Archive for October, 2014

Under the Overpass: Listening and Looking for Our Girls

Under the Overpass focuses on politics, current events, and social commentary from a black, crunchy, granola perspective. Myshell chooses the topics. Michael writes the commentary. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and not endorsed by or its owners.

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we are listening and looking for our missing girls. Let me set the context, before we talk about our search.

In the middle of the night on April 15, 2014, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. The perpetrators, Boko Haram, are a fundamentalist Islamic group that does not believe girls or women should be educated (Boko Haram roughly translates as “Western education is a sin”). They claim that their interpretation of Sharia Law (their view of a fundamentally strict adherence to Koranic Law). The armed group is trying to spread Sharia Law throughout Nigeria.

The Chibok girls are not the first girls kidnapped. Nor is anti-Western education the only basis for the attacks. According to Human Rights Watch, as reported by Time magazine, the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed in a 2012 video that the abductions were retaliation for detaining women associated with Boko Haram. In the video Shekau says, “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women … to your own wives according to Sharia law.”

Time magazine reported that Human Rights Watch interviewed 12 Chibok girls who escaped from 2012 and 2013 kidnappings. A young girl from Konduga, Nigeria was walking home from school when she and her classmates stopped by militants from Boko Haram. The leader said, “Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school when we have said ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today.”

The interviews confirmed what many have been suspecting. The girls are being raped, often in the context of forced marriages. Boko Haram doesn’t consider any girl too young for marriage. After a 17-year-old abductee complained that she was too young for marriage, the commander pointed to his own 5-year-old daughter and said, “If she got married last year, and is just waiting till puberty for its consummation, how can you at your age be too young to marry?”

Another girl, who was only 15, was forced to marry a Boko Haram commander after her kidnapping in 2013. “After we were declared married I was ordered to live in his cave but I always managed to avoid him,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “He soon began to threaten me with a knife to have sex with him, and when I still refused he brought out his gun, warning that he would kill me if I shouted. Then he began to rape me every night. He was a huge man in his mid-30s and I had never had sex before. It was very painful and I cried bitterly because I was bleeding afterwards.”

I’ve got two daughters. This type of bulls@#t —- in the name of God -— is so painful and insulting to human rights and human decency that it can make you want to bring a whole different meaning to “Go Back To Africa.” Go back armed. Makes you wanna bring that gunfire.

American gunfire is what some are calling for to help locate the missing girls and the continued abuse by Boko Haram (at least eight additional girls were kidnapped in May). President Obama deployed a 200 member military and law enforcement regiment to help search for the girls. Though the emotion of the tragedy can make us want to bring violence to meet violence, some Nigerians aren’t in favor of this solution. Nigerian-American activists and writer Jumoke Balogun has been outspoken in her resistance to American military intervention. In her powerful site, Balogun wrote:
Consequently, your calls for the United States to get involved in this crisis undermines the democratic process in Nigeria and co-opts the growing movement against the inept and kleptocratic Jonathan administration. It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable. Your emphasis on U.S. action does more harm to the people you are supposedly trying to help and it only expands and sustain U.S. military might.

I agree with Balogun. Military incursions on behalf of the missing girls into Africa simply provides and open door for future military incursions. So what now? Other concerned world citizens have been supporting the #bringbackourgirls movement by posting videos of support and donating money to various agencies that could help the cause.

I think the #bringbackourgirls hashtag movement is important and it shows international compassion. We should continue to use what is available to us to show support. However, I defer to the activists on the ground as to what is the best way to approach the problem. Sometimes, even the most well-meaning of us, get in the way because we want to do it our way without even consulting the folks who we are trying to help. We need to listen more and listen better. Jumoke Balogun’s site has something to say about the what we can do to help the missing Nigerian girls:

If you must do something, learn more about the amazing activists and journalists like this one, this one, and this one just to name a few, who have risked arrests and their lives as they challenge the Nigerian government to do better for its people within the democratic process.  If you must tweet, tweet to support and embolden them, don’t direct your calls to action to the United States government who seeks to only embolden American militarism. Don’t join the American government and military in co-opting this movement started and sustained by Nigerians.

We hear you sister, down here, under the overpass.

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Under The Overpass: The Politics of Social Justice

Under the Overpass focuses on politics, current events, and social commentary from a black, crunchy, granola perspective. Myshell chooses the topics. Michael writes the commentary. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and not endorsed by or its owners.

