Education


Back in the day, in my former life I was a working actor. Looking back at my life to that time so long ago, it does seem like it was a former life. I am certainly a much different person than back then.

Anywayzzz… when I was making my living as an actor in Toronto Canada, the experience was fulfilling in many ways, but it was mainly very frustrating. When it came to film and television roles, they were primarily U.S. based productions, so all the main characters were already cast with American actors. My first few years were working as an “extra” … basically in non-descript roles making up the background scenery. It was grueling work and somewhat demeaning. I remember many times when as an “extra”, I had to wait off to the side during meal breaks until the lead characters and the crew had eaten, before we were allowed to get our lunch and/or dinner (i.e. leftovers) from the meal table. After some time I was able to get an agent and I got cast in “better” roles in these productions. As a Black actor, I was primarily offered the role of “Black thug on the right”, or “Black thug on the left” … or if I was really fortunate, I got cast as “Black thug in the middle” , who got arrested by the lead “white” cop character and got to say a variation of the line: “hey man… I didn’t do nuttin!” After a number of these roles, my sense of self-respect couldn’t handle it, so I told my agent I wasn’t going to do them anymore and to try to get me auditions for roles that were not “race” specific. I think I went on 2 auditions after that before the agent dropped me.

When it came to theatre productions, things were a little better. There was certainly more “artistic-license” taken by producers and directors when it came to “non-traditional” casting. I played a variety of roles in numerous productions. I was given the opportunity to play “Benvolio” in a summer stock production of Romeo and Juliet. It was a fantastic experience and it led to an audition for the artistic director of the Stratford Festival. This festival is the premiere Shakespearean festival in Canada and it is world renown. I had known a couple of my peers… and I literally mean two Black actors, who had been cast in minor roles at the festival. However they were cast as background figures, non-speaking roles… “spear carrier on the right” or “servant on the left”. As a part of the festival’s training program, both were given the opportunity to “understudy” minor roles. From conversations with these friends about their experiences, it was obvious (to me at least) that the festival only hired Black actors (and other “actors of colour”) in an effort to appear to be inclusive, so as to ward off any criticism that they were racist or discriminatory in their casting.

So I decided that instead of doing a “standard” audition where I would recite a monologue and then stroke the artistic director’s ego and claim how it had always been my lifelong dream to work with him and be a part of the festival, no matter how small the role, and that I would be forever grateful and in his debt for the opportunity… I decided to put him on the spot and ask him why I should want to work at the festival? What was the advantage for me? What role(s) did he have in mind for me? I informed him it wouldn’t be worth it to me, to go there and play insignificant background roles. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed. He gave me an exasperated lecture on the importance of respecting the auditioning process and “paying my dues” . He then ended the audition. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get an invite to work at Stratford… but strangely I felt a certain amount of pride for my stance.

I then made the decision to do low budget independent films and theatrical production dealing with social issues, primarily those relating to the Black and African community. I also worked with a collective of Black artists doing our own productions. However it became increasingly difficult to work on a continuous basis as there wasn’t much community support and the government funding for what was termed “non-traditional productions”, went primarily to “white” film production and theatre companies that had submitted proposals to do “ethnic-based” productions. I worked for a couple of these companies and found that they were very eurocentric in their perspectives on social issues, as well as blatantly condescending and patronizing in their ethnic-based” productions. Although I worked for approximately another year or so in the arts before I decided to do something else, my most rewarding efforts during this period were the productions I did with other “artists of colour”. I didn’t feel like I was a slave to the whims and self-promoting generosity of “white” producers and directors.

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I watched a fascinating discussion on Sunday afternoon on a program on BBC World called “The World Debate”. The panel, which was made up of Carl Bernstein, the award winning journalist who helped uncover the Watergate scandal; Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of the internet giant Google; Dan Gilbert, a Harvard Psychologist; Queen Noor of Jordan and the Ugandan journalist and broadcaster, Andrew Mwenda, discussed the role and influence of the “New Media”, via the IT revolution, specifically the dissemination of information and the pros and cons associated with this democratization of journalism.

