Tag Archives: african-american


15 Words: Transracial Adoption

So I see a question posed in the RSS reader of my Gmail, the headline of a CNN story on transracial adoption.

This being such a complicated issue, fraught with nuance and complexity… I will answer it with short, pithy phrases:

Do Whites need training before parenting Black children?

In one word? YES.

In two words? Lord, yes.

In three words? Racism still thrives.

In four words? Color-blindness: wishful thinking

In five words? Love conquers most, not all.


One more reason to go back to Japan

It’s not like I need anymore reasons. The truth is, I’ve been wanting to return to Japan for about 18 years, which is how long it’s been since I went as a high school exchange student in the summer of ’94. (Thank you, Jim Scott and Catlin Gabel.) That trip was very enlightening, full of great stories and memories, as was a similar trip I took as a college student to South Korea in the summer of ’99. (Thank you, Rollo Dilworth and North Park University.)

And I was reminded of both trips, and the weirdness inherent in the experience of being Black while immersed in Asian culture, when I saw this story about a little beach town in Japan who is going all out in support of the current Democrat frontrunner for the U.S. Presidency. What’s the connection, you might be asking? Well look at the picture.

The name of the town is Obama, which means “small shore” or “little beach” in Japanese.

Which means that if my man Barack can take this thing all the way to the house, then he’ll be the biggest African-American name in Japan, taking the crown from Kobe Bryant, whose parents named him after the famous choice steaks of Hyogo prefecture of Japan, commonly known as Kobe beef.

This got me thinking… are there any other interesting famous African-Americans getting some crossover love in Japan or other south Asian countries?

(No, the Wu-Tang doesn’t count.)

The closest one I could find was Jero, who has been making news for the last few months by becoming the first African-American to launch a career singing enka, a popular style of traditional Japanese music. His story is the stuff of legend. He got his love for enka from his maternal grandmother, and after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003, he moved to Japan, entered a singing contest and was discovered by Japanese label scouts.

He’s now, like, bigger than hula hoops.

For those struggling for a frame of reference, this would be akin to a young Black woman attempting to become famous by singing country music.

Oh wait, that’s happening too.

I guess there is such a thing as progress.

Personally, I have no interest in enka music, but I think it’s cool that a brotha like Jero (short for Jerome) is willing to break down some walls like that.

Which is why I haven’t let go of one of my Big Hairy Audacious Goals… to launch a tour of Japanese and South Korean cities, doing holy hip-hop with my crew The Iccsters.

Seriously, that would be bananas.

Because first of all, many Japanese people are naturally curious about African-Americans and our culture, primarily as an extension of their curiosity/love affair with American culture as a whole. And that love extends to hip-hop music, in a big, big way. (My man Okami spent a year there… am I right or what?)

Secondly, many Japanese tend to be skeptical of Western missionaries, because in their minds the message of Christ tends to be co-opted by the “American” values of capitalism and democracy. I think they might get a sense of the winds of change that are sweeping across the landscape of American evangelicalism (check the new Evangelical Manifesto) that are making it possible for people to accept the message of Christ from hip-hop heads who are doctrinally orthodox but not culturally conservative.

And I would love it if the tour would have a leg in Japan and another in South Korea, because just as our hip-hop can help provide connection and understanding between Blacks and Whites here in the U.S., I’m sure that there could be some spillover in promoting more acceptance and stemming the hostility between Koreans and Japanese people.

Not that one tour is going to undo centuries of strife and conflict, but still… I’m saying. Racial righteousness is more than just a Black/White thing, and I this tour could help illustrate that.

Plus, my man Sir-1, the other half of the crew, is 6’9″ — so they would automatically think he’s an NBA player. That alone could build a crowd of a hundred-plus, easily. (Not to mention he bears a slight resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen from Da Ali G Show.)

Of course, doing “Cereal” (check our page and play it for yourself) might be a difficult proposition since none of our American brands of cereal are big in Japan… I might have to start boning up on Japanese snack foods.

(“Rockin’ mics, we’re not hard to get / refresh your mental like Pocari Sweat” … )

Yeah, so that might take awhile.

Still, if my experiences in life have taught me anything, it’s that there’s always support for expansion into lucrative markets with God all things are possible.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.


Eugene Robinson: Wright Has No Monopoly On Black Church

Meet my new favorite columnist.

That’s the title I confer on anyone who manages to articulate my thoughts so clearly without me knowing them personally.

I’m talking about his latest piece in today’s Washington Post, entitled Where Wright Went Wrong.

