Sunday, June 29, 2008

Runnin' Scared From Brooklyn, a Rap Campaign Against Tight Clothes

Runnin' Scared
From Brooklyn, a Rap Campaign Against Tight Clothes
You can call their rhymes tight, just not their jeans
by Arcynta Ali Childs
June 24th, 2008 12:00 AM

If clothes make the man, do tight clothes make the man a homosexual? A Brooklyn-based rap group thinks the current trend in hip-hop—medium tees and sagging jeans cinched tightly below the hips—is causing some confusion. And they are not alone.

Members of the rap group Thug Slaughter Force—three brothers and two friends calling themselves Drama, Filthy, Tempa, Rebel, and Blanco the Don—walk the streets of Brooklyn in XL T-shirts with the words "Tight Clothes" slashed through with a red stripe: their message of protest against what they see as the move away from traditional baggy clothing and toward tighter-fitting outfits in today's hip-hop. The "No Tight Clothes" campaign is their latest idea in a decade of trying to make it in the rap game.

"Where'd you get that shirt from?" yells Elijah Bilal, sitting outside Lalove Uniform on Fulton Street. "Bring me one!" the 40-year-old adds, and then offers a reporter his own observation about the direction of hip-hop attire: "The tight clothes—what, the boys is gay now? Boys walking around thinking they girls, girls walking around thinking they boys . . . No wonder all the girls are dating girls—because the boys are gay!"

And Bilal isn't alone in his analysis. "I like that shirt," says a 28-year-old NYPD officer on foot who didn't want to be named. "This movement of everyone wearing tight-fitting clothes—it's not nice."

"That's a beautiful thing," says 26-year-old Thug Slaughter Force member Tempa. "You walk through the street and don't have to say nothing—the product sells itself."

Besides the shirts for sale, TSF are also promoting themselves with (no surprise) a YouTube video, which shows scores of young people wearing their own shirts and leaping to the lyrics of TSF's anthem, "No Tight Clothes."

The video opens with an over-the-top "Slaughter General's Warning": "Wearing tight clothes by men may result in feminine tendencies, homosexuality, possible yeast infection, severe hemorrhoids, permanent wedgies, and genetically inherited transsexual characteristics in your son."

And then come the lyrics:

Take them tight-ass fuckin' clothes off

That shit ain't gangsta, nigga

We don't wear tight clothes . . . we let it hang!

. . . Shirt extra-small and you six feet tall

Lookin' like you got your pants off a Ken doll

Silk speedo cheetah-print Superman drawers . . .

. . . And what the fuck is this shit?

Rude boy rockin' Prada

Rhinestones on his collar

Cowboy belt buckle with a chain like a rocker

You forgot you was Rasta

You need to puff on the ganja. . . .

Are these rappers for real? "It basically boils down to: You are in a homosexual attire, and you are claiming to be something else," says 28-year-old TSF member Blanco the Don. "That's what I have a problem with—not the homosexualism. You're a front artist, and you're promoting homosexuality with your actions and dress code, but you're promoting gangster lifestyle with your lyrics. The two don't match up."

To be clear, the "you" he's referring to are the artists who set trends—the ones who wear rhinestones, big belt buckles, tight shirts, and small jackets, and carry "man bags."

"It's a string of rappers with the man bag . . . calling it a 'man bag,' but you're wearing a purse," says Tempa. Blanco and Tempa both say that the language of the "Warning" is meant in jest, but not everyone is convinced.

"I think it's offensive," says Park Slope resident Jenny Brauer. "It's homophobic, inflammatory, and highly prejudicial." Although, she added, "there is a humorous aspect to this; it's not lost on me."

Blanco, for his part, insists that "it's not a gay-bashing movement." On the other hand, he added, "if you are homosexual, you are not gangsta. There's nothing gangster about being homosexual."

Homophobia in rap is nothing new, of course. And there's a growing awareness of homosexuality in hip-hop.

"You walk in urban communities [like] Harlem, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and you see these young people walking around with pants sagging way down below their ass cheeks and underwear showing—what are you selling? That's much more homoerotic than fitted jeans," says Terrance Dean, author of Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry—from Music to Hollywood, a book that electrified the music industry when it was published last month and hinted at the homosexuality of numerous unnamed music figures.

"It just so happens that heterosexual people are always emulating gay style," Dean says. "Most stylists are gay," and, he points out, those styles then make their way from international runways to inner- city neighborhoods. "I don't think it necessarily correlates with people being gay or feminine," he adds. "I think it's just fashion and hip-hop go hand in hand."

