Life


Happy New Year and All Many Blessings for 2009!

I am not one to make new year resolutions, but at least twice a year I take time to assess where I’m at in my life spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically, then make whatever adjustments I feel I need to make in my ongoing progression as a human being. At the beginning of a new year is one of the times I do this self-evaluation and then around the beginning of the summer, which coincides with my birthday.

I have been contemplating for the last couple months to change my focus from blogging on socio-political topics to more socio-religious subjects. I have a desire to spend more time exploring and developing in greater depth the religious/spiritual part of my life. Therefore, I have created a new blog page called “Parables of Babylon” to embark on this journey. I will now be doing most of my blogging there and will no longer be blogging here. 

You are all welcome to join me on my new endeavor… over at my new spot and share in positive, constructive discussions and debates.

God Bless!

Brotherpeacemaker dropped an interesting post on President-elect Obama’s overtures to his former political foes entitled: “Forgiveness In The New Age Of Political Bipartisanship”.

His thought-provoking article inspired this comment from me:

Interesting post.

There is no surprise on my part on the current policy positions and appointments of President-elect Obama. “There is none so blind as he who will not see”… and during Obama’s 2 year presidential campaign, most people… especially African-Americans… turned a “blind eye” and a “deaf ear” to whom President-elect Obama was truly courting and speaking to in his bid to become President. He spoke loudly and clearly to the political and economic establishment to reassure them that they had nothing to fear from him, regardless of all his beating the empty rhetorical drum about being a “candidate of change”. He made certain that they understood that he would be their “man friday” if elected to the White House and would do everything in his power to protect their interests (as we saw in his support for the bailout of the financial institutions and his current support of a bailout for the auto industry). I give him a lot of credit as a politicain… the “old school” political establishment, especially the Clintons… under-estimated his political savy, skills and strategy during the campaign. Once he won the demoncratic nomination though, there was no doubt that it was all over for the McCain and the republicans.

From his first appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, which wasn’t really a surprise if you ever listened/read his policy positions, it confirmed that he was going to rule from “right” of the political centre. So it is really no surprise that he has appointed former Clintonistas… centrists and right of centre policy honks to his cabinet and inner circle of advisers. There is no doubt about their qualifications (and more importantly, their commitment) to substantively maintain the current status quo.

So Obamas overtures to Clinton, whom he had refered to as “Bush-light” during the democratic campaign; McCain, whom he had warned if elected would represent a third term of Bush policies; and Joe Lieberman, the most right wing Democratic in the party, can be understood as not all that surprising if seen in the same vein. They all play and compete in the same sandbox like school children… so at the end of the day, regardless of what is done and/or said among them… all is forgiven and forgotten…. everyone shakes hands and are friends again the next day.

Except in the case of Rev. Wright. He refused to play “nice” in the sandbox with the others. He refused to jump on the train and get swept away on the “magical mystery tour”. He refused to sell his soul for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver and betray the truth. He refused to play by the rules of the sandbox… like Clinton, McCain, Lieberman, Obama and even Bush… so for Rev Wright there is no forgiveness in Obama’s new age of political enlightenment. In Obama’s world, Rev Wright is the “greatest political devil”.

There are excellent and insightful articles over at Black Agenda Report about the inner workings Obama and the political establishment for those interested in devlving a little deeper… or just being exposed to another point of view.

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.

(more…)

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.        

 VS 

Recently I have been contemplating if the church has any real significant and positive influence on the world today, especially in the beliefs and actions of western society in particular. There was a time when Christian ideology, through the church was very influential (good and bad) in shaping political, social, cultural and even personal beliefs and viewpoints. I would argued that today this influence is not as great as it was say… even 30 years ago.

I read an analytical report on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website which somewhat dealt with this issue, from an interesting point of reference. This article entitled: “Science in America: Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes”, discussed the findings of a survey which concluded that “when scientific evidence and long-held religious beliefs come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science.” 

According to the authours of the report, American society has a unique dichotomy in that on one hand, it is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies, while on the other hand, it’s leadership in scientific research and application has been instrumental in making it a powerful nation. This has… not surprisingly… created some conflict between faith and science on societal beliefs, particularly on controversial issues such as evolution, homosexuality and global warming. The report primarily looked at the influence of religion and science on these three topics in American society.

The report contended that a close reading of the survey shows that large majorities of the American public respect science and scientists, but where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, “many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.” However, surprisingly today such areas of explicit differences are not common. 

It was interesting to compare the beliefs of Black and White Christians (specifically Evangelicals) on the above three issues, as well as secularists, Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, college and high school graduates. The results were not as straightforward and/or obvious as one would be expect. There are definite mixtures and combinations of scientific and religious influences which run through even strong held beliefs and opinions.

The report does not necessarily answer my original question on whether the church, Christianity and religion in general is a positive driving force on western society, but it does offer some insight on what motivates beliefs and therefore actions… which can have obvious implications in areas such as the formulation of government statutes and public policies. 

Don’t ask: “Why does God allow this to happen?”

Pray: “God… give me the wisdom and strength to do what I must to stop this from happening?”  

 

I recently watched 2 classic movie’s… one that I had never seen before, A Gentleman’s Agreement and one of my all time favourites, Do The Right Thing. Both deal with the subject of racism, but in certainly different ways. They were both ground breaking and hard hitting films which deals with issues surrounding the practice and effects of discrimination and prejudice, and what is striking is that they were made 42 years apart.  

A Gentleman’s Agreement was made in 1947 and directed by Elia Kazan. It’s the story of a writer at a “progressive” New York based magazine who decides to pass himself off as Jewish, so as to do an article on anti-Semitism in America. He experiences not only the blatant effects of racism, such as being denied jobs and access to public accommodations, as well as his son being verbally attacked, but he comes to discovers the more subtle forms of racism such as the telling of jokes and the discomfort of his presence in certain social circles. The film also explores the issues of self-hate behaviours and attitudes to how supposedly “good” people can and do contribute to the perpetuation of racism in small ways in their everyday lives.

The title of the film is to signify the “gentleman’s agreement”, which his fiancée informs him is “understood” among home owners in her upscale neighbourhood, that they won’t sell to Jews. I must say I was surprised that such a film was made in 1947, which tackled such complex issues in such a real way. It went on to win numerous awards including 3 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress.

I consider Do The Right Thing a masterpiece. From the opening dance sequence to Public Enemy’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” by Rosie Perez during the opening credits… to the trash can through the window… to the last scene where Mookie get’s paid by Sal, this film takes one on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. The multitude of characters with distinct personalities and motivations, “colours” the dynamics of this film in such a way I have never seen repeated.

I hadn’t watched this film in years but I am still blown away by the way Spike Lee delves into the issues of blatant and subtle effects of racism; the valuing of white property over the lives of the Black community in general and the life of a Black man in particular; economic self reliance; self-hate and self-respect; personal and community responsibility; the reasoning and consequence of protest; family loyalties and cross cultural allegiances; the significance of the polar messages of Malcolm and Martin which permeate through the film; etc…. I could go on and on. This is the type of movie where you can get something different (and more) out of it, every time you watch it. Released in 1989, it also won a number of awards but garnered only 2 Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.

Both films are very different in their approach and style in how they deal with a similar topic with complex issues. Both are worth seeing or seeing again.

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