March 2007


“GOD IS GOOD!”

“ALL THE TIME!”

I started blogging about a year ago after the 2005 Oscars. My first post ever was on some thoughts I had about Three 6 Mafia winning the Oscar for Best Song, George Clooney’s acceptance speech for winning best supporting actor for “Syriana”, and on the winner of the best picture… who can remember? “CRASH”. (first post) I was new to the blogging game and wanted to see where my voice would take me out into the blogosphere.

 

John Smulo

 

This week, I have been featured in a 2-part interview on the blog page of John Smulo, called SmuloSpace. John is a Christian blogger whose page I read frequently because he expands my thinking and brought a different perspective to the “Christian” experience for me. He is one of very few bloggers from the “Christosphere”, that I link to my page. The others are Gruntled Center, Imitatio Christi, The Church Boy and God’s Politics (which is a site of “white” progressive Christian bloggers developed by Jim Wallis). This is not to say that there aren’t others linked to this page who consider themselves Christians. However these specific blogs primarily discuss religious themes and look at other topics from a “Christian” perspective, whatever that may mean to the authors, which is why I refer to them as the “Christosphere”.

 

I found it very difficult finding Christian bloggers to read. It wasn’t due to there not being many of them out in the blogosphere, but I prefer to become engaged in discussions that will challenge my thinking and beliefs, that will expand my knowledge and not spew the same “ole time religion”. These blogs do that to some extent and SmuloSpace is my favourite. I cannot remember how I found his page but I started reading it in January 2007. What attracted me most is that I found John to be a sincere listener…. and that is a rare quality in a person. I started reading and commenting on his page and visa versa. A couple weeks ago he asked if he could interview me for his page. I was pleasantly surprised! He was primarily interested in the process I went through to adopt my African/Spiritual name: “Asabagna Alatentou” and my self-definition as an “Afrocentric Pentecostal”. I felt honored and gladly said “yes”. Here are the links to both interviews:

It is my hope that those of you who frequent this page may not just read the interviews, but will also read some of John’s other posts, and be inspired to become engaged in conversations and be regular commentators there. I also hope that those who frequent John’s page, through the interviews, may discover our community and engage with us also. Isn’t that the beauty of the internet? To discover, communicate and learn from those of other countries, cultures and beliefs. To transcend borders, barriers and build bridges of understanding through dialogue, discussion and debate. To make friends. It’s not a “pipe dream”. It’s possible. I’ve done it with all of you.

 

I wish you heaven.

Asa.

“When you have a philosophy or a gospel, I don’t care whether it’s a religious gospel, a political gospel, an economic gospel or a social gospel…. if it’s not going to do something for you and me right here and right now…. to hell with that gospel! In the past, most of the religious gospels that you and I have heard have benefited only those who preach it. Most of the political gospels that you and I have heard have benefited only the politicians. The social gospels have benefited only the sociologists. You and I need something right now that’s going to benefit all of us. That’s going to change the community in which we live, not try to take us somewhere else. If we can’t live here, we never will live somewhere else.” Malcolm X

Friday (03-23-07), I’m at the gym doing my “cardio thing” and watching the news, when I see a story concerning a polar bear cub by the name of “KNUT” in Berlin Germany. Apparently this cub, which was born about 4 months ago, was rejected by it’s mother, a circus bear. The Berlin Zoo decided to raise it and a national furor was caused when an animal rights activist stated that the cub should be put to death rather than be raised in captivity. According to a variety of news reports (see one here), school children took to the streets chanting “Knut must live”; news headlines read “ The Polar Bear of our Hearts”; t-shirts were printed; websites were launched, including his own personal one (see here); soccer fans chanted for him instead of their teams and a CD of songs about him was produced. He has been adopted by the German Environment Minister and is now a symbol of the effects of global climate change. The cub had made it’s public debut on Friday amid hundreds of reporters from around the world as well as thousands of supporters.

Friday, I also read a story on the blog page of Francis L. Holland on the case of Shaquanda Cotton in Paris, Texas (see here). This 14 year-old African-American girl was sentenced in March 2006, to 7 years in a Texas juvenile correctional center for pushing a 58 year old teacher’s aid. As I read the story, I thought there was no way this could be true! This must be some sort of internet hoax. I did a little internet research myself and read some news accounts of this situation. The more I read, the more I became stupefied and enraged as the truth of this injustice crystallized in my psyche (see here). The accounts of the blatant separate and unequal treatment of the Black community to the obvious targeting and retaliation against Shaquanda because her mother frequently accused school officials of racism.

