Ooh Kill ‘Em!: Black Male Mentoring and Fictive Kinship

I love the South.  I love country folks.  I love country Black folks from the South.  I have two of them for parents.  And if you have them southern roots (pronounced “ruhtz”) like I do, you probably have more “play cousins” than you can count.

“Play cousins?”

For those of you without it, I’ll give you some cultural capital in context.  Stick with me, because I’m about to engage in come circuitous storytelling:

I’ve been outside the country for the latter part of the last few months, so I missed a rack of happenings in American popular culture.  Amongst the movies, new songs, and references I noticed when I got back was this “Ooh kill em”, often used in hashtags.  A quick internet search had me landing on this gem:

 

 

First of all, if you’re not familiar, Vine is the latest phone app that allows you to overshare things in your life no one else wants to see.  Thankfully you can only film these “events” for six seconds at a time.  However, every once-in-awhile one of these videos is so funny/clever/bizarre/annoying that it deserves our six seconds of attention.  Or more.

Since posting their Vine videos, lil-dancin’ Terio and his co-signing cousin Maleek have become internet-famous, inspiring everything from NBA point guard copycats to hip hop diss records.

So what does all of this have to do with cultural capital, play cousins, and fictive kinship?  Maleek and Terio aren’t related by blood.

In this epic Complex interview (you gotta listen to the audio.  Nobody short-sells answers like a nervous six-year-old!), the following exchange occurs with Maleek, Terio’s 16-year-old cousin who provides the footage and the soundtrack for his dancing and hooping protégé:

Interviewer: And so, how’re you guys related?

MALEEK: That’s my lil’ cousin.

Interviewer: Is there like, a parent’s sister’s son or something?

MALEEK: Nah, we like…he like, stay next door to me

Translation: they play cousins.  (Not a grammatical error).

Brotha and Sistah vs Brother and Sister: Are y’all Really Related?

In academic-speak, this is an example of the formation of a fictive kinship, a relationship in which people who aren’t related by blood claim a familial bond.  These relationships occur between and within all races of people. African Americans in particular have a long-held desire to unify through shared experiences, largely due to a unique and sordid American history of having their cultural practices denied and ridiculed.  For example, during American enslavement, Black family structures were routinely destroyed by the trade of humans across the Atlantic and between colonists.  This African American practice of identifying each other as “brotha”, “sistah”, and yes, “play cousin” developed as a valuable way to ascertain who was “down”, as well as in creating extended functional families.  These ties were especially important when blood bonds between Black people had been broken. Today, Black Americans still use these fictive kinships in the same way.

 Black-on-Black Male Crime Mentorship

I don’t know what the day-to-day interactions between Maleek and Terio look like.  I do know from my own experiences with the teenaged “old-heads” in my neighborhood where I grew up in Ypsilanti – and with my older play cousins in North Carolina who I saw when I visited my parents’ homes – that these dudes were excellent part-time role models and informal mentors.  They were flawed no doubt (I’m thinking right now about the time when this old-head named Tim tried to tell how you had great sex with girls.  Looking back, there’s no way in hell he had learned anything for himself; that bullshit had to have come from sneaking into someone’s porn collection), but they were well-meaning and had nobly taken on a role passed down to them by older play cousins who had done the same for them.  To be clear, I’m not talking about some Big Brother, Big Sister-type of relationship where these dudes provided daily and guided interactions.  I’m talking about those times when me and the rest of the young bucks had our bikes in a circle talking about girls/bikes/cars/sports and a couple of the older dudes would roll up on their bikes and start schooling us.  Just from reading and hearing the interview, I could hear at least the same type of bond between Maleek and Terio.  Are they closer than that?  Maybe.  But I know play cousins when I hear them.

