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DECEMBER 17, 2015

DECEMBER 17, 2015










Darling DJ Hannah Faith was having a banner year: she had performed at Afropunk Paris and was scheduled to perform at the New York festival as well. She was soon to go on tour and was working alongside Converse for a collaboration. Her SoundCloud account was booming and had amassed over 1 million plays. From the outside, it probably looked like Hannah’s stride was utterly unbreakable. “In this day and age it’s so easy to peep into other people’s business and naturally when you see people doing well you start to question your own life,” the London based creative shared with us. “You never get to capture the full story from social media, so it’s best not to take it too seriously.”

There’s so much our society gets wrong about depression. From believing that just because someone’s life looks great on the outside that they aren’t struggling on the inside; to believing it’s something you can just will away without any help; to believing it’s something people only invoke for attention; to believing certain kinds of people due to their race, class, or lifestyle can not suffer from it. We’ve all seen the collective tongue wagging when a celebrity talks about their battle with depression. Often people complain that they shouldn’t be depressed because they have “everything” and therefore have nothing to be pushed down about. However, despite society’s diminished opinion, the thing about depression, and other mental health issues, is that they don’t care who they affect and they never need a “reason.” They just happen. They happen to good people all the time, and they usually strike without warning.


“In early 2015 I was admitted to hospital under the mental health act where I spent up to 3 months going through a battle. It was me against the system.”Hannah shared with the Saint Heron team. “Fighting through depression is easier said than done. It takes a lot of patience and self will to harbor the correct energy to make it through. I spent a lot of time away from social media and technology and took the analog route which, in fact, helped a whole great deal.” Fans have been dwelling and wondering where their favorite ‘In Bloom’ DJ had gone to. Her popular SoundCloud went down, and her active social media presence went quiet. But, now that Hannah is getting back in the swing and in full recovery mode (with a sassy and stunning new haircut!), she’s ready for the world to know where she’s been and for her own story to be of some inspiration to those in similar situations. “I went through a short phase where I felt like my life was ending and everything that was once good was deteriorating,” she shared. “But by keeping my faith in God and surrounding myself with kind hearted people I was able to pull through.”


To celebrate this moment, the Saint Heron team is thrilled to debut Hannah Faith’s new mix notably entitled Goddess. The new offering playfully mixes genres, sounds, and moods. There is a little something throughout this offering for us all. You can stream the mix below, and join us in welcoming back the talent that is Hannah Faith!

GODDESS by Hannah Faith on Mixcloud


















alfalfa brown 01


The Erotic As Power

alfalfa brown 02


@stayingunderground prsnts,
@AlfalfaBrown x Audre Lorde 
Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power

1. Onra – What’s That? (Interlude)
2. Outkast – Elevators (Me & You)
3. GHSTD – Give U What U Want
4. Gabriel Garzón-Montano – Pour Maman (Archie Pelago Remix)
5. vhvl – No
6. Soulow – Higher Calling [Prod. Kirk Knight]
7. Chvndler – Wonderland
8. [ocean jams] – Miasma
9. Hubert Davis – A Little of This
10. Ibeyi – River
11. Malik Abdul Rahmaan – Give Thanks
12. Via Rosa – Will Robinson (Ft. theMIND)
13. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Betray My Heart
14. Betty Davis – Feelins
15. Jill Scott – One Is The Magic Number

mixed by @mistahrapsey

.:the source is Staying Underground.…wn-x-audre






photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear





A signification of recognition

of our aspirations and our social reality


Clyde R. Taylor is a sage—a wise and intelligent teacher; wise in that he knows what to do with all the information that he knows, intelligent in that he has, and utilizes, an astounding amount of information.


A five minute conversation with Clyde is enough to convince me, and anyone else of average education, that we really don’t know much of anything about, well, about anything. The work that Clyde self-depreciating simply calls a book, i.e. The Mask Of Art, is de facto proof of our ignorance. Clyde’s range of references is so vast that how much I don’t know became clear to me by page nine or ten. Were it not for Google, Wikipedia and other quickly available online resources, in order to read and fully digest chapter one alone would probably require my sitting in a major library for two or three weeks.

I don’t know about you but  I am certain that Clyde is a miracle in terms of studying and understanding the thought and behavior of our historic oppressors.

Let us be clear. Let us recognize the aroma of gunpowder, of conquest that whiffs and wafts through the halls of the academy—the academy is the intellectual superstructure, the intellectual citadel atop the hill. The main task of the academy, a task that the academy does exceedingly well, is, at the very least, to humanize oppression and at its very best is to glorify the oppressor. Period.


Reductively, the art that academy valorizes is the mask on the horrors of conquest.



I am a street level, organic intellectual. I did not learn what I know in any academy. The academic term for me is autodidact—I taught myself. Actually, that is not the case, it is just that the academy holds little if any recognition for the wisdom of the people who have taught me.


In the brief moments I have, I should like to offer a few observations, all of which have been sparked by conversations with Clyde Taylor and by reading and reflecting on his book, The Mask Of Art.


mask of art


I will address three of the many concerns that Clyde has been instrumental in instigating.


  1. Masking and my three categories of masking.


  1. The deep “what does it mean to be human” focus of aesthetics.


  1. The broad question of cultural critique within the context of oppression.


Perhaps, “address” is too specific a term for what follows, perhaps I should say I would like to mention three of the many concerns that Clyde has been instrumental in instigating. Adequately addressing any one of these concerns would require a rather dense book. I do not mean to present myself as a savant sharing a worldview, when it would be more accurate to say I am merely a fool asking a few questions.




