Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds On A Monday Because (There’s No Such Thing As) Writer’s Block

20 Apr

Percy Sledge

Percy Sledge

Two major artists passed away recently: soul singer, Percy Sledge and 80’s r & b singer, Johnny Kemp.

Percy Sledge, who was born in 1940 in Leighton, Alabama, was a hospital orderly when he started singing at local clubs and frat parties at universities.  His epic love ballad, When A Man Loves A Woman, was a tune Sledge said he hummed to himself for years–he said even when he was younger and working the cotton fields–before penning the lyrics during his early singing days.  The song is said to be about his girlfriend at the time leaving him for a modeling career after Sledge was laid off from a construction job.

It was at a frat party performance that he was casually offered the opportunity to record his love ballad at Norala Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama in 1966.  The song was of course a huge hit, and Sledge continued to have a career with follow-up hits like Warm and Tender Love and Tear Me Up, and to tour extensively in Europe and South Africa up until his death last week.

Listen to When A Man Loves A Woman and try not to feel anything.  You can’t, right?

 

Jonny-KempI was shocked to hear of Johnny Kemp’s untimely death several days ago in Jamaica.  Kemp, who is originally from the Bahamas, moved to the States in 1979 with his band, Kinky Fox.  His breakout hit, and definitely his most memorable, was Just Got Paid, which hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart in 1988.

Just Got Paid came out during my New York City clubbing days, and it was the feel-good dance anthem of the day.  When I revisited the song’s video this past weekend, I realized I loved it then and still do because it totally captures the essence of late-eighties NYC energy, and no matter where you lived, you saw yourself as part of that energy–that feeling of “yeah, I just got paid, it’s Friday, it’s the weekend, and I’m putting on my coolest, sexiest, clubwear–my biggest, dangliest earrings, highest heels that I can still dance in, my black spandex skirt–and grabbing my wallet, and heading out the door to dance, dance, dance.

It is sad that Kemp, 55 this year, mysteriously passed away en route to perform on a cruise ship in Jamaica with Teddy Riley who produced the famous hit.  But, Kemp’s classic hit, and his energetic performance won’t be forgotten.

 

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Sources:

www.youtube.com

www.wikipedia.com

www.rockhall.com

 

Photo credit, Percy Sledge: www.artspecialday.com

Photo credit, Johnny Kemp:  www.timorworld.com

To Race Together Or Not, That Is The Question..Or Is Knowing Who You Are Talking To The First Question?

20 Mar

race-together-baristaOh boy. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the new Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign where the printed hashtag written on a coffee cup by your friendly barista aims to spark a conversation on race.

While I’ve seen a few supporters of the initiative on my Facebook feed and on twitter, some just friends, some more famous, like Common and Van Jones, the overwhelming majority of feedback by both black and white people has been [Read more…]

Aw’ C’mon: Or How My Wanting to Cross Color Lines Wasn’t Always Taking Black People’s Concerns Into Consideration

10 Mar

white woman yelling black manAs I read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, (review here) her account of “waking up” to how her own white privilege, and the greater societal systems created to give white people advantage over people of color, shaped her perceptions of race and the way she interacted across color lines, I couldn’t help but take a look at myself, and the actions and inactions I have made, or not made over the years. [Read more…]

WJSS Weekend Sounds: Readers Select Their Favorite Love Songs

15 Feb

heart-cookieIn honor of Valentine’s Day and the three-year anniversary of Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake, I asked readers to send me their favorite love songs.  I said I’d pick one for today’s Weekend Sounds post.  It sure wasn’t easy. [Read more…]

Reading Debby Irving’s, Waking Up White

13 Feb

In Waking Up White: And Finding Myself In The Story Of Race author Debby Irving gives us a window into her journey of self-discovery, and her new found awareness of how her whiteness had shaped her ability to achieve success,  as well as her perspectives on race, racism and race relations.

Part memoir and part history lesson, Debby begins with her self-described, ultra-white suburban, upper middle-class childhood in Winchester, Massachussetts.  Here she shows us how things said and left unsaid, like her mother’s telling of how the “poor Indians…lovely people who became dangerous when they drank liquor..it ruined them really..” shot down Debby’s enamored view and curiosity of Native Americans that came from visiting a beloved mural at her local library.

Born in the early 1960’s, Debby, shares she came from a strong WASP background, and enjoyed and never really gave much thought to, the entitlement of belonging to exclusive country clubs, attending prestigious private schools, and having access to the network of successful business people, primarily white men in corporate positions of power, who could do favors for her as she grew up and made her way out into the world.  She also had instilled in her the Yankee/WASP attitude and belief system that if you work hard, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you can achieve whatever you want in  life.

