Supreme Being

As  I watched the video of Justice Clarence Thomas swearing in Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the 115th Justice of the United States Supreme Court, I wondered if Justice Thomas was thinking about the several similarities between himself and his new colleague. Like Justice Coney Barrett, Justice Thomas replaced a liberal judicial icon who used the law to dismantle enduring inequities in our society and its institutions. Both Justices were nominated by conservative Republican Presidents who had succeeded enormously popular predecessors (though I concede that the similarities between the George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump Administrations begin and end there).  Both Justices survived deeply contentious confirmation battles and made it onto the Court by the same slim majority in the Senate, 52-48.  And both Justices became symbols for the issues roiling the political waters of their respective moments in history.  The confirmation hearing for Justice Thomas put the issue of sexual harassment on the national stage and, one might argue, planted the seeds of the Me Too Movement.  In the case of Justice Coney Barrett, the fates of abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now hang in the proverbial balance of her judicial tenure.

Much has been made of the perceived hypocrisy of Senate Republicans as they pursued their successful strategy to confirm Justice Coney Barrett mere weeks before the 2020 Presidential Election.  After all, this same Republican majority refused even to consider Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, several months before the 2016 Presidential Election.  Whatever one may think of the behavior of either the Republicans or the Democrats during these two episodes, at the end of the day, the cold, hard political truth is that the U.S. Constitution is interpreted by the Party with the most votes.

The intensity of current partisan maneuvering over the composition and direction of the Supreme Court obscures the fact that the Founders believed that the Judicial Branch would be the weakest and least threatening of the three Branches of the Federal Government created by the Constitution.  As the Founders understood the world, the two greatest powers that a government could possess were the power to levy taxes and the power to declare war, which were apportioned to the Legislative and Executive Branches, respectively.  The Judicial Branch was imbued with the authority to interpret and preserve the law, an awesome responsibility, to be sure, but not one that would infringe upon the daily existence of the citizens of the young Republic.  The Justices of the Supreme Court, argued Alexander Hamiltion in Federalist 78, were to be the “faithful guardians of the Constitution” against the unbridled passion and corruption that threatened every system of government since the beginning of civilization.  And the only armor that the Justices would have in this eternal struggle against absolute power would be the lifetime appointment to the bench; or in the language of the Constitution, Justices would “hold their offices during good behaviour.”

I have not read Justice Coney Barrett’s earlier decisions or followed the arc of her career, and therefore cannot comment on the quality or depth of her intellect.  I do not know her personally, and therefore will not speculate on what is in her heart or moves her soul.  Like my fellow Americans, I am left with the fervent hope that our newest Justice remains true to the words she spoke last night after being sworn in by Justice Thomas:

“A judge declares independence, not only from Congress and the President, but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her. The Judicial Oath captures the essence of the judicial duty. The rule of law must always control.

“My fellow Americans, even though we judges don’t face elections, we still work for you. It is your Constitution that establishes the rule of law and the judicial independence that is so central to it. The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences. I love the Constitution and the Democratic Republic that it establishes, and I will devote myself to preserving it.”

Remember, Justice Coney Barrett, Alexander Hamilton is still watching.

Joe Biden’s Interracial Kiss

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 Presidential Election, made history on Tuesday by picking Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his running mate.  Senator Harris is the first woman of color to hold a spot on a national party ticket; and the Biden Campaign is sending a clear signal that it intends to unite the traditional and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, while simultaneously swinging a symbolic sledgehammer at entrenched institutional racism and sexism.

The Biden-Harris team will throw a much-needed bolt of electricity into a presidential campaign that, like everything else in our current reality, has been severed from its customary moorings and launched into the uncharted  Bay of WTF.  With any luck, an overwhelmed and pandemic-fatigued American public will start to pay attention to the candidates and the issues and – GASP – actually vote in November.

