February 17, 2014

7 Reasons/Ways I celebrate Black History Month

It's the shortest month of the year, and we're already more than halfway through it. For those who protest that there is no White History Month remember that there are 11 other months, and tabula rasa tends toward the pale in North America. I'm following QI criteria to only list items that are not obvious and 'quite interesting', so the following candidates will not be included: Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama... or Nicki Minaj. This is another list of seven, and also part of my apparent impulse to celebrate more minor American holidays* while abroad. I view each item as both a reason and means to celebrate.

1. Blues/Jazz/R&B/Funk/Rap
That's a roughly chronological list of genres uniquely American, i.e. African-American. When Mr. K toured our choir around Austria-Hungary we sang mostly Negro spirituals: "No one in Vienna wants to hear a bunch of Americans sing Mozart to them." But really. America has riffed on, improved, then popularized so many things not native to the land between shining seas, but the Blues—and all its musical progeny—are 'ours'. Coping under the wretched, 'Peculiar Institution' has begotten all modern music. Yes, I have a playlist. It's been well reviewed.

2. Lando Calrissian
According to Wookieepedia: "Lando Calrissian was a male human professional gambler, entrepreneur, smuggler, and general throughout various points in his life." That's a lede I'd be proud to boast as my epitaph. Star Trek was far more socially progressive than Star Wars, but Lando. He runs Cloud City and is an even smoother operator than Han Solo. If it's possible, Billy Dee Williams might be even cooler:

I haven't re-watched Empire Strikes Back this February, but Lando is my wallpaper. If I can find some Colt 45, it's all over.

3. Omar
I'll stay in the realm of fiction for a moment (though The Wire is realer than reality). Omar is indisputably the best character on that best of shows, and Obama has stated that Omar is his personal favorite too. The President admitting he likes Omar, a homosexual street thug who casually robs drug dealers, would be controversial if it weren't a universally shared opinion. The Wire is full of other excellently-crafted black characters. Bunk, Daniels, and Snoop are all memorable and awesome in their own right. Stringer Bell could easily be his own item on this list. But Omar's awesome-ness holds up in a court of law.

I unbutton my rain coat for my end-of-the-day saunter to my flat door, saying to myself "Omar's coming." I lack a shotgun and the erstwhile intimidation of my beard, but Omar instills in me a confidence I would not otherwise have— and probably shouldn't have.

4. Black Dynamite
"Three fictional examples? So there are no real black persons worth celebrating?!" Art imitates life and life imitates art, so I don't think citing inspiration black characters is a cop out. It's worth acknowledging that Lando, Omar and Black Dynamite are all hyper-masculine, bad "shut your mouth!"s. Omar is gay, but that doesn't make him an exception here. More broadly, though, subtly noble male protagonists are not in the contemporary imaginarium anyway. O, Atticus Finch, where art thou?

Digression. This movie and protagonist are modern parodies of Blaxploitation films. All the best scenes are in the trailer. I try to remind myself to smile like Black Dynamite all year long, not just in February.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson
I could easily have made this whole post just the list with no explanations, because each one of these speaks for themselves. There are way too many YouTube videos of Tyson explaining astrophysics in a way that's both understandable and inspiring, so I can't pick one. Having watched them all and developed an awe for his intellect and enthusiasm, I can't stop laughing at something he never said:

6. Chicken & Waffles
Preferably Roscoe's, but this is a winning combo wherever you go. Don't knock it till you've tried it. I know a mustachioed man who once thought it sounded as wrong as fish tacos, and he is a full convert. Soul food is a tall order anyway, but I find I have to fast for 24 hours to properly enjoy this combination.

I wish I may and wish I might, this February to have one bite. I've heard tell it's a possible order at a 'diner' down the street from me, but I find this suspect.

Not to be confused with Chickun & Raffles.
(I regret that this is so funny to me and so obscure. If you get and appreciate this joke please contact me so we can begin a lifelong friendship. Disclaimer: I couldn't care less about MLP in Singapore.)

7. Cop out
Inserting this photo breaks the word laid down at the beginning and effectively short-changes this list by one... oh. This is actually the most representative of black history.

*Happy Presidents Day. All politics aside, this is too cool.