The common conception is that the mask conceals but I believe the mask also reveals. The mask reveals the intentions and desires of the mask maker and the mask wearer. The mask also inherently raises the question of why? Why wear the mask? Is the mask a cover for feelings of individual or social inadequacy? Or, is the mask actually a recognition of individual or social inadequacy?


Of course the mask comes in numerous forms, too numerous to cover here, but I ask you to consider your clothing. My dashiki, your suit and tie, the color eyeglasses I wear, the color and style of shoes you have on. Clothing is the elemental mask we wear.


Clothing cloaks our physical vulnerability and enables us to, as the Europeans say, “withstand the elements.” In the Western urban world, clothing also signifies. It signals social status (or social aspirations) and many other concerns.


I do not need to go into the obvious. I think you understand that grooming is a mask: lipstick, deodorant, perfume, etcetera, etcetera. Any physical thing or social concept we attach to ourselves to distinguish ourselves, not only from our fellow humans but also, and more importantly, distinguish ourselves from who we are without whatever we have donned, any and all of that is a mask.


One of my students responding to questions of defining humanity during a discussion of the Epic of Gilgamesh compared and contrasted to the Epic of Bewoulf, offered the observation that being human is partly defined by being mobile, i.e. physical movement as a group or individual across the face of the planet. Implicit in that observation is a critique of the modes of mobility.


Think for a minute about the mask of mobility, how we choose to “get around” and what that choice says about us.


I’m sure some of you recognized that my use of the term “get around” implied far more than mere physical mobility. My usage also implied social mobility with a specific subtext of socio-sexual mobility. Yes, I mean to imply some of us wear the mask to bed, indeed, in a social sense, some of us never go to bed without wearing a mask.


So then the very process of masking, of concealing, is simultaneously a process of revealing; a process that reveals essential characteristics of the person who dons the mask, characteristics whose origins are often situated in desires that drive if not outright determine behavior, as well as characteristics and/or feelings of shame or inadequacy.


One function of the mask is to conceal, and in fulfilling that function the mask reveals.


When we wear the mask are we the same as we were before we put on the mask? Does a mask fundamentally change us or merely change the viewer’s perception of the wearer?


Speaking from the perspective of African-heritage cultures in general and New Orleans in particular, I believe that the mask can have transformatory powers, even if that transformation is solely a new surface identity for the wearer.


In New Orleans one traditional saying upon encountering a masked person whom one recognized beneath the mask is: “I know you Mardi Gras.” But the saying also has come to mean I recognize that you are masking, that you are celebrating, that you are transforming yourself. In that context the saying has application outside of the specific’s of Fat Tuesday traditions.


If you talk to the Mardi Gras Indians they will tell you, when they mask Indian, they become something else. Masking can be a conscious effort to transform the self, to contact the spirit world, to serve as a vessel for outside forces to manifest themselves. Masking can then transform the self, transform the wearer both physically and psychically.


Some of us know the transforming process as trance. Another example would be catching the spirit in church but there, it is interesting that the transformation is possible without the physical mask, even as the more perceptive cultural critics recognize that the church service is itself a mask to conceal the trance process. Christian liturgy was acceptable to the slave master, African religion was forbidden. Enslaved Africans masked the persistence of African religious practices in the outward dress, i.e. the mask, of conformity to Christian liturgy.


Masking also enables a transformation of perception, i.e. the viewer no longer sees the wearer but rather sees what the wearer is wearing and makes assumptions about the wearer based on that perception even as the viewer is partially (or fully) aware that they are looking at a person wearing a mask.


Obviously this discussion of masking and transformation could go on for centuries but we will stop here to go to the third element of masking.


Masking is an aesthetic statement, what we consider good and beautiful. In New Orleans on Mardi Gras day when the Indians come out, the perennial question is: who’s the prettiest? This emphasis on aesthetics is recent in the tradition and is attributed to one specific person: Big Chief Allison Tootie Montana.


Before Tootie, the Black Mardi Gras Indian gangs used to literally fight each other. After Tootie instead of the knife, hatchet or gun, the fighting was done with needle and thread, beadwork and feathers.


What a sight to see two chiefs meet and engage in an aesthetic battle: who is the prettiest, whose plumage the most colorful, whose design the most intricate, whose suit told the strongest story, etcetera, etcetera.


Although I have used the example of Mardi Gras Indians, obviously it applies to any and all forms of masking. The mask can be a positive statement of ideals or a negative statement of condemnation. Through the use of the mask the wearer can say this is beautiful or conversely this is ugly, for after all aesthetic statements are judgments.


The mask conceals/reveals, the mask transforms (not only the perception of the viewer but also the social, and sometimes even the physical, manifestation of the wearer), and the mask makes an aesthetic statement.




Ultimately the mask of art is a way of addressing the question at the core of human systems of thought: who am I, which reductively is the question of what does it mean to be human?


Throughout his book, Clyde Taylor prefaces the names of references with racial/cultural designations. Clyde will append “white” such and such to a person’s name. The tag is used as identifier. Only an outsider would think of using such a tag and in so doing identifying the limits of the person,  object, or construct so tagged.


This begs the stunning question: are white people humans? Of course that is a reversal of the usual use of the racial designation. For centuries whites have explicitly or implicitly asked that question about people of color. Similarly, for centuries some of us whom whites have designated as outsiders to humanity have been asking the critical question about Europeans, are they human?


