The freethinking of Childish Gambino

“I felt like I needed to be heard. Everybody’s so scared on the internet, even though it’s supposed to be the most freeing thing. They’re actually afraid to say and do whatever. The internet isn’t a place where freethinking is rewarded.”

-Donald Glover in a 2013 interview with NME

As i get older, (and maybe because we’re immersed, even drowning, in this age of judgment) i think my thoughts are intensely personal. Always, my first instinct is to protect them from violence.  i know; i’m not alone. Recently, my guy showed me Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino’s music video, “This is America,” released a couple days ago.

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Donald Glover in Toronto at TIFF 2015

Of course, media have already gone hoarse deconstructing and discussing the meaning embedded in the song’s lyrics and in the video. Don’t get me wrong; i’m one to talk as well.  But my guy had also directed me to a series of intensely personal revelations Glover wrote on hotel napkins back in 2013. Remember that? Described as a seven-page letter, it presented the artist’s mental meandering of fears and anxieties emancipated into the public sphere (i.e., Instagram). At the time, it left some people wondering aloud if the man was having a breakdown. The cynics in the Coliseum could only wish. Now considering this sagacious song and its music video, looks like Glover was on the brink of a breakthrough.

He has turned the mirror and is holding it to America’s face; and he’s doing this in a time when the nation’s lost could benefit from questioning, contemplating, listening, and admitting their vulnerabilities. Because living as a racialized individual in America breeds insecurity. All around. This cat embraces his. If that isn’t the definition of fortitude, … well.

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James told you: Think on why you need it

James told you: Think on why you need it

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Your collective disability leaves you many rivers to cross.

Your inability will have you drowning in one.

There it goes. That’s not a life anymore.

Can’t see past rolling waves of hideous

cold, sad, debilitating fear.

Oh, how it came to grow in you, spread in you

fungal with a will of its own

the thing you cling to, hold on to, hard.

Drowning with it.

There it goes. That’s not a life anymore.

Believing but not even knowing why?

That’s as sad as it is heavy; a burden.

Drowning from it.

There it goes. Call your 911. That’s not a life.

That collective disability leaves you many,

many rivers to cross.

Drown if you must.

—stylo, april 19, 2018, #I am not your negro, #Starbucks

On the wrong side of history? We see you.

 

Take one famous photo from the American civil rights movement for equality. Consider the familiar sentiment and lessons it relays today. Pictured is fifteen-year-old, African-American Elizabeth Eckford holding her binder, staring straight ahead as she walks alone. Closing in on her is a tight crowd of white people—people who appear to despise her.

It was September 1957 and Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was set to be integrated. A time of monumental change for Americans. Three years earlier the highest court in the U.S. ruled that the racial segregation of school systems was unconstitutional. That paradigm shift in American society could not be overstated. Black students, by right, would learn the same curriculum, be in the same classrooms and share the same school facilities with white students. Which brings us back to that moment when Eckford tried unsuccessfully to attend her classes at Central High and was blocked by the National Guard. It was the day her fellow citizens surrounded her and the photographers were there to capture Little Rock’s defiance.

Black Students Integrate Little Rock's Central High School

September 4, 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA — Elizabeth Eckford, one of Little Rock Nine, is followed by fellow students on her first day of school.  Photograph by Will Counts.

Sixty years later, I look at that photograph and seethe. I wonder: Who were these people screaming at Eckford?  Where are they now and how do their families feel seeing them spew vitriol on a momentous day of change? Let’s face it, we already know the names of the Little Rock Nine. They endured the abuse, humiliation and assaults throughout that school year at Central High; not forgetting the post-traumatic stress disorders and depression in the years to follow. We recognize them as trailblazers. But who were these unapologetic, enraged protesters who, with their hate and defiance, go down in history?

My curiosity led me to articles. Sure enough they named names, including a 2011 radio interview with David Margolick, author of Elizabeth and Hazel: the Legacy of Little Rock. Remember Hazel Bryan, the short-haired brunette with the contorted mouth following Eckford; should she have been identified? What about (Mary) Ann Thompson, the blonde student on the left holding several books? Sure, over the years some of these passionate segregationists experienced a change in perspective, or simply hunkered down, as history turned and marched along a path different from the beaten one they once monopolized. Still, these same indignant people were immortalized on film circling a lone fifteen-year-old student. With their hurtful words, they helped make that day historic just by being wrong and strong.

