Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If I Were a Poor Black Kid

Forbes: If I Were A Poor Black Kid

I'm not sure if it sounds silly or condescending, but as a Black person... I kind of contemplate the, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid" scenario to myself all of the time. It's almost impossible to address everything in a single blog entry. 

To be successful and Black in America, in my opinion, takes a hell of a lot of luck. Once you have a broad range of lucky conditions... then you have to work your ass off. Since I studied undergrad at the University of Michigan between the Supreme Court Cases of 2003 and the transfer of the Wardell Connerly movement to Michigan in 2006, I've been thinking a lot about what it takes for a Black child... especially a broke Black child. 

One of the things that the Forbes article doesn't account for is every Black person in America, whether they are conservative or liberal, knows that you any Black person has to learn everything twice. You have learn everything that is on the surface which Marks addresses and then you have to learn what it means when you are black. (Then, if you are a woman you have to learn how to navigate patriarchy and racial issues).  It is extremely difficult to learn this concept by yourself. It's damn near impossible. Basically, in addition to learning the academics you have to learn 1. how to have white teachers, 2. how to have white classmates, 3. how to be a token in networking situations, 4. how to be a token in corporate or academic situations, 5. how to have a drink with a bunch of white folks in academic or corporate situations... I haven't really found any book on it. It really takes a Black person in academia or a Black person in corporate America to say, "Look, this is how everything really works."

1. Grades. A lot of people undereducate Black children. Even if you have the best grades... it's hard to compete with someone who is being taught 2-4 levels ahead of you. For instance, when I entered U of M wanting to be a physics major... I realized that many of the white folks had already completed Calculus 2 (or AP Calculus BC) and Differential Equations. On the other hand, many of the Black students from Detroit did not come from schools where AP Calculus was available... let alone Intergral Calculus or above. 

So even if you get the best grades in Trigonometry or Algebra... How do you compete with someone the same age who has already been taught so much more? 

2. Libraries. Many libraries close by 7pm. If you are lucky you might be able to find a nearby university that stays open until 12. But if your not lucky... then what? Many suburbs have internet cafes... but inner cities don't. And even if they did, you wouldn't have the money to pay for them. 

3. Even if you get a computer... How in the world would you pay for internet? You need credit, good credit in order to buy the internet on contract. And so far they don't have prepaid internet services. 

Perhaps you can go to McDonalds, but they don't have any sockets to actually plug in your lap top.

4. And if you are an inner city black kid... There just so much that you won't be exposed to... Your music departments will be cut. You won't learn an instrument until you get to high school because the middle school programs are obsolete. So how do you win a scholarship for music when you've only been playing for 4 years... versus a person with private lessons who has been playing since they were 4 years old? 

You won't have a swim team, or a lacrosse team, or a soccer team, or a hockey team. You might have a track team that may or may not have a track. 

5. And what will you eat. A person's diet has a huge effect on their long-term brain development. Most inner cities don't have very many health food stores... And most of the grocery stores in the cities barely carry produce. I don't know. 

And that's just the basics. I don't know anything about going to schools where there are metal detectors. And actually partial police departments based on school grounds. I don't know anything about going to school where there are active gangs. Sometimes folks can't just get "good grades". 

I just shake my head. I don't know what a broke kid could do. Or should do. 

A year ago, I read an article about a young Black man who was valedictorian of his high school. It was a congratulatory article, praising the young man for going to college in spite of all of the odds. But at the end of the article, it mentioned that the young man was going to community college! I was so furious! If was was valedictorian, with decent scores... and he went through everything the article mentioned. I think he should have had a full ride to Harvard, Stanford, Michigan or Wharton... There's no way in the world he should have been going to a community college. 

But that would take a guidance counselor to say, "hey-- you've gone through enough... there's money out there. Here, apply to Harvard. Here, apply to Northwestern. Oberlin." Whatever. 

Part of the problem when your Black... is just having enough people tell you that you really can compete with White folks. Really.

