Monday, March 30, 2009

The Demonization of Jeremiah Wright

Eventually a major book publisher will offer President Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the opportunity to write an autobiography or a memoir. And frankly, I await such a book. It would give me a more definitive insight into his life experiences and philosophy. This is something the media pundits, especially the ones on the right, have failed to do. They've been too busy demonizing him. His name still pops up from time to time.
After watching Bill Moyers's hour-long interview with Reverend Wright last year, I did not see a wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth, hate-filled demagogue, but instead a highly intelligent, articulate, and compassionate man. There's a lot more to the reverend than the major media has allowed us to see. I may not agree with everything he says or believes, but I am willing to listen.
In his riveting book Obama: From Promise to Power (HarperCollins, 2007), biographer David Mendell identifies Reverend Wright as "a staunch advocate for homosexual rights, which is almost unheard-of among African-American ministers."
The gay and lesbian community should keep that in mind when they hear negative comments about Reverend Wright and his ministry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Singing Walter Cronkite

When Rachel Maddow was one of three hosts of Air America Radio's mid-morning show called "Unfiltered," a regular feature of the show was Ambrosia, "the singing Walter Cronkite." Every morning she would sing the same jazzy tune but with different lyrics that were news-specific. Ambrosia's voice was a cross between Billie Holiday and the recently deceased Blossom Dearie. I'm sure they were musical influences.
Since Rachel Maddow has gone solo on the radio, I have not heard Ambrosia. It would be an absolute delight to hear her somewhat velvety voice once again on the radio singing the news.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Gay Life in Harlem

While going through an old folder, I found the following unpublished letter to the editor (dated June 28, 2000) that I sent to the Village Voice. Reading it has encouraged me to consider doing an article about the changing gay scene in Harlem, particularly since the area is becoming more and more gentrified, bringing with it gay and lesbian dollars.

Dear Editor:

Michael Henry Adams stated that "There's so little gay life," in Harlem today. ("Up From RuPaul," The Queer Issue, June 27) That depends on how you define what constitutes a gay life and a gay space. It's true that gay life in Harlem is not as blatant, as in-your-face as it is in the Village and Chelsea. It's also true that there is a paucity of bars and nightclubs that serve a gay clientele. But that doesn't mean that black gay men in Harlem are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. All you have to do is pay close attention to the subtle and not so subtle signs that indicate that gay life abounds in Harlem. Those signs can be found in the cruising areas of northern Central Park and St. Nicholas Park; in the private sex clubs; in the churches; at block and house parties; on the stoops, roofs, and public hallways of apartment buildings; on basketball courts; on the subway, etc. All are potential meeting places for black gay men. So to call the Mount Morris Bathhouse,*as Kai Wright does, "the extent of gay public space in today's Harlem" is to view this segment of the community with tunnel vision.
I would suggest to Kai Wright to come back to Harlem to get a broader, more accurate picture of Harlem's gay residents.

*Author's Note: The Mount Morris Bathhouse (where I later was employed for two and a half years), closed down in August 2003, the same week the citywide blackout occurred.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Praise of Writing

"Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world."
---Abraham Lincoln, from In Lincoln's Hand: His Original Manuscripts, edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk (Bantam Books, hardcover, 2009).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Proposal for "Celebrating Ourselves," the Black Gay & Lesbian Supplement

The following letter may be of interest to buffs of gay and lesbian history. I found the faded photocopy of the letter among some other papers. It is a proposal I sent to Patrick Merla, the editor of the New York Native, a weekly gay newspaper, outlining a special black gay and lesbian supplement. The supplement was published in the fall of 1984 as "Celebrating Ourselves," a title that was suggested to me by the poet/novelist Melvin Dixon, who contributed a poem to the supplement's poetry centerfold (the first and only time the Native ever published poetry). Among the other contributors to the supplement were Joe Beam, Dave Frechette, Craig Harris, and Donald Woods (all now deceased). The "Celebrating Ourselves" supplement consisted of essays, poetry, and photos.The letter was dated June 15, 1984.