But he doesn't share TSF's fashion sense: "It's about time that people started wearing clothes that fit."

Among some residents of Brooklyn, however, this is a minority view. One such young man, emerging from the Brooklyn Courthouse in a Boston Celtics jersey stopped briefly to talk with Blanco and Tempa and, upon hearing they were rappers, even kicked a little rhyme: "As I reminisce/with two of my bros/tell them niggas/don't wear no tight clothes!"

Here's the video for TSF's "NO TIGHT CLOTHES"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lil Wayne and the Afronaut Invasion

Lil Wayne and the Afronaut Invasion
Why have so many black musicians been obsessed with outer space?

By Jonah Weiner
Posted Friday, June 20, 2008, at 1:50 PM ET
In 1927, the Rev. A.W. Nix, a preacher from Birmingham, Ala., entered a recording studio to commit several of his sermons to wax. He intended to release them commercially on the burgeoning gospel-music circuit. A Southern Baptist, Nix had an ear for the musical possibilities of oratory and a taste for fire and brimstone. His sermons, delivered in the rich, ravaged singsong of a Delta bluesman, bore darkly chastening titles like "Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift" and "The Prayer Meeting in Hell." Tucked into this catalog of apocalyptic warnings, though, was "The White Flyer to Heaven," a rapturous, six-minute homily about riding a spaceship piloted by Jesus up to the pearly gates: "Higher and higher! And higher! We'll pass on to the Second Heaven, the starry big Heaven, and view the flying stars and dashing meteors and then pass on by Mars and Mercury, and Jupiter and Venus and Saturn and Uranus, and Neptune with her four glittering moons."

"White Flyer to Heaven" is probably the earliest recorded evidence of a phenomenon that's persevered in black music ever since: Call it the Afronaut tradition. Last Tuesday, rapper Lil Wayne put this tradition atop the pop charts with his No. 1-debuting album Tha Carter III, which sold a stunning 1,005,545 copies in its first week. Lil Wayne starts from a hardened gangsta-rap template, but outer space has figured into his increasingly loopy songs for more than a year now: During the 2006 freestyle "Dough Is What I Got," he claimed Martian provenance in a boast about his otherworldly skills; on the woozy 2007 drug track "I Feel Like Dying," he imagined playing "basketball with the moon," adding, "I can mingle with the stars and throw a party on Mars." On Tha Carter III, Wayne devotes an entire song, "Phone Home," to the subject of his alien origins: "We are not the same, I am a Martian," he announces in an E.T.-inflected croak.

The last rapper to post comparable first-week sales was Kanye West (957,000), who is currently traveling the world with a space-themed tour titled Glow in the Dark; West's set features a rocket ship named Jane, animatronic shooting stars, and a stage designed to resemble rocky, lunar terrain. The Afronaut has been a hip-hop trope since Afrika Bambaataa recorded "Planet Rock" in 1982, but this is the first time it's occupied such a significant spot in the pop mainstream.

Many white rockers—Pink Floyd and David Bowie, most prominently—have taken to the cosmos for inspiration, but space has played a particularly vital role in the articulation of African-American musical identity. As a worldview, Afronautics began to take form in the late 1930s with a Birmingham-born college student named Herman Poole Blount. While meditating one afternoon, Blount said, he was beamed to Saturn by friendly aliens, who explained that his purpose in life was to speak truths of the universe through music. By the late 1950s—around the same time that Sputnik went into orbit—Blount had renamed himself Sun Ra, claimed Saturn as his true birthplace, and formed an elaborately costumed jazz collective called the Arkestra, specializing in noisy jams full of chants about space ways, satellites, and, in one of Ra's most-quoted formulations, "other planes of there." In songs, poems, and interviews, Sun Ra mapped out the fuzzy contours of his philosophy, which combined mystical futurism with an interest in ancient Egyptian civilization, and found sympathetic ears among avant-gardists, psychedelia heads, and hippies.

Ra grew up an outsider twice over: once for his refusal to participate in military service during World War II, which earned him brief imprisonment and ostracism from his family, and again for the simple fact of being black in the American South. We can glimpse the psychological framework of his space obsession through the lens of his alienation. His 1972 poem "Tomorrow's Realm" mixes images of solitude, slavery, and cosmic escape:

I'll build a world of otherness …
Other-abstract-natural design
And wait for you.
In tomorrow's realm
We'll take the helm
of a new ship
Like the lash of a whip, we'll be suddenly
on the way.

