Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Shawn Taylor on "Big Black Penis," Part One

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Shawn Taylor is a
complicated man with a remarkable capacity for telling his story and investing it with social and philosophical considerations. Currently living in the San Francisco Bay area, he’s a performance poet, a martial artist, a spiritual seeker, a philosophy grad student, an artist-provocateur, and the author of the memoir Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity.

As the subtitle suggests, Taylor’s book explores African-American and gendered experience, but in directions not commonly seen as intertwining.

In addition to insightful and often hilarious reflections on dating, sexual awakening and marriage, Taylor explores his own complex intellectual and emotional life during the ending of relationships, the origins of his own homophobia and how he’s confronted it, his bizarre foray into the Euro-American men’s movement, his confrontations with violence and death, and even his experiences as a science-fiction and fantasy fan.

Imagine Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice mixed with the movie Clerks, and you’ve got a picture of what Big Black Penis truly is. In its original form, it won the 2006 DIY Book Festival Award for best self-published book.

Shawn Taylor spoke with me from his home by telephone on September 7. We’ll shortly hear how Taylor’s actual death on the operating table following a shooting, and his subsequent revival, changed him forever. But we’ll begin with reactions to the book’s title, including bookstore suppression.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Did Thabo Mbeki's own neo-liberalism do him in?

Martin Plaut writes: "Thabo Mbeki, although a former member of the South African Communist Party, has used conventional economic policies to drive the country's development agenda.

"Tight monetary and budgetary targets have been set and met. The result has been a period of unprecedented economic growth, reaching 5% a year in recent years.

"In June 1996 Finance Minister Trevor Manuel introduced a neo-liberal economic strategy known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear).

"This included commitments to open markets, privatisation and a favourable investment climate.

"The ANC is in a formal alliance with two groups on the left, the Communists and the trade union movement, Cosatu. Both were fiercely critical of the strategy and argued that they had been excluded from its development and implementation.

"In the report to the Communist Party Congress in July 1998 the Central Committee spelled out their objections to Gear in great detail.

"This concluded: 'We remain convinced that Gear is the wrong policy. It was wrong in the process that developed it, it is wrong in its overall strategic conception, and it is wrong in much of its detail.

"'At the end of the day, we cannot allow our entire transformation struggle to be held hostage by conservative approaches to the budget deficit.'

"In May this year Blade Nzimande, General Secretary of the Communist Party wrote: 'Despite the many modest gains that our own democracy has made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our own self-imposed structural adjustment programme, Gear, failed to make a dent in unemployment (unemployment actually increased dramatically between 1996 and 2006), and eroded the capacity to build a developmental state.'

"Anger at the president's strategy to tackle the problems of unemployment, in particular, contributed to his downfall."

Stop saying "LOL" when you don't mean it. But DO check out these hilarious signs.

I'm irritated by "internet-ese" expressions such as "LOL."

It's rare for people to read material which makes them laugh out loud. That expression should be reserved as high praise for those examples of writing for which it's actually true.


Today I want to commend the folks at the Telegraph for this photo essay which, combined with its magnificently sarcastic captions, made me laugh out loud--while I was working against a deadline past midnight--until I had tears in my eyes. And no, I'm not exaggerating. And please don't invent an acronym for that.

So please check out that essay by clicking on the above photograph.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tim Wise: This is Your Nation on White Privilege




Tim Wise, the White social justice activist, writes the following:

"For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

“White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because ‘every family has challenges,’ even as black and Latino families with similar ‘challenges’ are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

“White privilege is when you can call yourself a ‘fuckin' redneck,’ like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll ‘kick their fuckin' ass,’ and talk about how you like to ‘shoot shit’ for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

“White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

“White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're ‘untested.’

“White privilege is being able to say that you support the words ‘under God’ in the pledge of allegiance because ‘if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me,’ and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the ‘under God’ part wasn't added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

“White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

“White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is ‘Alaska first,’ and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.

“White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives close to Russia--you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.

“White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because suddenly your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a ‘second look.’

“White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

“White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose ‘next door neighbor’ qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

“White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

“White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

“White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a ‘trick question,’ while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

“White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you ‘uppity,’ and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

“White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that's OK, and you're cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

“White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called ‘terrorist fist bumps.’

