced him not too long after?

    Many professional actors, writers, singers and artists are feeling the burn of people moving into their territory with the hopes of attaining superstardom. The competition is on and the ante is up. Many of them are complaining that too many people mistakenly think that they can act, write, sing and draw. Many of them say that this is affecting the quality of art that is out there. Even those with talents are forced to try other areas as it is no longer enough to be talented in one area. Samuel L. Jackson made waves in 2002 when he stated that he didn’t want to headline in films with rappers. Recently upon hearing that he would co-star with 50 Cent in his debut acting performance, Samuel L. Jackson turned down a role in Jim Sheridan’s Locked and Loaded, citing that 50 Cent should act in more movies and basically get talent. I hope he got some bodyguards after that. But let’s try and understand where Jackson is coming from. If 50 Cent’s acting career flops, at least he has his rapping career, not to mention his endorsements and brand labels, to fall back to. What do you have to fall back to if superstardom does not pan out?

  • On My Mind: Socializing

    Anyone who knows me will hear me talk about Toronto and Toronto people, as if I’m not one of them. I apologize for this. I remember doing a performance and saying I was new to the city. My friend Ricardo looked at me smiling and said “Anne-Marie you’ve been here for five years now, you are not new to the city.” You see this sister is from Trinidad and unlike most, my family moved to Nova Scotia, where the human interaction is much more like the African-American south.

    Coupled with that I do go back home to Trinidad when I can afford it; and you know a favourite Trini ting to say is… Leh we go lime. 

    *To lime = to hang out.

    But, the question is why do I feel like an alien in a foreign land in Toronto? There are a few things that leave me perplexed about living in the Tdot Odot. But today what has been on my mind the most is Socializing in Toronto.

    What seems to be the norm in this city is to network, or to go to work. I’m past the age of going clubbing every weekend, and that no longer holds an interest at this point in my life, but I do enjoy socializing.  I enjoy going to dinner with friends, to a movie, for a walk, traveling, or just plain old chillin down by the lakeshore, Harbourfront, café, bookstore, or a new found area, the Beaches. So, every now and then, I call up someone I met here to say, “Let’s meet for lunch, or dinner” and then three years later we meet. THREE YEARS LATER? I wish I was joking. Last year I had lunch with three people who I’d been trying to hook up with for three years.

    I don’t know what happened here, I’m self employed so I have to work hard to make ends meet, and now I’m working on a short term full time contract. My job is pretty demanding, especially because I have undergone knee surgery, but guess what… twice a month I do something social (Crutches and All).  I will try to go out to dinner with a friend. That’s about all I’m capable of doing right now.

    I think when this phenomena of people being work focused, hits me the most is when I have thank you dinners at my apartment, or at my CD Listening Party, where people will come by to eat if it’s a Thank You Dinner, or to do their respective listening if it’s a CD Listening Party, and then BOOM CHAKA, they have to leave right away to go to another meeting or another event.

    One crowd of people who do like to socialize or hang out with after an event, are spoken word artists. Now there’s a group of people I can vibe with. How often, back in the day, did we just hang out after La Parole was finished and just talk and vibe and hold a cipher on Yonge Street. Now, I know what you’re thinking…oh those flaky artist types, but we’re not. It’s just nice that spoken word artists get to come together, perform vibe and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

    Don’t get me wrong, networking has its purpose, and I am a huge supporter of Warren Salmon and First Fridays, and I also think that the community workshops put on by Black Habits are amazing as well.  But, I do think there is more to life than our jobs and networking to get more work.

    I mean am I alone on this venture?  Does anyone else out there just like to chill, kick back have fun and just socialize, lime, hang out for no other reason than just that?

    Last Thursday after work I went out with my clients from my job; we went to a Thai Restaurant, laughed joked and ate, and after a stressful day at work it was a great way to wind down.

    I almost gave up on people in the city of Toronto , but during the last few months I’ve actually found some people like me, who just like to hang out.

    So, today, socializing was on my mind, and as difficult as it is, I’m going to continue to try and socialize in Toronto and to keep my Trini and Nova Scotian Spirit Alive in the City.

  • The Diary of a Tired Black Man

    Director Tim Alexander Defends Film Which Takes Aim at Angry Sisters

    BACKGROUND:

    CLICK HERE to see a clip of the upcoming U.S.-release film

    Rarely does a film generate a lot of controversy even before it’s been made. But that’s exactly what we have with Diary of a Tired Black Man, a movie ostensibly designed as an answer to such brother-bashing, revenge comedies as Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Two Can Play That Game and Waiting to Exhale.

    What has spurred interest in the upcoming flick is a snippet available on the Internet at www.tiredblackman.com in which Jimmy Jean-Louis (who just starred as the African infatuated with Mo’nique in Phat Girlz) shows up with his white girlfriend to take custody of his daughter for the weekend. Although his ex-wife (Paula Lema) and her girlfriends (Shavsha Isreal and Natasha Dixon) proceed to rake him over the coals, the self-proclaimed “tired black man” manages to get the better of his adversaries during the heated exchange.

    With the movie already enjoying so much buzz, I figured why wait for the release to talk to Tim Alexander, the writer and director about to make his feature film debut with the upcoming picture everybody’s been emailing, text messaging, chatrooming, instant messaging and clogging talk show phone lines about.

    KW: Tell me a little about yourself. Where were you born?

    TA: I was born in Harlem, but I’ve been in L.A. since I was four.

    KW: And what did you do before you decided to make Diary of a Tired Black Man?

    TA: I dropped out of high school, became a locksmith. From there, I just kind of fell into fashion photography. I’ve been doing that as well as retouching, layout, and design. I’ve got a website company. And I did a few music videos.

    KW: Who did you make music videos for?

    TA: Howard Hewett would be the biggest star. Recently, I decided to help up-and-coming actors by making short vignettes that they could use to showcase their acting talent. So, I created a company called Screen Time Productions. Diary of a Tired Black Man was the first clip I shot. It was only supposed to be the three-minute clip to help the actors. But I put it on the Internet, did a Google the next day and I was shocked. It was all over the Internet. On one forum somebody created, there were 550 posts, 22 pages long, in only 24 hours. I said, “Oh my God!”

    KW: How much help did you have in making the video clip that’s caused all the hubbub?

    TA: I made it entirely by myself. I wrote, produced, directed, shot it, did the lighting, the sound and the editing. There was nobody on the set but me and the actors. I shot the whole thing in five hours, from set-up to tear-down.

    KW: Unbelievable! And you built the website promoting it, too?

    TA: Yeah.

    KW: So, do you have enough money behind you to complete the project?

    TA: I kinda have it and I’m in negotiations now, but I’m still open and weighing my options.

    KW: So, what inspired you to make Diary of a Tired Black Man?

    TA: I was dating a black woman who constantly wanted to go toe-to-toe with me. She was a good bit younger than I was, and even when she didn’t have any ground to stand on, she would still continue to argue with me. And then, one day, she reared back and said, “You need to get yourself a white girl. You can’t deal with a strong black woman.” So, I just said to myself, “You know what? I shouldn’t even deal with her anymore. I’m out of here.”

    KW: What’s you’re dating history? Have you ever been married? Do you have kids?

    TA: I’ve been engaged six times, but I’ve never been married, no kids. I find that when black women have issues with men, they bring their anger issues into a relationship.

    KW: But don’t you think that many have been victimized by brothers with a player mentality? There are an awful lot of sisters who have been abandoned without child support to raise kids alone.

    TA: I agree, there are a lot of men who aren’t good for them. But for some reason, when a black woman gets with a good black man, she thinks he’s weak, she thinks he’s a punk. If you’re a single-mom, I can appreciate that you’re facing certain challenges. But does that give you the right to treat a good black man with such anger and contempt? I don’t think so.

    KW: What do you think is the source of their problem?

    TA: I equate them almost with child molesters who grew up to become child molesters. They didn’t like it at the time but still grew up to do the same thing, because they understand how to fight, and the struggle, and all the drama. But what they doesn’t understand is how to get along. And so when they’re with a nice guy, they get frustrated, lose their comfort level, because all of a sudden they have more responsibility to actually pull their weight in the relationship. And when he doesn’t bring any drama, they bring the drama, because that’s what they’re comfortable with.

    KW: So, what types of women do you date?

    TA: Right now, I’m not dating anybody.

    KW: What type of women were you engaged to?

    TA: They were all black women. My preference is absolutely black women. That’s why I’m trying to expose the problem that we’re having, so that they maybe could learn from it.

    KW: I recently reviewed a book called Mixed written by a sister who said that she started dating white guys after she moved to L.A. from Philly because no black men would even ask her out. Is that an accurate description of the state of affairs there?

    TA: That is so far from the truth. I don’t agree because I live in Los Angeles. Most black people date other black people here, so she’s definitely speaking from a tainted perspective.

    KW: Still, this might have been her real personal experience.

    TA: There are many different points of view, but Diary of a Tired Black Man is dealing specifically with the issue of the anger.

    KW: Do you think that there might be a connection between the anger and misogyny directed at black women by gangsta’ rap and the sort of anger you’ve witnessed? Maybe it’s a defense mechanism and a rational reaction to misogynist treatment?

    TA: I think it’s partly the women’s fault, if they can’t tell that rap music is degrading them, and if they continue to respond to the rappers and get on the dance floor. The worse the song is, the more they want to dance to it. That’s definitely part of the problem. I’m trying to put the face of a good black man up, because the rappers have already had their day.

    KW: How do you expect black women to react to this film?

    TA: If you have a medical condition, first you have to go to the doctor to diagnose the problem, before you can heal it. But you cannot tell black women they have an anger issue. They won’t accept it. The reason I’m putting it in a movie is that you have a great forum, a situation where people have to sit there for two hours, shut up, and listen. And that’s something that you cannot do in person.

    KW: You sound like a black Dr. Phil, talking tough love, here. This is likely to provoke some very heated exchanges. What type of reactions have you gotten from sisters to the clip so far?

