FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.
If you've been watching TV or looked up at billboards, you probably know it's Black History Month. From advertising hamburgers, antacids, pickup trucks, this month, black history is used to push just about anything. And some black folks have turned against the annual celebration because of all the commercialism.
We'll ask our bloggers if they're hating on Black History Month and why. Joining me now, Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, creator of Afrobella.com. Also, Nashieqa Washington from Yourblackfriend.com, and Robert Redding. He publishes the Reddingnewsreview.com. Hey, folks.
Mr. ROBERT REDDING (Publisher, Reddingnewsreview.com): Hello.
Ms. PATRICE ELIZABETH GRELL YURSIK (Creator, Afrobella.com): Hi.
CHIDEYA: So, it's a thumbs-up-thumbs-down, love-it-or-hate-it situation. Shortest month of the year set aside to celebrate Black History Month, and there is a recent post on the blog, Lolagetslife. She, Lola, goes off on Black History Month. Patrice, what are her main complaints?
Ms. YURSIK: I mean, she calls it ghetto month because she's saying that, you know, the window of it is so tiny and it's - I think many African-Americans who have been force fed the same old facts throughout their school years. The concept feels like a token and gesture. So I think that's where she was coming from.
CHIDEYA: What about you, where are you coming from?
Ms. YURSIK: I think, even by - I think it's a necessary thing. I think that Black History Month, it can be very beautiful. It can also be very commercial, as you pointed out. I saw that there's a popular nudie magazine with Trina on the cover for their Black History Month issue.
You know, I mean people do misuse the concept, but I think even by criticizing it for its brevity and its corniness and its commercialization, you're hopefully also helping to come up with new ways to celebrate the accomplishments of our ancestors.
CHIDEYA: Robert, is that the problem? Is the problem just that it's not fresh enough in approach, or is the problem of having a month for everything, I mean - or is there no problem at all? How do you make sense of it?
Mr. REDDING: Well, I think that the month is appropriate, given the contribution that blacks have made traditionally to the world around, including America, which, of course, the land we all live in. But, unfortunately, I don't think it goes far enough.
I think that it is a bit of a token month, and it needs to go beyond - well beyond what we see so far. I think that some people, not even in the black community, I think, take it seriously. Because, you know, Oprah Winfrey and folks that we would normally say that have done tremendous things, like Martin Luther King, it goes further than that. And I don't think that the month, in terms of black people, in terms of white people, goes far enough. And I think that we can do a lot more.
CHIDEYA: Now, Nashieqa, one thing that comes to mind for me is whether or not the month going far enough also is political enough. I mean, the more that you commercialized things sometimes the less you take the political implications out of them, and Black History Month has been a time when people have reexamined whether or not Africans-Americans have fit into or opposed the prevailing political winds, for example, during the civil rights movement, during slavery.
There's a lot of question of how political to make a celebration of African-American life. It's one thing to, you know, have Harriet Tubman, you know, next to a picture of a hamburger. It's a totally different thing to talk about her as a revolutionary. Do we need to get a little more political?
Ms. NASHIEQA WASHINGTON (Creator, Yourblackfriend.com): I mean, I think there's room for the political aspect to be explored within Black History Month, but I don't know that it has to be one or the other. I mean, we're a multi-faceted people, and you can explore politics and culture and all of that can be incorporated.
I think the month is absolutely necessary, just for the record. We have to have a time when we're actually exploring our history and ourselves, and it's just not done on a regular basis. And, of course, it could be longer. It should be done throughout the year, but it is what it is.
CHIDEYA: Did you get your dose of Black History in school as you were growing up?
Ms. WASHINGTON: I got my dose of slavery…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WASHINGTON: …which was the extent of - and maybe some Martin Luther King, you know, thrown in for good measure, but mostly it was about slavery and everybody kind of turning around and saying, ooh, you know, what do you think about that as the only…
Mr. WASHINGTON: …you know, black person in the room.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. Sorry about that slavery thing.