Everyday, I'm reminded of how priveleged I have been a Black middle class lady. I didn't have a car, or name brand clothes... But I definitely had one of the best educations a Black person could have in America.

What would I do if I was a poor Black kid?

1. Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
2. Jr. Achievement
3. Free Sports Teams
4. Free or Cheap Private Lessons for a Musical Instrument
5. The smartest, coolest, most-down-to earth Black frieends I could find in the city
6. maybe Jack and Jill parties (to learn how to network with Black folks)
7. Church (maybe that should have been number one)
8. A mentor or two or three or four (who are black)

9. And the most important thing is summer programs. Every major college has summer programs for people of color or people without the most money... Sometimes they are absolutely free.

10. A lot of inner city Black schools won't let you take college courses while your in high school, but a lot of white schools will. I guess if I was broke I would try like hell to take college courses while I was in high school. Even if I was just auditing and couldn't get credit...

Its really hard to know what you don't know. I don't know how I would have known about summer programs  1. if I didn't have sibling who went to college before me, 2. if I didn't have Black friends going to the programs, 3. If I didn't have a guidance counselor who knows.

I don't have any real answers. In some ways, I'm still trying to figure out what I would do (or will do) as a poor Black parent. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

No More Sheets

It is impossible to read Juanita Bynum's No More Sheets and not be honest with one's self. For every woman who is walking in her relationship with God, with Christ, she must acknowledge that sex was designed for pleasure within a marriage.

Bynum has written an honest challenge for women to give up the sheets until she finds a man who is devoted enough to commit to her before God. The twelve year old church girl who vowed to keep her virginity before she even knew what sex was believes this is not only possible, but mandatory; however, the single mother, the lonesome woman and the skeptic inside of me believes this is a tall order.

Luckily, I have known Black women who in the 21st century were able to save themselves until marriage. Without actual proof, I'd call Bynum a lie. But realistically, I know its possible. Perhaps my negativity comes from reading, Is Marriage for White People a few days before reading No More Sheets.

Black women are a religious and devoted people. After reading Banks account in Is Marriage that not only are 70% of Black women unmarried but at least 30% will never do so. I can't help but wonder, and I always have if I'm in the 30% that will get lucky or the 30% that will never come close. And so honestly by the Law, if every Black woman was completely perfect seven out of every ten adult Black women would not be having any sex at all.

Although Bynum doesn't address any issues that particularly affect Black women, she does acknowledge the difficulty of all women to commit to celibacy until marriage or re-marriage. In spite of the difficulties, Bynum reminds that even non-penetration simply leads to arousal... which may ultimately invite sex. And, even if masturbation is not explicitly outlawed in Bible, many religious scholars agree that there is nothing about masturbation that glorifies God.

Bynum's book is an excellent guide to why sex is worth waiting once you are an adult and especially after you've been married before. She gives detailed explanations from the scripture and from example on how sex outside of God can hinder your spiritual relationship with Him.
Bynum's conclusion is that we [all women] are not married because we are not ever truly single. Based off of my experience and observation of Millennial women, the author is irrefutably correct. For me, the one thing that Bynum never addresses is, Is your faith in God so strong that you can commit to celibacy even if no wedding day ever comes? Bynum's book ends on the positive with the expectation of an equally yoked prince Charming and a few bits of advice for Christian women on their spiritual walk. However, any advice or recommendations on how to remain celibate for one's entire adult life, I would have to search elsewhere for answers.

The Honor Code

Perhaps family discussions at my house are a bit strage. With my brother's graduate degree in Philosophy and I with my bachelors, one of our constant conversations is the need for a moral revolution. William's argument is that the rate of growth of human morality has always been significantly slower than the rate of technoloigical advancement. Kwame Anthony Appiah chooses to examine the possibility of a Moral Revolution first by examinig how technological revolutions take place.

