Category Archives: black men

On Mysterious Niggers

“Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were gone too.” – Marlow, in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

To follow up on the conversation begun in the “Furtive Movements” post about the fear of black men in North American society, I wanted to bring in some literary critique and historical review to expand the thought across borders and into the Pan-African realm.

Joseph Conrad spoke of “mysterious niggers” in Heart of Darkness when describing the instrument of ultra-violence and extreme terror that was the Force Publique, the army of the Congo Free State under Leopold II, wretched king of the Belgians. In the name of maximizing rubber-tapping output by the enslaved population of Leopold’s now private property – a territory the size of the United States east of the Mississippi or almost as large as India – these minions worked hard at decimating villages, cutting off hands, raping women, children and men, and torturing, mutilating and murdering without rest. These ruthless rubber enforcers were instrumental in exterminating some 10 million Congolese between roughly 1890 and 1910, when the Belgian state took over the Congo following the exposure of Leopold’s genocidal crimes in Central Africa in the name of profit. But the Force Publique, still in existence today as the Congo National Army, was recruited from amongst the indigenes of the Congo, young African men convinced and/or coerced by the virtues of raping their own country, taking the most meager cut of the pillage and giving the lion’s share to the colonial masters. In the past fifteen years or so, the latest genocide in Congo, played out mostly in the country’s east, has ended the lives of some 7 million Congolese. The same old coercive and violent structures remain in place, with proxy armies of the states of Uganda and Rwanda, simply called rebels in the shallow Western media, helping to enforce slave labor in the mining of precious minerals that are whisked away to the West and to East Asia by small planes in unmarked airstrips in the jungle. The Congolese Army likewise imposes this same regime and rapes and enslaves the Congo and its people for riches, leaving the most well-endowed land on the planet in a state that is extremely inhospitable to human life. And it is young African men, just like me, taking marching orders from utterly morally bankrupt and corrupt governments, or from greed and lust themselves, who are the in situ instruments of this mayhem.

But no one gets left off the hook by getting put in the category of mysterious niggers. And Joseph Conrad will not get a pass for coining that denigrating phrase either. Because these men are not niggers, they are African human beings. And they are not mysterious. They’re purpose is very well understood, obvious, one-dimensional and brutally frank. The minions of the Force Publique, the Congolese Army, and most other private and state-controlled armies and police forces across Africa which typically enforce exploitation and oppression in pursuit of a neocolonial agenda – their work is blatantly political, studied, coherent. So we will neither call the Force Publiques of the black world mysterious (what’s so mysterious about a violent enforcer of hegemony, no matter his/her tactics?), nor will we call them niggers, since they are part of our family, and they are fully human (if dehumanized by their deeds).

Not all Africans are good guys. We have to confront the internal sources of oppression and failure within our family and correct them by any means necessary. That is indeed the biggest obstacle to Uhuru – not the external and foreign forces we often get carried away with placing blame on, but the internal forces that prevent forward motion, the ones who look like us but that work in cahoots with the neo-colonial tendency and outside exploiters, that are preoccupied with satisfying their own boundless greed and need for instant gratification, and that possess unquestioned inferiority complexes about our capacity and potential as a people and a civilization, as Africans. Black inferiority complexes within us are ten trillion times worse than white supremacy is. For when we have full belief in our own full humanity, our unimaginable human potential, our beauty, our importance and our place in history, whatever we think exists of global white supremacy will suddenly have magnitudes less power to actually keep us from achieving what we wish, except perhaps by brute force (i.e. Leopold II), which is unlikely in this era.

Having rejected and denounced the concept of mysterious niggers, I acknowledge that we’ve all internalized it to some extent, all over the world. As for me, I love the man in the mirror. I like seeing other brothers, particularly those doing positive things in the world. But I know that my own starting point when strangers see me walking around North America as I do, the blank canvas I should be before I am judged by a new encounter – that eye draws me first and immediately as a mysterious nigger. In other words, I always begin in society as a mysterious nigger, at a minimum. And sometimes this holds true even in the eyes of other black people. Until I prove otherwise by my character, in some cases how I dress and carry myself, and even by my “well-spokenness,” I’m a mysterious nigger, I’m a dark suspect of unknown intentions. If I were of European descent with milk-toned skin, I would perhaps present to others as familiar and unthreatening, especially given how I already tend to dress and move through the world, which is to say unassumingly and business-casual with a sporty twist. But I’m just about as black as we come, West African through and through from the Niger Delta.

Back home, it would be different only in the sense that I won’t be such a threat to anyone, and there’s no racial, cultural and historical ice of ignominy to bust through, at least in getting to know someone who looks like family already and comes from the same universe. But colonialism has left so many vestiges of its culture of violence between Africans, played out by young African men as cheap pawns, that in many cases we are still mysterious niggers to one another.

I remember back in 2003 when I was 19 and really started to take a deep interest in African affairs. Back in that summer the civil war in Liberia was really heating up before it’s end very shortly thereafter. On the cover of the New York Times, some time in June or so, don’t remember, there was a picture of a young combatant in Monrovia roaring with the look of venom in his face, standing in the rain with a rocket launcher over his shoulder. That was one of the first times I really saw myself in another African man like that. I could have been that unnamed guy somehow, if circumstances were different. I mean I looked like that fellow, very likely an age-mate. And the New York Times, in not naming him, in showing this random African with a machine gun destroying things and killing his brothers, was depicting a textbook example of a mysterious nigger.

