Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Waiting for Football Season

A friend of mine recently asked me if I thought the President would get reelected.  I didn’t equivocate.  “Sure, he will”, I said matter-of-factly, but I must confess that neither one of us were excited about it.  There was no knowing grin on either of our faces, like there often was, a few years ago, when the nation was on precipice of electing its first African-American President.   No, we simply acknowledged that Mr. Obama would probably win and turned the conversation to a more scintillating topic: whether the NFL lockout will end giving us professional football again this fall.
That’s the president’s problem; he’s lost my attention and that of an untold number of highly astute Black politicos and intellectuals. Due to his inaction on campaign promises and his major policy reversals on issues the issues that matter most, he can no longer count me among his staunch supporters and a lot of people are saying the same thing.  
Three years after beating Hillary Clinton with a soaring vision of progressive change and after out thinking John McCain to the White House with preternatural grace and confidence, he now seems bereft of those qualities. The Presidency seems to have sapped the Obama mojo in a way that it never did to my favorite president, JFK—who remained cool, confident and determined until the end.  Perhaps it’s a matter of authenticity—pressure has an unerring tendency to find our weaknesses.  Perhaps it’s outright fear—JFK’s presidency did not end well.
Next year, it is likely that President Obama will benefit from a Republican field that's either insane comatose or both.  He will surely get another four years.  But, the question I'm beginning to ask, along with the rest of his base, is how would such an outcome benefit me?   The optics of having a smart, Nobel Prize winning Black President, who "acts" smooth and "talks" cool, don't outweigh having actual policies that support the poor and have the middle class’s back and ensure that moneyed interests and their monopolies don’t run roughshod over the constitution. Not anymore.
I’m disappointed.  Hope is as aspirational as it is audacious. Change connotes movement, a deviation from existing realities. I don’t want a President to be a moderating force on Tea Party fascism, leading to nothing but the maintenance of the status quo. I want a progressive President leading the country, shepherding us toward a more perfect union, broadening the social contract, and giving those of us who have mostly experienced nightmares at the hands of America, a dream to grasp. I thought that Mr. Obama would be that President.  So far, he is not.
African-American men are tough, as a rule and we’ve had to be. Throughout our history in America, a veritable mountain range of hate has been placed in our path.  As our rite of passage to manhood, we have had to move those mountains in order to achieve the most basic progress.  Despite his unusual background and upbringing our President has rooted himself in that tradition.
Not surprisingly, during the early days of the last Presidential campaign, the questions about Barack Obama didn’t go to his resilience or even his competence but to his Blackness. He was attacked for being too Black by his opponents (beginning with Hillary Clinton), who concocted the Rev. Wright controversy to drive a wedge with white voters, while being simultaneously attacked by the civil rights old guard (also at the behest of Hillary Clinton) for not being Black enough.  But he stood tall in the tradition of Black men under fire, channeling both Martin’s prophetic oratory and Malcolm’s defiant dignity and he overcame in the end.
But, after two years of watching him back pedal in the face of nearly every Republican demand, it is clear that our first African-American President while Black enough to give dap (those complicated handshakes indigenous to the black community) in barbershops or bob his head rhythmically to Lil Wayne’s percussive raps, is inexplicably not tough enough to stand up to reactionary Republicans hell bent on destroying progressive policies enacted during the New Deal and the great Society.
Yes, I think he’ll win but how will my life be different than it was under his predecessor?  On matters of unnecessary wars, Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, the myriad crimes of the Bush Administration, domestic economic policy and incessant Republican meddling in the self-governance of my native Washington, DC, I used to be able to answer that question.  I can’t anymore. 
I’m no fair weather Democrat—I plan to vote as always. But, I will do so less cheerfully.  I will not give my hard earned dollars as I did four years ago (I have far less to give these days anyway), nor will I organize get out the vote rallies and shuttle elected officials around on the President’s behalf as I once did.  Mr. Obama has unfocused me as an activist and thus, at the beginning of the Presidential campaign cycle and the historic reelection effort of the first Black President of the United States, my level of interest is commensurate with his demonstrated interest in me.
I am directing my hopes for change elsewhere this year.  I sure hope the lockout ends.  I’m looking forward to football season.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

The War Anthem Reviews Are Coming In

“It is abundantly clear that Keith Perry is a gifted writer. With a masterful touch, the author has created an unforgettable character in Jason Diggs, the story's protagonist…with War Anthem, Keith Perry firmly establishes himself as an authentic, new voice of the African-American middle class.”

Sowande Tichawonna

Award Winning Screenwriter and Director of “The New N Word.”

