Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nigga, pleez!

Everyone who read that title reacted differently. Every one of you. I can guarantee it. The reactions were probably as widely varied as the cultural and socio-economic backgrounds of my reading audience. I had second thoughts about the title, but the very discomfort it engenders goes a long way in striking the tone I wanted to create.

I was six years old when I was called a nigger for the first time.

That was 1978 and I’ll never forget it. We had just moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Raleigh, North Carolina, and I was looking out the front door at nothing in particular when he appeared. I saw this teenager walking across MY grass, and for whatever reason, I decided he needed to know where he was. “Get off my grass,” I yelled, my tiny little voice booming as loudly and as menacingly as I could muster. Without skipping a tenth of a beat, this kid – normal white guy; no different than any of the older neighborhood kids I knew and played with in St. Louis - screamed, “Shut up, nigger!”

Excuse me? Offended that he rebuffed the way I was protecting MY grass, I shot back and said, “You shut up, nigger!” Clearly, I didn’t understand what I was saying.

Thirty-one years later, and I still don’t understand. I don’t understand why it’s used. I don’t understand why there is a double standard around who can use it. I don’t even understand the nonsense around funeralizing something that apparently will never die. You may or may not remember the funeral the NAACP held for the N-word:


It was done in a ceremony during the 1998 convention in Detroit. Seems like it did a hell of a lot of good, huh?

I ask myself, “Just how black do I have to be in order to not only use the word, but to feel comfortable with it falling out of my mouth, or effortlessly sinking past my inner ear – and not react?” (Hell, the whole what’s black enough topic carries enough drama and historical venom to have its own post.) People of all backgrounds – and I’m talking black folks – use it freely. In his attempt at defending the use of the word, Ludracris (in an appearance promoting the movie ‘Crash’) just about made Oprah’s head spin on its axis. Is he blacker than me? A guy at my second job the other day told me he had to ‘nigger rig’ something. Is he blacker than me? Jesus Christ, president Obama used a Jay-Z song during his campaign that – surprisingly as hell – didn’t censor the N-word. You should have seen the deer-in-the-headlight reactions on the faces of the audience. Is he blacker than me?

Or is that even the issue?

Racism is never going away. People should come to that conclusion, if they haven’t yet. People should also realize that the use of the N-word isn’t limited to the rural South, but spread internationally thanks to an ever-expanding global community. However, to legitimize anything that has divided races and cultures – and you cannot tell me that we, as a black collective, have not legitimized this word – is questionable, at best, and shameful, at worst. Some of my friends use the word, and my perspective may irritate the hell out of them. I can’t help that.

And I can’t blame them because I’m also conflicted in a way. I don’t use it, and I cannot fathom my child using it, but one of my favorite artists of the day, Lil Wayne, couldn’t write a song without its inclusion. I bob my head to his songs, rapping along with him as best I can until one of the N-words creeps in, and gets blurred out. I know what he said. Everybody knows what he said. There inevitably comes a moment of reflection about it, and then I start bopping my head to the music, and rapping along with him as best I can – until it happens again….and then the song is over. Am I perpetuating the use of the N-word by not crying out against artists whose every day vernacular would be void without it? Do I shame myself and make moot my argument that the N-word does nothing to positively contribute to our society – let alone define our society? Does it count it if I’ve only said it in my head, but not out loud? “What do you mean, ‘you people’?”

When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about my parents, growing up as teenagers and young adults in the fifties and sixties. They lived in Kansas City (one in Kansas and the other in Missouri). My parents and grandparents were witness to some of the most horrible treatment one person could dole out on another. And they survived. When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor ordering dogs and firehouses to tear into black men and women and children in Alabama. And the way president Kennedy only intervened when politics came into play. When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about my son, and how the world has changed in so many ways that he’ll never be able to fully understand or appreciate. I think about how lucky we both are that times have changed. I wonder how many sons saw their fathers fight back after being called a nigger, only to be beaten down and hanged in a throng of excited witnesses murmuring about how “he got what he deserved.”

I hear variations on a theme every day. Every day. It’s on the radio. It’s in movies and on TV. I hear it as I walk through the crowds of young men at my second job. What up, my nigga? Nigga, pleez. That nigga crazy. You my nigga. Each occurrence, no matter the context, no matter how it’s pronounced or even spelled, boggles my mind. And makes me angry at the same time. How black does that make me?

Or is that even the issue?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One more year, please

Today is my birthday. Hooray, me! In five days, my son is going to turn nine years old. My wife and I have talked about this at length, but we are both on the same page...at some point in the future (we don't know when), we will have another child. At least that's the plan. Whether we have another, or if we adopt one of the countless children in this country who are in need of a loving home, our family will expand by one more - at a minimum.

