Monthly Archives: October 2006

Nice White Lady

Yesterday in class I learned that there is a rap lyrics database, the Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive. This fascinates me because while the electronic sound of rap is not my favorite, I am interested in rap lyrics and narrative structure. Now I can read them, like poems and stories.

Rap styles, as we know, are rooted in particular places. Straight Outta Compton. West Bank Rap. The teenager who used to live across the street from me was shot dead by a schoolmate one fine afternoon a few years ago, right in the middle of his grandmother’s living room. When he was alive, I knew many more rap lyrics than I know now, because he would broadcast them to the neighborhood from his front yard. The two fragments I remember best were a code-switching Chicano one, “Jacarandosa, jacarandosa, today you tell me one thing y mañana otra cosa,” and a “It was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing, it was a West Bank thing!”

At that time, I had a friend who was convinced I should leave academia to become a rapper. I actually composed, performed, and published a rap song, which started out:

She was a nice white lady with a diamond ring
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

This was about some denizens of NOW, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and my local department of Women’s and Gender Studies, who did not want any lesbians, persons of color, radical feminists, transgendered people, or punks – and certainly not any ‘dyed-haired women’, unless the dye job looked perfectly natural – to be abortion clinic defenders, against attacks from terrorists including Operation Rescue.

The argument made was that the face of pro-choice America needed to look conservative on television. I am convinced, however, that this was not the actual motivation.

There were a lot of fun, topical lines in the rap. These were about how the police department had built a chain link fence around one of the clinics, which kept the terrorists, but also the non-conservative feminists and some of the clients, away:

Outside the fence, the cops made us pay
But the Nice White Lady doesn’t dress that way
And she said, women, don’t betray our cause
Go shave those legs and put on bras.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing.

The fencing-in of the Nice White Ladies kept them safe from physical attacks. Clients, and Women, had to deal with the terrorist types directly, while police protected the Nice White Ladies.

This fragment was on race:

And I knew she was wack cuz she fainted when
I showed up with my date and we both had a tan.

I think of this now because of the heated discussions I have seen lately, about how feminist women should and should not dress. My own view on this, of course, is that freedom of dress should be extended to everyone. But one of the arguments made seems to be that the more closely you resemble a Cosmo Girl, the more radical you actually are. I am sorry, but this is poor reasoning, and whoever is teaching that, is a poor scholar.

It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing
It was a liberal thing, it was a liberal thing!



Filed under Songs

Three Burials

I saw The Three Burials of Melquíades Estrada earlier this week, and liked it. I did not think I had a great deal to say about it beyond what has already been said in the voluminous press it has generated. I could have said something about this voluminous press, yes. I could have said that the official website of this film is worth visiting for the sake of the music it plays. I could have said a few things about South Texas desolation, which I have viewed in person, about white ‘American’ consciousness, or about machismo in general. I could have mused on the oblique connections between this narrative and others with which I am familiar, wherein the characters embark upon treks for meaning to remote Mexican villages – and find there the shards of their own deaths. Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo is one such, and Danny Anderson has written an excellent introduction to it. But all of this would have been mere talk.

Looking at the news today, however, I realize that I do have something serious to say about the film. Norton, the green Border Patrol agent who beats up the people he apprehends and eventually shoots Estrada, is a regular kid, a recent high school graduate from Cincinnatti. See the film and observe his character, think about what he is up to, and how he justifies it. Where might he have learned these attitudes, do you think? Then – no matter how fully you support our troops, or even their mission, or how well aware you are that economic circumstances and lack of information are what lead many into the military – consider that our troops are being Norton and worse, on the daily. It is their job. It is not doing them, or us any good. It goes without saying that the crimes which are being committed abroad as you read this, including those being committed by the students I look forward to welcoming back home, are unhealthy for their victims.

Norton’s adversary, Perkins, ultimately becomes a role model, and leaves him a horse. Fewer of our troops than you would like to believe, do not have adversaries as kind, role models they can reach out and touch, or anyone at all to leave them a horse. This matter is very serious. It has already had grave consequences abroad and at home. It will have more. I am informed, however, that it would be possible to remove all troops from Iraq in ninety days.