    TA: I’ve gotten thousands of emails. I’m definitely getting some that are kicking and screaming about it, but believe it or not, the overwhelming majority of women agree with it, even the very educated ones. And the few that called who disagreed, changed their minds after I talked to them and they said, “Is that what we do? I’m glad to see this from a man’s point-of-view. You know what? I suddenly see what you’re saying.” Some of them say, “We do need to check ourselves.”

    KW: Have any women shown an interested in dating you because of the movie, and of what ethnicity?

    TA: A few, primarily black women. Some were definitely enamored, but I don’t get out much, because I work very hard

    KW: Certainly some sisters must see it as a slap in the face of black women.

    TA: Some try to make it a bigger issue than it is by saying it’s an indictment of all black people. But it’s not. He says, I’m tired of “angry” black women like you and pointed at them. It’s a very direct hit. They attacked him at the door. He just came to pick up his daughter.

    KW: Do you feel uncomfortable about presenting black women in such a negative light?

    TA: Whites make movies where we see white people as trailer trash? What’s the difference?

    KW: Maybe the presence of the white woman is what makes the anger issue seem so explosive in your film?

    TA: It’s not about the white woman. It’s about the angry black woman. And when have you ever seen a movie which shows a positive image of a black man who takes care of his family and carries himself with dignity, even when he’s under fire. You’ve seen us be the problem, the drug-dealers, the gangstas, the criminals, the losers, the buffoons, the cross-dressers. When have you seen a dignified black man handling his responsibilities? They say there’s no good black man? Here’s a good black man. This guy ain’t no pimp, and he ain’t puttin’ on a dress. In this particular scenario, a good black man can’t find peace and happiness in his home. No matter what he does, she relentlessly rakes him over. And finally he gets tired, and has to leave. So, she drives him away.

    KW: Do you think your film could possible trigger more violence against black women or make even more of a rift between sisters and brothers?

    TA: No, it’s not about that at all. Anybody who sees this movie and wants to go hit a woman is sick and has a problem. If anything, maybe women will realize that if they didn’t have to get in that last word, maybe they could circumvent some of the violence that they’re already going through.

    KW: I gotta ask you one last thing, the Jimmy Bayan question. What area of L.A. do you live in?

    TA: Studio City, in The Valley.

    KW: Thanks for the interview and good luck with the film.

    TA: Thank you.

  • Go Back To Your Country!

    Do Some People Have More of a Right to Live in Canada than Others?

    I love Toronto. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and that is what attracted me to it. Over half of Torontonians were born outside Canada. Most of Canada''s huge numbers of annual immigrants settle in Toronto. It is a cultural mélange of languages, tribes, religions, traditions, origins, nationalities and colours. It is one of those few cities where you will be riding the streetcar or strolling on the streets and hear a smattering of Chinese in one corner, snippets of Spanish in another, fragments of French in another and a whole assortment of other languages; Gujarati, Tagalog, Twi, Nigerian Pidgin, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Amharic, Luganda, the Queens English, Jamaican Patois and even Haitian Creole. You will find Muslim, Hindus, Sikhs, Anglicans, Catholics, Baha''is, Orthodox Christians, Pentecostals, Buddhists, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New-Agers and Zoroastrians all living in harmony as Canadians.

    It is one of those rare cities where you can enjoy a rich smorgasbord of ethnic and cultural festivals and events. You can celebrate Black history Month, Caribana - the big, Caribbean-style street festival, AfroFest, the Irie Music Festival (Caribbean), The Taste of the Danforth Festival (Greek), the International Dragon Boat Race Festival (Chinese), the Toronto International Film Festival, the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, St. Patrick''s Day Parade (Irish), Deepawali (Indian Festival of Lights), Annual Corso Italia Toronto Fiesta, the Beaches Jazz Festival and so many more.

    Toronto is a multicultural mosaic maze of neighbourhoods, which reflect the distinct ethnicities, cultural groups and lifestyles. There is Chinatown, Little Italy, Little India, Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Jamaica, the Danforth (Greek town), black-populated areas; Brampton, Rexdale and Malvern, and so many more. In Toronto you can eat Middle-Eastern falafels, Ethiopian injera, Italian pizzas and pasta’s, Mexican fajitas, Japanese sushi, Jamaican jerk chicken, Greek salad, Trinidadian roti, Indian chapattis and Russian samovar. There is no lack of cultural experience in Toronto if you are looking for it.

    Is Toronto a Racist-free Metropia?

    So, with all the wonderful diversity Toronto has to offer, one would wonder if racism ever rears its ugly head in this metropia, which the UN has designated as the most multicultural city in the world. Well, sad to say, it still exists. Last week a friend of mine from Montreal had his first Toronto in-your-face racial experience. They say racism exists in Canada but only subtly; it’s never openly shown. But his experience was a real as it could get.

    This friend is a tall, handsome, chocolate-coloured black man of French Caribbean ancestry who was born in Montreal in the mid-70’s, which was right after many Caribbean women were being let into Canada as nannies. My friend was dressed in semi-casual wear and his hair was shortly cropped. There was nothing stereotypically threatening about him. As he was leaving the subway, heading towards the Yonge and Sheppard intersection, he was approached by a ruggedly-dressed, middle-aged, bearded, white man. The man stepped in his path, stopped him and shook his hand.

    “How are you doing?” He greeted my friend.

    “I am ok,” my friend responded suspiciously, hoping the man would not jump into religious jargon and try to convert him into whatever new religion had been concocted in someone’s basement.

    “Do you like Stephen Harper?” The man asked and my friend frowned, wondering where this was going.

    “Yes, he’s alright.’ My friend responded hesitatingly, “I have no problems with him.”

    “Well I do not like Stephen Harper,” the ruggedly-dressed white man announced, suddenly sneering as he looked my friend up and down, “You want to know why?”

    My friend did not really want to know why, but he figured he’d be told anyway. So the man continued.

    “I hate Stephen Harper because it’s because of him that people like you are allowed into my country! Go back to wherever you are from! Go back to your country!”

    Well that day he chose the wrong black man. My friend is as witty as one can get. He is a very intellectual person, working in the office of the Presidents of one of the biggest multi-million companies in Canada on a team which prevents lawsuits. He probably makes more money than his attacker makes. My friend did not pull out a gun, and shoot him, as some ignorant people would expect blacks to stereotypically do, but he pulled out something that was more effective. His tongue.

    “This is my country!” My friend protested, very offended.

    “No it’s not!” The white man said.

    “Well I am from Nova Scotia.” My friend lied, “I was born in this country. My people have been here for centuries. As a matter of fact, I am sure that we have been here longer than your family. My family has been here for several generations. I also have Native Indian blood from my great grandmother’s side, which means my people from that part of the family were here long before yours even dreamed of setting foot in Canada, so don’t talk to me about going back to my country! If anything you go back to yours!”

    The middle-aged, racist man was defeated. Rendered, speechless and stupefied, he slinked off into oblivion. I thought it served him right. How could his smart-Alec, racist self argue against a powerful comeback like that?

    Racism and Immigration

    Now this experience brings up the issues which many immigrants and refugees have to go through. I’ll call this particular one the “Go back to your country syndrome.” With the heated immigration situation in the USA, one wonders if the race relations in Canada will follow suit and take a beating. Many immigrants and refugees in the black community do not come here by choice. They come here because the conditions in their countries of origins were unfavorable at the time they left. Many have fled dangerous regimes, unstable political environments and yes, some have even fled for economic reasons. Whatever the reasons, most of them are here now and are settled. Many of them are working hard, studying in universities, buying homes, owning businesses, and entrenching themselves deeply into the Canadian system as Canadians. That is called immigrating.

    The “Go back to your country syndrome” is a very disturbing phenomenon, not only because of its racial slurs, but also because nobody has more right to this country than anyone else, with perhaps the exception of the Natives Indians - the First Nations tribes, who were here long before Europeans started fighting for their land. The first blacks who came to Canada and stayed as Canadians, the Nova Scotians ancestors, came as slaves. They did not willingly get on boats and head out on discovery trips to find that utopian land of dreams. They did not come to Canada looking for greener grass, unlike their European counterparts. They came in chains. So I need someone to explain to me how the “Go back to your country” comments relate to them.

    Now in case of the other blacks; the Africans, Caribbeans and Americans, in fact let me go further and say all the different groups who came here after the Nova Scotians, they too have every right to be here. They have as much right as a third generation Irish-Canadian person because in the end, they are all immigrants or children (even grandchildren) of immigrants. This is the year 2006 and for decades, Canada has been implementing an immigration system which has brought, among many other people, blacks. I agree that many illegal immigrants have slipped through the system and some of them may be ‘undesirable’ criminal elements, but that fact is not just limited to the black community.

    Besides, not all those illegal immigrants are criminals. Some of them are just people who, as mentioned above, have come here to flee from danger, from economic strife and cannot afford to pay the hefty economic price landed immigrants have to pay before Canada accepts them. Many of them are just desperate human beings looking for greener grass. A big number of them are also in their late teens and early twenties. Canada needs young people in its workforce.

    I do not work for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada but I know that determining who stays and who does not stay in Canada is not an easy job. Each person’s circumstance is different. I do know of some people who came here illegally and yet today, because the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada let them stay, they are working hard, have saved up enough money to buy homes and are paying taxes to the government. There are plenty of these success stories.

    Canada is one of the biggest countries in the world in terms of its size, yet it only has 30 million people. This is only slightly higher than Uganda, a considerably smaller country, which has about 23 million people. Because of the low birth rate among the Canadian-born population of European background, Canada has no choice but to bring immigrants from all over the world. These same immigrants have no problems populating the country quickly. So those who resent immigrants had better get used to the fact that immigrants and refugees who have been accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada are not going anywhere. They are here to stay. This is their country.