For a very specific investigation of this question read Jewish authors such asPrimo Levi discussing Nazis who imprisoned and attempted to exterminate the Jews. Levi also asks the question: did the concentration camp dehumanize its victims.


If we restrict our investigation to Black and White we have unwittingly bought into the paradigm that our oppressor established. There are of course many other ways to approach this question of what makes us human human and the question of whether a sociologically, or racially, or politically defined group of people are humans.


By the way, I believe that the Middle East quandary is an example of forcing a European problem on non-Europeans to provide an answer. The national institutionalization of anti-Jewish, genocidal behavior happened in Europe, not in the Middle East. Why was not a piece of Germany or Austria carved out for the Jewish homeland?


Returning again to our study of The Epic of Gilgamesh compared and contrasted with the Epic of Bewoulf, we asked the question: is conquest and war intrinsic to human existence? We also asked our students to discuss the role of women in humanizing men.


One of my students noted in following up on the idea that it was women who humanized men, observed that men needed to be humanized while women were born human. During class discussion we formulated the theory that to be human is to become woman-like.


That’s an interesting discussion in light of the biological fact that all fetuses start off as females and that it is the introduction of the testosterone that facilitates the mutation of the fetus from female to male. Or, put another way, the basic, the elemental human condition is female. The art of Gilgamesh provides us a focal point to discuss the essence of being human.


The role of art is, or ought to be, an expression of our humanity, as complex and contradictory as our humanity is. Some of us believe in the maxim: cogito ergo sum. But does thinking prove being and is “being,” i.e. existence, ipso facto the central question for humanity?


Here is where art goes far beyond thought. One of the reasons I admire Clyde Taylor’s book is because he constantly probes at the question of what it means to be human.


Although I recognize that in the 21st century it is inevitable that we will focus on European thought simply because our discussion mostly takes places within academe and we mostly utilize European languages for the discussion. While it is easy to recognize the role of European conquest, hence the color dynamic inherent in the use of European thought as the predominant reference for aesthetic discussion, there are not only other systems of thought outside of Europe, there is also a significant other discussion within Europe.


At the risk of shorting out the discussion by moving too quickly, let me simply say: not only was there a world of humanity before European world conquest, but indeed there was also a world before patriarchal conquest. Moreover, those pre-existing worlds, are far, far older and existed far, far longer than the current European era of dominance.


We reference Europe because we have been dominated by Europe but if we look at the history of humanity, we understand that human history stretches for tens of thousands of years prior to our current state of conflict and confusion.


To put it even more succinctly, the first gods that humans recognized were women of color. Women were our gods of antiquity. The revolt of men to erase that recognition and to impose male domination on women is the essential element of civilization as we know it.


In academic terms: to be human means to dominate women. The reason I say academic terms is because the academy situates itself in the written word. The development of the written word within civilization is congruent with and, as some of us would argue, a manifestation of the male dominance of the female.


Hence we privilege text in our discussion of humanity, especially when we discuss the universality of aesthetic concerns, a universality won and enforced by men with guns. Indeed, a succinct description of western civilization could be summed up in three words: men with guns.


From “men with guns” there is but one short step to the academy, i.e. men with books!


The irony of Clyde Taylor’s book, The Mask Of Art, is that the cover situates the female figure, or image, as the focus but the majority of the text actually focuses on the thoughts of males. Part of the reason for this is that the majority of texts have been authored by males. Taylor does not shy away from recognizing this limitation and redeems his text by privileging the critique and insights of Sylvia Wynter in the concluding chapter.


Additionally, in chapter 13, “Daughters of the Terreiros,” using a critique of Julie Dash’s film, Daughters of the Dust, Clyde Taylor identifies the importance of women “within” the discussion. On the last page of the chapter, Taylor also gives us a reading of the cover image.


My concern is that both the critique and the explanation of the cover are situated within the boundaries of civilized discourse, hence within the framework of male dominance. The female remains an object of male discourse, an object gazed upon by the male whose signification is explained not by her own words but by the interpretation of a male.


I am saying men with books is a problem whenever that formulation restricts the agency of women. To be clear, I am not arguing for the rise of women with books. My critique does not simply call for a change of author, i.e. I am not simply advocating women with books, nor am I simply advocating both women and men authoring books. I am also critiquing the use of the book as the defining object of civilization.


As long as the discussion is limited to text, the “other” (i.e. those whose origin is outside of Western civilization) is doubly at a disadvantage. One, we are disadvantaged because many of our strengths, particularly in the areas of music and kinetics, i.e. dance and procession, are excluded from the discussion. But, two we are disadvantaged because a major part of the problem is not that we don’t write books (whether the absent author be people of color, or be women, or both). The problem is that the very construct of text, as we know, is a problem, especially when text is established as the arbiter and authority on what it means to be human.


For those who are interested in “reading a text” which discusses this “text” dilemma, I refer you to The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain. Some of us believe we are living through a major transition, moving from text to image as the site of authorial social expression.


It seems significant to me that the chapter that focuses on a woman author is about a film and not a book. Of course, this has been one of Clyde Taylor’s abiding and essential strengths, as erudite as he is, he is comfortable, perhaps even “more” comfortable, in discussing the image as he is in explicating text. Clyde Taylor’s facility in critiquing both text and film is critical to my appreciation of his importance as a cultural critic.




Finally, I think it important to acknowledge Clyde Taylor’s recognition that he is a spy behind enemy lines. The academy is not his home. His workplace is not his hearth. The contested and often conflicting dichotomy between home and work is a hallmark of modern society, a contradiction that has yet to be resolved.