While I enjoyed reading Appiah's work, I disagreed that there has ever been a moral revolution thus far in human history. The greatest illusion of moral progress was Appiah's example of the abolition of human trading. In Europe, as well as America, the abolition of slaver was financially  driven. Although a moral resolution eventually occurred (after hundreds of years), it was not because of the change of morality of Americans or Europeans.

Appiah is correct. There needs to be a moral revolution. Now. However, looking to the past may not be the best way to incite a moral uprising.

I would recommend reading the Honor Code to understand the need for morality, to learn a bit about formal, academic philosophy and to determine if you agree with Appiah's explanation of how moral revolutions happen.

Is Marriage for White People

Every black man I know hates this discussion. My father tells me, "It doesn't matter if all black men are 'dogs'.' How many do you need? You only need one man. You can't tell me of all the men in the world there is not one." As a child, I heard him say this to every single woman in my family. As a child, I believed him. As an adult, I realize what that even if the woman only needs one man strange things happen when the man has the world at his disposal.

My father wouldn't believe it as a man with many options (even in his older years); he would not understand. Thus, I am delighted that the book Is Marriage for White People was written by a man. I am certain that if a Black woman had written the exact words she would be accused of bad mouthing Black men, over exaggerating the obvious or being the stereotypical angry Black woman.

Perhaps Banks should have titled his work Is Marriage for White Women. He admits that while the problem of Black women is too few choices, the problem of the Black middle class or upper class man is too many. Banks is a thorough expert on the Black middle class. However, if he spent any time with the Black working class he would realize that even Black men who are not middle class earners have the upper hand. Contrary to what he says, incarceration nor underemployment prevents Black men's options to marry. The fact that Banks doesn't give Black men who aren't in the middle class enough credit is the primary fault of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed Is marriage for White People [Women]. Reading the stories of the women cited in the book was like talking to old friends or older mentors. The primary goal of the book seems to be 'Should Black women marry men who are not Black.' The secondary goal is, 'Are black women even desirable to anyone besides Black men?' And the unfortunate understatement is are Black women desirable to Black men, Dyson aside.

Whether you agree with Banks' conclusions or not, and I do, Is Marriage for White People [Women] is well worth the read.

Monday, May 10, 2010

18. The Good Guy

I have committed to reading 25 authors that I have never read before. The sixth New Author that I have read this year is Dean Koontz. As much as I love suspense movies, I have not read very many suspense novels in my life time. I found Koontz to be an excellent invitation into the genre.

Without telling too much of the story, Koontz crafts a tale where two individuals - once strangers - find themselves in the chase of their lives utterly dependent upon each other. And, I promise you, the novel is not nearly as cheesy as the sentence which I used to describe it.

I enjoyed the suspense, I read the book in less than 24 hours over a two day period. For me, it was the definition of a page turner. I loved the story down to the very last line.

I am certain that I will be reading and buying more of Koontz, and more suspense novels in general.

17. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Now, whenever I think of James Weldon Johnson I will recall the benediction of Rev. Joseph Lowery at President Barack Obama's inauguration. Johnson is best known for his poem "Lift Every Voice and Sing", which when combined with the musical composition of his brother John (J. Roseamond) has come be revered as the Black National Anthem.

Well regarded as a fine poet of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson also penned a novel entitled The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man. Critics may or may not agree; I find Johnson's Autobiography to be the first complete, well-structured novel by an African American. I am struggling to find the phrasing that would adequately display my sentiments. In short, I think that Johnson wrote the best Black novel of the early writers. Published in 1912, I find it to be the greatest of the early novels before Nella Larson and Zora Neale Hurston began publishing in the late 1920s through 1930s.

While many scholars have wondered about the influence of Dostoevsky's The Underground on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I must wonder if he also read Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored man before he began his monumental text.

I enjoyed reading the novel for a second time, and I would encourage other to venture into James Weldon Johnson's prose as well.

16. Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men

This book has been on my to-be-read list for the past five years. Finally, the opportunity to explore intimately and honestly what I won't experience first hand.

