November 11, 2002
the opening salvo
the first thing that you should know about me is that i made 6 figures for 6 years and now thanks to osama and gw i'm not. i'm fairly pissed off about both of them, and if i sound 'unpatriotic', it's because a number of heroes died to give me the right to vote gw out of office, but nobody is particularly fond of ununiformed black men using the kinds of weapons america has chosen to use against bin laden. since i am a very practical man, i will spend more time fighting gw than bin laden. i'm not afraid of either of them nor of their defenders whom i find equally deluded, if not equally practical. somehow, when i'm finished talking here, i expect that quite a few more people than those i generally hang around will understand how to put me in the center of the america that repels both of them. that would make me feel very happy.
the second thing you should know about me is that i have a wife and three kids, whom are not the subject nor object of this diary. i will talk about them and their influence on me, but they belong to me, not you. so don't get nosy. on the other hand, my extended family is an interesting and i will discuss them in various ways to clue you in. my mother's family comes from france and st. lucia through catholic new orleans. the men are mostly anonymous, although likely for less noble reasons than i am here. my father's family comes from a somewhat distinguished set of folks in connecticut and north carolina, and while that particular institution precludes me from tracing them back 7 generations as with moms, i know at least one of them served with some distinction in the northern army. my children bear his name in the middle of theirs.
the rest of the things you should know about me will depend on your ability and willingness to read what i write, yes in lower case. this is the web and i don't have an editor. but i guarantee you it will be worth the small effort.
a few summers ago, i was chilling in sydney and enjoyed the olympic games up close and personal. a cat named moe greene proved that he was the fastest man in the world, and yet somehow he has been forgotten. he took a picture which suggested to me that he was very, very proud of his accomplishments. a short time later he took another picture with his american teammates, again with a great deal of pride at the fact that they proved themselves to be the best in the world. but this time, he had the nerve to pose with an american flag. now this picture continues to be a source of inspiration and disgust to me, largely because of the significance of the american reaction to its heroes. they dissed them. now i know it's 2002 and that was 2000. these are off-years to talk about heroism, especially if it not the heroism of cops and firemen. but it occurs to me on this first edition of this currently nameless serial, that we should review that picture.
you see i happen to believe that my fate happens to be tied closely with that of moe greene. i believe that i understand something of his challenge and his frustration. he spent his life chasing a dream. he reached the mountaintop. he raised the american flag, he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the best in the world, and his homeland dismissed him. i don't suppose this would be such a bad thing if this nation didn't make people like brittany spears wealthy. do we really need men who can run fast? i mean, most everybody can run. similarly, most everybody can sing. but if greene was the absolute best runner and spears was the absolute best singer and both decided to wave the american flag shouldn't they be accorded the same amount of respect for their accomplishments? ok, enough with the elementary rhetoric. you understand my point, greene didn't rake in the green, spears did. i think moe greene is a patriot, and i think you should think so too. look at the picture again, don't you just want to plaster it all over al queda-land? yes you do. so you are my kind of american. don't you realize how silly you were being now?
today, in accordance with my new sub six figure poverty, i wore a new xxl bright red plaid wool shirt from walmart out and about. this was part of my latest edition of the homeboy suit, recognizeable everywhere by all americans to be the official uniform of the underachiever. i wear these kinds of clothes on weekends for a number complex reasons. today, the reason was humility. so i asked my friend lee, tangential to this humility, whether ours was a culture worth respecting. i like to be consistent, so i seemed to need a reason for my seeming disrespect of 'normal' dress expected of a man of my breeding and accomplishment. in dressing incognegro, i enjoy the anonymity whoopi goldberg spoke of in her book 'book'. right on whoopi, i know exactly what you mean. but i needed more than that.
i'm conscious of the signal i might be sending in siding with the underachievers. later, lee told me about an insight he gained from his fiance. she used to like bad boys. why? because even when they were losers, they always gave the impression of being in control. the truth, especially the ugly truth, seems always to serve those unafraid to speak it. before they become certified losers, bad boys' appeal has much to do with the fact that they have no phony reputation to uphold, and therefore don't fear speaking the truth in the same way disrespected prophets do. so their confidence, as short-lived as it might be, comes from their willingness to live in the truth of their imperfection and their inability to resist clowning everyone else. don't you hate it when knuckleheads speak more honestly than people we are supposed to respect? i do. the bad boy gets the girl, and you sit their with your thumb in your mouth.