Productive labor is one of the essentials of human activity. If there is a contradiction between where and how we earn our living, i.e. the workplace, and where and how we express and propagate our humanity, i.e. the home space, then, unavoidably, we find ourselves in a situation of anxiety and alienation. This anxiety and alienation is another hallmark of modern civilization, especially given that today there is very little, if any, overlap between the community of the workplace and the community of the home.


This alienation is particularly sharp for the outsider to the workplace whose success at fitting in at work creates a persona that is both alien to and uncomfortable within the home space, and vice versa. This workplace alienation is intensified if the workplace is academe. Working in the big house is strange enough but to be an intellectual personal “manservant” is particularly off-putting. Moreover, I fully recognize, as Condi Rice exemplifies, women can also be manservants.


In this regard, Amilcar Cabral’s famous dictum, “return to the source,” is of particular relevance. If, for whatever reasons, we can not return to our source, invariably we will establish a surrogate home in a space that is either not congruent with our original home or which is shallow in comparison to the social depth of our original home.


Alcoholism, and other forms of addiction, are major liabilities of a career in the academy. One must take something to deaden the pain of anxiety and alienation; the best, although far from easiest, prescription is return to the source.


While I often joke with my students: remember, we are sending you to college to bring back the fire, don’t stay and become fascinated with the light show, I recognize, however, and Clyde Taylor’s book reinforces, that in returning to the source we must go beyond the boundaries: both the boundaries of dominant civilization but also beyond the boundaries of our source.


Clyde Taylor and Amilcar Cabral realize that unless and until we are able to move through the world learning from and exchanging with all peoples inhabiting the planet without complexes of either inferiority or superiority, until such time we are not truly free.


Thank you for your attention and consideration of these brief remarks.



—kalamu ya salaam



DECEMBER 7, 2015

DECEMBER 7, 2015




Racial diversity on television is in a state of rapid acceleration. In 2012, when “Scandal” débuted, starring Kerry Washington as a Capitol Hill fixer, it was the first network drama to feature a black female lead in thirty-eight years—a shameful milestone. The same fall, “The Mindy Project,” on Fox, made a brown girl the madcap heroine of a sitcom, not her best friend. Just three years later, “Scandal” faces off with “Empire”; “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” have helped rebrand ABC as “the diversity network”; Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” struts on Netflix; the Latina-centric “Jane the Virgin” lights up the CW; and Priyanka Chopra plays the lead on “Quantico.” There has been an especially remarkable migration of black actresses from movies to TV, among them Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Lorraine Toussaint, and Gabrielle Union. There is also a deluge of new talent on shows like Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” one of several series that have opened the floodgates for performers who were long denied rich, complex central roles.

Hollywood, television included, is still run by white decision-makers, mostly men. The recent season of “Project Greenlight,” on HBO, made explicit how resistant to race talk Hollywood can be, a stifling culture of bros bonding with mirror versions of themselves. Behind-the-scenes numbers have barely shifted, particularly for directors. And yet TV is evolving rapidly. Much of this is due to a prominent new set of creative figures, among them Ansari and Kaling, Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris, Lee Daniels and Larry Wilmore, Nahnatchka Khan and John Ridley, Dee Rees and Mara Brock Akil, who don’t merely perform but run the show. Even newer is the increasing bluntness of many creators. When Viola Davis won an Emmy for Best Actress, for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” she gave a bold and unapologetic speech in which she quoted Harriet Tubman and declared, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You can’t win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

This is thrilling and long overdue. But it’s also a phenomenon that could easily recede, as it has many times before after periods of progress: in the early fifties, when television was brand-new; in the seventies, the era of “Roots” and Norman Lear; and again in the early nineties, post-Cosby, when black sitcoms thrived. One observer understood this ephemeral quality more than most: P. Jay Sidney, an African-American actor who built a four-decade career in television, all the while protesting network racism, in what Donald Bogle’s book “Primetime Blues” recounts as a “one-man crusade to get African-Americans fair representation in television programs and commercials.” Sidney is a footnote in history books, while other activists of his era are heroes. But he was there when the medium began, appearing on TV more than any other black dramatic actor of the time. Even as his résumé grew, Sidney picketed, he wrote letters, he advocated boycotts, he taped interactions with executives, lobbying tirelessly against TV’s de-facto segregation. In 1962, he testified before the House of Representatives. Nothing made much headway; he grew disgusted and disaffected. By the time Sidney died, in Brooklyn, in 1996, he had largely been forgotten, a proud loner who never got to see his vision become reality. “People today benefit from things that were sacrificed years ago,” his ex-wife Carol Foster Sidney, who is now eighty-seven, told me. “And they haven’t a clue.”

Sidney was born Sidney Parhm, Jr., in 1915 in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up in poverty, in an era of public lynchings and Jim Crow. His mother died when he was a child; his father moved the family to New York, then died when his son was fifteen. According to a 1955 profile, titled “Get P. Jay Sidney for the Part,” he was a “difficult” child who landed in foster care but excelled academically—he graduated from high school at fifteen, then went to City College for two years, dropping out to enter the theatre. A lifelong autodidact, he is described by those who knew him as a guarded, sardonic figure, eternally testing those around him against an intellectual ideal. But even during the Depression he got jobs: he was in Lena Horne’s first stage play, in 1934; in the forties, he appeared in “Carmen Jones” and “Othello.” In a photograph taken at a campaign event for Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sidney is a dapper bohemian with a clipped beard. He also built a radio career, producing a series called “Experimental Theatre of the Air,” which, in a radical move, cast voices without regard to racial categories. Sidney collected his press clippings in a binder, which is saved at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center.

