Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Attacking Thurgood Marshall: Not On My Watch

So . . . .the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are at such a disadvantage in Solicitor Kagan’s confirmation hearings that they have to go after a dead justice? And not just any justice, but Justice Thurgood Marshall?

Branding Justice Marshall as an “activist” whose judicial philosophy was “out of the mainstream” leads me to wonder: Since when did equality under the law become synonymous with being “activist” and “out of the mainstream?” Aren’t the words “Equal Justice Under Law” etched in the fa├žade of the U.S. Supreme Court building? Am I missing something here?

If you want to brand Thurgood Marshall an “activist,” he should be considered to have been a “constitutional activist” – someone willing to ensure the Constitution lived up to the principles the Founding Fathers said it embodied (even if many of them were slave owners who did not live up to those principles themselves) and make it apply to everyone, regardless of race. Justice Marshall was willing to put his life on the line, litigating all across the Jim Crow south in places where he and other members of the NAACP legal team faced death threats, to make the Constitution and this country live up to its principles. To hold us all accountable to our nation's principles.

If the end of legally sanctioned racial segregation was “out of the mainstream,” than the mainstream was fouled with bigotry and hatred and needed to be disregarded.

Let’s call this exactly what it is: A cheap shot by men who not only would have been unworthy to carry Justice Marshall’s briefcase, but unworthy to wipe his behind. I would hope that all civil rights organizations would call these Republican senators to task and not let this attack on the record of Justice Marshall go without a united and sharp response. Regardless, I won't let it go unnoticed. Not on my watch.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Screwin' The Pooch . . . On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone

Wanna see my picture on the cover
Gonna buy five copies for my mother!
Wanna see my smilin' face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone . . .

- with apologies to Dr. Hook

Okay, I'll be the first to admit it: I enjoyed watching General Stanley McChrystal get fired. In the parlance of our nation's military, he "screwed the pooch." Big time. On the cover of the Rolling Stone, no less.

But I didn't enjoy watching him get b-slapped for the heck of it. No, it was a kind of vicarious joy for every time I was underestimated because of my race and unable to respond. Most African Americans of my generation who have achieved some modicum of responsibility or success in the workplace have at one time had their abilities questioned or underestimated for reasons unrelated to performance. Many times, people of other races have pegged us as unqualified affirmative action beneficiaries no matter how stellar our credentials or past accomplishments. The only weapon at our disposal, more often than not, has been to work harder and prove them wrong -- the old "twice as good to be half as good" that our Civil Rights Movement parents taught us. But, man, does that get old. I've often argued that we will have achieved equality when black mediocrity is not tied to blackness but to humanity, period. But we're not there yet.

So, you can imagine the joy I had when I read McChrystal's remarks about the President and wondered if he would have been so bold were the President not black. Regardless, he screwed the pooch, or, as they say on East 14th in Oakland, he got "out of pocket." And this time, regardless of the source of his animus -- off his meds, angry, race, whatever -- even the conservative pundits had to fall in line and agree that this kind of behavior was unacceptable from a general serving the Commander-in-Chief. It was with great fun that I watched the ever Obama-critical George Will have to reach the same unavoidable conclusion: McChrystal had to go. Yes, even George Will had no choice but to agree with President Obama this time.

I enjoyed hearing that the President made General McChrystal endure the military brass' version of a perp walk: Going to various high-ranking officials and apologizing in person before getting his head handed to him in the Oval Office. Had McChrystal had any honor, he would have resigned long before stepping foot on American soil. He definitely is not samurai material.

Although I know the President likes to keep issues of race out of politics, I must say that, for every post-Civil Rights era African American who has endured having their abilities questioned or underestimated for reasons unrelated to performance or ability, it was a small, silent victory for us that the President won't admit. I'm okay with that. It was just nice to see us on the powerful end of the equation, if just this once.