Filed under Arts

Eight Amazing Images

Now I have been asked to post eight images which amaze me. Every image I have amazes me, so I have chosen these practically at random.


Cathedral of Zacatecas, Mexico.


Calendar round from the Techialoyan Codex.


Poster for the ultimate war movie.


Swamp in Louisiana.

Li River

Li River, Quilin, China.

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon.


Lining up for water in Harbin, China.


Forró band, Pernambuco, Brazil.

Of all these photographs, the one which most amazes me is that of the Li River.

Now I am supposed to tag five people. I will tag eight, but I do not expect them to comply. I tag Wet Bank Guide, Tasneem Khalil, Paper Chase, Mel, Guyanese Terror, Credo, Bint Alshamsa, and Aramaic Carpenter Reel.



Filed under Arts

Old Ship of Zion

On my desk is my friend Walter F. Pitts’ posthumously published Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora (Oxford UP). It was reprinted in 1996, but my copy is dated 1993, and signed by Walter’s partner, the Reverend Leroy Davis.

Walter’s funeral, at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he used to play the piano, was the first open casket funeral I ever attended. I had always heard that these were difficult, but I liked it. I had not realized Walter’s death was so imminent, and seeing him en cuerpo presente was reassuring. He had been here, and now he was leaving. Tomorrow, he would be gone, but at that point, his spirit still lingered close to us.

The church was packed. In their robes, standing on a raised platform, the large choir looked like a band of angels. Swing low, sweet chariot. People were “falling out” in religious ecstasy all around. The preacher gave one of those rousing, Baptist sermons, based on repetition and the extension of poetic lines.

“My friend, Walter Pitts, has died today. My friend, Dr. Walter Pitts, has died today. My good, kind, caring friend, Dr. Walter Pitts, has died today. My good, kind, caring friend, Dr. Walter Pitts, was a brilliant man. My good, kind, caring friend, Dr. Walter Pitts, was a brilliant man made brave by Leroy’s love! Yes, sir, made brave by Leroy’s love.”

He went on to discuss “the Job question,” saying, “and I am not satisfied, I am not satisfied with your answer to the Job question, I cannot accept that Walter has died.” Then, having brought the audience to this emotional crescendo, he ended: “Good-bye my dear friend, I will see you on the other side!” And although I do not believe in the afterlife, Walter did, and I saw his spirit rise.

My mother said that when you visit someone’s church, you must thank the preacher, so I did this on the way out. I told him he had given a lovely ceremony. “And you were inspired,” he said. Now, I am not a Christian and I would never be a Baptist, but when I had expressed surprise to Walter that he belonged to such a non-intellectual church, he had said, “Oh, I don’t go for the dogma. I feel the spirit in the ceremony.” And when his preacher told me I had been inspired, all I had to say was “Yes.” And that is one of the reasons I always sign these posts axé, calling on the power of the spirits.

In honor of all of this, we will listen to Huddy Ledbetter singing Old Ship of Zion–a  ship which has, in his version of the lyrics, “landed many a thousand,” and which in Walter’s words, “provided both a shelter against the storm of racial oppression and a vessel for sailing through it” (p. 175).

Here is another version of the lyrics.

What ship is this that will take us all home,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
And safely land us on Canaan’s bright shore?
Oh, glory hallelujah.

She landed all who have gone before,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
And yet she is able to land still more,
Oh, glory hallelujah.

If I arrive there, then, before you do,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
I’ll tell them that you are coming up, too,
Oh, glory hallelujah.

‘Tis the old ship of Zion, hallelujah.
The winds may blow and the billows may foam,
Oh, glory hallelujah,
But she is able to land us all home.
Oh, glory hallelujah.



Filed under Songs

Ça chante


Our featured singer this weekend is Corey Harris. I first met Corey in connection with anti-death penalty work and academia, before he had recorded his first album. Should he do a Ph.D. in Linguistics or History of Consciousness, he was wondering – or should he play music? “I think I’ll play music.”


Today I would like to discuss the incident at Oglala, which as Joe Allen and Paul D’Amato point out, is newly relevant in the context of the Patriot Act and the still newer anti-terror legislation. I would like to discuss a battering incident which took place some time ago, and which I did not recognize as such until much later.