I was unsure of what to expect, and thus I had no expectations. What I found in each page was an honest self-exploration of a communal experience. Similar to a memoir, Poulson-Bryant, brought a level of clarity and transparency to the page. I found his work necessary and brave.

While the text was not as inclusive or objective as ethnography, the reader can experience the similarities between the author and other black men's account.

I truly enjoyed the book. Sometimes, the positive and negative effects and implications of stereotypes and preconceived notions must be explored. I applaud Poulson-Bryant for doing so publicly and honestly.

15. Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age

14. What's Your Dangerous Idea

I loved the premise of this book. Unfortunately, I think my excitement surpassed my enjoyment of the book. Honestly, I don't think the vast majority of the ideas were dangerous, at all.

I still recommend the book to popular science, technology and information enthusiasts. But I'm sure that the lay reader can think of much more dangerous ideas than those the scientists and intellectuals interviewed were willing to print.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Lhea's First EBook: Kings, Niggers & Negroes

Kings, Niggers and Negroes Poetry Ebook Now Available for $5.00.

Kings, Niggers and Negroes is a collection of poetry housing the poems from Lhea's first chapbook, Brown Paths, and her second chapbook, Laughing Behind Closed Doors.

KNN is a collection of post-modern poetry of the free verse and spoken word tradition. The EBook is available at for only five dollars.

Please claim the copy of your EBook today at Lhea's store:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Best of the Net for Writers

The Best Internet Websites for Writers.

The Best Sites for Writing Tools:

The website provides free Word Processor, Spreadsheets, Email, Database Application, Presentation Builder, and Wiki Site

Free web application for Screenwriters

3. WordPress
The most professional free blog building website on the internet

4. Posterous
A new simple way to blog

5. Fast Pencil
A semi-free website for creating Ebooks

The Best Information for Writers

6. Wikipedia
An encyclopedia that you can contribute to

7. Mediabistro
The best single source of all things media

8. Poets & Writers
An internet hub for aspiring and professional writers

9. Creative Commons
A new way to disseminate, distribute and control your work

10. US Copyright Office
The basics of copyright information

11. Publishers Marketplace
Information on publishing, publishers and agents

12. New Media Rights

13. Google Book Search

The largest library in the world. For free.

The Best Communities for Writers

12. Red Room
A place where writers can meet

13. LibraryThing
A place where book-enthusaists can meet

14. Goodreads
A place where readers can meet

15. Twitter
The best way to keep in touch with your readers and supporters

16. National Novel Writing Month
A challenge for writers of all ages and stages

Friday, February 26, 2010

Must Read Blogs for Book Lovers

Okay, so you keep up with the regulars: The New York Times Bestsellers List, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post and LA Times Book Reviews...

Here are a few group and individual blogs that review the titles that are often left out.

The Millions is one of the best sites for literary enthusiasts on the internet. The breadth and scope of their contributors provides a well-rounded playground not often found by single-author book blogs. I've been reading their site for at least 5 years... I enjoy the site and I love their newest layout.

Dr. Dolen is single handedly responsible for introducing me to many of the innovative artists of the 21st century. Read the Divinations ... the current posts and the previous, older posts... and prepare to be amazed.

I am excited about Wench, by Dr. Dolen. I haven't spotted it in Michigan yet. Once I do, I'll be sure to welcome it to the Black Bookshelf.

Since 2006, Books for Breakfast has been reviewing a number of novels. Classics and Historical Fiction find a great home within Books for Breakfast.

This is one of my favorite book blogs because of the sheer honesty of the author. Some bookblogs read like biased marketing ploys by authors, friends of authors and PR specialists. If you don't like a book, say so! Thank God for Books 4 Breakfast.

And besides, she's right... What is more literary than alcoholism?

I am new to White Readers Meet Black Authors. I find it absolutely hilarious that the web address is, "Welcome White Folks."

