Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Black

My personal role model and hero Bayard Rustin made the comment, "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated." However there are many within the African-American community that would not agree with Rustin's sentiments. Many black folks are offended by the efforts of the LGBT community to compare the contemporary gay rights struggle with the battle for African-American equality. As a member of both communities it is a question which I have pondered myself. As a historian I have to admit, there are definite parallels between the two communities.

Both communities have suffered from institutionalized (legal) inequality. For the African-American community it was separate but equal and Jim Crow laws. Black folks had to endure discrimination in the areas of housing, education and employment. As a black man or woman you had to sit on the back of the bus, enter a building through the back door and could not drink from a water fountain used by white people. For the LGBT community there is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Don't Ask Don't Tell, and employment discrimination. Same gender loving people cannot marry or serve in the military and in many states can be fired just because of who they love.

Both communities have been victims of spiritual abuse. Religious leaders have used the Bible to keep gay folks and black folks as second class citizens unworthy of equality. Many have used the curse of Ham to justify slavery and the indentured servitude of black folks. It was said that the verse "cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall be his bretheren" was God's condemnation of black folks. His punishment was their eternal laboring to whites. For the LGBT community, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the verse "man shall not lie with man as with woman" have been repeatedly used to turn gay folks into monsters and sinners. Interestingly enough, last week when I say Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (a play set in 1920s Chicago). In it they made the comment "God hates niggas." Nowadays I'm repeated bombarded with the notion that "God hates fags."

Both communities had to go through their own process to develop self-acceptance, self-love and even self-pride. Up until the civil rights movement there were many blacks that suffered from lowered self-esteem, lack of self-worth and even some self hatred. Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were essential in shifting the black mentality towards one that accepted that black is beautiful, black is intelligent and black is worhty of equality. The LGBT community too had to have a paradigm shift in its overall mentality. Same gender loving folks felt the need to exist as an invisible community and were labeled as having a mental disorder. Then during the revolutionary days of the 60s (a time when we saw women fighting for equality, the sexual revolution, and the anti-war struggle) we suddenly saw an emergence of a gay identity. Groups were popping up that refused to be silent about their sexuality. And then Stonewall happened which was the catalyst for greater gay visibility and activism, forcing the LGBT agenda to a national campaign.

"Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud" was the mantra James Brown used to spread to the word to the world (black folks and white folks)that it was okay to accept and to love brown skinned folks. "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it" was the phrased screamed at many gay parades to relay to the masses that same gender loving folks were out of the closet, in the streets and ready to fight for their equality.

The primary reason many black folks are quick to reprimand the gay community for the comparison is because they don't think it is fair to liken the struggles of black folks with the struggles of gay folks. Many don't think you can compare slavery, Jim Crow and lynchings to marriage equality and openly serving in the military. Well if you look at things that simplistically then I would have to agree, the comparison just isn't there. But things are never really that simple. We are still looking at a civil rights issue and I would even argue, we are still looking at a human rights issue.

Gay folks are still being killed just for being gay. There is no denying it. It is STILL happening today. And as long as we continue to deny the LGBT community the equality it deserves then we are telling people it is okay to treat this community as different, inferior and less than. People will continue to verbally harrass LGBT folks. People will continue to physically, mentally and spiritually abuse LGBT folks. And people will continue to kill LGBT folks. And no I am not exaggerating. Mattew Shephard was not the first nor was he the last person killed in this country for being gay.