As the country came out of the Depression, and the civil-rights movement began, progress for black actors may have seemed possible. When television emerged, in the forties, it was a low-status but experimental medium, suggesting tantalizing opportunities for innovators. Yet a newspaper article from the mid-fifties, headlined “TV’S NEW POLICY FOR NEGROES,” depicts Sidney as the “single exception” to the exclusion of black dramatic actors. In TV’s infancy, the article laments, “The video floodgates were expected to be thrown open to experienced Negro actors. It never happened.”

“We took it for granted that we would be the last hired if hired at all and the first fired,” Ossie Davis recalled, in “The Box,” Jeff Kisseloff’s oral history of television. “And that we would wind up doing the same stereotypical crap that we did on Broadway.” “Amos and Andy” was typical fare. In the late fifties, Davis participated in a TV boycott in Harlem, in which black viewers turned off their sets one Saturday night. But it was Sidney’s rabble-rousing that had a direct influence on Davis’s career: “He used to walk around with a sign, accusing the broadcast industry of discriminating against black folks. As a response to P. Jay’s accusations, CBS didn’t give him a job, but they gave me one.”

From 1951 on, Sidney made a living on TV, getting a few notable roles, including Cato, Hercules Mulligan’s slave and fellow-spy, in “The Plot to Kidnap General Washington,” in 1952. For two years, he appeared as one of two African-American soldiers on “The Phil Silvers Show”—a casting move protested by Southern stations. (The writers ignored them.) Over time, he amassed roles on more than a hundred and seventy shows, as well as a lucrative sideline in voice-over work and advertisements. (He played the onscreen role of Waxin Jackson for Ajax.) But the majority of his parts were walk-ons: doormen, porters, waiters. “I had a whole goddamned career of ‘Yassuh, can I git ya another drink, sir?,’ ” he told Kisseloff. “But I did what was available. I did not mix feelings with the fact that I needed money to live.”

With each setback, Sidney grew more frustrated, according to Foster Sidney, who married Sidney in 1954. Foster Sidney was the daughter of a dentist, educated at Howard University, a member of the Washington, D.C., African-American élite. She had persuaded her family to let her move to New York to be a French translator but dreamed of being an actress. Foster Sidney recalls, “He knew I had these aspirations, but he said, ‘One actor in the family.’ I, timid little thing, said, ‘Yes, dear.’ ” Their marriage was contentious, with Sidney resenting Foster Sidney’s “bourgeois” background; they separated, and had no children, but did not divorce until 1977. (In later years, Foster Sidney returned to acting, a period she calls “ten years in Heaven.”)

Nonetheless, Foster Sidney supported her husband’s activism, marching with him, as did a few other friends, including Sidney’s lawyer and close friend Bruce M. Wright—who later became a flamboyant activist judge, derided as Turn ’Em Loose Bruce for his opposition to racist bail policies. Even in freezing January, Sidney picketed CBS, the advertising agency BBDO, and other places, passing out flyers. He bought ads in the Times advocating a boycott against the sponsor Lever Brothers, which used black talent only in ads aimed at blacks. “It was his life,” Foster Sidney said. “There was nothing else he wanted.”

Sidney was particularly impatient with actors who hesitated to join his protests for fear of alienating their employers. “I didn’t give a shit about jobs for blacks,” he told Kisseloff. “I was concerned about the image of black people in television.” As early as 1954, he was writing to the Footlights and Sidelights column in the Amsterdam News, encouraging a write-in campaign, noting that “by not including Negroes in at least approximately the numbers and the roles in which they occur in American life, television and radio programs that purport to give a true picture of American life malign and misrepresent Negro citizens as a whole.”

In 1962, he testified before the House, arguing against “discrimination that is almost all-pervading, that is calculated and continuing.” He described two-faced producers, who used a nepotistic, friend-of-a-friend hiring approach, saying, “for most white people, Negroes are not actors, or doctors, or lawyers—not really—but are rather, all members of a secret lodge, domiciled in Harlem or some other Colored Town—all knowing each other and all experts on one another.” In 1967, Variety reported that Sidney had quit a job on “As the World Turns,” protesting the soap opera’s policy of not offering black actors contracts, as it did white actors. In 1968, he was quoted in the Times on whether the representation of black people in ads had improved. “It was like a man who’s been gravely ill with a temperature of 104 if it drops to 102 it’s better,” he said. “But, if the question is, ‘Has the progress been commensurate with the need?’ The answer is ‘No.’ ”

He also picketed David Susskind. A producer and talk-show host, Susskind was a famous liberal, but when he produced a show about American history that omitted blacks Sidney targeted his office. After Susskind died, Claude Lewis recounted Sidney’s confrontation with Susskind in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You’re killing me,” Susskind said. “I mean to,” Sidney replied. “You talk that good stuff on TV, but you don’t practice what you preach. We’re here to say you’re a phony. If you really want to be the decent guy you pretend to be, you’ll offer opportunities to talented Negro performers, just as you do to whites.” When Susskind told Sidney that he would “earn an ulcer,” Sidney replied, “Mr. Susskind, I don’t get ulcers. I give ulcers. I’m on this line, not to win parts for me, but for others who deserve them.” A few years later, he appeared in a Susskind production, the gritty and iconoclastic social-justice procedural “East Side/West Side,” along with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. The series was cancelled after one season.