  • androgyne: Matters of queerness and community - Part Il of interview with D'bi Young

    “I feel like our sexuality has been shaped so much by the diasporic experience of enslaved African peoples that I feel that if we were to take the time to investigate our sexuality more, that we would see that it’s on a continuum. And that our sexuality has so much to do with our empowerment and our self-esteem. We don’t talk about it at all..... We don’t want to talk about the way gender is constructed in Black men and in Black women. And the way that this construction often keeps us really inhibited. Not only sexually but inhibited in every way. So that I feel like a part of my own liberation is to deal with sexuality. I can’t talk about classicism and racism, agism and not talk about sexuality and gender. People don’t like talking about sex. … So I feel that a part of my job as a story-teller … is to reflect those stories that are not being talked about. And if they are being talked about, to really push the button and push the pencil. And to be provocative. There’s no shame in being provocative. I like that. I like being provocative.”

    - D’bi Young


    The concept of community and the role of the artist, journalist, or story-teller in forging a fruitful alliance with it is behind much of D’bi Young’s artistic philosophy. Much as in the African griot tradition, Young believes that you have to “pay your dues” to the community as a story-teller. Part of that comes in the form of spending time to develop and grow with the craft. As she puts it: “There are necessarily stages along the way where you are mentored, where you have to put energy that’s not necessarily reciprocated in a monetary sense. … You have to enter into a relationship with community.” Her book Art on Black. and the years of working on the manuscript and having it reviewed by those who have come before (like ahdri zhina mandiela), was part of this process. But the theatre stage is another important conduit through which D’bi Young seeks to engage her community in tackling some important topics.

    As a mid-career artist, Young recognizes that there are certain responsibilities that come along with being an “elder”. Even though she turned just 28 last December, which is obviously still very young, she has nonetheless traveled a many-storied road. I congratulated her on having been accepted as part of a very select group of ten mid-career artists making up the inaugural 2006 edition of the Soulpepper Academy. This is no small feat, as the field was narrowed down from 225 applicants from across Canada, from Victoria to Charlottetown, and from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The two-year program, which starts this coming June, will allow her (and also fellow Toronto theatre practitioner and director of ''Da Kink in my Hair Weyni Mengesha) to continue to grow and develop with the full support of a professional apprenticeship framework. D’bi Young is grateful for the opportunity. “That’s a big deal. Because it means that I can focus wholeheartedly on writing and on creating, on dancing, and on movement and in voice. All the things that I need to develop and grow as a storyteller. So I am taking it seriously.”

    Young describes this current growth period in her life as a time to engage in her own process of self-love and self-analysis. “ I keep reminding myself because you’re getting older, the expectations are different. As an elder, your expectations are different.... I can only imagine that that’s not an individual thing. Everybody feels that potential for growth and metamorphosis and sometimes we take the agency to change and sometimes we don’t. But my own growth as a story-teller, even in the last four months, says that we can’t do less than our parents did. We can’t afford to do less than our parents did. … So to come now and to be at Soulpepper, is really unbelievable. … What it means is that now after all the work that my mom’s done, that my grandma’s done, all the people who’ve done the work [I can enjoy this opportunity]. Because your lifetime of work is not just your lifetime of work … it’s a whole bunch of people, blood, sweat and tears people come over on boat and ship and all kind of craziness.”

    Through her Soulpepper Academy experience, D’bi Young hopes to develop the last two pieces in the Mudgu Sankofa trilogy. The first play in that trilogy was the much-acclaimed Bloodclaat. The second play in the trilogy, Androgyne, is a piece looking at queerness and homophobia. It delves into how “Black women, and the Black community, give and receive love.”  The third play, called Chronicles in Dub, follows the same central character, Mudgu Sankofa, as she reconciles her identity as a Jamaican and Canadian woman through the romanticizing of the legacy of dub poetry and Jamaica in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As Young elaborates: “The thing about those three pieces is I felt like I wanted to do an autobiographical journey. But adding mythology and taking a lot of poetic license. It looks more like a biomythography than an autobiography. And looking at different aspects of my own developing artistic self and really trying to critique that using the micro of my own personal reality to look at the macro of black community and women in particular. And all the issues that surround us. Blood and menstruation and sexuality, identity, and class. All of this stuff, looking at that. So the three pieces are thematically driven in that way.  Blood, looking at womanism and menstruation. And Androgyne, looking at sexuality. And the third piece looking at cultural legacies and how we document our stories and how we remember and sometimes forget our legacies.”

    In addition to the Mudgu Sankofa trilogy, D’bi Young also hopes to develop another piece at Soulpepper Academy which she’s been working on for two years independently from the trilogy. Similarly to Androgyne, this piece in progress is basically a story about a woman and a man who are in love. But the sub-plot involves the defining factor lining this relationship that the man is a queer “down-low brother.”  He is queer, but queer loving women and loving men. And doesn’t know how to deal with that in his relationship. “ I wanted to look at that because there’s been so much talk about down-low brothers and the lack of integrity in it. But this play is looking at the way in which Black men have very little spaces to exist in the mainstream and also deal with their sexuality. So that it is sometimes sympathetic towards that male character” as Young expands.

    I needlessly remind D’bi that these issues of sex and queerness aren’t the easiest topics to address within the Black community. I ask her what has been her experience as far as reactions from the Black community with respect to her bold, and even provocative, subject-matters in her work. She responds:


    “Black people love me. … they can’t stand me but they love me. The beautiful thing about hard work and many years is that, after a while, people have expectations. … Listen, I know black people. Black people are the most forward thinking people I know and I say that because, in spite of our bigotries, the support for my work is full and complete. Some people are obviously homophobic, and opinionated, and have a lot of class issues and sometimes want to know if I talk Jamaican all the time. Is that a political choice that I make? Really want to know which school I went to. They can’t figure out my class. … That being said, the people who made ‘Da kink a success were black people. The people who made Lord Have Mercy a success were Black people. The people who continue to give me work, are Black people. So I’m committed to us. And I love us. My own journey in relationship to myself and my own interrogation of my own internalized racism. My own internalized hate. Self-hate and hate.”

    Young recounts how incredibly honoured she was recently to have been invited to perform at a community wedding. “Those were Caribbean Black people who know where I’m coming from” she says with genuine appreciation. “It’s a complicated affair and I feel that if I did less than to present the issues that I’m presenting, that I would be failing the Black community, and failing myself.”

    From June 9 th to 11 th 2006, D’bi Young will be premiering a workshop production of Androgyne at the queer-focused Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. “My work doesn’t necessarily have a herstory of being associated with queer spaces but it’s a conscious decision that I’m making because I feel like that’s a part of the work. It’s to give people examples” Young says. The production is directed by b.current’s ahdri zhina mandiela, dramaturged by Moynan King, and performed by Ordena Stephens-Thompson (‘Da Kink in my Hair, Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God) with D’bi Young in a supporting role.

    D’bi Young is enthusiastic about the production: “People will come out and see Androgyne even if it’s only to take in the spectacle and to live vicariously through that because so many of us are closeted. Not only in terms of sexuality but just inhibited. And I feel that people enjoyed ‘Da Kink because it allowed us to sit and to look at even a queer monologue, a monologue on incest and know that as survivors we can see an example of ourselves. I feel like the energy and the support to create this kind of work is coming from Black communities.”

    Don’t miss the show.


    Meres J. Weche is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com. He can be reached atmweche@afrotoronto.com


    Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents:

     androgyne
    a world premiere workshop production

    by d’bi young
    performed by d’bi young and Ordena Stephens-Thompson
    directed by ahdri zhina mandiela
    stage managed by Amber Archbell
    lighting design by Adrien Whan

    June 9 – 11, 2006

     Shows Fri & Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm
    Tickets $15 Fri & Sat, Sun PWYC
    Box Office 416-975-8555 12 Alexander Street, Toronto www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com


    androgyne (June 9-11) kicks off two wild and crazy weeks of Sexy Pride: A Queer Festival (June 14-25)

  • androgyne

     

    “I feel like our sexuality has been shaped so much by the diasporic experience of enslaved African peoples that I feel that if we were to take the time to investigate our sexuality more, that we would see that it’s on a continuum. And that our sexuality has so much to do with our empowerment and our self-esteem. We don’t talk about it at all..... We don’t want to talk about the way gender is constructed in Black men and in Black women. And the way that this construction often keeps us really inhibited. Not only sexually but inhibited in every way. So that I feel like a part of my own liberation is to deal with sexuality. I can’t talk about classicism and racism, agism and not talk about sexuality and gender. People don’t like talking about sex. … So I feel that a part of my job as a story-teller … is to reflect those stories that are not being talked about. And if they are being talked about, to really push the button and push the pencil. And to be provocative. There’s no shame in being provocative. I like that. I like being provocative.”

    - D’bi Young

    The concept of community and the role of the artist, journalist, or story-teller in forging a fruitful alliance with it is behind much of D’bi Young’s artistic philosophy. Much as in the African griot tradition, Young believes that you have to “pay your dues” to the community as a story-teller. Part of that comes in the form of spending time to develop and grow with the craft. As she puts it: “There are necessarily stages along the way where you are mentored, where you have to put energy that’s not necessarily reciprocated in a monetary sense. … You have to enter into a relationship with community.” Her book Art on Black. and the years of working on the manuscript and having it reviewed by those who have come before (like ahdri zhina mandiela), was part of this process. But the theatre stage is another important conduit through which D’bi Young seeks to engage her community in tackling some important topics.

    As a mid-career artist, Young recognizes that there are certain responsibilities that come along with being an “elder”. Even though she turned just 28 last December, which is obviously still very young, she has nonetheless traveled a many-storied road. I congratulated her on having been accepted as part of a very select group of ten mid-career artists making up the inaugural 2006 edition of the Soulpepper Academy. This is no small feat, as the field was narrowed down from 225 applicants from across Canada, from Victoria to Charlottetown, and from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The two-year program, which starts this coming June, will allow her (and also fellow Toronto theatre practitioner and director of ''Da Kink in my Hair Weyni Mengesha) to continue to grow and develop with the full support of a professional apprenticeship framework. D’bi Young is grateful for the opportunity. “That’s a big deal. Because it means that I can focus wholeheartedly on writing and on creating, on dancing, and on movement and in voice. All the things that I need to develop and grow as a storyteller. So I am taking it seriously.”