What I found interesting was how the old guard and protectors of the status quo, embodied by the views of Bernstein and Gilbert, were openly condescending and somewhat alarmist in their opinions concerning what they referred to as the “citizen journalism” via the internet. Berin, Queen Noor and Mwenda were more understanding and supportive of the value and need of alternative voices, who aren’t “trained or schooled” at some recognized institution for journalism and therefore don’t hold the standard eurocentric prejudices, but in many ways provide a more realistic, personal and honest view of events in their environment. 

As I listened to the discussion I came to realise once again the power of the internet in sharing information (especially real time events), views, beliefs and opinions among people throughout the round corners of the world. We have all heard the adages: “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword and Knowledge is Power”. This is truer today than any time in the history of humankind and whomever controls knowledge, and more importantly the access to knowledge, as well as controls the pen (or today the keystrokes), is the master (or chief manipulator) of reality. This is why regimes such as China and Myanmar have such strict controls on their populations access to the information highway. This is why during periods of civil strife and unrest in countries such as Pakistan and Kenya, access to certain sites such as Youtube by their citizens, which may show videos of the brutality of the regime against those protesting for their political and human rights, are shut down. This is why the Bernsteins and Gilberts are fearful of the “New Media”, because the power to shape ideas, beliefs, values (and henceforth culture)… and the power to control (and restrict) information and knowledge, are no longer in the hands of the elite or a select few with common interests to maintain and perpetuate the status quo. This rise of the “New Media” is much more than a democratization of information sharing, it is more of a revolution in “people participation”.  

It is this participation, or the potential of the power of this participation, which makes the blogosphere in general and the “Afrosphere” in particular such a potent force. It brings people together who would have never had the opportunity to connect before and through these relationships, we have the ability to expand our focus, influence and experiences. Through blogging, I have been able to communicate with many people throughout the world. People I have never met face to face and most likely, never will. People from different countries, as well as a variety of political, religious, economic, cultural and social backgrounds, beliefs, values and opinions.

This gathering of people of African descent — whether born in the U.S. or Africa or elsewhere, whether descendants of slaves or free men, whether rich or indigent –this gathering arises out of a need for self-determination and a history of forced subordination and removed relativity to an abstract outsider. We face each other under a banner of survivalist solidarity because regardless of our differences — whether they be our sexualities, our disabilities, our religions or our interests — we are viewed as one. What jerks at one of us sends tremors through all of us. So we need to understand each other.”  From the Mission Statement of the Afrospear, written by Sylvia.

Powerful! The above statement is truly a call for those of African descent throughout the world, who have the ability to utilize the “New Media”, to come together for the advancement of our people, regardless of our “isms” ! It is a challenge to revolutionize our way of thinking, and rise to the higher and uncharted territory of focusing on the value in our different perspectives. We need to do away with the mindset that because we are all not of, and/or from, the same social or economic class, political beliefs (or affiliations), religious or spiritual sects, continent, country, tribe, ‘hood, gender, sexual orientation etc., that we can demonize, dehumanize, disrespect, define and declare who belongs to our community and who does not. We need to do away with egotistical and self-righteous declarations that those who do not think, believe or live like us… are not with us… they are against us. We need to do away with intellectual tribalism… which like Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone and most recently Kenya… leads only to our communal genocide. The only requirement is that one is sincerely working for the benefit and advancement of people of African descent, whether in the local, national, international and/or virtual arena.

I am not so naive to believe that all people of African descent will agree, get along with each other or come together for the greater good of the community. It won’t happen! I am resigned to the fact that it will never happen! Selfishness and self-centered interests are chief among the reasons which makes this impossible. I have already seen it within the Afrosphere and Afrospear, how differences in beliefs and opinions, as well as self-interests, have caused very smart and committed Black people to refuse and/or decide that they cannot… will not… work with other very smart and committed Black people.

However… this does not prevent me (and others) from working to create a “new deal” among us. To be a part of, connected to and add our collective voice to the variety of other Afrocentric/Black individuals, cells, conglomerations and collectives out in the AfroSphere. I am indeed hopeful because I have also seen the potential and practice of the power of the “New Media” in the past successes of the Afrosphere surrounding the issues of the Jena 6, Kenneth Foster and Shaquanda Cotton. Furthermore. I have foreseen the potential power of the Afrosphere spurring the future successes that are to come, regarding issues such as BET, Dunbar Village, Darfur and even the election a person of African descent as the President of the United States of America.        

