I woke up this morning on my last full day in Capetown thinking predominantly of the impact that my father has had on my life. The older I get the more I realize how much my father has affected every aspect of my life, my thoughts, my feelings, my actions and even my expectations of myself and others. I make subconscious and conscious reference to my father (and mother) every day of my life in one way or another. For the passed three weeks I’ve been staying with my friend Simphiwe Mabuya his wife Zuki and their two daughters in Nyanga, (one of the townships here on the outskirts of Capetown, South Africa). Staying with Simphiwe and his family I have also consistently been reminded of the impact of a father on his children.
I have a picture of my father helping me to tie my shoes when I was around seven or eight years old, I posted it on my tumblr a few months ago, I made reference to this picture in the song ‘yesterdays’ on One Day Soon in relation to my mother, their relationship and eventual separation. To me the picture expresses a reality of my father in my life, a care, sensitivity and humility that is not often associated with the stereotype of ‘manhood’ in many of our cultures but is essential to being a whole human being. Maybe this sensitivity and humility isn’t the best thing to express during wartime, and although I think many of the stereotypes around manhood are related to conflict, power, ego and domination, I don’t think most humans aspire to be in a state of perpetual warfare and I don’t think most people who identify as men want to live this way either, I certainly never had any desire to.
My father is both caring and strong, sensitive and powerful, intelligent and emotional, determined and vulnerable so I never saw a contradiction in a man being both sensitive and powerful at the same time, both nurturing and strong; it’s the same way I view my mother and myself for that matter. I view my father as a whole human being, or at least as someone who aspired to be as whole as possible. I’m not at all saying that my father was or is perfect I’m just saying that he tried and was brave enough to manifest a positive relationship with his son regardless of a strained relationship with his own father.
The skewed idea of masculinity as created and perpetuated by an often violent and patriarchal society, is held up by both men who probably birthed it out of ego and an attempt to hold power but is also held up by many women who have been subjected to it. What women find attractive, what they will accept, what they expect, what they teach and what they care about also leads to men into being the way they are in society even if women’s attitudes towards men stem from the same patriarchy that leaves them at a disadvantage in societies around the globe. At the Open Forum conference that I just attended here in Capetown I met a Black woman feminist lesbian who said something to the effect that sometimes without knowing women participate in mens facilitated helplessness when it comes to things that are traditionally viewed as ‘women’s duties’ like cooking, cleaning and taking care of children. But boys are given trucks and airplanes when they are children in our society while girls are given dolls and strollers and kitchen sets.
I say all this to talk about my father again. I learned from my father, he like many other fathers around the world are our first and most consistent example of manhood, as our mothers are often our first and most consistent example of womanhood. We model our relationships after the relationships we see. So it’s not surprising that many people who have witnessed strong and healthy relationships have an easier time creating strong healthy relationships in their own lives and making the choices that will lead to better relationships. When I say strong relationships I’m not making any correlation between strength and time mind you, I believe my parents had a strong relationship, but they split after eighteen years. Those of us that have insecurities and fears in our relationships make choices that can mirror those insecurities and choices that lead us to mirror the relationships that we have seen. And of course there are many people who never had a positive relationship to reflect because a parent was completely absent.
Yesterday afternoon I did a performance in Guguletu and had a long conversation after the show with a guy who lived in the area, he said to me “the family is the basis of the community and the community is the basis of the nation,” and although some of our definitions were different, I share his view. I believe that the love relationship and partnership is the basis of society because out of that relationship come children that create a family, the family creates the community and the community creates the society. If a the foundation of a house is not strong, the house is not strong so as someone who is interested in community I’ve always wanted a strong relationship. Just like Muslim people believe that the marriage is half of their Islam, i believe that my relationships should attempt to mirror my view of society. I however have never lived that reality.
I had a conversation with my friend Che Kothari at the wedding of our friends Ryan and Nana, I was experiencing what would prove to be the last legs of a undefined relationship and was generally not in a celebratory mood. Che and his (now) wife Mriga spoke about two wholes coming together, not two people coming together to complete each other as is the typical (western) view of marriage. I am of the belief that many of us who have a history of slavery are still living with the legacy of Willie Lynch, not whole in ourselves and thus finding it difficult to find wholeness in our relationships, in many cases because of a separation from black fatherhood. We are divided, distrustful and distant from each other and because many of our families were fragmented, many of our families continue to be fragmented, and our distrust and insecurity keeps us separated, leading to more uncertainty, distance and distrust being passed down through the generations. I also think that this has lead to a incredibly one diminutional view of masculinity that is still being perpetuated by many of us, even the most progressive of us.
When I was seventeen my first girlfriend told me that she thought that I was gay, a part from the assumed negative connotations of this statement, this has always been strange to me, similar to the statements I always heard about being a mama’s boy or more recently being told that I am ‘over sensitive.’ It is not the first time that I have heard such statements. I think that my first girlfriend thought I was gay because I was getting to know her before I ever made any romantic (aka sexual) advances toward her. She later made some choices that got her involved in an extremely abusive relationship that I’ll spare you the details of. In my opinion she held a very unhealthy view of what manhood is that in many communities leads to both the cultivation of negative traits in ones self as well as perceiving negative traits such as aggression, jealously and possessiveness as masculine and therefore desirable. I had a close friend who was in a brief abusive relationship and her perception of his intense and physically violent jealously as a clear sign of his love for her frightened me in the same way my ex’s comments about me simply confused me. What is this skewed masculinity and it’s association with control and violence. Because people perceive manhood in this way when someone does not attempt to take control or is more sensitive or emotional than unemotional or unmovable they are viewed as ‘effeminate’ (which is also an active stereotype of the emotional, irrational female) and the perception is that this is not masculine and therefore not attractive to a heterosexual woman. After all, men are supposed to take initiative, make the first move, take control, be emotional strong, be outgoing and all the other things that are associated with the phrase ‘be a man!’ I don’t think this is far of from women saying things like ‘I want a man that i can feel safe with’ or ‘who can protect me’ but I digress.
I guess what I’m saying here is that our view of manhood, similar to our view of womanhood is profoundly skewed so skewed that we can view balance as effeminate and violence as masculinity. The well-known philosopher and spiritual leader Krishnamurti said “it is not measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” That we are very well adjusted to these troubling views of masculinity might be counter to our best interest as a society. It seams to me that we suffer from a normalization of profound imbalance.
