Monthly Archives: November 2011

Windows Into the Soul

Our names are more than just who we are. When one calls you by name, he is calling on the forefathers of both your parents, and their parents. It is the label on your family tree, an heirloom passed down to you that only a special few carry. It is the glue that bonds men and women and children who have never met; the genetic twins you have yet to meet who live a possible parallel universe. Those who share your name have the same physical characteristics–they look like you. They have the same butt you have (or not). They share your great-great grandfather’s knack for music, your great-great-grandmother’s love of cooking, the curly texture of your now-blonde hair:  Time has forgotten where these traits came from.

Or maybe it has not.

Your name is sometimes referred to in some cousin you once shared a crib with; it’s his father’s name also. His father was named after his great-uncle, who was named after his grandfather–who changed his name from another name when he arrived to America many generations before. And your great-grandmother once told your mom that anyone with an alternate spelling to your new name, who have Greek/West African/Indian features… is a distant cousin. Perhaps you forgot where you heard the stories, or maybe you told your children the little you know. There is a reason why June 15th is such a special date in your family:  8 family members have this birth date. There are 4 William Herberts in your family, and the first was named after his father’s slave owner. Every second-born in your family had a set of twins named after their father’s father, and a name that rhymed.

Your name is a window into the soul of who you are. It tells a story and draws a picture of certain branches of your family tree. It is also your ethnic social security number, and tells people who hear it where the bearer is from, what ethnicity his parents are, what their religion may have been, what era they grew up in, and what life they were living at the time you were born. There is no shame in a name, unless your parents named you while drunk and were watching an episode of “Troy”–and you’re Chinese.

Yeah, that’s right. If you’re Chinese, “Achilles” just doesn’t seem normal. On the other hand, if you are Latino, a name like “Luis” is fitting. If you’re French, Robert (“Robere“) shouldn’t embarass you. But if your parents lived in Hawaii when you were born–and you’re Filipin0–being named “Keoke” is not strange to someone who isn’t familiar with that name, yet it is understandable.

Here’s my point.

If a young Black woman who is from Urban Black America decides to name her son Trayvon or Deontè, why is that so strange? Is it within our culture to make up names? Is Black American culture–excuse me, urban Black American culture–not valid enough to have names that give you away? Have you ever met children of Christian families named Ester, Josiah, and Abraham? Or Muslims named Mike that name their sons Mohammad? If you meet a White man named Brad, that seems normal. Wouldn’t it seem strange if you found a Black man named “Brad”? Or an Asian? If you met my cousin Ching-Ching, you probably wouldn’t think it strange, but if you met his Black father–you might raise an eyebrow. Except my cousin doesn’t look Black at all.

I have heard that we shouldn’t name our kids “ghetto” names because the Shaniqua’s and Jontay’s might have their resume’s thrown in the trash because potential employers might know they’re Black and “ghetto”…

Excuse me, but I thought discrimination in this country was unacceptable. I thought as Black people, we were above that. Supposedly, we educate ourselves for equal opportunity, send our children to church to get a spiritual foundation, tell them how beautiful and smart they are to build up their self-esteem–and then tell them to defraud their employers to hide the fact that they’re Black? As if Black men named Herman are supposed to be more intelligent and employable than Black “LaMonts”! Sounds like somebody believes pretty damned strongly in stereotyping.

Black folks, you must be above that. This is our culture. A Black man from Georgia named Tobias is no more uncouth than a Black man from DC named Delonte and neither is less intelligent than a Black man from Sacramento named Michael. If you are guilty of discriminating against your own brothers and sisters from the inner city–even those from below the poverty line–how can you ever expect that White man to respect YOU? Because you can attend the Ivy League universities, “clean up” your diction, change your name to Charles, and disassociate yourself from all Black people with less than a Bachelor’s degree–and if the man on the other side of the desk is racist, he will still see a Black man.

Question, do you know what they call Black PhD’s behind closed doors of the country clubs and board rooms in America?

They call him a Nigger.

You ain’t no different from those of us who were named after cars (Lexus and Diamonte) and combined names (Rayvon). If every man is to be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin, the least you can do is stand tall in the light of your ethnicity and shine as brightly as possible in the Blackness of your skin. Wear it proudly, and love who you were and where you came from. Even if you claim River Terrace and Mayfair and Langley Park as your hood. Because those things don’t define you, yet they define you. Your name introduces you, your upbringing, your experiences, your people, and all you had to overcome to get here.

