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Black Alumni in Your Sunday Comics Section January 30, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Aaron McGruder, African American, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Blogroll, Crossword, Current Events, Higher Education, Jump Start, Keith Knight, Robb Armstrong, The Boondocks, The K Chronicles, Timothy Parker, Where I'm Coming From.
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Why does Serena Williams’ stunning victory over top seed Maria Sharapova make me think of Black comic artists? Because, like the Serena Williams and other athletes, African American artists comprise another group of Black achievers whose success is often ascribed to natural ability rather than hard work, carefully honed skill, and intellectual prowess.

What better grouping of artists to focus on than the ones you might encounter on the funny pages of your local newspaper. This list of prominent African American comic artists should serve as a reminder that while careers in the visual arts may well begin with innate talent, success is most often the result of a combination of hard work, creativity, intelligence, and education.

Hats off to these witty and talented pioneers in the comic art field:

Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks.

  • Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.
  • First debuted his strip in The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper.

Keith Knight, creator of The K Chronicles, and one half of the alternative rap duo, The Marginal Prophets.

  • Graduated from Salem State College in Massachusetts in 1990, with a degree in Graphic Design.
  • First debuted his strip in 1985, in his college newspaper, The Salem State Log.

Robb Armstrong, creator of Jump Start.

  • Graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Fine Arts.

Barbara Brandon-Croft, creator of the now defunct Where I’m Coming From, and the first African American woman to draw a nationally syndicated comic strip.

  • Graduated in 1980 from Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts.

…and since I’m already writing about the comics section of the paper, I might as well mention Timothy Parker, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most syndicated puzzle compiler, and the crossword editor at USA Today. Click here for samples of his crossword skill.

  • Earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Maryland, and is currently working on an MBA from the same institution.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Coming Attractions Notice at Hip Hop Press January 27, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American, Hip Hop, Masculinity, PBS.
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Put the PBS documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes on your viewing calendar for the evening of February 20th. Click on this HipHopPress.com press release to learn more: Upcoming Controversial PBS Documentary Critiques Sexism, Violence, and Hyper- Masculinity in Hip-Hop Music and Videos.
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Posted by Ajuan Mance

Houston Stephenville, We Have a Problem January 26, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American, Aunt Jemima, Blogroll, Higher Education, Jr. Day, Martin Luther King, racism, Stereotypes, Tarleton State University.
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Seems that some white students at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas decided to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by dressing up as some of their favorite Black stereotypes. One would think that these students were history majors, considering the number of them who chose to dress as antebellum figures like Aunt Jemima.

The most shocking detail in this case isn’t that white students held a theme party that encouraged attendees to dress as Black stereotypes; nor is it particularly surprising that said students chose to hold this event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I am not even surprised that one of the defenses of the party is that it was held in order to honor one of the organizer’s Black friends (because some of his best friends are Black).

While alternately disappointing, offensive, and sad, none of the facts of this party and I have described it above is shocking in and of itself. The shamelessness of the attendees, however, is both surprising and troubling, not because it is unexpected, but because it points to a new and disturbing trend in campus racism.

This was, you see, not a racist gathering held in secret. I daresay that a campus chapter of the Klan might have been a bit guarded about revealing its participants. These MLK, Jr. Day partyers, however, felt comfortable enough not only to record their racism for posterity, posing for numerous photographs, but also to permit them to be posted to the website Facebook.com.

  • Start with a cultural climate in which resistance to racism is decried as “politically correct” censorship.
  • Add a scoop of that particular type of entitlement that has always existed on college campuses.
  • Fold in two cups of unfettered access to technology.
  • Stir in 3 heaping tablespoons of on-campus anti-Black sentiment masquerading as anti-affirmative action beliefs.
  • Finally, add good old-fashioned white supremacy to taste.
  • And–voilá!– you get an increasing number of students (and other members of the academic community) parading their racism across the internet, not only on Facebook, Myspace, Livejournal, and other social sites, but on just about any corporate or alternative media website that allows readers to post comments.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “Tarleton State is the second largest university in the Texas A&M system,” and “of Tarleton State’s 9,000 students in the [current] semester, about 900 are black and 7,000 are white.”

Read the whole story (and see the photos) at The Smoking Gun.

