Of Violence and LO$$

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

As the Trump administration orders and sanctions attacking immigrant women and children with teargas at the US-Mexico border, let’s consider the long term effects, not just in terms of human physical and psychological suffering which will go on for the rest of these women and children’s lives, but what it can cost the United States. I offer you two smaller historic examples: Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

For the record, I am the granddaughter of an Atlanta Race Riot survivor. My maternal grandmother Lorena, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at Clark College when the Atlanta Race Riot broke out over roughly three days in 1906.  Georgia’s candidates for governor claimed that Black people, graduating from our numerous historically Black colleges, were going to take over and rule over White people in the city.  Of course there was also the usual rhetoric about Black men raping White women. So, on September 22, 1906 an angry mob of Whites began to attack Black people and Black businesses in Atlanta’s downtown area.  I won’t bore you with the details except to say that my grandmother and Black scholar, W. E. B. DuBois basically said the same thing: If White folks began the riot against Black people, it was Black people who ended it. Everybody who was Black bought or stole a gun.  By September 24 the riot was over. Black Atlantans did not just fight back, they shot back. My grandmother remembered the sounds of gunfire well into the night. Grandma roomed with a lady and her small daughter on Thirkield Avenue near where the original Clark College campus used to be, long before any colleges and universities in Atlanta had dormitories.  You can read more about the riot here: Atlanta Race Riot of 1906

As Atlanta’s population shrunk, due to deaths as well as from people who fled the city in the aftermath of the the riot, the City Fathers—always, always keeping an eye on business—vowed to never let anything like this happen again.  They weren’t playing.  They created interracial coalitions, successfully defended a Black man charged with the rape of a white woman who misidentified him as her assailant—and he lived to tell about it!  From that point on, measures were taken not to make Black people socially equal, but to insure that the city didn’t descend into violence and chaos…Now, take Birmingham, Alabama.

In a nutshell, when Commissioner Bull Connor ordered Birmingham’s fire department to turn its hoses on innocent Black children and adolescents and ordered the police to unleash dogs against Black protestors, the whole world saw it unfold on television. Whatever steps Birmingham took to alter this image were minimal; and the city went from being the number one industrial city in the South to being abandoned by businesses that would not, could not operate in a city filled with violence and destruction.  Birmingham survived, but it never fully recovered nor regained the title of industrial giant. You can watch a couple of quick videos about this here: Bull Connor used fire hoses, police dogs on protestors (May 3, 1963) (videos)

So, what is my point. Because Trump ordered the US Military and Border Patrol to unleash tear gas on innocent immigrant women and children at the US-Mexico border, the entire nation suffers. In addition to these actions being immoral and inhumane and illegal, it also sets a precedent that will inevitably provide other nations the excuse to mistreat and mishandle US citizens once they set foot on foreign soil. It also tells major corporations that the United States is not safe to do business in.  If Trump supporters—and there are many of them—don’t give a rat’s ass about people of color, that’s their prerogative.  Their hatred is nothing new; and people of color have neither the time to pray for or worry about converting “the unconvertable” to anything resembling people with basic human decency.  These are not and never have been rational people. Yet, in addition to these immigration policies being heartless and cruel, these policies are really, really bad for business.

The white business people who court and bait white racists and xenophobes and sexists and misogynists of all colors and ethnicities, along with the white politicians who tell these white masses that their world is coming to an end—because people of color are ending it—have proven for centuries that Money is their God. In a week where General Motors announced its laying off 15,000 American workers while the company enjoys a Trump tax cut; in a week where Trump is attempting to build a wall at the US-Mexico border and doesn’t have any way of forcing Mexico to pay for it; in a week where Mueller’s Russia investigation seems to have Trump constantly spinning the news and tweeting endlessly, I hope the folks who follow/ed Trump, who are so easily duped every single time, I hope they can learn to live with less money.  They could, very soon, find out the true cost of hate—the only cost any of them ever understands.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Aretha: A Mini-Multi-Ethnic History Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved

Aretha is/was international and global and pro-Black and pro-people of color long before those phrases became buzz words. But you already know Aretha. She’s part of the soundtrack of my/your life. If you were paying attention, you know about her activism, her once offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail; and the hurt in her voice at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.  My Dad was there. When he got home he said, “This is the only time I’ve ever heard Aretha sound so destroyed.”  But let’s consider the setting at Atlantic Records that nurtured her after her dad, the Reverend C. L. Franklin decided that Aretha’s voice was as secular as it was sacred; that her piano-playing was as inventive as anyone out there. I always, always wanted Aretha to make an instrumental album of nothing but her on piano, but I digress…