I want to humanize the black man. And in doing so I will never absolve African men of any crimes they’ve done, including against African women and children, and other African men, and anybody else for that matter. I will never absolve us from complicity in our own oppression, or unwillingness to challenge it. But I’m done thinking in the context of mysterious niggers.

How can you honestly prosecute a mysterious nigger? How can you judge a mysterious nigger who is in the wrong? By initiating a thought about that person wherein he is already in the “mysterious nigger” category from the start, one already has a negative and dehumanizing image and concept of this man.

I think it is almost revolutionary to start to think about young black men, even those who do wrong, as first fully human. Contemporary societies, whether in North America, the Caribbean, or Africa seem resistant to this. If I want to know the story of a young soldier who is now on trial for the crimes he committed in the early 2000s in Sierra Leone, I want to know him as the flawed, sick human being he is, and his history. I want no less knowledge about his victims. But when we pursue justice acknowledging one another’s humanity, including the potential psychoses, passions and prerogatives of all parties, I think we arrive inevitably at more fair results, and we do so in the light of better understanding.

Let us understand one another. No more mysterious niggers. Those gangbangers on the corner are not mysterious niggers – their sons, grandsons, cousins, fathers. Those rebels in the Congo, those Force Publique of old, those Tonton Macoute in Haiti, they are not black monsters. And black men individually are not monsters before we know who they are.

If we stop thinking numbly and dumbly about mysterious niggers with no known cause or cure, and start thinking about why violence happens, who funds it, who profits from it, and why men participate in it, we will go a lot further in preventing violence amongst young black men. We need the courage and the boldness to understand and humanize ourselves, and look one another in the eyes as humans, without prejudicial fear and loathing. We need to see one another, as young black men, with the eyes of understanding, at the very least. Our conditioning to hate one another is very difficult to act upon when we choose to understand each other, hear each other and listen carefully.

Let’s study ourselves, study the human mind, study these stereotypes that trap us, and break the chains of slavery and dehumanization, starting with the man (or woman) in the mirror. To defeat self-hate, revolutionary an act as it is, it starts with simply listening, understanding, and being patient enough to allow the sea of negativity within us to calm itself so we can see the beautiful, undeniable humanity that was within our black selves all along. Then we can share that insight and live that understanding. And ain’t understanding the kernel of love?

Gender Equality, Ubuntu, and Critical Thinking

March is women’s history month. But women make history all year, year after year. Women’s history is no joke. Women are no joke. Women are the harder-working half of humanity, hands down. They do the reproductive labor of our species, as well as productive labor. And because of patriarchal accounting systems, economies and cultures the world over, a woman’s reproductive labor is not fully accounted for; sometimes it is called leisure. But the very reproduction of the species is a far more significant task than leisure. We cannot monetize it. We cannot, or refuse to, dignify it the way our acquisitive culture dignifies the whole predominantly white male lot of Wall Street bankers who helped dramatically deepen the long crisis that capitalism is. The World Bank and IMF will not categorize and catalogue the full worth of women’s labor. But our patriarchal, consumer society has been far more successful at monetizing women’s bodies, at the gross objectification of sisters, daughters, and mothers for their body parts. In this way women are reduced to mannequins and sex dolls, display pieces in downtown boutiques, or rated, graded, and sold as if on the meat market of human flesh, as when dowries are paid. So any thoughtful vegan should be quick to recognize that the liberation of women furthers the cause. More monumental is the task of having men recognize that when women are liberated from gendercide, subordination, and second-class status as humans and as male property, we men will be liberated to become more fully human ourselves. Women’s liberation is its own worthy and urgent cause, but it is also to our own immediate advantage to participate in and share solidarity with full gender equality in our planetary civilization. For us to become more prosperous, more intelligent, and wiser, uniting with feminism is in the selfish interest of men – keeping it real. Reject male privilege. For women are no joke.

This is because an honest appraisal of who we are as individuals suggests the basic logic of the African philosophy of Ubuntu – that “I am because we are,” that we are fundamentally and immutably interdependent beings. It is informed by a basic ecological principle that whatever our material embodiment consists of, it automatically invokes and forms from the contributions of our parents, their parents, the food they ate, the sunshine that shone on it, the minerals/stardust that fed it, and ultimately, the entire universe itself. By this understanding, the American notion of “rugged individualism” is illogical and misleading, perhaps deliberately so as it aims to divide us, isolate us and atomize us. All of us constitute the community, and the full participation of each of us, realizing our full potential, permits collective prosperity. If women are denied an education, the community suffers the loss of her more fully realized participation and contribution to the intellectual and material well-being of the group. The direct consequence of the unjust enforcement of ignorance upon females is collective poverty. This can be proven by looking at any society that has strong evidence of ongoing work toward equalizing the statuses, opportunities and life chances of men and women, and then looking at a society that treats women like livestock, like household appliances. The more just society is always more prosperous, healthy, educated, safe, clean, and so on, by many multiples across any human development measure.