I’ll end this by telling another brief story. Once when I was about sixteen years old I was on the train with my father coming from somewhere, there were a group of guys about my age sitting together talking loudly and doing what most teenaged boys do when they are together; posturing and attempting to assert their manhood. My father and I were heading separate ways so he embraced me and kissed me on my forehead. I remember at sixteen feeling so embarrassed that my father showed his affection for me in this way in front of a group of my perceived peers. I look back on that moment now and I’m thankful that I had a gentle and loving father that taught me that a man does not need to live up to the stereotype of masculinity despite what society asks us to portray. My father never really taught me this in words, he taught me this in actions. I’m happy that I could be an artist who didn’t care about sports or cars and that be okay. I’m happy that my father was able to show me the complexity of what it is to be a man, so despite the difficulty of being a complex man in a fairly one dimensional society, I could still allow myself to be me. I’m grateful that my father said of my mother more than ten years after they split up that he loved and respected her and that she was still his best friend. And more than anything I’m happy that my father is just my father and we can still talk and laugh and argue and be father and son now that I too am a man.
“I went to a funeral this morning. After my cousin and I drove back from the cemetery I was sitting in the living room of a family members house with an old Trinidadian woman who sat on a chair across from me and rested her cane on the foot stool between us. She asked what side of the family I was on and smiled when I told her what part of Trinidad my father was from. She told stories.
One of my cousins walked in and bent down to unzip her boot as she took them both off to enter the house. The old lady watched her quietly as she bent over to unzip the first boot, then the second and then kneeled down to move them into an appropriate place amongst the other shoes. As she watched my cousin walk into the next room she said to me quietly “we often don’t appreciate the little things until they are gone.” She grabbed her cane to stand up as I left an hour or so later.
I have been described as ‘boring’ and unexciting, sometimes quite seriously and other times as in jest, i’ve even been called a ‘wet blanket’ and much worse (these names ring in my mind when I meet a new person and they begin to throw the same titles at me.) I am quiet, I don’t enjoy parties, I’m private (not secretive as I am often described) I prefer one on one conversations and I am an introvert at heart. The truth is, I enjoy and appreciate simple things, things that I feel some people around my age miss while looking for a certain kind of excitement and adventure. I am quietly adventurous, I am excited by small things that I think are important, I’m not frivolous. I have to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with that even if it means I am disconnected from people at times.
Those that know me (or have known me) as a friend know that I can have vivid and specific dreams sometimes. I’ve made a habit in the last few years of telling people who are close to me the details of my dreams. I try when possible to tell people who are in my dreams when they are in them and what part they played. The below dream is no exception. Sometimes this creeps people out (lol.. sorry) but not if we’re close. I had a dream last night and for some reason felt like sharing it with a larger group of people, so I wrote it down, below is the content.
I had a dream last night that I was walking through my neighbourhood (Esplanade) at sunset, thesky was dark blue, it was chilly, red and yellow leafs were blowing on the wet pavement around me. I was walking by myself. I walked through an area that I’d never been through before, between two glass buildings, quite tall, reaching up on both sides of the small path I walked on. I was passing by the concrete back yards of my neighbours. I could see clearly inside peoples ground floor apartments. The people were watching television, cooking, cleaning up.
I walked by one apartment and saw a friend of mine inside (someone I know in real life from Toronto). I peeked my head in his back window, he invited me inside. All this happened without words. He made me tea, he was cooking. A beautiful young lady showed up (another person I know from Toronto). She sat on the couch beside me, she was kind of flirty, we spoke, laughed. I don’t know about what we spoke about specifically, all I felt was the feeling, again no words that I remember. She was affectionate. My other friend was in the kitchen making something, then other people started showing up, some I knew, most I didn’t. Mainly African people from different parts of the continent , I could see where they were from in their faces. Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia. Some were from the Caribbean, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica. Most people were dressed in traditional clothing from where they were from. These people were greeting each other and talking to me, it felt like some of them wanted to meet me and speak with me. It was a warm and friendly environment. Not sure if the gathering was for me or not. Some people were there to meet me, not the majority, but a few. I got up and walked around the apartment and ended up sitting with an old lady in the next room. She had shining, healthy black skin, wrinkles, she was very old, like my grandmother, but not my grandmother. She was wearing purple and gold dress, beads around her neck and small beads on her ears. Her hair was wrapped in the same material as her dress. She was pleasant and warm, she smiled at me, her eyes were dark and slightly grey, but sharp and focused. Someone had brought me to her, she smiled at me, she wanted to tell me something. She spoke closely to me, whispered in my ear; I woke up.
After three years of work One Day Soon is finally here. Today (Oct 7) is my fathers birthday. People who purchased the physical CD will read in the (32 page hand-written) booklet that I dedicated this album to my parents. Without them there would be no me, so who better to dedicate it to. My mother (Claire Prieto) and my father (Roger McTair) have been my two primary supporters in my mission to be some kind of an artist since I was a toddler. My parents took me to art classes, music classes, came to my shows and poetry readings (in some sketchy places sometimes) spoke to me about my plans and supported my vision. My parents are artists, filmmakers, and have always supported the arts and culture, taught me the importance of being involved in community, the importance of learning and teaching at the same time and the importance of honesty, perseverance and dedication. My parents worried about money but fought for a more important goal. In the next few months I will start to post digital versions of documentaries that my parents made, you will probably understand me better then.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this process. One Day Soon was inspired by my community, from my brother N’dichu in Nairobi who opened his door for me the first time i visited the continent of Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) for the first time, Tumi who did the same (Jo’burg South Africa), Mediza’s family in Accra, Ghanna who also did the same, to El tipo and Magia in Cuba, to Gillian, Giselle, Michael, Lamar, Javar, Sheldon, Kyauna and Pablo and everyone who came in to Artistic Effusion who reminded me why I did music in the first place (‘AE reminded me I was an artist’) and every person in Toronto who has pushed me, showed interest, challenged me and supported me to make this happen. This is really supposed to be the beginning of the process, we will see what happens. #onedaysoon.
One Day Soon is available HERE/Now.. please pass along the sampler and the download link if you enjoy/want to help (thanks) this project is independent, a labor of love, I really need your help to push it forward and keep it moving, anything that you can do to get it into the ears of people, press, other artists or whoever would be so appreciated. I’m at a place right now where without balancing this time with investment it will be difficult to continue, so if you appreciate this, tell someone and help me build the tribe around it.
Below is the teaser for The Village, the first video that will be released off of One Day Soon coming soon.
Over the last three years I have been obsessed with the album I’m about I’m about to release on Oct 7th entitled ‘One Day Soon‘. Since I graduated from my university with an honours degree in fine arts and design this an album has been on my mind and after two trips to Cuba for the Cuban Hip Hop Symposium and moving on from my design practice to do community work full time it was solidified that I would at least attempt to create an album. Even though I have released 2 EP’s (First EP 2003 & Cocoons EP 2011), 5 Podcasts and 3 Mixtapes to date technically I have never released an full length LP.