The whip's appearance in this fantasy brings to mind a compelling formulation from "Black to the Future," a 1993 essay on black sci-fi by cultural critic Mark Dery: "African Americans are, in a very real sense, the descendants of alien abductees." In Ra's mythology, the future is inextricable from the past: His spaceship carries the specter of the slave ship within itself.

Another likely influence on Sun Ra—and a considerable influence on many hip-hop stars of the late '80s and early '90s—was the Nation of Islam, whose pamphleteers the jazzman associated with in '50s Chicago. Sun Ra never claimed membership in the Nation of Islam, and he disagreed with many of its teachings; still, his encounters with the group are interesting, since a racialized cosmology is central to both his and the NOI's beliefs. In Elijah Muhammad's 1965 tract Message to the Blackman in America, Muhammad writes of a massive "mother plane"—built by ancient black scientists and containing inside its metal hull "fifteen hundred bombing planes with most deadliest explosives"—that hovers above Earth, poised to rain damnation upon "the white man's evil world."

Echoes of Sun Ra and NOI are audible in the music of George Clinton, who must have had both in mind when he transformed Parliament from a doo-wop group into a mother-ship-worshipping acid-funk congregation in the 1970s. Clinton's mother ship, of course, was likelier to drop megatons of booty and cocaine than warheads, but hedonism wasn't the only goal. In the opening bars of "Mother Ship Connection," Clinton announces, "We have returned to claim the pyramids"—a nod to paleocontact theories, which hypothesize that ancient astronauts shared technological secrets with North Africans. Perceptible in this ripple of the Afronaut impulse is the yearning for and fantastical reclamation of an ennobling African history: A trip to space doubles as a return to roots.

The Afronaut universe, of course, comprises more performers than those mentioned here and extends beyond music, from the hero of Brother From Another Planet to Astronaut Jones, Tracy Morgan's ridiculous SNL creation. Where hip-hop is concerned, though, the first Afronaut to speak of is Afrika Bambaataa. A gang leader turned community activist and DJ, Bambaataa spun Parliament-Funkadelic records alongside reggae, techno, and rock vinyl and wore elaborate African-Samurai-Cherokee-cyborg costumes doubtless inspired by the Arkestra. In the burnt-out South Bronx of the early '80s, Bambaataa's Afronaut mythology—championing Zulu valor and an interstellar utopianism—offered both racial pride and an escapist-hatch out of the bleak, inner-city quotidian.

Ironically, a George Clinton fan named Dr. Dre helped push space to hip-hop's margins for the better part of a decade. In 1988, Dre co-produced Straight Outta Compton, the epochal album by ur-gangsta-rap posse N.W.A, which made the group's stone-faced "reality rap" hip-hop's dominant perspective. Cosmic journeys became fanciful departures from hip-hop's so-called "true" locus, the flesh-and-blood, asphalt-and-concrete street. In the mid-to-late-'90s, bling-era hip-hop supplanted gangsta rap, trading an exaggerated narrative of urban despair for an exaggerated narrative of upward mobility—but not the sort you get from a shuttle blastoff.

Rappers continued to construct Afronaut fantasies, of course. Underground New York MC Kool Keith fashioned himself a star-humping Marquis de Sade; Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott filled music videos with cyberpunk imagery and goofy zero-gravity effects. But Atlanta duo OutKast did more than anyone else to put the Afronaut back on the hip-hop radar. OutKast's 1996 album, ATLiens, came packaged with a comic book in which rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000, armed with holographic lions and purity of spirit, battle an alien warlord named Nosamilli. When OutKast announced that they were "extraterrestrials" in their songs, their purpose was twofold. As Southerners, they'd been excluded from hip-hop's dominant East/West axis, and they sought to turn that outsider status into a weapon. But just as important, these students of Funkadelic and Prince, bored by the conservatism of steely thugs and dollar-eyed hustlers, were arguing for the rightful place in hip-hop of that crucial figure in black postwar pop, the boa-sporting, id-unleashing, out-of-this-world freak.

So, what does space mean to Lil Wayne, the biggest Afronaut in the world right now? When he says he was born on Mars, it's a brag: He means it takes an alien system of thought to conduct his chaotic assault on sound, rhythm, and meaning. But Wayne's Afronautic vision goes beyond this. He redefines what it means to be a gun-toting gangsta, importing the anarchic values of a black spaceman: For him, space seems to signify the excesses of emotion, imagination, and appetite banging around his body and brain, dark matter the gangsta-realist idiom typically excludes. Whereas Jay-Z and 50 Cent boast about focus and composure, Wayne allows himself to sound genuinely unhinged—sobbing, spewing gibberish, breaking into fits of laughter. And whereas many rappers talk about destroying their competition, Wayne is certainly the first to fantasize so extensively about munching on his.* On "Phone Home," he raps, "I just eat them for supper, get in my spaceship, and hover." Any gangsta can level a Glock at his enemies. It takes a Martian to whip out the cutlery.