Active critical thinking informs an honest assessment, for men, of the problem with oppressing women, or even passively acquiescing to their oppression. Think, for example, about how women in urban communities around the United States (really worldwide) must deal with street harassment, with the catcalling and worse, which exacerbate the oppression of black women. The street harassment paradigm posits the threat of violence over all of us. Street harassment is motivated by false and problematic beliefs in males of inherent domination, unearned privilege, the machismo quest for superficial and immediate validation, and the pursuit of easy sexual gratification. These are among the same exact prerequisites for deadly beefs on the street between us black men, the same ingredients for the horizontal violence perpetrated between us. While it is objectively true that the external factors of poverty and social debasement have often left us little option but to get over at the expense of one another, we destroy ourselves when we conform to the external anti-black expectation of our manifest, mass failure to thrive in any sustainable way. The motives of street harassment are one and the same as the motives for fatal internecine hostility. This in turn helps, in part, to enable mass incarceration of black men. Thus, the macho atmosphere of street harassment, which makes the lives of our sisters, mothers and daughters unbearable and dangerous, also makes our lives as men perilous. Street harassment is emblematic of a violent community towards all of its members. The streets with the most street harassment are also the streets where the most black brothers die at one another’s hands. Street harassment, rape and bloodshed all live on the same block.

Critical thinking, aggressively centered on a defense of the dignity and full value of human beings, should also inform how we draw conclusions about how we relate to one another and whether or not what we call “tradition” is worth any respect by any intelligent person in this day and age. If you value your own humanity, we can safely and logically assume that other humans value their own essence and identity as well, and consider themselves worth a fair chance in society. Grounded in this logic, a logic that is more immediate to us as humans than almost any other, we should be able to safely regard any tradition, religion, book, philosophy, politic, ethic, or other source of culture and thought that denies the humanity and dignity of people who are different from the majority, or from those with power, as highly suspect, at best. Thus, those who see difference in others and thus deny that others’ humanity, are behaving illogically, and hatefully besides.

The debate around homosexuality in Africa is centered, for the homophobes, in strange defenses of “tradition” or “religion” that claim the alienness of homosexuality to Africa, the “unnaturalness” of gay sex, and so on. These conclusions are fundamentally antihuman, and thus are to be fundamentally rejected; they are unscientific, dishonest and illogical besides. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is no joke. They are human beings. They are part of the community. They are worthy of respect and of every opportunity to fully contribute to and participate in the growth and empowerment in community; this is no less true in Africa or in black communities anywhere than it is in the West or any other part of the planet. The homophobes in power in Nigeria, in Uganda and elsewhere are using politics to disenfranchise, terrorize, scapegoat and dehumanize a part of the community that should be given every right to enjoy their human lives and be the sisters and brothers to our family that they truly are. By thinking critically and imagining ourselves the target of these laws and antihuman paradigms, we cannot but help draw conclusions that lead us to recognize the inhumanity and fundamental stupidity of homophobia and patriarchy. In this vein, heterosexual people should stand in full solidarity and advocate for the full inclusion and enfranchisement of our homosexual kin. This is the mature stance which will allow all of us to contribute our utmost to grow as a collective. Reject your heterosexual privilege and arrogance. Lives are at stake – and by the logic, critical thinking and Ubuntu understanding we have applied here thus far, it is unacceptable to deny the humanity of anyone in our community, no matter what gender or sexual identities they are born with or adopt. When we begin to take what private parts people have, or what they do with them in private, as justification for branding certain people unworthy of human dignity, we are being utterly childish, and any religion, tradition, or person that has that tendency is also ignorant, childish, dangerous and stuck in the stone-ages.

As a heterosexual male, I hope I have made a reasonable case that we, over-privileged straight men, will be far better off when we reject the convenient privileges of our status which permit us to dominate women and dehumanize gays. Equality of opportunity, for women to be born, to be educated, to enjoy equal participation in the maintenance of a family and household, and to be able to contribute their fullest potential to our collective excellence, will always lead to a superior quality of life for our community. The same equality of opportunity and recognition of humanity for non-heterosexual members of our community will also enable everyone to contribute fully and without fear of denigration.

Machismo is deadly to women and to men. Patriarchy and male supremacy are harming the planet and keeping millions of women from even being born, let alone contributing their full worth to the excellence of humanity. Only equality – an equality that enables us, especially as men, to see women as at our level in all productive, cognitive and creative capacities – can move us forward.

Gender inequality is a hallmark of underdevelopment, a cornerstone of neocolonialism and a function of ignorance. All sorts of indicators of social well-being in different societies show this. And when men, straight men at that, reject the insults of patriarchy, chauvinism, and homophobia, we truly begin to become revolutionary. For we begin to honor the basic nature of human beings that the Ubuntu principle reminds us of – that I am because we are, that all of us deserve to participate to the fullest might we can muster as free people towards our collective greatness.

Furtive Movements

The Precision Afrikan, very dark and furtive, doing furtive movements like squatting in an empty room and chewing, indeed chomping, into the innocent white flesh of an apple. Filthy delinquent.

I have wondered about the criteria for NYC’s (and other cities’) stop and frisk policies for some time now, namely that of “furtive movements.” I have been a black man in NJ and NYC for 28 years now. I have been stopped and questioned in NJ once, stopped and frisked there once, and stopped, frisked and arrested in NYC once, that one for riding a bike in the street, all charges dropped of course. All of this happened in the period from my mid-teens to my very early twenties, the early 2000s, and none recently. All of it happened while just walking or standing around somewhere, or in the Manhattan case, bike riding, not on the sidewalk or anything, nor in the opposite direction of traffic. 100% law-abiding casual activities. But I know very few young or older black men in my circle who haven’t had such an experience, as law-abiding, peaceful citizens doing ordinary things in their everyday travels. Neither I nor any of these men have ever been engaged in Uncle Sam’s work of poisoning our community with narcotics, have never engaged in highway robbery nor attempted knocking over a bank, have never abused women nor anyone else sexually, nor perpetrated any other proper statutory crime. Yet we all walk around as suspects automatically as a result of our existential condition as black men inhabiting North America.

