Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Apologize

First of all...fuck Michael Richards...for apologizing!

Mr. Richards, it is, after all, I who should apologize to you. You see, I had no idea that you, Michael Richards -- the legendary Kramer -- frequented my humble little blog. I'd been warned by many that my use of the word "nigga" would create this situation, that it would place the word in the American lexicon, that I would force the legions of White people who blindly follow me and repeat my teachings across the globe to say things they wouldn't otherwise say. But I never really believed that I was this influential, this powerful. Perhaps if I'd considered your inability to maintain some level of human decency-- even in a comedy club, even when being (gasp!) heckled -- I would have realized that I was pulling the pin on the grenade that you threw at your audience.

Some readers may need to be caught up, Mr. Richards. Excuse me for a moment.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, this is some video from Mr. Richards' now infamous performance at The Laugh Factory (And for those of you who can't view the video -- especially those naughty ones who consume Musings on company time -- I'll give you the Cliff's Notes. Picture Cosmo Kramer, in response to being heckled, trying to set the world record for the use of the word nigger in a two minute span and throwing in a blatant lynching reference for shits and giggles.):

And...we're back. Wow, huh? How exciting for me! Michael Richards is apparently my number one fan.

But then -- and this is the part I feel worst about -- Mr. Richards, you found your life turned upside-down. And all because you're a member of the New Millennium Nation. Viral video being the force it is, the whole nation saw the video. But they were wrong to see it as an ugly, racist tirade by a bigoted bastard. They were wrong to be shocked as you explained eloquently, "...it shocks you to see what's buried beneath, muthafuckas." They should not have been shocked. They should have viewed this as what it was; a tribute to A New Millennium Nigga. So, it broke my heart that you had to go on Letterman and apologize...for seven minutes:

A racist?! Why would anybody think you were a racist? Of course you're not a racist. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) You, sir, are the victim of my brazen negritude, my embarrassing inability to appreciate just how much you idolize me.

This may come as a shock to you, but I've been idolized many times before. There was the time in eighth grade when I had to hem up a kid who took it upon himself to call my friend Jolene a nigger because she had gotten in line ahead of him to buy candy. He assured me he wasn't a racist. There was the after-school tackle in the pick-up football game that caused another non-racist to bless us with an n-bomb. There have been the cars that sped by with loyal fans just looking to say "Hi" to me, A New Millennium Nigga, an American icon. Yes, I've apparently touched so many.

But I wonder sometimes why other things I say aren't repeated with such regularity and vigor. For instance:

Affirmative action is pretty much the least that White America could and should do to atone for its treatment of Black people and all oppressed people in this country.


New Edition was way better than New Kids on the Block.

Or even:

A New Millennium Nigga is every woman's ideal lover. He's dreamy...and angry, too!

I can't even get Mrs. NMN to say that last one. You would think, with my societal power, that more of these would catch on. But they don't. Only "nigga/nigger" does. Weird.

You know, I'm thinking about it and you never mentioned me on Letterman. As a matter of fact, I have no reason to believe that you've ever heard of me. (And where did you get that cute little riff about "50 years ago" and those Black gentlemen "hanging upside-down with a fork in [their] ass?" You didn't get that from me. I stopped doing lynching jokes after I caused the murder of James Byrd, Jr. I should have cut them out altogether after I got Emitt Till killed, but you know how sometimes niggas can be hardheaded.) You know what? This may sound crazy, but I think all that racist shit that came out of you...came out of you.

Hear me out on this. I know it's radical. But may be you are racist. May be you just didn't know how fucking racist you are. May be a lot of Americans are like that. May be this entire nation should try taking the first step...and that's admitting you have a problem.

I've heard so many friends of the Black race over the years say that we Blacks need to take responsibility for our lives and stop blaming others. I'm going to have to request you be held to the same standard, Mr. Richards. I'm going to have to request that others, Black or White, who would use your racism to explain why I shouldn't say nigga get the cause and effect relationship straight.