    Young describes this current growth period in her life as a time to engage in her own process of self-love and self-analysis. “I keep reminding myself because you’re getting older, the expectations are different. As an elder, your expectations are different.... I can only imagine that that’s not an individual thing. Everybody feels that potential for growth and metamorphosis and sometimes we take the agency to change and sometimes we don’t. But my own growth as a story-teller, even in the last four months, says that we can’t do less than our parents did. We can’t afford to do less than our parents did. … So to come now and to be at Soulpepper, is really unbelievable. … What it means is that now after all the work that my mom’s done, that my grandma’s done, all the people who’ve done the work [I can enjoy this opportunity]. Because your lifetime of work is not just your lifetime of work … it’s a whole bunch of people, blood, sweat and tears people come over on boat and ship and all kind of craziness.”

    Through her Soulpepper Academy experience, D’bi Young hopes to develop the last two pieces in the Mudgu Sankofa trilogy. The first play in that trilogy was the much-acclaimed Bloodclaat. The second play in the trilogy, Androgyne, is a piece looking at queerness and homophobia. It delves into how “Black women, and the Black community, give and receive love.”  The third play, called Chronicles in Dub, follows the same central character, Mudgu Sankofa, as she reconciles her identity as a Jamaican and Canadian woman through the romanticizing of the legacy of dub poetry and Jamaica in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As Young elaborates: “The thing about those three pieces is I felt like I wanted to do an autobiographical journey. But adding mythology and taking a lot of poetic license. It looks more like a biomythography than an autobiography. And looking at different aspects of my own developing artistic self and really trying to critique that using the micro of my own personal reality to look at the macro of black community and women in particular. And all the issues that surround us. Blood and menstruation and sexuality, identity, and class. All of this stuff, looking at that. So the three pieces are thematically driven in that way.  Blood, looking at womanism and menstruation. And Androgyne, looking at sexuality. And the third piece looking at cultural legacies and how we document our stories and how we remember and sometimes forget our legacies.”

    In addition to the Mudgu Sankofa trilogy, D’bi Young also hopes to develop another piece at Soulpepper Academy which she’s been working on for two years independently from the trilogy. Similarly to Androgyne, this piece in progress is basically a story about a woman and a man who are in love. But the sub-plot involves the defining factor lining this relationship that the man is a queer “down-low brother.”  He is queer, but queer loving women and loving men. And doesn’t know how to deal with that in his relationship. “ I wanted to look at that because there’s been so much talk about down-low brothers and the lack of integrity in it. But this play is looking at the way in which Black men have very little spaces to exist in the mainstream and also deal with their sexuality. So that it is sometimes sympathetic towards that male character” as Young expands.

    I needlessly remind D’bi that these issues of sex and queerness aren’t the easiest topics to address within the Black community. I ask her what has been her experience as far as reactions from the Black community with respect to her bold, and even provocative, subject-matters in her work. She responds:

    “Black people love me. … they can’t stand me but they love me. The beautiful thing about hard work and many years is that, after a while, people have expectations. … Listen, I know black people. Black people are the most forward thinking people I know and I say that because, in spite of our bigotries, the support for my work is full and complete. Some people are obviously homophobic, and opinionated, and have a lot of class issues and sometimes want to know if I talk Jamaican all the time. Is that a political choice that I make? Really want to know which school I went to. They can’t figure out my class. … That being said, the people who made ‘Da kink a success were black people. The people who made Lord Have Mercy a success were Black people. The people who continue to give me work, are Black people. So I’m committed to us. And I love us. My own journey in relationship to myself and my own interrogation of my own internalized racism. My own internalized hate. Self-hate and hate.”

    Young recounts how incredibly honoured she was recently to have been invited to perform at a community wedding. “Those were Caribbean Black people who know where I’m coming from” she says with genuine appreciation. “It’s a complicated affair and I feel that if I did less than to present the issues that I’m presenting, that I would be failing the Black community, and failing myself.”

    From June 9 th to 11 th 2006, D’bi Young will be premiering a workshop production of Androgyne at the queer-focused Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. “My work doesn’t necessarily have a herstory of being associated with queer spaces but it’s a conscious decision that I’m making because I feel like that’s a part of the work. It’s to give people examples” Young says. The production is directed by b.current’s ahdri zhina mandiela, dramaturged by Moynan King, and performed by Ordena Stephens-Thompson (‘Da Kink in my Hair, Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God) with D’bi Young in a supporting role.

    D’bi Young is enthusiastic about the production: “People will come out and see Androgyne even if it’s only to take in the spectacle and to live vicariously through that because so many of us are closeted. Not only in terms of sexuality but just inhibited. And I feel that people enjoyed ‘Da Kink because it allowed us to sit and to look at even a queer monologue, a monologue on incest and know that as survivors we can see an example of ourselves. I feel like the energy and the support to create this kind of work is coming from Black communities.”

    Don’t miss the show.

  • Vera Wang or Therez Fleetwood?

    Last week, one of the Afrotoronto readers who was reacting to the Are You Size Sexy article, brought up an interesting topic. He mentioned that some of the issues with size discrimination, demonstrating themselves in the marginalization and rigid uniformity of societal beauty standards, could be helped by having more sistah’s enter the fashion world to create clothes for women like themselves. But then he also brought up a challenge to this solution. 

    “How many sistah’s do you know,” he wrote, “would pass on their favourite White designers for the stylings of a fellow sistah? Even if the clothes fit like a dream, I don''t believe that many sistah’s would be willing to part with those famous brands.”

    His comment happened to coincide with my visit to the Distillery district last Friday. It is Canada ''s finest collection of Victorian era industrial architecture; forty four historic buildings set among thirteen brick lined acres. For those Torontonians who have not visited it yet, you have to. It’s a beautiful enclave of visual arts, culture, performance theatre, music and history. The cute, little coffee shops, romantic candle-lit restaurants and brick paved streets make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Beer and jazz lovers, you are covered too.

    I only had one issue with the place though. As I visited the various galleries and studios, I could not help noticing the general lack of representation of Canada ’s ethnic groups. That was until I came across The Blue Dot Gallery which was featuring African Canadian visual artist John Clinton’s sculptures. The sculptured piece which caught my attention the most was called Lou Lou.

    It depicts a black woman holding bags from Holt Renfrew, The Gap and Nike to mention a few. What is haunting about the piece is the fact that she does not look like she can afford them.

    Does that sound familiar? Well, it brought up all kinds of allusions and questions. A day or two later, when I saw the AfroToronto reader’s comment, I could not help thinking what a coincidence it was. Is he right? Is he making sense? Is he exaggerating? Choice and personal tastes aside, I wondered exactly how many sistah’s would choose Vera Wang over Therez Fleetwood simply because one is black and another is not. 

    Vera or Therez?

    Vera Wang, an Asian American, is known as the ultimate wedding dress designer for celebrities including: Jessica Simpson, Melania Trump, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Sharon Stone. Wang is perhaps the most recognized wedding dress designer in the fashion business. Her style is described as luxurious and sophisticated. In the tradition of Paris couture, she uses rich fabrics, luxurious details such as hand beading, and the best craftsmanship.

    Therez Fleetwood is an African American bridal designer who cleverly combines African tastes with haute couture.  Known as one of the principal designers of ethnic bridal wear, her wedding gowns have graced the pages of magazines such as Essence, Ebony, Black Elegance and In Style Weddings. She uses exquisite fabric such as Nigerian Ashoke clothe (which has metallic threads woven in patterns similar to Kente cloth), Guinea brocade from West Africa, as well as a variety of silks and satins, and is also known to use hand beading in a style which is inspired by the African dressing style.

    A Therez Fleetwood gown. Photo courtesy of www.therezfleetwood.com

    Is There a Lack of Black Fashion Designers and Fashion Houses?
     
    There could be more but there are already a considerable number of black designers and fashion houses from the more popular Phat Farm, Roca Wear, Lady Enyce, Baby Phat, Sean John, Marie Claudinette Jean (Wycleff’s wife), Fetish by Eve, Beyoncé’s House of Dereon to the less known Geri Benoit-Preval, Heather Jones, Kendra Francis for Franke, Carlos Antonio Reaves, Chi Chi for Vintique, Bonga Bhengu, Ozwald Boateng, Bongiwe Walaza, Sylvia Owori, Santa Anzo, Claudia Pegus, Deola Sagoe, Everett Hall, Thulare Monareng, Tracy Lee, Tracy Reese, Deon John’s Phyne Clothing, Calvin Southwell, Khutala Mokgohlwa, Linda Kulu, Ngozi Odita for Harriet''s Alter Ego and so many more. Even the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni’s daughter Natasha Kainembabazi Karugire, is a fashion designer. Those in the black Canadian pageant beauty circuit will be familiar with Keesha, the spectacular designer of Sokoto Gear, an Afrocentric fashion line. She created the winning evening dress for Miss Black World Canada 2002, April Mullings.

     


    Business seems to be good for fashion designers, right? But is it really? We all know that many rappers and other celebrities are jumping into this forum and creating their own lines. The market is saturated with them. However many of these lines, especially the ones created or endorsed by people who are not real designers, do not last. This therefore begs the following questions: do they fail because of lack of black support? Are black people not buying these products and opting for white designers? Is it that blacks find their own black-made products inferior? The cry that blacks do not support black business has been heard since the beginning of the last century. Could it perhaps be because some black businesses fail to understand the black market? To be more specific to this case, that they fail to cater to the varying bodyscapes of black women? I am no expert in the fashion industry, but I believe these are valid questions.

    Do Black People Support Black Businesses?

    It’s not just a question of whether sistah’s would prefer to shop from Vera Wang rather than Therez Fleetwood, or from a white designer rather than a black one. The fundamental core of this issue is, in essence, the question of blacks patronizing black businesses. In some parts of Africa, clothes that are made in Africa are considered inferior. People will rather wear second hand clothes from Goodwill or cheaply, badly-sewn Chinese clothes than clothes made in their own African factories. I am not sure of the dynamics in Canada since I see a lot of black rappers clothes being worn by teenagers. 