The wiktionary defines “furtive” as stealthy or exhibiting guilty or evasive secrecy. The NYPD will initiate a stop and frisk on the basis of, among other justifications, “furtive movements,” which is my favorite. The NYPD has stopped and frisked 4 million New Yorkers since 2004, and about 690,000 in 2011 alone, 85 percent of those stopped and frisked black or latino, the vast majority young men. Only 9 percent of these stops yield arrests, those often for past warrants for minor crimes, along with a very modest number of discoveries of narcotics and even less weapons (read a good Village Voice article on the matter here). So stop and frisk evidently has nothing to do with crime, and everything to do with intimidation of an entire population which the city, the Bloomberg administration anyway, does not want around – young black and brown men like myself.

We can also safely draw the conclusion from the evidence presented that all movements by black men are furtive. Notice the picture above, wherein the Precision Afrikan chews an apple. How furtive! How dare he! What is he hiding? Why is he being so sneaky, squatting in the corner, darkly and rudely, slinking around with mysterious and ominous intentions? He must be about to sell crack cocaine while raping a baby. The image says it all.

If you’re young, black and male and you’re brushing your teeth, you’re guilty. If you’re young, black and male and you’re scratching your nose while reading a newspaper on a bench in Prospect Park, you obviously just flooded the hood with heroin laced with gun powder. If you’re black, young and male and you’re taking a walk, we all know you just molested a toddler before mugging a tourist. And if you’re black, young and male and you’re taking a jog around the neighborhood, you definitely just killed five white people.

Everything we do, by the mysterious, snaky gesticulations of our lanky black limbs, by the odious shifting of our dark eyes, is obviously suggestive of evil intent. Yes, this must be why this happens to us. Existentially, black youth is elementally married to the characteristic of furtiveness. Even the most mundane thing we could possibly do has the flavor of villainy. At least to cops.

That’s why they’re also very quick to kill young black men, even in their own homes, like the teenager Ramarley Graham earlier this month in the Bronx, who was unarmed and assassinated by the cops in his own bathroom in front of his little brother and grandmother. This sort of police terrorism happens ever so frequently and consistently. With us, any commitment to apply constitutional considerations or restraint of force flies out of the window. The “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” policies are primarily about containing and terrorizing youth of color and ruining our lives, not crime prevention or improving our quality of life, not in the least. The police truly work us and our communities like an occupying army.

I go to school at Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights; most afternoons during lunch break I take a walk around the hood, around the Heights and Harlem. And whenever I see the cops, I admit, I hate them. I often feel like wearing this black skin and being a young man is something akin to wearing a yellow star of david in Hitler’s Europe – not precisely like that, but not too far either. The prison-industrial complex, a beneficiary of society’s willful failure to provide a future for youth of color, a beneficiary of the insane war on drugs, and a beneficiary of the criminalization of people who look like me, is literally eating black men alive by the hundreds of thousands in this country. This is how a vile colonial relationship with imperial power works, with mass incarceration of subject populations. This is how a caste system works, where it is assumed that a young black or brown man is a lesser being and a morally depraved being, a convenient conclusion to those who profit from our oppression and destruction.

So is it so far fetched to assume, based on how society shallowly and dishonestly draws its racist conclusions, that when they see me eating that apple, they see rage and dark intentions, solely because I’m a black man?

Naked villainy.

How many other brothers out there, particularly up here in NYC, or in Newark, Philly, DC or wherever, feel me on this? That we are almost made to internalize our own supposed guilt about something, so that we learn somehow to move in “less threatening” ways? I just move however I want, personally, and stare down the cops, cursing under my breath, and watching them close, the same way they do me.

Discuss. More importantly, organize and resist. As Dead Prez said, it’s war.

Breakfast.

Good Food.

For all the indomitable fruit-mavens.

Being a busy grad student may have slowed down the blogging, but never interrupts the good eating, the good breathing, the good life. We’re still repping the fruitarian way, the low-fat raw vegan lifestyle, all day and forever. Gonna bring way more content down the pike going forward. Here’s to today’s breakfast – papaya, oranges, apples, grapefruit, and hella bananas not pictured – that might be more fruit-porn than most can handle. Staying fresh, clean, hydrated, active, fit, positive, in the sun (no matter the season), proper and nice. Ona move.

The “Man-Box”

Excellent talk by this brotha. The horrendous violence, subjugation and irrationality of patriarchy, machismo, and male supremacy are immense chains not just for women, but for men like me as well. These things become invisible to men who are thoroughly institutionalized and acculturated into their proprietary, objectifying and domineering attitudes towards women, all over the world. Women are also conditioned in numerous ways to in some cases expect and/or tolerate much of this nonsense. But any thoughtful person, anyone who analyzes the situation and struggles to humanize women and men, will instantly realize that the institutions and cultures of patriarchy also enslave men, preventing them from being fully human, almost as much as they rob women of their humanity, freedom and security. Thus I fully cosign on the sentiment shared by Mr. Porter: “my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.” Indeed. Human freedom is not freedom for men to dominate women. Human freedom begins with full equality of opportunity, possibility, security, and agency of male and female alike, worldwide. As a civilization, we have so far to go yet to realize gender equality, and Mr. Tony Porter illustrates just a tiny piece of the dilemma and the challenge. Let’s all get to work on our attitudes, institutions, behaviors, customs, and so on right away.

video spied at Racialicious.

