I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to completing my first novel. To those of you who don't know me or my work and are visiting this page for the first time, welcome.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share with you a little of my progress as I begin research on my new book -- a yet-to-be titled historical novel, set in the 1920s and involving the founding and establishment of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the predominently African-American labor union, led by A. Philip Randolph. Sleeping car porters worked on the railroads, cleaning and preparing sleeping cars and acting as valets and waiters for passengers. The union struggled for more than a decade before they received recognition and equity from the Pullman Company.

As part of my research, I'll be traveling by train from Oakland to New York City, following the path of those porters from years ago. This trip will include a visit to the A. Philip Randolph Museum in Chicago. Along the way, I'll be sharing with you what I learn and experience. Thank you for coming along.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Barrack Obama and the Return of the Responsible Intellectual

Thank you, God! I am so glad to finally be able to come out to hiding. For almost a decade, I have felt like an outcast, subject to humiliated and ridicule. I have disguised myself in conversations about reality television shows and relative merits of various celebrity pairings. If I pointed out that the portrayal of an Asian woman in the X-men felt, oh, slightly problematic because she had been made to look like a Chinese Dragon Lady, a dreaded figure from the 1930s; I was told I think too much. I took to hiding my books behind copies of People and US, just to fit in. Don't get me wrong, I love Project Runway as much as the next person does. I will pick up a tabloid in the checkout lane to see pictures of Halle Berry's baby because, let's face it, I'm nosy. But I do not and have not made the mistake of believing that it is really that important. I never made the mistake of believing that that should be the content of national discourse or that discourse itself is somehow threatening and sinister. It has always been slightly disturbing this way in which our national discourse has been reduced to babble about celebutantes and how we have begun to accept it. I have grown accustomed to the stupor induced by reading my student thesis. One of which argued that single people shouldn't be allowed to adopt because they are unlovable. If they were lovable, they'd be married. I teach college. I blame myself for adopting the language of the masses. You know what I'm saying though; whatever. And like and like and like and like. Doesn't bother anyone else that Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader is not just a game show but also apparently the only question used to vet the final Republican candidate for vice president of the United States? But that is all over. Finally, finally, the eggheads won and smart people can come out of hiding. Tired of saluting a commander in chief better suited to being president of a fraternity than president of the United States.

What is most striking about Barrack Obama is he is unapologetically intelligent and unabashedly articulate. He conjugates his verbs without shame, using words from an actual dictionary. In addition, he engages other people in discourse as if he weren't afraid of opinions other than his own as if the engagement of other in public and spirited discourse was a means to finding resolution rather than a way of highlighting difference or a threat to his entire belief system. Shocking. This week, the President-elect broke bread with what is considered the conservative brain trust. A move that is unprecedented. He is engaged in dialog with 'the enemy,' rather than shutting his door and assuming that the only answers to the enormous problems that face our country will only come from the left. He has said publicly that this will be an administration that embraces science; yet Obama has also come to reestablish America, as a moral leader, as well.

Discourse, spirited engaged rigorous discourse is fundamental to a thriving democracy. Refusing to speak to an network, interviewer or another person because their opinion may be different than your own or because you are afraid of being asked difficult questions is cowardice. Intellectual in-breeding that leads to defective thinking, strangulation of ideas and reasoning. I mean if our only criteria for our political leaders is that they are like us, what will we get, overweight, debt-laden morally irresponsible good old boys and gals who we can pal around with? I don't want a president I can have a beer with, I want my president to be the smartest guy or gal in the room. Let's talk about what you get when you put an intellectual in office, someone who thinks before he acts but what's more important, let's see what happens when we have an engaged and informed electorate who knows what they believe and more importantly why they believe it so that when someone tries to strip them of their civil liberties, denies them their civil rights they know exactly what it is that they are losing and when they decide to go to war, they know what they are dying for.

It seems to me that we all have a unique opportunity to get re-acquainted with our government, to do more than simply having an opinion but a chance for us to think AND to participate. But calling on Americans to serve their country on MLK Day, President-elect Obama is reminding us that being intelligent is not enough. It isn't enough to simply sit in ivory tower or coffee shops and criticize others for their actions, that it is time that we take actions, ourselves. Certainly, now the time for rhetoric is over. The time for action is now.