Tom Scott, a younger actor and a model—he was one of the first African-Americans to be hired by Ford—picketed with Sidney. The two men talked nightly, strategizing; Scott was inspired by his friend’s savvy. When he couldn’t get press coverage, Scott recalls, Sidney had a female friend call the police and tell them, “There’s a nigger out there with a knife!” The cops showed up—and, with them, the media.

Yet, as the years passed, the door stayed locked. TV was still run by white people, emphasizing white stories. Sidney had bought a brick house in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he retreated. In 1988, the Amsterdam News lamented the minuscule presence of black TV producers and writers, adding that Sidney’s activism had had as much effect as “ice cubes at the South Pole.” Sidney made one last significant TV appearance, in the TV movie “A Gathering of Old Men.” But in some ways little had changed: in his final movie, “A Kiss Before Dying,” in 1991, he played a bellman.

Foster Sidney lost touch with her ex-husband after their divorce; so did Scott and Lewis. But someone must have known him—the person who saved a document, labelled “ephemera,” that showed up at the Schomburg Center. On the envelope is scrawled “P. Jay Sidney memoir.” Inside is a fifteen-page handwritten account of Sidney’s life, on lined yellow paper, ending with a description of his death, from prostate cancer. It’s unclear who the author is, but the narrative is a raw and intimate confession, seemingly notes for a book. It’s possible that this is the project Sidney mentioned in a 1946 playbill, in a bio that describes him writing a book whose title is underlined at the top of these pages, “Memoirs of an American Untouchable.”

Written in the third person, the document swings wildly in tone; it’s laceratingly self-critical at some points, grandiose at others. It recounts Sidney’s father’s warnings: never to trust white people or women, never to be dependent. It ruminates on the cruel tumult of Sidney’s romantic life, but also on his longing, never-fulfilled, for an intellectual soul mate. He rails against institutions: the Catholic Church, Hollywood, even the civil-rights movement, which he felt made black people complacent. To the end, the document says, Sidney was rankled by a world that thought small. He had picketed for “black actors to be portrayed as respected people,” but an award he won honored only “his fighting to get black actors work on TV—just work, any old part. (This was not his aim at all! No one understood. He became very discouraged.)”

By all accounts, Sidney grew irascible with age: Lewis describes him as having become so sensitive that he saw slights everywhere. But there was a moment when Sidney believed that TV might someday reflect African-Americans in their full humanity. In a speech Sidney gave at a National Freedom Day dinner, in Philadelphia in 1968, he laid out this vision, with wit and elegance. The “bad image” of blackness, he said, was “like the air we breathe, and that makes it harder to recognize.” While African-Americans were accepted as “entertainers” for whites, only on dramatic shows might they be seen as “real people with real problems and real feelings.” White-centered programs “imply, insinuate, suggest—and I will use this word in the special way that possibly only Negroes will understand—they signify” that African-Americans were not truly citizens. Black audiences absorbed this message, too, learning to discount their own power—their economic leverage, especially. Sidney’s speech urged viewers to demand their place onscreen. Read today, it feels like a map to a world always just beyond the horizon. 

Emily Nussbaum is the television critic for The New Yorker.














alondra 01



GUEST: Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. Her earlier book was Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. Her latest book is called The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

BACKGROUND: It’s been more than 10 years since the Human Genome Project was completed – a major feat for the species as a whole. The biological achievement has had many consequences for how we understand the human body and our inherited diseases. It has also opened up questions about delving into our ancestry. One community for whom personal genealogical information has been extremely important are African Americans. Using DNA technology, companies have been able to help African Americans trace their ancestry back to pre-slavery eras in the African continent. This exercise has multiple emotional and social impacts. 





MAY 9, 2016

MAY 9, 2016







Jack Boucher / Library of Congress

On Homecomings

Everyone wants some place to retreat,
to collapse, to be at home—but
you can’t always go home again.

By Ta-Nahisis Coates


In the summer of 2001, my family and I moved into the Prospect-Lefferts Garden neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. I was 25. My partner was 24. Our son was 11 months. Prospect-Lefferts Garden is a lovely neighborhood marked by quiet streets and some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. There are several blocks lined with perfectly preserved limestones and brownstones. There is a strong sense of community. Block parties are a tradition. And for those of us who fear the suburbs, Flatbush Avenue hums at the neighborhood’s border. When we moved into the neighborhood, it was predominantly black. A haircut was a two-minute walk away. Great jerk chicken was everywhere. My best friend from college lived on the same block. On Friday evenings you could find us out on his stoop with Jack and Coke in hand (which we drank back then), watching the world go by.

I didn’t make much money back then. I spent much of my creative energies, in that first year, freelancing for The Washington Monthly at 10 cents a word. If I earned $5,000 that year, I would be surprised. Whatever steadiness there was in the house came from my partner, who seemed to not share my uncanny talent for getting fired. In all things, she was a rock and if I have prospered since then, if I have become anything more as a writer and as a man, it is mostly to her credit. Back then, I was certain that it was time to get a real job. No, she would say. You need to write. The upshot of her support is neither vague nor symbolic. One of those articles I freelanced was an attempt to understand the killing of my friend, Prince Jones. Fourteen years later, that article blossomed into Between the World and Me.


My partner—now my wife—loved our old Brooklyn neighborhood. We eventually had to leave after a dispute with our landlord, but we dreamed of moving back. We’d return to visit friends, and gentrification would always be Topic A. Prospect-Lefferts Garden was still black. But most of the young couples moving in were not. We didn’t have the money to move in back then, but that didn’t stop us from fantasizing. We imagined ourselves as aiding in the preservation of a black presence. But there were more personal reasons, too. We wanted to be closer to our friends in the neighborhood. And I wanted, in some tangible way, to reward my partner’s investment in me. I think that had a lot more to do with my insecurities than with her stated desires. We all carry our stories.

