Monday, May 23, 2016
Abeng Prison Short Story: Letting Go
copyright 2016 K. Omodele
He drags himself into the visitation booth and the girls are already standing there droopy-eyed, like a mother and her two puppies crunched up in a kennel-sized space.
Chassidy's the younger girl, the one with the puzzle-locked brows, eyes climbing them pus-colored, cinderblock walls. Realizing I'm on the other side of the Plexiglas, she slaps it. Her voice comes through the speak hole.
"Why you did'unt pick us up from school yesterday?"
He says nothing, just sits and locks his eyes tight for a second, willing himself onto their side of the glass.
Opens them and Chassidy catches his vibe.
"You was in there?"
She frowns, turns and gazes up at Stacy who bends and hugs his Goddaughter.
Stacy parts the two girls and takes a seat on the single stool.
When Chassidy spins back around to find him, a million and one pink-white-red barrettes dance like Tinkerbelles around her shoulders.
Stacy's daughter, Cam, pushes herself up to the glass. She's a few months older than Chass, but looks a full-year bigger, and they're sporting matching barrettes like the Williams sisters. Cam balls her mouth up in a pout.
"Miss Hunter was mad at you. She made us wait in her office for-" she looks at her fingers, counting."-hundred hours after school."
Stacy rolls her eyes. "She called me about 3:30. Had to up and leave work to go get them. You know the school don't like baby sitting."
Embarrassment swells and leaps into his throat and he can see them waiting, buses cleared out, teachers and other kids gone. Just the two of them, the last ones after school. Waiting for him.
Had been late a few times before; but ain't never been this late, though, not stuck-in-jail-outta-town-can't-get-back-to-Charlotte late. And after the third or fourth time, the principal Ms. Hunter kidnapped him in her office.
"You can't be late picking the girls up! If you can't pick them up by 3:00, enroll them in an afterschool program!"
He can see her now, pacing the sidewalk in the parking lot, checking her watch and straining her neck to see if he was pulling up. Then, she'd march the girls to the office then try my cell phone. After that, she'd call Stacy as last resort.
His whole face is blood-hot. Took a year for Chassidy to settle in, make friends at school, get use to living with Stacy and Cam. Her Daddy been locked up two years now, with over twelve more to go. Now, her Mama and Godfather behind bars, too, and they're 'bout to pull some time. The girl can't catch a break.
He sighs. I'm going through this bullshit, again??!
"Pupa-" Stacy pauses like she deciding what part of his head she can drop more problems. "They didn't want release the car so I got the lawyer to threaten them. He said the car wasn't part of nothing; they ain't find nothing in it, so they ain't had no right to confiscate it. So, they released it, but now it's in the pound and I gotta wait 'til tomorrow to get it. Five hundred dollars. For one night in the pound? AND, I gotta get Mommy to take off work to drive it back..."
He sits his head in his hands. Usually loves them soup-coolers she got; but right now, they keep yap-yap-yapping and all he can hear is the judge:
"Remand, without bail!"
Going through THIS bullshit, AGAIN??!
"Your Grandma called. I can't keep saying you outta town. Feel like I'm lying to the lady, Pupa."
She calls him Pupa, even though he's not her daughter's father. Hell, he ain't nobody's father; just been playing daddy, responsible for other people's children. Won't have a chance to have one of his own no time soon, either, the way shit looks now.
Stacy's eyes are bloodshot; lashes wet and pasty, like broken-down Tammy Baker. He touches the glass, wishing he could stroke the weariness from her face. Together, out there, they been like Menelik and Taytu warring against the Italians. But this isn't his first ride and he knows how this will end.
The girls jockey for space between Stacy's legs and it turns into a rumble.
Stacy hisses. "Girls, fucking settle down! NOW!!"
The two freeze like that red-light, green-light game. Stacy hauls each one onto a knee.
Chassidy whines. "When you coming home?"
Now Cam goes. "You gonna pick us up tomorrow?"
"Pupa, what the fuck? I gotta put them in afterschool, at least 'til you get bail."
He looks her straight, through and through.
"Probably ain't getting no bail," he says.
The corners of her eyes turn down and the light on their side of the glass dims. Now he know it for sure- she ain't gonna make it on her own.
He clears his throat. "Look here! We ain't from around here, so they say I'm a flight risk. I got another bond hearing in two days but they gonna want a secured bond like a house deed."