Correction, June 23, 2008: The article originally stated that Lil Wayne was the first hip-hop artist to fantasize about munching on his competition. In fact, other rappers have contemplated consuming their rivals. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Jonah Weiner is a senior editor at Blender and has written about music for the Village Voice and the New York Times.
Article URL:

Friday, June 20, 2008

One Man Beat Box Band

Gentrification in Brooklyn, One Bodega at a Time

Gentrification in Brooklyn, One Bodega at a Time
by Lisa Chow

NEW YORK, NY —Rising rents and housing prices are changing this city. Much of the discussion has focused on the residents moving out of certain neighborhoods and into others. WNYC’s Lisa Chow looks at businesses at the front edge of gentrification in Brooklyn, and sees how they’re managing the change.

REPORTER: The Papa and Sons bodega stands at the busy corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lincoln Road, an express stop on the B-Q train. On the same block, there’s a new coffee shop and restaurant. Both opened last year, replacing a Trinidadian restaurant and a hair salon catering to black women. The bodega is trying to adjust to the new customers in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

CROUSSET: White people, they like a lot of organic

REPORTER: Francesco Crousset has been running Papa and Sons for 12 years. He started stocking organic milk a few months ago.

CROUSSET: This neighborhood we have everything. We have blacks, Hispanics, Arabs, Caucasians, Jamaicans, Haitians. So when they come to us, I don’t like to say I don’t have.

REPORTER: On this afternoon, most people come in to play the lotto.

CROUSSET: They’re looking for the 177 million today.

REPORTER: Lester Johnson shops at Papa and Sons 3 times a week. He’s lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade.

JOHNSON: It has what I want. It may not have everything I want but it has basically milk. Some of the vegetables are not bad. Some of the canned foods you get is not bad.

REPORTER: It’s also a stop for Rashad Hines, who goes to school a few blocks away. He’s 13.

HINES: The store it makes great sandwiches cause like, they always melt the cheese. That tastes real good. They got real nice people in the store like if we don’t have enough money, they just let you go.

REPORTER: The manager says his top selling items are …

CROUSSET: Sugar, coffee and soup. You know, like canned soup. Like Campbell’s. That’s fast fast.

REPORTER: That, may change. Bilal Solmaz runs Pacific Green Gourmet, a corner grocery store in Brooklyn’s fully gentrified Cobble Hill.

SOLMAZ: Now we are selling fancy fancy soup. It’s called Wolfgang Puck. You know him, right?

REPORTER: Solmaz walks over to his soup section, where you can get all kinds of varieties of Wolfgang Puck soup.

SOLMAZ: Before we had this, we had Campbell’s and Progresso. I had those. And I put them away because they don’t sell. They just stay there forever. Campbell’s especially.

REPORTER: He canceled those product lines in 2002.

SOLMAZ: I put them on the shelf. I put like crazy price, 99 cents. Just get rid of them you know. And I get this Wolfgang Puck. There is organic. There is regular. And it sells great. My customers are happy. I’m happy and Mr. Wolfgang Puck is happy.

REPORTER: Solmaz says when customers suggest new products, which they do every day, he researches them, gets samples from suppliers, and watches to see if they sell in his store. He works with more than 200 suppliers. He goes to Manhattan on his days off, to see how stores there are stocking their shelves. He prefers to have stuff that nearby stores don’t have, so that he’s not competing on price. And with his limited store space, there’s a tradeoff in every decision he makes. For example, he’d rather sell Spanish-imported tuna for 20 dollars, than 99 cent-tuna.

SOLMAZ: I don’t work for 40 cents. You have limited space. You cannot waste your two line, half of your shelf for 40 cents.

REPORTER: Solmaz wouldn’t give specific sales numbers, but he did offer a minimum. He says the store brings in at least two and a half million dollars a year. The store in Prospect Lefferts Gardens has double the space but brings in a million dollars less. The manager there explains where he goes to get ideas for new products.

CROUSSET: I go to Park Slope because it’s an area where there are more white people. I see the merchandise that they have in the stores, and it’s something I’d like to have too.

