Useful Perhaps

"What I'm use to isn't useful anymore."
~Duawne Starling, singer/songwriter


Or at least, everything's in process... It won't feel like home until I get all my pictures up.

I've decided to consolidate my web presence (more to the point, I finally found someone who knew how to set it up the way I was hoping to). Soon will redirect to the new spot. For the time being (and thereafter), find me at MELVINBRAY.COM.

The Stuff Multiculturalism is Made of

I have to learn to write and edit to length. I didn't particularly care for the edited version of my submission to CC. Don't get me wrong, it needed editing! I was supposed to do about 500 words and landed somewhere just south of 700. Plus, some thoughts were needlessly complex. No doubt, it needed editing. However, in the copy editors' apparent attempt to "correct" my occasional use of colloquialism (and, strangely, eliminate every transition word), some of my meaning was (in my opinion) muddled.

I find solace in what a writer-friend of mine says, "They own it once you let it go." At least they put a brotha in print!

Nonetheless, it got me thinking. Perhaps the task of editing (and similar gate-keeping responsibilities) in the brave new world of more democratic access must be as interpretive as it was heretofore pragmatic. Perhaps gate-keepers must now also be anthropologists, increasingly immersed in the imaginative space (culture) of new democratic participants enough to translate thought as well as they proof text.

It's a bit much, I know, but such seems the stuff of which multicultural dreams are made.


Hope Full-term

I finally made print! Today I received my complimentary, advanced copy of Christian Century for a contribution I made to the article "What's Changed?" (December 30, 2008 Vol. 125, No. 26, p. 20). I was in quite prestigious company—sandwiched between leaders of this and that. It was quite an honor to be invited to comment on the election. Thank you Christian Century! Thank you, thank you, thank you and... May your circulation increase.

The following are my unedited comments...

One of the defining questions for an Obama-era America, pregnant with possibility, will be: What does it mean to be 'post-racial'? In fact, the term 'post-racial' has such potential for misinterpretation that Newark, NJ, mayor, Cory Booker, disallowed it on MSNBC's election night coverage:
“I reject the idea of a post-racial America. I want to luxuriate in the racial deliciousness of our country: the Italian-Americans, the Irish-Americans, the Mexican-Americans. I mean, that’s what makes America great. We are a nation that celebrates racial diversity. We’re not Norway; we’re not South Korea; we are the United States of America. The story of America is one of bringing such differences together to manifest a united set of ideals—not a united culture, not a united language, not a united religion, but a united set of ideals. That was what made America dramatic when it was founded, the first country of its kind in humanity. So I reject that. I want to celebrate all of America: its richness, its diversity, its deliciousness.”
I so reside where Mayor Booker is coming from. "God forbid if we ever get to a point where we 'transcend our race'" (Cory Booker on Nevertheless, that is not what I believe 'post-racial' means—transcendence would be 'non-racial,' a well-meaning sociological nonentity—although it may be exactly what a lot of heretofore-exclusively-privileged persons hope 'post-racial' means. I get the distinct impression that many want it to mean 'over and done with race.' However, as Robert Jensen reminds us in his book The Heart of Whiteness, "race is a fiction we must never accept; race is a fact we must never forget," and the election of a person of color to the highest office in the land at a time of profound uncertainty, quelled only by hope, did not change this one bit.

Continue reading>>>

If it is to follow the pattern of other such 'post-' constructs, 'post-racial' most appropriately identifies those who have suffered through the crucible of race and come out the other side determined to live/trust beyond race—still in visceral awareness of its worst and unequivocal opposition to even the slightest of its indignities. Long before such 'post-' language became en vogue, Cornel West, one of the great American post-modern thinkers, wrote about the dangers of race as the sum of identity in his seminal work Race Matters. West advocates the replacement of "racial reasoning" with a "moral reasoning" that engages beyond the arguments of the past, that obliterates the categories of left-right-center or conservative-liberal and that seems to be descriptive of Obama's decentralized post-racial cadre.

I am convinced that in order to be healing and generative our future conversations must be rooted in the reciprocal admissions inherent to anything post-racial:
    1—That there are those who have historically been disadvantaged in our fair country, and consequently…
    2—There are those who have been historically advantaged in our fair country.
Neither admission can be up for debate anymore, and we must recognize the existence of either is decidedly unfair and immoral. We must commit ourselves to rectifying both wherever either may be found and can't settle for the miscarriage of just doing better from this point forward. "Equal rights" to a piece of pie means little when the entire pie was divided up before one was even allowed to sit down at the table.

As if all that weren't difficult enough, here's the gut-check. If 'post-racial' is to denote an actual repudiation of the discriminatory use of race, it must also become the catch-all concept for the refutation of any act of civil discrimination—in similitude to the way people of color sometimes use 'racism' to connote any abuse of power for which there does not exist a specific term. (Everything is not about race, but race has been a fitting proxy for the intractable abuses of power that have plagued American life.) If our Obama-inspired post-racial impulses don't demand from us unequivocal justice (and from Christians, grace – generosity of spirit – as well) in all facets of democratic life—gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, etc—then we might as well throw the term out with the bath water as (a kingdom-come) hope stillborn.

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From Alice Walker, with Love, to the President-elect

Nov. 5, 2008

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker

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Obama Grabs Headlines--November 5, 2008

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A Letter from a Friend

A dear friend of mine just sent this to me. I offer it in part as the beginning of an answer to my blog-friend Aerin's gracious and largely rhetorical inquiry...