For me this is bigger than comparing who has the worst story to tell. For me this is about "injustice anywhere." As a member of both communities I have to admit both sides have atrocities they can claim. Having studied both histories again I will say there are definite parallels between the two communities. But I won't get bogged down with the who had it worse debate. I will take pride in knowing their are black civil rights leaders that are a brilliant enough to be LGBT allies in the current struggle. And their are LGBT leaders that are bright enough to see that the gay community is indeed a rainbow and is strongest when it acknowledges and embraces all of its members.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Yesterday I went and saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom based on the life of blues legend Gertrude Pridgett (aka Ma Rainey). I remember seeing the show once back in college. It was a student production and it must have been very forgettable because I had forgotten almost everything about this remarkable story. Ma Rainey was my kinda girl. Boldly black and unapolagetically lesbian. Nicknamed “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey was one of those aggressive women that demanded respect and never allowed herself to be intimidated by anyone regardless of gender, color, or status. Women like her oftentimes earn an unwarranted nickname [rhymes with witch] for behavior that would be rewarded if she were a man.

Gender bias aside, the most prominent notion that repeated in my head as I drove home after the show was how much we have progressed with regards to race and how much we have regressed when it comes to sexuality. For Ma Rainey her sexuality was not an issue. She openly flaunted her love of women. In the play all the boys in the band knew she was same gender loving. In fact, after a new guy in the band started flirting with one of the ladies in Rainey’s entourage he was warned, “boy what are you doing, that’s Ma’s girl!” Ma Rainey would even eventually record some lesbian anthems like Prove It On Me and Bull Dykers Dream.

How is it that in the 1920s homophobia was not an issue for Ma Rainey? Today we are repeatedly reminded how homosexuality and homosexuals are detrimental to the world (i.e. Prop 8 and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). However almost a century ago Rainey was out, proud and phenomenally successful. Today we have celebrities that refuse to come out because it could end their career but 100 years ago Rainey Ma Rainey told her studios when, where, how and what they would record.

I loved watching this woman on stage. She bowed down to no one. Even though her manager and the studio owner tried to “handle” her they were unsuccessful. And although there was no homophobia evident in this production the racial climate of the era came across loud and clear. This was the golden age of Jim Crow. Black men and women were subject to legal discrimination in the areas of housing, education and employment. I think some of the stories shared by the bandsmen on stage made many in the predominately white audience uncomfortable. Truth be told, most of the stories shared on stage made ME uncomfortable.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is filled with witty writing, thought provoking narratives and phenomenal music and if you ever have the opportunity to see it then you should defintely check it out. I won’t spoil the story by giving you the ending. But I will say this, when you meet an angry Black man please understand this – he probably has a reason for being angry.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

One interesting thing about the holidays for many in the LGBT community, it either brings you great joy or outrageous, uncontrollable depression. Oftentimes that joy or pain we feel is a direct reflection of our relationships with friends and family. Because the holidays are a time to appreciate and fellowship with those individuals closest to you [friends and family], the absence of these people from your life could trigger a holiday that is probably best described in that great song by The Emotions, "What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?" As much as I love this song I'll be the first to admit it, it is horrifically sad.

So what do you do when the holidays hit and you have no one significant to share special time with? When you're not near family and have no established friends [and let's be realists - for many it is hard to let down your walls and build trusting relationships with others] how do you avoid the dreaded lonely holiday blues?

Well here's the wonderful thing, there are several things you can do to stay out of this slump. One thing you could easily do (and actually feel very good about upon completion) is spend some time volunteering for worthwhile charities or organizations. Trust me, during the holiday season, there will be plenty of places where you could lend a hand. Homeless shelters, churches and food pantries are just some of the places where you could probably have a terrific impact. With the feel good sensation you will have after volunteering you won't have anytime to be depressed.

One possible option you may consider if you don't have people inviting you over for the holidays is to throw your own damn party. Believe me, during the holidays, you are not the only one walking around wondering how you are going to spend your time. There are others in this same boat. Opening the doors of your home to others [colleages and co-workers] would save you and others from the holidays blues.

One of the most productive things you may want to do during this season (especially in this economy) is pick up a part time job. Seasonal work is the perfect way to occupy your time, meet new people and simultaneously tackle any debt you may have accrued during this era of worldwide financial trouble. If you're sharing your time between two different employers you won't have time to feel sorry for yourself.