I’m never really happy with what I create, maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo with perfectionist tendencies, maybe because in the process of making something you learn better how to do it and come out on the other end with more knowledge then when you started. My friend Kheaven told me once that he looks at his old music as baby pictures, though you are not always proud of it and may even be slightly embarrassed by it at times it was you at that time. This is the reason why all of the mixtapes that I released are an assortment of pictures of me as a baby and the reason why the podcasts were called ‘sketches’ because it was me at that time, unpolished, unfinished, still developing. I expect that process of developing will continue.
I have been bored by hip hop at a certain points in my life. Boredom with hip hop was what compelled me to start going to poetry shows ten years ago to focus on the craft of putting words together. It was the same boredom that got me expand my sonic world in the years before recording One Day Soon. While making One Day Soon I was listening to more Bjork and Radiohead then The Roots or Common. I opened myself up to Little Dragon and Jose Gonzalez, recently I’ve been really into James Blake (just when to his show in Toronto.. amazing). I visited Brazil and was taken record shopping by another artist named Kamau in Sao Paulo, and experienced a whole other musical culture and group of artists including getting more and more into Milton Nasciamento. While recording I watched the Ken Burns Jazz series over and over and over again and although I can’t say that the album sounds at all like Jazz it was influenced by the people and the history in that series of documentaries. I only recently started listening to hip hop again as some of the younger guys like Drake and Kendrick Lamar and even Lil’ Wayne have brought a different energy into the hip hop world.
I recorded my last mixtape (Love & Other Struggles) after I recorded One Day Soon and although the influences on the record are the comparable to One Day Soon, One Day Soon is a different experience. I think people will hear that difference and it might take them a moment to adjust.
I remember Wynton Marsalis saying “with great art, you have to go to it. It doesn’t come to you. Shakespeare,” he said, “doesn’t come to you. You have to go to him.” I don’t completely agree with this statement, I think like a conversation art is a dance between two or more participants and should never be one sided, but I do understand what he’s saying; sometimes what we are comfortable with is only what we already know, but sometimes we have to challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zone when experiencing something new.
While recording the album I wasn’t hearing rhythm as much as I was hearing melody, I was interested in pushing my production beyond where it had been. I remember my friend Gavin Sheppard (of The Remix Project & Honest Music) saying to me years ago “people don’t listen to your music for the production.” That comment, though not meant as a negative, stuck with me to this day. It is always a challenge for me to make something better than what came before. I feel like I’m always fighting myself even when people say it is ‘good.’ I want to be great; I’m not there yet, I’m pushing at it though.
I’ve learned so much in the process of making this album, it has not come easy. I don’t think that I am naturally talented in music. I do have a natural drive towards creating music and an ear for it but not sure if it is natural (along with poetry, visual arts and design) so I have struggled to learn and forced myself to try and be better; the production on One Day Soon as compared to my last self-produced record (The First EP) hopefully is a testament to that. I’m trying to improve.
I say all this to say that One Day Soon is different then my past musical efforts, not drastically but definitely different. I did exactly what I wanted to do with this record without thinking about what people would like or not like. I think it is extremely important as a communicator or storyteller to be aware of the needs/wants of your audience, but most of the time during the recording process of this album (which took place mostly by myself in my apartment in Esplanade in downtown Toronto) I was thinking about where I would go, not what people (or radio or press or other artists) would like. People who listened and liked Love & Other Struggles will notice the difference, from a more hip hop influence to.. well.. you’ll have to decide..
I usually don’t go to Caribana in Toronto (Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.. my bad Scotia.. sigh). it’s not because I have any particular issue with Caribana and I won’t deny it’s importance and influence in the culture I was born into (both of my parents were born and raised in Trinidad) but I would rather observe than participate. I still have never been to Trinidad Carnival (I have family in Trinidad who are quite disappointed in me for this tragic fact).
When I was younger on Saturday I would head to the parade (late) with my people from high school and slowly stroll around the grounds then walk Yonge Street in downtown Toronto until the early hours of the morning, I was too shy to talk to girls that I didn’t already know so it was and exercise in observation, it’s not too different now if I do find myself somewhere around Caribana, but I haven’t actually left my house specifically to go to Caribana in about seven years.
I do however find Carnival fascinating, especially since it’s probably the single most well-known cultural expression to come out of the island both sides of my family is from and is tied directly to Calypso music and all its many different incarnations. Yesterday evening I walked down Yonge Street on my way home and found myself thinking about Carnival. It’s funny that Yonge Street has become just as much a young persons tradition as Afrofest when the sun goes down (you know what i’m talking about). People go out, look their best, blast music out of their cars, men try to talk to women, women look for men they actually want to talk to, some pride/ego driven fights might happen, but it’s generally a good time.
I have many friends who complain about what Caribana is and is not, what it used to be, Scotiabank’s purchase of the whole thing, and the sexual nature of the costumes and interactions that take place during the now largely American festival in Toronto. I know many people who write-off the entire thing but as long as nobody gets hurt or harassed it’s all good as far as I’m concerned (‘harassed’ is a debatable/relative term depending on your desires and intentions for being out in certain places on that day; this is probably not the greatest time for a young woman to be going to HMV to get the latest Cool Kids record if she doesn’t want a certain kind of attention, but that’s an entirely different conversation).
I came home last night thinking of the context of Carnival and did some research and wanted to share. I have always heard that Carnival was a celebration of freedom from enslavement, which of course intrigued me, but I’m not sure this is completely true. The most prevalent explanation is that Carnivals all over the world derive from a tradition based in Catholicism in Italy that involved costumes, masks and festivities before the first day of Lent. Lent is a Catholic religious tradition of fasting for forty days that requires followers to abstain from meat, dairy and in some cases oil and wine. This also requires people to give up other things during their fast that are considered worldly similar to the month of Ramadan in Islamic tradition or the fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The idea of Lent specifically is to abstain from certain worldly things as atonement for ones sins as a reflection of the Gospel stories of Jesus going into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. The ‘Fest Carne Vale” was a celebration of worldly pleasures before Lent began (I guess to get that stuff out of the way before fasting time).
I read a few different explanations of what the word ‘Carnival’ means, they are similar. Some say that it is from the Italian word ‘Carne’ meaning ‘meat’ or ‘flesh’ (the root of the words carnivore meaning ‘meat eater,’ ‘carnal’ which refers to physical especially sexual needs/desires or ‘carnage’ meaning the killing or brutalizing of people’s bodies/flesh) other definitions say the root means ‘to put away meat’ which is what Lent literally asks people to do and still others say it is in reference to “Carrus Navalis” (a ship cart or naval car) which is the Roman name for the ‘Navigium Isidis’ (ship of Isis the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood & fertility) where the figure of Isis was carried to the sea to bless the beginning of the sailing season (this festival included a parade of people in masks following an adorned wooden boat similar to the floats of the contemporary Carnivals across the globe).