“White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you ‘dangerously naive and immature.’

“White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the ‘lesser adversities’ faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

“And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole ‘change’ thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

“White privilege is, in short, the problem."

Ralph Nader on the Progressive Dilemma

I laughed, I cried. It's a special moment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Refugee Camp in the City + the History of Elijah Muhammad

















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When 2007 began, 26 million human beings were on the run or in camps inside their own countries, and that’s just from conflict. Add in disasters, you get another 25 million.

Top it off with the 16 million people forced to flee
their own countries, and you get a staggering 67 million people.

MĂ©decins sans frontiers is the international humanitarian medical relief organisation known to Anglophones as Doctors Without Borders. In Old Strathcona’s McIntyre (Gazebo) Park, MSF will be running the Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, an outdoor, 3-D, full-sensory simulation of life in a refugee camp.

I spoke with Asha Gervan o
n Monday morning by telephone. She’s a 30-year-old Kingston native who’s MSF project coordinator on the camp.

The Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City will be in McIntyre (Gazebo) Park, 104th Street + 83rd Avenue in Edmonton. It runs Thursday, September 18 to Sunday, September 21. It’s free.


Last week on the ninth of September, Warith Deen Mohammed passed away at age 74. He was the son of Nation of Islam co-founder Elijah Muhammad, and himself the leader of the single largest congregation of American Muslims following his father’s death in 1975 until his own.

A reformer, Mohammed dramatically altered the religious empire he inherited. He transformed the New World mixture of Freemasonry, numerology, Egyptology, Black Nationalism and Islam that was the NOI into a traditional, non-racially specific Islamic community. A well-respected religious leader and thinker, Mohammed became in 1992 the first Muslim cleric to deliver an invocation opening the US Senate.

Tonight, to understand a bit of where the son came from and how much he changed, we’ll hear about who the father was and the quality of his leadership. To do that, we’ll engage a discussion I had in the year 2000 with journalist Karl Evanzz.

Evanzz is one of the planet’s leading authorities on the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. He’s the author of The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, and The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad.

Elijah Muhammad was one of the most influential political, religious and social figures on 20th Century American life, yet most people know little about him or the congregation he helped found. Without Elijah Muhammad, other icons such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan would never have moved along the paths they did.

While covering the Million Family March in Washington DC in October, 2000, I spoke with Karl Evanzz in the offices of the Washington Post, where he worked as a journalist and an online editor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Dr. Ganz Ferrance on Psychology and the Afrikan-Canadian Family


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Over the years on The Terrordome
, I’ve spoken with scores of people about the structural, systemic barriers to the freedom, prosperity and happiness of Afrikans and other groups. Tonight I’d like to address another set of barriers.

Even while influenced by the structural and systemic, these barriers are a distinct problem unto themselves. They’re also usually more difficult to perceive and define.


I’m talking about psychological barriers inside the human community generally and Afrikan-Canadian communities specifically, barriers which have been called by some “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” For the majority of Afrikans, whose ancestors were not enslaved, it might as easily be called “Post-Colonial Stress Syndrome.”

To address the variety of pains, and to point towards their solutions, tonight we’ll hear from Dr. Ganz Ferrance. Ganz Ferrance has been teaching mind-body health for over a decade in Canada and the United States. He holds a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from Andrews University in Michigan and an MA in Educational and Developmental Psychology.

He’s an increasingly well-known figure in Canadian media, having made multiple appearances on HelpTV and on CTV Edmonton's News at Noon, as well as being a guest on CTV's Good Morning Canada. He’s also the Public Education Coordinator for the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta. His focus is on Success Psychology, and marriage and family therapy.

See also The Journal of Black Psychology.

Below, you can watch Ganz Ferrance or "Dr. Ganz" on CTV Edmonton discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Leader of US's largest Muslim congregation, Warith-u-Deen Mohammed, heir to Elijah Muhammad, dead at 74

"W. Deen Mohammed, one of the most prominent African-American Muslim leaders in the nation and the son of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, died Monday, sources told the Tribune.