You see, racism like the shit you said at The Laugh Factory helped to create the world in which I exist, a world where I never know which seemingly bening White person is walking around with visions of "niggers hanging upside-down with a fork sticking out their ass" dancing around in their head. I've become who I've needed to become to survive that world.

Reasonable minds may disagree on my creative and political choices. Earl Ofari Hutchinson opined on Arianna Huffington's blog that the increasingly random use of the "n-word" by black comedians was partly to blame for the incident. "The obsessive use of and the tortured defense of the word by so many blacks gave Richards the license to use the word without any thought that there'd be any blow back for doing it. He wasterribly wrong and got publicly called out for it. The blacks that use and defend that word should be called out too. Who's willing to do that?"

He got the tortured part right. But the defense is of myself, of the place I have scratched and clawed to create for myself in this society, this country, this world. I defend myself against those who wag their finger at me, who disrespect me for my personal choice. I defend myself against those who would in any way excuse the rapist for calling the woman he rapes a "bitch," simply because she may call her girlfriends "bitches" when they're talking shit on the phone.

I know the difference between Dave Chapelle and David Duke, Mr. Richards. I know that I laugh with Chris Rock but never at the Little Rock Nine, Mr. Hutchinson. Don't conflate and confuse the issues.

The more I think about it, the less I feel like I should be doing the apologizing. I'm not sorry for what you did, Mr. Richards. And, because your racism exists independent of my choices, I don't even feel sorry for what I do.

Other niggas in the community think it's crummy
But I don't, neither does the youth cause we
em-brace adversity it goes right with the race

- Q-Tip, "Sucka Niggas"

No, I don't apologize. I embrace the adversity. I embrace the race. I embrace the reality that even with a Master's Degree under my belt, all any temp agencies seemed able to scrounge up for me when I graduated were warehouse jobs. I embrace the memory of the White woman who, unprompted, turned to me and my Black male companions in a Writers' Guild elevator and blurted, "Boy, you sure are menacing." And I, like Redman, say, "I'll Be Dat!" I know how many see me. I know who I am. And I know that those are inextricably linked in my experience.

Much respect to those who make a different choice. I respect their decision. But I've looked back over my life, over the history and heritage I share with millions of "others" and I've decided to take that scarlet "N" America forced upon me and to wear it as a badge of honor.

I look at the brothers I see with their kids at the playground, brothers we're told don't exist -- seeing as how Black men never take care of their kids...or anybody else's -- and I say, "You are not invisible. I see you. Keep on doing that fatherhood thing. I love you for that, my nigga."

I see the brothers making it in corporate America and I say, "You keep holding it down, my niggas. 'Cause we know that Reginald Lewis wrote 'Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?' for a reason."

I look at my brothers who have gotten caught up in what Ice Cube describes on his latest CD as "The Nigga Trap" and I say, "I still got love for you, my niggas. It is never too late to do your part to turn this whole thing around. (See the late, great Stanley "Tookie" Williams who, for all his wrongs, did what he could from where he was to make the world a better place.) Raise up and be who you should be and not who you were told you were."

I am A New Millennium Nigga. I do not apologize for being that. I do not apologize for saying that. I say what I mean. And I mean what I say.

So, do me a favor Mr. Richards, don't apologize. Don't apologize while you hide behind "I'm not a racist." You are a fucking racist. You may not want to be. You may not want us to know that you are. You may not enjoy seeing yourself that way. But the truth of the video is overwhelming.

You didn't use "nigga" like I use "nigga." You know why? Because you can't. You have neither the cultural nor the emotional context that would allow that to happen. You simply saw some Black people and said the first fucked-up thing that came to mind, the thing that comes to more minds than we may ever know or admit. "Nigger!" It wasn't about a shared struggle. It was about the hate that made that struggle my reality. And anybody who would blame me for that is fucking bugging. [Note: "Bugging" is a word that niggas use when they mean that someone is "flipping out." Usage: Michael Richards bugged the fuck out and called some niggas "niggers" at The Laugh Factory last Friday night.]

