Author Archives: 28black

Underground Airlines’ Effect

ben_h_winters_undergoundYou know how taxi drivers are about Uber and by “are” here I mean “feel.” That’s how a lot of Americans still feel about slavery having been outlawed.

Some lost their livelihoods, some their actual property, their profit margins.

For a long time I’ve felt that we as Americans have this long wait while everyone gets up to speed on the fact the the United States’ wealth was established with stolen labor on stolen property. Once you mix in White guys impregnating enslaved dark skin (darker than White) women so that they could have more slaves to sell and to work their land, it’s pretty tough to see it as a happy story. It just is.

I have direct lineage to the enslaved and enslavers in Georgia and I’ve known that for some time. I recall being in Third Form (in my private school, ninth grade in most U.S. schools) and seeing “Roots” and that drama having a profound effect on me. The whippings, the violence. I knew Avon Long, Chicken George, as a New York actor and possibly my understanding of the mini-series as a piece of art based on a true story somehow gave me more distance then than reading this piece of speculative fiction did this year. Something about the way a book gets into your head.

All I know is that the experience of “reading” Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines as an Audible book somehow put me more in touch with the experience of being enslaved than any previous reading had. The story is built on the premise that legal slavery continues in some parts of the United States to these days or some contemporary period.

I slogged through it. I would set it aside and sometimes take a couple of weeks before returning to it.

A part of my experience of reading it was something that I’d never before experienced. You know when you have time travel questions? Like in college applications and various quizzes and games: If you could travel back in time and meet anyone…? Those kinds of things. From high school on, I think I had only ever listed famous inventors or philosophers, politicians, political leaders, artists.

The effect of Underground Airlines was to make me ashamed that I had never once thought of my enslaved ancestors here in the U.S. (and in the West Indies for that matter) and I had never once thought before that I would seek them out and get them to safety and freedom. There’s a lot I like about Benjamin Franklin’s spirit and ingenuity, but family first, you know.

For all the Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Dubois and slave narratives and everything else related that I’ve seen or read through the years, Underground Airlines now, perhaps because of building on top of those other reading and viewing experiences, but this Audible experience now took me to a different place.

Another thing was acknowledging that prison break stories’ appeal to me is probably also related to that. I mean prison break fiction like Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption but also any news of people escaping from prison. Of course those understood to have been “wrongly imprisoned,” but also people who just say, “This is bullshit,” and find a path to freedom.


If you’ve never received a free Audible share and would like to get Underground Airlines, let me know. I can probably “share” this with you.

And if you haven’t yet seen Ava DuVernay’s “13th” on Netflix. Check it out. The prison system is one way that slavery is still legal in all 50 states right now. I watched that during one of my “Underground Airlines” breaks and I’m sure that on some level that added to my experience.


14 December 2016

Another 18 months have gone by and the 2016 nearly everyone would agree was one for the books.

The clear concept of 28 Black was something that I truly enjoyed developing and got good feedback on. I can see writing more often, blogging throughout the year, but it does change this thing entirely and I have considered starting a completely different blog. Instead, I’ll keep this name/title and will post at least once a week. I might do some wild back dating because I have things that reach back a month or so, so I might as well put those things here.

In another spot I might blog about Napa, food and wine. We’ll see, but this blog will probably not touch on those topics much and will mostly be related to news of the world, its effect on me, and possibly items related to African-American history as they or their anniversaries occur.


Rudely Awakened

Saying that I was Black 28 days a year, was of course, tongue in cheek. It was a comment on the short month, the designated Black History Month, and my idea to see what would happen if I took it somewhat seriously and used that time to reflect on my Black identity and the complex racial identity of my family.

Events of 2014 and 2015 have affected my ability to treat these topics with humor. I’ve always said and been told that I can find the humor in anything. Anything. But things have gotten to the point in the U.S. where I don’t know if I’m doing a service for myself or anyone else by treating race lightly. It’s simply not a laughing matter. Seeing a man shot in the back while retreating is not a laughing matter.

