Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wade in the Water, Trayvon

It hurts.

So many people are suffering as a result of verdict of the George Zimmerman murder trial. Not guilty. He gets to walk free, and Trayvon Martin's young life is cut short at the age of 17.

We all know the story. He was walking home, wearing a hoodie, eating some Skittles, drinking some ice tea, and Zimmerman perceived him to be a threat. He pursued him. He fought with him. He murdered him. The rest is up for interpretation, and will be speculated and discussed for weeks or months...or until another huge national news story breaks.

The jury seemed to believe that there was not enough evidence to charge Zimmerman...they did what they thought was the best thing, and let him go home to his wife and continue his life. They trusted his version of the story.

I feel absolutely terrible for Travyon's family. And I feel terrible for the effect this will have on the psyche of people everywhere. Not just the blacks, but those who feel the pain and injustice of this situation to their core.

It hurts.

It's hard to explain HOW it hurts, and WHY it hurts. I know many people are able to brush it off as "just another media event" or there are people that strongly believe that justice was served. And I'm sure intellectually they have what they think are valid reasons as to why there is nothing here to get riled up about. I'm sure many people think that there's been an over-reaction to this story, and that we should move on with life.

But there's a FEELING you get when you know something ain't right. When you live in black skin, and are made aware of your race even on the rarest of occasions, you still can't help but FEEL incidents like this to your core. You know the feeling. You've been there before. You can't explain it, and no jury would believe it, but the FEELING is tangible.

"Who feels it, knows it..." ...that quote stuck in my mind. Because unless you know what it feels like first hand...you may not know. Unless you have ever FELT your race, or FELT discrimination or prejudice, or FELT the pain of stereotyping and profiling and underestimation and how easy it is to feel condescended DESPITE your inner-strength, righteousness, or intelligence...then you may not know.

I'm not one to go on about "racism" because sometimes it seems to do more harm than good to even openly acknowledge that it exists. It feels like the "race card" even when it isn't. It feels like trying to convince someone of something that they are certain is a fantasy. So often racism is something that we internalize, and we acknowledge, and we know...but it's something that is difficult to seek sympathy on. So many of us don't bother.

They keep saying the Travyon Martin murder wasn't about race. But we know very well that had the races been reversed, that this would have been an entirely different situation. We KNOW that...but how do you explain or justify that? How do you tell a jury of all-white (and one black/hispanic) what that feels like, and the gravity of that truth?

I haven't tuned into the news much since staying glued to the television all day to hear that verdict. I couldn't bear to watch George Zimmerman's asshole brother spew ridiculousness to Piers Morgan on CNN. I just didn't want to see the smug looks on Don West and Mark O'Mara's faces as they patted themselves on the back to the media.

It was a race, a game...and the blacks lost. Again. Yeah, it sounds illogical, but that's how it FEELS. 

And you'd have to KNOW what that look on their faces did to the psyche of million of blacks around the world. It felt like a silent reminder that we will NEVER win. Yes, there's a "black President" in America right now...but I can almost guarantee that no one is comforted by this, and everyone knows that in another few years, that won't be a reality again for a good while. It's not an overt game, but it's definitely a mental one.

I'm not trying to be negative, or jump to conclusions, but I definitely felt a sense of stagnation this weekend. Hopelessness. Like years of fighting, and marching, and protesting, and praying, and speaking, and empowerment...it's still not enough. It may never be.

And then you've gotta take the argument back to the Civil Rights Movement, and back even further to slavery, and then eyes start rolling, and people start losing interest in the "old" black argument about how unfair the world is.

This morning I was thinking about the old negro spiritual "Wade in the Water," and how upon fleeing their conditions, the African-Americans would sing to keep their spirits high, and hope alive. They would send messages through lyrics, and empowerment through song. And then I thought about how we encourage one another in today's reality.

I thought about the powerful blacks in politics, music, entertainment, sports, those with lots of money, lots of influence, and lots of eyes on them. I wondered if the time had passed where it was acceptable for say a Diddy, a Jay-Z, or a Kobe Bryan to get controversial and defend their race. Was it necessary anymore? Would it happen?

The sad thing is that the leaders who are openly defiant and vocal like the NAACP, the Jesse Jackson's and the like...are often criticised for jumping on bandwagons, and often creating them. And then the Will Smith's and other powerhouses are playing their cards safely to the side, below the radar, and politely.

There's also the power of the church, and prayer, but there's a sinking feeling that makes me wonder if anything will be enough. Aside from the fools looting in the name of Trayvon in Los Angeles last night...will the protests, the speeches, the emails, the social media trends...will any of it be enough? Or will this all fade away in vain in the next month or so?