    One thing is for sure though. To attract the black community’s dollars, one needs to understand the market. For example, understanding that many black women have big derrières, would it not make sense to make clothes which flatter their figures? How hard can it be? How about considering the affordability of these clothes? Many people complain that black people don’t like reading. Maybe the fact that “black books” cost more than the average books, discouraging even the most avid reader from buying several of them, could be a factor.

    Basically, it works both ways. Both the client and merchant have to give and take. I am sure we’ve all been to some black businesses where the customer service skills left very little to be desired and ruined our experience. Businesses have to provide good products as well as good services. They cannot take it for granted that just because they are black, they will automatically have black patronage. As for the consumers, many of us are supporting. Perhaps we can support them more.

  • Killing Me Softly with This Dub

    An Interview with D''bi Young - Part l

    “It’s unfortunate that in Western society, this sort of liberal individualism has encouraged people to sort of streamline themselves and put themselves into a box so that people are impressed when you can write and act and dance. But where we’re coming from as African people, we know that story telling is a very complicated affair. It necessarily means that you have to be a multi-tasker as you intend on getting the attention of the people. So I don’t feel very special in what I’m doing. I’m doing what my people do.”

    - D’bi Young
     
    If the saying that lightning never strikes twice in the same place is true, then Toronto’s Lula Lounge was a hub of miracles a few months back. The sparks and electricity that were generated when two generations of Jamaican dub poets, the pioneering Anita Stewart and her daughter D’bi Young, came together could have been used during Toronto’s infamous blackout of a few years back. The event was D’bi Young’s book launch for her book Art on Black last March at the Lula Lounge.

    As they performed their dub piece together, it was evident that the oft-recurring themes of continuity of heritage, rebirth of cycles, and remembrance of herstory, found in D’bi’s work and speech, also found a home on stage. If fact, it was a truly poetic twist of fate that both mother and daughter are new mothers at the same time. “Performing with her was really humbling. I remember standing on stage and just feeling like I was five and feeling like I was twenty-eight. It was really an incredible feeling” Young says.

    AfroToronto.com recently caught up with D’bi Young at her home to reflect on this powerful moment and to peer into this multi-faceted artist’s latest and upcoming projects. Confirming what the entire audience could feel on that book launch day, D’bi Young isn’t shy to express her feelings about her mother: “Let me tell you something, I’m in love with my mother. I am absolutely in love, enthralled with my mother. And it’s been like that as long as I can remember.” Although she also recognizes that there has been the usual mother-daughter arguments and “huge leaps and bounds in terms of separating and coming back together”, their bond is a precious one.

    Anita Stewart was one of the first dub poets in Jamaica. Therefore, D’bi Young’s worldview and experience, both as a dub poet in her own right and a human being, have been greatly shaped by her mother. As she explains: “Growing up, my sort of social conditioning was all about dub poetry, all about being political, looking at Marx and looking at working class issues.” D’bi Young’s image of Black womanhood has its genesis in her mother’s experience as a sixteen-year-old mother “juggling an acting career, juggling a political career, juggling a career as a teacher, a whole bunch of complications and all the while being working class.” Young’s experience of growing up dirt poor among the underclass in the shadows of Jamaica’s Trenchtown ghetto, and the powerful matriarchal examples of her mother and grandmother, make up the very fabric of her dub poetry.

    I must say that until I attended Art on Black’s book launch, I had been much more familiar with D’bi Young’s actor side. I was happily surprised to also discover a gifted singer and band performer. There was a definite rock edge to her dub poetry. While I had heard her perform Animal Farm before, hearing it rendered in song and accompanied by a rock band was an entirely new experience. “Yes, I want to be a rock star when I grow up” D’bi jokingly quips. But she informs me that from the 1970s, the people who were experimenting with the art form of dub poetry necessarily played with live musicians. Those pioneers were part of a multi-disciplinarian school of thought. As she explains: “Actually, my background is a combination of theatre and dub poetry. So playing in a band is not new. It’s not new in terms of the art form that I’m doing. Dub comes out of live music. … Dub is music. So then what I’m doing is very consistent with my form. In fact, it’s my first place of story telling. … Dub is my first thing. Acting came afterwards. … So what you saw at the launch is closer to where I’m located, or where I ground myself, than theatre is.”

    Grounding herself again in the cyclical, yet evolving, tradition of her heritage, D’bi Young takes as an example the fact that the dub poetry pioneers were wide-ranging in artistic scope. “They had music, they had visual art, they had acting, directing, playwriting. … They had all the musicians working for them even though they were working-class people who were interested in working-class issues.” Hence, D’bi Young doesn’t see anything unusual about theatre, playwriting, poetry and all those things existing in the same space. “I feel like a story teller necessarily has the potential to choose to do a more multi-disciplinary” she adds.

  • Are You Size Sexy?

    What do Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles, Marilyn Monroe, Naomi Campbell, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Carmen Electra,Halle Berry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alek Wek, Sandra Oh and Nicole Kidman have in common? Well not just the fact that they are celebrities. They are also all known internationally as beauties. Yet when we take a look at each woman from J-Lo and Beyoncé’s bodacious, bootilicious,  curvaceous mermaid outlines, to Queen Latifah’s beautiful, regal, big girl body, to Halle Berry’s Tinseltown-toned, bust-blessed body to Nicole Kidman’s gazelle-tall, pencil thin body, we can see that they bear very little similarities physically.

    They are collectively an amalgamation of platinum blondes, brunettes, red-haired,  raven-haired beauties, shaved headed, shortly-cropped haired, straight-haired, curly-haired, weave-headed, L’Oreal, Garnier, Aveda, Chanel and Cover Girl looks, cinnamon shades, cognac shades, ebony shades, tanned mulberry shades and lily-white shades. They are a collective of petite elfin women, tall, long-legged women, skinny women, big-boned women, big-busted women, big and small derriere-blessed women, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, thin-lipped, thick-lipped, long-nosed and wide-nosed women.

    They come from a variety of backgrounds; from the Cushitic Sudanese background - one of the oldest world dynasties - to the Welsh, West African, Puerto Rican, Korean, British, Canadian, Australian and Jamaican backgrounds.

    The point is?

    These women, all celebrated as beautiful women, are different. They do not in any way, shape, form or size look the same. Most importantly let me emphasize that they are not all the same size. So why is there a pressure for women to all look the same? Why is there a very inflexible stereotypical criterion of beauty which seems to negate most women’s beauty? Why do magazines insist on only showing airbrushed images? Why are there so many failing dieting programmes which are mostly aimed at women? Who is designing these clothes which no longer seem to fit? Why is plastic surgery more popular now than it was several decades ago? Granted, there is a growing obesity problem which cannot be ignored or minimized, but why is it that normal-sized women are made to feel fat? Why are there more articles about young girls who have low self-esteem because they cannot measure up to the beauty standards which are being promoted?

    Women are not clones and cannot all be shaped like Barbie or any other man-made contraption. They cannot all be size 0’s, 2’s or basically anything under size 8. That is as unrealistic as expecting all men to look like The Rock, LL Cool J, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. It would be interesting to change the dynamics and see how men would react if that were the standard for them. How can women feel good about their bodies when everywhere they go they are subtly and even sometimes boldly told to nick and tuck here, eat this or that food, use this and that product to look better? Doesn’t it sound robotic? Basically the message women are hearing loud and clear is that they are not beautiful enough the way they were created. They are being told that they need subtractions, additions and all kinds of other enhancements to fit into that narrow unrealistic label defined as beauty.

    The beauty industry is so fickle to the point where Marilyn Monroe who was a size 14 – and one of the most beautiful women of her time, (just ask JFK) would be considered a plus size today. According to the followers of one of her contemporaries, the British model Twiggy’s standards, she would be considered overweight today. The expression plus size is only lately getting a degree of respect with more plus-sized models being featured in mainstream magazines.

    In the past the way plus size was advertised and marketed, it sounded more like anything above size 12 really meant hippo, extra hippo and vertically challenged hippo. It was not a flattering expression at all. Why there should even be a differentiation and singularization of plus size stores beats me.

    Until recently when stores like Pennington’s, Lane Bryant and Cotton Ginny Plus decided to cater to them, the fashion industry behaved as if women above size 12 (who happen to be a significant number of many world populations, especially the wealthy nations who can afford most Western label clothes) did not exist. To make matters worse, for those who were under size 12, the sizes seemed to fluctuate regularly to the point where one is no longer sure if they are a size 8, 10 or 12. There must be a conspiracy in the fashion industry to have women confused about their sizes, because it seems like of late the sizes are getting smaller. A size 10 now feels like a size 8 is a complaint I am hearing from many sisters, many of whom are not necessarily gaining any significant weight. Does the fashion industry have a love/hate relationship with women’s bodies?

    Because women are the world’s biggest consumers and the backbone of many industries especially the fashion industry in terms of dollars and cents, we must start exposing the growing hypocrisy of women''s clothing. Most of the designers are men and we must challenge them and ask to have all spectres of the human female species represented. The topic about women’s beauty will never cease to be ‘tired’ until the world takes a leaf from the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty page and learns to embrace all the different body types that women come in.

  • Blacks and Jews: Is the Beef Kosher?

    An interview with documentary filmmaker Marc Levin about Brooklyn Babylonand the Toronto Jewish Film Festival

    As I rushed into a crammed TTC subway car on a usual rush-hour morning a few weeks ago, a really interesting ad poster caught my attention. It was an image of a black man wearing the characteristic black hat and long curly hair locks (payos) of the Hasidic Jews. The caption accompanying this most unusual image was “Find your inner Jew.” It was one of a series of similar culture-transcending ingenious ads for the annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival. As I waited for my next stop, I was intrigued. Would Blacks really feel a strong enough connection to take the time to take that challenge on of finding their inner Jew? What is the connection anyway?