Becoming conscious in her early twenties when she moved into Boston and sensed for the first time neighborhood racial economic disparities, Debby began working in arts administration, bringing the arts to “inner-city” schools.  She believed she was helping, giving mainly people of color, access to the rich arts experiences people in more affluent white neighborhoods have easy access and exposure to.  Yet, in a haunting scene in her book, while doing work as general manager for First Night Boston, the city’s premiere New Year’s Eve arts celebration, Debby shows us maybe her help wasn’t welcome.  Maybe it was even hurtful.

After one year’s celebration, Debby and the First Night staff gathered a group of families of color to debrief about the initiative to bring more diverse participants to the annual event.  Feeling proud and that the pilot was a success, Debby is stunned and wounded when a black teen answers her questions about whether people had fun. “Man, it was freaky!  I’ve never seen so many white people in my life! I was scared!”

Immediately Debby is forced to look at how her conditioning to not consider how people different from herself might feel being put into an environment that is overwhelmingly white.  She learns it might make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, instead of grateful for a white woman’s actions to selflessly give under-served communities access to the arts–something she assumed everyone should want and feel good about.

And that is why Debby’s book is so wonderful, and so important.  Not only does she take the journey of “waking up” to her own whiteness and how that has impacted her interactions with people across racial lines, but she shares it with her readers in a way that is unflinchingly brave and honest.

There were so many places in the book where I said to myself, wow, that is brave she is admitting having what she describes as racialized thoughts, such as realizing how she internalized via family discussions and the media, that black people had an affinity for being great athletes, entertainers, and dancers, and yet doing a double-take in her younger adult years when meeting a black doctor, because there weren’t examples of black people in high-achieving professions in her white circle, or again, in the media.

Most white people wouldn’t want to admit they have these racialized thoughts, especially if it means they think they will be considered racist.  Yet, Debby doesn’t run away from them.  Instead she embraces them and confronts them head on in chapters that reflect upon race versus class, the construction of white superiority, her questioning of why she didn’t “wake up” sooner, concepts of color blindness, re-thinking her own good luck, her Robin Hood syndrome, the matter of diversity training, the culture of niceness, leaving her comfort zone, and transitioning to being a bystander to full engagement in learning and doing racial justice work.

Through learning about black history and the construction of systems of oppression–both invisible and visible, such as the GI Bill, that enabled her family to obtain new, affordable homes, but discriminated against black families, or her access to prestigious social connections, Debby took the call to action.  She enrolled in a class on Racial and Cultural Identity that Debby says blew the lid off and revealed to her how her whole life of not seeing how her race (she thought being white meant you were raceless) set her up for a life of invisible privileges and a clear, easy path of opportunities, while people of color who have suffered centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, urban renewal, inequities in education, housing and business loan discrimination, and more, had many more hurdles and obstacles keeping them from so easily achieving the American Dream.

As someone who started a blog because I became more in tune with my own attraction to black people, black culture, and a hyper-awareness of racial inequities, and who wanted to explore the how and the why of that, and not fear broaching the topic of race with people of color, I have deep admiration and respect for Debby for taking her journey of self-discovery, and for fearlessly and generously sharing it with readers, white, black and brown.  Also as someone who likes to think about race from an experiential point-of-view, rather than academic, I now know that I still need to understand how racial inequities came into being in the first place, to be able to talk about them from a personal point-of-view.  I read books on black history. I read black author’s books on their experiences on what it means to be black.  I stay current on topics of race and culture by reading on-line posts on social media from The Root, For Harriet, HuffPost Black Voices, Colorlines, etc.  I talk with, and listen to black friends, acquaintances and strangers share about their experiences with racism.

Am I perfect in all this?  No.  Do I worry that what I might say may not be politically correct, might come out as sounding racist or patronizing?  Yes.  But, as I hear many black people say when bringing up matters of race with white people, is it more important to worry about being called racist than to worry about committing a racist act, or not working to dismantle racism?  In other words, I need to get over myself, and do my best to not get defensive when approaching the topic of race, or take everything personally when a black person expresses their frustration or anger when it comes to white people’s role in creating structures of racism, and/or idly standing by, unaware of how one’s own white privilege has gotten them to where they sit in life today.  Or even worse, realizing it, and doing nothing about it.

I am inspired that as Debby’s journey unfolded from waking up to learning about the systems of oppression in our American history that afforded her these seemingly invisible privileges, has led her to a place of deep engagement and action.  Debby now works as a racial justice educator who describes her mission on her website as to “educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism and transform anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action, be it for an individual or an organization.”