Carnival was introduced to Trinidad and Tobago in 1785 when the french began to come to the island. The French also had a hand in the world famous Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans (a heavily French city also heavily influenced by the Caribbean with ties to the Haitian Kanaval). The wealthy (slave-owning) planters had lavish balls where they put on masks, wigs and fancy dresses and danced well into the night (alcohol was often involved). Enslaved people would hold their own small festivities in their quarters and in the fields even though they were banned from practicing their traditions, rituals and speaking their folklore. In Trinidad, Haiti and New Orleans former slaves sometimes dawned ridiculous costumes to mock their former masters, making fun of their pomp, wealth and superior attitude. When slavery was abolished in Trinidad in 1838 the freed Africans began hosting Carnival celebrations in the streets to celebrate their freedom openly often taunting and ridiculing their former masters in the process. They played Mas, a short form of the word ‘Masquerade’ and partied in the street. Artistic and cultural traditions like Calypso and J’ouvert emerged out of these celebrations. Of course Calypso music is intimately tied to Carnival as the most prominent and identifiable of Trinidad and Tobago’s musical forms. This film enabled me to understand that I came out of a storytelling and musical tradition that was in line with that of the West African Griot. Below is a little clip of Lord Kitchener and Lord Pretender.
I have to admit that although I appreciated the music of Trinidad it wasn’t until I purchased a documentary called Calypso Dreams that was recommended to me by Itah Sadu from A Different Booklist in Toronto that I really appreciated the art and storytelling of Calypso music in it’s classic form.
Some scholars have argued that Carnival does not have European (Roman/Italian) roots at all. There are African traditions of parading in circles through and around villages in masks and costumes that were believed to bring good fortune to the villagers. Hiram Araújo (a scholar and researcher) argues that researching the origins of Carnival led him to Ancient Egypt four thousand years before Christ. Egyptians would celebrate a good harvest year and were intended to connect Egyptians with the cycles of nature, the universe and the divine though the sacred act of ritual. Three celebrations would happen per every lunar calendar year that involved celebrations (and drunkenness).
There is also the opinion that Carnival dates back to an Ancient Greek spring festival in honor of Dionysus (The God of wine). The Romans took on this celebration with Bacchanalia, a feast to honor Bacchus (most likely where the term ‘Bacchanal’ came from), the Roman equivalent to Dionysis. There was also Saturnalia, where enslaved people and their masters would exchange clothing in a day of drunken celebration that included sex and feasts; this tradition was eventually modified by the Roman Catholic Church into a festival leading up to Ash Wednesday that I mention above.
Whatever the reality of it’s origin Carnival is now all over the world, with some of the most famous happening annually in Trinidad, New York, London and Brazil (Rio & Bahia) as well as Crop over (Barbados), Mari Gras (New Orleans), Carnival, Junkanoo (Bahamas) as well as in Haiti (Kanaval), Toronto (Caribana) and so many other places around the world it is almost impossible to name them.
There is so much to Carnival as a cultural practice, a ritual related to spirituality and freedom, as well as all of the art and expression that goes along with it that I wish it still maintained more of those traditions or at least that they were more widely known. I think most people just go to party without any context. Even if some of the traditions are forgotten there is no denying that this celebration of freedom and communal celebration has influenced millions across the world and although I won’t be jumping up personally, I appreciate it’s root and it’s value in bringing people together to celebrate life and freedom in some way.
Originally published February, 2010
The mixtape, combined with the internet, is an exciting phenomenon to me: partially because it enables artists like myself to get music out directly to people who may have the opportunity to listen, but also because I see it as the continuation of tradition. This might sound a little odd to some – to put the mixtape in the storytelling tradition – but bear with me for a moment.
Storytelling, like other oral traditions, is often based on the reinterpretation of thoughts and ideas. The stories our mothers told us are often the stories their mothers told them. Stories are re-adapted and reinterpreted to suit the teller and the audience. The idea of oral tradition is simple: conveying messages, ideas, news and expression by way of words and the expression of those words. Hip Hop obviously is not stranger to this idea. Hip Hop inspired an entire industry to begin sampling and in fact created an industry around sampling, beat making and DJing–all creative ways using technology to recreate and reinterpret something that already existed by manipulating it. Of course there is a constant debate about this process and whether it is “art” but that’s a topic for another day.
The mixtape (which these days is rarely if ever an actual cassette tape) is a fairly recent version of this idea of reinterpretation. When i was a teenager I used to make mixtapes. Back then a “mixtape” was more of a personal compilation of songs or songs from different artists on a particular theme. I used to make mixtapes on a regular basis. I would go to Sam the Record Man and by a new high quality blank cassette come home and organize my tapes, CDs and vinyl according to what my theme was. I had Hip Hop mixtapes, soul, jazz and tapes that were for a particular mood or occasion. When my boys came over there was a tape for that, when I was feeling down there was a tape for that and if a young lady was coming over, there was a tape for that, too.
The mixtape has evolved though; it is something different now. It has become a tool for hip hop artists to reinterpret songs from their perspective, taking instrumentals from other artists (who now readily put them up on youtube and other places on the internet) and changing their meanings. In the last few years mixtapes have blown up not only as a creative outlet but also a means for promotion and. with the freedom of communication afforded by the internet, artists have been able to become well-known in the mixtape world without being signed and without having an actual album out.
Artists these days have more freedom to create an audience for themselves than before, taking back power from the record companies that in large part have been exploiting artists from the birth of the recording industry. This and the other major change in the music industry – downloading – has been upsetting to an industry that isn’t quick to adapt to new things. Either way, artists now have much more ability to build a direct relationship with their audience and be more independent (for better or worse) than ever before.
Love and Other Struggles (my latest) is the third and final installment of the September Nine mixtape series. Vol. 3 was created as an exploration idea and reality of love. Not simply romantic love (although that is a big part of the topic explored) but love of community, love in friendship, love of family and love of self. This mixtape is an attempt to express many sides of love and the ways in which we deal it. It is the last mixtape that I will be making before my album which I hope to release this summer (finally).
Originally published January, 2010
I was sent the below article by a professor of mine who taught me in a class called Cultures of Resistance when I was at York University.
This issue of Haiti has been bothering me since the quake happened. It makes me upset that people aren’t thinking more critically about all the events surrounding the quake, the idea of ‘help’ and media coverage/perspective. There has been an explosion fundraisers happening and I have been asked to participate in one way or another in at least five of them. I can’t in good faith participate if the historical significance of Haiti is not eve considered let alone mentioned and we are asked to “dance for haiti” or “bowl for haiti” with no background on what this tragic event actually means in a historical, political and social context.
At the same time, I am not educated about Haiti, outside of having Haitian friends (which means little to nothing when it comes to education and understanding around these issues) I don’t have a clear history of Haiti in my head and have never personally been there unlike Cuba or Rio or Nairobi. Being there means knowing people in the ground and not necessarily giving money or supplied to the default organization like the Red Cross.