And in my fantasy as to how this all played out, the President leaned over his desk, accepted General McChrystal's resignation, and whispered in his ear: "How ya like me now?"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Is My Favorite Time Of Year

Summer is my favorite time of year, perhaps because I associate it with long-ago summers of my childhood when my days were filled with getting up, doing my chores, and having the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted. I would not have made it in a year-round school. I would have bristled against what I would have perceived as a loss of my personal freedom, a civil rights violation perhaps, even as a child.

That said, like many people, I have a tendency to let summer get by me without really enjoying it. I don’t make plans and, with the California state government furloughs extended until the end of the year and no state budget in sight, I’m reluctant to spend money since the Governor is threatening not to pay me and other exempt employees next month if there’s no budget in place by the new fiscal year.

But why should I let a flat-assed guy with ugly teeth and a bad self-tan ruin my summer?

So here are my summer plans for a good summer on the cheap:

*Read good books, mostly from the library – mine. I’ve got a ton of really good books I’ve bought over the years that I’m STILL unpacking in our house. Might as well enjoy them, even if all the buzz surrounding them has long since died down. Memory Keeper’s Daughter, here I come!

*Eat well by cooking well. I’ve noticed that when I make home-cooked meals, 1) I eat more vegetables; 2) I eat healthier food in smaller portions; and 3) I spend a whole lot less on feeding myself. The first week of June, BMNB dragged the grill from the garage and cleaned it up, and we grilled just about everything we had – burgers, hot dogs, marinated garlic herbed boneless chicken breasts we got from Target with a coupon (Who knew?), red bell peppers, summer squash, corn, asparagus, zucchini. We tossed balsamic vinaigrette on the veggies one night, Italian dressing the next. There’s just something about that first grilled burger of the summer! And all of this was pretty cheap, too.

*Go to free and/or cheap stuff. Farmers markets, festivals, parks, family movie night at the local library. All good fun on the cheap.

*Walk. My favorite time of the day during the summer is twilight. It’s a good time to go walking with your honey, your kids, and your dog, although you might need mosquito repellent.

*Lots of iced sweet tea with fresh lemon and homemade sparking limeade. I believe I’ve written before about Martha Stewart’s sparkling limeade recipe. Summer to me is definitely iced sweet tea with fresh lemon juice (who are those Neanderthals who put bottled lemon juice in their iced tea?) and sparkling limeade. Heck, if I get tired of the limeade, I’ll leave out the club soda, add two cups of tequila, and start wasting away in my own personal Margaritaville . . . don’t tell BMNB.

*Sandals, whether you like my feet or not. Sure, I’ll do my part – lotion, toenail polish, scrub off the rough stuff with Pretty Feet and Hands. But after that, well, you’ll just have to get over it.

*Spend more time at home with people I like. It’s taken me quite a while to realize that the people who really care about BMNB and I don’t really care that we don’t have window treatments or decent furniture. They come for the company and the food. My home may not be a well-appointed mansion, but I can marinate and grill a good steak with the best of them. Which would you prefer in a friend? Yeah, that’s what I thought – a steak master.

*Relax. Too often I run myself ragged and exhaust myself to the point of illness. Summer is the perfect time to slow down, take stock, and just be thankful for what you have, for however long you have it.

*Garden. Luckily, I started a lot of plants from seed early in May, so I’m now reaping the benefits – tomato plants, marigolds, etc. Plus, I still have the collard and mustard greens I planted a while back, and my carrots, lettuce and squash are starting to peak out of the ground. Nothing like eating food fresh from your own garden and planting flowers that you’ve grown from seed.

*Give myself a break. I’m not going to jump up and say “yes” to every invitation I get, nor am I going to be goaded into throwing functions I don’t really want to host. I strongly believe that you should never feed anyone you don’t like.

*Catch up on my magazines, including O Magazine. By the time I read about the offers in O Magazine, they’ve expired. When I read about events in Sunset Magazine, they’re past. I need to start working backward and calendaring events from Sunset so that I CAN make plans.

