Archive for May, 2009

The Neighborhood

May 29, 2009

Originally posted at the Rebecca and Colin blog:

I always wanted to blog a bit about our neighborhood. My plan was to walk around and take some pictures, because the architecture is really great, but we lost the cord to our camera and can’t free up any space on it. So until we do something about that, I’ll use a few pictures from the internets to show a small piece of where we live.

This house is right down the alley from our place. It just went on the market for $360k, which might not sound like a lot to folks from out of town, but is several times what we paid for our place. It’s really nice — and in this story, Rebecca makes her feelings known about it:

I would love this house. This is my dream – to have the money for this kind of house and fill it with children. I have always wanted to be a foster parent and adopt the kids who need adopting and give back the kids who can be reunited with their families. This is my dream house – enough space for my birth children and my foster children. Five kids isn’t that many – or four kids plus a guest room. Maybe I’m crazy. I’m one of seven and I love it.

More or less across the street from the first place is this little number. It’s owned by an out-of-towner who bought it for $40k and has pretty much neglected it, despite the fact that it could be amazing. The porch is in pretty rough shape, and some folks have speculated that if it goes, the rest of the house would go with it.

The contrast between the two houses gives an indication of where the neighborhood is at the moment — plenty of potential, some of it being realized, and some of it in jeopardy. It’s an interesting place to be.


Defining Blackness

May 28, 2009
Recycled from the African-American History and Art class blog:
In class on Thursday we touched on the way that people often struggle to define what should be considered “black.” We heard a couple competing definitions of what constitutes black art — either it should draw on African traditions, or on Southern rural traditions — and discussed whether a black person making art in a traditionally white mode should be considered a “black artist.”

This constrained understanding of what constitutes black authenticity expresses itself in other areas, as well. One of the most obvious is in the tendency to view black history as a set of binaries — are you for Washington or Du Bois? Du Bois or Garvey? Malcolm or Martin? etc. It’s almost as if the black community is thought to be so monolithic that there isn’t room for people with opposing views to both be authentically black.

In my experience, the same thing isn’t true for whites. A white artist can work in a traditionally black mode without ever losing his whiteness and the privilege that comes with it — Eminem isn’t getting pulled over for “driving while black,” right?

In this situation, whites have freedom of action while blacks face the threat of losing their racial identity if they step outside the prescribed boundaries of blackness. Isn’t this oppressive? And isn’t it a bit scary that we so easily fall into this way of thinking?

Leonard Stokes’ Grassroots Connection

May 26, 2009
All in the family . . .

All in the family . . .

Apparently, Leonard Stokes is Crystal Peoples’ son-in-law. Perhaps marrying into the family of one of the most prominent members of the Grassroots political machine might explain the unusual level of service he received from Byron Brown’s  Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation despite being turned down for bank loans and having no real experience in the industry.

Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that Brian Davis was writing checks to cover his rent, and Michelle Barron was decorating his bathroom.


My source — whom I consider trustworthy — gave me the tip that Stokes was Peoples’ son-in-law.  I later heard from a second, equally reliable source, that he isn’t.  Dick Kern (in the comments) says he heard that Stokes is not her son-in-law.  I did a Nexis search of the Buffalo News over the last 9 years, and didn’t find any marriage notice for Stokes.  So I’m retracting this until I hear something conclusive.

Why “Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?”

May 25, 2009
Schindler es bueno, Senor Burns es el diablo . . .

Schindler es bueno, Senor Burns es el diablo . . .

It’s a Simpsons reference, of course.  In the Season 2 episode “Blood Feud,” Mr. Burns is brought back to health by a transfusion of Bart’s blood.  To celebrate, he decides to write his memoirs.  He writes with a quill pen and titles his chapters “Chapter the First,” “Chapter the Second” and so on.  And he ends the book with a real flourish:

In closing, gentle reader, I’d like to thank you.

‘What’s that?’ you say?  Me thanking you?

No, it’s not a misprint, for you see, I enjoyed writing this book as much as you enjoyed reading it.  The End.