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been talking badly about Black politicians. Our No Hateration Rule is strictly enforced, so our bad talk is not mean-spirited. We’re naming the bad, not luxuriating in the critique.

We’re disappointed.

We expect more from our paid political leaders, especially when many of our youth are paying big for a world dealing them bad hands and hot bullets. We expect more when Black unemployment is twice the rate of whites (aprox.11.5% to 5.4%). We expect more when, according to the Sentencing Project ( ) one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated in their life time. We expect more when prison guards are raising hundreds of thousands of our young black men—a tragic twist to It Takes A Village.

We expect more when shit is this bad.

Bad community conditions mean politicians can’t be bad too.

Thankfully, we have a great number of community activists who are being good, and doing good. The Dream Defenders, Color of Change, Dignity and Power Now, AGENDA, and Community Coalition are doing vital work. These organizations have a grass roots focus that believes that change happens from the bottom up. It’s an approach that involves ascertaining the needs and desires of the community, and working collectively to manifest those needs and desires. This is a social justice approach. It’s an approach that our political leaders should embrace.

Too often the approach of our political leaders is rooted in getting elected and reelected. If the needs of the community happen to align with getting elected and reelected, it’s all good. This alignment seems to be occurring with less frequency, which may explain why our politicians seem all bad.

In fairness, there are two elements of the political game that can adversely affect a Black politician’s ability to serve the community. Politics is a dirty game and the dirt is green. It takes money to run campaigns, pay for commercials, and pay staff. The money usually comes from people who are outside of our community. Lobbyists paying for access (and hopefully votes) that can lead to increased profit, and individual business owners with the same agenda. When the campaign is over these donors expect some love — and they get it — and it’s not a quickie. Even when the love means an outcome that isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the community.

The other major element that adversely affects Black politicians ability to serve their Black constituents is the “current political protocol.” The protocol is enforced by lobbyists, special interests and “the mood of the country.” This element is best understood via example.

The current political protocol around the apartheid regime in Israel is that politicians don’t call it apartheid, although there is a two-tiered system in place for Jewish people living in Israel and occupied Palestine and non-Jewish people living in Israel and the occupied Palestine.

Despite the Israeli government’s collective punishment of Palestinians by bull dozing homes, destroying farmland, government takeover of Palestinian land, imposing checkpoints on main roads, and building an outdoor prison featuring an electric fence, the current political protocol requires American politicians to “support our special friend Israel” and blame the Palestinians for their oppression at the hands of the state of Israel. This is all bad, but what makes it more awful, is that over 4 billion dollars in US taxpayer money goes to Israel every year to support this badass state of affairs. Black people pay taxes too (except for Wesley Snipes and Xzibit), so our money is also supporting an apartheid regime.

As a people who have suffered an extraordinary amount of state-sponsored oppression (slavery, COINTELPRO, Ronald Reagan, ect,) our interests more naturally align with those of the Palestinian people. Our political leaders, then, should be working to support our interests by calling for the liberation of Palestine and an immediate moratorium on the annual 4 billion dollar Oppression Gift that goes from our pockets to the oppressor. This summer, when the latest incursion into Gaza was killing almost 1000 Palestinians, including scores of civilians, and a shocking number of children, the entire Congressional Black Caucus voted “yea” on a resolution that called the attacks legitimate “self-defense.” To demonstrate the power of the current political protocol surrounding Israel, the infamously divided congress passed the resolution unanimously.

The Congressional Black Caucus used to be called the “Conscience of the Congress,” in part, for their principled resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It’s tragic that the CBC is now supporting apartheid in Israel. Oh, and brother president Barack Hussein Obama, is down with Israeli apartheid too. It’s chilling.

Controlled by money and the current political protocol, our political leaders are making choices that go directly against the interests of large swaths of our community member’s interest. Now what? How do we get our politicians to take positions that support social justice? Let’s talk solutions.

African Americans have to keep up with the issues of the day—and vote. It’s on us to be aware of the types of votes that Black politicians are making as our representatives. This type of information-based civic duty is mandatory, not only for us, but for those who we could inspire to be more up on political game. We have to make sure our barbershop/beauty salon/park rec league hoop sideline/Scandal party conversations also include what’s happening politically. Those in the know, have to be unafraid to steer the conversation towards the real, even when there’s resistance in the room. It’s our Black civic duty.