 

Here are some of the jewels from Africa that has enriched my life:

My favourite online African magazine, The African Executive. Here are 2 of this month’s articles that may be of interest:   

Tribalism in Africa: A Western Creation? 

Is Democracy Working in Africa? 

Blogs:

Africa Beat: political and economic development by an Afro-optimist;

Blog Africa: wide variety of African blogs; 

Le Pangolin: French blogger from Senegal;

Ore’s Notes: Nigerian woman living in Lagos;

Poefrika: a weblog of creative African-inspired writing; 

What an African Woman Thinks: one of my favourites. This blogger in Kenya really personalizes the fears and aspirations of those who are currently experiencing the events in that country. A must read!

Books:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Why Are We So Blest both by Ayi Kwei Armah

Weep Not, Child by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

God’s Bit’s of Wood by Sembene Ousmane

Death and the King’s Horsemen; Madmen and Specialists. Both are by Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka

Long Walk To Freedom. The autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon

Civilization and Barbarism by Cheikh Anta Diop

West Africa Traditional Religion by T.N.O. Quarcoopome  

Music:

Femi Kuti: Nigerian Afrobeat and Jazz artist.

Angelique Kidjo: Beninese singer and songwriter who performs a variety of afrostyles.

Salif Keita: Albino Malian singer and songwriter with a sweet voice that fits well with his buoyant beats. 

Youssou N’Dour: Senegalese musician who is a modern day Griot.

Miriam Makeba: South African singer, actress, anti-Apartheid activist who was at one time married to Stokley Carmichael.

Hugh Masekela: South Africa Jazz composer and musician, known for his skillz on the trumpet.

Interactive

A Day in the Life of Africa: On February 28th 2002, 100 photojournalists captured the essense of Africa in a 24 hour period. Enter the Gallery at this site and click on each of the 10 Timezones to enjoy some of the magnificent photos.This effort was to raise funds and awareness of the AIDS-HIV crisis on the continent. A photo book is available for sale with proceeds going to Africa AIDS Education Fund.      

 

I wanted to do this post last week but I was just too busy with doing “da life thang” to blog. I was inspired to get it done after reading this post by brotherpeacemaker: The “N” Word.

The Queen-Mother informed me of a news story she saw that in the southern U.S., they are using the term “Canadian” as a code word to refer to Black people. It replaces the publicly unacceptable term “nigger”. Huh!? Apparently in 2003, after a prosecutor in Houston, Texas got a double manslaughter conviction, his boss sent out a congratulatory email to the whole office, commenting that the conviction and stiff sentence was secured although the jury had some “Canadians” who were feeling sorry for the defendant. There were no people from Canada on the jury but there were some African Americans. There was also a story of a Black store clerk who kept overhearing patrons complaining that they were always being served by the “Canadian”. She didn’t know who they were talking about and finally asked a co-worker, who was this “Canadian” she kept hearing about? She was enlightened that it was her and it was a new code word for “nigger”. But why the term: “Canadian”… because Canadians aren’t Americans… they’re “outsiders!” See news story here.   

I have also been made aware that another code word for us Black people is “Mondays”. Why “Mondays”? Because people usually don’t like Mondays! I was mistaken to believe this was just an American phenomenon. I was telling a friend who lives in Toronto, Canada about this and she told me of an incident she recently had on the subway. She was standing and holding on to a pole on the train with 4 other white people who knew each other, when one of the guys started talking about “Mondays”. She didn’t know what he was referring to, but she thought it was strange because it wasn’t a Monday. She stated that one of the white women with them gave her a “look” and she felt strange, so she moved.  She later came to realize they were referring to her.    

WOW! It makes me wonder what other new age references and/or derogatory terms they have for “us”? Ignorance is never bliss! 

“Tell me why I don’t like Mondays…. I want to shoot the whole day down.” The Boomtown Rats.   