Fruitarian Musculation and Philosophy

I’m moving towards adding a fruitarian fitness and body-building page to this blog. Until I launch such a page, I thought I’d again weigh in on my dietary philosophy with regard to basic well-being. For me, all I eat is fresh raw whole fruits (including non-sweet fruits) and vegetables (leafy greens). It is my conviction that fresh fruits and vegetables are the ideal foods for humans, and that they also make the most ethical sense to eat. That’s all I eat. What I eat is that which I see in front of me at farmer’s markets and produce stands and which suits my palate and hunger. No dried fruits or nuts – they don’t interest me. Nothing exploited or ripped from animals – they are cruel to animals and human physiology alike.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, and by far mostly fruits in proportion to the greens (why I claim “fruitarian” now) – that’s my whole game and song. Historically, I grew up on rice and occasional fish and chicken and milk and cereal and such in a Nigerian household in North Jersey. I went vegan in 1999 (at age 15) and started with soy-based milk and meat replacers, moving in time towards more and more fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains and less stuff that was reminiscent in any way of the old animal-based regime. I went raw-vegan in 2007 in a regime both fresh fruit/vegetable heavy and nut heavy, including exotic stuff like hemp-seed, cacao, trips to pricey raw restaurants for nori-rolls and nut patties, and so on. Since the start of 2009, I’ve been all about just fresh fruits and veggies that are in season and accessible from farmers markets and produce stands where I live.

I don’t eat organic much, both because of the expense and because where I can get produce – family-owned produce joints in my corner of North Jersey – there are few “organic”-labeled varieties. At the chain supermarkets, everything is 30-50% more expensive. Organic varieties (which I can only find at the big franchises) are way past even those aggressive markups. I’m not gonna bother for now.

But all in all, it’s a simple food regime. I eat fresh – stuff that’s not in boxes and packaging, stuff you have to pick and bag yourself – including bananas, watermelon, oranges, mangos, apples, tomatoes, spinach, okra, cucumbers, bell peppers, pomegranate, guava, zucchini, etc. It’s simple, yet quite satisfying.

I don’t count calories. I don’t supplement for micronutrients I’m supposed to fear deficiencies of (i.e. pressed oils or protein powders or B12 – haven’t knowingly had any vitamin or fortified source of that in my body for years and have never been anemic in my life, and haven’t been ill in any way in years). I eat when I’m hungry. I drink water (the only drink) when I’m thirsty. I sleep when I’m tired. I wash with black soap and moisturize with unprocessed raw shea butter. I floss and brush with a soft toothbrush and non-fluoridated toothpaste, I squat when I shit, and for now I don’t shave or comb my hair – just wash and go proudly. Fresh fruits, leafy greens, sunshine, fresh air, exercise, good humans, good rest, good work and a simple, straightforward, natural swagger sustain me.

So, having laid down my general philosophy, I simply hope to share the idea and experience of good fitness and physical culture through simplicity, abundance, hard work and sincerest interest in the growth of others. I don’t have anything to sell – no books, powders, recipes. I would just hope that the plant-based diet becomes more normalized in this world and less denigrated by the ignorant and those with whole industries and cultures of violence to defend.

Getting strong is about weight-bearing, cardiovascular and stretching exercises, with actual muscular hypertrophy and strengthening most dependent on the first item. Getting strong is not about killing and eating animals, ingesting soy powders, etc. Weight-bearing exercise includes simple body-weight exercises like push-ups, squats, burpees, etc. It can be as straightforward or elaborate as one likes or can afford.

I am personally interested in strength and power (as opposed to hypertrophy/bulk alone). Hence my current workout regime alternates full-body speed/power days with full-body strength/muscular endurance days. I.e. in a five day campaign, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are about speed and power. Tuesdays and Thursdays are about strength and endurance. My cardiovascular workouts [aside from ballistic kettlebell work] are based on bicycling and walking and occur throughout the week (partly included in practicing active transportation/ body-reliant commuting) and especially weekends (I run less only because I don’t have the best right knee in the world). In the past my regime included regular martial arts practice, though of late I could no longer afford/ find time to do this, and I expect to resume some time in 2011.

My tools include kettlebells, a pull-up bar, chairs (for dips), a mat, a chin-up bar, my bicycle, my body, and the world. Speed and power exercises, which are among my favorite, come courtesy of the kettlebells and the wide variety of power-lifting one can do with them – cleans, [time-interval] jerks, snatches, high pulls, Turkish get-ups, swings, and so on. One can invent exercises with kettlebells and of course use them for all the general weight-training techniques known to humanity – [pistol] squats, lunges, shoulder and chest presses, curls, [renegade] rows, etc. Calisthenic and body-weight workouts combine with non-ballistic weight-training on strength days.