"So, give them the house, then."
"Ain't enough equity in it. If they do gimme a bond, probably gonna be sky-high. You just gotta be strong for the girls now. Reign in all that spending."
Together, the girls chant. "You gonna pick us up tomorrow?"
He leans forward on his stool, touches the glass and remembers a movie scene where someone in jail did the exact same thing. Three hands shoot to the spot where his hand rests. His eyes get a little more moist than a man in jail should let his eyes get, so he struggles and strains but feels like the little boy with his finger in the dyke.
Then, a single, silent drop leaks out. But before it can stream down his face, he wipes it quick. And smiles.
Too late! Now they're on the other side of the glass, shedding tears.
Enough of this shit. He commands. "Ey, hold up! Don't cry!"
But none of them stop.
He lets them go on for a few minutes. Then asks:
"Cam, you behave yourself in school today? You gotta behave now; Stacy can't be taking off work to meet with your teachers 'cause you ain't got no behavior, you hear me? You can't get into trouble, now, I ain't there to run down to school."
Cam sniffles and fights to compose herself. Nods yes, lips trembling.
"Good! Don't let me hear you messing up, now. You gotta help me." He turns to Chass. "And, You; you gotta feed Merciless and Castro for me, every day."
Chass releases, softly. "OK," with a fraudulent shyness, because he knows she's giddy inside. She loves feeding and bathing them Rottweiler pups. She sinks back into Stacy's buxom.
"When you gonna come home." Sticks her thumb in her mouth.
"I don't know yet."
Cam, wet-eyed, stares his jump suit up and down. "They not gunna let you come home?"
Chassidy removes her thumb with a smack. "No Cam. He's in jail. Like my Daddy." She sounds like Ms Hunter, the principal. Turns to me, thinks, then says, "You hafta tell them dat you gotta pick us up from school. Den they gunna hafta let you come home."
"Yeeeaaah." Cam co-signs like it's the best idea since mac and cheese for breakfast.
Stacy rolls her eyes and grins. For the first time today, there's a radiance lining the room.
But he knows this is the beginning of the end. He hears change rolling up rapidly like a prison-bound bus. He knows from experience that chances are slim, even if Stacy doesn't realize it herself. Things won't be the same as yesterday.
He's torn whether to tell her now or later. Was it too soon? Should he wait?
"Listen!" He feels a knife slicing through him, deeply and repeatedly. "Next time you come, don't bring the girls."
The girls whine. "Whyyyy??"
His heart drops but it's inevitable, the way this familiar dance ends. It's just a matter of time before he's left clutching a bag of memories.
"Stacy, I need to talk to you alone. Don't bring them next time!"
She looks confused.
He'll let them go, then.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
The Branding of The Maasai and Bob Marley
by Kaya Omodele @TheAbeng
Before I read Johnna Rizzo's Culture Stock (National Geographic .@NatGeo - the Dec., 2013 issue) a couple days ago, I didn't even know that there are over 80 products labeled "Maasai" without this people'sconsent. Oh, and many of these products are luxury items, by the way- cars, jewelry, etc. The whole thing (branding without the Maasai's permission) got so bad that the people started the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI) to corral the exploitation and blatant disrespect.
Isaac ole Tialolo of the MIPI says, "As the cultural owners, we want respect. We want to protect our heritage."
The MIPI's plan of action was to screen any future product branding requests and examine the market for current products bearing the Maasai brand name.
So now, all this had me meditating on the whole commercialization of people's culture, again. My mind hopped back to the Snapchat filter, the Bob Marley-dreadlocks fiasco. Then, remember back in the day when the Marley estate did copyright protect his name and image? Nuff people saw this as some "babylon business," that somehow this was incorporating Rasta, fetching it to market, moving it to commerce. (Maybe I was even one of them, I was younger and more idealistic then)
But if you really stop and give the idea a firm meditation, somebody, somewhere, would've been capitalizing off of Bob by now, riding donkey dollars, piling up mounds of English pounds, or stacking mountains of Yen. That is for certain. So, it was a sound and practical decision by the Marley estate, one that prevented exploitation of that man's legacy before the fuckery even started. And we all know the saying, "Prevention better than cure."