Secondly, we have to try to find ways to influence the decisions of our politicians. Campaign contributions are the best way, but if your money is short, you’d be amazed at the power of a letter. Organizing letter writing campaigns to the folk who represent you works. They know you’re paying attention—which means that you care enough to be a “likely voter.” Groups of likely voters get call-backs, email-backs and holler-backs from politicians.

Lastly, we have to support the politicians, at any level, who are acting, at least sometimes, like that got some damn sense. Holly Mitchell, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Mark Ridley-Thomas fit this bill. Write them letters when they’re making tough votes. Send them a dub for their campaign. Volunteer at a phone bank. Tell them, “Thank you,” for supporting social justice if you see them at an event. These are small things, but they have a way of reminding our leaders why they got involved in politics in the first place: to make things better for people, here, under the overpass.

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Under the Overpass: High-Tech Hollerin’

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been mourning the loss of a dying art form: hollerin’. To holler or not to holler was a question that froze many a young brother in my Long Beach neighborhood. When a girl, who moved you, came within hollerin’ range, anxiety appeared too. Wing-tipped butterflies emerged. You wanted to honor the feeling of being moved, but didn’t know if you could spit game that could move her too. In the LBC, your hollerin’ would fall on deaf big-hooped ears, if the macking was lacking. I’ve seen sisters laugh in brothers’ faces when verbal approaches lacked verbal dexterity. I’ve also been the laughee.

Although I’m speaking about a Black heteronormative context, I’m sure the art of hollerin’ was valued by Black same-gender lovers as well. Black Long Beach’s appreciation for charismatic wordplay was not proscribed by sexual preference.

The holler or not to holler moment was magic. An acknowledgement of the pre-rational connection between select human beings. The attraction between strangers felt a split-second before it was acknowledged. The chemical reactions given language: I’m feeling you. Chemistry’s embodiment in shared space. A sister’s spiritual presence. And, at times, her large posterior. Have mercy.

In that mystical hollering’ moment, there was a recognition: I’m about holler at my maybe-future-lady. Or not. My fear could let her pass. That’s where anxiety entered. In that shared moment.

The ubiquitous presence of social media dating sites has sounded the death knell for the holler moment. Now, Black folk are more likely to first meet in a tweet than on the street. Hollerin’ just ain’t the same when the character of your mack hand is judged by 140 characters.

On some real talk, all hollerin’ ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes the nomenclature used is not clever, respectful or appreciated. And if it is, some sisters simply don’t want any stranger on the street engaging them in unsolicited conversation. Furthermore, the art of hollerin’ can (and often does) easily devolve into trying to talk a sister into bed. A conquest sport. hollerin’ culture can also lead to casual misogyny that, along with being offensive, is destructive to Black loving relationships.

The aforementioned issues may be behind the rise of dating sites like Tinder, OK Cupid, Meet Black Christian Singles and These social media products take away some of the initial anxiety of meeting someone new—and completely eliminates the need to holler in the moment on the corner of 21st & Lewis or 43rd & Degnan.

Tinder is the newest, most innovative and most intriguing of these products. It’s Facebook meets High School Yearbook meets If-you-like-me-mark-the-right-box-note from the 2nd grade—all on your phone. The visually-driven app uses information from your Facebook account and a GPS function to create a world where you “swipe right” on pictures of people (within a given radius) who you hope are swiping right on you. When there’s a mutual right-swipe, the app alerts the members of the match and sets up a textual meet-and-greet. Voila! You’ve reached the hollerin’ moment sans the hollerin’ anxiety. Your thumbs are doing the talking. She’s not gonna laugh in your face, unless you’re wearing a sock puppet on your thumbs.

Since Tinder matches are driven almost exclusively by appearances, the application is notorious for its hook-up potential and reality. It’s been described as a “Booty Call video game.” Call of Duty for skeeters.

Interestingly, the advertisements for Tinder feature quite a few Black folk, but they’re never with each other. This, however, has not stopped Black men from engaging in its gonad gaming function. The implication of brothers on Tinder? Follow me. Think, Change the Game. The NBA with John Havlicek, and after Michael Jordan. Comedy with Bob Hope, and after Richard Pryor. Boxing with Rocky Marciano, and after Muhammad Ali. Dance shows with American Bandstand, and after Soul Train. Twitter. Nuff said.

Gaming brothers have gone HAM swiping for the High Score.

It’s not in me to knock a player’s hustle. It’s not the Underpass way. Instead, I offer this food for thought or thought per swipe: What is the impact of Tinder on the tender-hearted?