I write this because I'm frustrated. I feel hurt, but have no idea how hundreds of years of oppression and discrimination can ever be resolved. Despite the black President, despite the increase in black millionnaires and business people, educators, and decision-makers. Despite all of those great progressive changes...has anything REALLY changed?

 I don't have any conclusions or theories. But I do have this song running through my mind. It saved the slaves and brought them to freedom before...but did it really help at all? What will?

I wonder how Travyon's parents are justifying this in their minds. How are they dealing with the murder of their son NOW that they know, that the law of a country that they live in and work for, didn't think it was a crime. It hurts, because aside from the "facts" presented in the courtroom, there is a world of pain and the heavy weight of racism that won't go away. What can you do about it? Where do you start? And what makes you think that "this time" it will make a difference.

Who's that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the Water
Must be the Children that Moses led
God's gonna trouble the Water

Who's that young girl dressed in white
Wade in the Water
Must be the Children of Israeli
God's gonna trouble the Water

Who's that young girl dressed in blue
Wade in the Water
Must be Children that's coming true
God's gonna trouble the Water

You don't believe I did begin to wade in the Water
Just see the holy ghost looking for me
God's gonna trouble the Water

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mara Brock Akil's "Being Mary Jane" is Wonderful

I rarely get this feeling from TV shows...usually from books, but rarely from television. That feeling that someone has gone inside your head and communicated the exact feelings, and behaviours, and reality that is personal to you and to people close to you.

We've learned to adapt. Black women. We've learned to watch television programs like Sex and the City, and a range of other fabulous shows that definitely depict WOMEN and their thought processes in an entertaining and relatable light. But there's something so intimately different when the story is about a black woman, and being told by a black woman.

Yes, we had Girlfriends and A Different World and a variety of other programs that had black female protagonists that we could laugh and journey through life with. But it's definitely been a while.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again...you can not underestimate the power of a good story. A believable story. And a story that has the power to move you. I must say, that Mara Brock Akil has created a FABULOUS new television series, and BET is fortunate to have this as a part of their original programming.

I mean, The Game was plenty! Yes, the characters live in a world of money, privilege, and fame...but there is something so down-to-earth and INTERESTING (and funny) about the writing on that show too. The characters are real, and the emotions are real. So it's actually no surprise that Ms. Akil and her husband Salim have executive produced yet another gem.

Being Mary Jane premiered last night, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, as a 90-minute movie. And it was fabulous. It didn't take me long to get sucked into the storyline, to see the various characters in Mary Jane's life, and to get a feel for her as a woman. Played by the uber-talented Gabrielle Union, Mary Jane is clearly every woman.

There have been dozens of television shows that I've loved over the years, and each for their own various reasons. But with this show I FELT something. It was pride, mixed with recognition, mixed with happiness, and then of course it had my attention 110%, and the experience felt bigger than just the show itself.

I loved reading the Twitter responses by readers around the continent, and how everyone could relate to what they were seeing on screen. I loved the praise that Gabrielle and Mara were receiving, and re-tweeting, along with cast member like Robinne Lee. I love what it represents to them, the stars and creators...and to us, the audience.

Mara Brock Akil is a classic individual. She's had her hand in other television programs like South Central, Moesha, The Jamie Foxx Show, and Girlfriends, and obviously is in tune with the African-American experience. She has the ability to present "real life" without perpetrating negative stereotypes or embarrassing caricatures. She presents reality. And I feel like although her track record speaks for itself, we're really going to continue to see more GREAT things from her in the years to come.

As for Ms. Union, she is definitely one of my favourite actresses, and I believe it's because she is a strong woman on and off screen. More than just a "pretty face," this woman has her shit together. She's an educated woman, and she's been consistently working for the past 20 years in every movie and television show that we know and love.

What I like about her is that she's about her business, and you never really hear any gossip about her. Yes, you see her out with other Hollywood A-listers, and her boyfriend Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat...but it's always in good taste.

I love to see a woman work hard, play hard, hold her head high, and have her work speak for itself, and I believe that's what Gabrielle Union encompasses as an actress.

So it's a sure thing, as far as I'm concerned. The combination of Ms. Akil and Ms. Union...plus a dope soundtrack, great writing, and a network that desperately needs to BE this: something inspirational, and something that is positively representative of the black community. I don't doubt that women of all races can equally relate to the hard-working character of Mary Jane, as she strives to balance her work life, family life, and reconcile her relationship issues and needs.