Ahmet Ertegün, our brother from Turkey, along with Jerry Wexler, founded Atlantic Records with the mission to produce some of the best Rhythm and Blues and Soul music ever. They succeeded. Not long after they made Ray Charles a household name, they signed Aretha Franklin, who reigned as Queen on a record label that had no shortage of music luminaries: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Spinners, The Pointer Sisters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, The Bee Gees, and the list goes on.  The early days for Aretha consisted of recording sessions with musicians, the majority of whom were young white men from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that still does not have 15,000 residents. The Black brothers in the band grew up with Rhythm and Blues, but these white musicians took a turn toward the Blues and Soul Music and never, ever looked back. These cats backing Aretha produced some of the most poignant, memorable, timeless, and soulful music in the twentieth century.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Arif Mardin served as Aretha’s principle producer for over two decades at Atlantic Records. Mardin, another musical genius from Istanbul, Turkey impressed the hell out of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, so much so that after meeting these two Black American musical giants in 1956 after a State Department-sponsored concert, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. After Mardin graduated in 1961, he went to work for Atlantic Records. Aretha acknowledged him as the positive turning point in her career.  Together they churned out the hits all of us already know.  He produced that incredible gospel album “Amazing Grace” that everybody still talks about, and still plays.

So what is my point?  Well, the whole concept of globalization has always existed in music and the arts; and it, for damned sure existed with Aretha; and for people of color.  That multi-ethnic colored world that some white folks fear, the one that seems to be suddenly upon us has always been here.  You’ve been grooving to it, remember?  But know this: I don’t just know my people when I see them; I know them when and where I hear them. Marinate on that for a while. Rest in Paradise Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin.

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Good Day In Court

by Leslye Joy Allen

Recently I went to court on a routine traffic offense.  Last year, I pleaded “Not Guilty” to this offense and requested a trial.  There is/was no way in hell I was going to roll over for some cop sitting near a corner on a street where the Stop Sign was and remains completely obscured by an oak tree.  Well, after the City of Atlanta finally transferred my ticket to Fulton County Courts—for those of you who don’t know, most of our city is located in Fulton County, Georgia—I arrived on time and anticipated having a long stay.  Well, something different happened.  The Solicitor General of Fulton County, Keith E. Gammage walked in the courtroom.

Gammage told all of us that we were the first group to participate in a brand new program.  This was its first day.  He noted that many of our tickets could possibly be dismissed, and that the Solicitor General’s Office wanted to prosecute real criminals rather than tie up its time with cases involving minor offenses like “failing to yield.” Then the next thing he said floored me.  All offenses for everyone’s minor traffic violations would be reduced to a fine of $75 dollars rather than the $250 to $450 plus dollars that most of us expected to pay if found guilty. My fine, had I been required to pay it, would have been $265.  Gammage stood there and answered everyone’s questions about what plea they should enter to what did they have to do if they couldn’t pay that $75 on their day in court.  Everyone with this $75 fine would have a full 30 days to pay it.

While seated in court and waiting for my name to be called, I made small talk with a Spelman College alum who was also a teacher.  I told her about my dissertation research; and when I discovered that she was a Kindergarten teacher, the conversation shifted to my late Mama (also a kindergarten teacher) and we laughed about some of the crazy things that five-year-olds can do and say.  I mentioned to her that I voted for Keith E. Gammage for Solicitor General after attending a conference devoted to the late Sandra Bland, who tragically died in jail for failing to put her blinker on.  Bland was ordered out of her car by a cop that resented her asking him why she had to put her cigarette out.  My brilliant performance artist-writer-educator-poet-actor-activist-sister/daughter Talitha Anyabwelé organized a “Sandy’s Day” program in her honor.  A young Black woman on Anyabwelé’s panel of speakers named Anana Harris Parris brought up Keith E. Gammage’s name as someone who wanted to help straighten out our criminal justice system.  This same young woman, who worked for a law firm, recalled in vivid and horrid detail how she had been stopped by police one night right in front of her parents’ home when she was a college student. Ms. Anana Harris Parris was physically searched and had her breasts groped by a male police officer right in front of her home.  So when Anana Harris Parris brought up the name Keith E. Gammage as a young Black man trying to do the right thing, I remembered his name…So