*Get in the office early and leave early. Who wants to be in at 5:00 pm during the summer? I spent the last week working long hours on days off. Enough already!

*Daytrip to nearby places. For my birthday, BMNB took me to Coloma. Why? Because I hadn’t been since the first grade, and he’d never been. Being the geeky history buffs we are, we had a good day. Yes, we do intend to take our kids to all the California missions, the Grand Canyon, and to all the Civil War battlefields to see re-enactments. That’s how we roll – black and geeky.

*Make my home a happy one – start putting up all the art we have stored in the garage; organize; put up shelving; and start using the stuff we already have and getting rid of the stuff we don’t need.

*Dig out my old CD's that remind me of good times. I’m still rocking Tony!Toni!Tone’s House of Music. Maybe I’ll put together a playlist for grillin’ and chillin’.

*Write. My sister, the Writing Diva, has challenged me to finish the two books she says are begging to be finished by me. Game on!

I wish you all a very happy summer. Remember, it goes by fast, so enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Sound of Oakland, the Antidote to Bieber

People don't often think that Oakland has a distinct musical sound like Detroit (Motown), Philadelphia (The Sound of Philadelphia Records, Gamble & Huff), Mississippi (Malaco Records), and Memphis (Stax Records, Otis Redding, Al Green). But it does. Problem is, when people ask me what that sound is, I often have trouble describing it off the top of my head with one group. It really is a melange of things -- a tight horn section (Tower of Power), a jazzy smooth vibe (Ledisi and Goapele), the relaxed delivery of one rapper (Too Short), the comic delivery of a small group of others (Digital Underground), the throaty delivery of a tough chick who's been through some stuff (Keyshia Cole). It is all these things

In other words, it's Tony!Toni!Tone!.

I had the pleasure of hearing the Tonys, sans Raphael Saadiq, last week in Sacramento. I was thinking I wouldn't like them as much since Saadiq left the group, but lo and behold, Amar Khalil, their new front man who sings just like Saadiq, left me feeling like I didn't miss a thing (Sorry, Raphael, but the brother can sang!). They performed all their hits, had me dancing in the aisle, and, despite the piss-poor sound system, put on one of the best concerts I'd been to in years. What you hear in this group is the fact that they are top-flight students of soul, making the title of their third CD, Sons of Soul, appropriate. Thinkin' of You incorporates the Memphis sound of Al Green. Wild Child incorporates the Tower of Power tight horns with a soulful interpretation. The Blues is a nod to funk. Feels Good is just straight-up New Jack Swing. Anniversary, It Never Rains (In Southern California), and Whatever You Want incorporate a jazzy smooth Quiet Storm vibe reminiscent of KBLX waaay back in the day. You name any variation on soul music and these men have incorporated and celebrated it in their music. Their music is a celebration of African-American music. It is a celebration of Oakland.

It is the antidote to Justin Bieber.

What my husband BMNB appreciated most about the concert was their musicianship, which he believes is in woefully short supply these days. At one point, guitarist and singer Dwayne Wiggins stopped the show before starting Whatever You Want because his guitar "didn't sound right." He played all of his available guitars to find just the right one to play the familiar opening guitar riff in this beloved song. He asked the audience if we noticed the difference. We did, and we appreciated it.

Mind you, BMBN and I started the day watching Justin Bieber on The Today Show. We looked at all the screaming girls and the paparazzi, listened to his performance, and looked at each other as if to say, "WTF?"

When we drove away from the Tony!Toni!Tone! concert later that night, we remarked on the marked difference between Bieber and the Tonys. BMBN just shook his head and, in reference to Bieber, remarked, "It's just criminal . . . . . letting that boy go on thinking he's got talent." Mind you, Bieber may play a lot of instruments, but I don't think he's got the talent or the staying power of the Tonys.

Let's see if 15-20 years from now those teenage girls are singing and dancing along to Justin Bieber as I was to Tony!Toni!Tone! Somehow, I don't think so.