Monday, January 12, 2009

To Andrew Lewis (young man arrested and speaking on the 6 o'clock news)

On Wednesday, I listened to sirens as they drove past my home, wail after wail throughout the night. Earlier, I heard the whisking blades of helicopters as they raced from airport pad to downtown. I went out into the chilly night, hands deep in my pockets and watched as they circled, like vultures over downtown. At the time, I had no idea of the destruction taking place there. I didn't have to turn on the news, though, to know that there was pain and rage released there. Oakland is a city, where passions seem to run high, whether for the Raiders or young men killed before their time. When I drive downtown these days, I see the boarded windows of businesses and broken glass still strewn in the gutters. Business owners, their customers, folks just trying to live shaking their heads in confusion and frustration at both the authorities who need to be held accountable and those who think their violence is justice. Fear and anger hang over the city like fog every morning since New Year's Day, but it isn't burned off in trash bins set afire or dispelled by shattered windshields. It hangs over us, clouding our vision. I think, Andrew, that it has clouded yours.

"It was for a cause. I feel like I have to fight for him."

I, too, was shocked and horrified by violent murder of Oscar Grant. I am tired of young black men being targeted by police. I am angry that again and again black life seems to worthless in the eyes of the people charged with protecting us. Maybe I'm worried, too because I am not as shocked as I could be and because I am becoming too accustomed to violence being meted out against young black men, not just by the police, but also by other black men. Violence has become too commonplace in Oakland. Right now, even as I type, yet another siren wails by my building. The herald of more violence taking place somewhere in this city. I'm tired. Tired of the news, the hopelessness, meaningless and the lack of love that lies beneath each act of violence.
We must fight for Oscar Grant and every man like him. We must fight for safer streets and we hold accountable everyone, everyone who takes the life of a young black man. But how do we fight, Andrew?

"I know they wasn't part of but somebody has to pay."

While I am tired of the unjustifiable homicides, I'm also tired of you, Andrew and your undirected rage and your inflated self-righteousness being unleashed on innocent by-standers. Oscar Grant's death does NOT give you the right to unleash your rage on anybody unfortunate to be in your path. Acts and times such as these, demand that we respond, not react. A response demands and expects accountability and justice. A reaction is a reflex, thoughtless and reckless. A reaction is a display of force; a response is a display of discipline. A response would have been about Oscar Grant, his life and his death. Reaction, such as the one you made, was about you.
Seems to me that if we are fighting we need to know what we are fighting for, what it is we are seeking to achieve – a show of force, a mere grand display of our collective anger and grief might be gratifying in the short-term but it is ultimately empty and impotent, the equivalent of a temper tantrum. What about the man who pulled the trigger and the institution that trained him that black lives have no value? Who will ensure that they pay? Not you, Andrew, when your attention is focused on burning trash bins and breaking windows at McDonalds. While the cameras are trained on you, or the store owners whose businesses were damaged and the police officers who arrested you, while all of that is happening, where is Oscar Grant? The man who pulled the trigger slips away into the shadows. The authorities who tried to cover it up cover their tracks. Customers on the BART system are afraid of you, not the authorities who conspired to keep the truth from them. Justice for Oscar Grant slips away as this becomes more and more about the riots and the police response to the riots and less and less about what happened January 1st at the Fruitvale BART.

"You can replace a car. That man can't get his life back."

Oscar Grant was murdered on New Year's Day, not maliciously, but seemingly casually, as absently as pouring salt on slug. You watched the video. He was lying on his back. He was being subdued, knees in his back. You, are holding him down, if you simply let your rage dictate your response.
You want to fight for the Oscar Grant, Andrew? Make this more about him and less about you. You want justice or do you just want to fight? Because there is a difference. HOLD BART accountable. HOLD the officer responsible accountable. Boycott BART every Friday until this man and every person who tried to cover it up is behind bars. You can't give Oscar Grant his life back but you can get justice for him. That is how you fight.

DailyLit: What I'm Reading Now


© 2008 L. Rebecca Harris