 

 

BUT what enraged me the most was that I had not heard of this before. Had I really missed this? AND if I had: Where is the national furor? Where are the other school children taking to the streets for her cause? Where are the news reports and headlines? Where are the t-shirts? She does have a blog page (see here) but where are the other blog posts heating up the Afrosphere for her cause? Where are the sport fans chanting her name? Where is the national political and/or government official, regardless of party affiliation, who has adopted her cause as a symbol of the fight against the continual racial discrimination and judicial injustice faced by those of African descent in America? AND when I ask all these questions of “where?”, I am not asking society at large! I am asking the Black/African community itself!

 

Or am I asking the wrong questions. Maybe I should be asking: are we so caught up in who will be dismissed from this week’s episode of American Idol and Survivor to care? Has our desire for justice and equality been replaced by a craving for the new Three 6 Mafia “joint”, the latest dance craze and the next McDeath “Happy Meal”? Have we become so bamboozled by the media, that our attention has been captivated by who is the “baby daddy” of a dead, white, fat, drug and alcohol addicted slut, to even see the injustices that are visited upon our young? Are we so entranced by the circus performances of Obama, Hillary and John that real life wrongs pass under our radar? Have we completely sold out the birthright of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for our children, to feast on the pottage provided at the back door of the white women empowerment movement (feminism), gay marriage and other gay rights issues?  Have we become so mis-educated as a community that our time and energy is focused on rallying against the plight of illegal immigrants, the atrocities perpetrated by the Iraqis against themselves and the empowerment of Afghani women while our own young are dehumanized?

 

There is a call for the Black community to write and/or telephone the Judge and Governor of Texas to “voice” our displeasure and disappointment at the treatment of Shaquanda Cotton. Hmmmm. ‘nuff said.

 

My sister Aulelia recently pondered: “Perhaps celluloid exposure is needed for more people to care about Africa?” Along with the numerous movies featuring Africa, Africans and African-Americans that we have been recently exposed to, there has also been a deluge of cartoon or digital animated films featuring animals. The animals are portrayed more like humans. The Blacks/Africans are represented as less than animals. Ironically, I think we now have an answer to her question.

 

Asabagna                   

 

This was on the wall of Mother Theresa’s Calcutta office. It written by Kent M. Keith.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered: Forgive them anyway…

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives: Be kind anyway…

If you are successful you will win some false friends and some true enemies: Succeed anyway…

If you are honest and frank people may cheat you: Be honest and frank anyway…

What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight: Build anyway…

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous: Be happy anyway…

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow: Do good anyway…

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough: Give the world the best you have anyway…

You see, in the final analysis, it`s all between you and God: It was never between you and them anyway…

 

A friend sent this to me. I thought I would share it.

 

1. Give God what’s right — not what’s left.
2.
Man’s way leads to a hopeless end! — God’s way leads to an endless hope.
3.
A lot of kneeling will keep you in good standing.
4.
He who kneels before God can stand before anyone.
5.
In the sentence of life, the devil may be a comma–but never let him be the period.
6. Don’t put a question mark where God puts a period.
7. Are you wrinkled with burden? Come to the church for a face-lift.
8. When praying, don’t give God instructions – just report for duty.
9.
Don’t wait for six strong men to take you to church.
10. We don’t change God’s message — His message changes us.
11.
The church is prayer-conditioned.
12.
When God ordains, He sustains.
13. WARNING: Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.
14. Plan ahead — It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
15. Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory position.
16.
Suffering from truth decay? Brush up on your Bible.
17.
Exercise daily — walk with the Lord.
18. Never give the devil a ride — he will always want to drive.
19. Nothing else ruins the truth like stretching it.
20.
Compassion is difficult to give away because it keeps coming back.
21.
He who angers you controls you.                                                         
22. Worry is the darkroom in which negatives can develop.
23.
Give Satan an inch & he’ll be a ruler.
24.
Be ye fishers of men — you catch them & He’ll clean them.
25.
God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. 

God Bless.

Asa.

There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Jr. – one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death.

As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs. 

We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

Excerpts from Elie Wiesel Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1986

I found Aulelia’s comments on my previous post, “A Tale of Two Black Brothers” to be insightful, particularly her views on the film, The Last King of Scotland. Her statement: Perhaps celluloid exposure is needed for more people to care about Africa?”, really got me thinking…. going deep into reflecting and meditating on the mass media portrayals of Africa.  

First let me say that I did enjoy the film and I agree that Forest Whitaker’s performance was superb. I have no problem with him winning the Oscar. Who we believe should win is subjective, and it’s the majority of subjective opinions that determine who wins. I am also not so naïve that I don’t realize that Hollywood, and the movie-making industry at large, is a business…. and a business is all about making money. As such, they are concerned about what stories the public will pay money to see. Whether they are only catering to this demand or creating the demand is a worthy discussion to reflect and debate on in another post. However, Aulelia’s question got me asking: what are the celluloid exposures that we are getting of Africa? And do they lead “us” to care more about the continent? 

