Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hip Hop Hooray

A “hype man” by definition is the person responsible for getting the crowd pumped up for a performance or event. Go to any Hip Hop concert to see them in full action, or better yet listen to Jay-Z's “Encore” track off The Black Album. During a visit to DC for a gay pride event I was disturbed by what I felt to be “inappropriate hyping by a hype man.” If you have ever encountered a hype man you know the spill is pretty standard. The first objective is to get you hyped about the event or the artist that will perform shortly (unless it's a Lauryn Hill concert, in which case, means it could be hours). This is usually followed by getting you hyped about yourself – scream if you are grown and sexy and able to pay your bills – something like that. Yet, at this particular event it appears that the hype man didn't get a copy of the preempted script. He got the first couple parts right, and then decided to freestyle a bit. I've done some theatre, so I could appreciate an artist taking some liberties and improvising. So he's building up when he asks the crowd, a crowd of black gay men and women, to make some noise if they weren't HIV positive. I was floored. Wow, I thought. This was such a loaded statement. It implied so many things. How did this make HIV positive folks in the crowd feel, as they came out with anticipation of a good time, not a commentary on their status? My mind was racing. Yet, in my moment of shock I failed to realize that in all of his attempts to get the crowd hype this statement alone had garnered the greatest response from the audience. I was unsure about what I should feel or think. Unable to allow myself to be fully engaged in the bliss of the activities, I had to ask whether we were our own worse enemies, and if everyone else was merely taking our lead? Do black gays and lesbians believe that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease?

I guess that one could make the argument that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease, as there are a disproportionately higher number of cases among gay men. Yet, in the same breath one could make similar conjecture as it relates to the African American community. Things aren't always as simple as black and white. Numbers can not merely stand alone. Numerous factors should come into play as we determine our attitude about things. The lack of access to education and health care serve as major barriers that cause spikes among certain groups. It seems that everywhere I turn I'm faced with the thought of HIV/AIDS. Be it the magazines – Vanity Fair recently dedicated an entire issue to it – or merely going to my local Starbucks – the cup that contains my latte gives statistics about the affects that the epidemic is having on the youth. Awareness is a great thing as I realize the brevity of the issue. Yet, sometimes as a black gay man, I can't help but to feel sometimes suffocated by the issue. Within our community it seems to always ease its way into our conversations. In contrast, I feel that in my interactions with heterosexual friends, the topic of HIV/AID rarely surfaces. Not so much because it's not an issue for them, but because it doesn't carry the same amount of weight as it does for us. We give power to those things that we most focus on, so much so that there is a whole sub-culture of gay men out there who seek to get infected. I read an article some years back about the rising number of “bug chasers” and “gift givers.” “Bug Chasers” are gay men that seek to become infected with in HIV/AIDS, as they feel they will eventually contract the virus because they are gay and “gift givers” are HIV positive men who willing infect others.

I think that our actions point to where we really stand on the subject, as hard as it may be to swallow. Yet, I feel that we end up doing a disservice to everyone by simply buying into the hype; increased homophobia and creating a false sense of safety in the minds of some heterosexuals. We need to support a message of personal responsibility and accountability and focus less on allocating blame. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that I have engaged in behavior that has put me at risk of contracting the virus. And the fact remains that every time we lay down with someone, gay or straight, and we don't engage in safe sex, we put ourselves at risk. Most of us are simply lucky. Along with that, no one has the right to speak from a place of superiority because they are HIV negative. As we navigate through all of this, we should be ever cognizant of how our actions affect other people. When situations arise like the one in DC, we must let our disdain to be known. We need to look beyond figures and actively engage ourselves in the process of bringing forth solutions.

A Man, Not a Narrative

Eugene Robinson writes: A 24-year-old man, a professional athlete in his prime, is gunned down as his fiancé cowers in fear and their young daughter sleeps -- it's hard to imagine a more tragic story. Period. I found myself deeply affected by the news. I think that in part, it was due to the fact the I loss a collge friend of mine last month - he was stabbed to death - he was 26. I hope you agree that all who mourn Redskins safety Sean Taylor's passing should resist the temptation to fit what little we really know about his life and death into some kind of familiar narrative about race and pathology.

When asked about Taylor's sudden and awful death, Coach Joe Gibbs said simply that life is fragile. Others have not been so modest, or so wise. They recount Taylor's past "troubles" and try to make him emblematic of Young Black Men -- the mean streets, the parasitic friends, the casual violence, the weapons, the beefs, etc., etc. This is an argument, not an explanation. It's lazy and wrong, and it is unfair.