Mr. WASHINGTON: Yeah. Oops. No, no sorries. No, apologies.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: No, no apologies. Just moving on. Patrice, what about you? Did you get - in the classroom specifically, did you get a big dose of Black History?
Ms. YURSIK: Well, you know, I wasn't born and raised in America. I'm from Trinidad and Tobago.
Ms. YURSIK: So, I mean, there you study pretty much, it's European history and Caribbean history. And Caribbean history is all slavery all the time. Like we did a lot on Columbus. And, I mean, we really also got, I think, more critical on him than they do in the American school system.
So, as somebody who wasn't born and raised here, I do learn something new every year from all of the documentaries and the events that celebrate Black History Month. There's a lot of stuff that seems to have kind of been whitewashed from the history books.
CHIDEYA: Robert, I'm actually going to transition us to another issue, unfolding during Black History Month. Jena Six, back in the headlines - Bryant Pervis arrested in Carrollton, Texas. Give us a quick debrief on that story.
Mr. REDDING: Basically, what we have is, you know, of course, Mr. Pervis is one of the Jena Six, and he is 19 years old. He's been charged with the misdemeanor assault. This is after, of course, he was charged inappropriately with attempted murder of a teen when he was in Louisiana.
Of course, he was moved out to Texas with his uncle, who is a Dallas Cowboy, to start a better a life. And essentially, hearsay, someone told him someone wrecked his vehicle, and he confronted the gentleman. He got hostile with the gentleman, laid his hands on the gentleman, supposedly - according to the police - admitted that he laid his hands on the gentleman. So, of course, he ends up in jail. He has to get bailed out.
Now his mom is saying, you know what? This makes it look as if he was involved when they were saying all along in Louisiana that he wasn't involved in the attack on the white teen in Louisiana. It looks as if that - it makes it looked as if he's guilty all along, and I think she's right.
It's like we said in the piece that we were just now discussing - duh, yeah, absolutely. It looks as if he is guilty here, and this is the reason why I've said all along when we look at the Jena situation that this is a dog. This case is a dog.
It's something that Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and these folks should have never gotten involved in because Michael Bill's record stinks to high heaven, and this kid's record is now in question. So, what more are we going to see out of this? I think that this is a really a problem.
CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, I'm going to throw this in a slightly different light. There was a big case that came up in the course of us doing an interview last week in New York City. Patrick Dorismond was a guy shot by the police in New York City, and Mayor Rudolf Giuliani released his juvenile records.
Now, there's times when people do stupid or illegal things, and there's times when they keep doing them. Is it mixing apples and oranges to look at Pervis and this current situation and to say, well, because of it, the Jena Six case was not what it was made out be and the Jena Six defendants were not, you know, worthy of defending. Is this a case where his current behavior is casting doubt on a past, perhaps, unfairly?
Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, I think it doesn't really matter whether it's casting doubt or not. The cause is worthy of defense. The cause was worthy. It will be worthy in the future.
Because people have latched on to this kid - I mean, he's 19 but, whatever -whether he's an adult or not, his behavior, and now using it to say, oh, well, we shouldn't have defended this issue, and it wasn't worth it, and Al Sharpton shouldn't have gotten involved. I don't know, it doesn't - that doesn't make any sense to me.
I'm not sure why we're attaching all of this - I don't even know how to describe it - to this person. When his behavior is poor, are we going to follow him the rest of his life and say, oh, we shouldn't have done this because this particular person did these acts subsequently? Apples and oranges, yes.
Ms. YURSIK: Yes?
CHIDEYA: Do you think that it's a situation where his current behavior is being used to cast doubt on the whole - the cultural push behind Jena Six?
Ms. YURSIK: I mean, definitely. I think, he's definitely - these kids aren't doing the case any favors. You know, it's funny. This last weekend, there was a rerun of the episode of the "Salt and Pepper" show where they went to Jena to protest. I don't know if you've ever seen that one. But it took me back to the heated emotions that were swirling around the case at the time. I - it's definitely - what happened in Jena was horrible, and it was wrong and it was unacceptable.