REPORTER: Jennifer Sun moved to the neighborhood from the Upper West Side, eight months ago. She says she goes to Papa and Sons when she needs something quick, or when her car’s stuck in the snow and she can’t go out to Park Slope or Costco. She says with a few changes, the store could attract more business from residents like her.

SUN: The location is awesome. It’s right on the corner but the outward appearance and inside appearance of the store isn’t as clean as we go to a C-Town or we go to another grocery store in Park Slope.

REPORTER: The manager says he’s planning a full renovation of the store this fall.

CROUSSET: I want to fix the floors, fix the aisles, the shelves, and the refrigerators.

SUN: Their mix of items is so great. The fact that they have so many low end products that totally don’t appeal to us make me feel like they’re in this transition of trying to serve 2 different populations of people. You know for example, they’ll have a can of spam, which I know is very popular for some people but we would never eat that. And you know, part of me says I would not want to go to a grocery store that sells that.

REPORTER: Not stocking certain items doesn’t appear to be on this manager’s to-do list.

CROUSSET: As I add products that my white customers want, my business grows. At the same time I still have the products that my black and Hispanic customers use.

REPORTER: The neighborhood is at a crossroads. Crousset knows his rent’s going to go up and he’ll need to increase his profits, so each decision he makes right now is critical. Spending 100-thousand dollars to renovate the store may mean a loan, and more risk. Right now he works with 10 suppliers. He’ll have to build new relationships as he sells more products. Doreen Howe moved here a year ago from Park Slope and she offers her wish list.

HOWE: Definitely coffee beans, different kinds of bread products that are a little more, it doesn’t even need to be organic, but a little more varied, the cheeses, and I guess organic vegetables.

CROUSSET: Maybe she no see, the other side …

REPORTER: I told Crousset she wanted organic vegetables. Crousset walks me over to another aisle. He points to rows of canned vegetables.

CROUSSET: You see organic sweet pea, organic green bean, organic Kenney corn. You see, we start.

REPORTER: But do you have any organic fresh vegetables?

CROUSSET: This one I have to ask the person at the market. I don’t know. Do they have organic fresh vegetables?

REPORTER: He says now, he has to make those orders too.

For WNYC, I’m Lisa Chow.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hispanics suffer highest workplace death rates

Hispanics suffer highest workplace death rates

Thu Jun 5, 2008 3:23pm EDT
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hispanic workers in the United States are killed at work at a 25 percent higher rate than other U.S. workers with many deaths coming in construction, federal health officials said on Thursday.

Hispanics disproportionately take dangerous jobs like construction. Some may hesitate to speak up about safety hazards and may accept risky tasks for fear of being fired, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The most common causes of death were falls at construction sites and roadway incidents including crashes or being hit by a car while working on a road crew, the CDC said. Deaths from workplace falls increased about 370 percent from 1992 to 2006.

The report tracked Hispanic workplace fatalities of U.S. citizens, legal immigrants or illegal immigrants.

Immigration has become a potent political issue in the United States where about 12 million illegal immigrants live, many from Mexico, Central America and South America.

In 2006, the death rate for Hispanics was 5 per 100,000 workers, compared with 4 per 100,000 for all workers, 4 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites and 3.7 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic blacks, the CDC said.

Hispanics are the nation's fastest-growing minority. There were 19.6 million Hispanic workers in the United States in 2006, 56 percent of them foreign born.

They have become an increasingly important source of labor in U.S. construction.

An analysis of construction deaths found that Hispanic workers had higher rates than non-Hispanics in the same occupations such as laborers or roofers, the CDC said.

Dr. Sherry Baron of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said inadequate training and supervision of workers, often made worse by language barriers or literacy problems, were factors behind this trend.

From 1992 to 2006, 11,303 Hispanic workers -- 95 percent of them men -- died due to workplace injuries, accounting for about 13 percent of overall such deaths in the United States.

The CDC said 67 percent of Hispanics killed in job injuries were foreign born, almost three quarters from Mexico. It said the work-related injury death rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers is about 70 percent higher than U.S.-born Hispanics.

The highest job fatality rates for Hispanics were in South Carolina (22.8 per 100,000 Hispanic workers), Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee, the CDC said.

(Editing by Alan Elsner and Maggie Fox)

For a link to the original article click Here

Murdoch of Fox News Admits Manipulating the News for Agenda

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dancehall and Doiley Boyz: dancehall and its rituals in Jamaican Culture

Dope exhibit, definitely worth checking out if you're in chi town.