The world has begun to realise in the last 30 years that the African American (and Black diasporic) experience is a universal experience.

Even so, the literary-types need a reminder.

I may be a bit biased, but I find Literature, Philosophy and Film to be the perfect combination. I was pleased to stumble upon A Piece of Monologue. And I look forward to reading the back entries of this blog...

One of the most recent blogs that I have found is Reads for Pleasure. It is a great selection of novels spanning American Fiction.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Building the Writer's Bookshelf

Last Summer, I met with a young college woman who was interested in being a writer. She talked with me about her desire to write books. I reminded her of the importance of reading frequently and writing obsessively. Apparently, she had heard this advice before. Her primary concern is that she didn't have the money to spend thousands of dollars on books. At the time, I did not address her concern adequately. After six months of contemplation, this is my response to her, my peers, and others like myself who are building a writing career, word by word.

1. Promote the Freemium Model

The best thing about the internet is that the vast majority of the important, intelligible and interesting information can be obtained for free. Each time you are introduced to a new concept, a new device or a new product it is a form of advertisement. Each article you read, each blog you subscribe to is advertising other people's ideas and products - usually for free.

The companies that pay for advertising to get in front of you, the consumer, make a lot of the free stuff possible.

If you don't have the money to build a 5,000 book personal library. Go online. You would be amazed at what you can find for free.

(On the Flip Side: Many writers are battling Google against the Library Digitization Project. While I understand that as an artist they want control over their own work, as a reader - a broke, underemployed reader - I love having access to books or at least portions of books through Google. It's better than a local library: No Late Fees!!! If obsessive readers are like me, they'll buy an interesting book that they've read on the internet ANYWAY. By being in GoogleBooks, your book may be found by people who otherwise would not have heard of your book.

So, yes I am for the protection of writer's rights. But, in the mean time, long live free!)

2. Move into your local library

I try not to check out any book from the library. Personally, I read books while I am at the library and leave them their. I am a sucker for library fees. Often, for me, they range in the hundreds of dollars range. By that point, I could have bought all of the books brand new.

3. Try to buy new books when you can -- for Good Karma

Try to buy new books. As an aspiring author, you will have to begin to think like an author. Used Bookstores are a cultural treasure -- but none of that money will go to you when you become a professional, or at least published writer.

While I wouldn't recommend going into debt to buy books (with the risky exception of College Books and Tuition), try to buy new books when you can. It's good karma. When your book comes out, you would want people to go out and buy yours.

4. Take advantage of Used Bookstores and Independent Bookstores

I was heartbroken when one of my favorite Independent Bookstores closed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the first bookstore that carried my poetry book on co-signment. Many of my favorite books were discovered through indie bookstores. Not everybook is going to reach the front table or side endcap of a Barnes & Noble or Borders. Try the used and idies, too, you may be suprised at what you find.

5. Build a Writer's Bookshelf

Even if you are a broke writer, there are a few books that every writer should have on their bookshelf. No exceptions, no excuses.

Here are a few necessities that have guided me for the past thirteen years:

I. The Elements of Style

All great writing dwindles down to stories and style. No one can give you a story, but Strunk and White can help you build your own style.

Besides, if you read any book on writing written by any writer they'll refer you back to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Hate to say, "I told ya so."

II. How to Say It Style Guide

In addition to The Elements, I would recommend the How To Say It Style Guide. It's readable and to the point.

III. Write Down The Bones

In order to prevent the stiffness of stilted prose. You may want to freewrite. It may be the most valuable exercize you will ever learn to do. Freewriting will get you in the habit of writing everyday, and Natalie Goldberg's Write Down The Bones is the absolute best person to teach you how to do it.

I started writing around age 14. In high school, I had peers who would ask to read my unedited thoughts. In college, I had peers who melded freewriting into freestyling -- hip hop into poetry and back into hip hop. In New York and in Detroit, I've had others snoop into my freewriting journals.