I’ll be updating more frequently. I still may give special attention to February and that original mission here, but I will use this space with a wider mission now.

Undoubtedly, my being a transman will also be a topic of reflection here now. Not just because of Ms. Jenner and us being the flavor of the month, but I see there is a real value in being more out. Strength in numbers and all that. I’ve always been open to talking privately with individuals or families with questions, but now is a time to be even more welcoming,

That’s what’s new here. Please feel free to comment.

Thanks for reading.


February 9th is Alice Walker’s Birthday

alice walker picIt’s still February 8th on the West Coast, so I’m considering this a February 8th post and an early birthday greeting to Alice Walker. I don’t know if I’ll have any other living people on this BHM blog, but I’m going with Alice Walker for this day.

In this Q&A we discuss sexuality, identity, the writer’s role, and our rapidly changing society.

Alice Walker Q&A


The Trini Connection – Lord Kitchener, Calypso King

Part of my family is from Trinidad, but according to my father, nobody liked Calypso. Well, his mother didn’t and apparently her children weren’t wild about it. When I finally got my hands on a Lord Kitchener CD in the 1990s, I felt like I’d found the key to my family’s humor.

Here’s “If You’re Brown,” and you may say this point of view is dated.

After all, there’s a black man in the White House and (it goes without saying) a Black First Lady and children.

On that note, here’s one more Kitchener tune: “If You’re Not White, You’re Black.”

What I like about Kitchener is that he wrote and sang about these topics.

Here’s some more information about Lord Kitchener:
http://www.tntisland.com/kitchbio.html

(Never mind the typos/run-together words.)

On this 4th Day of Black History Month, I honor Lord Kitchener (April 18, 1922 – February 11, 2000).


A TRUE ICON: Billie Holiday, briefly

If everybody lived to 101, Billie Holiday would be alive today. That’s kind of a trip, right? You see all these 100-some-odd year old folks in the news. They’re Bille Holiday’s contemporaries and Billie Holiday had so much more to say when she died in the Metropolitan Hospital in NY on July 17, 1959, after being arrested in the same hospital room weeks before.

When I was about 13 years old, my mother told me that Billie Holiday, Lady Day, was one of her favorite singers. But Cass Elliot, “Mama Cass” was another one along with Carol King, so I never was too sure what that really meant. One day in a record store I found a compilation LP and bought it for my mother. I listened to it, and listened to it, but never really felt like I got what Lady Day meant to my mother. My mother’s life was not tragic like Lady Day’s but really what child really knows the darkest night of their mother. That’s not the stuff mothers easily reveal, at least not mothers like mine, and not at that time. Maybe mothers blog about it now.

Lady Day sang like no one else ever had before. In 1958, Frank Sinatra said of her: “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the U.S. during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.” That was Frank Sinatra quoted in “Ebony” magazine.

While always loved by those who love music, Billie Holiday has at times almost been dismissed as a sad, hopeless figure and a drug addict in American culture. One can barely link Billie Holiday without linking heroin. Perhaps it is her ability to express sadness and hopelessness with voice and song-writing, and her dependency on heroin that play such a large role in defining this unique talent, this stellar African-American talent. On this third day of Black History Month, I honor Billie Holiday.


February 2nd, 2014 – Canada’s Viola Desmond

Canada’s Viola Desmond, because why not start with a little controversy. If you search for African-Canadian heroes, Viola Desmond’s name is one of the first delivered. Desmond was a successful business woman born on July 6th, 1914 in Halifax, Canada, and passed away in New York on February 7, 1965.

According to Wikipedia, in 1946, Desmond went to the movies and sat down in the orchestra section reserved for “whites only”, declining the balcony where regulations would require her to sit. She was forcibly removed from the theater and charged with tax evasion. As wild as the tax evasion charge sounds, the Canadian government justified the charge because to the taxation difference between ground floor tickets and balcony tickets. The amount in question? One cent.

The Viola Desmond event became the most publicized racial event of that time in Canada. Desmond would lose the case, and the racist policies continued at that theater. During the trial Desmond was supported by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in turn when Desmond’s lawyer returned her fee after losing the case, Desmond contributed the sum to the NSAACP.