“From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, [War Anthem] provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics… Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story… Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.“

-Julianne Robertson King

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Gentrifiers Part 1: Michelle Rhee's Immoral P.R. Game

Rhee's no Superman, although her P.R. person deserves a large bonus for making the Oprah watching, moviegoing world think she is.  Rhee's no educator, she's an operative whose  lack of administrative and educational credentials were astounding when she was appointed. (only one uninspiring year in the classroom and never having managed more than a small non profit organization).

She has engaged in shameless self-promotion and reprehensible management practices since her inauspicious arrival in D.C., including repeatedly lying to the City Council on budget matters and eliminating the parental ombudsman position. Any improvements in D.C.P.S. test scores during her tenure where largely due to her predecessor, Dr. Clifton Janey and his herculean work in developing and implementing a robust master education plan for the school system. She only took credit for it.

Her engagement with the public was both antagonistic and dismissive and her treatment of parents and teachers was abominable.  In a rapidly gentrifying city with numerous preexisting social divisions, this was tone deaf and inflammatory and smacked of the overtly exclusionary tactics once used during Jim Crow.  This on its face was immoral.

The parents of Washington were not ignorant to these matters.  They saw what was happening in the public schools and rescued their children by electing Chairman Gray.  The parents are the real Superman.  In the end, Rhee was a slightly more telegenic but no less dangerous, Lex Luthor.    Her departure is welcome and we won't begrudge her the higher profile that she earned at our expense.

Friday, September 24, 2010

War Anthem Excerpt

After many requests, I have included a short excerpt of my debut novel War Anthem.  Enjoy!

 knew two things about it. No, maybe a little bit more; but in the end, they were the things to know. I knew that the business of Washington is power; its acquisition, exercise and loss and I knew that there was not one Washington but three.
A tourist city, gleaming white and resplendent with flowers—an elaborate subterfuge hiding the ill intent of the second city and the darkness of the third; a political city of mahogany conference rooms, dimly lit restaurants and hotel suites, where the debauchery of the powerful is made manifest; and a Chocolate City, beautiful in it’s suffering, proud of its improbable ascendance, defiant in its fall. 
        Washington straddles the North and South, but it is neither. Within its complex divisions, the city has always been segregated.  From its infancy there were slave quarters, which persisted even after the city’s early emancipation. By the 1970s and 80s the divisions were so complete that Blacks could go for days without encountering whites unless they wanted to. Most were disinclined.
The millennium brought a resurgence of ancient hostilities.  Power continued to concede nothing, as it always has; demands went unheard, as they usually are.  In the city, it was a season of ice; it was the eve of war....

have always hated winter. It reappeared in April that year killing the cherry blossoms before they could bloom. The Daffodils, unfortunate early risers, sported crowns of frost atop their regal trumpets, which made them look in death like ice princesses.

      A ghostly gray shroud embraced the city, veils of frozen tears descended in unplowed streets and the world appeared encased in crystal. The revelation was stunning; the configurations of tragedy can be glorious.

I wasn’t vigilant.  If I had been paying attention, perhaps I might have realized that the end had already begun, announced by the peculiarities of the day. But I never saw it coming.  None of us did.
It was still early when Kelleye’s voice crackled through the intercom. Jason Diggs, you have a visitor!”
It was 2001 and the dawn of a new millennium but her tone was raw and punishing, like the tough old dames who played telephone operators in black & white movies. She spoke from a pall of hate, making her words feel like shrapnel ripping through me, shutting down my vital organs.  Killing me, but not so softly.
I entered the reception area in my shirtsleeves, feeling the chill but shrugging it off. I was obedient to the first rule of politics and the jungle. Show no weakness.
I expected to find one of the lobbyists who roamed the halls of Congress like hyena, in search of some offending legislation or staffer to devour.  Instead, it was Valor Abernathy sitting there demurely, her knees delicately touching and her toes pointing in sweetly, like a young girl’s.
Valor’s ferocious reputation as an advocate was well deserved, and if she was there on business I was prepared to back her off with my own array of weaponry.   But she instead disarmed me with a smile, which worked for me.  It was too early for a fight—I hadn’t had my coffee yet.
“Good morning beautiful,” she said gently removing a yellow Hermes scarf from her neck.    I instinctively checked the status of the shine on my Ferragamo shoes. It had taken more than the usual number of passes with a cloth to rescue the gloss from the morning’s slush, but I was satisfied. Women notice shoes.......
(c) Keith Andrew Perry

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

D.C., it's Starting To Feel Like Home Again.

This is rebuttal to  those who now wish to pull their kids out of D.C.P.S., leave the city and begin a new wave of white flight. I'm not mad at you.  We all have choices to make in life.