    The history buff in me had me thinking about the Ethiopian Jews, the Falashas, who have a very ancient Judaic tradition. There is a strong belief among the Falashas that they hold to this day the genuine biblical Ark of the Covenant. It is said to be hidden inside The Chapel of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia (in Tigray Province). Tradition holds that Menelik I, the founder of a three-thousand-year-long Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopian kings, was the offspring of a union between the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Makeda). As it is widely known, Rastafarians hold this historical narrative as the bedrock of their belief system. The conquering Lion of Judah represents a major symbol of this tradition.

    So the leap between Hasidic Jews and Rastafarians may not be such a huge one after all. As one commentator astutely quipped: “In Brooklyn Hasidic Jews and Rastafarians share a taste for certain things: hats, unusual hairstyles, and the Old Testament.”

    Speaking actually directly from Brooklyn, New York, last week as part of an exclusive AfroToronto.com interview with Marc Levin, one of the directors of one of the films shown at this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival, I attempted to dig deeper into this ancient relationship between Blacks and Jews. Marc Levin’s film in question was Brooklyn Babylon (2001). Set in the wake of 1991’s infamous Crown Heights riots between Jews and African-Americans, Brooklyn Babylon depicts a romance between an Orthodox Jewish girl (Karen Goberman) and a Rastafarian musician Sol (played by Tariq Trotter of the group The Roots).

    Who can be down?

    Primarily a documentary filmmaker, Marc Levin has never been afraid to tackle controversial subjects. His 1998 film Slam (which won both the Grand Jury Price at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes) is the tale of a gifted Black rapper and spoken word artist (Saul Williams) who finds himself behind bars in Washington D.C. under drug charges. He clings to the power of words to make it through his ordeal. But a middle-aged, White, Jewish filmmaker, Marc Levin claims that he has never set out to make a Black film per se with Slam. He was working at the time on a documentary in Washington D.C. about the striking reality of an entire generation of young Black men caught in the revolving door of the U.S. capital’s prison system. Slam was born out of that journey into this harsh world.

    With the critical success of his cult film Slam, Marc Levin tells AfroToronto that “many people assumed that I was Black. When they (Slam’s fans) saw me, they were kind of stunned. ” His next film after that, White BoysWhite Boys, Levin chronicles the story of a White teenage kid in the cornfields of Iowa who fantasizes about becoming a Black gangsta rapper. Calling himself, Flip Dogg, he and his farm-bred friends convince themselves that they are genuine drug-dealing brothas in their mid-western hood. Interestingly enough, last week’s Toronto screening on Brooklyn Babylon was preceded by a short film which likewise examines the twists and turns of a musical and cultural clash and ultimate meddling of heritage. The film featured the increasingly popular Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu. Born in West Chester Pennsylvania (as Matthew Miller), he grew up as a secular Jew who enjoyed hip hop and also followed bands like Dead-Head and Phish. Following a fateful trip to Israel, he became a religious Jew and simultaneously discovered his love for reggae music. The result has been a perhaps surprisingly coherent and authentic sound mixing the best of Yiddish music, hip hop, dancehall and reggae. (1999), was according to Levin, in a way an attempt to answer those people’s question of “how did you make this film?” In

    Again, we find a link between Rastafarianism and Judaism. Marc Levin himself recounts his journey of discovery during his first trip to Jamaica back in the 1970s. He credits the Rastafarians with turning him on to the biblical psalm of psalms. He found that the tradition of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was equally strong among the Rastafarians and Ethiopians as it was among Jewish mystic culture. He marvels at how, In Brooklyn, you don’t even need to go to Jamaica or Israel to experience these cultures because “they intermingle right here in Eastern Parkway.”

    Brotherhood or exploitation?

    But despite whatever similarities there may be between Blacks and Jews, it is undeniable that the relationship has not necessarily always been rosy. The relatively recent Crown Heights riots in New York in 1991 is just one example.

     


    The exploitation factor in the relationship between Blacks and Jews was a major topic in a panel discussion held at Bloor and Spadina’s Jewish Community Centre last week as part o the Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s Rhythm and Jews series exploring the Black-Jewish musical connection. The culturally balanced panel which included, among others, local Black radio host Norman Otis Richmond and Jewish author and scholar Jeffrey Melnick was a most interesting, and sometimes heated, exchange of ideas. For instance, while Norman Otis Richmond sought to praise Clive Davis as a great producer, he also wanted to make clear his view that Duke Ellington’s manager, Irving Mills, was a naked exploiter. But the Jewish moderator made the point that Louis Armstrong had been adopted at a very young age by a Jewish family that bought him his first trumpet.

    During his conversation with AfroToronto.com, Marc Levin and I also discussed what he calls: “the classic example of the Jewish businessman ripping off the Black artist.” Levin admitted that there is always going to be some exploitation factor between any management and their artists. But he takes the example of Russell Simmons and P. Diddy going into the fashion industry in a major way, then asking the question: “Are they ripping off the market share traditionally of Jewish garment industry workers?” I am not sure if this is necessarily a very potent argument since, at some level, if fails to take into account the collective power of each community in the grand scheme of things. As Levin himself points out, Jews and Blacks had originally lived together in New York because “nobody else wanted to live with either of us.” But, as Levin also acknowledges, the post Second World War era ushered a great era of wealth amongst the Jewish community as a whole. This, in turn, led to what we can call the “suburbanization effect” which saw the Jews leave their old neighbourhoods where they cohabited with Blacks to move into affluent White neighbourhoods. According to Marc Levin, this was the beginning of the deterioration of the Black-Jewish relationship and their original kinship through the story of Exodus’ themes of exclusion and slavery that can be found in the Negro Spirituals.

    But as the panel of the Rhythm and Jews series concluded, there is a lot to celebrate in terms of fruitful collaborations historically between Blacks and Jews. And as long as we are honest about the shortcomings of this relationship and recognize how moving forward in brotherhood benefits us all, we can continue to make beautiful music together like the duo The Afro-Semitic Experience did last week at the end of the panel discussion.

  • Do You Know Where that Latte Came From?

    Have you ever wondered whether some small gesture on your part could make a difference in the lives of people in say…Africa, Asia or The Caribbean? I am not referring to the few coins many of us drop in the donations jar at the checkout counter of our favorite corner store. I mean an everyday activity you perform so routinely you don’t even ponder its implications; something like buying a cup of coffee, reading your favorite magazine or watching a TV show.

    I have thought about this topic extensively over the years. But recently, a series of events I attended revived those thoughts and strengthened my belief in our power as citizens and consumers of what I call The Rich World.

    First, I went to see the documentary Black Gold at Hot Docs a few days ago. Black GoldNorth America. Through coffee, the filmmakers (British brothers Nick and Marc Curtis) expose the disparities between the wretched lives of the coffee farmers on one hand and the plush latte-sipping existence of the average North American consumer and investor in the $55 billion coffee industry. In Black Gold, the specific case of Ethiopia , (the birthplace of coffee) is examined. We meet the farmers who plant the beans; hard-working, valiant men whose smiling and determined faces do not match the helpless, pathetic ones in those World Vision commercials (more on that later!). These farmers have to wait four years to harvest their coffee beans and hope to gain a paltry 87 Cents per kilogram. But when you know that a single kilogram of coffee can yield over 20 double-doubles at your favorite Tim’s, you start wondering what part you’re playing in the exploitation of those farmers and how much of your hard-earned dollars contribute to the fattening a few CEOs and middle managers’ banks accounts. deals with the journey of coffee beans, from their farms in Africa to our coffee cups in Europe and

    A few days ago, I also attended a benefit concert for War Child Canada at El Mocambo on Spadina. During the evening, a War Child Canada representative reiterated this point about the interconnection of our lives by mentioning a substance called Coltan.

    Coltan, according to the editors of the website cellular-news.com is “short for Columbite-tantalite. It is a metallic ore comprising Niobium and Tantalum, found mainly in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When refined, coltan becomes a heat resistant powder, metallic tantalum which has unique properties for storing electrical charge.” And because of these unique qualities, coltan is used in the manufacture of cell phones, iPods, MP3 players, PlayStations, Xboxes, and capacitators used to regulate the electrical charge in computer chips.

    Coltan is mined in Canada and the US as well, but close to 80% of the world’s reserves are found in the DRC and over 60% of the coltan used around the world comes from Congo . Mining of Coltan (and of other minerals period) is in part fueling the conflict between the different factions in the DRC. That conflict by all accounts has killed over 3 million people in addition to the usual “collateral damages”; wildlife devastation, destruction of traditional ways of life and child labor to name a few.

    Are you depressed yet? There is more…

    On May 4th, CBC Radio’s morning show “The Current” reported that the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), our national piggy-bank which controls over $90 billion of our assets is a major investor in many questionable companies like:

    o    Raytheon, one of the leading weapons manufacturers in the US and producer of cluster bombs

    o    Halliburton, embroiled in controversy in Iraq and other places for “over billing the US government”

    o   Lockheed, another weapons manufacturers and supplier of “private contractors to the US government”, many of whom were embroiled in the tortures that took place at the Abu Graib prison in Iraq

    o   SNC-Lavallin, a Canadian company based in Quebec which through one of its subsidiaries provides bullets to US troops in Iraq .
    So just when you started feeling really smug about the decision of our federal government not to get involved in the War in Iraq, that same government decides that you, the taxpayer must profit from that war.

    And finally last Saturday, CNN aired a special on celebrity culture that our own Jane Nteyafas wrote about in a recent article. From that show, I drew the following lesson: ultimately, we the consumers fuel the celebrity machine: we buy the magazines, we watch the TV shows, we visit the websites that publish stories about Bennifer, TomKat, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, and every other so-and-so’s sex life. This demand keeps publicists, image consultants and paparazzis in business, some of whom are now asking up to $250,000 for sets of pictures about certain “high-profile” celebrities.