as I sat in court, Mr. Gammage looked in my direction, walked over to me and said, “Didn’t I meet you before?”  I honestly don’t know why or how he remembered me.  I told him we did meet over a year ago at a coffee shop in our neighborhood when he was out campaigning to become the new Solicitor General of Fulton County.  We exchanged pleasantries and he handed me his business card.  He resumed wallking around the courtroom.  I turned back to talk with my Spelman sister and told her that I thought he was an impressive young Black brother trying to do the right thing.  She confessed that she was worried about being in court all day.  I totally understood her point of view. When you plead “not guilty” or don’t just pay the fine, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County drags the process out.  Just as she was beginning to worry about having to go out to put money in the parking meter, Keith E. Gammage pulled her aside to speak with her.  When she came back to where I was seated she said that he found out she was a school teacher and since her offense was so minor it was dismissed.  “After all,” he said, “Your money is best spent on the things you need to teach our kids.”  Everyone in that courtroom had only $75 to pay (well below the $250 to $450+ original fines) within 30 days or no fine to pay at all; and for a change being an educator was treated with the respect that it deserves.  Remember the name of Keith E. Gammage because this court date/my court date was one of the very few times it was pleasant.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Word About “A Wrinkle in Time”

 

By Leslye Joy Allen

This is a musing about the film A Wrinkle in Time directed by Ava DuVernay.  This is not exactly a review, but it is a set of thoughts that happened as I read the mixed reviews; and then watched the energy and wanderlust of children I saw in the movie theater watching the film.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, but A Wrinkle in Time is not the same rollercoaster that Black Panther is. These are two different films. Yet, it is ironic (and heartwarming) that Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, has designated Ava DuVernay his “Big Sister.”  Coogler wrote a beautiful public letter to her; and he also noted in an interview that Ava had to go through some mess that she won’t ever talk about publicly.  I know what Coogler—who I plan to adopt as my son if his parents will share him—meant when he said that Ava DuVernay had gone through some stuff…She is the first Black woman to helm a big budget film and she was adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book that has been in circulation since the early 1960s. And L’Engle herself had to suffer through 26 rejections from publishers and self-righteous Christians that disliked the fact that she aligned Jesus with the Buddha and other “saviors” in the same book.  So go figure?

Now with that said, let me tell you what I got from A Wrinkle in Time.  First, the hero (or heroine) of the story is a little Black girl named “Meg Murray” (played by the incredible Storm Reid).  Meg Murray is the adopted daughter of an interracial couple, both of whom are scientists.  The first thing you notice about her is that her father’s disappearance is weighing her down socially. Both she and her younger brother “Charles Wallace  Murray” (portrayed by the adorable Deric McCabe) are getting into trouble at school.  Meg wears glasses; the kids tease her; and her grades have slipped.  What also shines through is her love for her father and her occasional doubts about whether or not she will ever find him.  Eventually, she heads out with the help of “Mrs Which,” “Mrs Who,” and “Mrs Whatsit”**, with her little brother “Charles Wallace” and friend “Calvin” (played by Levi Z. Miller) along for the ride.

Before the film was over, I watched little girls and boys of all shades and ethnicities in the movie theater watch a little Black girl literally save the world.  WE have never had a Black girl be this kind of hero in a film.  I watched two little girls get up in the theater and dance their own little dance to Sade, who came out of semi-retirement to lend her musical gifts to this film. I watched a young 40-something Black father sit with his 11-year-old daughter; and I watched him glance at her like my own father did when he was watching to see if I was enjoying a movie.  I had my moments of nostalgia and I would be lying if I said you shouldn’t bring along a few tissues.  Yet, what the film delivers most is staunch warnings against uniformity, against not believing in yourself, and against making decisions solely based on fear.  Before it’s over you think about everything from those times when you were jealous, when you were mean to someone or when you underestimated others or yourself. It is, as one person wrote, “A love letter to children.” And in this moment it was a little Black girl that delivered it.

Now, a few reviewers got it right when they said that this film is a family movie where kids are the primary and central audience.  (A reviewer named Mark Hughes wrote an incredibly insightful review of A Wrinkle in Time for Forbes Magazine which honestly surprised me. He thought so much more about the intersections of race and gender than most white or black movie reviewers that I have ever read, so I read what he wrote twice.)  Children need their own space and their own entertainment.  In an increasingly ADULT-centric world of self-absorbed adults, it is mandatory.  But for me, the film meant so much more.

I haven’t been a little Black girl for a long time.  I’m now an AARP Black woman.  But like “Meg Murray,” I know what it means when your father believes in your intellectual abilities.  We still live in a male-dominated world; and with less than 7 percent of CEOs being female and only 14 percent of films in Hollywood directed by women and even fewer directed by women of color, the numbers reinforce this domination, which is why director Ryan Coogler’s support of Ava DuVernay and his acknowledgement of what he knows she and women go through matters tremendously.  WE don’t get this kind of support and acknowledgement too often.  And girls and women get judged all the time based on nothing more than their physical appearance.  In this film we see what that looks like and how it feels. Importantly, Black women and girls who are assertive, who give themselves permission to be righteously angry, and insist on their right to take charge of their lives are often called the typical “Angry Black Woman” or worse; they’re/we’re called “B*tches.”