in my homeboy suit, with my upper middle class success, checking out the terra-cotta bathroom tile with lee at the expo store just north of downtown atlanta, i possess that same kind of elan as the bad boy. all the clerks are better dressed than i, and yet since they live in atlanta they are more in tuned with those like me incognegro than in the rest of the nation. they are properly polite and address me as 'sir', and i know it's not the grey in my goatee because i blacked it out last week with just for men. i am engaged in an extended bogard, and from time to time it works. aha!
we could get deep into the intricacies of the bogard, and at some point i will include a link here to point you to an excellent backstory or two. but the point has something to do with whether or not any of us americans expected things to turn out as they have; things meaning large new suburban subdivisions of 3500 square foot houses filled with african american families. things meaning black ceos of american express and avis; black founders of sun microsystems, space shuttle astronauts, secretaries of state, matinee idols, mass murdering snipers, exonerated wife killers, and wall street swindlers. it's a bit much, isn't it? especially for guys like me who have to put on clothes every day second-guessing what people second-guess about me. it's facile to decide once and for all to be an overachiever or an underachiever, but my 'drobe spans both extremes. in the meantime, i test myself and the public daily because i never really know what to expect, and neither do you. so since i come from a proud line of folks, i err on the side of ambition. i bogard. i casually instruct everyone by word and deed that whereever i am, i belong. however i comport myself, it's cool because i'm a winner and this is a meritocracy that respects winners.
well, you never know. does anybody remember clarence pendleton? i do. back when reagan first got elected and all of us learned that phrases 'yuppie' and 'neocon', the ken doll we future achievers were supposed to mimic was named clarence pendleton. long before j.c. watts ever made it to congress, republicans told us of this brave black soul who understood the ways and means of the american establishment. soon enough we heard about alan keyes, thomas sowell and of course the king who combined pendleton and sowell's names - clarence thomas.
now i'm going to tell you a secret. i'm a conservative, well more properly, i am old-school. in time, you will come to understand the old-school. but for now think of a cross between... nah forget the analogies. too many americans think about too few role monkeys as it is, and that's part of the problem. but dig this. how exactly is it that those fine defenders of american patriotism made such a poor judgement about which african americans would become successful? i mean, what happened to alan keyes, and how is it that the grand old party completely missed the ascent of bob chenault at american express? i think he would have made a much better example than clarence pendleton. part of me thinks of denzel washington as compared to j.j. walker. back in the day, j.j. was making all the money, he was the establishment's model for all us patriotic americans. somehow we got denzel instead. good thing denzel bogarded; he wasn't expected.
few people talk about sidney poitier any longer, which i think is a shame. what was great about sidney, despite the fact that he had to pick his wardrobe strictly from the overachiever side, was that he established a very subtle kind of bogard. i call it the 'tibbs threshold'. in his time, the homeboy suit wasn't an option, and yet folks didn't even call him 'sir'. they had no idea that they were disrespecting him, that they were crossing the tibbs threshold. they couldn't conceive of his championship. he corrected them like a gentleman. admirable man that poitier.
the great author james baldwin wrote, back when i was in elementary school, "All you are ever told in this country about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact - this may sound very strange - you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you." i happen to believe that we've gotten a lot better at creating images, but not quite so good at accepting the reality of success (or deviance) that doesn't fit a particular profile. i think moe greene was an original, who didn't bother to fix himself up to become a symbol. instead he prepared himself, simply to be the best. he achieved that and we left him in the lurch thereby tarnishing our own credibility in being able to accept that truth. we couldn't handle it. we made ouselves subject to the truth telling of bad boys, and we encouraged the truly successful among us to bogard and subvert american culture.
i don't prefer irony and subversion in culture. yeah i've lived it, and i wasted a lot of time. i've understood and continue to understand and respect the necessity for dissent and even counter-culture. but a lot of conflict we engage is needless because at bottom, a great number of us hold the same underlying values. it takes wearing both wardrobes on and off to reconcile the balance. some essays are still best written in lower-case on the web. but let's hope that the bogard they represent can be accepted in triumph, even patriotically.