I wrote something longer about it from a personal perspective but read this today and thought it was important for people to have it and to start pushing for a more critical evaluation of what is actually happening in Haiti right now.
People need support right now in Haiti.. but have they been supported thus far? How many of us were thinking about Haiti before the quake hit? If we are organizing fundraisers are we seeking out the Haitian community to be involved, to speak, to perform, to give personal accounts and I think most importantly to give a clear historical context of why Haiti is in the state that it is in right now.
Below is the article.. please read.. I also want to encourage the Haitian people in Toronto and Montreal and all over to speak out as forcefully as possible about Haiti so we are not forced to be hearing about Haiti from the perspective of foreigners with unknown intentions (huge industry around disaster capitalism) but rather from the people themselves about their home from their perspective. It is so important that we not hear about you from others but from you. I would feel much more comfortable supporting something that was from you and for your people and your home then random events born out of pity and guilt.. rather these efforts should be born out of love and true connection to a place and you have that more then any of us.
THE HATE & THE QUAKE (HAITI)
Published on: 1/17/2010. http://www.nationnews.com/story/guest-column-hilary-beckles-copy-for-web
BY SIR HILARY BECKLES / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking And Rebuilding Haiti.
I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.
Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti’s independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.
The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France.
The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty.
In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation.
The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.
The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing.
They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.
All were linked in communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti, the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.
As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it – and the people.
The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on slavery.
Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic.
For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.
The French refused to recognise Haiti’s independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in independence, refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state the Western world.
Haiti was isolated at birth – ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history.
The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.
Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue.
The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.
Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.
The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services.
The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition.
The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before independence.
Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society.
Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos.
The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate in order to repay the French government.
When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations.
The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed of justice.
Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition.
The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate.
Human life was snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation – a crime against humanity.
During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong representation was made to the French government to repay the 150 million francs.
The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid.
It is stolen wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people.
For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post-modern world, should do the just and legal thing.
Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last.
-Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.
original article published here… http://www.nationnews.com/story/guest-column-hilary-beckles-copy-for-web
Originally published December, 2009
I do not celebrate Christmas. Not because I have any issue with Christmas per se but because I am not a Christian. I think Christmas is a kind-of assumed cultural norm in the western world that is often not thought about critically. When I say this to people the response I often get is “everybody celebrates Christmas” which a part from being simply untrue is also quite short-sited. I know what you’re thinking.. humbug.
My father and I debate and argue about this all the time, especially on Christmas day. My father loves Christmas, he always brings me presents; Christmas day this year was no exception. Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m not big on receiving gifts, I know that sounds strange to some but that’s a whole other conversation, my point is my father loves Christmas. Now loving Christmas is not an issue in itself except for the fact that my father is what is often described as an atheist. He jokingly referred to himself yesterday as a “secular humanist” intellectual jokes aside (I thought that was quite funny), basically my pops does not practice the Christian faith.
I do however recognize that before Christianity people celebrated the winter solstice and various other festivals (pagan) around this time of year. Christmas was not the only celebration around this time historically.
My father left the church when he was very young, he comes from a predominantly Catholic family and most of my family on both my father’s and my mother’s sides are Christian at least by association. My father’s love for Christmas comes from his love of family, friends and community and the fact that Christmas was always a time to celebrate those things; that I understand completely.
I understand why Christians celebrate Christmas as well.. it is a holiday directly related to a central figure in their religion, Jesus Christ. Christmas is quite literally a celebration of the birth of Jesus and although it is debatable whether or not he was actually born on December 25, there is no debate of his importance and influence on the world. Christians understand him to be the Christ, Muslims respect him as an important prophet and many understand him to be a wise man, a moral figure and a great teacher/guru/prophet. Cool.
My issue is not with Christians celebrating Christmas or celebrating the life of a person who greatly influenced the world and how people live, I get that, I respect and appreciate that. What I don’t get is why we are expected and in many cases even pressured into celebrating Christmas when not all of us are actually Christian.
I grew up celebrating Christmas and I’ve had to think to myself when I have kids if that’s something that I will have to contend with as well. Neither of my parents are Christian and I find it a little confusing why two people who left the church in their teens would have a child in their mid-thirties and still be celebrating a Christian festival.
Now I don’t believe in the “happy holidays” movement either, if it’s Christmas let’s just called in Christmas. I think if non-Christians are expected to say Merry Christmas and celebrate this holiday I think we should all celebrate Eid and Diwali and Hanukah and all the other holidays that come out of various religious or cultural tradtions (on a side-note my spell check in Word can spell Hanukah and Christmas but doesn’t recognize Diwali and Eid as real words, I just thought that was interesting/telling.) I think my spell check issue is also reflective of what is considered ‘normal’ in our society and what is not, what is mainstream and what is not. Christmas, whether Christian or not, is mainstream in North America and the western world, the question is why?
I think this has to do with a centric view of the world. I say ‘centric’ because I didn’t want to say ‘euro-centric’ because although Christianity is viewed as a European religion it is actually a religion born in the middle-east like the other mono-theistic religions Judaism and Islam. Ethiopia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Israel, Babylon and the other locations mentioned in the bible are after all not in Europe. Despite Jesus’ depiction by European painters of the middle ages, renaissance period and modern period Jesus himself was not a European either. When people say Christianity is a European or Euro-centric religion they really mean that it was appropriated by Europeans but not in fact created by them; maybe re-created by them (in their image).
Okay, this might be a little controversial. I really think that there are only two reasons to celebrate Christmas either you are a Christian who celebrates the birth of Jesus or you are a capitalist. Granted most of you reading this probably live in a capitalist country/society and by default are a capitalist (or at least participate in capitalism), myself included.
Let’s not forget the Christmas season is largely a way for countries to flood our brains with reasons to buy random stuff. I’m not talking about giving because realistically you can do that any day of the year, and let’s not get “giving” confused with “buying” they are not necessarily the same thing.
Christmas season combined with boxing week injects an enormous amount of money into the economy every year. Santa or Saint Nicolas was a gift giver, but he also had a workshop where those gifts were made by his elves free of charge so technically (unless Santa bought the raw materials wholesale and paid the elves out of pocket) he never bought a thing (this itself is problematic because it seems that Santa was running a sweatshop of sorts, did those elves even get paid?. We should have the human rights commission look into that, are elves even human? Anyway I digress.)
I also think it interesting that the Coca Cola Corporation has a lot to do with our image of Santa and how much he has become a part of the Christmas folklore (hence the distinct branding tied to a certain Mr. Claus’ red and white jacket.) I also find it funny how proud they are of it…
Anyway, I just thought this was something that I’d like to put out there as a point of discussion. I hope this isn’t offensive to anyone and by no means am I saying we should take Christmas out of anything or only say the vague and misleading phrase “happy holidays” I’m just saying we shouldn’t assume Christmas as a norm and if we’re going to celebrate as a larger society (that is getting enormously diverse) we should put the same time and effort into understanding, accepting and celebrating.