Dear Patrick:

In August 1983 the Native published a supplement called "Harlem Rising." I contributed two pieces to it. It would be a good idea to bring the supplement back, possibly in August. However, this time I would like to be the guest editor. And instead of calling it "Harlem Rising," it should be called "Hue: Black Gay & Lesbian Supplement." The new name would underscore the fact that blacks range in color from very fair to very dark.
The supplement would contain five or six articles, covering a wide range of areas: politics, the arts, religion, etc. One article that I would try to include in the supplement is an address delivered by James Baldwin two years ago at a BWMT [Black and White Men Together, later renamed Men of All Colors Together] meeting that dealt with being black and gay (BWMT has the tape). There would also be photos and artwork. I would like to discuss this with you either on the phone or in person because I think it is important for the Native to continue to deal with issues and events of concern to the black gay and lesbian community. I appreciate the Native's willingness to publish black-oriented articles. It shows that the paper realizes that not everyone is white and middle class. I am looking forward to a long association with the Native.
I hope the answer will be affirmative. I think this supplement will be better than the last one.

Author's Note: My association with the Native began in 1983 and ended in 1988.
One more thing, I never did get to use the James Baldwin BWMT address.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't Feed the Wildlife

One of my favorite pastimes when the weather is nice is walking completely around the Harlem Meer (a man-made lake) at the northern end of New York's Central Park two or three times. I especially enjoy watching the ducks and geese during these leisurely strolls.
One afternoon I brought some bread crumbs to feed them. A Parks Department employee cautioned me not to because it would discourage them from migrating in the winter and that they would die as a result. He also told me that they had food of their own.
I was skeptical, thinking that instinct would kick in. But after learning that the geese have taken up permanent residence in the park (and leaving their poop everywhere), it dawned on me that perhaps the Parks Department employee was right. So fellow park patrons, heed the posted signs: don't feed the birds.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Demise of Empanada Joe's

"Eat Beautiful. Feel Beautiful." That was the slogan on the menus at Empanada Joe's, a fast food joint on Broadway and 111th Street, a stone's throw from Columbia University. Apparently not every one believed in that slogan. Empanada Joe's is no more. According to the Daily Spectator( February 18, 2009), the campus paper, "most Columbia students and local residents seem glad to see it go." One student was quoted as saying, "I didn't like it. It was very expensive and the empanadas were small. Afterwards, I felt sick."
The first time I visited the restaurant, I didn't get sick, but I was disappointed in the size and price of the empanadas ( meat-filled patties,that look something like a turnover). I wrote a letter to the manager a short time later. Below is the text of the letter:

"My friend Klaus and I went to your restaurant on the evening of August 14, 2008. We shared an empanada (Argentine beef) and a Tuscan pasta salad. Both were very good but pricey and, to our disappointment, very small. The price would have been justified if the empanada was larger. It was so small, it would take three or four of them to fill me up.
I hope that you will make the empanada and the salads larger or offer more than one size (priced accordingly). Otherwise, customers will not feel they are getting their money's worth."

Klaus (who is 75 years old) would go in there from time to time and try to give them advice on improving their business but they would laugh it off as though he were a slightly demented old man.Every time we passed by, there was hardly any customers. He predicted that they wouldn't last. He was right. As another Columbia student pointed out to the Spectator reporter, "When there is Chipotle next door, who is going to go to Empanada Joe's?" Why, indeed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Racism Within the Gay Community

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York's Greenwich Village. Below is an unpublished letter I sent to the Village Voice 25 years ago in response to an interview that appeared in its Gay Pride Issue. The letter was dated June 28, 1984. There is still some truth in what I wrote back then.

Dear Editor:
James Baldwin in his interview with Richard Goldstein (Village Voice, June 26), hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that "the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society."

Racism, as Baldwin knows, is very much a fact of life within the gay community. It is evident in the discriminatory admission policies of gay bars and discos across the country and in the near total exclusion of blacks and other third world gays in gay magazines and newspapers. The "invisibility"of black gays and lesbians is what prompted me to write articles in the gay press pointing up the fact that blacks are a vocal and active part of the gay community.

The white middle class male image being projected in these publications (and subsequently carried by the straight media) helps to foster the homophobic view in the black community that homosexuality, as well as AIDS, is a "white disease."

Until the white gay community is willing and able to accept black gays and lesbians as full and equal partners in the struggle against heterosexist oppression, they have no right to complain about homophobia. They too have become oppressors. That's not my idea of Gay Pride.