Do me a favor: If you have to impose a narrative on Sean Taylor's death, pick something other than the Young Black Men story. How about the Molded into Violence narrative -- the story of how Taylor, like other professional football players was rewarded all his life for the ability to create sudden, explosive havoc on the football field, leaving opponents battered and broken; so why should anyone be surprised that he died a violent death? Or make it into a story about South Florida, where bizarre, brutal crime is are common place. Those are bogus narratives, too, but at least they provide a little variety.

Better yet, don't try to make Sean Taylor's life and death into any kind of cautionary tale at all. He was a complicated man. He loved his family, he was a loyal friend, he didn't like talking to the media, he hit as hard as anyone in the National Football League, and he doted on his daughter. He had "turned his life around," they say, as if navigating the shoals of career, fatherhood, love and maturity were a simple matter of taking a few GPS readings and heading, um, that way. Here's what we know -- at this point, all we can possibly know: Life is fragile. And Sean Taylor was just 24.

Friday, November 23, 2007

My Favorite Things

Oprah's yearly favorite things show was the other day. This is always a must see for me… I loved the one were she proclaims "You get a car, you get a car, you get a car… to all members of the audience. So in homage to the Big O, and in boredom I decided to compose my list of favorite things:

1. Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne - It’s a unisex fragrance that's clean and classic. It can be mixed to best suit your body chemistry.
2. Cakebead Cellars makes my favorite Sauvignon Blanc and it's affordable… $22
3. James Baldwin books. I have read number his books. I am reading one of his screen plays now. His writing is so honest and pure. The lessons he teaches are universal.
4. The Breitling Watch… in a word… classic.
5. Cashmere Socks.
6. Art by Romare Bearden. I had anticipated purchasing my first real piece of art this year for my birthday, but it's a must have for me next year.
7. The Studio Museum of Harlem. Contemporary and Classic. A membership is a must have.
8. Ne Me Quitte Pas - Nina Simone. I have a number of her cd's but I want the definitive collection.
9. The Bose wave music system. It affords me the opportunity to listen to Nina with complete clarity.
10. Jordans.
11. Burberry Trench.
12. Jersey Bed Sheets.
13. The Foley House Inn - Black Owned Savannah Bed and Breakfast
14. The Sunday New York Times.
15. Good U.S. Open Tickets
16. Well tailored Thom Browne Suit
17. Starbucks
18. Mulberry bag
19. Gucci Aviators
20. LV overnight bag
21. Chucks
22. Acapulco Candle by NARS

Studio Musuem of Harlem: Kori Newkirk

November 14, 2007-March 9, 2008
Kori Newkirk: 1997-2007
Kori Newkirk is a celebrated multidisciplinary artist whose conceptual practice is based on transforming modest materials into loaded signifiers that question both cultural and aesthetic notions of beauty. Newkirk elegantly blends medium and message-using photographs, wax, hair pomade, beads and neon lights-to forge a new paradigm in art practice. This survey exhibition presents work produced since Newkirk received his MFA from the University of California at Irvine, includes a site-specific project and illustrates how interrelated strands of his practice have converged and developed over time.
The Studio Museum in Harlem is the nexus for black artists locally, nationally, and internationally, and for work that has been inspired by black culture. It is a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society. The Executive Director, Thelma Golden, is smart, savy and stylilsh. She has managed to make her voice heard, known and recognized in an overwhelming white male art world. I have mention on several occasions that "I want to be like her when I grow up." It's a great exhibit that we should support, along with the Studio Museum of Harlem.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

“African” American Gangster

Though I went to see American Gangster during its opening weekend, I felt that I needed some time to digest it and give it a proper analysis. Of all the movies released this year, this by far was the one I most anticipated. If ever there were a formula for a perfect movie, this was it – a great director, talented writer and a slue of wonderful actors. Having said all of this, imagine my disappointment when the film fell short of my high expectation. I could talk about the fact that the script felt a little under developed in is attempts, or lack of attempt, to get inside the heads of the primary characters. I could talk about the fact that the casting choices, at times didn't make sense. I could even talk about the fact that the movie was about 45 minutes too long. Yet, above all these things, the thing the prevented this film from being the perfection I had in my head was the lack of what I like to call the black aesthetic. This often happens when white directors seek to make “African American” themed movies where the effort is to create a great “American” movie with themes that transcend race – see Ali for another example. Yet, it’s difficult for me to understand how one could make a film about “black life” without dealing with the racial underpinnings that created the character. One may argue that Frank Lucas, like the Italian mobsters, were both motivate by money, but what that money meant to them was in many ways different. Playwright August Wilson often talked about the black aesthetic. The following analogy hits the nail on the head:

The commonalities we share [with white people] are the commonalities of culture. We decorate our houses. That is something we do in common. We do it differently because we value different things. We have different manners and different values of social intercourse. We have different ideas of what a party is. There are some commonalities to our different ideas. We both offer food and drink to our guests, but because we have different culinary values, different culinary histories, we offer different food and drink. In our culinary history, we have learned to make do with the feet and the ears and tails and intestines of the pig rather than the loin and the ham and the bacon. Because of our different histories with the same animal, we have different culinary ideas. But we share a common experience with the pig.

