Orlando: A Moment of Loudness

We bow our heads in a moment of silence,
Bowed to remember those murdered,
Bowed to reflect on the human carnage, the horror, the unspeakable terror

Sandy Hook: moment of silence
Emanuel AME: moment of silence
Aurora, Virginia Tech, the Sikh Temple, San Bernardino: a moment of silence
We demand silence when what’s needed is loudness.

Loudness over the oppression, the learned aversion of the eyes, the easy rationalization, the racism, the misogyny, the white supremacy, the Islamophobia, the homophobia, the amalgam of ancient prejudices cleverly concealed for prime time consumption between commercial breaks.

A moment of silence? Silence amidst the deafening sounds of shotgun shells, handgun blasts, shrieking parents, and broken lives.

Silence accumulating like mold within the expanding shadow of propaganda, warlords, acceptable gangsterism, and scatterings of war paraphernalia.

Out of respect we solemnly bow our heads in a moment of silence.
But does this silence inspire memory or feed our forgetfulness?

49 dead, 53 wounded.
A familiar tragedy with new characters.
And now the shadow has expanded to the Sunshine State™.
How will we respond?
Another moment of silence?

 

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Become M.A.D.E. It’s A Lifestyle: How to Live a Good Life by Building Great Relationships

MADE ReviewAmong the many genres of literature that are available for public consumption perhaps the least appealing is the so-called “self-help” book. Often they adopt formulaic approaches to life’s most pressing challenges leaving readers completely unsatisfied and their innermost questions unanswered. Yet sometimes books appear in print that are written for the explicit purpose of edifying others and they manage to light a spark, not necessarily from the artistry of the written word alone but through the authenticity of the experiences reflected upon by the author. Eldredge E. Washington’s Become M.A.D.E. It’s a Lifestyle: How to Live a Good Life by Building Great Relationships delivers in this respect, which makes it an excellent primer for youth of any background seeking purpose or direction in a world where the costs of inaction are steadily rising. A self-described “hard-headed kid, who thought he was a thug because his pants were three sizes too big,” Washington takes the reader on a journey through his life as a Monroe native who moved to the heart of Atlanta and became infected by the hustling spirit that permeates the city. As he phrased it, “areas like Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead help me to stay on track and work hard … being around people who look like they are doing something productive makes me more productive.”

The theme of managing one’s environment is dominant throughout Become M.A.D.E. Barely beneath the surface in each chapter is a constant tug of war between the author’s efforts to remain psychologically centered and true to himself and ensuring that the people he surrounds himself with facilitate rather than impede this process of self-discovery. Consequently, Become M.A.D.E. acquires a dual function as part autobiographical snapshot and part Socratic dialogue. Several dialogues are taking place: between the author and his environment, the author and his family, and perhaps most significantly from a pedagogical perspective, the author and the reader.

Each chapter is framed by a series of questions, designed to stimulate introspection and a weighing of one’s priorities. Do you feel you need to create new relationships with people who support your dream? What do you normally do for fun with your friends? Name one mentor you feel you should model? Explain.

These queries serve as handy interludes which allow the reader to insert themselves as interlocutors in the conversation of self-development. Here we see another theme rise to the fore: the centrality of family and community as the foundation for one’s personal and professional development. Defying the capitalist myth of the “self-made man”, Eldredge overflows with appreciation when it comes to acknowledging the pivotal role that his parents, his sisters, and even some of his earliest employers played in helping him to achieve the level of success he has reached.