I am grateful to Debby for writing Waking Up White, because it has given me some tools to delve more deeply into learning about how my own whiteness has shaped my life experience, and for giving me some history lessons on how institutionalized systems of oppression came into being.  As a resource, Debby includes study/discussion questions at the end of each chapter for readers who want to further explore how race has shaped their lives.  At the end of her book, Debby provides further reading and film resources, and ways to become engaged in your community and beyond in the conversation on race, and in racial justice work.   There are notes on individuals and organizations doing work in racial justice, such as the noted white privilege work of anti-racism activist, Peggy McIntosh, a white woman, and the White Privilege Conference, founded by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., who is black, and leads a multicultural Diversity Consulting and Research Firm, which strives to “provide a challenging, collaborative, and comprehensive experience to empower and equip individuals to work for equity and justice through self and social transformation.”

Debby’s book, Waking Up White,  gives me the history lessons I need to back up what I talk about when I talk about how white privilege impacts my life, other white people’s lives, and the lives of people of color. Her personal journey gives me the courage to keep moving forward in my own self-discovery, and in my engagement in conversations on race.

You can find out more about Debby Irving and Waking Up White, including speaking engagements, Book Club discussions, as well as resource material on race at www.debbyirving.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: D’Angelo Performs The Charade on SNL

1 Feb

D'Angelo peforms The Charade on SNLI’ve been loving listening to the new D’Angelo album ever since it came out last month.  Fourteen years since his last effort, it was well worth the wait.  Lush, thoughtful funk and jazz instrumentals, D’Angelo’s velvety falsetto still there, and lyrics that speak to today’s time–especially to what it means to be black today.

Along with what I’m slowly coming to feel are my Twitter “roomies,” even if they don’t know I’m there:), I positioned myself on my couch with blanket and cat in tow to plod through a bad night of Saturday Night Live skits to get to D’Angelo’s performance on the show.  Some tweeps were ready to hang it up and not wait, but they did, and like me were so, so glad.  D’Angelo, even though a lot of shade was thrown for his first cowboy-looking outfit complete with scarf-pancho and western hat, beckoning some to call him “D’Angelo Unchained,” performed Really Love.  Tweets quickly moved from fashion critiques to “Yes! It’s Really Love with live strings!”…”That’s my jam!”

Sitting through more skits was again worth the wait when it became clear the next song D’Angelo would perform was The Charade.  A potent nod to all that’s been happening with the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ferguson and more, the song’s lyrics call out..”all we wanted was a chance to talk, instead we’ve only got outlined in chalk..”  The band wore Black Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe t-shirts and hoodies, and some tweeted D’Angelo’s hooded jacket represented for Trayvon Martin.  It was a beautiful, bold powerful statement that validated time spent watching SNL, as a forum for important music moments.  Thank you, D’Angelo for last night’s big moment.

Here’s a link via Sons and Brothers    a site focused on helping America’s young people of color reach their full potential in school, work and life to BuzzFeed writer Jim Dalrymple’s take on the evening’s performance, and the best video of the SNL peformance posted to date:

http://bzfd.it/1BNGZDh

 

 

SOURCES:

www.sonsandbrothers.us/

www.buzzfeed.com

Jim Dalrymple – @jdalrymple

 

 

 

 

13 Year-Old Twin Movie Critics On Oscar Noms and The Selma Snub

16 Jan

Flack (Dylan Itkin) and Flick (Ethan Itkin) of flickandflackmovietalk.com

Flack (Dylan Itkin) and Flick (Ethan Itkin) of flickandflackmovietalk.com

I often watch the Oscars with my friend, Anisa Raoof,  now Executive Director of the Providence Children’s Film Festival, and always tell her that her 13 year-old twin boys, Dylan and Ethan Itkin, are going to be up on that stage one day collecting their Oscars.

It seems ever since pre-school, Dylan and Ethan have been into movies–watching them,  reviewing them, and critiquing them.  They’ve now grown into writing screenplays, and making and directing their own films with neighborhood friends.  I remember [Read more…]

Selma: The Movie and Community Dialogue in Providence, RI

12 Jan

This past weekend, I attended a private screening party of Ava DuVernay’s film, Selma, which was held at the Providence Place Mall Cinema.  The event was sponsored by the Providence NAACP, and the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

DuVernay’s Selma, focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and planned marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, and the many working with him, and against him, to further civil rights causes, in particular the fight to pass the Voting Rights Act.  Like many who  during the post-film dialogue referenced the ages they were during this time period, I remembered how old I was– [Read more…]

Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: John Handy – If Only We Knew

4 Jan

jazz musician john handy

Jazz musician, John Handy

If only we knew…The title of this John Handy tune, and words that make me realize there is so much I don’t know.  And, I like that.  I like that every day through my connections to others, I learn about something new.  Some person, some artist, some historic event that I knew nothing about, that I now get to explore and learn and grow from.  Makes my life that much richer.