Ideally these two kids maintain a healthy relationship and Maleek becomes or remains an important mentor for Terio.  It doesn’t have to be some “wonderful story” where Maleek becomes the main influence in Terio’s life, deters him from joining a gang, pushes Terio to go from wannabe rapper to English professor, Terio writes a best-selling novel, and Tyler Perry directs the movie version of his life (starring a light-skinned dude, of course).  Maybe Maleek is just the fun “cousin” whose video-based encouragement plays a small part in helping Terio feel just that much better about himself.  That’d be a realistic and important outcome.  Hell, despite Tim’s ridiculous sex advice, he always told me how smart I was, and he taught me how to pop a wheelie.  It’s that type of mentorship that makes play cousins special.

This article originally appears on alineinthesand.com.

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. He is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington.  Maurice has been a mentor, old-head, and play cousin for a long time, but refuses to give bad sex advice.  Ooh kill ’em!

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2013

A School is Always Teaching: What Deborah Brown Community School Taught One Little Black Girl

tiana-parker-crying

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the news story about 7-year-old Tiana Parker. She’s a former student at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Deborah Brown Community School, whose father ultimately pulled her out after being repeatedly told by the school to change his daughter’s hairstyle. Tiana’s dreadlocked hair was in violation of the school’s dress code which clearly states, “Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” (see page 13).

That’s the basic story, but this goes so much deeper.
Continue reading “A School is Always Teaching: What Deborah Brown Community School Taught One Little Black Girl”

“I Hate Myself!”: What are Respectability Politics, and Why do Black People Subscribe to Them?

Sgt Waters
Adolph Caesar as Master Seargant Vernon Waters in the movie A Soldier’s Story

You may not be familiar with the term “respectability politics”, but you’ve heard them before.  Maybe you’ve even engaged in them.  Whether it’s Don Lemon’s recent rant, actor Romany Malco’s open letter to Trayvon Martin sympathizers following the George Zimmerman trial, Bill Cosby’s 2004 “Pound Cake speech” and even The Talk co-host Sheryl Underwood’s remarks about nappy hair, respectability politics remain an enormous part of our conversations about Black American culture.

So what exactly are respectability politics?  In short, they are an undefined yet understood set of ideas about how Black people should live positively and how we should define Black American culture.  Ironically, they’re usually a huge hindrance to both.

A Brief History Lesson

This whole idea of respectability politics began to solidify at the end of the 19th century, when a bold group of Black women from the Baptist Convention – a well-intentioned, church womenimportant, pro-Black, yet chauvinist, and patriarchal organization – broke off to form their own group: the Women’s Convention.  On the positive side, an essential part of their focus was to uplift the Black community, while perpetuating a sense of solidarity and philanthropy.  Unfortunately, in practice it involved a lot of patronizing behaviors towards “lower-class” Black people.  For instance, one of their major campaigns was to go into impoverished Black communities and hand out pamphlets that “taught” these po’ folks how to “behave” in public places, the value of chastity, and even how to properly bathe themselves.  Side note: if you’ve read that and don’t have a problem with those three things as important values, that’s understandable. Now, imagine someone comes to your front door regularly to remind you to do them…

These respectability politics gained popularity and organization nationwide, and solidified into a regular part of Black life.  For example, the Chicago Defender, one of the country’s most important Black media outlets, published the following list weekly as a reminder to its newly arrived Southern readers who came to Chicago during the Great Migration:

  • DON’T HANG OUT THE WINDOWS.
  • DON’T SIT AROUND IN THE YARD AND ON THE PORCH BAREFOOT AND UNKEMPT.
  • DON’T WEAR HANDKERCHIEFS ON YOUR HEAD.
  • DON’T USE VILE LANGUAGE IN PUBLIC PLACES.
  • DON’T ALLOW CHILDREN TO BEG ON THE STREETS.
  • DON’T APPEAR ON THE STREET WITH OLD DUST CAPS, DIRTY APRONS, AND RAGGED CLOTHES.
  • DON’T THROW GARBAGE IN THE BACKYARD OR ALLEY OR KEEP DIRTY FRONT YARDS.

Behold the Underlying Truth

Don’t the above admonishments sound familiar?  And note how every statement begins in the negative.  That’s because the primary premise in which respectability politics are grounded is that Black American culture – and Black Americans themselves – are broken and need to be fixed.  And “fixing” means improving the “Black underclass” that holds us back.  It reminds me of the movie A Soldier’s Story, and in particular, the character Sgt. Waters.  The scene below epitomizes what respectability politics cause the Black bourgeoisie to do to the Black “underclass”.