 

I made a mental list of all the movies about Africa I have seen recently. Let’s see: Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Tsotsi, The Lord of War, The Constant Gardener, Hotel Rwanda, Tears of the Sun, Black Hawk Down, In My Country… these are the ones that comes to mind. Now I found them all to a varying degree, for different reasons, very good or at least interesting. But as I reflect, none of these storylines showed a positive image of Africa the continent, or African people. Savagery, brutality, murderous behaviour, ignorance, poverty, dishonesty, corruption, chaos and disease ran amok. In most of these films, the central hero, or the most dynamic anti-hero was a “white” male. Now there may be films that do show Africa in a positive light. I just haven’t seen or heard of them. So please enlighten me if anyone can recommend some.

 

I started wondering if these movies of Africa have replaced the blaxploitation “gangsta” films that were churned out by Hollywood in the late 80’s to early 2000. Do you remember Colors, Juice, New Jack City, Boyz N da Hood, Menace II Society, Above the Rim, Dead Presidents, Set it Off, Baby Boy, as well as the award winning Training Day and Hustle & Flow. As I also reflected on the themes of these movies, a pattern emerged in how Black people, particularly Black men were being portrayed: Savagery, brutality, murderous behaviour, ignorance, poverty, dishonesty, corruption, chaos and disease ran amok. Even Spike Lee’s acclaimed “Do the Right Thing”, dealt with Black rage which culminated in righteous Black violence.

 

Now since these movies are not being made in the same quantity as before, I can only surmise that they are no longer the moneymakers they used to be. So it begs the following questions: did this celluloid exposure of Black America cause more people to care for them? Or did it become passé, familiar and therefore boring? Is Black on Black murder in America no longer a thrill? But big business always finds new resources to meet the demands of their markets. So to Africa! The Dark Continent! Virgin territory once again to exploit familiar evils for an unfamiliar audience. Celluloid exposure to fill the theatre seats, sell popcorn and Coca-Cola, and get the cash registers ringing. 

 

Then I got to thinking…. you know what? Maybe I am being too pessimistic! Maybe these celluloid images of Africa are providing the impetus for the promised influx of money and medicine to fight AIDS and other diseases in the continent. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa are getting people in the Western world to tackle the issue of child soldiers and child poverty. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa will prevent another genocide such as what occurred in Rwanda. Maybe these celluloid images of Africa in some way led to the Western nations caring more about the continent and was instrumental in the decision to forgive their burdening debt. 

Then I remember that most Africans cannot afford the drugs to combat AIDS, even if they could get them. Then I remember the U.N. reports that malaria and lack of clean drinking water is killing most Africans. Then I remember that children in the Congo have to work in mines from “can’t see sun up to can’t see sundown” to make a barely subsistent living. Then I remember the child soldiers of the Lord Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. Then I remember Darfur. Then I remember the issue of vulture funds, where companies buy up the debt of these poor African nations cheaply from the Western nations when it is about to be written off, then SUE for the full value of the debt plus interest. (See post Into the Heart of Darkness.) AND I look around and have to conclude that Western society, like most of the rest of the world, just does not care. Is it because of the celluloid exposures? Or in spite of them?

Finally I reflect and wonder if there is a direct relationship…. a linear linkage from the images we saw of Africa in the past and today in movies, in the news, in mass media…. to the images we see today of Black America in movies, in the news and on televison (Cops, BET)…. to the recent execution of a 92 year old Grandmother during a police raid in Atlanta, for being a suspected drug dealer.  

Heaven help us.

Asabagna.

 

Here is a tale of two Black Brothers. 

 

Black Brother #1 is sadistic, brutal, corrupt and egotistical. He is a liar, thief and a murderer. He is conniving, manipulative and will bully others to get what he wants. He uses and disrespects women and would easily sacrifice his wife, the mother of his child, while showing no remorse. He is the poor example of a father figure and has no regard for his ill son. Brother #1 is the personification of evil.

Black Brother #2 is hardworking, honest and family-oriented. He is articulate, bright, clean and a nice-looking guy. He struggles against all odds to provide for his family and dreams of giving them a better life. He loves his wife, is loyal, respectful and tries to meet her needs of him. He loves his son, is a nurturing father figure and a positive role model. He is willing to sacrifice his all to protect, provide and bring some degree of happiness to his child. Brother #2 is the personification of a good man.

 

Question #1: If you had to choose, which one of these two Black Brothers would you want to be?

Question #2: If you had to choose, which one of these two Black Brothers would you want to be representative of a Black male to the world?

Question #3: If you had to choose, which actor portraying each of the two Black Brothers would you give the Best Actor Oscar?  

I have wanted to do this post for a while. I have been meditating on it from time to time when it appeared that Forest Whitaker was the front-runner in winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin, the former President of Uganda, in “The Last King of Scotland”. He had already won the Best Actor awards at the British Oscars, the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Golden Globes. I wasn’t aware of the movie until all the buzz was building about his performance, so I went to see it. I found the film to be “okay” but his performance was solid. I like Forest Whitaker. I have seen most of the movies he’s acted in and have always found him to be a good, competent actor. Forest Whitaker played Black Brother #1 to perfection.