Bless up yourself, don't bother stress up yuhself.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Marlon James Article Dissecting Kendrick Lamar's Lyrics
in "The Blacker The Berry"
by Kaya Omodele @TheAbeng
At first glance, Marlon James' article "The Blacker The Berry" in The New York Times Magazine had me squinting my eyes, wondering how he could be so out of tune. In this issue, 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going, Marlon was reviewing hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar's The Blacker The Berry (from the album To Pimp A Butterfly); but in my opinion, the writer wasn't getting the fullness of the lyrics. Not that I didn't understand Marlon's views and conclusions, I just couldn't believe how off-key he was in interpreting Kendrick's art.
Take for instance Kendrick's lyrics in the third verse:
"It's funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war.../ Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door."
Marlon James response was that "...those are two nations going to war. And, fine war is hell, but if Britain and France aren't called thugs for Waterloo, if Lancaster and York aren't called bangers despite literally being family killing family, then why do Zulu vs. Xhosa get compared to warfare?"
But wait, Marlon, firing logic based on presumptions implying that Kendrick doesn't or wouldn't label those European combatants as thugs or bangers, indicates you have missed the whole target in the comparison. He's not reducing Zulu and Xhosa nations' war and comparing it to gang warfare; he's implying that it's black-on-black violence either way. Whether it be gangbanging, PNP vs. Laborite*, Hutus vs. Tutsis, despite the different ideological causes of these conflicts, they're all the same kind of tribalism/tribal war. It's black people killing black people, that's the point. You're making it about something else, even though your point is generally valid.
Then, Kendrick spits:
"So don't matter how much I say I like to preach like Panthers/ or tell Georgia State 'Marcus Garvey got all the answers'/...So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street/ When gangbanging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!"
Marlon's take on these lyrics amazed me.
"...a black man invoking the detestable slogan of black-on-black crime to prevent himself from mourning the unjustifiable homicide of a black boy."
What!? the author was off base, again. Marlon's disconnect to Kendrick's lyrics had me shaking my head. (...to prevent himself from mourning...?!!)
But finally, near the end of the review, Marlon had one of them ah-ha moments and gained clarity that Kendrick's narrative is a work of fiction that reveals truth; that Kendrick isn't speaking to or for the community, that Kendrick is speaking AS the community- those of us who may have cried over Trayvon and yet been contributors to black-on-black crime.
Still, I questioned if Marlon REALLY gets it when he further states that Kendrick's point of view "was just a man wondering how someone gets to be part of the Black Lives Matter conversation when black lives don't matter to him."
That's not what I get from Kendrick's words. For me, the lyrics highlight the duality in humanity- the good and bad in us all. How we can cry for injustices whipped across our backs, yet crack the same whip against others, just the same. Who feels it, knows it!
A man's perspective is based on his own experiences.
*political party conflicts in Jamaica
Thursday, May 5, 2016
by Kaya Omodele @TheAbeng Snapchat released a Bob Marley filter on/4/20 (April 20) and people began striking out against it almost immediately. Now, some people mightn't understand the whole controversy, so here it is in a nutshell. You (Snapchat) letting users make their selfie images look like Bob Marley, complete with dreadlocks, skin tone and tam, is like you're taking the culture and turning it into one, big poppy show. NOT a good look! "...Bob Marley's music has done more to popularize the real issues of the African liberation movement than several decades of backbreaking work of Pan-Africanists and international revolutionaries." ~ Eusi Kwayana in Rasta And Resistance. You see, Bob Marley is our messenger, like a prophet, a social and cultural conscience. And, Rastafari is not a play-play thing, even though it might seem like dreadlocks is just a hairstyle nowadays. But know this: natty dreadlocks are sacred to Rastafari; they are an expression, a symbol, of a Rastaman's (or Rastawoman's) covenant to Jah Almighty. Dreadlocks are as important a symbol to Rastafari as a cross is to a Christian, as a beard is to an Orthodox Jew or a Muslim. Snapchat, you wouldn't provide a filter featuring that pointed, papal hat, would you? Or, a kufi, a hijab? Or Cheyenne chief Two Moon's headdress? (But maybe you see nothing wrong with "redskin" images either) The point is, Rastafari elders were persecuted back in the day- locked up, dreadlocks forcibly shorn. At Coral Gardens in Jamaica some were killed. In Dominica, the John government gave the green light to shoot to kill any dreadlocks found trespassing on private property. So, please, don't bother with all these faux-dread tams, the dreadlock filters, and all the other Sambo-like caricaturizing of Rasta. Don't take Rasta for no joke business!
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