  Leadership is an ephemeral quality in political figures. People tend to impute it, even where it doesn't exist. People wanted leadership in the current Mayor of D.C. and failing to find it in Fenty's Potemkin village construction projects or his overt pandering to gentrifiers, the people turned to a grown-up, (Vince Gray) hoping (quite reasonably) to find it there.

While Vince Gray is no charismatic, firebrand politician, steeped in civil rights history and dogma like a Marion Barry ( please stop trying to compare them, it just doesn't fly, not remotely) he is a proud son of Washington, with a broad understanding of what we were, what we are and what we are supposed to be a city.

Part of leadership in a democracy or in business, is communicating properly with those being led. Creating a sense of buy in. Rallying the troops. On these fronts Fenty was ultimately ineffective.  Only his republican guard--people too new to the city, too young and too selfish to think beyond their own narrow parochial concerns, got his message. The rest voted him out.

If Washington, D.C. should become Portland or New York then we will lose what makes the city worthwhile, we'll become another of the increasing number of "McCities." Good taste, no substance. 

If that's what the public wants, why not tear down Southwest and build a Las Vegas on the Potomac? I am not down for that program and apparently the majority of voters weren't either; thanks be to God.  It's not like I got a contract out of the deal--and I am a member of the relevant fraternity.

The shock troops of gentrification came to our fair city because of the uniqueness of the place. They liked its social duality, its racial mystery. We can never quite equal the blandness of Portland or the energy and crass commercialism of New York, so why try? We should try to perfect what we are: a relatively small, funky, up-south town with swagger.  An enclave often visited by beautifully desperate circumstances and the haven of most sophisticated Black folk in the world. 

I can live with that. In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I was born in D.C., have lived here for nearly 47 years and after last week's primary, I think I'll stay a while. After 12 years of government by pie chart, instead of by head and heart, it's starting to feel like home again.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger, We Hardly Knew Ye, And Neither Did You

I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to write about the Tiger Woods debacle. But then it happened. I heard the mocking tones, the familiar guffaws and even the most liberal of commentators hopping on the schadenfreude express. So here I am riding to the rescue, because Tiger Woods has officially become a sad combination of both O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson.

That's right! He has passed into that media created netherworld of joke of the week after reigning for years as America's most acceptable Black man. What happened Tiger? Did they not need you anymore now that the President has that dubious distinction? Your career began with such promise, with you so eloquently disabusing white America of any notion that you were African-American, proving definitively that you were fully deserving of its love. You were not Black you were Cablinasian, a torturous invention born of such confusion and self loathing that it left the African-American community in a state of bewilderment.

Who among African-Americans, a Creole race by definition, is one hundred percent anything? I myself am part Irish and Cherokee and probably some other European and Native American tribes, but I don't butcher the language trying to describe or explain it -- trying to lessen the blow of my Blackness.

Since the sordid details of his one car accident and numerous extra martial hook-ups were revealed, everyone seems focused on the marriage and what was wrong with Tiger, but in keeping with the policy of this Blog to address the issue of gentrification in all its manifestations, let me set the record straight. Tiger's been messed up for years. He was the sheltered child prodigy for most of his life, rich before he knew who he was (outside of his particular talent for swinging a golf club) and was tricked into thinking that he was trans racial in the most racist society in the world. Result? He marries a nanny and dates cocktail waitresses on the side when he could have had so much more. (How many gorgeous, brilliant Black professional women are single today?)

How did this happen? My guess is that his lack of "game" (as evidenced by the tapes) was no liability with the classless neardowells he prefers. His money and fame were enough. Enough, it seems, to keep the much aggrieved golf club wielding nanny there too.

Despite this, a gentrified mind (Tiger's) is not the culprit; it is instead America's obsession with the age-old sin of miscegenation. Witness the tragedy of Steve McNair -- a man apparently murdered by a paramour and it was only a one-week story. The difference, his wife was Black and the murderous girlfriend, apparently one of many, was Persian. No white girls, no story.
Tiger Woods is guilty of the big one: Marrying a white woman and then cheating on her with white women. Not even white politicians get a pass on that one. A billion dollars or not, perfect swing or not and while interracial marriages have been condoned for elite Black men for a generation, cheating or being accused of anything untoward with a white woman has become a modern proxy for the age old lynchable offenses. (Lesson, you can borrow the china but don't break it.)