Hi Friends,

Today I was reading an article in US News & World Report about the historic significance of Barack Obama's election. In it, journalist Robert Schlesinger encourages all of us to focus on what this election truly means to our country. This election has changed the narrative of American history regardless of what happens once Obama and his family are comfortably ensconced in the White House and subsequently at battle with the current state of American politics.

I was not involved in any Obama campaigning and should probably admit that my cynicism about race in this country caused me to reserve a kernel of disbelief and mistrust in the system. When I was driving home and I heard that Obama was President-elect my kernel was shattered and cast away. I cried and celebrated and honked my horn with millions of people all over the world. And yet, what remains is a country, a world even, that still needs work.

I know that we must continue to work because right here in my adopted home state of Georgia dissatisfied citizens resorted to vandalism and fear simply because a black man has been elected president. As a black teacher in a private school located in a mostly affluent, white area of Atlanta I see the seeds of discontent and racism present in the uncomfortable faces of people I stand in line with at Starbucks. I feel pain when a co-worker tells me that her African-American son was ridiculed at school by white classmates who told him that Obama was a terrorist who will ruin this country. These types of summations are rooted in our deepest fears about race and its correlation to power. If race, read: being white, no longer signifies power and "rightness" then we have a great opportunity to do a lot of re-education and rebuilding across large swaths of this country.

I was reminded of this reality when I started to read the comments section of the Robert Schlesinger article:
* "As for a large majority of new voters I also believe, that the Black's voted mainly for race, without any understanding of any kind of politics in there country. Most NOT all were uneducated academically, most are high school drop outs, and voted strictly because they were of a black or mixed black race and thought that vote stood for more free stuff, because Obama did preach that he would fix many if not all of there ills including unemployment food stamps and help of all kinds. To them it was shall I say "Christmas"."

* "Not since that sex adict defiled the White House has there been such a disaser as Mohamed Obama's e;ection! Guess there will be boggying down the halls and shouts of " you dirty MF" resonating in the hallowed rooms of the White House! What joy,the bastardization of our country!!!!!!!!Send Obama and his family back to Kenya!! Bet his daughters won't go to a public school in DC,aka definitely colored! You residents of DC are good enough to vote for him but not good enough for his kids to associate with yours!!"
Let me not even begin to address the clear grammatical problems with these comments, which in my opinion does serve to negate them. ( Full Disclosure: I am an English teacher) What is at issue here is that while Obama has united sections of America previously divided we do have a large number of people who were pulled in the other direction, or rather chose to stay where they were and continue to embrace stereotypes, fear, and hatred. These people are America too. Even in our joy of what Obama's presidency means we must continue to be vigilant, vocal, and active in our schools, churches, and local politics. We must require each other to examine our language and ourselves and help facilitate change.

I, for one, am happy to continue to work for and facilitate change in my community when we have a President who is not afraid to at once decry bigotry and require accountability on the part of the people. We have some momentum in this country that we have never had before. It is time to focus not only on breaking barriers, but also on the painstaking process of healing. As Chicano activist Luis Rodriguez states: "Healing involves going to the wound, not recoiling from it. The wound, the damage, can be the mother of our rebirth, the reconciliation. If revolution isn't about this, it isn't about anything." Right now is the time for us to embark on that journey. Yes we can.

Yaisha Caron Harding,
A black woman who finally gets to feel vindicated for having an "ethnic name"

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Thanks for the Dialogue

Aerin, thanks for the dialogue. I wrote this last week about today...

The Day After

As the 2008 Presidential campaign draws to a close, I've become increasingly less concerned about the specific outcomes of election night and more concerned by what we will have positioned ourselves to accomplish the day after. What are our prospects for success in meeting the tremendous challenges we as a country now face, when we've painted our countrymen and neighbors out to be devils and villains? How do we commit ourselves to meaningful action for the good of all God's creation and not become immobilized in our bickering over who is most right? I'm almost afraid that too much damage has been done: the fear mongering and race-baiting and name-calling and prejudice rationalizing. How do we begin to engage one another and work together if indeed I am (by your definition or my own) a tree-hugging, homo-loving, abortion-permitting, other-embracing, terrorist-empathizing, socialist-leaning un-real black man, whom you've been socialized to resist at all costs?

As I write, a song invades my consciousness, refusing not to be heard. I believe it echoes a way forward through this mess we’ve made for ourselves. The song is "Belfast to Boston," by James Taylor (listen). It's been my prayer for peace for about two years now…
There are rifles buried in the countryside by the rising of the moon.
May they lie there long forgotten, 'til they rust away into the ground.
It's a song of grace: blood bought, divinely inspired, blessed assurance that as followers in the way of Jesus we are not condemned to give as good (or as poorly) as we get. We can give better. Yes…
Who will bend this ancient hatred: will the killing to an end?
Who will swallow long injustice: take the devil for a countryman?
We can. This is the grace that is ours. "Freely you have received; freely give," Jesus says.

continue reading on GP>>>

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I Too!

I Too
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I'll be at the table
When company comes.

Nobody'll dare

Say to me,

"Eat in the kitchen,"



They'll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Today is "Tomorrow," Brudda Langston. And in honor of it I gladly, full of the audacity of hope choose my American-ness for myself for the first time in my life. May God bless America... and everyone else!


Mmmm! They Make a Beautiful First Couple

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It's A Whole New World

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Sing That Funky Music White Kin!

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