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Before Katrina, copping some catfish would have been a snap, but now, there are not many neighborhood

restaurants open, plus the pickings are mighty slim when it comes to black-owned establishments.



Spirits in the Dark: Post-Katrina New Orleans

 By Kalamu ya Salaam


Nobody missed a beat. No pause. No exasperated sighs. No moans of ‘awwww, mannn,’ or groans of ‘shucksssssss.’ Just a quiet, steady continuance as we sat in semi-darkness reading our work and receiving feedback. Our ages range from fifteen to fifty-nine. Our stories, like our lives, are distinct in their details but essentially we are all battling to hold on to our sanity.

Chris laughs his hearty laugh as recent college-grad Ashley deftly uses somewhat humorous descriptions to explore the hardships of an extended family dealing with death and aids. Eighteen-year-old Dominique tells us why she's no longer a youthful teenager. I read my latest Big Easy report that focuses on a close friend who was thrown in jail. A power failure is the least of our worries.

Blackouts happen frequently now, not just in the so-called devastated areas but all over town. Last week Harold and I were eating at his apartment and in the middle of a mouthful of well-seasoned fried catfish from Manchu's, the lights flickered off.

People who don't know us often mistake Harold for my older brother, or me for a son Harold had when he was much younger. People who do know us understand that we might as well be brothers, recognizing that I treat Harold with a filial respect accorded to no one else.

Post-Katrina is particularly hard on our elders and Harold, born in 1931, has to make a decision: stay or go.

Medical care is spotty—all physicians Harold trusted are gone. Most of Harold's immediate family lives in California; the few who were here evacuated to Texas and have decided not to return. Harold remains because all the work he wants to complete before his transition is here but he doesn't know how much longer he can hold on.

He is stubborn, yes, but not stupid. He's been weakened by a stroke that left him with a pronounced limp and a partially disabled right arm. Then there is the onset of glaucoma. But what worries Harold most is the deterioration of our city.

Recently our weekly conversations have returned time and again to his dilemma: should he be sensible and leave or be determined and stay.

I think he should go. I want him to stay. So, I listen without taking sides. If he needs or wants something, I try to help out. What else can I do?

Last week he had a taste for catfish. Before Katrina, copping some catfish would have been a snap, but now, there are not many neighborhood restaurants open, plus the pickings are mighty slim when it comes to black-owned establishments. We decide on take out from a hole-in-the-wall, Vietnamese run, Chinese/Soul-food joint.

In the midst of a thunderstorm, we eat and talk in the dark. I try my best to joke: hey man, if we was Indians we could get a candle and sit down and sew. But we're not Indians, there's nothing for us two old men to do in the dark except sleep, especially considering we have just hardily eaten our fill.

When the lights came back on, I rose from the couch, checked on Harold (he was sleeping soundly in his bedroom), slipped out the door and intended to head uptown for my nightly session with my friend Doug. I have accepted the task of ensuring Doug takes his nightly medication. That's no small feat. Like all of us Doug needs encouragement, lots of encouragement.

At first I thought it was just a little standing water outside the back door, and then I thought maybe this part of the parking lot is low, but finally I got the message as I peered myopically at a newly filled, foot-deep wading pool that less than two hours ago was dry asphalt.

I had on loafers. I tried tip-toeing. That didn't work.

I splashed over to the fence where I had parked. The water was way past ankle deep on the driver's side but maybe only four or five inches on the passenger side. Once in the passenger seat of the small Corolla I had to manage the task of hoisting my big-ass body across the console with the shift sticking up and maneuver into the driver's bucket-seat. After a minute or two of twisting and turning, I finally slumped in place.

I felt horrible. My feet were wet. It was still raining. I called Carol, explaining that I was wet and miserable. She advised me to go home and she would let Doug know.

Two of the city's largest pumps are burnt up. Katrina flooded them with salt water and the massive engines were not cleaned before this summer's first big rain in June. One-point-five inches of water later, the pumps broke down. Now, every time it drizzles there's standing water everywhere because the pumps are functioning only around half-capacity.

I'm sure people are tired of hearing about our problems. Looks like every other day we've got another shortcoming or some other service falling apart. I know I'm tired of it. Nevertheless, I would prefer to be fighting frustration in New Orleans than kicking back somewhere else.

In the unlighted classroom our circle of Students at the Center staff and students are reading off of donated laptops, the screens highlight our faces but not the rest of our bodies. Our heads seemingly float unattached. We probably look like a séance in one of those cheesy horror movies where self-deluded crazies sit around a table, hold hands and try to contact the other world.

We carry on like the dark wasn't nothing. And it isn't. Or rather that's all it is: nothing. Darkness is simply the absence of light. The old folks were right: rather than waste time cursing our conditions, it's better to illuminate the way forward by letting our spirit lights shine. That's why instead of crying, we are sitting here laughing with each other.

posted  1 August 2006

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Guarding the Flame of Life

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

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Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

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#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated  25 February 2012



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