Mr. Richards -- And I call you that to model a behavior I like to call "respecting other people's humanity" -- you are one racist muthafucka.

So, now you know what I think of you. And I already know what you think of me. That's a start.

So, don't apologize. Not yet. Not when it's so clear that you said what you meant and you meant what you said.

No, it does not shock me to "see what is buried beneath," muthafucka. The sound of the tell-tale heart that is racism pounds and resounds in my ears. So I guess I am sorry about one thing. I'm sorry that this is where we find ourselves...even in this new millennium.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


My Dearest Niglets,

I’m a fighter. I’m guessing that by the time I show you this letter, you will have pretty much gathered that about me. But I’m not a fighter fighter. I mean, I’m not a “pro” as they say in the gym. So, although I am by nature a fighter, in the gym I’m not a fighter. I’m just a guy who loves boxing. And though I was a relatively advanced (that means old) 29 years old the first time that I stepped into a gym to train, on some level I guess I’ve always loved the sweet science.

Why do they call it the “sweet science?” Well, I’m thinking that the “You’re Bleeding On The Inside And A Little Bit From The Eye Science” didn’t test well. I’m playing…mostly. Someday, we’ll spend a little time watching some vintage Ali fights, and maybe some vintage Sugar Ray Leonard fights, or even some vintage “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights and I’ll try to explain, to show you. I’ll try to help you recognize the perfection that was Roy Jones. I’ll try to explain why the “grill guy” winning the heavyweight championship at the age of 45 was an inspiration to middle-aged (to you, that means old too) people across the country. I’ll try to help you appreciate the beauty of Arturo Gatti’s heart.

I have no way of knowing whether you will like boxing. You may turn to me and say that it is a barbaric sport (which it is) which generally has poor people – or people who started out poor – beating the hell out of each other (which it does). But as I think about it, I’ve learned a lot about life through boxing.

Grandpa – my father -- loved the fights. He’d watch on TV. (That was before every fight that involved a guy you’d barely heard of cost fifty bucks. Ahhhh…pay-per-view.) I first fell in love with boxing sitting next to him. I don’t know whether it was watching with him or later on, but at some point I noticed that just about the last thing the ref tells both fighters is “Protect yourself at all times.”

“Protect yourself at all times” seems sound advice. For me, it seems more sound advice with each passing year. Life can be tough. People can be rough, friend and foe alike – assuming for a moment that they can always be distinguished one from the other. Protect yourself at all times.

It’s funny, though. I also hope that you’ll fall in love someday, find someone who you trust enough to let your guard down. Believe me, that’s hard to do after keeping your guard up all the time. But hopefully, you’ll find someone like your mother, someone who not only won’t hit you when your hands are down, but who will look to protect you in a million ways you never thought of before, who will greet you with open arms and watch your back when you need to rest your weary arms.

Still, I cringe. Because if you think boxing is rough, believe me, love can be a bruising game. It’s one worth playing though, even when you have to play through the pain.

So, please…Protect yourself at all times…except when you should let your guard down…which only you can decide. Good luck with that.

“Who you got, Duran or Leonard?” It seems like it should have been a simple question. But I’m Panamanian-American. That seems like it should be a simple thing, too. But any immigrant or second-generation child of an immigrant who has been accused of becoming “too American” can tell you that striking a balance isn’t always simple at all. I first became aware of that when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran fought in Montreal in 1980. I loved Sugar Ray Leonard. I was only four when he won the gold, but I remember liking to wear my robe and pretend that I was him.