Posted by Ajuan Mance 

U.S. Black Youth Must Know the Past to Understand the Present January 24, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black History, Black Youth, Blogroll, Higher Education, Slavery.
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I believe it’s only ignorance that causes African Americans to feel shame about slavery. The more I learn about the so-called “peculiar institution,” the more I find my self in awe of the spiritual and emotional fortitude of our ancestors. I believe that the greatest void in African American education is the absence of a curriculum to teach young people about the journey of our forbears. But this is not something that public schools can or should do. While I do believe that there are more good public schools than there are bad ones, I believe that this task is too precious to entrust to such an enormous bureaucracy. This task is about identity formation. It is about using knowledge–the transmission of our history–to empower our young people to break free of the narrow definitions of Blackness that have limited the ways that we enter the world. We, as African Americans, must develop, implement, and control this aspect of our children’s education.

Just as my Chinese American friends had Chinese school and my Jewish friends had Hebrew school, African American kids need African American Heritage programs that they would attend after school during elementary and junior high. These programs would be taught by experienced and highly educated Black scholars, and administered by those who had experience in that area.

None of this is to say that African American history has no place in public school (and private school) curricula. On the contrary, I believe that U.S. Black history should be integral to any social studies/social sciences curriculum at any school in this country. The program that I am imagining, however, would be tailored to the African American students who would attend. The curriculum would present U.S. Black history in such a way as to encourage students to take ownership of the legacy of their ancestors, as a basis for understanding the heroic struggles and sacrifices that preceded them.

Much would be at stake in the effective administration of such programs, as a proper education about our history and our ancestors would have the capacity of instilling in Black youth a sense of place and identity. My hope would be that such an education would create in young people a sense of responsibility to their community and to the legacy established by their forbears. I would also hope that a sense of identity based in our shared history as the descendants of U.S. Black slaves and freedom fighters would diminish the role of particular ways of speaking, dressing, particular musical trends and tastes, and other ephemeral concerns as the basis for African American identity.

Freed up from the constant pressure of proving their realness, African Americans entering high school would be able to be open about their desire for academic success, without the fear of their Blackness being challenged. The relationship of Black students to education would be transformed, and so too would be the fortunes of our Black community.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black “Brains” on Display at Superbowl XLI January 22, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African American, Blogroll, Chicago Bears, Current Events, Higher Education, Indianapolis Colts, Superbowl.
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By now you already know that Sunday, February 4, 2007 will mark the 41st time that the nation’s two most competitive football teams of the year will meet at the Superbowl. But in this 41st Superbowl, the first in the history of the game in which we will see a team led by a Black head coach, we will see not one, but two African American head coaches leading their teams into battle.

African American players have long dominated the NFL. The Black bodies on display — their strength, power, and quickness — have been pro football’s bread and butter. Fans will pay exorbitant amounts of money to watch their gravity-defying, seemingly super-human feats. For many fans, Black muscle and speed is what the NFL is all about.

On this year’s Superbowl Sunday, however, something new will be on display. The presence of two African American coaches at the center of the game will add a previously rarely discussed factor to the mix, Black brains.

Both of this year’s head coaches began their careers as Division I football players; but each soon found his true calling in the realm of playbooks and strategy. Many have equated football with war, but a lot coaches will tell you that it is more like a game of chess, but with the added excitement of real live players instead of playing pieces.

It remains to be seen whether or not the sports media will emphasize intelligence over instinct in their coverage of this historical game. In the meantime, I want to take this moment to give these two outstanding coaches a cyber ovation, and to share with you a little of the early buzz on their brains.

Thank Coach Dungy and Coach Smith. Your outstanding leadership had ensured that on Superbowl Sunday 2007, all Americans will celebrate the first time that a Black head coach has led his team to a Superbowl victory!

Congratulations to Tony Dungy, Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, University of Minnesota class of 1976.

The buzz on his brains:

  • “A great guy and a classy, smart gentleman.” — RateItAll.com
  • “Tony Dungy is a smart man, and when it matters most he can make it happen.” — Football Outsiders FOX Blog
  • “Dungy’s an intelligent coach who will play it safe.”– SportingNews.com
  • “When I go to speak to kids and speak to students and they ask about making it in the NFL, I always talk about that, that the difference is usually not athleticism… It’s the ability to process information. Most guys have enough athletic ability to make it, but the good players are the guys who can process information the best. That’s probably true in most professions.” — Tony Dungy on Colts.com

Hats off to Lovie Smith, Head Coach of the Chicago Bears, a graduate of the University of Tulsa.