And please remember the "avoid the blues basics." First, please stay away from sad, depressing music. During the holidays this stuff is going to be everywhere. If you're not careful, just listening to the radio could bring about a burst of tears. Second, misery loves company. Stay away from already depressed, already negative people. They will enjoy seeing you feel as bad as they do. And finally do not be afraid to seek help. If you are not able to shake your depression yourself then see a professional. Therapy does wonders so please do not think that needing one is a sign of weakness or craziness. It is a sign of self-awareness and courage when you can take the steps needed to take care of and protect yourself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day

Did you know that there was once a time when African-Americans were not allowed to serve alongside other soldiers in the Air Force? There was this belief (based on nothing) that the brain of black men was smaller than the brain of white men and that we did not have the mental capacity needed to pilot aircrafts or handle sophisticated military artillary. My undergraduate degree was in history and I still have to admit that college was mindblowing. There are so many "facts" I learned in high school that were just out right lies. And there are oh so many things that are interestingly enough omitted from the books.

In college I was able to learn about the not so pretty side of American history. Prior to my undergraduate studies I was never taught about the Tuskegee Experiment, the treatment of Asian-Americans during WWII, or the truth about the history of Native Americans.

So with today being Veteran's Day, I think this is the perfect time to honor and reflect upon a phenomenal group of soldiers - The Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. During WWII these distinguished airmen were subject to harsh racism both inside and outside of the military. They trained at Tuskegee Institute and upon completion of their training they were not allowed to integrate into other Air Force units. However, these pilots still wanted to serve their country.

As WWII developed and their services were needed overseas they would eventually be deployed as bomber escorts. It was their duty to protect US bombers. As the bombers made their way behind enemy lines, escorts would fly alongside them to fight off any attack made on the bomber. It was their defense of the bomber that would pull any enemy attacker away so the bomber could successfully drop its bomb on its destined target. Initially many of the white bomber pilots verbally expressed their distrust, dislike and offense to seeing black bomber escorts arrive to aid them in their offense.

In an ironic twist the Tuskegee Airmen would become the only unit in the war to earn the distinct honor of never losing a bomber to enemy fire. Those white pilots that initally expressed their disdain towards their African-American peers would soon come to pray that the escort they receive would be the Tuskegee Airmen. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen would open the doors for racial integration in many different areas of the military.
I love hearing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. No matter how many times I hear it I am inspired by it. I encourage anyone that has not seen the movie based on their story to go out and pick it up and watch it. It'd wonderful. During my graduate studies in history I actually visited the Tuskegee Institute and met some of the Tuskegee Airmen. I was awestruck being ble to sit and dialogue with living history.

So Happy Veteran's Day to all and a hearty thank you to all veterans - black, white, straight, gay, male, female, young and all. Thank you to my brothers Jeff and Mark Green who served in the U.S. Army. Thank you to my uncle Billy Welch for serving in the U.S. Air Force. Thank you to my father in law Lee Stevens and my brother in law David Peace for their service. And special thank you to all LGBT veterans who must serve in silence. I do not take this day for granted and I do appreciate all you do and all you have done.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's Janet Damn It!!!

If you know me you know I love me some Janet. If you have not yet, please check out her phenomenal performance in Tyler Perry's latest project For Colored Girls. Janet has always been vocal about her support and love of the LGBT community. And that's why the LGBT community is vocal about our love and support of her. We do love our divas and Janet is one diva that has the beauty, talent, charisma and relevence to constantly stay in forefront of the media's attention.

I went and saw For Colored Girls on opening night. I'm just gonna say it - this has already become my favorite Tyler Perry film. Loved it! Loved it! Loved it. But I'll be the first to warn you, this ain't no real good feel good kinda movie. This movie is deep and dark and will make you question your own breaking point. The full title of the stage play this is based on is For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Isn't Enough. Once you see this movie you'll understand the title. Sometimes people go through things where they feel their only option is suicide.