At the other end of the spectrum is Meet Black Christian Singles. It allows brothers to holler in the name of Jeez-zuss. It’s an online dating service with an explicit “Christian-motif.” The site has users fill out an extensive questionnaire that purportedly increases the possibility of finding a “soul mate.” The commercials are compelling. They feature testimonials by people looking and sounding like they are very much in love.

Since so many African Americans are churched, Meet Black Christian Singles seems to have a special attraction for Black folk. Being explicitly hetero, it’s where church women go to meet Christian men, and where Christian men go to meet sisters they can spank on Saturday night, and thank the Lord with the same raised hand on Sunday morning. Brothers with gold crosses around their necks and Magnum condoms in their wallets. These are often cats who genuinely want a “good Christian woman”—eventually. They just need to work their way up and down a few pews until they find the right one—and the right one on the side. The drawback: it gives Black “Christian men” a bad name. Women’s faith in the church—and God—can be altered when brothers are running through sisters like undersized safeties on Fox NFL Sunday.

The true tragedy?: Ministers can be the worst. Have mercy. and OK Cupid are the middle ground. can be just what its acronym describes, but unlike Meet Black Christian Singles, it’s more honest about its intentions. You can sign up looking for love or phone calls after 11 PM. Seek to spoon or pull ponytails. Or both (nothing like spooning after some pony tail–pulling). is the closest approximation to macking on the block. The diversity of interests. The realness. A little something for everybody in the neighborhood. A place where “What you need?” is a proposition, affirmation and confession.

OK Cupid is similar but it trends younger. Maybe because it’s a newer service. The users seem more social media savvy. Hook-ups happen here, but so do the occasional Meet Black Christian Singles-like-testimonials.

Taken collectively, these four sites are a reminder of African Americans’ need for connection. Physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. We’re seeking ways to see ourselves in other people—and have other people see us. Recognize us and our beauty. In a world bent on showing us we’re not beautiful by shooting us. And our children. We want to be liked and not just with a thumbs up, when our drawers are down. We want someone to feel us. That’s why hollerin’ on 21st and Lewis or 43rd and Degnan is important. Even with its problematic gender dynamics. In the holler moment, you’re feeling someone so deeply that you risk being ridiculed. Risk being the laughee. But you holler anyway. Hoping your maybe-future-lady will holler back, here, under the overpass.

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Under the Overpass: Ferguson, One-Time, and Juror No. 9

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we have a name for the police: one-time. Etymological origins aren’t always easy to unearth for the children of asphalt, but one-time’s origins probably rooted in a story that begins with “One time” and ends with “the police.” An unhappy ending.

One time when I was 10, three of my pre-pubescent friends and I found three smashed and abandoned newspaper machines in an empty lot. We were trying to liberate the few remaining coins that clinked inside. Candy money. Now & Later loot. The first police car swooped into the dirt lot, and came to a hook-sliding, dust kicking stop about 30 feet from me. A white man leaped out, clutching a gun in both hands, arms stretched out forward and stiff—just like on TV. His momentum carried him a few steps toward me. He had to squat to line up with the bridge of my 10-year-old nose.


No one had ever pointed a real gun at my face before. He was so close. I was shaking violently. My forearms, feet, chin and knees were stuttering so hard that he had to yell, “Freeze” again.

After we were handcuffed and placed in the back of the car, the officer riding shotgun turned to his partner and began a joke with “What do you call five ni**ers …” The cop’s partner ignored him, but the comedian plowed on. He told ni**er jokes all the way to the police station. One-time.

Most of my black male friends have one-time stories. I know because I have heard them. We share them like psychic scars laced in pain and shame. These scar stories are not respecters of class. Friends on bikes and buses and friends in Lincolns and Lexuses have one-time tales. The only good news is that they are alive to tell the tale.

Like Oscar Grant, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, Dillon Taylor, Dante Parker, Eric Garner, and John Crawford, Michael Brown did not live to tell his one-time tale. It is incumbent upon those of us who know Brown’s story, to tell it for him. To be one-time proxies. To give voice to the lives silenced by bullets paid for with taxpayer money. It’s our civic duty.

One of the multitude of troubling aspects about the Michael Brown murder is the racial divide about racial issues in the case. Recent Pew Center poll results involving St. Louis County residents provide a stark reminder that “post-racial America” is a Koch Brothers’-financed, GOP-think tank-tested talking point—with absolutely no grounding in reality.