Originally published June 2009
Michael Jackson passed only a few hours ago. I find it strange how i feel because i haven’t been connected to this man in any way for years. I haven’t listened to the songs that I grew up listening too in years either, but today going through my old Jackson 5 music that i used to play so much when I was six, seven, eight, nine etc. I realized that even after years of not listening to these songs I knew all the words by heart.
Tears came to my eyes. Michael Jackson was my idol when I was a child. I don’t like the idea of fame or people almost worshipping famous people, I don’t get excited to meet people who are ‘famous’ or even who I respect a great deal who are well known, so the sight of seeing people pass out and cry at the sight of another human being is disturbing to me to say the least. So I don’t use the term ‘idol’ loosely. What I will say is that I was fixated on Michael Jackson (as millions of people young and old were at the time and continue to be today).
When I was a kid I was obsessed with the Michael Jackson that existed before I was born. Of course I was really into ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ and even off the wall but I used to go to video store (back when there were actual videos not DVDs) and rent this old tape of Michael and the Jackson 5 on a regular basis (until I learned how to dub tape to tape and ‘owned’ a copy for myself.
He was this powerful little black boy.. who was singing these grown up songs in a powerful voice that was still the voice of a child with the soul of a man who lived much longer then he had at the time. He looked like me. He had a little afro like me, his skin colour was like mine, he was cool and talented and so popular it was crazy. He had a gift and a presence that was undeniable and I looked up to him like he was my older brother. I watched everything that he did.
I greatly admired Michael Jackson for a solid decade, from as far back as I can remember until I was maybe about twelve or thirteen.
Then he started changing, and although I was still too young to really comprehend what was happening something about him changed. Not just the obvious exterior things, but his voice, his spirit. The music industry often does this to people, fame often does this to people. I’ve seen it happen first hand. I used to think that you could avoid it by being grounded, surrounding yourself with other grounded people and fighting to be normal, but the fact is being famous (especially as famous as Michael was) is not normal or natural and will effect you (more often then not negatively).
Michael Jackson influenced almost every artist that came after him or during his reign over popular music. He was hands down the most well known human being on the planet for years. I heard some one say on television today “he sacrificed his childhood for us” and this is not far from true. I would say more clearly that his childhood was sacrificed.
His life was obviously a twisted and distorted one from his childhood and this undoubtedly effected his psychology in too many upsetting was to even mention. He had an obsession with being young forever. His ranch was called ‘Neverland’ he had a fixation on Peter Pan and little children. He was ‘friends’ with little boys like Macaulay Culkin and Emmanuel Lewis and a lot of other children when he was well into his forties and of course there were often allegations of child sexual abuse.
Michaels’ identity was skewed beyond recognition and he took it out on his physical appearance so much so that in the last ten years he was often referred to as a freak. I think we got so accustom to the freak Michael we forgot the old Michael, the one we loved, watched and looked up to.
Still, Michael always made music that was in some way socially conscious and brilliant. He had his hits but he also had songs like We Are The World, Black and White, Earth Song, They Don’t Really Care About Us, Heal the World, In Our Small Way and so many more, on every project that he put out. I think we forget sometimes in all the craziness that a part from making huge hits like Thriller he was always a socially conscious artist of sorts.
Today I remembered that little black boy that influence my life so much. Looking at the old clips of him performing with his brothers you can’t help but be sad at what that life and that amazing talent did to that little boy. He was an amazing spirit and even in his skewed view of reality, his narcissism and strange acts, you kind of knew that he was a gentle spirit with good intentions despite his extremely warped view of the world and what it made him do.
Rest in Peace big brother.. you were far from perfect but you were a force to be reckoned with and you influenced my life personally so much when I was growing up that I can’t deny your power and your magic.. with all due respect.
Originally published April, 2009
Wrote this in an email to a white male friend of mine this morning and thought i would like to share it… it was a response to a white male attending a ‘all female’ gathering for a girl program in Nairobi, Kenya… posted it on my blog too… i think this conversation between groups of people with different kinds of power and privilege is important to have not only amongst ourselves but between different people who are on different sides of this conversation.
Sorry about the punctuation.. I know it can be annoying.. No pictures in this blog.. just thoughts.. I haven’t posted in a long time because I tend to only write when I really feel like sharing something in public.. but I’m going to try to start posting more often if not regularly this summer.
Most people who belong to the dominant culture (that’s europeans in the case of north america and europe… and some would argue anywhere that has been touched by geographic, economic, social colonization… i.e the caribbean, africa, india, brazil etc. etc. etc… i.e everywhere) have an understanding of the world based on the ever present and all encompassing privilege that they hold in society due to their race and/or culture… whether acknowledged or unacknowledged it is ever-present and over-riding.. they act different in society.. they are treated differently and dealt with differently in society.. this is so all-encompassing that it is the only way most of us know how to deal with society.. the way we have learned.. what we have seen.. how we have been treated.. how we respond… what our privileges have been… men are also obviously the dominant group in society.. so similar things apply when we (men) are in contact with the world.. men are the ‘dominant culture’ of much/most of the world (in politics, social settings, family structure, religious institutions etc. etc. etc.)..both traditionally and currently.. that means that the dominant cultures/genders way of reacting to things is from a dominant cultural perspective.. that means what you say, how you say it, how you are treated, how you respond to that treatment and… (what we are talking about here)… what you expect and how you expect to be treated.. what is normal by dominant culture standards is actually not normal.. that means.. how the dominant culture/gender is accustom to being treated in this world is actually far from how most of the world gets treated.. this means their ‘normal’ is actually far better then the majority of the world.. and also means that because this preferential treatment is the ‘norm’ for them.. it is what they expect.. better (knowingly or unknowingly)..
so.. if you are not really part of another culture or gender.. and don’t have people around you who are of that culture or gender.. I mean constantly.. you fall into.. what I affectionately call.. a culture of entitlement.. meaning.. you expect better then most and when you don’t get better.. you believe you are entitled to it.. so you push your way into things or respond negatively when a space is not made for you… people who occupy this position often start sentences with phrases like ‘well what i’m I supposed to do…’ and generally act defensive when questions are posed to them about this issue… that response is based on either 1) sever misunderstanding and/or 2) guilt
this applies to a bunch of different things (europeans, men, people with money, ‘higher castes,’ straight people, able-bodied people, christians in the west, ‘good-looking’ people etc. etc.. you get the point)… this mentality combined with privilege is what sends europeans fresh out of university to africa, india, south america and all over the ‘developing’ world to ‘help’ .. they come back wearing the clothes, speaking the language and calling them selves ‘honorary’ members of that society because people have told them that over-there… but they only hold on to the fun/exciting parts and not the everyday life, which includes not only cool shit and laughter but hardship, poverty and oppression… when people of those cultures who are politically aware see these people that resent them because they realize who skewed the perception is as compared to the reality… yes it was great to go and spend all this time in africa.. but would you live in the slums that you worked in? how do you perceive the people? really.