As I reflect upon the Biden-Harris pairing, I am forced to wonder if the former Vice President and his team are cognizant of the enormous debt they owe to the real progressive force in modern American society: Star Trek.  I know what you are thinking: the man behind the Negro curtain has finally flipped his greying afro!  While there may be reasons aplenty to believe this, the above statement is not among them.  In the words of the Declaration of Independence, “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

Among the several achievements of the original Star Trek series (1966-1969), is the distinction of featuring the first interracial kiss on network television.  The episode, Plato’s Stepchildren (Season 3, Episode 10), aired on 22 November 1968.  That year saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, widespread unrest in major American cities, and sustained protest against both racial inequality and the war in Vietnam.  Indeed, it seemed to many at the time that the American Experiment begun in the latter decades of the eighteenth century was about to collapse in flames and frenzy.  And to this roiling cauldron the creative forces behind Star Trek added one final ingredient: a kiss between native Iowan Captain James T. Kirk, the veritable symbol of White male power, and his chief Communications Officer, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, a Black woman from the “United States of Africa.”

The Kirk-Uhura embrace has been poked, prodded, and dissected by fans and scholars for more than fifty years.  Thus, there is no need for me to do more here than to mention a few major points.  We know that Star Trek’s producers were at least somewhat worried that the episode might cause the loss of viewership in Southern states or even force the cancellation of the series.  We also know that the kiss was not a “voluntary” act because alien beings with psychokinetic powers forced Kirk and Uhura to act against their will.  And finally, the incident could be “dismissed” because it occurred three centuries in the future, far removed from the racial strife that characterized America in the late 1960s.  Contrary to the dire predictions of some, the roughly ninety-second scene did not tip America into the abyss.  It did, however, plant a seed that would slowly take root in the soil of the American psyche: a diverse society that relied upon talent, equal opportunity, and character would eventually overcome one built upon a racial caste system.

Frankly, the thing that to this day bothers me the most about “Plato’s Stepchildren” is not the kiss itself, but the fact that Uhura is portrayed as being afraid of what was happening to her – and that her fear could only be dispelled by her focussing on the strength embodied by a White man, Captain Kirk.  As someone who was raised by two strong, capable, and determined Black women, my mother and grandmother, the idea of a Black woman fearing the circumstances confronting her and having to rely upon a White man for reassurance is even more alien to me than Captain Kirk’s Vulcan First Officer, Mr. Spock.  It pains me to admit this, but even Star Trek can sometimes fall short of our expectations.

Now Senator Harris, like Lieutenant Uhura five decades ago (or three hundred years from now – take your pick), also finds herself in an uncomfortable embrace with a powerful White man.  But unlike Uhura, Harris shows no sign whatsoever of being afraid of what lies ahead.  Indeed, her passion, unique experience, and gravitas are exactly what Biden and the Democrats need to guide Starship America to fulfill its destiny and “boldly go where no [one] has gone before.”

Lieutenant Uhura would be proud. 

The Final Frontier

In three weeks, assuming that the Grim Reaper has no plans to kindly stop for me, I will celebrate my 54th birthday.  My feelings about this can best be described by comparing them to the colorful gumballs in the bubblegum machine that greeted me every other Saturday in Mr. Council’s Barbershop on W. 4th Avenue in Red Springs, North Carolina, my hometown.  I would drop my nickel into the slot – yes, I am old enough to remember when bubblegum cost a nickel – twist the dial, and wait in anticipation of the shiny bubblegum marble that was rolling my way.  I rooted for the blue gumballs; but I really did not mind any of the other colors.  Turning 54 is like getting a red gumball; not my favorite, but an interesting change.

What really shook me, however, was that deep inside my sci-fi geek brain, I recalled reading somewhere that Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation or STNG) had assumed command of the U.S.S. Enterprise – D at or near the age of 54.  When STNG premiered back in 1987, I remember thinking that Captain Picard seemed to be a little old for the Captain’s chair. 

Now before you roll your eyes and start drafting well-intentioned comments reminding me that Jean-Luc Picard is a fictional character; let me assure you that I have not completely gone around the asteroid belt.  I still have a reasonably firm grasp on reality.  At least on Tuesdays.  That said, one of the things I love about the Star Trek franchise is the fascinating way in which it confronts complex and oftentimes uncomfortable issues.  And on this particular Tuesday that issue, for me, is aging.