By now, if you’ve been following the national news, Dr. Jeremiah Wright has spoken publicly for the first time since the furor of his out-of-context remarks have been looped on Youtube for all to see.

I’ve attended Dr. Wright’s former church, Trinity United Church of Christ. And I lept to his defense when many in the mainstream media were trying to castigate him as a hateful bigot.

But I do think he’s wearing out his welcome, irritating his allies, and further threatening Senator Obama’s candidacy.

Here’s the closing from Robinson’s column:

I point all this out not to say that one tradition is better than another; as Wright said, different doesn’t mean deficient. But what Wright did was to try to frame the issue in such a way that to question him or anything he has ever said was to question the long, storied tradition of African American religion.

Historically and theologically, he was inflating his importance in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kind of way. Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus.

Sadly, it’s time for Obama to return the favor.

As hard as it is for me to say this, being the son of a high profile pastor… I kind of agree. Yikes.


What If Dr. King’s Sniper Had Missed?

Like any responsible journalist or blogger, I feel that it is my duty to call your attention to the fact that 40 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

There are countless columns, editorials and news stories reflecting this truth. I’m not even going to link to any. I’m sure you’ve already seen or heard some already.

I’d just like to draw your attention to the work of the brilliant, if sometimes vindictive, animateur Aaron McGruder. In the first season of his animated series, “The Boondocks,” McGruder attempts to answer the question of how Dr. King might respond to our society were he alive today, in the Peabody award-winning episode, “Return of the King.”

Here’s a clip (WARNING — R-rated language), interspersed with commentary from another Youtube fan:


Smokey Robinson is gettin’ all militant up in this piece

DISCLAIMER — he does use some R-rated language.

This is an excerpt from the HBO series Def Poetry, a spinoff of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam. As such, you’re prone to hear a few four-letter words spill, as you would on any HBO original program.

And while I definitely don’t agree with everything he says, I do think it’s a breath of fresh air that he’s managed to stake out his own opinion and take odds with the prevailing leftist view of pan-African-ism.

For the record, I choose to identify with the term “Black” in part, like Smokey mentions, to distinguish myself from people like my friend Darrell who has actually spent a significant amount of time in Africa… but also because my heritage is more directly from the West Indies, rather than Africa.

Plus, y’know… it gives me street cred when I’m out in the suburbs.

Big ups to Gregory H for the email link.


Please, stop with the D-word!

“On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.”

Senator Obama, from his speech on race (emphasis mine).


Wow, I really thought the Senator would be above this. He used the D-word.


I try not to do the job of the P.C. police, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. In this case, it’s because I can’t stand that phreaking word. Most people who use the word ‘denigrate’ know what it means in a general sense … or if not specifically, they know what it connotes. If nothing else, they know that if you’re doing it you’re speaking bad about someone or something.

Let me set the record straight, once and for all:

Merriam Webster defines the word as the following:

Main Entry:
den·i·grate Listen to the pronunciation of denigrate
transitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
den·i·grat·ed; den·i·grat·ing
Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, from de- + nigrare to blacken, from nigr-, niger black
1 : to attack the reputation of : defame <denigrate one’s opponents>
2 : to deny the importance or validity of : belittle <denigrate their achievements>

Now, go back up to the etymology part. It’s roots are Latin, right? And what does it mean, literally?

To blacken.

It’s like saying,

“Hey buddy, I got into law school fair and square just like everyone else… don’t blacken my degree just because my professors are African-American.”

The implication here is an age-old idea that Malcolm X first came to resent in his autobiography — that anything white is pure and virtuous and anything black is dangerous, corrupt and evil.

I can understand if White people (or ignorant Black people) use the term out of ignorance. But for someone like Senator Obama, who clearly chooses his words very carefully, to use it… ?




[end of rant]


An Open Letter to Barack Obama

An Open Letter to Barack Obama,

Thanks for writing your recent tome, The Audacity of Hope. I must confess, I haven’t read it yet — or even purchased it, for that matter. But I came perilously close to doing both during my layover at Chicago’s Midway airport during the return leg of my Thanksgiving trip visiting in-laws. I say ‘perilously’ because I’ve been shopping recently and I’m pretty sure my budget would vehemently protest at the idea of a $25 hardcover impulse purchase. (For that matter, so would my wife.)

Nevertheless, I found myself inextricably drawn to your book as I wandered the airport.

My skeptical side wants to chalk that up to having just spent an afternoon perusing the wealth of monuments and memorials at the National Mall in Washington D.C., which are so grand and majestic that even the most apathetic, politically uninterested among us can, if only fleetingly, muster up an ounce or two of civic pride and responsibility.