The buzz on his brains:

  • “Lovie was so intelligent, so smart as a player.” — TU assistant coach Bill Blankenship, a college teammate
  • “The word ‘genius’ may be overused when discussing football coaches, but there’s not a better word to describe Smith, the Chicago Bears’ head coach, who has a masterful ability to improve any defense he coaches.” — Michael David Smith, FootballOutsiders.com
  • A guy gets hit in the head and his brain is injured. The doctor tells his family that they can buy one of three brains from people. He says Lovie Smith’s brain costs $100, Ron Rivera’s brain costs $1000 and a Packers fan’s brain costs $1,000,000. The family says I don’t see why the first two gentlemen’s brains cost so little and a Packers fan’s brain is so much? The doctor responds “because a Packers fan’s brain has never been used!!!” — Butch Brzeski

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Black Alumni in this Week’s Hollywood News January 20, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Current Events, Golden Globe Awards, Higher Education, Stomp the Yard.
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When kids dream, they dream big. What a lot of Black kids don’t know about their dreams–especially their dreams of being althletes, singers, actresses–is that college played a key role in  success.many of the sports figures and celebrities whose performances thrill and inspire them.

This week’s Black celebrity news included a number of proud African American alumni. Here a just a few of the Black grads who made news this week:

Shonda Rimes, creator and executive producer of television’s Grey’s Anatomy, which won the Best TV drama prize at this year’s Golden Globe awards.

  • Earned a Bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1991
  • Earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.

Forest Whitaker, winner of this years Best Actor in a Film award at the Golden Globes.

  • Completed his Bachelor’s degree at USC in 1982. Initially accepted into the Music Conservatory (to study opera), he eventually transferred to the Drama Conservatory.

Sylvain White, director of this past week’s number one film, Stomp the Yard.

  • After a brief stint in the law program at La Sorbonne in Paris, he won a scholarship to Pomona College in California, where he graduated with honors in both Media Studies and Film and Video Production.

Brian J. White, one of the stars of Stomp the Yard (he plays Sylvester, head of Theta Nu Theta fraternity).

  • Graduated from Dartmouth College with a double major in Political Psychology and Theatre Arts.

Laz Alonso, Zeke in Stomp the Yard.

  • Graduated from Howard University with a degree in Marketing. He eventually left a job on Wall Street to pursue acting.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

“How is this Day Different from All Other Days” January 15, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black History, Blogroll, Current Events, Martin Luther King.
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A paraphrase of one of the questions asked at the Passover seder–a holiday that serves as a period of remembrance of the sacrifices of a previous generation–“How is this day different from all other days” feels strangely applicable to my celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are my favorite holidays, but Martin Luther King, Jr. day is probably the one that impacts my life more than any other.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. King and his legacy. The meaning of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life has changed along with my understanding of his thinking, his life, and his politics. Dr. King was born into a family of relative privilege (relative, because for Black folks in the 1920s–and the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, for that matter–a steady job and a stable home was enough to propel you into the middle class; class wasn’t so much about wealth as it was about opportunity). He went to Morehouse College for his undergraduate degree, and then onto Boston University for his doctorate.

In 1955, shortly after completing his PhD, he traveled to Alabama to join the Montgomery Bus Boycott, that landmark act of resistance lanched by the famous refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat for a white person. His involvement in this action set him on a path that would change the United States (and the world) forever, but that would also lead to his tragically premature death.

Shortly after completing my PhD, I traveled to the west coast to begin my first academic job. Since then, my path has mostly be driven by concern for my own needs and the needs of those who are closest to me. It’s an interesting thing for me to consider, given that Dr. King consistently made choices that privileged the needs of people he barely knew over the needs and/or desires of those whom he loved.

On January 16, 1968, Dr. King delivered a speech in which he retold the New Testament tale of the good Samaritan. Instead of reading the Biblical parable verbatim from the Book of Luke, he did more of a midrash-type interpretation of it, that read into the actions of the parties involved in order to expose and understand their motivations.