Brian Davis, Leonard Stokes and the Failure of One Sunset

May 24, 2009
Still missing . . .

Still missing . . .

There’s a pretty incredible story in the Buffalo News today about One Sunset, the restaurant opened by former Turner-Carroll basketball star Leonard Stokes that failed in a year despite $160,000 in city money and an unusually “hand on” approach from city officials:

Bankers on a city board told local basketball star Leonard Stokes “no” when he asked to borrow $120,000 from City Hall to start an upscale restaurant.

Too much risk. Too little private money. Not enough experience on the resume.

But City Hall bureaucrats replied “yes” to the then 26-year-old Stokes. They cobbled together $160,000 in loans and grants to help him launch One Sunset, his Gates Circle restaurant.

And they didn’t stop there.

One of the city’s top economic development officials did everything from handling cash receipts to negotiating with vendors to decorating restaurant bathrooms.

“She was there more than Leonard was,” said Jeff Wright, a former bartender, of Michelle M. Barron. Barron is vice president of neighborhood economic development for the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., City Hall’s development agency.

• After bankers and others on BERC’s large loan committee rejected Stokes’ loan request, BERC employees approved smaller loans and a grant whose amounts exempted the proposal from further banker scrutiny. The money totaled $110,000, almost as much as the $120,000 rejected by the bankers.

• Although One Sunset was located in the Delaware District, the restaurant’s $30,000 grant came from federal anti-poverty money allocated to Davis for his Ellicott Council District.

• City officials, including Barron, urged the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to loan the restaurant $50,000 without disclosing the restaurant was on the brink of closing. The IDA made the loan without checking financial statements or public documents showing One Sunset was in trouble.

Wow, where to begin?  I’m most interested in figuring out why Stokes received this kind of service when so many regular people find City Hall nearly impossible to work with.  It could be that his history as a star ball player opened up some doors that would have been otherwise closed.  Still, even in a  town so starry-eyed that it would give Terrell Owens the key to the city just for showing up, it’s hard to believe that city officials would bend over backwards for what amounts to a minor-league basketball player.

I’ve always thought Brian Davis was the key to this story.  It seems odd — and hopefully illegal — for him to have used anti-poverty money designated for the Ellicott district to support an upscale restaurant in the Delaware district.  It seems odder still that one of the many personal checks he’s accused of bouncing was for $3,500 to Stokes’ landlord on behalf of the restaurant.  It’s one thing to misuse public money — that happens all the time, unfortunately.  But it’s something else entirely for a public official to start spending his own money.  What is the relationship between Brian Davis and Leonard Stokes?

Blackface and the Black Bloc

May 24, 2009
Recycled from a post on the blog for my African-American History and Art class last fall:
During class on Thursday when we were talking about the history of white folks “blacking up” before protesting or rioting, I started thinking about how this history relates to the modern black bloc. For those who may not know, a black bloc is a protest tactic often used by anarchists and involves “masking up” and wearing identical clothing to facilitate property destruction and lawlessness. It first came to public attention in this country at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

I’ve been in a black bloc before, and there seem to be similarities between this tactic and the donning of blackface or other disguises in the past. The need to assume a different identity before taking part in transgressive behavior, the safety provided by blending into a monolithic body, the “masking” of the face, even the color choices.

One of the important critiques of the black bloc has been that it’s an almost entirely white tactic, and I think that’s a fair critique. Many of the participants lead fairly privileged lives, and are able to return to them afterward because of they have masked up. In the same sense that the colonists could take off their Indian garb after the Boston Tea Party, or 19th-century white rioters could take off their burnt cork, modern bloc-ers can remove their masks — their radical identities — and put them on the shelf until they are needed again.

Happy Birthday Morrissey

May 22, 2009

morrisseyMorrissey turns 50 today, so to mark the birthday of the other love of my life, here’s something I wrote back in March after he played at UB:

“It’s Thursday night . . . I’m in Buffalo . . . and I give myself to you.”