Dancehall and Doiley Boyz
dancehall and its rituals in Jamaican culture

By Terry Glover

Ebony G. Patterson is a Jamaican artist exploring issues of gender, body and cultural identity. Her Dancehall Series, included in the Art Chicago exhibition this spring, is especially striking for its depictions of Jamaican dancehall culture and the practice of skin bleaching among its men. Holding a place very much like hiphop in the United States, dancehall has been criticized for its violent, misoginist, and homophobic stance. Patterson takes these cultural notions and addresses them in a way that allows for no response other than candid discussion. She sat down with to explain the origins and evolution of the series.

Describe your objectives in creating the Dancehall series.
The Dancehall series explores masculinity but as it relates to dancehall space within Jamaican culture -- the quintessential idea of what it is to be male, and how notions of homosexuality function there.

My explorations talking about bodies in general as objects, especially in terms of limbs, a removal of parts, more of an object, we can see the body.

For the last couple of years I’ve been exploring that notion with skin bleaching, I’ve always had an interest in discussions of beauty and the grotesque and the objectification, something more urgent to speak to. I am a huge supporter of dancehall culture and have been scrutinized by my colleagues for my support of dancehall. Colleagues would get at me for being interested in the music. Could be me becoming a little older and therefore a little wiser, but I can appreciate certain aspects. This unapologetic stance it takes – very raw, very in your face. That’s the essence of dancehall.

And your work…
Thank you. Always felt it was my responsibility to confront my audience and have them question the way they see things and the discussion that’s going on between my work and them.

Dancehall is coming under a lot of scrutiny now. But, it’s very different when you immerse yourself in the space.

I’m thinking about what happens in a lot of songs and what happens in terms of gender relationships within dancehall and how that echoes out into Jamaican society. By extension it’s quite difficult. Here in the States, Black men are expected to be aggressive, powerful, aggression is measured for what it means to be black – very very sad.

I decided to take these people who are put on a platform within that dancehall space -- worship of a don or a “shotta” -- a bad man -- and peel it down to the very feminine, beautiful men using all of the things that are within the dance hall vernacular. Particularly as it relates to the rise of skin bleaching among these guys. Such a work, I thought, would call into question what it means to be masculine.

Bleaching used to be predominantly among women – at one point men doing this was considered gay. Now, it’s far more popular among men and the women have been marginalized. Bleaching used to be for purposes of social mobility. Now people involved in illegal activities are doing it.

When did you start focusing on the practice as a subject for your work?
About two years ago. One of my friends’ family members was bleaching – a young boy – about 2 years ago, I had driven on the street to drop off my friend, and here was this tall silhouette, dark skin and I saw this yellow glow in the dark. Who is that? I was in total shock. Here was this incredibly beautiful young man with the most amazing skin who saw it necessary to bleach his face.

So I did a photo shoot and sat with them to find out why they were doing this. This was the wrong crowd, They were not bleaching skin, putting on a suit and going uptown for work. Something else was motivating it.

I wanted to discuss how beauty meets criminality. There was an article in the Jamaican Gleaner about criminals bleaching skin to elude the police -- all very interesting to me at the time. It wasn’t until going downtown to teach at the summer camps that I would see a lot more of these men with brown faces and dark necks. So, I started with the premise of just painting what I saw. Which evolved to ‘what if I took mug shots of criminals – to see wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the criminals in mug shots would look like?’ Straddling the line between criminality and beauty.

This, of course, depends on what parts of dancehall we’re talking about. Not Sean Paul, but gangsta lyrics called “gun lyrics,” a lyrical assassination. But even outside of gun lyrics, sometimes you hear DJs applauding or bigging up persons who are wanted by the police – a “shotta” essentially a shooter, a bad man.

My interest in doing this project really had a lot more to do with looking at issues of gender, ideas of beauty and how the grotesque is now sought after as beauty -- kind of the emasculation of black identity thru the skimming of pigmentation. Almost see people who bleach skin as hybrid beings.

A cultural hybrid?

In some ways, yes.

There was a show back home, “Our Voices” and during one show, they brought 2 or 3 people who had been bleaching their skin and brought on a doctor to talk about the effects and why they should stop. One guy was incredibly dark naturally, and he was pink. He had bleached his entire body, straightened his hair, and according to Jamaican constructs he was unequivocally gay. He took metrosexuality to a whole other level.

The interviewers asked about daily regimen – buying creams in cases, “If I have a dance coming up in 2 weeks, we’ll bleach intensely for the next 2 weeks because being brown has a particular cleanness to it.”

The Michael Jackson bleaching cream was a favorite of his.