It’s all pretty simple. It’s all pretty cheap. And most of it’s in the attitude. It’s about embracing intuition, cherishing simplicity, shunning cruelty, not fearing, and being oneself. The plant-based diet is in my experience the nicest, having done me over eleven years (some 40% of my life as of my 27th year at present) of good. The physical culture of an active lifestyle and exercise produces endless soldier-soul juice. Especially in the mornings before work, when one deploys military discipline to practice physical and mental strength before the work day and commute, so that body and essence remain in tact and strong in this debasing world.

Fresh fruits and veggies and physical culture give one the strength to withstand Babylon and fight for truth and justice for time to come. Activists and freedom-fighters need to mind and sustain their personal wellness. Stay tuned for a fitness page to be added above soon.

And please comment generously on this missive.

Updates on the Day of the Great Naija Shift-Change

On October 1, 1960, British despots handed over rule to African despots in the territory called Nigeria. It was a change-over of work-shifts, not a liberation. Yeah, yeah, the elders say sorta nice things about the very first post-independence leaders – all males anyway – but I don’t buy it. Fifty years of hysteria, emergency, regression, blood, dictatorship, false democracy, division, death and  devolution have now passed. And today, bombs explode in the capital, in part because of grievances and legacies of injustice in my own native Niger Delta. Enough of it.

We must urgently usher in the African Revolution! People’s democracy! Human rights! Self-determination! Justice! Universal Education and Healthcare! Socialism! Ubuntu! I’m tired of the imposed ignorance, the exploitation, the knee-jerk corruption habit, the patriarchy, the inertia, all of it. And the African Revolution begins with you and me, wherever we find ourselves as black people.

With that off my chest, I’d like to mention that some stuff is written and pictured about me over here at the Raw Mocha Angel’s “Have You Ever Seen a Healthy Vegan?” series. Check it out.

Another thing you must check out and tell your friends about is the Africana Institute at Essex County College in Newark, NJ. That’s where I work, and we aim to be the baddest Africana/ African-American/ Black Studies department on the planet. We’re all about activism, community, and education of our people about past, present and futures strides and struggles, and how to be victorious as a people.

The url is easy: eccafricana.com. If you have or know of a black-owned business in the Newark/ NYC area, let us know at africanatv [at] gmail [dot] com (or just hit me up) and I will list you on our African Business page right away. We are populating our blog with all relevant and uplifting pro-African content, and we will be letting you know of all activities and events we want to invite you to participate in.

And lastly, “Letter to a Brotha” is reposted at Racialicious, where an interesting and lively debate is going on.

Keeping it short today. Coming soon: (1) Thoughts on Straight Edge and Struggle, and (2) Thoughts on American Apartheid and Food Injustice.

Uhuru!

Letter to a Brotha

What follows is the last letter traded in an exchange between a couple of 26 year-old black dudes regarding my last post on “Liberation Veganism.” My comrade is not vegan, and is concerned about “the problem with the displacement of bread and butter struggle with raw foodisms,” etc, due to my attempt to mix veganism with human liberation, or in our case black liberation. It is an important concern for all of us, whether or not thinking about or bringing up veganism in a context like African liberation discourse is appropriate. Or the problem with making something like going vegan or trumpeting ecological awareness THE issue or THE revolution, rather than just an aspect of it. And the problem of having advocacy of those causes which are “on the periphery for me, masking as if it is at the core,” as my friend challenged. He stated that to bring up veganism at a hypothetical “cop watch” meeting and try to make the meeting about veganism would be problematic, from which I gathered that something like “cop watch” to him was a “bread and butter” ‘hood issue (as opposed to, given the tenor of our exchanges, dietary, environmental, lifestyle, quality of life, sanitation, etc. issues, which to him are more associated with white liberal green/ vegan activists for whom those things are THE issue).

Lastly we had a disagreement on this point, and I quote my brotha: “one day you said to me the first responsibility of a revolutionary is to be healthy. That was the crucial difference for me, i thought you were wrong. Our health is not the priority, the people are, when the struggle becomes for our own person health (or morality) we are distant from the people.” In subsequent retorts from myself (because I believe the exact opposite of what he asserts) I struggled with this contradiction until he later stated, “a revolutionaries health is not an end to me, it is a means to the end which is revolution.” I play with this idea as well down below.

Without further ado, then, here’s my letter to my good brother comrade in struggle, on the “bread and butter” issues of liberation struggle as pertain to defining health, priorities of concern, “revolution” and so on.

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Bro,

In between running ’round town, meeting folks, preparing food, listening to the radio and other daily bizness, I wondered about how we might define “health” anyway. And that how we define health may determine our relationship with whatever that commodity is. And if there are elements in contemplating health that we may not exactly see eye to eye on, it may be because we haven’t gotten around to building a consensus – a definition to begin with – of what that concept means.