What we call “ghetto names” are the names that are unique to Black people who decided not to name their children after white people and their culture. Each “ghetto name” has a reason and a story, even if that “reason” is that it sounds good. It is something that is cultural to the beautiful Black people that Slavery and segregation produced. It may be mispelled because the mother had an 8th grade education. It may be missing a last name because the father died in a gun battle over turf or drugs. It may have three middle names because the mother had three favorite brothers and she couldn’t decide so she combined their names. It may show that the bearer is from the project Southeast DC, or the burroughs of NYC, or small, impoverished town in Alabama. But the fact that this kid, with all his history and obstacles, is sitting before you with a college degree from a four year university tells his future employer that this candidate can come from nothing and match the intelligence and credentials of a white kid from an upper middle class upbringing and will be an awesome addition to the company. He is a living, breathing Phoenix, and knows struggle like the back of his soul and can leap over his underdog status in a single bound. Despite having Black skin that turns some men’s stomachs. Despite having several drug addicts in the family. Despite being hated by many of those placed above him who want to see him fail. Few men can trample the path he just arrived from and do what he did. That name tells you that a Black man is coming, who just got here from 400 years of slavery and 100 years of discrimination, and now he is just as qualified for that job as any white kid who was a descendant of his oppressor.

How can you not be proud of that?

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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Filed under Message to the Black Man

UNhappy Birthday

this is a poem i had in my backpack for a year, but i ran into a wall and could never finish it. then two things happened: my homeboy, who lost three children, was expecting another child, but the mother got an abortion against his wishes.

two days later i came across a song “happy birthday”, by flipside, about abortion (excellent song btw). just the inspiration i needed to cap off my piece, and gave me the perfect title! Flipsyde, you da man!

 

we exist among the living loved

the unwanted

the dead

ill-timed arrivals send souls

sentenced to join the unworthy

plummeting down the endless canals

of our otherwise welcoming walls we

suffer

violent

brutal finales

fatal finishes of long-awaited

happy birthdays

never to arrive

maybe you, but not me

i am the side effect of love gone awry

or conceived too young

or unsure parentage

sucking away at shallow pockets

of lifestyles that beg to be maintained

childless

you can see me in the empty seats

in kindergarten classrooms

laughter not heard

smiles not seen

tender touches never felt

only in the dreams of the mothers

and fathers

who regret

my death

wondering thoughts of what i

might have been

named

though it may appear my name is

“not yet”

am i a boy or girl?

only God knows

was i to be a momma’s boy

or daddy’s princess?

have her eyes

or his nose?

i am the gleam in a grandmother’s eye

or the shame of an unwed teen’s cries

found in toilet bloodclots

ultrasound blots

i loved you.

my small hands and

pre-formed fingers

too underdeveloped

to defend myself in this warm

watery womb-world

that fed me

nourished me

gave me a glimmer of future

for 8 whole weeks

i would have been

a good son

faint, distant screams drowned in

placenta violated by instruments

begs

cries of

let me live

i would have been

a good son.

but my ill-fated,

ill-timed arrival gave the false reassurance

of a “later time”, yet

i won’t be back

and we exist in the

profane presence of selfish minds—

a memory

fresh from God’s own hand

clumps of miry clay

left behind to dry

never the apple of your eye

never got the chance to breathe

or smile

or crawl

or walk

or talk

or jump

or climb

or run

or pray

or grow

or laugh

or play

and me?

i never even had a name

unseen

and because of “free choice”

i never

got the chance

to be.

happy birthday, babies…

 

 

 

 

“unhappy birthday”

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Love It or Leave It: A Thanksgiving Poem

The only real Americans

this poem was inspired by a painting i saw in a 1973 issue of National Geographic. the artist’s name is Charlie M. Russell. unlike many of that day (1800s) he did not characterize the Native American as savage. he handwrote in place of his signature a note:  “they are the only REAL americans”. so, here goes:

AMERICA:

love it, or leave it

they are the only real americans among us

skin as red as Sonora floors

he speaks the sound of clouds

and chants the thunderous

roar of a thousand horses

he is the door to the land

that birthed your patriotic pride and joy

closer to creation

than you may never know

with suicidal brotherly arms

they embraced the withering disintegration

of future generations

bondaged, brave, blind

bandaged, barbaric

tough and raw

with their bark still on

Iriquois ignorance

Judas justified

killing for keeps

left lying, dying on lifted lands

Muskogee, Comanche

molten manhood pooled in bands and

massacred mangled puddles of

sanguine sap that rosies the palms

of every hand

from the tears in eagle eyes

to the towers of Babel

they reach for skies

outstretched like arrows on a bow

for a God who has abandoned US

heard the lies about

the God they trust

trust us

bust us

justice

just us

just see

just me

trust me

treat me

treaty?