The Pew poll found that by about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks. Roughly three-quarters of blacks (76%) have little or no confidence in the investigations, with 45% saying they have no confidence at all.

The poll’s statistical evidence reminds me of an interaction with a white colleague. This is a colleague with whom I’ve had friendly relations in a professional setting. A man. A guy I liked a lot and who seemed to like me. Smart and funny. Nice. A good guy. A guy I enjoyed spending time with talking sports, politics and art.

One day our conversation turned especially personal -— real talk -— and I shared a few of my one-time stories. It was an intimate moment, which I why I recall so clearly the look on his face. The slightly raised eyebrow. The somewhat bemused look.

He didn’t believe my one-time stories.

He thought I was exaggerating about being stopped by three different police cars, three times, on the way to the mall even though I only lived a mile from the mall. He doubted that I had witnessed police routinely beat black men in my Long Beach neighborhood. He thought I was lying about the times I had been called a ni**er by cops.

It was an eye opening experience for me.

My lived experience as an African American, tax-paying citizen was so different from his lived experience as a white, tax-paying citizen, that my experience was literally unbelievable. My black life was unbelievable because, for my white colleague, the police actually did protect and serve him and people who looked like him. They lived in his neighborhood. Knew his parents. Which is why policemen could excuse crimes like possession of weed and drunk driving as “blowing off steam,” and why these crimes could be handled with a firm tongue-lashing and the dumping of a stank baggie of Purple Haze. The same crimes that would have had me -— and those who look like me -— serving time in the county jail. Or worse. Much worse. Michael Brown worse.

As the country awaits the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision about Brown’s killer, officer Darren Wilson, the same Pew poll of St. Louis County citizens found 72% of white residents think Wilson should not be charged with a crime and 71% of black residents think he should be charged. If the grand jury (9 whites, 3 blacks) votes along racial lines, officer Wilson walks free. Not even a trial.

This is where the Pew Poll meets my good guy white colleague. The grand jury is meeting in secret and their identities are being protected, so all we seem to know about the jury members is their apparent race and their status as residents of St. Louis County.

But is this all we really know?

I would bet a blueberry bean pie that the 3 black members of the grand jury have at least one one-time story. As a result, they could imagine an officer shooting an unarmed black man who, according to at least three eye witnesses, had his hands up in the universal sign of surrender, when he was gunned down.

I would bet a Trader Joe’s gift card that at least 8 of the 9 white jurors, have already decided that officer Wilson must have felt like his life was in danger for him to shoot an unarmed American citizen. They’ve already decided that Michael Brown must have done something that led to his unfortunate death. They’ve already decided that Michael Brown’s death was Michael Brown’s fault because it simply doesn’t make sense for a police officer, like the ones from their neighborhood, like the one’s in their families, to shoot an unarmed American citizen for no reason.

I would bet justice for Michael Brown’s family will rest on one white juror. I’ll gender him male and call him Juror No. 9. Juror No. 9 may have had a friendly, collegial, relationship with an African American person at work. Maybe they talked sports, politics and art and shared good-hearted laughs. Maybe Juror No. 9’s black colleague broke off some real talk one day and shared a one-time story that seemed so painfully real, that maybe it was real. Even though its depiction of police officers was so far removed from the way that Juror No. 9 had experienced members of law enforcement in his own community. In his own family. Maybe Juror No. 9 will think of this black colleague’s one-time story as he sits in the jury room deciding whether officer Darren Wilson should walk free without even so much as a trial for shooting an unarmed teenager six times—with his hands up in surrender. Maybe Juror No. 9 will let that one-time story lead to a rare story of justice. Justice for an unarmed black teenager. Justice for Michael Brown’s family. The black community. Justice for me, here, under the overpass.

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Pillow Talk: The Laugh Track

The pillow talk series contains conversations directly from our bedroom. When you and your partner leave the bills, scheduling, and kid talk in the emails, interesting whimsical conversations happen on the pillow.

from bed Thursday night …

H: Eww, I just read something creepy.

M: What?

H: “Even in today’s sitcoms, a large percentage of the people in the laugh track have since passed away. Meaning that we watch comedies marked by the laughter of dead people.”

M: Oh, that’s awesome.

H: Eww.

M: Their spirits live on each time we watch a show. Ashe!

H: No. That’s creepy.

M: I think dead people *should* laugh — especially at the living. The fact that they are performed in front of an audience of zombies, makes sitcoms much more funny.

H: That’s macabre, Myshell.

M: Your mileage may vary.

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