She just called me from the road, between Michael's and Target. Two of our neighbors have been sidelined with the flu. One of them is confirmed to have the H1N1, and the other, we're not sure. Julia wanted to make them some chicken noodle soup, and couldn't get Paula Dean's recipe for it out of her mind. So she called me. In a matter of moments, I had Googled the recipe, copied/pasted to my Gmail address, and sent it shooting through cyberspace toward her smartphone. Really? Wow. Thirty-seven years ago, if my mother had decided on a whim during a shopping trip that she wanted to make some chicken noodle soup for ailing neighbors, the flight of the bumble bee would have been much different. Of course, she would have been in labor thirty-seven years ago today, so chicken noodle soup might not have been foremost on her brain at the time.

I'm sitting next to my son, who is fully absorbed in something called Fusion Fall. It's an online game he's playing on his mother's laptop. I am working on my blog and checking my email using a laptop of my own. Without causing him too much "soon-to-be nine years old and I don't like attention from my parents" anxiety, I look at him every now and again, and marvel. At breakfast this morning, Julia and I reminisced about how it didn't seem that long ago when he was a baby, and we'd just set his carrier on the restaurant table. Now he's the Right Tackle on his football team, he stands just under five feet tall, he can put down the majority of an IHop Breakfast Sampler, he loves the new math he's learning in his fourth grade class, and he's as smart as a whip.

The plan in my head that needs to come to fruition before the Christmas buying season begins is to have my first novel, "The Brotherhood" published via createspace.com (you'll hear more about that in the near future, of course). It's a print on demand service, meaning your book isn't printed until it's ordered. And all of the technology is digital. It's amazing. I can't wait to share this, and subsequent novels, with the world. If it works the way I hope it will, I might use createspace.com for every title I publish.

I don't know what's going to happen by September 27, 2010. My family might be larger. I might be sending my wife recipes using some undiscovered technology. My child might be even smarter than me than he is already. And I might be well on my way to earning a spot on the New York Bestseller List (which would solidify my next choice of tattoo, by the way).

If there are things you can look forward to achieving or accomplishing in your life; if you can still smile at the memories you've already made; and if you can swallow the bad taste of the times in your life that you screwed up or did something stupid, getting older doesn't have to suck. It can actually be a lot of fun. Today is my birthday.

Hooray, me!

Five minutes in my psyche

So I was thinking about this website the other day. I was trying to come up with some rules for what I was going to do. When was I going to update the site? How often would I post topics? How many times during the day would I restrict myself from commenting on something I'll see or hear. I couldn't think of anything. And then I thought, 'You know what? This is my website and I can do whatever I want.' Isn't that the point, anyway?

I think so.

My wife has often told me that she'd like to spend five minutes inside my head. I do not think that is such a grand idea. Besides the various female body parts, the cars, memories about great pie and wedding cake I've experienced, and the other random nothingness that impulsively fires the synapses in my brain, five minutes in my psyche could leave her more damaged than even I could imagine.

From book ideas, book dialogue, mental notes about researching snippets of history that I'll eventually ADD to a book, and the inconsistent decisions I make where any of my novels are concerned, most people would need a map to figure out how in the hell they got so turned around amongst my thoughts and memories. A good bit of the time, that includes me. My uncle was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's (sp?) when he was in his fifties (if not very late forties, I'll have to ask my mother). For a long time, my memory has been crappy, and even when I'd like to use it as a crutch, I don't always remember why. LOL! Just kidding. But even with my family history staring me in the face, and the prospect of falling into the same mental quick sand, the space between my ears isn't for the faint of heart.

So, without rules to guide me, and having forewarned you all that the things you're going to read (and maybe reread, and then email your friends about) in this blog....okay, I've succumbed to calling it a blog 'cause that's just easier....you'll learn more about me than maybe you thought you would. Don't be scared. I'm here for you.

Who's got the map?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Magnolia Rambling!

It's official....I'm on the Web! A special thanks to my good friend, Valerie, for inspiring me to set up an opinion page (I'm NOT calling this a blog! LOL!). I can't wait to see what this brings.

Who Am I?

I am many things, I guess. I'm a father and a husband. An aspiring novelist with a big mouth and more dreams than I have time to fulfill. I'm a brother and an uncle. A best friend and a fraternity brother. I love cars in almost every flavor. I love country music and riding my motorcycle for hours.

Who Am I?

I am an opinionated son of a bitch, and as my wife will tell you, it's not a good idea to ask me something if you don't want an honest answer. I love nerd TV, factories, and generally any show that details how things are made. I love meeting people, making friends, and having a great time. I love going to the movies and giving the 'shut up' eye to noisy kids and adults, alike.

Who Am I?

I am a fan of small government, social liberalism, and tight controls on spending. I love a great ice-cold wheat beer, NASCAR, extra pickles and sour cream on my $6 burger, and cursing a good blue streak. I love to sit on the floor and rub my 11 year old Basset Hound. I am on the path to wealth and success. I am ready for whatever is on the horizon. And you are all invited to come along for the ride.

Who Am I?

I am Magnolia Rambling