Between the import of Desmond’s actions and that it involved rebellion against the segregated seating, Viola Desmond is sometimes referred as the Rosa Parks of Canada. There are those who would argue against that moniker, but Desmond’s actions did help to move Canada toward racial equality.

It would be 66 years after the event that the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia would grant Desmond a posthumous pardon via Royal Prerogative.

Two years ago on February 1, 2012, Canada Post issued the Viola Desmond stamp.

bhm-violadesmond


28Black – 2014

It’s Black History Month, 2014! Yes, it’s the shortest month, but I decided back in 2011, that I would use it, use the designation, for my own purposes.

If you’ll look at 2012, you’ll see that most of February went without a single post. In fact, there was only one post, on February 1, 2012. That was my dad talking about his hero Paul Robeson one morning. Most of my Black history thinking for the rest of that month was focused on my father. And the same thing happened for Black History Month, 2013. My father passed away on July 15, 2013. I miss him a lot and will be thinking of him a lot during this month as always.

One thing I’ll do differently this year is instead of limiting the posts to writings on Americans, I may include people of African descent in other countries, with a focus on places outside the United States where my family lives and has lived. That list includes Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, before we start taking on the coming events, milestones and reminiscences of 2014, I’ll close with a look at February 1, 2012. The lone BHM post of 2012:

One of the things that I appreciated the most about the experience in my first year of 28Black was the time I spent reflecting on my elders who have passed. I found myself wondering about their experiences, their reactions to Black figures and prominent events in early 20th century American History. I wondered if my great uncles enjoyed Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey. I would have loved to have seen their faces or heard their reactions when Joe Louis won the heavyweight championship.

The first year of 28Black made me hungry for time travel.

I can’t travel back in time, but I can confer with this 81-year-old I know to see where his memories might take us. This year I’ll spend some time checking in with my father for his take on people, issues, politics and other things related to being black, and in recognition of Black History Month.

Here’s a teaser:

Background on the Peekskill Riots:
Peekskill Riots – Wiki


29 Black – 2012!

Yes, yes, yes! Happy Leap Year BHM Everyone!

I’m glad February has an extra day to work with this year.

One of the things that I appreciated the most about the experience in my first year of 28Black was the time I spent reflecting on my elders who have passed. I found myself wondering about their experiences, their reactions to Black figures and prominent events in early 20th century American History. I wondered if my great uncles enjoyed Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey. I would have loved to have seen their faces or heard their reactions when Joe Louis won the heavyweight championship.

The first year of 28Black made me hungry for time travel.

I can’t travel back in time, but I can confer with this 81-year-old I know to see where his memories might take us. This year I’ll spend some time checking in with my father for his take on people, issues, politics and other things related to being black, and in recognition of Black History Month.

Here’s a teaser:

Background on the Peekskill Riots:
Peekskill Riots – Wiki


African-American History & Tucson Students

Arizona was in the spotlight a lot in 2010 with debates about immigration reform and about teaching high school students about America’s ethnic groups through focused study on individual groups. The Mexican-American studies class in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) has garnered the most attention and it remains in the spotlight this year with the State and the TUSD at loggerheads. The State wants to school district to shut down the class claiming that it violates state law, and TUSD is allowing the class to continue.

Like many other people in the area (and beyond), I was curious about just what was being taught – actual curricula, not just statements about it being “La Raza” studies preaching revolution.

The Native American Studies and African-American Studies classes are not considered controversial. You’ll get an idea of what’s being taught in the African American Studies class thanks to KXCI. This year, news host Amanda Shauger at Tucson’s KXCI Community Radio 91.3 broadcast Black History Month works by TUSD students enrolled in African American Studies, in addition to works by staff members and by community members. The entire podcast times in at about one hour, ten minutes, and is a total of 48 segments.

Hear the podcast and read the order of presentation here.

On this 20th day of Black History Month, I honor the Class of 2011 and each and every graduate who lives up to the challenge of improving the United States of America by advancing equality for all.