Fans of the Star Trek movies featuring the original cast will remember chuckling at the toll time had taken on our heroes, led by the inimitable James Tiberius Kirk.  They were older, rounder, and grayer.  And although Admiral/Captain Kirk’s miraculously lush hair somehow defied both the years and the laws of physics, even he now had to read using old-fashioned spectacles.  It is also true that Kirk did snap at Dr. McCoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor.”  Perhaps.  But in reality, Kirk and his crew were not yet ready to hang up their phasers and check into the Zefram Cochrane Home for Retired Starfleet Officers.  Their long good-bye stretched over four more films – five if you include Kirk’s poignant “shuffling off [his] mortal coil” in Star Trek: Generations (1994).

Kirk’s worthy successor, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is the steady hand at the helm of the Enterprise for seven seasons, more than twice the run of the Original Series (STOS).  When we last see Picard (“All Good Things…” STNG S7:E25), he is sitting down to play poker with his senior officers after having survived an adventure in which the fate of humanity itself had hung in the balance.  Accepting Lt. Commander Data’s offer to deal the cards, Captain Picard looks upon his crew with a mixture of fatherly affection and admiration, and chooses the game: “five-card stud, nothing wild, and the sky’s the limit.”  The final scene then rises from the card table to a sweeping shot of the Enterprise continuing its journey to where “no one has gone before.”  

Picard’s adventures on the big screen are, in a word, traumatic – bookended by the demise of the legendary Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations (1994) and the android Data’s very human sacrifice in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).  When next we see Picard (Star Trek: Picard, streaming on CBS All Access), twenty years have passed since the events in Nemesis.  Now a retired Starfleet Admiral, it is very clear that  Picard is not immune to the passage of time.  He is still haunted by Data’s death and a subsequent series of events in which he (Picard) had played a part.  And it is from this place of devastating grief and stinging regret that Picard, physically much more frail but still the determined man of principle that we first met in “Encounter at Farpoint” (STNG S1:E1), begins his greatest journey.  Out of respect for my fellow Trekkers, I will not say anything more about the intricate plot of Star Trek: Picard.  Take my advice.  Watch it.  Right now.

The creators of this spinoff series and the stewards of the Star Trek franchise are to be applauded for showing us that one of its most beloved characters does not exactly live happily ever after.  Far from it.  Picard, like the rest of us, must grapple with the inconvenient truth that our decisions and actions – even the ones made with the very best of intentions – can have consequences that we cannot always predict or avoid.  If we are lucky, time and circumstance may provide an opportunity to make amends.  But for most of us, the words of the Bard will ring the truest: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” (Julius Caesar)

Thus, I am forced to wonder if the familiar Vulcan greeting “Live Long and Prosper” is actually a bit of wisdom from the distant past when Vulcans expressed emotion and had not yet embraced the discipline of logic.   Perhaps Mr. Spock’s ancestors understood that the prosperity afforded by a long life was an understanding of self and the capacity to forgive oneself and others.

Or maybe I am reading too much into a television show.

The Gospel According to John

The passing of U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis last Friday turns the page on an important, painful and, ultimately, redemptive chapter of American history.  As the numerous and well-deserved tributes to Lewis have said, he literally “walked the walk” for racial justice his entire adult life, and most famously across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965.

I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Lewis; but I was fortunate enough to have heard him speak at Morgan State University in 2011.  Along with several hundred other faculty, staff, and students, I crammed into the auditorium for a glimpse of the living legend.  I admit that I do not recall exactly what John Lewis said that day; but I have never forgotten how his voice rumbled with passion and purpose.  Somehow John Lewis had transported us back to the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights struggle.  But as was his way, he did not allow us to remain frozen in the black and white images of history.  He reminded us that injustice and inequality are tireless foes, and it was our responsibility to confront them with the same fierce and urgent determination that he and his fellow revolutionaries had shown all those decades ago.

In an earlier blogpost I wrote about my devotion to the Fourth of July and my deep love of the Declaration of Independence (“You, Me, and Freddie D”).  Those words are sacred to me; but they meant even more to John Lewis.  First as an activist and later as a servant-leader in Congress, he held America accountable to the bold principles espoused in its Founding Document.  That, my friends, is genuine love of country.  John Lewis saw our shining potential as a nation; but he also understood that only the intense heat of sustained protest against discrimination would unleash that potential.