When his parents had to leave Georgia for a job opportunity Eldredge was tasked with the responsibility to exercise guardianship over his two younger sisters Winnie and Victoria. “In my head, I was their new daddy and in their head, I was the overprotective big brother who kept getting on their nerves,” he observed reflecting on the enormity of the challenge before him. Far from a choice, Washington embraced tasks of this kind as obligatory. Speaking on mentoring younger siblings he writes, “this relationship is sometimes overlooked … but the truth is that person is watching your every move and you are their mentor.” In fact, a careful reader may notice that Eldredge navigates roles from a mentor (with regard to being a guardian to his two younger sisters), to “peer” as it relates to the competitive relationship with his older sister Paula, to an “apprentice” (the third form of relationship) under his older brother Nick of who he admiringly writes, “where he went, I went; what he wore, I wore,” and eldest sister Shardia who “showed him that practice does make perfect and hard work will pay off in the end.” Indeed, a rich psychological portrait of the human self and its many permutations within the family unit is provided within these pages. Parts of it come off as a contemporary Anton Chekhov play.
huey o newtonIn this regard, Eldredge resonates in the text as the archetypal dreamer who through a variety of human experiences becomes a revolutionary. Again, this component of the book could be more keenly perceived in the context of the author’s full story which is given partial, though in-depth, treatment here. Nonetheless, subtle indications of this revolutionary mindset appear near the end of the text where he memorably intones, “Your name is the only thing you will have when it’s all said and done, so make it stand for something when people mention you.” Such appeals to legacy building is a trademark feature in the writings of all revolutionaries whether it be Thomas Paine who wrote “We have the power to begin the world over again,” in his radical 18th century pamphlet Common Sense, Malcolm X’s prescient closing remarks in his autobiography that he had “cherished [his] ‘demagogue’ role,” under the knowledge that “societies have often killed the people who have helped to change these societies,” or Marcus Garvey’s fiery proclamation that “If I die in Atlanta my work shall then only begin, but I shall live, in the physical or spiritual to see the day of Africa’s glory.”

Apart from the situation within his own family, it’s obvious by the end of the book that Eldredge has internalized this ethic of guardianship, an ethic he had to adopt at an unusually young age, and expanded it as a social doctrine to be implemented in our everyday lives and throughout the world. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be the best example I can think of when it comes to starting a M.A.D.E. Generation. He discovered his purpose in life and he realized where he could help his generation.” The radical possibilities latent in this message cannot be overstated.

We currently live in a period where many of the civilizational traumas and evils that Dr. King faced loom large over any attempt toward self-determination or collective progress. #BlackLivesMatter has risen as the clarion call of a generation of youth discontent with the status quo and fully prepared to sever the generational chains that have bound them to lives of despair for far too long (the recent protest and removal of Mizzou University President Wolfe is a clear example of this). These cultural and political waves can only be sustained if we uplift and celebrate those who are not only willing to critically analyze the concentration of forces arrayed against the oppressed but leverage that analysis to constructively engage and undermine existing powers (if necessary to the point of collapse). However clearly it’s conveyed in the pages of his book, there can be no doubt that Eldredge Washington is among this number in the overlooked streets and alley ways of empire and for this reason Become M.A.D.E. is an essential read. A practical tool for liberation in the hands of Black youth and a valuable historical document for those who come after.

No Laughing Matter: Stand up Comedy or Social Commentary?

“You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.”

                                     –Aristophanes

I can vividly remember the first time I witnessed the art form that we call stand up comedy. Apart from the domineering presence of the comedian, the boisterousness of the crowd, the insults of the hecklers, and the circular light chasing the funny man back and forth across the stage, I could remember thinking how utterly absurd a profession it was. “You mean to tell me that we are so depraved as a people that we would pay an individual to make us laugh? We are so depraved that we would shell out our hard earned money for something as natural as happiness?” Despite this initial bewilderment, I could not help but absorb the overwhelming aura of solidarity, the unusual spirit of togetherness and the mutual jubilation of the people. I cannot recall any other occasion where individuals from so many different walks of life would converge, without qualms, without complaint, and without prejudice. Unfolding before my young eyes was an emphatic rejection of the notion that suffering was the only phenomena that could unite the interests human beings under one umbrella. To the contrary, joy was just as significant an impetus. Nay! At that moment it appeared to be more significant than the misery and despair that had united our species so many times before.