In putting this into the reference of the film, the fact that African American and Italians don't share in the horrors of lynching or the main of a policeman's bullet, or better yet the hull of a slave ship – the way in which Frank Lucas operates and his motivations for dealing drugs are quite different, and the movie felled to deal with these differences and why they are important. Black conduct and manner are fueled by its own philosophy, mythology, history, creative motif, social organization and ethos. So instead of speaking to our personal truths as African Americans, it merely aped a white way of doing things. There were moments in which it did connect – Frank's scenes with his mother (Ruby Dee) and his confrontation with the Nicky Barnes character played by Cuba Gooding Jr. One of my favorite moments in the film occurs at a party in Frank's house that ends in a casual shooting that leaves a blood stain on his white rug. It is priceless to here Denzel shout “You blot that shit, you don't rub it.” For all that its worth, American Gangster is a movie that is well executed. It however does not live up to the expectation of an amazing film that delivers a new and unique perspective – make it a Blockbuster night and rent The Godfather and New Jack City.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Get Some Culture - Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love

There is a truly amazing exhibit showing at the Whitney right now. At her New York debut at the Drawing Center in 1994, Kara Walker unveiled a daring reinvention of image-making in which she incorporated the genteel eighteenth-century medium of cut-paper silhouettes into her paintings. Since that time, she has created a poignant body of works that addresses the very heart of human experience, notions of racial supremacy, and historical accuracy.

This exhibition presents a comprehensive grouping of the artist’s work to date, featuring more than 200 paintings, drawings, collages, shadow-puppetry, light projections, and video animations that offer an extended contemplation on the nature of figurative representation and narrative in contemporary art. Drawing her inspiration from sources as varied as the antebellum South, testimonial slave narratives, historical novels, and minstrel shows, Walker has invented a repertoire of powerful narratives in which she conflates fact and fiction to uncover the living roots of racial and gender bias. The intricacy of her imagination and her diligent command of art history have caused her silhouettes to cast shadows on conventional thinking about race representation in the context of discrimination, exclusion, sexual desire, and love. “It’s interesting that as soon as you start telling the story of racism, you start reliving the story,” Walker says. “You keep creating a monster that swallows you. But as long as there’s a Darfur, as long as there are people saying ‘Hey, you don’t belong here’ to others, it only seems realistic to continue investigating the terrain of racism.”

Check out the link below for some interesting insight on the exhibit.

The Washington Post - "Symbols of Hatred in the Shadows" by Robin Givhan.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Vagina Monologues

I had an opportunity some years back, to see a production of The Vagina Monologues, an Obie Award-winning episodic play written by Eve Ensler that featured Ruby Dee and Phylisha Rashad. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I shared in “Sho’ yo' rights,” head nods, outburst of laughter and even tears. Each monologue in the show somehow related to the vagina, be it through sex, love, rape, menstruation, mutilation, masturbation, birth or orgasm. In essence, it asks the question, “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” The thing that I found to be most compelling about The Vagina Monologues was the recurring theme of the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality. As I revisited everything that experience was, I couldn't get out of my head a recent experience I had with another sort of “pussy” - “boy pussy.” The term alone makes me reel. During the course of a session, which didn’t include intercourse, this dude that identified himself as a bottom, kept asking me to refer to his ass in the aforementioned way? I found it to be a bit of a turn off; as I prefer to be involved with men that, well, enjoy being just that (I am not speaking in terms of masculine/feminine). Had I wanted some “pussy” I would have gotten some, along with a side of titties, but I digress. After that experience, I was left questioning whether there is some sort of validation of “manhood” for those men that take pleasure in calling their partners bitches and use verbiage like “boy pussy.” Inversely, I wonder if the men on the receiving end feel that it is, in some way, a condition of them being gay – that this is what his role should/must be. I mean, the dude wouldn't even let me touch his penis. What's that all about? What man doesn't want a good nut?