And the fact that there was a white tree to begin with in this day and age, you know, I'm glad that I supported the cause. I mean, I am disappointed in the actions of this kid. And I hope that - I mean, you would think that being one of the Jena Six would be a really transformative experience, and I hope that he's going to learn from his mistakes. He seems pretty young and immature right now, I got to say. He's not doing it any favors.
CHIDEYA: Well, I'm going to go ahead and press on to another topic - Cynthia McKinney. It's hard to dodge the whole issue of politics right now. The former Georgia congresswoman is running for the Green Party's presidential nomination. She isn't making much of the dent, though. The majority of the Green Party voters seem to prefer Ralph Nader.
So, Rob, you had an article, "Democrats Fear a Green Cynthia McKinney." Can you explain what you mean?
Mr. REDDING: Well, I believe that the Democratic Party is invested in, of course, keeping people Democrats, especially people within the black community. That's a sizeable constituent that they rely very heavily on. Being an independent myself, I used to be a Democratic, I'm a recovering Democrat.
And let me just say that I think that life in the independent world is very attractive to a lot of black people, once they start to learn a little bit more about the independent movement and learn about leveraging our vote within government.
So, when you have someone like Cynthia McKinney who is a recovering Democrat, who is now in the Green Party movement, giving Nader a run for his money, she's coming in a respectable second in California. And we look to her at some point to either win the nomination, especially if Nader decides not to run. Or be a vice presidential pick for Nader, or maybe Nader will be her vice presidential pick. This could be an interesting scenario where people start to forget about Barack Obama, say, hey, wait a minute. There's another…
Ms. WASHINGTON: No.
Mr. REDDING: …facet that we can consider here when we talk about Cynthia McKinney, who has been a champion of issues like COINTELPRO. She's also targeted the Bush administration. She was the first to author a bill to impeach the president of the United States.
CHIDEYA: Now, Nashieqa is here with me in our NPR West studios near Los Angeles, and she is clutching her head. Why?
Ms. NASHIEQA: I'm just - respectfully, Rob, isn't that kind of a wishful thinking?
Mr. REDDING: It might be, quote, unquote, considered "Wishful thinking," especially if you're a member of the Democratic Party. But, look, all I'm saying is that Cynthia McKinney has a respectable record when it comes to issues.
Now she has some conduct that some people say is unbecoming of a legislator, and I'm not questioning that or saying that she doesn't. But what I'm saying is is that she has been a champion of issues that some people call conspiracies or whatever. They have turned out to have some validity.
Ms. WASHINGTON: I'm just saying, given our process, that's all. I mean, I like Cynthia McKinney and I like Ralph Nader. But given our process, our political process, just, it's hopeful to coin a candidate - if I may…
CHIDEYA: Let me get Patrice in here.
Mr. REDDING: Okay.
CHIDEYA: What do you think? I mean is this something where she's actually going to build a base of support, Cynthia McKinney?
Ms. YURSIK: I mean, I don't know. I personally admire the independent candidates for offering alternative voices just to, I mean, it's a system that seems to be broken. They're trying to throw in issues that really needs to be discussed and analyzed but I'm - I can't support her campaign. I'm backing Barack Obama.
I mean, I don't know. I just think describing her as the perfect storm for the Democrats, which I think you did in the post that you wrote, it seems a little overstated. And I also realize that they're not getting as much media attention. I think that Cynthia McKinney, the indie candidates might not fit into the script that the media has created for this particular electoral race.
CHIDEYA: I want to move on to one last thing, and that is sweet, sweet music. There were two major pop stars up for Album of the Year. Everyone was sure either Kanye West or Amy Winehouse would take the trophy, but the top prize at the Grammy's went to a jazz artist. Remember jazz? Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock won for his disc "River: The Joni Letters." Here's Hancock accepting his award last night
(Soundbite of 50th Grammy Awards)
Mr. HERBIE HANCOCK (Jazz artist): It's been 43 years since the first and only time that a jazz artist got the Album of the Year award.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Mr. HANCOCK: And I'd like to thank the Academy for courageously breaking the mold this time. This is a new day that proves that the impossible can be made possible.