Between the World And Me was originally conceived under a different, far worse, title. It was supposed to be a compilation of Civil War essays. It was not supposed to be a big book. Writers don’t prepare for people to read them, so much as they prepare for no one to read them. Anonymity, not celebrity, is the usual result of slogging through a book, no matter how great it is. When celebrity came to me—and I must now admit that it has—a world was thrust upon me, one that I had, in so many ways, spent my life angled against.

Everything—good and bad–about Between the World And Me shocked the hell out of meI was shocked that Toni Morrison agreed to blurb the book. I was shocked that Cornel West objected to this. I was shocked at how much my old homes—West Baltimore and Howard University—embraced the book. I was shocked to see bell hooks and Kevin Powell attacking it. I was shocked at how many white people read the book. I was shocked at how the fact of white people reading the book came to exert a kind of gravity. I was shocked that I lost some friends. I was shocked at how the book resonated with black and Arab people in France. One of the great moments of life was being in Paris, sitting in the 108 Café in the 19th, building with the people of the diaspora, and understanding that the old pan-African spirit had not yet died.

I was shocked at the royalties. But as soon as I saw them, I knew what I would do with them. I called my old buddy and asked him if anything was available in that neighborhood, in the Prospect Lefferts-Garden which we loved so much. I was thinking of finally being able to take all of our books out of storage. I was thinking of my mother, who would have a space of her own, and could come and stay for as long as she liked. I was thinking of my partner, who was by then my wife, and how much she had given me and made possible.My friend found a house on Lincoln Road. He dubbed it “The Dream.” He told me my wife would love it. She did. I did. There was, by then, a storm around the book, people asking for crazy things, and offering crazier things, still. We thought we’d found a port in that storm. Unlike Park Slope, Fort Green, or Williamsburg, Prospect-Lefferts Garden had always been low-key. In our early years in New York, we felt like we were in on a secret. 

But no one keeps secrets in Brooklyn. A few weeks after we bought, another friend sent an item from a local blog gossiping about our possible purchase. We didn’t expect to live anonymously. We thought there might be some interest and we took some steps to dissuade that interest. Those steps failed. Last week, the New York Post, and several other publications, reported on the purchase. They ran pictures of the house. They named my wife. They photoshopped me in the kitchen. They talked to the seller’s broker. The seller’s broker told them when we’d be moving in. The seller’s broker speculated on our plans for renovation. They rummaged through my kid’s Instagram account. They published my home address.

Some of my acquaintances went on Facebook and shared these articles. Other people called up my actual friends and joked about the purchase. Very little of this conversation was negative. Much of it was of the congratulatory “Nigga, we made it” variety. But all of it was premised on a kind of obliviousness, an inability to imagine how horrifying it would be to see all the details of your new life out there for the world to see. It is true what they say about celebrity—people suddenly don’t quite see you. You walk into a room and you are not a person, so much as symbol of whatever someone needs you to be.

But the world is real. And you can’t really be a black writer in
this country, take certain positions, and not think about your
personal safety. That’s just the history. And you can’t really be
a human being and not want some place to retreat into yourself,
some place to collapse, some place to be at peace. That’s just
neurology. One shouldn’t get in the habit of crying about having
a best-selling book. But you can’t really sell enough books to
become superhuman, to salve that longing for home.

I want you to know that I have been struggling, these past few months, to write about politics. I feel people, all around me, uninterested in questions and enthralled with prophecy. The best part of writing is the constant searching, the twisting, the turning, the back-and-forth, the things you think you understand, the things you understand more than you know. Prophecy has no real use for writing as discovery. And when people want prophets, they will make you into one, no matter your strenuous objections. If the world wants a “Writer Moves to Brooklyn Brownstone” story, it’s going to have one, no matter your thoughts. You are their symbol. This is all a very poor excuse for not writing. I find myself stuck in the past, pining for another time, blinded by nostalgia, longing for my old horde, longing for my old home.

Within a day of seeing these articles, my wife and I knew that we could never live in Prospect-Lefferts Garden, that we could never go back home. If anything happened to either of us, if anything happened to our son, we’d never forgive ourselves. Even the more likely, more benign, examples were disconcerting—fans showing up at your door (this happened once) or waiting for you on your stoop. Our old neighborhood was not as quiet as we thought. Nothing is quiet anymore—least of all us.

TA-NEHISI COATES is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me.










Natasha Mmonatau

Natasha Mmonatau




promised lands and

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”- Audre Lorde

Featuring: Alfalfa Brown, Queens D. Light, Ericka Huggins, narrated by Natasha Mmonatau

Producer(s): Natasha Mmonatau and the Braden Storytelling Department (










Tuna Cakes with

Jalapenos and Cilantro

40 mins to make, serves 10
These simple healthy tuna cakes are delicious, budget friendly, and they feed an army! Low carb, low calorie, & clean eating. #cannedtuna
Get more Pins from Taste And See

These Tuna Cakes with Jalapeño and Cilantro are easy, affordable, super-flavorful, and quick! Serve on an arugula or kale salad.