But unlike the suffering that united people from our primordial beginnings, a suffering which created a need for solidarity for the sole purpose of the preservation of our biological existence, the joy that united the people on that night had no clear-cut objective. In fact, the feeble mind of my youth was unable to conjure up any objective at all! What was it about this mysterious art that attracted the Christian and the atheist, the black and the white, the young and the old, the rich and the poor? Was it simply a way to sublimate the anxieties that come with the lot of the modern man, a mere catharsis of sorts? Or was it something much more profound? Was the audience’s reverence for the “funny man” reverence which sprang from the notion that his humor gave insight into that absurdity which descends upon each and every one of us with relentless haste? Did the punch lines and drum shots reveal that inner contradiction between the audience’s deepest desires and their recognition of brutal necessity? Did the comedy of the comedian mirror the philosophy of the philosopher and in effect satisfy the philosophical mind? In other words, was the audience’s gravitation toward the comedian an expression of their love for humor or was it quite simply an expression of their love for unadulterated and unvarnished wisdom?

For quite some time I have been wrestling with this notion of comedy as a vehicle for social change. Strangely, I look up to all my favorite comedians not as the court jesters entertaining the king and company rather I view them as dissenters calling into question the splendor of the throne, modern-day Aristophaneses challenging the neo-Platonic edicts of the today’s structures of power. When I listen to stand up comedy I don’t hear the condescending chuckles of serious men who are slightly amused by the buffoonery of talented men. I hear the uproarious and bellowing laughter of thousands upon thousands of people as Richard Pryor dissects the “blackness” of the African American experience, as Lenny Bruce unearths the skeletons of our first amendment, as George Carlin questions the validity of these amendments, while Bill Cosby reconstructs the image that America thought they knew so well, and Redd Foxx commands all the confusion and squabbles of the day to go to a raunchy, x-rated, sex-drenched hell. These are the things which I hear when the funny man anoints the stage. In my opinion, the comedian is more than the instrument of our laughter. When instilled with the critical thought that enables one to question the ideology of his or her day the comedian is, as much as the politician, a legitimate instrument of change.

From the trials of Lenny Bruce to the gut busters of Chris Rock, comedians have stood out as one of the most marginalized groups of social commentators in the American empire. In 1961 when Lenny Bruce shouted an expletive on stage in San Francisco, California the authorities slapped the cuffs on him and hurriedly hauled him off to prison. This questionable enforcement of law and order in the 20th century calls to mind a very poignant parallel in history, a parallel which will illuminate my thesis that the comedian, when at his or her best, is an indispensable unit in the system that we call democracy. Thousands of years ago, around 424 BC, the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes was persecuted at the hands of the Athenian demagogue Cleon. Aristophanes was charged with “slandering the Athenian polis” in one of his most renowned plays titled “The Babylonians“. This play, this work of art, was the prime motive for the arrest of Aristophanes. Not a violent crime or treason but a mere idea motivated authority to come down on him. What was the persecution of Lenny Bruce at the hands of the San Francisco police department but a repeat of the persecution of Aristophanes at the hands of Cleon? As Karl Marx so eloquently stated in his 18th Brumaire, “History repeats itself. First as tragedy then as farce.”

But this long tradition of comedy as a tool for raising the consciousness of people is not just a minor feature of our distant history. It is a vibrant and thriving medium of our immediate past and present. What reverence is due to the vicious screams of Bill Hicks for imploring an increasingly comsumerist culture, sinking into the fathomless depths of materialism, to “play from your heart”? What homage is due to Chris Rock’s searing distinction between “niggas and black people” that subverted the vicious stereotypes that had burdened our nation for so long? What honor is due Dave Chappelle for his genius in crafting a black white supremacist named Clayton Bixby whose physical blindness is just as appalling and hilarious as his mental blindness? Like all white supremacists, Mr. Bixby was ignorant to the fact that his humanity was no more refined and no purer than the humanity of those he so vehemently vowed to hate. What monuments are due George Carlin, that Irish-Catholic class clown whose cringe-inducing utterance of the “seven dirty words” gradually evolved into a thought provoking critique of the sacred ten commandments? That brash, whited-haired, cynic who inspired millions to reevaluate what they call language, a regular Wittgenstein of the comedic arts. Thirty years passed and the metamorphosis had reach its end. That Irish clown in the rear of the classroom, flatulating with the crook of his arm, had become the teacher and the new students took notes while clinging onto every line and memorizing every joke. These are the champions of change in my eyes, as strange as that may sound, but please excuse my eccentricity. After all, when dealing with subjects of this matter it’s always most appropriate to crack a smile, toss back your head, and laugh.