The way in which we name, label and define things have a direct correlation with our thoughts and our actions. It is my belief that when we use terms like “boy pussy” we are subconsciously defining our relationship in terms of traditional male/female gender roles. I don't mean this in terms of masculinity or femininity, as masculinity, or the lack there of, has little to do with whether a man is a top or bottom. However, in setting up this dichotomy we begin to treat our “special places” like vaginas instead of what they really are; “boy pussy,” ain't pussy. Many gay men wear their ability to “take dick” as a badge of honor, with little acknowledgement for the recourse of their actions. From a human physiology perspective, the rectum is significantly different from the vagina with regard to suitability for penetration by a penis. The vagina has natural lubricants and is supported by a network of muscles that are composed of a mucus membrane that allows it to endure friction without damage and to resist the immunological actions caused by semen and sperm. In comparison, the anus is a delicate mechanism of small muscles that comprise an "exit-only" passage. With repeated trauma, friction and stretching, the sphincter loses its tone and its ability to maintain a tight seal. Thus, the implication of gender roles within the confines of sex can prove to be non-advantageous for us – when we allow for him to “beat it up like a pussy” we are in fact putting ourselves at risk. I am by no means saying that penetration is bad (Lord knows I'm not), but I know that “small people” can come out of a vagina after 9 months – I have seen asses do some amazing tricks, but that ain't one of them. All jokes aside, damage is more likely if intercourse is forcible or aggressive, if alcohol or other drugs have dulled sensitivity, if communication is poor, or if technique is clumsy. In a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in a sample of forty men receiving anal intercourse, fourteen experienced episodes of frequent anal incontinence. The best way to prevent this is through proper technique, clear communication, and mutual consent.

The residue of these roles often carry over into other areas where one person ends up either being emasculated or left playing a “submissive” role in the relationship. I can continue to play street corner psychologist and talk about self-hate, misogyny and homophobia within the gay community and how they all play into this topic; but I won't. I would much rather use the space to let it be known that I love my brothers. I like them masculine and effeminate. I like them tall and short. I like them slim, thick, toned and muscular. And I can appreciate the arch of a back as much as a dick that's curved to the right. More than anything, I want us to learn how to take care of our bodies (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual) and embrace everything about us that makes us men. In having gender roles we are in some way denouncing a part of ourselves, which puts us in positions that may not always be healthy for us. Let us be ever conscious of the roles we play and how our behavior could be perceived and exploited by others. Walk in your wholeness!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Grown Man Shit

It's has become ever apparent that the social definition of Grown and Sexy, and my working definition are not the same. With this being the case I decided to create a list of my own Grown Man Shit:

1. I always tip appropriately; you never know when you may want to come back.

2. I ain’t saying you got to get a manicure every week – but dirty nails are not where it’s at. Good grooming is a must.

3. I find out the bartender's name and hook him up early, it makes getting a drink a hell of a lot easier and beats having to yell, "What up wit my Hennessy, yo."

4. I'm not dropping a bill or more every weekend for the club. That hundred or so dollars could go into my Ameritrade account, Roth IRA or my interest yielding saving account. A big part of being grown and sexy is the assurance that comes in knowing you'll be more than ok on a rainy day.

5. I don't wear sunglasses on the inside. Are you Lindsey Lohan or somebody? The paparazzi are not after yo ass. Take off the sunglasses, it looks stupid and defeats the purpose - “sun”glasses.

6. I give back with both my money and my time. Next year, instead of just walking in the AIDS Walk, raise some money or volunteer at an AIDS Service Organization. I give money to my alma mater, my church and I volunteer. Stop complaining and do your part to make it better.

7. In my business there is a tax ID, five years of forecasting and revenues. Let's be real, all of us can't be in the music industry, fashion industry or be stylist. By the way, mannequin shopping at H&M does not make you a stylist, nor do un-trademarked names on business cards or on websites.

8. Rockin timbs, a fitted and a hoody validates nothing. Being grown and sexy means embracing what feels right to you – not what you think will appeal to the masses.

9. I still like to sag my shit a little bit, but if I lift my shirt all the way, you shouldn't be able to see any skin between my drawers and my belt loop. My dude, come on now.

10. If I bump against you in the club or vice versa, one of us should apologize and the other should accept it. Either that, or just swing. Who has time for the back and forth cattiness.

11. "Balllin'" isn't defined by being able to pay a little extra for conveniences like table service. E. Stanley “just got a $200M severance package” O’Neal is a baller – not you and me sir.

12. Moet popping at the club – no sir. I have never seen the need to pay triple the liquor store cost to do something that was once hot in a Jay-Z video. Give me a bottle of Bollinger's La Grande Annee – and by the way, I’m drinking that shit off the small of your back.

Ok... one last one... smart... well informed... articulate – always, always makes for grown and sexy.