  • 5 cans (5 ounces each) solid white tuna in water


  • 1 bunch Cilantro, fresh
  • 1 Lemons juiced, whole
  • 1 Onion, large


  • 2 Eggs, large


  • 4 tbsp Canola mayonnaise

Baking & Spices

  • 1/2 tsp Pepper
  • 1 tsp Salt

Oils & Vinegars

  • 3 tbsp Olive oil, light

Nuts & Seeds

  • 3 Jalapeno chile peppers (ribs and seeds removed unless you like it a little, spicy


  • One-third cup, plus 2 tablespoons, plain dry breadcrumbs (or almond meal for a gluten free option)













Submissions open 1 June 2016
Submissions close 31 July 2016

First prize: R10 000
Second prize: R2 000
Third prize: R1 000

PLUS – Three promising emerging writers will win a 20 Week Online Writing Course from All About Writing

From our ancestors’ first forays through the continent, to the contemporary diaspora spread around the world, people are eternally moving in, out and about the African continent. Not everyone leaves out of their own volition, and not everyone comes with the best intentions: nevertheless, the story of Africa is the story of souls migrating, settling, unsettling, fleeing, seeking, resting, nesting and sharing stories, experiences and myths.

From herds of migrating animals to treks both physical and spiritual, from the comfort of ancient myth to the desperation of those currently fleeing their homes, Short Story Day Africa is looking for a crop of short fiction that will bring a fresh, urgent perspective to one of our most profound phenomena, and the basis of all our greatest stories.

2016 JUDGES: Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe), Sindiwe Magona (South Africa), and Hawa Jade Golakai (Liberia).








Welcome to the

Afrofuturistic Anthology!

We’re glad that you’re here and hope that you have some amazing stories to tell.

Now before you ask questions, because I know you’ll have them – I’m going to line ’em up for you.

Submission Process:

  • Submissions open June 15th and close on July 15th at 11:59PM EST
  • Submissions are open to Africans and African-Americans ONLY.
  • You must be 18 years old to submit to this anthology.
  • Send an email to blackcomicsmonth *at* gmail *dot* com with the subject line “Afrofuturistic Submission”.
  • Your pitch should include a synopsis of your comic, character descriptions, along with concept art.
  • TRY and limit your pitch to ONE PAGE (not including concept art).
  • It should also include a page estimate of the story. (2-10 pages max).
  • Include a bio, pronouns, social media handles, website links, sequential portfolios, as well as a list of publishing credits – self-publishing and webcomics count!
  • If you don’t have publishing credits, don’t be discouraged – please submit.
  • Acceptance and rejection letters will go out on or before August 15th, 2016.
  • If the above rules are NOT followed, then your submission will NOT count.

What’s the theme of this anthology?
Afrofuturism, of course! Ever notice how black people don’t last long or if at all in TV shows, movies or books set in the future? Uh-huh, you know you do. Well, here’s your chance to tell YOUR story!

Need examples?

  • Surviving a zombie apocalypse (y’all know that’s really going to happen, right?)
  • How about you being the Terminator instead of Ahnold?
  • Steampunk
  • Solarpunk
  • Magical futures

Whatever futuristic story you have rattling around in the wonderful brain of yours – get it out! And don’t forget LGBTQIA and disabled people exist in the future as well.

Reiterating this AGAIN!

  • You MUST be 18 and older.
  • The writer AND the artist must be African or African-American
  • Story MUST be PG-13. No nudity here folks!

Compensation: $50 per team/per page, pending Kickstarter success. If the Kickstarter does not succeed, feel free to self-publish your submissions, since I will have no rights to publish your work. If the Kickstarter succeeds, you will also receive 10 complementary copies of the anthology for each team, plus the right to purchase more copies at a 50% discounted rate. Should the Kickstarter go extremely well, the funds will be used to raise the creative teams’ pay.

We will be printing in black and white (grayscale and tones are okay), at 6.625″ × 10.25″ (standard graphic novel size). Remember stories need to between 2 and 10 pages long.

Your Rights

Understand that submitting your stories to the #BlackComicsMonth anthology means that if you are accepted, you are ceding exclusive first worldwide rights to your story for a full calendar year from the date of publication, and non-exclusive worldwide reprint rights in perpetuity. What that means is that you can not reprint your story, even digitally, for one full year. We have the rights to sell your story that is within the anthology…indefinitely. Once the Kickstarter books have been published, you can not sell or reprint your story until that year is up. Once said full calendar year is up, you can print your mini and sell it.

If you agree to everything, we look forward to reading your futuristic stories!!!! And please…HAVE FUN!

Why only Africans and African-Americans?

This Kickstarter will be launched during the 3rd anniversary of #BlackComicsMonth in February, which coincides with Black History Month. #BlackComicsMonth was created to spotlight BLACK comic book creators, and the same thing will happen with this anthology…besides, we matter! We look forward to your submissions!

We’ve been receiving some questions asking if Afro-Latinxs or British and French Africans can apply.

This anthology is open to African Diaspora – if you are an African that lives in another country, apply. IF you LIVE as someone being of African descent – you may apply.  What we don’t want is someone who pulls their, I’m “black card”, “I have a black great, great, great, grandmother”, whenever it suits them.

Can I submit a story that was already published?

Sorry, but no. If you have submitted a pitch elsewhere and it lead to the Phantom Zone, then you may submit. If your story has been published already, wouldn’t you want to submit something brand new anyways to show off your talent?

I have a question that’s not listed above, what do I do?

Suffer in silence of course. No. Send questions to blackcomicsmonth *at* gmail *dot* com with the subject line “Anthology Question”.

Now, take this flyer below and spread the word! The #BlackComicsMonth: Afrofuturistic Anthology will be accepting submissions soon!