So, by the time I was eight, I had read the Ebony articles, I had watched his fights and I had rooted for him as he became World Champion. My family was rooting for Duran, though. “Hands of Stone” was the pride of Panama and they wanted to see him whup up on that pretty boy, Ray Leonard. The first fight happened and I lost…I mean Sugar Ray lost. I was crushed. But my uncle – the man who taught me how to score fights using the ten point must system -- who’d flown from Panama to Montreal was ecstatic. Grandpa was ecstatic. Everybody, it seemed, was ecstatic except me.

Then came the rematch. Grandpa promised to take me to see the closed circuit. (Back in the day, before pay-per-view was around, but after the “superfight” was born, you’d head out to a movie theater and they’d project the fight live.) This time, I’d root with Pa – that’s what I called Grandpa. I’d root for Duran. We’d be on the same side, the same glorious, victorious side. Except…not.

It was so exciting. Pa came to pick me up. It was a school night, but Ma – that’s what I called your Grandma – gave me special permission to go because it was so important to me. The fight was going along. Duran was getting frustrated as Sugar Ray Leonard danced around him and refused to stand and slug it out. It was getting ugly. Sugar Ray was hitting Duran at will and was generally embarrassing him. Then it happened. Duran turned to his corner and infamously said, “No mas.” He quit.

That was the dagger to my heart. He quit. He didn’t get knocked out. He didn’t just lose. I mean, there’s no shame in losing if you give your all. But don’t ever quit. Remember that. Anyway, Duran did quit. And, even as I write this, I’m disappointed all over again.

I had lost…I mean, Duran had lost…No dammit! I had lost…again!

When it came to Duran and Leonard I somehow managed to lose, to root for the wrong guy, each time. Looking back, that makes sense. I’ve learned that in a fight against yourself, you never win.

“Alli viene Duran.” A buzz ran through the Panama airport. He walks through smiling at everyone. They all smile back, including me. All I could think was, “Wait ‘til Pa gets better. I have to tell him I saw Duran.” I was headed back to Los Angeles. I had left Pa behind in a hospital that didn’t have screens in all the windows. He had a brain tumor. They’d done surgery and removed as much as they could. “He’ll get better,” I assured myself. “He’s a fighter.” Yeah, your Grandpa was a fighter too. You come from a long line of fighters.

He didn’t get better. He died. Sometimes when I look at you guys I feel particularly sorry about that. He would’ve gotten a kick out of you. He loved kids.

Maybe we all could’ve watched a fight together. Who knows who we would have been rooting for? and why? Pa might have told you about the red Everlast 7oz. junior gloves he got me one Christmas. I might have told the story of seeing Duran in the airport. Pa might’ve even told you about the time he came to pick me up after school and found me fighting. He would’ve enjoyed calling me out in front of you. He liked to laugh.

I don’t remember the fight as well as I remember the aftermath. Pa did his best to admonish me for fighting. He really did try, bless his heart. He finally settled on “As long as you were defending yourself. You should only fight to defend yourself.” That was about as much admonishment as he could muster. Then he looked in the rearview mirror and said, “You’re tough. You did alright.” His boy was a fighter and he couldn’t hide that he was proud.

After Grandpa died I didn’t have much fight in me. I had never been so sad…or so fat! Good Lord. Street teams started putting posters on my back. I was fat, for real. Finally, I decided that I was going to get back in shape. And that’s when I wandered into La Brea Boxing Gym. And that’s where I met a trainer named Amilcar Brusa.

Brusa was in his late seventies, just a few years older than Pa. He had trained world champions, twelve of them. He had been the WBA Trainer of the Year and is a member of their Hall of Fame. You may be asking yourself why he would want anything to do with a 29 year old writer who’d never step foot in a boxing gym. I don’t know.

Maybe he saw me as some kind of mascot. Or he may have just been tickled by my earnestness. But Brusa, worked with me every day I came in there. He was a friend to me at one of the lowest points in my life. I don’t think he knew that the good boxing was doing my body was a drop in the bucket compared to the good it was doing my spirit.