But I don’t think that’s it. Monuments alone do not an epiphany make. And as much as I love to revisit my beloved DVD collections of “The West Wing,” they usually don’t inspire me to do much other than tune in to watch Aaron Sorkin’s newest melodrama, “Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip.” (D.L. Hughley? I’m down.)

No, something deeper stirred inside me. As best I can tell, it was a form of longing. For what, I’m not exactly sure… but I know I’ve felt it before.

I felt it six years ago, during a Sankofa journey with an intrepid group of classmates at North Park University, where we were exposed to the plight of poor Black folks under the thumb of racist Southern county legal systems. Talk about scary… I saw stuff that I thought stopped happening around the time “Gunsmoke” went off the air.

I felt the longing again when a professor challenged me to tack on several more years to my academic sentence by enrolling at Harvard law school to become a civil rights attorney. It was a ludicrous idea on several levels, but even though I had no desire to enter grad school — and deliberately avoided the pursuit of a pre-law degree on the grounds of it being too much work — a small part of me leapt at the idea of trying to do something to right all the wrongs around me. The rest of me avoided it like the plague, but still… I’m sayin’ I felt it.

I felt it again after hearing and reading about Jim Wallis, his bestselling book God’s Politics, his organization Sojourners/Call to Renewal, and the resurgence (if one can call it that) of the religious left.

And I felt it again today, thumbing through the prologue of The Audacity of Hope. It’s a nagging feeling, really. The inevitable sense of unrest that accompanies the habitual repression of deep desire. In this case, it’s the desire for our broader American culture to be healed of it’s racial and political divide.

Señor Senator, you convinced me with those first few pages that you have what it takes to help facilitate that healing process on a national scale. And despite grumblings aplenty that stick-in-the-mud pundits (read: realists) have been offering about your lack of Senate experience, I think you have the potential to wage an effective presidential campaign. Not only that, but I think an Obama presidency would galvanize our country, bringing a balm of civility and discourse that is critically absent from today’s political landscape.

For these reasons (and because I’m not afraid to jump on a good bandwagon when I see one), I urge you — please, run for president. I know it’ll be a gut-wrenching, soul-searching ordeal, but you’re the right man at the right time.

And it’s not like we can’t see it coming. America is clamoring for you to run. Oprah has endorsed you, and “Meet the Press” pinned you down to a firm ‘maybe,’ so all that’s left is to make sure your wife and kids are on board and then end the charade. You were the star of the DNC in ’04, and ever since you’ve been the Teflon Don of the Senate circuit. Shoot, even Michael Richards would probably vote for you — and as we all know by now, good ol’ Kramer’s got some issues with Black people.

So do it already.

* * *

Now having said that, I realize that there are probably a myriad of political realities that are preventing you from declaring your candidacy at this time. Not being a politician myself, I don’t have a clue as to what those would be but I’m sure they’re there.

With that in mind, it might be prudent for you to pull an O.J. move.

(I can’t believe I just said that.)

No, not that kind of move. Good Lord, no.

What I mean is you could release another book or exclusive interview and call it If I Do Run, Here’s What I Might Say or Do.

So continuing on in the spirit of unsolicited advice, I’ve got some topics you might want to address once you ascend to your theoretical presidency. Bigger than a pet peeve, but smaller than a platform, each one represents a way you can put your stamp on our republic:

1. Help eradicate the n-word for good.

Okay, so you’re the rock star president — er senator, I mean — so here’s how you go about doing it. You grab some A-list Black celebrities with a modicum of street cred. Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx would work fine. (They may even be looking for another pro-Black cause now that Tookie is gone.) You get them to front the united, worldwide cause to stop Black folks from propagating what has now become a ridiculous double standard — that we can use the term ‘nigger’ and any of its variants with impunity while no one else can.

Before the Michael Richards incident I was very conflicted on this issue, primarily because I enjoy good comedy and there is a lot of humor to be mined from the true-to-life interactions between Blacks. (See Chris Rock’s “Nigga Please Cereal” sketch.)

Nevertheless, our hypocrisy has never been more apparent. As self-respecting Blacks, we have no ethical leg to stand on when we heap condemnation upon Michael Richards without casting even a sideways glance at other Black entertainers whose use of the n-word is equally demeaning. What’s worse, we give license to the Michael Richardses of the future to continue taking shots at our collective character, since our silent assent to the minstrel shows (or should I say, minstrel hoes) on “Flavor of Love” prove that we really don’t care about how we’re depicted in the media.