 

As I have been following the current news events out of Africa, it is disturbing to see all the images of chaos, death, disease, greed, genocide and corruption. Is that all there is or is that only what is being fed to us? I have always believed that western society’s (and the global) view of those of African descent starts, is influenced and perpetuated by these negative media images from the Motherland. I also believe that these images have an effect on how “we” see ourselves here in the Diaspora.

Africa is indeed resource rich. However, despite the dismal news reports and negative images, Africa has much more to offer the world other than it’s material resources, that is being raped and stolen for the benefit of former neocolonial regimes and to enrich their propped up African overseers! One of the resources we don’t utilize enough as people of African descent, are the many voices that are available to be “mined” for our benefit. There are cultural, political, econimic, artistic, literary and spiritual gems of experiences, knowledge, beliefs, values, insights and opinions, which are available to help bring clarity and strength to our being. The continent is rich in books, films, magazines, music, websites and blogs, etc., which are the invaluable jewels that their best and brightest have to offer the world.  

For this month’s carnival, let’s share and exchange some of the priceless resources from the Motherland that have enriched and brought joy to our lives. Create a post on your page with African based web links, as well as book, music, magazine, movie and blog lists, etc., and submit a link to Afrospear@hotmail.com by this Sunday 10th February. I will compile the links and publish the carnival on Monday the 11th. 

“We knew that image would grab attention, but I didn’t anticipate the enormity of it,” Dave Seanor, vice president and editor of the weekly magazine, said from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. “There’s been a huge, negative reaction,” he said. “I’ve gotten so many e-mails. It’s a little overwhelming.”

Read article here.

Nick Faldo: To take Tiger on, well, yeah, maybe they should just gang up for a while until… 

Kelly Tilghman: Lynch him in the back alley

Nick Faldo: Yeah… that

(laughter)

A long time ago I made the conscious decision to not waste my time trying to explain the dynamics and effects of modern day racism (I actually prefer the term “white supremacy” and/or “eurocentric superiority ideology”) to White people. I realized I was engaged in a losing battle as it became clear that I was in a continual struggle to legitimize what I knew, observed and lived. Especially when it came to explaining and exposing the subtleties of racism to White liberals (and the “Yuppie” socialists), who are the primary perpetrators (and benefactors) of this pernicious type of behaviour.   

So I no longer wanted to be their teacher or sensei. How can a white person understand the messages (and effects) we receive from the looks, stares or avoidance of eye contact, the inflection in a voice, the faux smiles, the dishonest handshakes, the attitudes, the slights, “the slings and arrows”… which we daily experience in North America. I say “North America”, because it happens here in Canada also. Racism in Canada is not as overt as it is in the USA. It is much more systemic, covert and polite… therefore harder to identify. I know for a fact that there are White people here, who would argue to the death that there is no racism in Canada. I know this for sure because in the past, I used to have these arguments many times. 

It was an exercise in futility and frustration to attempt to educate them, by sharing my observations and personal experiences, to the fact that there are “consequences” from white society, when a Black person achieves a certain amount of success in their professional and personal life. Especially if you are proficient at beating them at their own “game”, refuse to be a “Tom or Jemima”, and demand respect as a human being. These consequences are automatically triggered. I call it the “click-whirl” phenomenon: the required stimulus is received, then “click-whirl”… the machine is started.

I am currently engaged in such a battle at work (see here). I had challenge the status quo. I demanded that those responsible, answer for their actions (well in this case, it was more “lack of action”). I had the audacity to hope that I would be treated fairly and with respect. I literally heard the “click-whirl”. Now I am a marked man. I can see it in their eyes. I can hear it in their voice. I have been identified as an “uppity negro”. I have to watch my back. I have to make sure that my “game” is tight. It’s their game… but I have learnt how to play it with some success… to my advantage (so far) and therefore detriment. 

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I find reading the discussions of Obama here and over at thefreeslave quite amusing. Since his win in Iowa (and he is predicted to win today in New Hampshire), and surge in the polls, there is a renewed (or maybe it just more focussed and serious) debate of whether his nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate or even win of the Presidency would be advantageous for African-Americans. As an outsider here in Canada looking through the window of America, this is my take on some of the issues in the discussions surrounding Obama, voting and “Revolution American Style”. 