He imagined that the two men who passed the traveler who was being robbed without stopping to offer him aid must have asked themselves, “if I stop to help what will happen to me?” On the other hand King imagined that the good Samaritan, the one who stopped to aid the victimized traveler, must have asked himself, “if I don’t stop to help, what will happen to that poor man.”

Thinking about this speech, which NPR host Terry Gross played on _Fresh Air_ this afternoon, I am reminded of the many times I have participated in discussions evaluating whether or not the Civil Rights Movement was a success or a failure. Based on my own life, and on the fact that little of the life that I lead today would have been possible without the Civil Rights Movement, I must conclude that it was a success. Similarly, I can imagine that someone who has found themselves at the mercy of our somewhat less than merciful criminal justice system, or someone who has found herself mired in poverty and/or victimized by overt discrimination might argue that the Civil Rights Movement was a failure.

Dr. King’s good Samaritan speech, however, points to the fundamental irrelevance of such evaluations of the Civil Rights Movement, in that it reveals the pursuit of social justice for all, not as a movement with a fixed point of completion, but as a daily, lifelong practice. To advocate for Civil Rights is to put concern for yourself aside and, instead, to exercise that most difficult form of de-centering the self, the daily practice of privileging the needs of others over your own needs.

It is one of the reasons, I suppose, that the Black middle class was, for the most part, reluctant to join with the Civil Rights Movement, at least in its initial days. With the exception of African American college students, many Black folks in the middle class saw the violent arrests of King’s peaceful marchers, and feared for what might happen to them if they too got involved. As the movement grew is size and strength, though, King’s appeals to the bourgeoisie became more pointed, as he appealed to those who were more financially secure to think less of themselves and more of their brethren–the domestic workers, agricultural workers, and sanitation workers of the day–and to try to envision what the fate of Black working-class and poor citizens would be if a large portion of the middle class stood aside and did nothing.

For whatever reason, I feel that call especially powerfully today. Whew! It’s a tall order, this putting others–strangers–before yourself; and I don’t know if I’m up to the challenge, at least not on the level of King’s activism. But I believe deeply in King’s principles, and somewhere way down inside I understand that social justice for all will only become a reality when we all begin to put the good of others before our concerns for ourselves.

I’ve got some thinking to do, hopefully to be followed by some action. In the interim, I think it would be a good idea –when I see another young Black suspect being perp walked in front of the television cameras, when I pass a group of young brothers aimlessly chillin’ in front of the corner store, when I read news reports of the countdown to another execution at San Quentin, when I see a young mother trying to wrangle a grocery cart, her car keys, and several kids–well, it would be a good idea for me to push myself to ask, “What Would Martin Do?”

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Happy Birthday, Dr. King January 13, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Black History, Blogroll, Current Events.
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It was with interest that I read the editorial by the Daily Southtown guest editorial writer Dale McFeatters. Titled, “For better or worse, King Day now a ‘routine’ holiday,” the opinion piece provides an informative history of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, including the initial resistance of states like Arizona, and then president Ronald Reagan’s grudging acceptance of the observance, “since they seem bent on making it a national holiday.”

McFeatters concludes his editorial by expressing the concern that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day might become, “just another three-day weekend.” I have heard this concern echoed many times, by friends, co-workers, and by administrators at the various colleges I have been affiliated with over the years. To prevent MLK, Jr. Day from become just another day off, many colleges have gone to great lengths to provide wonderful and richly informative day-long programs of events that remind us of the legacy of this great leader, and to encourage us to perpetuate his values and his vision.

I recall with particular fondness the annual MLK, Jr. Day celebration at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It was truly an amazing phenomenon to witness the events filled to standing-room-only capacity, with students of all ethnicities clamoring to hear the wisdom and insights of those invited to campus to share their insights on civil rights and social justice. Before and after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events the administrators of the University would proudly declare that they were not going let his holiday become just another day off.

At the same time that I give kudos to those who have worked to make each MLK, Jr. Day celebration a day for dialogue and exploration, though, I also accept that for some this holiday has already become just another day off. I would be greatly saddened if MLK, Jr. Day stopped being a day for the examination of the issues and concerns that Dr. King brought to national attention. But I also believe that “just another three-day weekend,” isn’t such a bad legacy either. An extra day for fishing or shopping or traveling, for watching sports all day with your buddies, for chatting on the phone all day to friends, or maybe for just hanging around at home, with a cold drink, a good book, and your favorite music on the stereo–well, that is a part of Dr. King’s legacy, too. His dream was a dream of access for all people to the freedoms, rights, opportunities, and pleasures of this nation.