It is often said in the African American community that “we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”  If this is true, then surely John Lewis absolutely exceeded anything that the Founders would have dared imagine even in their darkest nightmares.  

To the end of his life, John Lewis continued to invite all Americans to stand up and commit ourselves to the fundamental promise embedded in the Declaration: “…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”  

We have our marching orders; and there are still bridges to cross.  See you on the other side, Mr. Lewis.             

To err is human, to fiddle divine.

Last week I was quite saddened to learn of the death of country music and southern rock legend Charlie Daniels, who is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

I am not in the least embarrassed to admit that this was one of my favorite songs during my early teen years.  “Devil” was one of the many country music hits from that era that also took the pop/rock charts by storm.  And why not?  Daniels and his band had created a real toe-tapping, knee-slapper of a song.  The lyrics seared themselves (pardon the pun) into the memory; and the tune was as catchy as they come.  You know the story: Satan, the Prince of Lies Himself, was experiencing a labor shortage severe enough to compel him to materialize in the Georgia hill country in hopes of ensnaring the soul of a young fiddle player named Johnny.  To me, a kid who had grown up in the Bible Belt and who had been steeped since birth in Black evangelical Christianity and an equally strong belief in miscellaneous “haints” that still walked the Earth, the song’s premise was not that far-fetched.  (Okay, I admit that I did not really believe in the Devil – or God – but the narrative definitely struck a cultural chord.)

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a classic David and (evil) Goliath story.  Johnny is just a good ol’ boy whose only goal in life seems to be playing his fiddle (“and playin’ it hot”).  Clearly the Devil, who from time immemorial has been honing his musical skills and moreover, possesses a magical “golden fiddle,” will win the proposed fiddling competition and the ultimate prize: Johnny’s immortal soul.  But Johnny’s unshakable faith, not in Almighty God, but his own musical talent and his ability to spin a rousing tale from the seemingly mundane fragments of his backcountry existence – propel him to a truly soulful victory.  

Was Charlie Daniels treating us to a clever allegory of the Common Man versus the Establishment?  Was he harkening back to the ecclesiatical argument that culminated in the Protestant Reformation: faith versus works?

Perhaps you are thinking that I am giving the late Mr. Daniels far too much credit as an intellectual.  If so, you are as wildly mistaken as Satan was about Johnny.  Charlie Daniels was, in fact, a well-read and thoughtful man with an entertainer’s gift for making complex ideas understandable to an audience.  One of the finest examples of this occurred in 1996, when the University of North Carolina – Wilmington (UNCW) tapped Charlie Daniels, who was born in Wilmington, to be its Commencement Speaker.  The choice of Daniels, who was also to receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters, caused an uproar on campus.  Critics argued that Daniels was not “scholarly enough” to deliver the most important address of the academic year.  Rather than shrinking in the face of controversy, Daniels embraced the challenge and went on to deliver one of the most memorable addresses in UNCW’s history.  (Here is the link to his speech:  In other words, like Johnny the fictional fantastic fiddler, Daniels, armed with sheer talent and force of will, had also defeated the formidable forces of the Establishment.  After that, my respect for Daniels as an unflappable Everyman of Letters never diminished.

If there is, in fact, a heaven, I have no doubt that Charlie Daniels is there playing the golden fiddle he earned during his time on Earth.  He beat the Devil once and for all.  But I hear that he will have some real competition from Saints Peter and Paul, who apparently do a helluva good cover of “Dueling Banjos.”

Rest in Peace, Mr. Daniels.  You were, undeniably, “the best there’s ever been.”

Harts and Mine

On one recent night, I was up far too late.  I dearly wish that I could say that I was contemplating the state of our country in the Age of Trump and COVID-19. But the truth is that I was hungry and angry at myself for having hoovered all of the Fig Newtons in my secret stash (a.k.a. my nightstand).