the other side of the coin is that the group that is not dominant (i.e women, people of colour, religions that are not dominant, people with disabilities, gay lesbian bI trans-gendered people, people who don’t fall into the standard of beauty etc. etc. etc.) often are not forth-right and direct with the dominant culture because they are accustom to being ‘dominated’ ..so in some settings for example.. black/african people won’t speak openly and honestly about what it means to be black in a european society or women won’t speak openly and honestly in mixed company.. so they need their own spaces.. to be comfortable to speak and express their honest opinions..
now.. most of us deal with this quietly.. I disagree with this non-speaking mentality but I understand why people would choose not to speak… often the response (which we spoke about before) can be negative… if that negative response comes from someone who has more economic, political power then you.. or someone for example who is your employer.. well.. you understand.. if that person is your friend (I would argue that a true friend needs to be able to deal with the honest reality of who you are) you risk disagreements with your ‘friend’ and/or potential end of friendship… so why would you speak.. well.. because you understand that their is something more important at play here.. but many people don’t.. saying things like ‘how can I be honest when they are in the room’ but more often ‘I wasn’t comfortable’ or ‘it wasn’t a safe space’… again I would say that the world isn’t and has never been a ‘safe space’ and one should speak honestly everywhere and all the time no matter who is around you (not-disrespectfully mind you.. honestly.. there is a difference.. but direct is more often then not interpreted as harsh and cold and angry.. many people say this about me for instance)… but.. when you are trying to nurture that honestly and comfort in people (specifically young people or people who are un-accustom to dealing with issues like this) in a world/culture that is not used to it (canadians are the worst).. it is often essential to have a space that is ‘safe’ to grow the confidence in people to be able to speak in public in the same way that they speak in more private settings…
a great example of ‘the detriment of honestly’ is my mother.. a black woman filmmaker.. the first of her kind in this country.. who always spoke directly, openly and honestly about issues of race and found it impossible in recent years to be hired by places like the CBC and the NFB (places that she had ten years prior occupied leadership positions in) and other institutions in media, film and television.. despite more then thirty-years of experience in the field.. they said constantly that she was ‘over-qualified’ ..the reality is she would speak about issues of race in film and television… saying things like ‘if this project is about black people in Canada, why are their know black people working anywhere but in front of the camera?.. it is only right that we hire black crew’ ..when they said their was no black crew to be found in Toronto (a completely ridiculous, closed minded and ignorant statement).. she would break out the binder full of crew of people of colour (writers, directors, ADs, editors, DPs, grips, lighting etc etc)… black people would work if my mother worked… but then she couldn’t get work anymore.. glass ceiling.. now she lives in Philadelphia.. I’m worried the same will happen to me at some point..
I say all that to say this.. people who are part of the dominant culture, if they say serious about making positive changes in themselves and in-tern society need to be not just aware but hyper-aware of who they are and the spaces they occupy.. they need to be hyper-aware of how they deal with people and what they assume.. and have to open to hard conversations like this one.. they need to be hyper-aware of their privileged and what it means.. that means not be embarrassed of it but aware and accepting of it and the reality of it and what it means.. with themselves, with their friends, with their co-workers etc etc.. they need to understand when their is a situation where people tell them ‘this is only for us’ .. and be hyper-aware if they happen to end up in that space.. they should know to only do what they need to do.. and exit.. out of respect and understanding…
I use an analogy when speaking about privilege sometimes that goes like this. Imagine your father owned a house and my father owned a house.. one day your father decided to kidnap my father, steal his house and his land and call it his own.. we were born and grew up.. if I, the son of my father, being aware of the kidnap of my father and the theft of his house walked up to your door after both of our fathers had passed and said.. ‘you know what.. I want my house back.. this was my fathers house’ ..would you feel entitled to that house because you grew up in it? That is what I mean when I say ‘the culture of entitlement’ ..ask the first nations people about that analogy or anyone who has had a history of colonization and/or slavery …the funny thing is that it seems like it is completely impractical to say ‘no.. actually… this is mine’ in this day and age.. you will be called a ‘radical’ by even the most ‘liberal’ of people.. but that’s the world we live in.. if the canadian or American governments suddenly said… ‘we are giving all of the stolen land back to the first nations people for them to decide what to do with it because our appropriation of it was unjust from the beginning’ how many of us would give up our house, our parents house, our cottage willingly because that would be the just thing to do? That is the culture of entitlement.. we are all guilty of it.. the question is how aware of it are we?
Originally published November, 2008
On November 4th 2008 it was announced the Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States of America. There has been a lot of conversation about what he will do as president and how he will do it. It is true that he has a lot that he needs to do if he wants to change the state of America and it’s relations with the world. It is obviously an uphill battle. I’ve told many people in the last few days that I think that most likely his presidency will reflect the administration of Bill Clinton. There has been a lot of talk about Obama playing the centre and uniting the country. He is not a “radical” or a “socialist” as many right-wing folks have tried to label him this is obvious (he is not Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Bobby Seal or Dedan Kimathi) what he does seem to have however is a strong awareness and intelligence that will help him to work towards the things that he has spoken about over the course of his long campaign. I think the best we can do is wait and see what he will do before we begin to define him in one way or another. Barack Obama’s actions will tell us who he is and what kind of a leader he will be in the future, hope and speculation cannot tell us that. Americans and people all over the world should not pretend that Obama is perfect and will not make mistakes and we should not hesitate to call him on his decisions if and when he makes bad ones.
But….what I really want to speak about here is the paradigm shift that has just happened in the United States and all over the world. I don’t mean paradigm shift in the sense that things will drastically change in the world because of the election of the first black president but what I do mean is that a radical change in perception (and reality) has happened literally over night on November 4 and 5, 2008.
Obama has been defined as a black man. I don’t want to assume that he defines himself as simply as this (like many assumed that Tiger Woods, another person of mixed race and heritage defined himself as black) but I do know that the world sees him as a black man.
The shift that has occurred is due to what would be defined in law as a precedent. A precedent in law is a case serving as an example to be followed. In this case it is something that has never happened before, the election of a black president in the United States of America. The precedent means one thing for America in general but often something different for black America and for black/African people around the world. It means that something deemed impossible for generations (including many youth today) is in fact a possibility. This belief in what is possible might seem a small thing to some who might say “ya, he’s black, so what” but essentially knowing that it was impossible for the majority of my life and then a few days ago seeing happen was amazing to me. I walked different the next day, I felt proud that someone who looked like me could do what generations had hoped for but most still believed would never happen.