These creams are loaded w/ steroids. Some are legal and fine to use on market, a lot of third world countries are dumping grounds for inferior products. Britain has a heavy crackdown on illegal, steroid based cream. The Minister of Health has had an anti-bleaching campaign going on for a while. Once you stop bleaching, you go back to your original color, but it’s a very unnatural hue.

But, even if they were to get all creams – legal and illegal – people know how to make their own concoctions. Some use bleach – household detergent. I’ve also been told about yellow curry – very popular in the Caribbean – mix a little curry in. People are incredibly creative in the way they go about creating these concoctions.

Aside from the health hazards, do the guys understand the negative implications bleaching carries?
As far as younger people are concerned, it has nothing to do with social mobility or self hatred. The guys I interviewed said its all about reinventing self, a new self image. They get tired of the same look. They will tell you, “I‘m not bleaching because I hate myself.” They are very proud.

When I was growing up, if you were a man who pierced your ear, it was frowned upon – incredibly feminine. Eventually it became accepted that piercing the right side was OK, The left side? Homosexual. Interesting that the once homosexual has now been taken up by homophobic men. One of the ironies of the Black community.

But it still doesn’t change mentality or attitudes about the way we determine what happens among genders within Black families. White families don’t relate masculinity to a particular level of aggression.

Have any of the dancehall guys seen your finished work?
No, this body of work has not seen Jamaica yet. Earlier this year I was invited to do installation at National Gallery. Photos I’d taken of two young men were used in the installation. Lot of response from art community.

But, dancehall isn’t integrated into the mainstream in the same way hiphop is here. There is no interests in visual expression of dancehall – it is strictly about the music, maybe the fashion. There has always been an incredible divide between uptown and downtown. They are poor people -- don’t need to worry about that. Bringing a piece like this that brings this problem into an “elitist” space reveals something to an audience they may not have been aware of it. It will open up their eyes a lot more, so not so much a lost cause.

What about The Doiley Boyz?
I’m expanding the series. It’s the same thing as with males but with young male boys as subjects. Skin bleaching is affecting a much younger age range now. I’m interested in the implications of how men’s experiences affect younger boys.

I’m always thinking of the repetitious nature of making something that’s incredibly delicate, beautiful. I wanted to find an object that was domestic in relation to the feminine. I started with silhouette cut-outs of boys’ portraits – all on doilies, very floral. So again, aligning with the feminine, which I thought appropriate.

What’s next?
I just worked on my first video installation in Kentucky “Another Dance” about dancehall sound clash culture (when two sound systems – many people -- “Stone Love” is one of the oldest collide) “Murder ‘Pon a Sound Boy” – the lyrics are quite violent, but people continue dancing on this very beautiful background.

I felt like there was something incredibly earnest that nobody was talking about. Not my objective to do something sensationalist, but it is my responsibility to talk about what is going on in my country. To talk about it and what do we really consider to be Jamaican and how does this contribute to the way we are constructing our identity.

I’m working on my first curatorial project, bringing in several Jamaican artists who explore identity as relates to gender, as relates to identity. Thought it would be interesting to have a visual conversation to talk about these things that aren’t articulated enough -- self and understanding who we are as a people. Eventually we start to carbon copy everything. We’ve lost a lot of things that were inherently Caribbean. The question has always been thrown out to young people about not being “Caribbean enough” by our parents. What does that mean? If it comes from us, it’s still Jamaican.

I am passionately Jamaican, even when the shit is hitting the fan. If everybody leaves, how will things get better? My work has always, in one way or another, dealt with issues of identity and notions of body politics and the way I see myself within the space I exist in – Jamaica.

I don’t know how much more Jamaican I can get.

For a slideshow click Here

Terry Glover is Senior Editor for She writes about art, culture and popular trends.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Former VP Candidate Fails to See Her Own White Privilege

June 4, 2008

Former VP Candidate Fails to See Her Own White Privilege
By Adam Mansbach

"Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment."

When former Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro made the remarks to which she refers in her May 30 Boston Globe op-ed, pundits and commentators across the ideological spectrum consistently fell all over themselves to avoid accusing her of racism. Seldom in political life has the sinner been granted so much immediate distance from her sin.

What Ferraro actually said bears little resemblance to the facile pseudo-summary she offers in her editorial. Her comments were not about "the influence of blacks" on the Obama campaign. Her exact words to a California newspaper were "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," and she defended them by arguing that she, likewise, would not have been on the 1984 Democratic ticket if not for her gender.