In 1955, when, shortly after completing his doctorate, the young minister joined the Montgomery Bus Boycott, many African Americans were employed as farmworkers and domestics who had little or no time off for any reason. Indeed, reasonable work hours, fair wages, and employee rights were the domain of the white middle- and upper-classes. That a critical mass of U.S. residents can take this or any holiday off to explore the legacy of a great visionary, or to sit around the house watching soap operas all day is a marker of how much farther we have moved as a nation toward real, true equality. And this is largely thanks to the life, labor, and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was an intellectual and a visionary, a scholar, an activist, and a man of God.

On Monday, I will start my day at the gym, as I do every Monday. And as I go through my workout I will look at the wide range of people–old and young, African American, white, Asian, and Latino–enjoying the facilities at this admittedly fancy athletic club, I will think of Dr. King, and I will smile.

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One More Year-End Summary January 10, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in African Americans, Blogroll, Current Events.
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This is a list of the media’s most refreshing depictions of U.S. Black folks in 2006.

This list is a deliberate attempt to think beyond the idea of “positive images,” a concept that relies on a false binary which, in turn, derives from the problematic notion that there are good ways to be Black and bad ways to be Black.

Like negative stereotypes, the “positive image” approach to depicting Black people results in an oversimplification of the richness and complexity of U.S. Black life. Just as people within the Black community can easily understand how images of Mammy and Sambo degrade and dehumanize, so too can African Americans–especially African American youth–see how some of the so-called positive images offered to us oversimplify U.S. Black life in a way that strips us of important elements of our personhood.

It’s not positivity that we need so much as a sense possibility. The following list recognizes those representations of African Americans that expand the range of possible meanings, manifestations, and possibilities for U.S. Black people:

 1. Akeela and the Bee (film): Brainy Black girls aren’t perfect or saintly–spelling whiz Akeela Anderson has trantrums, lies to her mother, gets crushes on boys, and really does care about what other kids think–but when they have the space and support to pursue their talents and passions, they can thrive and excell.

 2. Octavia Butler (novelist): The tragic and untimely death of this award-winning author drew attention to the existence of a small but impressive (and rapidly growing) cadre of Black science fiction writers. The all-too-brief coverage of Butler’s life and legacy revealed for a moment the existence of a stunningly original body of smart, speculative, futuristic novels that place Black protagonists at the center of their sci-fi narratives.

3. The Pursuit of Happyness (film): The spelling error is deliberate in the title of this biographically-based film whose warts-and-all depiction of African American fatherhood suggests that Black dads don’t have to be perfect, highly-educated, wealthy, or all-knowing to be loving, stable, and positive forces in the lives of their kids.

4. Ed Gordon and Farai Chideya (journalists): 2006 began with Ed Gordon at the helm of NPR’s suprisingly popular African American news magazine, News and Notes. In September he was succeeded by former correspondent and substitute host Farai Chideya. No matter which of these accomplished and erudite journalists was at the helm, though, News and Notes presented a wide-ranging and often unexpected mosaic of Afro-diasporic opinions and ideas that was responsive to but not circumscribed by the major news stories of the day.

5. Deval Patrick (governor elect): If Massachusetts governor-elect Patrick’s biography began when he entered high school, his profile would, on the surface, be indistinguishable Boston Brahmin raised with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth (Milton Academy, class of 1974; Harvard, class of ’78; Harvard Law, class of ’82). In reality, though, Patrick’s acceptance into the prestigious Milton Academy was preceded by 14 years characterized by the peculiar juxtaposition of the inauspicious circumstances of his upbringing (he was raised on welfare and shared a single bedroom with his mother and sister) with his exceptional academic performance (he was first in his class in middle school). Of course, this real life success-against-the-odds story  has an even more dramatic ending, with election to the governorship of Massachussets, as only the second African American governor in U.S. history.

 That’s all for ’06. Can’t wait to see what 2007 has to offer.

 Posted by Ajuan Mance