Most importantly, this program has motivated me. Motivated me in the type of writing I'd like to do, the type of woman I'd like to be, and the power of an image and a great story. I'm really looking forward to the season, when it begins in January of 2014.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Yeezus. Kanye West. Huh?

Kanye West's 6th album "Yeezus" was released on June 18th, 2013, and I finally picked up a copy.

I can't lie...I automatically felt like he was pulling a fast one. Putting out a CD with no cover art, no labels, no track listing, and no nothing...but a price tag and a lyrical warning label. Then I was annoyed with that big piece of orange tape at the side that is now ripped and sticky and gross, and makes my brand new blank case look old like something from 1995. Then I listened to the first track and was like...WTF?

First thoughts: is Kanye trying to prove something? That we'll still buy his album with no promotion, and have it sound like GARBAGE and still have it hit the charts? Arrogant. Over the top.

And then I realized that I had done just that. I had bought the album just because it existed, and because I'm a Kanye fan. And that even though the first few tracks sounded like hot noise, that I would still play the disc on repeat for the next week or so until I fully tried to understand his artistic genius.

This is clearly why Kanye is Kanye. Because he can be. He can be a jerk. He can autotune. He can wear skirts. Hell, he can even impregnate Kim Kardashian...and he'll still be one of the dopest rappers ever.

He wins.

Now I love Kanye, but I'm still trying to find the groove with this one. I love love LOVED "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" back in 2010 (as per my review). I LOOOOVED 2008's "808s and Heartbreak," and I also thoroughly enjoyed the 2011 collaboration with Jay-Z for "Watch the Throne." I like everything about this dude, including the fact that he's eccentric as hell...but it gives him character.

I can sense his passion. His desperation. His creativity. His confidence. His insecurity. There is something about Kanye's soul that I really really dig. Regardless.

The album...not so much. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'll listen to it UNTIL I like it, or at least tolerate it. Or worst case scenario, I'll put in on the shelf with countless others that never make the heavy-rotation of my car, and just wait until the music videos come along and make the singles a little easier to tolerate.

I listen to new albums (when I do actually purchase them, which is for a rare FEW artists)...in phases. First off, I do the general scan through and overview. Then I find my favourites, and play them on a repeat a few times to really get into the vibe of it. Surprisingly, the songs I usually love in the beginning, are usually not the same ones I love in the end after I've given the album a listen for a week or so.

Then I take it to a lyrical level, and try to hear what the artist is saying. And yes, this comes AFTER the musical level, because if I don't feel the musical element, I won't even bother with the lyrical one. After listening to the words, I try to internalize the artistic vision, and the bigger picture. What does the album represent for this artist. What are they trying to say? Is it effective?

With some artists, this can all take place very quickly. With others, it takes weeks for me to really understand wha gwan. With this particular album, I don't know if it will ever happen.

It's just weird. No matter how many times I listen to the first few tracks, I just find it creepy, scary, and downright odd. I love the reggae samples, and hearing Capleton's voice on a Kanye album was cool, but hearing it mixed in with the eerie rhythms and screams in "I Am A God"...not so cool. Loved hearing Beenie Man's voice, and other odes to Jamaicans, but in the context, it doesn't do the artists much justice other than bragging rights.

What can I say? I want to be able to glow about this album, but I really have to chalk this one up to a Kanye experiment gone terribly wrong. Kanye's all into fashion now, and Europe, and he's in love, and expanding his horizons and apparently feeling himself right now...but I just hope that the next album has something with some melodies, a little beat you can dance to, and a little bit more life. This one reeks of gloom and horror, although I don't think that was his intention.

I do enjoy Track 10, which after some quick internet research (so inconvenient to not have it right there), I learned was called "Bound 2." Something really catchy about that one. And Track 4 "New Slaves" is all right in a classic Kanye kinda way. All the rest are just a blur or hard instruments and scattered phrases.

I'll give it another week. After that, it's either I have a revelation of his continued genius and bump it for the rest of the summer...OR I use this convenient blank case to store another CD that I actually don't want to get damaged, and put ol' Yeezus on the shelf to mix in with the other label-less discs that may never hit my airwaves again.

BTW, here's the mystery track listing, that doesn't appear anywhere near the physical product:

Track 01 - ON SIGHT
Track 03 - I AM GOD
Track 04 - NEW SLAVES
Track 05  - HOLD MY LIQUOR
Track 06 - I'M IN IT
Track 08 - GUILT TRIP
Track 09 - SEND IT UP
Track 10 -BOUND 2

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.