Shot Out: There are more of you readers than ever before. *Thank You* for taking the time to read my shit.
im a professor of political science, closing out the semester, just won an award for a ground-breaking course called “hip hop politics.”
the class was space unique in all the world, indian, white, black, middle eastern, caribbean, muslim, jewish, christian, hindu, working class, wealthy, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, straight, loud as hell, quiet as a mouse, american, solidly american. the class listened to each other, and listened to me. i listened to them. i loved them.
alright, thats enough with the sap-city.
when i was in undergrad i was lucky enough to find my way through the doors of a few classes that, to this day, shape the way i see the world.
one was “african-american history through film,” taught by the legendary vernell lillie. learned a world-full in that class. witnessed the evolution from limited humanity, minstrel, mammy, tragic mulatto, to more multi-faceted characters. i saw black people paying inexplicable dues on their way to being “allowed” to get more humanized on the big screen.
“harold and kumar escape from guantanamo bay,” is funny, and politically edgy, male-bond-y, and pot head scummy. the movie takes digs at almost every american skeleton in the closet, from the irrational fear of racist old white ladies, to the political illiteracy of homeland security, to the stifling culture of pedigreed white boys post-ivy, to kkk meetings, and white trash heathens. in this sense the movie is bold. and in the minstrel sense, the movie is afraid.
and i do think about harold and kumar in this light. that they are playing minstrel roles. take kumar. who opens the movie taking a gross shit (as bad as Friday) and jacking off, cum flecked all over his face. that just in the first five minutes.
kumar. who later in the film runs triumphant into the sunny outside, white girl won, fancy wedding dress to his bum. she was his primary goal the whole film. and my brother’s. and most of my desi friend’s brothers. jungle fever is for real in the community. goodness, whatever do we think it means toto? 🙂
there are scenes in which kumar is sensual, and that adds refreshing nuance. like the one of him and her ducked into library stacks, he just taught her some calc, she just tried to eek his poetry out of him, together they are toking back some clandestine weed, an emo harold peeking at them from behind the books. kumar exhales and murmurs im still not going to show you my poem, and he’s *so* on his way to kissing her. mmmm, so romantic. you go sexy!
but kumar is still the only cross-over indian character, played by an indian man (not true of ghandi, punjab from orphan annie, or “guru,” the soon to be released mike meyers movie, meyers as guru, an indian minstrel character, white man in brown-face, follow me now), on u.s. movie screens.
and i do think about abu from the simpsons in this light. that he was the first indian male to be portrayed on a national, u.s. television show. a buffoon character. laughable at best. in fact, he’s still the only desi male on regularly on u.s. national tv. and unlike minstrels of the past, who at least were brining in money for the community, creating new roles on their way up from the sludge, abu was animated. he wasn’t even paid.
thankfully india has her own movie and media industry. bollywood. more newspapers every day. and the greed circling over her, lightening her skin, greening her eyes, making short term money moves at the expense of sovereignty. its all good. they never all the way had us. never will.
dr. lillie took us through a richard pryor (rip) section. that’s who i wrote my final paper on. i got a A+ in that class. but even better? dr. lillie showed my paper to richard pryor’s mom. never will i ever forget that shit. shot out to you dr. lillie, you made a difference in my life. here’s to laughter, music, film, drawing, dancing, reading, writing as the best, most subversive, remedy.
on the importance of reading and writing
“a comparative study of european political literature and u.s. based slave texts from 1841-1845.” undergrad, senior year. it was a seminar. like 4 of us. i was the only person of color. and the only woman. i learned a lot. tocqueville’s “democracy in america,” opened my eyes to the viability of an outsiders take on america, and schooled me on the importance of political, literary surveys. later in the course we got to the autobiography of frederick douglass. douglass had me hooked, ive truly never looked back since.
frederick douglass, a slave who taught himself how to read, escaped in more ways than one. not only did he physically escape the plantation, he went on to start a newspaper, the north star, and in its pages he shone light on underground liberation efforts.
douglass had my nose open off the shit he said about reading. douglass said he knew reading was crucial cuz of how vehemently his master hated it. and douglass said the more he read, the closer he was to free. and the closer he was to free, the more he understood. and the more he understood, the harder it was to live.
a blessing and a damn curse, the ability to see where we are compared to where we could be.
check it out, in his words (if you click on the link, its the whole damn book for your pleasure):
[Starting from what one master, Master Hugh, said to his wife, admonishing her not to encourage Douglass to read]
Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”
These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought…I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty–to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man…The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering.
It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated.
In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.
[On the, at times unbearable, burden of reading, learning, and understanding]
The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved.
The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men.
As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.
It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity.
I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate.
The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.
[end of excerpts from “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”]
thanks for sticking with. and just for being good readers, here’s a thought to leave you with:
i write because i like actively making something that makes sense.
is there anything you do that makes complete sense to you?
and when you do it/there’s this rush/cheek flush/eyes alive/self-crush?
when life feels dull, writing is one good ladder back to grandeur.
stay tuned for more from your fav political poet, naxal.