"'Brother Imam,' as he was affectionately known, was 74. There was no immediate confirmation of his death by his family. The Cook County medical examiner confirmed that a Wallace Mohammed was pronounced dead at his home in the 16100 block of Cambridge Drive in Markham, a spokesman said."

Remarkable. This man presided over the largest Muslim congregation in the United States, as despite his break with his father was heir to a Muslim tradition dating back centuries in North America and West Africa.

See also:

"Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, a major Islamic leader in the United States who led thousands of African-American Muslims to orthodox Islam, died Tuesday in Illinois. He was 74.

"Born and raised in Hamtramck, Mohammed, also known as W.D. or Wallace Mohammed, was the son of Nation of Islam leader and Michigan native Elijah Muhammad.

"After his father's death, Mohammed transformed the Nation of Islam from a black nationalist organization into a group that embraced a more mainstream Islam and rejected racial and ethnic divisions.

"He was considered to be the biggest Muslim leader in the United States among African Americans and may have had more followers than any other Muslim leader in the country, supporters said. Mohammed became known as a national leader who worked with other faiths and was the first Muslim to lead prayers in the U.S. Senate.

"In metro Detroit, Muslims were stunned to hear of his death. He had just spoken two weeks ago at a Detroit convention of his followers and was planning to speak in Detroit again later this month.

"'To us, he was more than just an imam and a teacher, he was a father figure for us,' said Dawud Walid, an assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, which was the first mosque renamed by Mohammed after he left the Nation of Islam. 'History will show that he has been thus far the greatest Muslim leader in the history of America.'

"Mohammed's nephew, Sultan Muhammad, did not have a cause of death.

"'From God we come, and to Him we return,' he said. 'Imam W.D. Mohammed's passing is a great loss not only to Muslims in America and around the world, but in particular to his family. We would ask for prayers for him.'

"'He was a reviver of the religion,' said Imam Abdullah El-Amin, head of the Muslim Center in Detroit. 'He saved a lot of lives, including mine. He brought a whole lot of people to the correct worship of Islam.'

"After Mohammed broke from the racial teachings of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan then broke away from Mohammed and formed his own separate group.

"While Farrakhan often got more media attention, Mohammed attracted a greater number of followers, according to his supporters.

"On Aug. 29, Mohammed spoke to thousands at Cobo Center.

"'He's a superb leader,' Nadir Ahmad, 58, of Detroit, said before his lecture. 'He has a sober message of good morals, but also a commonsense approach to life and religion.'

"During his talk, Mohammed -- a compact man with glasses and a modest brown suit -- praised Islam's founder, Muhammad, and Jesus.

"'We all ... should be trying to be Christlike,' he said."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Ngugi wa Thiongo on Kenya’s Struggle for Democracy

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In numerous liberation struggles, writers are key fighters in the battle for the collective imagination. In the case of Kenya, no one has garnered more glory, and few have suffered more gravely, than novelist, playwright, journalist and lecturer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

He’s the founder and editor of the Gikuyu-language journal Mutiiri. He’s a professor of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies, and he’s taught at Nairobi University, Yale, New York University and the University of California at Irvine. He’s the recipient of seven honourary doctorates.

In his long literary career, he’s written many novels including Weep Not, Child; Petals of Blood; Devil on the Cross; and the recent Wizard of the Crow; he’s also written the plays The Black Hermit, and The Trial of Dedan Kimathi about Kenya’s revolutionary hero.

In addition, wa Thiong’o penned many essays, particularly to describe the imprisonment and repression he faced at the hands of the post-colonial government of Jomo Kenyatta, which led to his exile in 1977, the same year Amnesty International named him a Prisoner of Conscience.

Those essays and similar writings are collected in volumes such as Writers in Politics; Education for a National Culture; Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary; Writing against Neo-Colonialism; and Power in Post-Colonial Africa.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o famously argued that Afrikan writers of all countries should write in their own languages instead of colonial tongues, which had become standard, waging his culture war in books such as Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya; Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature; Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedom; and Penpoints, Gunpoints and Dreams: Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o spoke with radio host Daniel Tsang on Subversity on radio KUCI from Irvine, California, on January 21, 2008, shortly after Martin Luther King Day, discussing Kenyan history, the struggle for democracy, regional conflict and the early 2008 election violence.