Today, of course, the lynching is by proxy and occurs on the 24-hour news cycle and the very public death occurs in the pocketbook. Tiger's been humiliated in the press, his ads have been pulled and he has decided to step away from golf indefinitely. His sentence has been rendered -- I hope he invested well. (For those who say he doesn't need to make another dime, I say, he has high overhead and downsizing doesn't seem to be in the cards right now)

Tiger, here's my suggestion, one golfer to another. Get a new caddy. Stop hanging with idiotic, waitress chasing bumpkins like Jordan and Barkley. Consult with Dave Chappelle, go to Africa and find more of the BL in your Cablinasian DNA. Stop living the life Madison Avenue wants you to live and find out, at long last, who you really are. Maybe, grow some facial hair, some locs and get some bass in your voice! You are in for a rough ride, the roughest of your life -- trust me -- you're going to want to be Black to get through this. We've been at this against all odds stuff for a while and like you, we're the best in the world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Precious Politics

We're certainly going to be the people, if we keep trying." Chester Himes

Since the release of the film Precious, a searing debate has been raging in the African-American community over images, creative freedom and the political nature of art. This is not a new debate but it is one with a decidedly new and wholly unexpected twist in the age of Obama.

This Blog concerns itself principally with a form of racism known as gentrification. My first novel, War Anthem (which has found a publisher and will be in a bookstore near you for 2010), concerns itself with the corporeal (physical) form of gentrification. My novel in progress, addresses the lingering spiritual aspects and the last in the trilogy, the psychological effects; but as I left the theater a week ago after viewing Precious, I had the distinct feeling that I had been beaten to the punch, but in a strangely contorted way.

Minutes into the film, to my everlasting horror, in a case of what I consider cultural fratricide, the physical, intellectual and spiritual death of Black America was being projected before my eyes. It was only made worse by the knowledge that the negative stereotypes being rehashed in theaters throughout America, came not from the diseased bowels of KKK headquarters or the sinister mind of Rush Limbaugh, but by educated, wealthy and in the case of Oprah Winfrey, highly revered Black people.

Full of dazzling cinematic tricks and finely acted portrayals, the film boasts some breakout performances by Monique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. The screenplay is inventive and the casting choices impressive. There was even a Monster-esque performance by the usually glamorous Mariah Carey as a homely but sympathetic Jewish social worker. I have no quarrel with the technical execution, but am infuriated that a film with such malevolent content was ever conceived.

For centuries, Africans the world over have suffered the gross indignity of cultural denigration. From the exploitation of the Hottentot Venus, to minstrel shows, to Stepin Fetchit, an entire industry was created around shuckin, jivein, and cooning, meant not only to entertain but to reinforce the ugly stereotypes employed as the philosophical underpinning for white supremacy. These were cultural cues, which the propagandists of the time, used to cement the idea that Africans throughout the Diaspora were ignorant, violence prone, sexually deviant and animalistic; not to mention morally bankrupt and mentally weak.

For generations, in the face of this cultural onslaught, African-Americans have largely maintained the moral high ground, in spite of the fact that so many of us performed in these farces. We could say with heads held high that, we applauded the superlative performances of the great Black actors who had limited venues to display their art; but we did not sanction these carnivals of the absurd because we did not have a hand in producing them.

We dismissed the negative characterizations out of hand and proudly proclaimed that a day would come when we could control our own images.
Moreover, African-Americans have long maintained that once we assumed posts of leadership in this country, once we were given equal rights under the law, that there would be a new day; a day of jubilee allowing us to live life on our own terms and fully express our humanity without the weighty burdens of racism.

Well, that day has come and for decades we have had a plethora of Black writers, producers, directors and financiers that have taken it as their sacred honor to produced a cinema which reflects the real Black America. (Spike Lee, John Singleton and Julie Dash to name a few). We have reveled in their glorious representations of the heroic, the simple, the sacred and profane aspects of the Black experience.

Yes, our new day has come, but the arrival of Precious is a sad day in our creative and socio-political history. It's a film that says to Black America, devil take the hindmost and every man for himself and God for us all, we will deign to make money on the misery and worn out stereotypes that racists use as bedtime stories for the next David Duke and Sarah Palin. After generations of stalwart people that would rather be lynched than betray the race, after a civil rights movement, a Black Liberation movement and a Black Arts movement, we still find cases of artistic Stockholm Syndrome, doing the same cultural damage to ourselves that has been done by others since the days of Little Black Sambo and Birth of A Nation.

Many of us know people that have endured horrors similar to those that befall poor Precious in the film and I do not deny that the story of Precious is one story of Black America, but I will always bristle at caricature presented as realism, especially where my people are concerned. What's more, the film expands on the theme of Black suffering to a degree unprecedented in few films that I have ever seen. You'd have to screen Roots again to become more incensed, more disgusted; but like so many films that came before it, there is only one socially redeeming Black character in the entire movie (*spoiler alert), the teacher who lovingly protects and educates this tragic child, a laughable cliche if it were only funny.