So beware: freewriting is truly the most freeing thing you can do. Freewriting is often more personal and revealing than journaling. (Remember, in journaling you think, and self edit before and while you write.) So if you are scared of your spouse, or children, your visitors or burgalers reading your innermost thoughts, keep freewriting -- but buy a safe with a lock.

IV. Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

All artists are entrepreneurs. All writers are freelancers. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you can get your financial house in order. While most writer's struggle to get by -- there are a few who make a living off of what they love.

It may be a good idea to learn a bit from those who do. Getting Started as a Freelance Writer is a book that every writer, journalist, poet, novelist, playwrighter or screenwriter should read. Hey, everyone has to eat.

V. The Forest For The Trees

My favorite book on my bookshelf is Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees. (Beware, re-reading this book multiple times may be a form of disguised procrastination). I am certain that most writer's who read this book, regardless of what stage of their career they are in, will have a Roberta-Flack-Lauryn-Hill-Strumming-My-Pain ("Killing Me Softly) sort of experience.

Written four of five years before I even discovered the book, Lerner nailed my writing (and lack of writing) characteristics and habits, from my unfinished ideas to my skin eczema.

Who would know better than Maxwell Perkins, that most writer's, "cannot see the forest for the trees"? And who better to illustrate that than Betsy Lerner?

VI. Robert's Rules of Writing

Sometimes you need a reminder. Reading the reminder is the easy part. The hard part is making the changes.

VII. Keep It Real

Every writer writes, through theraputic habit of ambitious desires, to be understood. Even more than understanding, each writer writes hoping that they will create something that others who they have never met can relate.

The hardest part of 'keeping it real', so to speak, is not getting sued or ex-communicated, blacklisted or blackballed.

If you are writing an article, a blog or a memoir. Actually, even if you are writing a novel or screenplay which may be mistaken for real life. If you write anything with a hint of realism, you should probably read Lee Gutkind's Keep it Real first.

VIII. The War of Art

Steven Pressfield has found the one thing that separates the would-be writers, could-be innovators, and should-be leaders from those that actual are.

Admittance is the first step to recovery. The War of Art will help you identify what is blocking your creativity, and lead you down the path towards productivity.

IX. On Writing

The problem with most books On Writing is that they are written by writers you've probably never heard of or read. Here lies some writer who needs some extra writing, and so they decide to write a book to teach you how to write.

Your bookshelf can put an end to that. Stephen King's On Writing is a great instruction manual that will tell you a little big about hist writing path while teaching you the things you should grasp along yours.

King's basic premise -- "If you are a bad writer , no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one. If you're good and want to be great... fuhgeddaboudit."

Perhaps it isn't for you to decide whether you are horrible or great. Eventually, the world will decide for you. You may spend your life writing screenplays, while 100 years from now you are only remembered for your memoir.

King tells us that it is possible for a competent writer to become a good, strong writer.

With that in mind, read "On Writing" if you are up to the challenge.

X. Zen in the Art of Writing

I remember on two separate occasions reading the criticism by Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni of Ralph Ellison, one of my favorite authors. Their individual concerns, as stated by Baraka is that Ralph Ellison spent so much time polishing the gun (with Invisible Man) that he never got a second shot.

Each writer must come to terms with his own productivity. Bradbury shares a few lessons in productivity through advice on reading, writing and the writer's life.

XI. The Top Ten

One of the most important aspects of writing is what you read. Every writer doesn't go to college. Every writer doesn't study American English Literature on a collegiate level. With the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, how can you determine where to begin?

By reading what other writer's have read.

I love lists. I am as obsessed with lists as I am with books themselves. Every young writer writing now should purchase The Top Ten as a guidepost for future reading. In addition to being informative, it is a pleasure to discover what books have influenced and inspired the works of your favorite writers.

Even when you're broke, each writer needs a Writer's Bookshelf. A great dictionary, a thorough thesaurus and the books listed above are a great place to start.


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