I would like to tell the story of how and why I went to college, very different from Moksha‘s, but still interesting as a story of women. I would like to discuss my dislike of academic feminists. I would like to describe my visit to Nicaragua last December, which I did not enjoy, but where I met some of the very most admirable people I have ever seen. In short, I would like to surround myself in an imaginary bubble of white light and write an interesting memoir.


I am, however, assembling documents for an upcoming Pardon Board hearing, where I will speak in favor of the release of a Vietnam veteran who has done over thirty years of hard time for non-violent drug crimes, and I am preparing class.


I certainly know enough, and have strong enough presentation skills, to wing my classes. Given that, the whitemen have often told me that time spent preparing classes is time better spent doing other things.

The opportunity to teach was not what attracted me to academia: it was what I was willing to do so as to retain access to university libraries, and have time to continue reading books and writing papers. I tend to mistrust those who say they like to teach. What they often mean by this is that they do not like to learn, but do like to hold power over other people.

But I like to prepare class. I discover things, and gain insights I would be unlikely to have otherwise. I put these together as one would put together an interactive exhibit. I come up with interesting questions to hone the mind. It is renewing, like an art project, literally re-creational.



Filed under Songs

White Dialogue

The Perceptionists have a great album called Black Dialogue, but this dialogue took place with a whiteman.

WM: I would like to work with you. Would you like to work with me?

PZ: In principle, yes, but what shall we work on?

WM: On my project.

PZ: I am working on a different project, so I am afraid I cannot collaborate on your project at this time. Perhaps we could plan a joint project, of interest to both of us, to be undertaken when we have each finished the projects on which we are working now.

WM: You are sending me a mixed message.

PZ: How so?

WM: You asked to work with me, and then said you did not wish to work with me after all, in practically the same breath.

PZ: No. You asked me to work with you. I said yes to the general possibility of working with you, and no to the invitation to collaborate on your current project. I then suggested we plan to undertake a joint project, which we could create together.

WM: You are refusing to work with me.

PZ: Until I finish my current project and you finish yours, yes.

WM: Well, if you want to work with me, it must be on my project, and it must be now. It really is that simple, and it is your choice.

PZ: I decline.

WM: You decline?

PZ: I decline.

WM: Why are you so mean?

Translation: I do not want your collaboration, I want your elbow grease. If you do not offer it willingly, I will press my case in any way I can.

It is Friday, and the plate lunch place had fried catfish and crawfish etouffée. I chose green beans and cabbage, but I could have chosen red beans and potato salad. The afternoon is sunny and beautiful, and it is the weekend, and we will sing.



Filed under Da Whiteman

Da Whiteman Speak Wit’ Forked Tongue

From the photograph on my office wall the face of a man from an indigenous Amazonian tribe looks evenly at me.

Contemplating this picture, thinking about colonialism, reason, and reasons of state, a very basic perception came to me, with the requisite sense of déjà vu. This time, however, it settled in differently.

The most frustrating aspect of being colonized is, having to negotiate with, and being expected to submit to, someone who does not see you as you are, who insists upon imposing their own image of you. Who, furthermore, does whatever they can to further your internalization of this image, and expects you to be grateful. Who will, if your internalization is perfect enough and your gratitude great enough, offer you a fellowship to study in their country.

I have not reported on Da Whiteman lately, so I will offer some brief takes. Da Whiteman, as the assiduous reader will know, is a composite character. He is not always white, and he is not always a man; he is Da Whiteman.


PZ: Please do not behave in this manner.

WM: I do not know what you mean. When you find me behaving in this manner, please let me know at the time.

PZ: I am referring to issues of common courtesy. I do not wish to engage in the teaching of basic manners to adults. As an adult, you should already be aware of the rules and principles of common courtesy.

WM: I am not a mind reader.

Translation: I am committed to poor behavior.


WM: In the spirit of equity, democracy, reason, progress, openness, and affirmative action, I hereby decree that the graduate fellowship this year shall be granted to a whiteman, respresenting the class most in need of support!

Translation: stand aside, colored girls. Whiteman coming.

Thank you for reading this post, in which I oppress the Whiteman by pointing out oppression.



Filed under Da Whiteman