So lead the charge and help us Black folk change our language for good by banishing the n-word. Aaron McGruder of “The Boondocks” may be a tough sell, but even Paul Mooney changed his tune on the issue, so if nothing else… there’s hope. (Is that audacious enough?)

2. Help Americans to stop being so self-important and learn to laugh at ourselves.

This one might sound strange coming right after the last one, but it’s not unrelated. See, part of the reason why I’ve been loathe to come out publicly against the casual use of the word “nigga,” especially in a FUBU context (“For Us, By Us”), is because a lot of times, it’s funny. Really funny. We Black folks love to laugh at ourselves. And I’m convinced that if Michael Richards would have actually invested his pent-up race rage into something witty, interesting or — here’s an idea — funny, then he probably wouldn’t be as universally reviled right now. He might have offended a few people, but he’d probably still have, you know, a career.

And this is where you come in. You’re obviously a smart man, and since your satirical ode to Senator John McCain, your flair for comedic is evident. So lead by example. Make it a priority to, at least once in a while, mock the hell out of yourself and people like you.

And believe me, you don’t have to be timid about it. If you’re good and accurate about, people will laugh. They might squirm a little, but if you do it right, you’ll come out ahead. You’ll sort-of become the reverse Will Ferrell. Have you seen Talladega Nights? Over-the-top hilarious. I haven’t found any southern right-wing groups organizing protests around it, and I think it’s because Ferrell’s exaggerated Ricky Bobby character celebrates the NASCAR culture even as he rips it to shreds. And by the time it’s over, no group has been spared, and your sides hurt from laughing so hard.

This, by the way, has been one of the missing elements for “Studio 60.” Audiences would have an easier time digesting the high-brow soliloquys of the fictional sketch-show staff if the sketches were really funny. Quite a bit of the time, they’re not. If you’re gonna pull off a good satire, you can’t be too busy showing off how smart you are. It’ll come through on its own. Which brings me to the third thing…

3. Give Americans permission to be smart again.

In a media age where politics are another form of mass-media entertainment, smart is in short supply. And it’s not so much that our politicians aren’t smart, but that they’re afraid to come off as boring or elitist. As a result, the mob mentality kicks in, and in the name good publicity, our public servants run the risk of becoming outtakes from “Jackass 2.” (See Howard Dean and his primal roar.)

Self-deprecation can nice and refreshing when it shows that a leader isn’t full of him or herself — but that presupposes that the leader has some legitimate moral and intellectual substance to back up any air of superiority that needs deflating in the first place. Dubya’s jokey side is a nice complement to his steely sense of resolve and determination, but when he continues to make poor decisions it just makes him look like an idiot.

This is why you need to give brainiacs everywhere permission to be themselves. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, smart is good. When smart people are freed from having to dumb themselves down in order to be accepted, the results can be phenomenal.

Take, for example, the hit series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” You’ve probably never seen it. The title alone evokes either cheesy action/adventure schlock (see: “Xena: Warrior Princess“) or a sarcastic, overly ironic snarkfest (all the “Scream” movies). But “Buffy” ended up becoming a massive cult favorite that kept its fledgling network (the WB) on the air during its run. Why? Because its creator, Joss Whedon, took a format rife with mediocrity (the high school drama) and found innovative ways to push boundaries — including an episode almost completely devoid of spoken words. Whedon’s brilliant writing helped to catalyze a renaissance in screenwriting, as some of the industry’s best and brightest formed an exodus from film back to TV — a medium formerly associated with hacks and wannabes. And none of it would’ve happened without talented cats like Whedon conquering our greatest fear‘ and gettin’ their Marianne Williamson on.

Is it risky? Absolutely. Whedoon’s next series, the critically-acclaimed space western “Firefly,” was a flop. Being smart is obviously no guarantee of success. But it helps more than it hinders. Sooner or later, the smart guys really do come out on top. And if that’s not what America is all about, then I don’t know what is.

* * *

So there it is, man. Consider this my endorsement of Barack Obama for… uh… any other office he may choose to pursue. As for me, I’m gonna try to do my part to heal our nation’s wounds with my writing, my music, and whatever other ministry opportunities come my way. And also my vote.

So from now on, any resemblances that any of your future speeches may have with this article, we’ll agree to be totally coincidental.

(But if it’s all the same to you, my rap group The Iccsters is available for inaugural parties.)

I’m Jelani Greenidge.

Thanks for mixin’ it up with me.