Rather than heading for the kitchen, I decided instead to turn on the TV and see what gems FiOs had to offer at 3:00 AM.  After clicking through what seemed like a thousand channels, I landed finally on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, one of the networks belonging to the greeting card company’s media empire.  The mystery buffs and armchair detectives among you are undoubtedly familiar with the daily fare served on HM&M: classic TV mystery series and original mystery movies starring Hallmark’s own stable of contract players.  And according to the trusty channel guide, from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM, HM&M aired one of the most beloved TV shows of all time: Hart to Hart

The creation of novelist and television writer Sidney Sheldon, Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were a charismatic, glamorous, and filthy rich White couple who traveled the world solving crimes, sometimes in the company of their faithful major-domo Max, who was also White.  The Harts did not set out to be crime-fighters, but somehow every week they found themselves in unlikely situations that pitted them against a motley assortment of scoundrels.  (The villain in one episode was – I am not kidding – a reanimated Egyptian mummy that believed Jennifer to be his reincarnated bride.  Look it up: “Murder Wrap,” Season 2, Episode 6.)   But thanks to the genius of Hollywood writers, the Harts would save the world – or at least their gated part of it – in a single hour (including fifteen minutes of commercials).

Hart to Hart was wildly popular escapist mind-candy, running on ABC from 1979-1984, and spinning off a series of reunion movies in the 1990s.  I admit to tuning in every week to follow the exploits of America’s favorite rich people.  It was impossible not to fall in love with the Harts.  They were perfect: clearly devoted and obviously sexually attracted to each other.  The Harts were charitable with their money; and they were nice.  Before marrying Jonathan, Jennifer, the daughter of a wealthy Maryland family, was an investigative journalist.  (Regrettably, in the show’s lead-in Jennifer’s pre-marital accomplishments were totally ignored, and she is described merely as being “gorgeous.”)  And Jonathan, of course, was a “self-made millionaire,” the very epitome of the American Dream.  He ran his global conglomerate, Hart Industries, like a giant, loving family, often inviting his employees to social events at the Hart mansion.

But on this particular occasion, my mind – in full-blown Fig Newton withdrawal – focused upon Jonathan’s company.  Specifically, I wondered how he was able to run a massive corporate enterprise while solving mysteries at the same time.  Did his Board of Directors know what he was doing?  Surely they would have been deeply concerned by his risky escapades in the cause of truth and justice.  Imagine the economic chaos that would have resulted if one of the Harts’ adversaries had fired a lucky shot and fatally dispatched the head of a Fortune 500 company.  But then I remembered the one thing that was as true in the fictional Hart universe as it is in ours: Jonathan Hart was a rich White guy; and everything would work out just fine for him.  It always had, and always would.

And then my musings took a particularly perverse turn.  What would have happened, I wondered, if Jonathan and Jennifer were a rich Black couple?  

Quite frankly, that show would never have been made.  In the 1970s the closest that Black America would come to the Harts were The Jeffersons, which aired on CBS from 1975-1985.  

George and Louise Jefferson were an upwardly-mobile Black couple who had survived being Archie Bunker’s nextdoor neighbors in Queens.  George owned a chain of dry cleaners; and his success had at last afforded him the ability to move his family into a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan.  Louise was a homemaker and community activist.  (She, like Jennifer Hart, also suffered a diminution in her individuality.)  Like Jonathan Hart, George Jefferson was a self-made man; but there the similarity between them ended.  Whereas Jonathan was urbane and confident; George was bombastic and frequently clownish.  Jonathan always seemed to have at his fingertips all of the capital he would ever need.  By contrast, George was endlessly pursuing the elusive White businessman H.L. Whittendale, who apparently could open the doors to the capital and connections that George needed to expand his business.  And perhaps most strikingly, George actually ran his business.  He had neither the time nor inclination to jet around the world and play amateur detective.  In fact, the Jeffersons rarely ventured far beyond the living room of their swanky apartment.

Indeed, given the oppressive weight of America’s history with race, the likelihood that George Jefferson would have been accused of a crime would have far outweighed the possibility of his solving one.  Sadly, Black people, even relatively well-off ones like George and Louise Jefferson, implicitly understand that their wealth provides only a thin tissue of defense against the metastasized racism that continues to rob people of color of their lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  Every.  Single.  Day. Was Norman Lear, the creator of The Jeffersons, trying to tell us something by naming his scrappy protagonist after two of America’s slaveholding Founding Fathers?