The litany of horrible things that befall Precious do become almost satirical, representing a expansive laundry list of antiquated racist descriptions. There's the overweight welfare Queen - check; the morbidly obese illiterate child - check, the filthy run down apartment- check, the physical and sexual abuse- check, and so on.

We have many stories; so many ways to be Black in the age of Obama, but Oprah and Tyler (last name omitted do to shame) chose to present these disgusting images as something to be applauded and financially supported by African Americans -- again. It has “heart and spirit" say the critics, and I agree. It possesses a spirit of oppression and it's empty heart is born of cynicism and self hatred.

To Oprah and Tyler I say: tell the teacher's story or that of the founder of the alternative school in Harlem (who would no doubt be African-American) where Precious finds her redemption. Show how they made a way out of no way, as so many of us do every day. Do not tread on the putrid earth where for so long, racists sowed the seeds of hate.

African-Americans have been conditioned by years of oppression to support nearly everything a famous Black person does. It is a knee-jerk form of racial solidarity, which had great utility in the gloomy days when few of us could rise to such national prominence or acclaim. The arts and sports were our beachheads to public fame and we were fortunate, because the stakes were high and we always seemed to send our best. In return, our heroes had our backs, almost never made us look bad. Gone are those days.

Art is political, always will be and for those involved with this film to release Precious, in 2009, is to spit on the cradle of our long awaited new day. Our history documents the path we took out of the wilderness. It's a history of resistance to the destructive images films like Precious celebrate as enlightened entertainment. For my money, a documentary on the history of poverty and racial oppression in America would have been a far nobler endeavor, followed by a city-by-city community organizing campaign against the abuses that flow from them; but I am under no delusions, producers don't really raise money for stuff like that and that the proceeds from this film won't go to such an end. Thus, I am left with one final polemic to hurl at the makers of this movie, these traitors to history: "have you no long last, have you no decency".

Thursday, March 5, 2009

D.L. Hughley Breaks the News Bites The Dust

I never got it, but then again the whole concept of "infotainment" eludes me anyway. Apparently, D.L. Hughley's ill conceived "news" show on CNN has met with an inglorious end. Bourbon and Branch Water grieves with the brother for having failed, but applauds the decision. (here's where I tip my glass of bourbon for the show "that ain't here" --cue the music..."it's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday...")

Feeble attempts to mix the late and lamented Dave Chappelle Show with actual news, such as what the entire country was forced to endure with Hughley's show, will always suffer the birth defects of such an inappropriate union. Great satire like Chappelle's and that found on the venerable Saturday Night Live, have an enduring quality, that is born of genius, and which enriches the culture by making people think -- even as they laugh. Hughley's show made me by turns, angry, embarrassed and bewildered that anybody thought that this Frankenstein monster of a show would make good television, either as news or entertainment.

Television news can be smart, informative and engaging without resorting to awkward and sensationalistic variety show tactics. Witness Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, who completely get it, in my view, and are the true trail blazers in the way news analysis should be done in the 21st century. The Daily Show and Colbert (almost 100% satire) are a different animal completely. Hughley tried to combine the two genre's with disastrous results.

Can an African American do it? Of course, with the right concept, writing and production. Tavis Smiley could do it in a heart beat. Michelle Martin of NPR and dozens of other Black journalists, political professionals and the like would be instant rock stars, uhh hip hop stars. This blogger, I might add, would be terrific. (I'm available, call me.)

To my fellow African-Americans, if you're wondering, as would any self respecting Black person who has been alive for more than five years, if D.L. was set up to fail -- on this one, don't waste your valuable and frequently appropriate Black rage. The flaw of this show was congenital and D.L. can't deny his parentage.

D.L. should go back to comedy, something at which he is particularly talented. Let the news, as boring as some people make it, be the news.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Medicine for Melancholy

If you have a little time, you must check out the indie film, Medicine for Melancholy, it's simply fantastic. I caught it on demand and was blown away by the stunning cinematography and witty, realistic dialogue. Of course, it didn't hurt the movie's cause that the subplot brilliantly addresses an issue at the burning heart of this blog -- and in San Francisco of all places.

Who knew that a film could be made about regular Black people, unburdened by a need to be Black. That's the cool thing about Black people, when we don't have to be self consciously Black, it allows you to be unconsciously human and therefore, consciously free.

This is the first Bourbon and Branch Water must see film and gets four and a half shots of bourbon out of a possible five.