The anger and fear that many have expressed has also been interesting to watch, people showing their true colours (so to speak). One woman on who was interviewed on BBC simply said “Obama scares me” after explaining why she voted for John McCain. The shift has occurred in all kinds of people who believed it couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t happen simultaneously.
The moment that I thought was the most beautiful was not when the major news networks began to announce that he would be the next president but rather when the announcer at the stadium in Chicago said “ladies and gentlemen, the next first family of the United States of America” and Barack Hussein Obama, his wife and his two little girls walked out on the stage in front of tens of thousands of people. To think that the next family that occupies the White House will be a family that looks not unlike mine.
Maybe then that means that the decision makers in the most powerful nations of the world and the seats that they occupy might begin to look like, well, the actual world. Maybe then it is possible for the power to actually be balanced. Maybe the leaders of the most diverse nations on the face of the planet will actually be, well, diverse. Where the colour of you skin or your religious (or non-religious associations) or your gender or your sexual orientation will not be a block to certain parts of the society as they presently are. Maybe we can stop talking about “reverse racism” and start talking about Eurocentrism and contemporary white supremacy, or maybe that’s too radical.
The bottom line is a lot of minds changed, a lot of minds opened up, a lot of people believed in things that they never believed in before after the night of November 4th, 2008. Regardless of whether we recognize that change or not, a whole lot changed instantly that night. Now what Barack Obama does is another story but the fact that he as a chance to do it is the most beautiful part of this whole thing for me (so far).
As a friend of mine said to me on the night of the election “all things in due time.”
“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked, so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly….”
The reality of Barack Obama as a president has yet to be seen but the energy that he has created as a presidential canidate has been interesting to watch to say the least. Obama has not restored faith in the system but he has inspired hope for change in the White House. If however he plays the same American political game that the world is accustom to seeing politicians play he could potentially destroy this hope for change as quickly as he created it and make it spiral downward beyond the dismal point that it is at now. Barack Obama is not a Messiah so people should not treat him as such, what he is is an intelligent, hardworking and seemingly trustworthy man, but he is also a politician. The reality of his leadership in America may not reflect his words on the campaign trail, we should not expect it to (although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope for it). We will see what he chooses to do and what he actually has the ability to do (what the powers that be will let him do) and how hard he will push or push back to make things better in America and in the world. The resume and the job interview is not in fact the job.
On a symbolic level the idea of Obama or any other black person (person of colour, or woman, non-christian, non-heterosexual, or person from any historically marginalized group) being the leader/figurehead of the United States (currently the most powerful nation on the planet) was unimaginable until very recently. The significance of having anyone who is not an white male in the White House is immense both nationally and internationally because of perception of power and politics. Now everyday people will have more faith in the idea that America and in tern the western world might not always have to be controlled by rich people of European decent.
Obama has also greatly inspired the ignorance and fear of people and these feelings have been seeping (gushing in some cases) out of them directly and indirectly since his campaign started. From these ridiculous “Joe the Plumber” references to the Barack Hussain Obama middle name issue to statements about personal fear and black power. The idea of a black man of direct African decent, with a arabic middle name frightens many ignorant people quite a lot apparently. In fact it exposes a distinct perspective and a clear lack of trust for what is often described as “the other.” The funny thing is that “the other” is the majority of the world, insane to think that many believe although they don’t want to admit that they are more comfortable with certain people (as criminal as they may be) being the political and power centre of the world? Interestingly enough the polls have shown that people of colour (who have traditionally been disenfranchised in North America and the western world), young people (who typically don’t vote because they don’t see the point and are apathetic because of lack of hope), and people of higher education (and I would argue higher awareness) have largely voted for Obama. Less educated, under-experienced (often the religious right) and generally close minded people seem to sway more towards the McCain camp.
It has been funny to watch and read the news and hear Obama being called a terrorist and a Muslim. I think we can all agree that nobody is interested in having a terrorist president in office in the states although the last eight years hasn’t been too far off from that. I’ve grown tired of hearing Obama describe himself as having a “funny name” the reality is he doesn’t have a “funny name” he has an African name, it’s as funny as Dick or Jane as far as I’m concerned. The funniest part of the whole thing is that although he is not Muslim, very few people in the media have actually asked the question “what is wrong with being a Muslim?” The statements about Obama being a “closet Muslim” have regularly been made with an seemingly inherent understanding that being Muslim is a bad thing and something to be hated and not trusted, such ignorance, don’t we live in a secular society? The idea of secular society is that no religion enters into politics because of the fact that the society is comprised of people of many different faiths and non-faiths. Secular society ensures that all people will all views can be a part of society without facing discrimination based on what they believe. Secular society is not anti-religious it is pro-diversity in believe but it seems any vague association with non-christians (Obama’s father was raised Musilm and didn’t see his son beyond the age of ten.) So again, people seem to feel more comfortable with what they know, white, rich, christian, male…running the country, and any suggestion of anything other then that is met with fear and ignorant comments like “he’s a Muslim” which although it is just not a fact seems to be a major point of anguish for people who most likley don’t know anything about Islam save Malcom X, Osama Bin Laden and September 11th (i.e. nothing). Regardless Obama’s election to the White House will only see more ignorant and slanderous comments and we will begin to understand a little more about how ignorant some folks are in this world.
In Canada we arrogantly pride ourselves on being more progressive, more tolerant and often more intelligent then our neighbours south of the border yet “we” just re-elected a conservative prime minister with the lowest voter turnout since, well, ever. This last federal election only 59.1% of Canadians voted. This incredibly low voter turnout I’m sure is as much about lack of personality as it is about peoples lack of faith in the system. Personally as soon as I was of voting age I began voting, ten years later I admit I haven’t voted in an election in quite sometime, I don’t believe it’s good but I’m also terribly uninspired by my choice of people to vote for, none represent me in the slightest so why should I waste my time? (unfortunately the answer is Stephen Harper…again.) I’m not sure how Obama will affect us here in Canada but I’m certain I have no interest in seeing a Harper/McCain North America. I think we’ve had enough cowboys and ‘mavricks’ in power..
After all of this I still think that most wonderful part of this entire thing would be seeing a black woman and two little black girls playing on the White House lawn. As a simple symbol the idea that a black family will inhabit the White House for at least four years will drastically change the perception of powerlessness for black people all over the world. Seeing a black woman as first lady, and a black man “commander and chief” will in fact alter the “hearts and minds” of the entire world. For the older generation I hope it will be a validation of all they had to go through to get as to us (their children) to this point and will inspire a new hope in young people about what their true potential is in the world. It will not be a far-fetched dream for me to tell my future children then they will be able to be Prime Minister one day. I hope that it will mean that people in general can envision people of colour, women and men occupying the highest positions of power all over the world and maybe that will mean we are a step closer to where we need to be as human beings.
I guess we can.