In general, I have always been amazed of how much African-Americans have primarily thrown all their eggs into the basket of the Democratic Party. I shake my head at the emotionally charged and irrational polarization between Blacks who support the Democratic and Republican Party, signified by the back and forth name-calling which I have observed, which has only benefited the “divide and conquer” strategy of the dominant society well. Even within the Afrosphere, I have seen Black bloggers, some of our brightest and best, who self-label themselves as “progressives”, quit working coalitions with other Black bloggers, because they didn’t want to be associated with those who identify themselves as Republicans! Ridiculous and shameful! 

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Ecclesiastes 3: 1-14

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

 

 

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

People,

African-Americans are at a critical point in time. They need to address conditions and circumstances that are preventing them from existing as a free and independent people. In order for them to do this there are many factors they should prepare to embrace. The first one is God and spirituality which will inspire them to want to atone, unite and organize to address conditions in society and this onslaught of racial attacks. The second is numbers. Blacks need to show a force of millions of their people preparing to fight for freedom, justice and equality. That is why the Black Church and the Five Phase Plan will play a crucial role in this movement for respect and reparations.

1. When African-Americans decide to engage in this effort, they will realize they should go through a process to solve differences among their people and prepare to carry on these actions until they receive justice in the form of reparations. They need to atone to make themselves better people in their own eyes and commit to organizing with the purpose of addressing racism, disparities and inequities, and demanding respect and reparations.

2. Blacks should realize that it is of the ut-most importance for them to identify themselves as they see fit. They should not continue to let others name them and dictate their destination. Blacks should know that they can name themselves according to their land of origin, culture and existence. African-Americans should know different terms that have been put forth to identify them, such as Afro Descendents of Slaves, Descendents of Black African Slaves, Indigenous African-Americans, Moors and African Spiritual Beings, among other names. We should learn what it would mean for us to claim an identity for ourselves and move accordingly. This would be a signal to the world that we are claiming our independence. We should not continue to identify ourselves as others see fit.

All groups who claim blacks should call themselves one of these names have good reasons. But there is one name that will give African-Americans a right to land and all forms of reparative measures to recover their heritage, relieve themselves of the mental anguish they suffer from due to 500 years of extreme prejudice or (PTSS) and build cities complete with an infrastructure. Blacks can undergo this task by holding a Plebiscite for Sovereignty, which is a national vote among black folks in America.

3. Blacks need to form a Reparations Union to create a power base to carry out a massive campaign for reparations. It would enable them to address the rise in racial attacks in a strong, united and ever lasting group effort. Instead of the usual manner in which a few folks who normally show up call on thousands to conduct one day protest. It would direct them to put pressure on the government and big corporations that will stimulate real and lasting change. It would enable them to carry out national boycotts, marches and protest that would last for weeks and months and years if necessary, to force policy makers and institutions in this country to respect them. And most important of all, the formation of this union would get others to think twice before they violate African-Americans and their constitutional and civil rights because they would know the union will fight hard to make them accountable for their actions. This would strengthen the Plebiscite and the black condition in America.

4. Blacks need to form a constituency among themselves to label and suggest solutions to solve crimes of slavery, segregation and discrimination, that have a lasting impact. This would be a Reparations Tribunal where African-Americans would place their findings before the public to determine what remedies are most suitable to repair the damages done to their people.

5. Blacks should work with Whites, Jews and others who have enslaved and or exploited them in a Truth and Reconciliation Process to elaborate on findings of the Tribunal and to disclose all others areas where they have been damaged and victims of injustice. This would signal the bearing of human beings to make up for past atrocities and to facilitate a healing between blacks and those who have caused them great pain and suffering. This is the way to bring justice to Black people and reconnect the different races in America in the spirit of God as various peoples with an understanding and degree of tolerance and respect for one another.

In memory of our ancestors,

Brotha Pruitt
Reparations Leader and Chairman
Committee for African American Reparations (CAAR)
Reparations Union Lobbying Association (RULA)

http://hometown.aol.com/blk2day/myhomepage/index.html

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