Ferraro appeared not to recognize the obvious difference between being appointed to a ticket, as she was, and winning a record number of primary votes across the entire nation, as Obama has. In the days following her initial remarks, she claimed, as in her Boston Globe op-ed, that "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"

Ludicrous-and sad. Ferraro has officially ruined her own obituary by adding a crimson asterisk of aggressively divisive, ill-informed, race-baiting to her own trailblazing career in public service. More important than assessing the magnitude of her self-destruction, though, is examining the notion she puts forth: that whites in America have been rendered voiceless, that "you can't open your mouth without being labeled a racist," that to be black is to be 'lucky' (to paraphrase another of her comments about Obama).

I have no problem believing that people have been stopping Ferraro - although I suspect 'sidling up to' would be more accurate - to voice this 'common sentiment.' It is one that cuts to the heart of a crucial, under-examined aspect of America's problem with race: the deeply-held conviction, on the part of many whites, that they have been marginalized, treated 'unfairly,' and cannot speak honestly about it. That they, despite all appearances to the contrary, represent the new racial underclass.

Obama himself, in his landmark address on race, noted that many whites do not feel significantly advantaged because of the color of their skin. In the single greatest misstep of that speech, he put this sentiment - the resentment, fueled by a lack of opportunity, felt by the critical Democratic voting block of working-class whites - on a par with the ravaging effects of institutional racism on people of color.

Implicit in the white resentment Obama identified, of course, is whites' belief that they should be significantly advantaged because of their race. The entitlement they feel no longer squares with reality, and thus they feel cheated in a way they dare not articulate.

So, meanwhile, do their children. One of the most fascinating trends of the last thirty years is the way cultural capital and hard capital have diverged. American coolness is coded, more than ever, as American blackness, and young whites all over the country - many of them with little or no personal access to black people but with extensive cable TV packages - assume, based on the signifiers flashing on their screens, that blackness equals flashy, sexy wealth.

They feel locked out of the possibility of attaining that (imaginary) lifestyle, because of their skin color. This strikes them as oppressive, and fuels a silent resentment. They have no language with which to discuss it, and no interest in looking at the reams of evidence that would prove to them just how wrong they are - the inheritance of wealth, for instance, or the rates of home-ownership, traditional markers of prosperity that reveal just how privileged whites remain relative to blacks.

The supposed unfairness of affirmative action may be their parents' signature racial issue; the difficulty of crafting a strong cultural identity as a young white person in this country is theirs.

Both are important to examine, but we can only do so against a backdrop of understanding the far more pernicious and persistent reality of institutional racism - a cancer metastasizing through the educational system, the justice and penal systems, law enforcement, and every other aspect of American life. It is this reality that Ferraro and her nameless common-sentiment-expressers fail to see - the essence of white privilege lies in not even realizing you have it - or to address honestly.

Instead, Ferraro rails against a racial gag order even as she proves unaffected by it, citing a silent-majority of whites able to muster outrage at their own 'unfair treatment' without acknowledging anyone else's. She denies their 'racism, but acknowledges and justifies their 'racial resentment.' Which is different how, exactly?

Adam Mansbach is the author of the novels The End of the Jews (Spiegel & Grau, 2008) and Angry Black White Boy (Crown, 2005).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Complaint at UN for death of Ojeda Ríos

The Associated Press
May 31, 2008

The Puerto Rico chapter of the American Association of Jurists will present to the United Nations (U.N.) in June a complaint against the Government of the United States for what they understand to be the execution of Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

The organization, through attorneys Fermín Arraiza and Ricardo Alfonso, will also appear between June 2 and 6 before the U.N. Human Rights Council to denounce this act and obtain support from other non-governmental organizations for the complaint.

“We will go there to denounce the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda and the cover-up by governmental authorities,” said Hiram Lozada, president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Association of Jurists.

The U.N. investigator before whom the complaint will be submitted at the end of June will be Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

To press for profound investigation

“We will include in the denunciation the federal government’s refusal to give any type of relevant information so that an impartial and profound investigation could be conducted,” Arraiza stated.

The Puerto Rico Department of Justice resorted, with no success, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, seeking to oblige the U.S. government to offer the information under its control about the death of Ojeda Ríos at the hands of an FBI agent in an operation to arrest him in 2005 in Hormigueros.

Arraiza elaborated that the investigator may receive a complaint about the Ojeda Ríos case, even though the investigations under way in the Island have not terminated and even though all local government remedies have not been exhausted.

Once the rapporteur receives the complaint, he will notify the United States government, and the U.S. Department of State must extend to Alston a formal invitation to travel to Puerto Rico to carry out his investigation.