Weeks before I had also gone to see “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. I went to see this movie mainly because the storyline interested me: the struggles of a Black father to care and provide for his son. I had also heard that Will Smith’s performance was good, but that wasn’t what drew me to see it. The film moved me. It touched me to the point of tears. I found Will Smith’s character inspiring. He depicted the type of Black man I want to be. The type of man I wish we all were, regardless of colour or culture. His performance lent to the dynamics of the film…. it wasn’t the film. Will Smith played Black Brother #2 to perfection.

When I heard that both Black actors were nominated, I knew one thing for sure. Will Smith wasn’t going to win! I wasn’t sure if Forest Whitaker would win, but I knew that he would win before Will Smith would. I knew Will Smith wouldn’t win for the same reason Barak Obama won’t win, which was so eloquently stated by Sen. Joe Biden: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” This is certainly not the characteristics, attributes or image that America, and most importantly, liberal “white” America, expects or wants of it’s “negroes.” 

 

Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin was very similar to the performance of Denzel Washington in “Training Day”. Even down to the “Big Black Demon” manipulating and leading the young, eager, naïve and good intentioned “white boy” astray. Denzel had also played Black Brother #1 to perfection in that film. Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar for this performance. As we all know, Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Oscar for his. It is said that history repeats itself. I will add to this: “especially when it comes to perpetuating and awarding the negative stereotype of the Black male in the mass media.”

 

  

 

On a further note, Forest Whitaker has subsequently won for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture at the 2007 NAACP Image Awards. 

 

(Sigh)

Asabagna

I have been thinking on how those of African descent in the diaspora struggle constantly with defining ourselves in pursuit of regaining our humanity. Someone asked me recently what “Asabagna” meant. At the same time I was meditating on a post I had read by thefreeslave, entitled: “What’s in a name: Freeslave.” Both instances, together, caused me to reflect on the process I went through in defining who and what I am as a Man…. a Black Man in a hostile White society. This process is in no way complete. I allow myself to be continuously transformed by knowledge, experience and yes, the Spirit of God.

 

But as descendants of Africans who were stolen and enslaved in the “New World”, I would argue that “we”, the Black/African people of the Diaspora, are in a continual struggle to create an identity we are comfortable with, so our definitions of who and what we claim to be, are forever changing. This is of-course due primarily from being taken from our natural homeland, stripped of our natural culture, history, familial relationships, name, religion(s), and had foreign cultures, names and religions imposed upon us to the point of death…. both literal and figurative death. This cultural surgery not only removed our identity, but more importantly, it stripped us of our humanity. To enslave “us”, the European (and let’s not forget the Arabs) societies at the time had to “dehumanize” us. What easier way to rob someone of their natural rights as citizens of humankind, than to label them, define them, classify them as sub-humans through the use of derogatory names. Words are not only symbols of thought, they also shape thought… the way we see the world and the “others” in it. The past, present and future white supremacy based mechanisms of dehumanizing definitions/names for us never fails to amuse me. We’ve gone from the blatant: “Niggers” to the ‘oh so subtle’: “Racialized People!”

 

And that is not even the worst of it my people! We now have “educated” and “enlightened” Black people debating the value of embracing and clothing ourselves with the expressions “Nigga(s)” and “Coon(s)”, as terms of endearment and empowerment.  This to me embodies the reality of the phrase: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” 

 

I went through a process of self-actualization which culminated in 1997, when I made a pilgrimage to West Africa. This journey was very significant for me as it led to a spiritual and cultural rebirth. I saw myself in a new light and made a conscious decision to define myself as being of “African heritage”. During this pilgrimage I visited a village in Ghana and during a naming ceremony to signify my return to the Motherland, I was given the name “Asabagna”, by the village Chief, which means “Hunter”. I also visited a Mandingo village in Senegal and a Griot, the musical historian of the village, gave me the name “Alatentou” which means “God is gracious”, as he added my visit to the history of that place. So like the patriarchs of the Old Testament and Saul in the New Testament, I acknowledged this new consciousness that had awaken within me, this new way that I saw the world, specifically the eurocentric-western world and my place within it, by taking on a new name…. the African/Spiritual name: Asabagna Alatentou.

Since then I, Asabagna Alatentou, have grown, changed, transformed and developed as a man of African heritage. I have built up spiritual, human and cultural capital within myself. It is superior to my eurocentric (slave) name. It is superior to taking on a nickname which would identify…. and I would dare say, “trap one”, into a mentality of continuous struggle at the very least, or acts of sub-human behaviour at the very worse.

 

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

 

Asabagna Alatentou.   

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