    The world is globalized; we hear the expression quite often, but sometimes we fail to grasp the extent or some of the negative ramifications of these entanglements. And even when we do, we are always confronted with the same basic question: What can we do about it? Not much, we sometimes conclude and that conclusion leads us down the road to apathy.

    The first thing to do in my view is to shy away from simplistic impulses. These problems confronting our planet will not be solved simply through our meager tax-deductible donations to some charitable organization, nor will they go away because we “adopt an African child” through World Vision or wear a colorful plastic bracelet. These issues have been with us for many years and very little has intrinsically changed as a result of these small gestures. These are solutions nevertheless, but short-term solutions that instantly gratify, while allowing us to avoid thorough examinations of the larger issues. As many of the previously described situations show, these problems exist because we the consumers continue to buy certain products and because we do not, for the most part, make demands on the companies that manufacture those products, or on the banks that invest our money or the governments that we elect to represent us.

    We contribute a small percentage of our incomes to “charitable causes” while the larger part goes to investments in products and institutions that while sustaining us, create, exacerbate or contribute to the degradation of the lives of others in areas of the world we sometimes cannot even find on a map. Ultimately, only a collective decision to vote with our wallets will have any significant impact on governments and multinationals. The Fair Trade movement and the British “No Blood on my Mobile ” movements are just some recent examples of citizens taking action. We can choose to get involved.

  • Oprah's Hip Hop Nightmare - Part I

    By now we have all heard about Oprah Winfrey incurring the wrath of a few rappers, namely 50 Cent, Ludacris and lately Ice Cube, who have all jumped on the ‘Oprah has an issue with hip-hop and rappers band wagon.’ As this debate is going on in chat rooms, blogs and in various newspapers, it’s interesting how many people are getting heated up over the issue. Like any other human being, Oprah has her share of supporters and detractors and so do the rappers who are mentioned. If this was a publicity stunt, it has certainly worked. (Ice Cube’s new CD Laugh Now, Cry Later’s launch date was on the 6th of June 2006, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying received many bad reviews, and as for Ludacris’ appearance in Crash, well, Terrence Howard, got more attention last year.)

    Despite the fact that she has had Eve, Missy Elliott, Will Smith, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Bow Wow, Ice-T, Kanye West and even P-Diddy on her show, Oprah has been accused of being discriminatory and not liking rappers and hip hop music. She even aired a show on hip hop - 1st Rap Mogul Success story - Who Showed JayZ& Puffy How it’s Done :Russell Simmons . Yet New York-born, 50 Cent aka Curtis Jackson who was shot 9 times , claimed Oprah hardly ever invites rappers on her talk show.

    “I think she caters to older white women,” he said in an interview with the AP.

    Ludacris, aka Chris Bridges, started the anti-Oprah attitude in the May issue of GQ magazine, where he grumbled that host of the Oprah Show was unfair to him when he appeared on her show for his part in the best-picture Oscar winner Crash in 2005. Apparently he did not like the way she quizzed him, bringing in things that he had done as a rapper, while he was on her show in his capacity as an actor. She publicly criticized him for the lyrical content of his songs. He should try Larry King.

    Ice Cube aka Oshea Jackson, was equally miffed.

    “I''ve been involved in three projects pitched to her, but I''ve never been asked to participate," the 36-year-old rapper-actor said in July''s issue of FHM. "For ‘Barbershop,’ she had Cedric the Entertainer and Eve on, but I wasn''t invited….She''s had d*mn rapists, child molesters and lying authors on her show. And if I''m not a rags-to-riches story for her, who is?”

    Overly Sensitive Rappers?

    Who would have thought that a man who joined Dr. Dre and others to form the angry N.W.A., short for “N*ggaz With Attitude,” best known for the hits F*ck Tha Police and A B*tch Iz A B*itch would be that sensitive? Oprah does not like hip hop and yet Ice Cube admits that rapper Eve was invited to the show? Now that’s a major contradiction. Even more shocking is the sensibility of crack-dealer-turned-rapper 50 Cent who keeps on rapping about his gangsta image and is known for his explicit, misogynistic, violent lyrics and songs with names such as P.I.M.P, Fat b*tch, F*ck You N*ger and High All Da Time.

    So Ice Cube and 50 Cent are mad at Oprah for not inviting them on her show. Should we sympathize and empathize with them? Well, they would not be the only ones who have not been invited to her show. Oprah gets millions of fan letters from all over the world. She receives letters from fans who expect her not only to have them on her show, but they also expect her to perform all kinds of favours for them just because she is a billionaire. There is no way that she could humanely accommodate all the demands from all her viewers, including those would like to be on her show. What''s more, I am sure that Cube and Fiddy are not the only celebrities who have not appeared on her show.

    Where Oprah Is Coming From

    Let’s not forget the small issue of what they have been known to rap about. Oprah, in self defense says that she does listen to some hip-hop. According to Wikepedia she has said, however, that although she''s opposed to some lyrics, she does enjoy a lot of hip-hop artists including Kanye West who appeared on her show, and that talk of an anti-hip-hop bias is fallacious. The New York Post Online quotes Oprah as saying,

    “I’m opposed to some of the music that offends my sensibilities….” The talk show host says and then goes on to explain, “That is when you’re degrading women, marginalizing women, but the beat I love.”

    So Oprah has clarified that is it music which degrades and marginalizes women that offends her. What is wrong with that? She is voicing the opinions of countless many other people. Basically this means that Oprah is being crucified for not promoting rappers who demean women in their music, use the word N*gger too frequently, and promote negative black stereotypes.

    Apparently these rappers must have missed the show when she was discussing the N word. In that segment Oprah mentioned that she personally felt the worldwide impact of negative hip hop during an encounter in South Africa with a security guard for Nelson Mandela. According to Oprah, the guard greeted her group by saying “Hello n*ggas.” Oprah explained to her viewers that the guard thought it was a normal African American greeting expression because he watched videos and listened to hip hop music which glorified the word and made it sound like it was a cool thing. Now that she has first hand knowledge of the negative effects of gangsta hip hop, which has even spread outside the USA, inviting people who epitomize this would be a contradiction, wouldn’t it?

    Not All Hip Hop Has Issues

    I’ll be the first person to say that not all hip hop has issues. Hip hop music is one of the greatest musical styles out there. It has even gone global and been embraced in other languages, with rappers emanating from other countries including Uganda, Senegal, France, Belgium, Haiti, Pakistan, Greenland, Israel, Croatia, Portugal and even Iran. In fact last year Africa held its first hip hop summit in South Africa.

    But surely how can Oprah’s audience relate to people who make little black girls think the only thing they can aspire to is stripping for music videos? How can they identify with drug pushers/peddlers and people who poison generations of kids with their lyrics? How can they relate to a bunch of men who call women b*tches and hos, even for entertainments sake? There is nothing entertaining about that. How can they say that it’s just for entertainment when a large portion of their audience are impressionable, inexperienced teenagers (and even younger children) who do not know better? What about people who are constantly in the news for being shot and shooting others? Wouldn’t they be liabilities on her show? We understand that Oprah has metal detectors, but nothing that man creates is perfect; what if someone got shot on her show? Wouldn’t that be blood on her hands? And they are pissed off that Oprah will not endorse that?

    It’s not just about being a rags to riches story, it’s about how they go from rags to riches. So many other black rappers and black professionals have done it without having to demean women and promote negative stereotypes. Many of them have not made the show either and we do not see them going to the press about it. Oprah does not have issues with hip-hop, she has issues with the negative messages which some hip hop artists promote. Her problem does not exists with the actual artists per se, otherwise P Diddy would have never made it to her show; it’s the degrading way women are portrayed in videos. Oprah is very pro-women. Her show has never been about degrading women, glorifying drugs or violence.

  • Sex and Miss Right

    "It’s a classic single-woman scenario: you really like this guy, but he’s giving mixed messages. You make excuses, decide he’s confused, afraid of commitment. Behrendt, a former executive story editor for Sex and the City —and a formerly single (now happily married) guy who knows all the excuses—provides a simple answer: he’s just not that into you. Stop kidding yourself, let go and look for someone else who will be."

    - Publishers Weekly on the book He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys


    While I became somewhat of an expert at predicting Mary’s patterns with the man-child types, she likewise over the years became a master at my own non-committal patterns.

    But throughout the years we’ve known each other, she could point to three or four cases where my usual non-committal patterns did not apply. Those were the Miss Rights. When she sensed that I may have come close to a fifth one recently after a bit of a hiatus, we had long discussions about my own demons.

    I guess it’s now time to take out Undercover Bother’s dirty laundry.

    I always had the excuses. “I’m doing my own thing right now” or “She’s nice, but we want different things.” But as someone was recently pointing out to me: “Is it really that complicated?” She pointed to Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s 2004 book He’s Just Not That Into You. In that book, they argue that despite the need for men to make themselves look complicated, we just really aren’t. They identify some of the following delusions that many women have when trying to figure out why the man they’re seeing is non-committal:

    He''s afraid to get hurt again.
    Maybe he doesn't want to ruin the friendship.
    Maybe he's intimidated by me.
    He just got out of a relationship.

    Ladies, despite risking being a traitor to my own gender, I must advise you that if you’re not “Miss Right” in the eyes of a man but you are good enough to be “Miss Right Now”, he will try to keep you around by making sure you believe in one or all of the above-stated myths. In fact, one of my own favourite “stalling techniques” for the Miss Right Nows has been to bring out the “Ex Factor.” The Ex Factor always works great because you can always display your ability to be a loving and dedicated partner by recounting past experiences that don’t necessarily require immediate manifestation. If she can believe that you have it in you to be the man she needs, then you might have bought yourself a couple of months. Oh and if you really want an extension on the love lease, bring out how, despite the time that has passed since the Ex Factor, you are still struggling with the belief of whether or not you will find love again. If you’ve learned anything from Part I’s Sex and the Man-Child, women love nothing more than the challenge of making sure that next one you fall for, after you dust yourself from the ruins of your destroyed soul, is her.

    I’m still working on getting that teardrop to fall down my cheek on cue though.