This tune I learned about from Donald King, co-owner of Fete Music  venue here in Providence, RI, and founder and Executive/Artistic Director of former Providence Black Repertory Theater.   But it’s not just this song and this musician I got introduced to.  Turns out Donald posted this song because it was the song playing when he was one day in the home of Aishah Rahman.  Donald told me that Ms. Rahman, who passed away just a week ago, was one of his favorite playwrights.  He posted on FB that “her knowledge of jazz and her ability to translate that deep knowledge into her work was evident and awe inspiring.”  He shared that he had the honor of directing Ms. Rahman’s play, The Mojo And The Sayso at The Black Rep.  When I commented on Donald’s post that this song, John Handy’s If Only We Knew, was absolutely beautiful, and thanked him for introducing me to Ms. Rahman, Donald commented back that Ms. Rahman  was “rare company, in the likes of Maya Angelou, Abby Lincoln and Gwendolyn Brooks,” and that I should read her work.

In thinking about what song I should choose for WJSS Weekend Sounds to open the New Year with, I wondered if I should select something fresh and snappy, something to get up and dance to, something funky and festive.  But when I heard this tune, which is quiet, it just felt right.  Part of that is due to my lying low while I recover from my recent surgery.  The larger part is this song is utterly beautiful.  It’s quiet spaces allow you to dream. It’s a song that when Donald heard it playing in Aishah Rahman’s home that day, said, …”talk about having your wig pushed back.”

Happy first weekend of the New Year.  Here’s to you plunging into what can be a beautiful 2015 if you want it to be.  It’s possible for all of us.  We just have to take in the beauty, and keep connecting to others, so that we can keep being led to–the next person, the next book, the next revelation, the next thing that makes you feel love, inspiration, and hope.  The thing that pushes your wig back.

 

SOURCES:

www.youtube.com

photo source: www.pinterest.com, posted by Tunes & Musicians by Stacy Magic

 

 

Happy New Year and Thank You

1 Jan

Anchor Symbol of Hope

it’s lil’ Rhody’s (my home state of RI) symbol of hope.

Happy New Year, WJSS Readers!

I am going to try to keep this brief because I am still recovering from recent surgery (middle-age woman stuff, and yes, thanks, I am doing fine) which for me is a feat since my last post, a “summary” of the 2014 National Center for Race Amity Conference turned into a 3,000 word article.

Like any year, and like life itself, there are great big shiny moments, and wondrously small magnificent moments, and there are small petty pain-in-the butt moments and great big horrific moments.  This year is no exception, and I, and I know many of you, can’t help but go to the remembrance of the recent heartbreaking horrific moments: of the non-indictments of the officers involved in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases,  I have witnessed friends’ and strangers’, locally and globally–their sadness, frustration, and anger, over the inequity of the justice system, and couldn’t help but notice the divisiveness across color lines these cases provoked.

Yet, I now keep saying to friends that aside from these feelings of despair, I have hope.  I have hope that things were so out of whack that the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and people all over the United States, and all over the world, have said, “Enough!”  That people are making their voices heard through protest, live and on social media, and through one-on-one dialogue that things have to change for the better.  That we need a more equitable justice system.  That we need to take a closer look at dismantling the seemingly invisible, to many white people especially, systems of privilege, unconscious bias, and structural racism that make black people feel that their lives don’t matter.

Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake was never intended to be a blog about racism.  It is supposed to be about where people intersect across color lines and what happens there.  For things to change for the better, I feel white people have to let go of their fears of engaging in honest, open dialogues about racism and the invisible to us systems that our white privilege affords us.  We have to listen, and validate what black people are saying are their experiences.  And, then we have to figure out a way to make things fair and equitable for everyone, with everyone–black, white, and brown, having a say in how that happens–not just one person’s story, not just one race’s perspective on how to shape things.  It is our responsibility to do that, and not just sit silently because we have the luxury of turning off discussions about race whenever we feel like it.

You, my readers have always told me you appreciate that I am not soapboxy here on WJSS, but I’m afraid over the past two years in some of my posts I have been.  I can’t help myself because I feel the only way we can move forward is if we see the problems of racism and the solutions of eradicating racism as everyone’s responsibility.

It is a new year.  We can do something every day to make connections across color lines, to understand one another’s perspectives, and to bridge the barriers to mixing it up that most of us socially exist within.  I know that this is on my slate for every day for the rest of my life now.

I want to thank all of you so very much for subscribing to and/or reading Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake in 2014.  I thank you for your comments here, on Facebook, and on twitter, and for what you share with me publicly and privately about how certain posts have made you think or feel.  You have rewarded me with your feedback, questions and insights, which gives me new inspiration to dig deeper.

Here’s to digging deeper.  Here’s to hope that the events in 2014 will make things better in 2015.  Here’s to highlighting here the positive interactions and work that does happen across colorlines every day, and of course, here’s to a few MJ stories sprinkled in throughout the year for good measure.

Thank you.