But I also came upon the thought that revolution, which is another notion we may have to define more concretely, nonetheless is fundamentally about health. No? I mean, it seems people like us would only come to acquire and espouse our deep discord, alienation and criticism of the world because there’s an element of it that is so odiously sick and unhealthy, to us and people who look like us. If economic systems are preventing our people from excelling, those economic systems are killing them, ruining their economic and by extension personal health, ruining their sense of self-worth and thus compromising their mental health. If occupational labor standards where they work are consistently dangerous but that danger goes unremedied by profit-hungry bosses, i.e. undocumented Mexican migrant farm laborers in California or Michigan constantly exposed directly to heavy overflight pesticide spraying with no protective gear, or conditions in meat-packing plants in Chicago where lots of poor black folks once worked and now many more Latinos, etc – then those capitalist labor conditions are ruining their health. If our schools indoctrinate ignorance and fear and division, and our mass media propagate the same, and our youth imbibe a bitter hopelessness and “act out” against one another, our whole social system is preventing us from being healthy. Same for exposure to high concentrations of lead and other toxic fine particulates, leading to higher asthma rates, in parts of the Bronx and Harlem where MTA’s bus depots are, and where the sanitation transfer stations are, such that the straight filth of our infrastructure kills us. If one’s housing conditions promote insecurity and pest infestation while being exorbitantly priced so as to suck up half a person’s income, that person has that much bigger a hurdle towards being healthy, including psychological anxieties and stress which increase stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine levels which compromise metabolism and immunity to disease. If Daewoo and other Korean and wealthy Persian Gulf corporations can sign 99-year leases for land in places like Madagascar or Ethiopia to grow food explicitly for their own populations and not the indigenous African populations who live where the food is grown, that type of neo-colonialism is going to decrease food security for people at home, thus ensuring more malnutrition, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and other stark miseries which prevent effective and productive living of a life, or just health said succinctly. Even indigenous regimes of patriarchy, machismo, etc. compromise women’s health, and by extension that of the children, elderly, and whole families.

I mean, that’s one way I tend to see it. I don’t like seeing the misery and desperation out there – it’s disgusting and unhealthy. My innate disgust with this crap is why I’m like this, even why I’m vegan. I don’t like cruelty. I think human beings are capable of far more than what we’ve got here. That’s why I keep striving.

So in terms of this other undefined concept – “bread and butter” issues, no one of us will see exactly eye to eye as to what’s number one or whatever. As for me, and this is a fluctuating, ever changing bunch of things that most frequently preoccupy a person like me, but education of the youth, health, quality of life, labor and cooperative economics/ black business (business doesn’t have to mean capitalist acquisitive stuff, just organizing our own economics internally), domestic violence and black on black crime, the environment, access to land/ housing/ ownership of where we live and even grow food, food security – these might be just some of my top five concerns, and I think I named more than five things here. What’s interesting (and not I hope a point of conflict but just worth contemplating for the both of us) is that something like “cop watch” is not on my top five, and just might barely make my top ten, of “bread and butter” issues. This is because, as I hinted at in the last message, there is a hell of a lot more domestic violence and black on black crime than there is police on black crime. Said another way, which effects how I prioritize either concern in my thoughts – someone living in an oppressed and crime-ridden community is far more likely to suffer physical strife from someone who looks like them and lives near them than by the police – in for instance Newark, NJ. So a lot more of my attention is grabbed by “stop the violence” and anti-rape, anti-domestic violence “take back the night”-type work than anti-police brutality work. Just because rape and horizontal violence are a much greater existential threat to everyday people than police violence.

And this point may be controversial, even between you and me, but it is something I take issue with at times and with some groups and individuals, who decry every instance of police brutality, but are a little more muted regarding when we do brutality to each other, senselessly, even as children. This is not a “blame the victim” statement. This is not a statement decrying some innate tendency for irrational violence towards one another in our community. It just acknowledges a statistic, whose generation is due to the lack of resources by which to survive which promotes dangerous and destructive attitudes, lifestyles and practices, which leaves us only with some warped sense of dignity over which we might kill because someone disses us. That’s horizontal violence 101, ala Frantz Fanon or Omali Yeshitela. And I tend to have a lot more affinity with that problem than with vertical violence/ state violence, at least as pertains to those of us in North America for the moment.

And I could be wrong, all wrong in my priorities.

So we should think about what “bread and butter” means very carefully and self-critically before we attempt to declare what ought and what ought not be put on the table. Also, regarding the table, and the fear of things like vegan issues crowding out the more “salient” points of discussion and work: to me that fear is unnecessary and almost irrational. I said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s a time and place for every discussion. And to the extent that to me health is an upfront “bread and butter” issue, when many black folk think about why there’s so much obesity and diabetes in the community, they look at the food system and the food culture we have to deal with. There are many among those who then look at what’s in the kitchen, and analyze the hormone and antibiotics-infused meats, the empty calorie fattening soda and junk food, and so on, and how they eat corporate-controlled food-like substances mostly, and not really nourishing whole foods. And among folks with that analysis, many, many of them might bring up the ‘v’ word, or the vegetarian/ vegan question. By that line of thought and action, veganism of all things could come straight to the table, the “bread and butter” table. And it would be very dismissive and paranoid to act like all those voices with those questions and thoughts on their minds are bringing up a parochial, peripheral issue. It is not peripheral to them. It becomes a hood issue to them, a “bread and butter” (or maybe “bananas and avocados”) issue. Their voice is just as valid and ought to be just as welcome to the table as your voice, which might never bring up such a question. If you were the master of the table, when they start to think about health, and then diet, and then nutrition, and then maybe veganism, would you just say “shut up?” I don’t think so. Please don’t leave this conversation still thinking that of all things “veganism,” and I really mean diet and lifestyle and consumer and quality of life questions and concerns which may inevitably and likely lead to things like veganism being brought up, should be hushed away from conversation, due to fear that to converse or contemplate that takes away from, well, “bananas and avocados” issues. Vegans are less than 1 percent of black folk, but that still makes for a vast multitude. Let them be heard.