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray’s alleged faults become what she uses to change the world she inhabits. Those faults become her strengths. The film, like few others, gives young females the right to have flaws like all other human beings. For a change, and for a couple of hours, little Black girls in particular, and girls in general are not forced into those tragic two-dimensional “either/or” boxes. Instead, it becomes okay, even if only in fantasy, to be exactly who one is rather than some stultifying version of what the world and society expects one to be.  That’s all I’m going to tell you except take a child with you to see this film. If you have forgotten what it feels like to be a kid, I am so very sorry for your tragic loss.  Kids have an uncanny way of seeing things clearly when the adults miss the lessons or avoid the lessons altogether.  That’s why I love children and hang around them every chance I get…Without them, I/we would be amoral and dumb as a box of rocks!

**Author Madeleine L’Engle insisted that the abbreviation “Mrs” have no period in her book A Wrinkle in Time.  That idiosyncracy has been respected in this blog.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Thought About Black Panther

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2018 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Royal Purple” by © Leslye Joy Allen

This is not a review of the film Black Panther.  This is a brief musing about what crossed my mind after I saw this film.  First, Black Panther is unapologetically “Black.” I use “Black” here to indicate that while the film is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, it also includes Africans of a variety of ethnicities, African Americans and a genuine nod to the entire African Diaspora most of whom are descendants of former slaves in the West.  I am a member of that African Diaspora. The film also gives a few cultural nods to the Ndebele, Yorùbá, Maasai, and Akan peoples on the African continent (thank you, actor-vocalist-friend Saycon Sengbloh for pointing this out first).  The film gets the multi-facted roles of African women so very right.  The film also has some serious messages unlike any messages you have ever heard in a Marvel Super Hero movie.  Don’t worry, if you have not seen it yet, I’m not going to ruin it for you.  All I can say is that it is an entertaining joy ride of a film that will make you think…really, really think.  With that said, here’s what I thought about immediately after I saw Black Panther.

Black Panther has stirred up a genuine sense of pride in Black Americans that we don’t get to feel with this much enthusiasm too often.  It has taken decades of hard work to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who have endured brutal chattel slavery, Jim Crow, systematic racism and discrimination, police brutality, you-name-it.  It has taken decades of hard work and scholarship to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who, for centuries, were told that Africa had no real history, no real contributions to civilization when all of what these descendants were told is/was/remains patently false.  However, it is dangerous to over-romanticize any history; to make any and every description of our African ancestors totally positive. Black Panther, in its own unique way through fiction, de-romanticizes history by showing us a multi-ethnic, multi-generational Wakanda with all the friction and righteous compromise and conflict such diversity can foster.  You leave the movie theater proud, but fully aware that Africans (and we African descendants) have tremendous gifts and flaws not because we are or ever have been inferior or superior, but rather because we are human.

I remember a lecture given by the late African scholar, Dr. Ali Mazrui back in 1996 where he stated that to deny Africans the ability to be wrong was also the same as denying them their humanity.  Dr. Mazrui was always controversial.  He said the only African-American activist that he had any real respect for was Randall Robinson, the founder of Trans-Africa. When asked why he only dug Robinson, Dr. Mazrui said, “Robinson not only raises his voice when Whites do something wrong to Africans, Robinson speaks out when Africans are doing something to wrong to other Africans.”  I’ve never forgotten that statement and what that statement truly means.

When you love your people, you praise them when they are right and you don’t make excuses for them when they are wrong.  You work to correct them.  You speak out against racism, colonialism, and the exploitation of your people no matter who the adversary is.  That lecture by Dr. Mazrui, and so many lectures given by visiting and former professors drove home that I could not afford to care as much about how Africans and African-descended peoples looked to the rest of the world more than I cared about how well or how poorly they/we all were doing.  If you love your people you don’t worry about what their image is and how it affects you as much as you worry about their well-being, period.  Black Panther shows just how difficult that can be, but it also shows that it can be gloriously done…

Now, if you don’t exactly understand this post, it is probably because you have not seen Black Panther yet.  It could also be because you know very little about the continent of Africa’s very complicated history.  However, my points will be clearer once you’ve opened a few books and taken the ride to Wakanda.  So, get to the movie theater.  You won’t be disappointed.  Wakanda Forever.

Copyright © 2018 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.