I’ve been to 6 Morrissey shows now, and they’ve all been great, but Thursday’s show was the best of the bunch. It was odd to have him playing at UB, to be sitting in my terrible African survey class knowing that the tour buses were literally 100 yards away, or to hear people complaining that they couldn’t buy meat at the cafe in the Center for the Arts on the day of the show. After years of meeting him on neutral territory — Massey Hall in Toronto, the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara (yes, I traveled across the continent to see him play. I prefer to think of this as a measure of his greatness rather than my insanity), even a local venue like Kleinhans — now he was on my turf.

“I went to the Buffalo Science Museum, where, quite naturally, I fell asleep . . . so I moved on to the Buffalo Historical Society, where, quite naturally, I fell asleep . . . and here I am now.”

Rebecca is right that Morrissey is the last of a dying breed — a real pop star. The term has become devalued to the point that anyone who happens to have a record at the top of the charts is called a star, but it just doesn’t apply anymore. Stars aren’t photographed walking barefoot into public bathrooms, or drunkenly stumbling out of some club at 4 AM.  Stars don’t sell cheap perfume at Target. Stars stand apart and uncommon.

Morrissey is a star. Like his onetime hero David Bowie, he’s cultivated the kind of outsized image — his once-glorious and absurd hair, his gold lame shirts, his single name moniker — that lets people know it’s ok to turn him into an idol. Yet unlike Bowie, who sang in the voice of obviously fictitious characters — Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, etc. — Morrissey’s lyrical voice has always been grounded in the mundane details of the gray and rainy past, towns where “each household appliance is like a new science,” full of punctured bicycles and darkened underpasses. The combination of the sacred and profane provokes a powerful response in people who are attracted to the seemingly distant star yet hopeful that the distance may not be so great as it seems. This rhetorical space is made real at the front of the stage, where fans fight to overcome the guards and barriers that separate them from their king. The power is such that ostensibly straight men fight for the chance to kiss him in front of thousands of others. This is love:

UPDATE: Check out my new site —

Buy American?

May 21, 2009
A progressive message?

A progressive message?

On Wednesday I attended what was billed as a “Save America” rally organized by the United Auto Workers.  It was an odd experience, and it illuminated the ways that labor “gets it” and the ways that they don’t.

To the degree that it focused on trade policy, I think events like yesterday’s rally are helpful and positive.  I have a history of putting my ass on the line when it comes to trade policy, so it’s good to see more mainstream voices pick up that message.  And these policy arguments can be effective — the Obama administration is apparently backing away from a NAFTA-style agreement with Panama in the face of labor opposition.

Unfortunately, most of the message coming from yesterday’s rally wasn’t about trade policies.  Instead, it was an appeal to “Buy American” based largely on naked nationalism.  I didn’t hear concerns that shipping jobs overseas sets in motion a race to the bottom that’s bad for workers everywhere.  Or concerns that outsourcing leads to more work being done in countries without environmental or worker safety standards.  Or that solidarity with workers in Mexico and China is what’s needed in the face of policies that are explicitly aimed at pitting worker against worker.  Instead of attempting to meet globalized capital with globalized solidarity, yesterday’s message was local, parochial, and nationalistic:

“Enough is enough,” said Robin Maloney, who was laid off last December from her assembly job at Delphi’s Rochester plant. “Build it here, buy it here . . .”

“Every time someone in our community loses a manufacturing job, we are all hurt in some way,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown . . .

Joe Ashton, regional director of UAW Region 9, gave an impassioned defense of the benefits that union retirees receive, saying the retirees “built this country and fought the wars.”

He also lashed out at U. S. companies that move their manufacturing to ever-lower-cost countries, saying “if they could get it cheaper on Mars” that is where production would go.

America -- fuck yeah!

America -- fuck yeah!

I can understand the frustration felt by workers who fear that their jobs will be sent overseas, but Mexicans and Chinese aren’t Martians.  Their labor is cheaper because of a whole set of policies championed by the government of the country symbolized by the red, white and blue flags that were out in force yesterday.  Rather than trying to shame companies into keeping jobs in the country, or consumers into buying US-made products — strategies that have failed for decades — maybe those concerned with keeping manufacturing jobs should stop resenting foreign workers, ditch their flags and go after the star spangled culprit.