The heavy bag I used was right below a Panamanian flag. I took that as a sign that I was in the right place. I beat that heavy bag, day after day, until I started feeling better. Some days I would talk to Grandpa. Some days I would beat on the doctor who couldn’t save him. Some days I would have a good long talk with God. I didn’t get my answers to all my questions, but beating on that heavy bag sure did get me in some good shape.

Eventually, I sparred. And Brusa was in my corner. He’d call things out, things he’d taught me. When I watch fights, I’m always interested in the relationship between a fighter and his trainer. Often they seem so close. I once saw Buddy McGirt stop an Arturo Gatti fight because Gatti’s eye was swollen completely shut. He leaned down to Gatti and said, “I’m stopping it, Arturo. I love you too much.” I don’t know how many fans paid any attention to that. I did. It was stunningly beautiful. I thought, “It’s nice to have someone in your corner who cares.” I surely didn’t face any gruesome moments like that sparring with 16oz. gloves and headgear. But it was nice to know that Brusa was in my corner, even if it was just for a little early-morning sparring in a cold, empty gym.

“I’m’a take a leak.” I stood up after my pronouncement. (By the way, I DO NOT want to hear you talking like that.) I was fourteen and hanging out with my friends. The big Tyson/Spinks fight was about to start. “It’s just the first round,” I figured. “Hold on,” my buddy Carl said, “Go between rounds.” That worked out real well. See, Tyson knocked Spinks out in ninety-one seconds. It was the first round. It was the last round. It was the only round. It was literally awesome.

Being in Brooklyn when Tyson was king was amazing. I always felt like he represented a bunch of brothers the world had forgotten. But they couldn’t ignore him once he laced ‘em up and got in the ring. He was just a ball of fury, a fighting machine. He was the physical manifestation of the rage that gripped the Brownsvilles and the Bed-Stuys and the East New Yorks. Brooklyn had nothin’ but love for Iron Mike.

But then things went south for him. He went to prison. And I know you won’t believe this, but he bit a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear off. It was kind’a like the Duran situation but with cannibalism.

Remember I said that you should never quit? If your other option seems to be biting off a piece of some nigga’s ear…quit. We’ll all get over it.

People made a lot of jokes about Tyson biting Holyfield. And rightly so. It was funny…in a way. But in another way it was tragic. Tyson had become the savage he believed the world saw in him, saw in all of us.

A generation before us had Ali. We had Tyson. I’ve always felt like the difference between them represented something deeper about the Black community after the Civil Rights Era. We somehow fell from beautiful to base, from majesty to minstrelry. Part of me still roots for Mike Tyson, even as he publicly considers a publicity stunt like fighting a woman. Just recently, a friend from New York admitted that she holds out hope that he’ll make one more comeback. It’s hard to accept that someone who represented hope for so many is now hopeless, a shell of his former self, a monument to potential never realized.

I’m back in the gym these days. After Grandma died, guess what? I got fat again! But I’ve been pounding on that heavy bag. I’ve been dropping weight. I’ve been punching out some of the pain of the past as I work on the body I hope will give me a whole lot of future, a whole lot of future with you. I guess you could say I’m fighting for our future. I guess you could say that in and out of the ring. But I hope you already know that.

I’m trying to teach you what I’ve learned fighting, living.

When you see an opening, don’t think about it. Just let your hands go.

Train hard, because a lot of fights are won before you step foot in the ring.

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to stand your ground and fight.

I hope this all makes sense to you. I’m saying it the best way I know how. After all, I’m a fighter. Just remember…

Protect yourself at all times.

Never quit.

Never bite a nigga’s ear off.

And no matter what goes down, I’m in your corner.

Now get out there and fight!


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Monday, November 13, 2006


Dubya ain't the only one who prematurely congratulates if you ask me.

Peep the latest Musing over at Pajiba for some post-midterm (sounds oxymoronic, no?) analysis.

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