    It’s not you, it’s me … and other dating lies

    But lest we blame it all on men, let’s not forget the classic female non-committal lines: “I don’t know what I want right now”, or the truly pitiful “I have nothing to give right now” (that one means she ain’t giving you none). Isn’t it a pain in the neck though how it’s always the Ms Rights who feed you that line? Last but certainly not least, we can’t forget the gender neutral: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

    Do people still use that antiquated “it’s not you it’s me” line? You’d be surprised at how many times this cop-out fib is used if you just take the time to eavesdrop into conversations at restaurants and cafes across the world where countless couples are having their last supper together. And like in the famous last supper, whoever the Judas is, he or she sure isn’t fooling the sacrificial one. The last supper is usually preceded with the proverbial “we need to talk” phone call.

    I should probably be cutting somebody a cheque for quoting Seinfeld so much but who can forget that classic episode where George lashes back at getting fed that sorry line. “Don’t give me the it’s not you it’s me line. I invented it’s not you it’s me.” He finally gets the woman to admit that it is him.

    I usually vary the slant of the overused ‘it’s not you it’s me” line by tying it to work or career. “There is so much passion to explore between us but the timing is all wrong. Work is a big part of my life right now.”

    Trust me, people make time for the right person.

    People will save a lot of time and heartache by realizing that with the prevalence of cell phones, e-mail, instant chat and all the rest these days, someone will contact you more than once a month if they are really interested.

  • Is Monogamy Dead?

    Exploring the myths and the realities

    Many people were shocked when Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson said she doesn’t believe in monogamy - that people weren’t meant to be with just one person

    “I don’t think human beings are monogamous creatures by nature,” she told reporters while promoting one of her movies.

    Is she right?

    What Exactly Is Monogamy Anyway?

    According to a many biologists, mammals which practice monogamy are uncommon. Only a minority of the approximately 4,000 mammalian species are monogamous. But what about human beings? Monogamy is often used to mean having only one sexual partner during an entire lifetime. Historically, monogamy was much less practiced than polygamy (specifically polygyny - where one male mates with more than one female while each female mates with only one male as in opposed to the female version which is called polyandry). Mostly because of European conquest, monogamy is now more popularly promoted than it was ever before. However doctrine and practice can often be two different things. Why is sexual fidelity so rare, even among animals which are socially monogamous?

    Is Monogamy a Myth Then?

    It would seem like the number of people claiming to be monogamous but are far from it, is steadily increasing. With the increase of infidelity, divorces, one-night stands, booty calls, pornography, teenage pregnancies, television as well as music videos glorification of sex, venereal diseases like AIDS and single motherhood (where the baby’s daddy has abandoned the family most likely for another partner) it is clear that monogamy, while it is the accepted institution of matrimonial relationships is not easy to follow at all.

    What many people around the world tend to commonly refer to as their marriage system is actually monogamy. However, in reality it is serial monogamy; that is, most people are married to or date more than one person during their lifetime, but in series rather than simultaneously. Serial monogamy is unofficially but realistically the principal form of marriage in countries like Canada, and has been for several decades.

    Before the cultural homogenization which came with Western influence, more than three-quarters of all human societies were polygynous. Today many African and Arab societies are still openly polygynous. Those which are not, are a combination of the accepted societal standard of monogamist matrimonies, which, along with many other things came with western indoctrination and traditional polygamists which have been entrenched in these societies for hundreds of years. Even many of the men mentioned in the bible; David, Moses, Jacob – with King Solomon being the epitome with over 100 wives - were polygynous. As recently as the seventeenth century, polygamy was practiced and accepted by the Christian Church. The Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) allow and practice polygamy in the United States.

    Interestingly, in black communities outside Africa like the Caribbean and North America, with the baby father/mama drama, it would seem like many people live in polygynous relationships. It is becoming more common to see black fathers having children with several women and vice-versa – more single women with children from different fathers. Whereas there are many blacks in monogamous relationships, the increasing number of single-parent homes in the black community is alarming. It would seem like people are not as naturally monogamous as we might like to believe. Monogamy seems to be a struggle.

    Is Monogamy Outdated?

    For the most part, one man and one woman for life had become normative; until a few decades ago. Polygyny and polyandry and what is really defined as serial marriage seem to be becoming more common place these days. However, while we as a society ascribe to monogamy as the accepted standard of human sexual relations, we are becoming more tolerant of non-monogamous relationships. Former US President Bill Clinton cheated with Monica Lewinsky and yet he was forgiven by Hillary. Brad Pitt started an affair with Angelina Jolie while he was still married to Jennifer Aniston. Actor Jude Law cheated on wife Sienna Miller. Kobe Bryant cheated, but bought his wife a diamond the size of Madagascar and was forgiven. When former French president Francois Mitterrand was buried both his wife and mistress were present at his grave. But for every celebrity who cheats, there are hundreds of non-celebrities who do. They just do not end up on the front cover of gossip magazines. We live in a society where it is accepted for men to be polygynous; in other words to not be monogamous. When this happens, although there is always an outcry, they tend to be forgiven by their women in the end.

    But are women as widely polyandrous as men as men are polygynous? That number of women who have several partners simultaneously is hard to determine as women in most societies are not very vocal about their sexualities, nor do these communities embrace the idea of non-monogamous women – hence it would make sense that women would be silent about their sexuality. However, women are sexual beings too and they have the same sexual urges. They are just more discreet.

    In general, despite the advocacy of monogamy, it seems that more humans are serial monogamists, including women. People are more likely to have been married to more than one person or be involved with several lovers than they care to admit. Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Warren Beatty, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dennis Rodman and Jennifer Lopez are all serial brides, bridegrooms and daters. However this is not just a celebrity trend, as many non-celebrities are following suite. The principles of monogamy seem to be failing for many human beings.

    Is Monogamy Really Failing?

    David P. Barash, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington wrote an article called Deflating the Myth of Monogamy. In this article he referred to well-documentation of monogamy’s failure in classical and contemporary literature. He writes:

    “Monogamy’s failures are recorded in many great works of literature: Tolstoy''s Anna Karenina, Flaubert''s Madame Bovary, Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Henry James'' The Golden Bowl. More recently, John Updike''s marriage novels -- not to mention scores of soap operas and movies -- describe a succession of affairs. And then there is the small matter of real life.”

    The odds are split between the scientists who believe that monogamy is an unhealthy, unnatural, unrealistic, stifling state of the human mind, and those who believe the opposite to be true. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud argued that civilization is founded on the suppression of instincts. He emphasizes that civilization places limitations on sexuality; it not only dictates what forms of sexual expression are "permissible," and censors all others, but it even places strict restrictions on the forms of sexuality it allows. For example he suggests that society insists on monogamy, faithfulness to a single partner, and in the process it limits sexual expression according to gender roles, etc.

    The arguments as to whether monogamy is realistic or not, whether it is natural or not, whether most people who say they are monogamous practice it or not are endless. Whether we choose to follow it, on the other hand, is another thing. Certainly there is lots of evidence to suggest that both opposites are practiced and preferred by different individuals.

  • Beyond Beats and Rhymes

    A review of Byron Hurt’s documentary on Masculinity in Hip Hop

    America shines its whitest in the light of an exploding blackness; a spectacle crucial to the public drama of race. While racial issues have never been more orchestrated, no music has captured the spectacular quite like Hip-Hop, its larger-than-life masculinity scripted in crushing beats and contemptuous rhymes.

    While some look to the days of African medallions and Public Enemy posters as a model of political and social consciousness, brothers in the street working it out often looked a lot like brothers working over non-blacks, black people who weren''t "black enough", women and gays. Somehow, this fervor chilled into a credo of money, power and respect, and Hip-Hop went from the running man to a we-real-cool masquerade.

    Enter, Byron Hurt, the one time journalist and college quarterback, has also counseled young men on issues of male identity, sexism and homophobia.

    "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" reflects his activist experiences as Hurt directs his comments to his viewers and speaks in the Hip-Hop vernacular. He confesses and then sheds his playboy past - establishing his man-cred, then takes Hip-Hop to task for its uber-male aspirations.

    Reminiscent of Michael Moore, Hurt uses a variety of perspectives and asks pointed questions about controversial subjects. This bold, the-only-reason-you-won't-slap-me-is-because-this-camera-is -running approach maintains tension throughout the film. And, there are a few incidents - Busta Rhymes, Russell Simmons and BET''s Steve Hill probably won't send Kwanzaa cards this year.

    However, Hurt is well received by academics and activists such as Jelani Cobb, Sarah Jones and the eerily ubiquitous Eric Michael Dyson; their scholarly slang breaks down the contexts and contradictions of Hip-Hop's thug leanings. The likes of JadaKiss, Fat Joe and Talib Kweli make it plain with street philosophy and industry insight. The film's narrative spins its journalistic, scholarly and cultural sources into 62 minutes of myth-shattering magic. So much so that one might overlook its sleight of hand treatment of some of black masculinity's foils. White people for instance are portrayed as voyeurs, crude imitators or Willie Lynch-like exploiters of Hip-Hop. Though his investigation of Spring Bling does expose the misogyny of what is often excused as men behaving badly, Hurt's use of female images is at times more "Girls Gone Wild" than "anti-sexist treatise". And, his clever linking of hyper-masculinity and homoeroticism relies on a homophobic response to complete it.

    Nonetheless it is a film worth watching. "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" is a meandering, but purposeful documentary - one rich with surprises, humour and poignancy. Hurt's definition of masculinity seems much more useful than running-man ideas of progress and is a zillion times more sensible than the tableau of hustlers, pimps and thugs that is mainstream Hip-Hop. Hurt portrays manhood as a conversation - one that is very selective about the cues it takes from Hip-Hop and the world. In this, a man''s definition of himself naturally moves beyond beats and rhymes.

    "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" will be playing on Saturday, May 6th, 2006 at 1:30 pm at the NFB Cinema (150 John Street) as part of Hot Docs. It will also be airing on PBS' Independent Lens sometime in 2006. Check www.pbs.org for more information.

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