Think of UK Hip Hop duo Native Sun as an intervention...
Let me explain: Upon reflection on the Middle Passage and the trials and tribulations which my people have endured... respite and and thanks exist when re-connections are made amongst those descendants of enslaved Africans, like myself, and those born and bred on the African continent, or those born and bred in Europe via the other side of the colonial experiment which brought millions of brown and black skinned peoples to the shores native to the people we call white...
all that being said... given the reality of the limited opportunities of those connections between the sons and daughters of the African continent... i was once blessed to spend time with one side of Native Sun, Mohammed Yahya, rolling through NYC, getting our hairs cut by black Dominicans, checking out poetry performed by Palestinians in a wharehouse in Dumbo, and breaking bread with West Africans in a restaurant in Harlem. In the video below he references that adventure by rocking a Yankees hat - the place we got our hair cut together was in the Bronx, Mikes by Mt. Eden.
(Partial Letter to My Wife During My Recent Travels to the Euro Zone.)
I listened to that inner voice inside my head and checked the weather in Brussels. The forecast was for clouds, rain and temperatures that looked quite a lot like NYC in this odd, globally warmed, balmy winter. So I packed an umbrella. A small blue one that neither you nor I have any idea of its origin. For my part I can safely say that the only umbrellas I have ever owned are the janky category. I pick them up off the street vendors who suddenly appear just after the start of a downpour. All the umbrellas that we have are yours.
Usually I do not need or want umbrellas. I want to tough it out in the driving rain and allow the water to soak whatever I have on. I want to tell a story when I get to my destination. You... well, you are always prepared for the rain. We take totally different approaches. You with your galoshes, me with my wool socks, you with your rain coats, me with my fleece. It really comes down to this, beloved, you assume that you can keep the water out while I assume that I will get soaked no matter what I try.
Anyways, that blue umbrella died in Brussels. While I was six hours ahead of you on a rainy Wednesday evening, in the heart of Europe, the rain was misting gently, the way the rain comes down in the spring time in Rhode Island or in the middle of winter in San Francisco. My partner in this segment of the adventure was a Desi-gangsta from East London. He’s got curly, unruly hair, glasses, and the garb of a silicon valley entrepreneur - dressed as though he is the richest man in the room and, if he is not the richest, then definitely the smartest.
He insisted that the only sight worth seeing was a little square. To get to this square we had to weave in and out of tightly wound European streets. The arches of the windows, the doors, with wooden shutters closed, without lights - like no one was home and no one was coming home. My buddy asked some minor directions but he was like me, he trusted his sense of direction, and we wound through the streets with me in awe and him likely chuckling at my American-ness (the way you do as well).
Eventually, we came to a lovely step with some crypt of an old dead European at the top. It was a majestic statue of a man and a horse. Of course, I could not help but think: “how many brown people did he kill?”. And this is when, my companion, like myself, recognized that he needed help. He solicited the aid of a stranger who directed us properly. As we made our way in the right direction we could no long ignore it - the rain, once misting, was now the same density with heavier and thicker droplets. I had my fleece and my hat and gloves and my companion, well he was already using the umbrella.
We made it to the square and found shelter underneath a construction scaffold. Along the way we had bought some sodas and enjoyed them in the dreary, cute, soggy, cobblestoned square. We took a cab back to The Hotel but had the driver drop us off some blocks away from the hotel so that we could walk a little more.
Eventually it became clear that the umbrella was useless. It slid down after he was pushing it up and more than one edge was losing the fabric so all that could be seen was its spine, its skeleton. Across the street from the hotel was an odd site in Brussels - an empty lot without construction on it. We walked over there for the last few embers of our chat. This, my beloved, is where your blue umbrella, that you did not even know you had, went to die.
I have said this before and I know you are tired of hearing it, but it has been said that every raindrop has an angel attached to it. Who needs an umbrella when all that falls down are blessings?
Smiling faces of the gentleman who have graced my time here in Brussels with their good spirits and thoughtfulness. Sorry for the grainy photo, The iPad does not produce great pictures. Not sure in general how the picture will turn out, I am blogging from email.
Just now waking up in the city of Brussels, sorry that I have no pictures. This is my first ever trip to a place native to Europeans, whites, etc... Very interesting thinking about the lands that they have colonized over the many hundreds of years and to be in a place where they are native and small things make much more sense. The architecture is priceless, breathtaking even, on the small scale. Cobblestones streets and sidewalks, grand squares and majestic churches...
The sun is not going to make an offical appeerance and the rain is not heavy enough to be considered a nuisance. Somewhere decisions about the EU and NATO are being decided over wine and coffee in wood paneled buildings that perhaps are too old to be taken seriously...
A companion on this journey here passed me a copy of Mustafa Akyol's Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty and on the way here I have been devouring Dr. Colin Campbell's The China Study.
I arrived in Brussels on a dreary Wednesday morning after having had almost no sleep on the plane. I was greeted by a well dressed Rwandan who speaks I think five languages and drives a stick shift Peugeot. He took me to "The Hotel" where the gathering was waiting for me to begin. My impression upon meeting this man was simply an affirmation of many points my bellved has been making plain to me recently. She says that people who speak more than one language are smarter than people who do not. She is onto something.
I have often thought about what is the dramatic shift of my generation. To transform our diets? To make plain the cause of liberty and to transform our societies politicslly and create a pluralistic partnership with others who want to live as free peoples - free from various economic and political and other social structures which bind us spiritually and mentally?
Anyways... I will leave this brief dispatch at that.
I write this message in the beginning of Black HIstory Month. Every year I am very annoyed about this time. What is the purpose of a month of remembering history when we have so much happening wrong in the present? Might be better to call it:
Black People (including me) Get Your Act Together Month
This post below has been going around the internet for the last few weeks. My brother passed it along to me. I started this blog to highlight the efforts of what i called "old ghosts of the Atlantic" - to unearth the voices of those of my ancestors that were lost in the journey over there. I wanted to imagine what they would want us to be thinking about, talking about, being about.
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
"When My servants ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, tell them I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me. Therefore, they should respond to Me and put their trust in Me, so that they may be rightly guided."
Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns this is the next one on the list. My wife read it in like a day and a half, i read a little slower but it is already going fast, so far it is painful but i like the writing.
Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin: A Novel what i am reading right now, such an amazing book and a great fiction offering to start a new decade by devouring. It was the first thing i read this morning and last night before i went to bed. it is a book of souls.