CHIDEYA: Patrice, I was just reading another article on how classical music has not faired well, according to some folks in the Grammy Awards, but this is a big comeback for jazz. Is it something that folks should pay attention to who are maybe of the hip-hop and rock 'n' roll sensibilities, and plug back into jazz as a living, breathing, art form?
Ms. YURSIK: I sure hope so. I think that - I believe it was Vince Gill had a quote where he was saying that, you know, Herbie Hancock is probably one of the most accomplished musicians to have won a Grammy last night in the ceremony.
I'm a big fan of hip-hop, and I love Kanye West. And I was kind of expecting Amy Winehouse to win, but I think it's great that hip-hop and those expectations would have to kind of enjoy some humble pie now. And I really hope that this breeds fresh life and brings new interest to jazz, because it is the foundation.
CHIDEYA: Nashieqa, what are your musical tastes? Are they broad enough to encompass…
Ms. WASHINGTON: Yes.
CHIDEYA: …the jazz - yeah.
Ms. WASHINGTON: Jazz, classical, hip-hop, pop, even some country.
CHIDEYA: Oh, boy. And when you look at these awards, do you put any faith in them in…
Ms. WASHINGTON: No.
Ms. WASHINGTON: No. This means nothing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WASHINGTON: I mean, first of all, Herbie Hancock looked fantastic, pretty hot - just to change it for a second. But besides that, Herbie Hancock winning, all of this is kind of just - it's a gesture. It doesn't really mean much. You know, I think people like jazz, and they'll continue to like jazz. I hadn't heard of this album. Maybe I'll listen to it now. It would be good for sales for him. But does it mean anything in the big scheme? No.
CHIDEYA: Rob, I want to ask you about Barack Obama winning a Grammy. He's someone who did his audio book of his latest memoirs/political book, "Audacity of Hope."
Mr. REDDING: Right.
CHIDEYA: Is that significant?
Mr. REDDING: Oh, of course it is. I mean, any win that Barack can get, I think he'll take it, especially - you know, Democrats are very savvy here. They think that this is going to be the election where they can get a lot of people on the Democratic Party platform and supporting it. So, this is going be a big coup for him.
If I can real quickly go right back to one thing that I was finishing before is the left-right media that we have in this country that continues to perpetuate partisanship, they don't want to cover people like Cynthia McKinney. And they're not going to, and I don't expect them to. That's the reason why Reddingnewsreview exists and that's why we're from an independent perspective.
CHIDEYA: One last question that goes to the pop culture rather than the politics. Patrice, I was conversing online with a friend who is very versed in the hip-hop world, and she said that if you compare - you know, the Foo Fighters last night had this big orchestral situation, and Kanye chose to go out on stage alone - and she said, this is her opinion, that's why hip-hop shows are boring.
She had a problem with the performance of hip-hop as opposed to the music itself. How is performance having these different genre stack up against each other? Do you think hip-hop has mastered the art of live performance in these larger venues?
Ms. YURSIK: That's a really interesting question. I, you know, I agree with her in a certain sense. Hip-hop - it's all about the ego and this one person kind of speaking directly to, into a microphone. And it is very - it can be boring, you know? I mean I think Kanye did a good performance. I think, he definitely -he thinks - he definitely thinks a lot about how he's going to present his music. But compared to the spectacle of the Foo Fighters' performance, you know, it's difficult to compare those two and say which one was more entertaining.
CHIDEYA: All right, on that note, literally, we're going to have to wrap it up. Thanks, guys.
Ms. WASHINGTON: Thank you.
Mr. REDDING: Thank you.
Ms. YURSIK: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik is the creator of Afrobella.com, and joined from member station WLRN in Miami. Nashieqa Washington runs Yourblackfriend.com, and she is here at our NPR West studios. And Robert Redding publishes the Reddingnewsreview.com, joined me from the Radio People Studios in Monroe, Louisiana.
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CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, npr.org/newsandnotes. To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at npr.org/blogs/newsandviews.
NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, we talk about how the economic downturn is affecting poor Americans, plus talk to the author of a new book on body image.
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.