If the table of discourse is managed well and with discipline, discussions of veganism won’t manage to drown out other and broader concerns and objectives. Don’t fear and hate any aspect of the discourse, however it may seem like minutia to you.

Anyway, back to thinking about health. If depression is now an epidemic in the US including our communities, if obesity, if heart attack, if premature death or disability are now so monumentally epidemic in the US including our communities, it would behoove us to very aggressively question all that.

Another reason that, if I reverse roll-play your critique of me onto you, I think something like “cop watch” isn’t necessarily as priority “bread and butter” as health, is that more than cops, even more than violent strangers or spouses, what we are eating and where we are living are negatively affecting our outcome as a people.

Let’s break it down to be really clear: years of eating unhealthy food, sedentary living, exposure to toxic materials in the home and workplace, and the stresses of making ends meet in an unstable community – these things very very much are killing us far faster and more unforgivingly than any police.

Yet I think some folks think so much about police-brutality because of how visible that is. All the dietary, environmental and other aspects of our lives which are committing literal genocide on our people – that stuff tends to be more invisible and, to use a little medical terminology, of insidious onset. It’s what’s part of the ambiance, what’s mundane, what’s habitual, that is filling more graves with black bodies in America than anything else. This includes young people like us.

So, study food. Study environment. Study capitalism. Study industries. Study geography. Study sociology. Study it all. It’s all on the table. It’s all bread and butter. Even when subsets of those studies lead to considerations, in any given space or time, of such a rarified topic as veganism.

Everything on the table. “Bread and butter” can be “bananas and avocados” to some, and it’s still valid, still worth respecting of the ideas they may share. Don’t fear ideas.

Lastly, regarding the quote “a revolutionaries health is not an end to me, it is a means to the end which is revolution.” I said that I basically agree with this before. But to make things a little more interesting, I will declare that I do think, as a human being (I know we are not revolutionaries either of us, but even if we were, we’d have to be human beings before being revolutionaries), it is perfectly acceptable to take health as an end. Full stop. Take health as a fundamental goal. We all have but limited time here, and none of us are getting out of this gig alive, and moreover, we may not see the broader changes we want to see in our community happen in our lifetimes.

Might as well at least try to be healthy. Taking one’s health as an end means simply striving to have healthy relationships, live and eat healthily, and have outlets for what interests us, including the act of pursuing revolution or a revolutionary ethos. In other words, one might be able to say “revolution is a means to a revolutionary’s health” because by practicing revolution we get psychological, emotional, mental, physical, social etc. fulfillment and well-being.

So, I’ve problematized that one for ya. Remember, bro, it all depends on how we define “health”! And how we define “revolution”! The two could be one and the same for some of us!

Revolutions,

Konju

Benjamin Zephaniah, Afrikan Poet, Vegan

As for me, I’ve kept linking to random nice things lately, instead of writing long articles, because I’m still finishing up this novel. Coming soon, in late July, I’ll be co-hosting a sustainability/ food co-op/ community gardens tour in Brooklyn with my homie who teaches at Kingsborough Community College, and I’ll be posting a lengthy write-up on that (I’ll be done with the novel by then). That’s just the beginning of the next phase of things around here.

‘Til then, the Guardian UK has a nifty interview up today about Mr. Benjamin Zephaniah, an awesome UK-based Afrikan (via Barbados and Jamaica) poet I’ve long admired. We’re of the same feather – we both went vegan at age 15, and we’re both Kung-Fuists! Read the interview. This is like a two-birds w/ one stone shout-out, for both another vegan brother and a fellow creative.

The Observer Food Monthly over there has as their magazine feature vegetarianism in general, some basic stuff, though comparatively progressive since I’ve never seen, say, the New York Times Magazine shine this much light on vegetarianism, and wouldn’t expect it – they’re still having a hard time taking Michael Pollan seriously at the editorial level, whether or not his stuff gets published with NYT from time to time.

More to come. stay tuned.

VeganHood TV!

VeganHood TV

Come and see how to live healthy

Best believe you don’t need to be wealthy

Follow me to the knowledge tree

We just fulfilling the prophecy

And eating what nature’s provided me

>Repeat<

Word, son! This is exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve been checking out VeganHood TV on Youtube for the past couple weeks. They are excellent. Black vegan men in Brooklyn. Showcasing the realness and teaching the family. These are the sort of cats I’ve got to collabo with once I move to BK later this year. They should win awards based on their theme song alone, I love it. When I hear those lyrics my fist is up and my head is bopping. It’s so simple and nice and the beat suggests urgency. Live and direct. Call me mad corny but this is what’s up. So I’m highlighting their work here today, supporting more productive black vegans in the family. I see you! Keep repping the cause.

Black vegan straight-edge vigor forever. Black vegans ain’t going nowhere.

Watch it all right here (what they have up so far, a work in progress):

Episode 1

Episode 2 – part 1 of 4

Episode 2 – part 2 of 4

Also, a revolutionary brother named Safari-Black related to this endeavor posting earlier about the Vegan Hip-Hop Movement:

Vegan and hip-hop are two of my main ingredients in terms of how I’d have to be defined. Vegan Hip-Hop movement? I’m ’bout that.