Super ObamaWaters has made it his personal mission to rid the army – and maybe the world (?) – of ignorant negritude, starting with CJ.  Apparently he thinks the work he’s doing will leave us with Negrus superioris, purifying the race and eliminating all traces of inferior Black folks.  Sergeant Waters, and those who think like him, are actually suffering though.  This later clip reveals that anguish and the secondary premise of respectability politics:

 

Wanna hear it again?  Go to 1:04 on the video.  The secondary, sinister premise of respectability politics is the belief that teaching Black people to meet White cultural standards is the way to improve Black culture.  From talking “proper”, to hair straightening, to skin bleaching, to more coded ideas like “acting White”, respectability politics teach us that the White man’s ice really is colder.  In a country that operates on the premise that Black people are inferior, respectability politics cause the sort of sentiment the utterly defeated Waters whimpers at the 1:04 mark.  He’s realized that after years of trying to get White people to see Black people as equals by teaching them “White culture”, he’s actually the broken one who needs to be fixed.

What’s an Alternative, Then?

In my critiques of the Civil Rights Movement, I’ve said that the focus on changing laws and changing peoples’ hearts overshadowed efforts to define and build Black American culture.  While all three are important, the lack of emphasis on that third aspect has left us today with respectability politics as a giant cultural hurdle.  Black American culture, like all cultures, is continuously being defined and redefined.  The next step then, is to Kwanzaa cardreplace striving to emulate a White American cultural construct (the concept of “White culture” as everything positive, wonderful, and goal-worthy) with striving toward a Black one.  Love it, hate it, or leave it, the Kwanzaa holiday is an excellent example of Black Americans deciding for themselves what Black American culture will be.  While it incorporates ideas from other cultures (as all cultural traditions do), it isn’t based upon turning Black American culture into someone else’s “superior” one.  And to be clear, whether or not we choose to identify with our African roots as we define Black American culture – though I’ve chosen an example that does – is nowhere near as important as the overall act of simply continuing to define Black American culture in general.  As long as we move purposefully away from respectability politics, we’ll continue to eliminate the self-hatred that hinders us from continuing to positively do so.

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. He is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington.  Maurice believes that the “geechie” is actually more important to Black American culture then Sgt. Waters.

(The original article appears on alineinthesand.com)

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2013

Gov. Bobby Jindal Wants to End Race? No Thanks.

Louisiana Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal

I used to believe people were confused about the meaning of words involving social justice.  I figured when someone referred to any discussions about race as “racist” he or she was simply misinformed.

Now, I know better.

Some people have redefined words like “racist” in order to avoid talking about race.  Others do so purposefully in order to maintain the power and privilege that come with being in a racial majority.  And you can actually find people who are members of racial minorities in both of these groups, even when it works against their own best interests.

Reading Piyush Jindal’s article on the end of race, I’m lead to believe the Governor’s over-simplified and out-of-date ideas about race and how it’s lived are simply a function of his naiveté, and not a conscious effort to maintain racial inequity.  Case in point, this quote:

“Under what logic would any intelligent, logical, or decent person give any thought to the pigmentation of a person’s epidermis? It’s nothing short of immoral, not to mention stupid…”

What about someone like me?  I like my skin color.  Does that make me “immoral” or “stupid” for doing so?  I like my brown skin, my thick lips, the texture of my hair (though it only grows on the bottom and front parts of my head at this point in my life), and the association of “being Black” that comes with those physical features.  I don’t like them because they make me feel superior to anyone who doesn’t share them; I like those things about myself, quite frankly, just because I like myself.