Suddenly Jonathan and Jennifer seemed far removed from me.  Even if they were real, our paths would never cross.  We would never exchange pleasantries or stock tips over cocktails by their pool.  The words of F. Scott Fitzgerald seeped into my consciousness:

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

I guess it would have been hard for even Sidney Sheldon to pitch that premise to the television executives at ABC.

I sighed and changed the channel, in hopes of finding an episode of Doctor Who on BBC America.  (In case you missed it, the current Doctor is a woman.  God save the Queen.)

You, Me, and Freddie D

I love the Fourth of July. It is the only holiday I really enjoy celebrating. Not because of the hotdogs, apple pie, or even the fireworks. (Yes, I love these things, too.) I love the Fourth because it is a celebration of the power and promise of words.

Yes, I am well aware the Declaration of Independence and the men who wrote it were deeply, tragically flawed on issues of race, gender, and class. But to me the beauty and meaning of the words they conjured from the ether of Revolution transcend our human failings, then and now. The Declaration is an eternal challenge for us to be better than we would otherwise be. Liberty demands accountability.

Agitators from 1776 forward have understood this. And one of the most eloquent critics of America’s incomplete and inadequate Revolution was none other than Frederick Douglass. (I trust that I do not need to recount his impressively improbable biography here. Far better minds than mine have done this already; and at least one has earned a Pulitzer for his efforts.) His July 5, 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” blasted a truth crater in the cherished myth of America’s origin story.

It should not surprise us that Douglass is still relevant today. After all, America remains in a perpetual state of becoming. And that sense of possibility keeps me coming back, keeps me in suspense. But Lord knows, keeping the faith has never been this hard. But we must. For ourselves. For our children. And for generations of children yet unborn.

Fittingly, Douglass said it best:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Happy Fourth of July. Let Freedom ring.

Créme de la Kreme

Among the hundreds (thousands?) of commercial catchphrases that have taken up residence on the Madison Avenue inside my head is Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Time to make the doughnuts.”  Even all these years after that ad last aired on television, I can vividly recall the weariness with which the stalwart Dunkin’ employee delivered the line as he rose from his warm bed during the wee hours of the morning to make us the freshest, tastiest doughnuts that money could buy.  But surely he must have known – or should have – that his hard work was in vain.

In the world of doughnuts, as in all things in life, there is a hierarchy.  And at the top of the proverbial heap is the Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Hot.  If you have ever had one, you know exactly what I mean.  If you have not, curse the gods for your misfortune.

To me, Krispy Kreme is far more than a favorite treat, it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Both Krispy Kreme and I were born and bred in North Carolina.  I am from a small town near the South Carolina border; and the Krispy Kreme headquarters is in Winston-Salem.  I ate my first Krispy Kreme on my great-grandfather’s knee; he always kept a box of them in his freezer for me and my siblings.

My childhood crush on Krispy Kreme had blossomed into a full-blown love affair by the mid-1990s, when I was finishing my doctoral dissertation.  At that time I was a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill and living on a diet that consisted mostly of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and orange seltzer water. My tiny apartment was across the street from a shopping center with a grocery store that received Kreme Kreme deIiveries every morning at 6:00 AM.  And, yes, during the struggle with my final dissertation chapter, I did occasionally fantasize about leaving academe and buying my own Krispy Kreme franchise. 

Krispy Kreme followed me into my UNC classroom, where its glazed perfection proved to be a powerful antidote to the formidable antipathy of undergraduates forced by the cruelty of the General Education Curriculum to endure the U.S. History survey.  For special occasions – project presentations and final exams – I drove seventy miles round-trip to the Krispy Kreme store in Raleigh and purchased several dozen fresh, hot doughnuts for my students.  I cannot say that Krispy Kreme made the presentations better or the exam scores higher, but perhaps its fluffy goodness improved my review on Rate My Professors.