hmm…

words not worth the paper

they defile

with worshipped stars

and stripes striking pre-emptively

while the birth of a new nation

blindfolds the death of another

our once fertile, found red ground

sprouts a poisonous sea of green

drops a crocodile tear for offspring unseen

nourishing the seed of wrath in repose

stomachs churn

turned up nose

at the thought of blood spilled in His name

concrete gravestones stain

sacred stolen soil

still, they live here in vain

flying the banner of entitlement

BPA reveals splashes of its DNA

Red men

White skin

Blue eyes

forensic folly hints at

original sin

border fences line long

and line high before purple mountains

seams to keep gates of hell

open to hatred

they justify darkened Manhattan skylines

terror has found its way home

the rooster is calling

Illinois, Sioux me

you are a 4WD Cherokee

stranded on fruited plains

with Blackfeet and bloodied hands

still wet with blame

they are the only real americans

but someone stole his name

chanting Cheyenne wishes

for a Mighty Wind

to blow the unforgiving Sun

across our weeping, spacious skies

cast us into infernal Cree summers

Relentless, consuming

Like the wrath of centuries-old debts untold

he is Eskimo

he is Navajo

he is Paiute

Algonkin

Dakota

Miwok

Yuki

Shawnee

Chippewa

Maidu

Chickasaw

Yakima

Umpqua

Coyote

Shoshone

Witchita

Arapahoe

Pomo

descendants turned to dust in the womb

we will never know him

exiled onto desert tombs

with dehydrated tongues

and bleached histories tell

of killing blankets and crying trails

celebrated in the mockery

of drunken college punks in drag

rather than filling pride

birthmark badges

and federal IDs

savage aborigines

Godless and primitive

wild, like bitter berries

he is the sexy Masala in your good hair

the tan tint in Creole Rue

the safe haven for your forefathers

detours found Railroaded Underground

he is your ancestor’s brother

one-eighth on your grandmother’s

cousin side

mixed breed pride hide inside

erased so effectively

genealogies forgot him

overlooking a pasture of

bare Bison bones

when a word was whispered in the wind

from the past:

Remember

you are his worthless white wetbacks

thanks for Pilgrim-giving

shoulda let you starve on that rock

he prays for the strength of al Qaeda

the resilience of racism

and the swift, just hand of Noah’s Flood

911 was a joke in his town

for him, it was a Pow-Wow

twin teepee in the sky

made you realize

what it feels like to never die in spite of

eternal hunger

he wants his God-damned land back:

My people are broken

Like your promises

And it’s too late to atone

You’ve worn out your welcome,

America,

GO HOME.

Love it or leave it

© He Spit Fire

2007

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Filed under Poetry

Jaguar’s Journey, Part I

In my other life, I train people for a living.

One such person is Michael Jaguar Singh, a medical professional who shouldn’t need my services. However, he is human and therefore not perfect. I met Mike four years ago. He was interested in studying martial arts to protect himself, but we ended up dealing only with his weight:  He was about 200 pounds overweight (he only stands 5’6″), and suffering from many medical and physical problems as a result.

He was a diligent student; losing a considerable amount of weight in just a year’s time. By the time he had stopped training, Mike was doing things he’d not been able to do all his adult life–he was kicking, practicing with weapons, working out for three 3-minute rounds at a time. His stamina had improved greatly, and he had become quite strong and much healthier.

I recently heard from him while he sat in an emergency room stretcher. Michael had not only gained back the weight he lost while training; he gained more, and was now in worse health than when we met each other’s acquaintance years earlier. Resolving to regain his health, he returned to training just yesterday. Well, he did it once before, and he’ll do it again, I assure you. He is just as determined, although we must start from scratch.

Funny thing about fighters–and anyone can be a fighter–they are like a Phoenix, rising from places many people would expect to remain forever. Fighters can lose a fortune, and amass another one. They can have their hearts broken and just destroyed–and love again. They can tiptoe the line between life and death, and live an even fuller life than ever before. Mike is one such person. After getting into the best shape he’d ever been in his entire life, he returns back to the state he was in before. His own physician gave him the lecture “Lose weight, or else”–and he is back in the gym, like Rocky after a crushing defeat, poised to push that glass ceiling as high as he can push up to his tippy-toes.

I am proud to say that I will be a witness to see him do it. So proud, I made a blog in 2008 to document it. Yeah, I had my own (marital) issues and failed to maintain it. But if you’d like to be a fly on the wall, head over there and subscribe. It’ll be updated regularly. There are a few white lies I’ve told over there (he doesn’t want anyone knowing certain details about him, although he did agree to be featured on a blog), but everything is pretty much true (lol). I’ll make sure to post pics as well.

And if anyone in the Sacramento area would like to get back in shape and extend the expiration date on your life (and increase the sexability score on your strut), that blog will be the place to be. I will have fitness and weight loss tips, exercises, and other useful stuff. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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