Gay Marriage, Black Churches, and Kyriarchy

May 19, 2009
Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

As the marriage equality issue heats up, the media continues to pit blacks and gays against each other in a competition to define “civil rights.”  The Buffalo News got into that game with an article on Monday:

Black clergy have long opposed the march toward legal same-sex marriages. Now, they’re also challenging the growing efforts of gay-marriage supporters to frame the issue as a civil rights cause.

The Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation on East Delevan Avenue, said he is insulted by the comparison.

“We know what we have gone through as an ethnic group. We feel the terminology, the definition itself, has really been hijacked,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just another ploy to garner more support from people who may not understand what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said that he doesn’t doubt there is discrimination against gay people but that it is hardly on the order of what African-Americans have encountered and still face.

“As an African-American, I don’t have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I’m abstinent or not,” Badger said. “I don’t think you can compare the two.”

The intended effect of articles like this is twofold: first, they damage the credibility of marriage equality advocates by removing one of their strongest claims to legitimacy; and second, they damage the reputation of the black community as a whole by highlighting those black “leaders” who are bigots and buffoons.  Of course marriage equality is a civil rights issue — it questions whether the government has sufficient cause to deny equal rights to a particular (and historically oppressed) group.  And of course homosexuality isn’t a choice, nor can someone stop being gay by abstaining from sex.

What can’t be as easily dismissed are the tensions between different forms of oppression that are at the heart of the conflict.  Trying to sort out whether racism or homophobia (or other oppressions) are “more important” or “worse” seems like a waste of energy at best, and dangerously counterproductive at worst.  Nobody wins when racial minorities, women, LGBTQ folks and the poor are fighting amongst themselves, yet our typically rigid and dichotomous way of looking at oppression practically guarantees that that’s what happens.

I was doing some reading on this subject when I came across the concept of kyriarchy. Some may already be familiar, but it was new to me:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid . . .
But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom.   And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother.  The pyramid shifts with context.  The point is not to rank.  The point is to learn.
This seems like a much more valid — and useful — model for understanding oppression and how it operates.  It recognizes that everyone — even members of historically oppressed groups — can be oppressors themselves, and it steers us away from contests about “who has it worse” while recognizing that all oppressions aren’t the same.  And it doesn’t allow people like Gillison and Badger to hide their bigotry behind their own history of oppression.


May 19, 2009

manischewitzRebecca and I spent the last five days down in Charlotte, visiting her family and seeing her brother graduate from Wake Forest with his JD and MBA.  Somewhat more practical than a history PhD.  If you don’t know Dave yet, don’t worry — you’ll be working for him soon enough.

But this post is really about my introduction to the delicious world of sweetened kosher wine.  And by delicious, I mean painfully disgusting.  Yes, on Friday night a few of us drank Manischewitz and did a jigsaw puzzle.  Nobody parties like the Hoffmans!

This stuff was so bad it gave me goosebumps, but Rebecca poured me such a huge serving — 20 ounces or so — that I took it as my mission to finish the thing.  This was my Everest.

I can’t do justice to how nasty it was, so I’ll let Nosheteria do the honors:

For those of you who have never tried the nectar, I can’t say I would honestly recommend it. Sort of reminiscent of cough medicine, overly sweet, the wine actually burns one’s esophagus a bit on the way down. But the burn only causes me to think of the suffering of the Jewish people when they were enslaved in the land of Pharaoh. LET MY PEOPLE GO!

Just as reciting the four questions (because yes, I am still the youngest in my family), the drinking of the sacharine-sweet sacrament drink, is an activity in which I will masochistically partake. The first sip is always the best/worst, the concord grape most pungent. Then as my glass comes down to room temperature, and the wine lingers longer in my glass, the medicinal quality becomes redolent. With each taste I wince, and prepare myself for the next gulp.