At the same time, I’ll purposefully avoid engaging in the same type of naiveté of which I’ve accused Governor Jindal, and make clear that I’m not pretending as if “race” is simply a set of “paint jobs” people have, which carry no further meanings or implications.  It’s why I mentioned the association of Blackness in the above list.  There are exceptionally clear and often vicious power dynamics at play when it comes to how we view race, and Blackness in particular.  Jindal’s view ignores both the idea of race as a lived circumstance with complex power relationships, and the idea that people can engage with race in ways that are positive.  There are many other ways to “live race” as well, but it is telling that the only one he addresses is racism.  That’s short-sighted.  But Jindals’s name itself may give us some insight into more nuanced ideas about race that could be floating around in his subconscious.

What’s in a Name?

College football All-American Jadeveon Clowney

Though he goes by “Bobby”, I’ve referred to Governor Jindal by his given name of Piyush.  Jindal got the name “Bobby” because of his identification with Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch, and has apparently been known as “Bobby” since the mid to late 70s.  I don’t have any reason to doubt the governor’s story.  At the same time, I can’t ignore the very common practice of choosing an American-sounding nickname by people whose given names don’t fit Western traditions, and the idea that “Bobby” is more electable in Louisiana than “Piyush”.  He sure didn’t choose “Devante” or “Jadeveon”, two names that are as American as you could possibly get (how many Devantes and Jadaveons on this planet do you think aren’t American?).  All jokes aside, being nicknamed “Bobby” has helped Americanize Governor Jindal in ways that move his perceived ethnicity away from Indian and toward European, with the racial implications of the shift being undeniable.  And while I do find Jindal’s views about race unsophisticated, I don’t believe for one minute that he doesn’t understand how “Bobby” trumps “Piyush” in our society’s racial hierarchy.  He’s a Rhodes Scholar.  He didn’t use it to his advantage by accident.

The Melting Pot: How You Too Can Become White

Where Jindal’s opinion piece takes a turn for the sinister is in his stated desire to return to the concept of American being a “melting pot”.  As far as antiquated ideas go, I thought the notion that destroying each individual American’s culture in order to create one undifferentiated new one had officially been thrown out.  For people like me who enjoy our cultural heritages, I have no desire to give it up, hide it, or watch it get erased.  There’s also the reality that the “default settings” for culture in the United States are White, male, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, and able-bodied and minded.  That is, when we don’t specifically address people’s cultural aspects, those become the assumed and prevailing ones.  So what happens to “race” in the melting pot analogy is, everyone gets to become “White”, and “non-White” becomes “the other”.  It’s why “Bobby” can be assumed to be culturally White and more electable, while “Piyush” is “not-White” and must therefore be melted away.

The Colorblind Society

In the sci-fi book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the whimsical technological inventions is a pair of “peril resistant sunglasses” called the Joo Janta 200.  At the first sign of danger, the sunglasses turn so dark, the wearer can no longer see through them.  Completely blinded from danger, the wearer no longer has to worry about it.  The social commentary of these glasses applies directly when it comes to Jindal’s desire to “end race in America”.  By ending any discussion or even acknowledgement of race, Jindal implies, we can eliminate racism.  What he and others who long for a “colorblind” society are really trying to end is the very real pain of honest and forthright discourse about race.  I know just how difficult that process is, and I actually welcome it.  I love race as a concept, I love my own racial characteristics, and I want a society in which those things can be embraced and celebrated, rather than erased and melted.  I’m Black.  And I like that about me.

This article orginally appears on alineinthesand.com 

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. Maurice is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington.  He’s also a Black dude.

Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2013

Insights Marketing presents the 19th Annual Daydream Weekend at Essence Music Festival 2013

ESSENCE2013_INSIGHTSLINEUP2

Keshia Walker & Insights Marketing
Present

19th Annual DAYDream Weekend of Events

New Orleans, LA

July 5 -7, 2013

Continue reading “Insights Marketing presents the 19th Annual Daydream Weekend at Essence Music Festival 2013”

You Can be “Like Mike.” I’d Rather be Like Jason.

Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, announces in a Sports Illustrated that he is gay
Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, announces in a Sports Illustrated that he is gay

Before yesterday, the reality was that there had never been a person in major American professional sports to discuss their being gay.  With the online release of Jason Collins’ forthcoming Sports Illustrated article, that shameful reality met its overdue demise.  At 34, Collins is at the sunset of a largely unremarkable 12-year NBA career during which he’s never averaged more than 7 points per game, never been to an NBA final, and never been an all-star.  He’s considered (and generously so) a defensive specialist who makes the most of being tall and having six times to hack an opponent before he fouls out of a game.

By contrast, at 34 years of age, Michael Jordan was winning his 6th NBA Championship, averaged more than 30 points per game for his career, was a perennial all-star, and was widely considered the greatest basketball player to have ever played.  That’s debatable, but certainly possible.

By the time I turned 34, my athletic “career” consisted of being a three-sport athlete in high school, having lasted in college wrestling just long enough for Coach Cotton to tell me that practices began at 5:00 “am, not pm”.  I was a small but very athletic kid who was never was more than just “pretty good” at any particular sport.    And at 5’ 6”, I would have been lucky to score seven points in an NBA season, much less per game.  (I was, however, voted county Coach of the Year, placing me firmly in the Pantheon of great wrestling coaches, according to my mother.)

According to the numbers, the three of us ain’t on the same page athletically.  Not even in the same book.  In fact, you’d need three separate books, and mine doesn’t even belong in the same library.

That said, I’d rather be more like Jason than like Mike.

I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be an athlete the likes of Jordan or even Collins.  I do, however, have an excellent idea of what “the guys’ locker room” is like; its codes of conduct, the sanctity of what’s said there, the hypermasculine posturing…  I could at least, after a particularly putrid performance on the wrestling mat, come back into the locker room and talk bullshit about what I wanted to do with some girl who of course would have been oh-so-impressed to see me flailing around out there in my singlet.  I could pretend to be better than I was at wrestling, but I didn’t have to pretend to like girls.
Continue reading “You Can be “Like Mike.” I’d Rather be Like Jason.”

Rand Paul Comes to My Alma Mater: Thanks for Trying…

…no really.  Thanks for trying.

Rand Paul

I do recognize the importance of Rand Paul being the first Republican elected official in decades to speak at Howard University.  And while I think it’s silly at best to call such an effort “courageous”, it does speak to the importance Paul places on reaching out to voters his party has marginalized at about a 90% clip

…or does it?

My African American-born and Howard University-bred skepticism of politicians who want to tell me what my best interests are causes the (admittedly sensitive) wand on my bullshit detector to redline.   That part of me readily recognizes that Senator Paul’s visit to Howard conveniently works well as a way to soften his (Tea) party’s reputation as a political safe-space for White nationalists, White supremacists, and other bigots.  Paul can safely assume those extremists will hold their nose and vote for him, despite the stench of Negro he now has on him.  For those who don’t want to be grounded in that ideological wing of the Republican Party – and those who realize, quite frankly, that now you can’t get elected to the Presidency with just that vote – Paul can play this as a See?-I tried-but-they-just-won’t-listen token appeal to the Black vote.  This plays well with White supremacists who don’t really wanna be so… White supremacist-y.

Continue reading “Rand Paul Comes to My Alma Mater: Thanks for Trying…”

How Social Media Fueled the Ultimate Body Fuel Course

by Quia Querisma

Like most digital start-ups, EatingsForAbs.com started out of necessity and a desire for change. Coach Bryndan “Be” Moore, a certified nutrition coach, didn’t always live a life of clean eating and regular exercise.

Years ago, Be visited the gym intermittently, and would grow frustrated that he wasn’t achieving the physical results he was looking for. He lived a stop and start cycle with exercise and it was a passive approach to fitness. However, it was his father’s congestive heart failure and kidney failure that rattled him to his core.

After years of dialysis, as his father headed in for what would be a successful kidney transplant, Be had a moment of introspection that led him to pursue a significantly healthier lifestyle.

“There is a sense of helplessness that comes to the loved ones of those facing major surgery. In retrospect that was the day I decided to do the most I could to minimize my chances of passing on that experience to the people who care for me,” he said. Continue reading “How Social Media Fueled the Ultimate Body Fuel Course”