Today there are so many more photographs and documentary films featuring similar civil rights showdowns.  Let’s continue to identify for posterity the messages pushing for exclusion, hatred and violence. And yes, media should name their messengers but stop short of trying to explain them.

I believe when you leave your home to advocate in favour of denying a group of people the same rights you have, when you do it with hatred in your heart and saliva frothing in your mouth, when you do it despite knowing—but not accepting—that your country’s Constitution and its Bill, or Charter, of Rights do apply to every citizen, then you have clearly positioned yourself. The world will and should recognize you as being on the wrong side of history.

MUSIC: Such obscure findings of Salome Bey—radiant in song—are treasures

Suspended in cyber space is rare footage of a young Salome Bey, Canada’s legendary songbird, actress and composer.  One clip in particular sparkles. It was filmed at La Chat Qui Peche, a jazz nightclub in Paris circa 1964, and it’s featured in a documentary about the late trumpeter Chet Baker.  Wearing a string of pearls, Salome Bey sings next to sister Geraldine while their brother Andy is on the piano—together they’re the textured trio, Andy and the Bey Sisters.

For audience and camera they belt out “Smooth Sailing,” an Arnett Cobb composition that swings.  Their harmony seems effortless. Kenny “Klook” Carter is there—so smooth he is on drums, a cigarette dangles obediently from his lips for the entire performance.

 

This post is an edited excerpt from my article for Sway published 2011
Youtube video source:  thegooddoctor72

You’re Jack and the Giant would be … ?

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It’s a children’s fairy tale* yet we’ve come to believe in Jack’s good fortune. We’re even cool celebrating a hero guilty of trespassing, breaking and entering, and chopping down a tree without a permit. That’s because this poor farm boy essentially took back what belonged to the people. Sure, I’m taking liberties with the plot, but no matter; the message is the same: Jack was indeed tiny compared to the imposing Giant, but he certainly wasn’t weak.

Imagine you are Jack. Who or what is the Giant you’d take on?

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Saada Branker & Powys Dewhurst – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk Barbados helped get me back to the writing board after a two-year drought. These weekly blog assignments have me turning over my experiences and contemplating their different angles and textures. Sharing our patterns with other writers becomes necessary. Not by accident but by design.

fresh milk barbados

Fresh Milk resident artists, writer Saada Branker and filmmaker Powys Dewhurst, share more about their time spent in Barbados. For their third blog post, Saada writes a three-part reflection on artistry and education in the island, outlining the creativity, diversity and tenacity she and Powys have seen and engaged with while working on their  documentary memory project commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hurricane Janet. Read more below:

Education and for the finest at UWI. Roaming chickens remain camera shy. Education for the finest at UWI. Roaming chickens remain camera shy.

Where Education Can Take You in Barbados

Before we dismiss art as a sidetrack, consider how creative classes have always grown their ideas by finding methods to execute, launch and celebrate their overarching concepts. Today through layered highways of social media, an ever-expanding audience is poised to tune in to the language and persuasion of the artist. In this three-part blog, I celebrate artistry and arts education in Barbados. As I learned…

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Saada Branker & Powys Dewhurst – Week 2 Blog Post

fresh milk barbados

Fresh Milk‘s current residents, writer Saada Branker and filmmaker Powys Dewhurst, share their second blog post about their experiences in Barbados. Despite going all out this week to gather information and stories for their documentary memory project about the effects of Hurricane Janet on the island, Saada takes the time to consider not only the power of individual accounts, but the importance of a broader context and the longer term results of the storm. Read more below:

Saada Branker and Edwin and Angus of Top Car Rentals. Saada Branker and Edwin and Angus of Top Car Rentals.

It seems like self-inflicted cruelty to be picking up our pace in a place like Barbados. What has become the status quo in tightly-wound Toronto is almost ludicrous in sedate Walkers Terrace, St. George. Funny: I remember a friend once agreeing that navigating in Canada’s largest metropolitan city feels like being in a rat race. “But we’re not rats,” she added. Indeed.

Bad habits die…

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