Many LGBT youth can identify with this feeling. The suicide rate for LGBT kids has always been unbelievable high but the recent number of suicides is taking this country into crisis mode. So I am not surprised that Janey, while on the talk show circuit promoting the new movie, schooled Larry King on The Trevor Project [the 24 hour hotline that provides an ear for LGBT kids in crisit]. If it were possible this video would make me love even more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

For Colored Girls

So I went and saw Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls on opening night. I was hesitant as I purchased my ticket. Many that previewed the film were very harsh in their critiques. However, in spite of the words of the critics, I opted to make my way out to the theater last Friday. I had to, it is not that often you get to see this many phenomenal black actresses in one project. Loretta Divine, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson and Phylicia Rashad are the quintessential in African-American elite. And the new generation of divas represented by the likes of Kerry Washington, Aniki Noni Rose and Thandi Newton are holding their own in this project also.

I was very interested in seeing how Tyler would translate the poems from For Colored Girls into a motion picture. Can you really catch the attention of the audience when the characters routinely break into monologue? Well the answer is a resounding and unequivocal yes.

Everyone's performance was brilliant. The only difficult thing now is deciding who's performance was the most powerful. Kimberly Elise who endures more than any mother should? Thandi Newton who endures more than any child should? Aniki Noni Rose whose innocence is taken?

This will definely be going in my library once released on dvd. And when I encounter those that have not seen it yet I will take them by hand, make them take a seat, and tell them we can discuss this after you've seen it (cause you will want to discuss it after you've seen it).
Please go and support this film if you have not seen it yet. It is wonderful. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

I am still feeling the pain of the election. I am not ashamed to admit that I was a tad bit optimistic. I really had this tickle in my stomach encouraging me and tell me that it was possible for Arizona to do the right think and rid itself of that idiot at the head of the state. Well low and behold here I sit several days later still dumbfounded that Jan Brewer will retain her seat as governor. I guess I should not be surprised. Arizona was, is and probably always will be a red state.

So why am I still in a stupor? Why am I now ready to pack my bags and get the hell up out of this godforsaken state? Why did this election hurt soooo badly? I've been reflecting on my feelings as of late and trying to determine why this election actually meant so much to me. Why would this election have the ability to determine if I would indeed stay in this state or not.

I really don't think its the fact that Jan Brewer is the governor that is the actual catalyst (well not directly). It is the meaning behind the fact that Brewer is governor. Jan Brewer remaining in the capital building means that most of the individuals in this state agree with her. Jan Brewer being governor means that majority of this state is either racist, homophobic or just plain dumb (or atleast it appears that way).

Now I'm really involved in the community. I know alot of people. And most of the people I know don't subscribe to any of the adjectives mentioned above. Most of the people I've come to know are great people. So I'm unsure as to whether I have been unconsciously surrounding myself with like minded people or that people are just being kind to my face (and they're ready to strip me of my rights behind my back). I really don't know what it is.

If we had rid ourselves of Brewer as governor I would have had some affirmation that there is hope for this place I call home. But alas it was not meant to be. There she sits and I'm brokenhearted. Prop 102 several years ago was an attack on the LGBT community and it passed. HB 1070 was an attack on the Latino community and it passed. This is the state that has taken away the right to teach ethnic studies in school. This is the state that allows individuals to carry guns in bars. And this is the state that is now trying to take citizenship away from individuals that are born in this country.

Booker T. Washington stated in his book Up From Slavery that you should "caste your buckets where you stand." By that he meant that you should take a stand where you are and fight for the changes you would like to see. I was very moved by those words when I read them almost twenty years ago. It has been the motto I've lived by for quite some time. But those words from Washington are being replaced by the words of Tina Turner, "I don't care whose wrong or right, I don't really want to fignt no more." I can't do it anymore. Why should I stay in a place where I'm not wanted?

Will I eventually come out of this depression? Hopefully. But the reality is that this election was a wake up call. This election gave me a reflection into the true mindset of many of the individuals around me. However, I refuse to assimilate. So what do I now?