 I left Chapel Hill for a teaching position in New Orleans; and it was there I learned that even Krispy Kreme was not invulnerable.  Much to my delight and surprise, a Krispy Kreme store opened in the heart of the French Quarter – a bold move in a city that was home to the world-famous Café du Monde.  Ultimately, the glazed interloper could not usurp the hallowed beignet in the hearts of the people; but before the store faded away like the last note of a jazz funeral, I managed to buy a set of red and green Krispy Kreme Mardi Gras beads, which featured a miniature glowing Krispy Kreme Hot Doughnuts sign.  I still have these beads.  The sign stopped blinking years ago; but the thought of getting rid of them is as foreign to me as pączki.

Krispy Kreme came to my rescue in the Spring of 2013, the year my mother died.  By this time I was living in Baltimore; and my mother was still in North Carolina.  A lifelong smoker, my mother was now suffering from cancer; and the disease had progressed to the point that the only thing that the doctors could do was administer medication for pain.  When I got the call that the end was near, I jumped in my car for the long drive to the hospice center in Lumberton, North Carolina, the town where I was born – and where my mother was going to die.  As I drove my emotions careened from grief to anger to regret.  I was not ready for my mother to go, and certainly not like this.  Though I was determined to stop only for gas, I spotted the familiar “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign from the highway and pulled over for a cup of coffee and a couple of hot doughnuts.  The coffee was, as it always is, terrible.  (Think about it.  No one – NO ONE – ever waxes rhapsodic about Krispy Kreme coffee.)  But the doughnuts reminded me of happier days with my mother, when my only concern was whether I could convince her that a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts were a balanced meal.  Thus fortified by sugar and memory, I was able to continue my journey home, so that I could be there when my mother ended hers.

You are probably expecting me to argue for some profound connection between the circular nature of life and that of the Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Tempting, but no.  Indeed, I am much more prone to identify with the hole than anything else.  That said, Krispy Kreme does remind me that sometimes the world can be warm and sweet.  All we have to do is look for the flashing neon sign and pull over.

The Return of the Negro

I step away from the keyboard for a few years, and look at the f***ing mess we are in now. The only thing lacking in this horror movie no one wanted to see is an asteroid the size of Rhode Island heading for the Earth.

Well, I am back now. And I am ready to get angry. And laugh. And think. And above all, ACT. We have to be our own Avengers. (I know that Stan Lee would understand and approve.)

The arc of history will not bend itself.

But first, a little inspiration from Mickey Guyton: “Black Like Me.”

The Party Line

****This post was originally published in my Morgan State University blog, Mind Over Morgan.****

WARNING:  This post contains images that some individuals may consider to be offensive.

The beginning of the academic year is a time of tremendous hope – a natural response to a campus suddenly filled with new students and the promise of marvelous things to come both in and out of class.  But like many things in life, this rosy image is quickly tarnished by reality and our own human frailties.

College is and should be a time for experimentation and pushing familiar boundaries.  For it is here that many students try on adulthood for the first time.  New friends, new experiences, and new temptations are absolutely par for the course.  And the veritable ground zero for this rite of passage is the campus party (or the off-campus bash which, of course, is even freer of the restrictions imposed by university or parental authority).

The images above are from a postcard that I found last week on the Welcome Bridge.  The postcard promoted a party that was to occur last Friday night.  To say that these images are suggestive is a laughable understatement.  The clear implication – at least to young heterosexual males – is that attending this party might result in an encounter with a partner quite willing to indulge in some very adult behavior.

I am and have been called many things, but “prude” has never been among the terms used to describe me.  Yet especially in the evolving aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal and the Federal investigation of sexual violence on college campuses, this portrayal of women is at least wildly inappropriate and tasteless, and at worst, an endorsement of the objectification and abuse of women.

I do not know if the organizers of “Caribbean Candy Crush” were cognizant of how their advertisement fit into the maelstrom of recent events.  My guess is that they only wanted to tease us into parting with our money and consuming cheap alcohol.  What could be the harm in that?  Yeah.  Right.

I hope that what they actually did was stir feelings of concern — and perhaps a fair amount of good old-fashioned disgust and anger.  Violence against women does not occur in a vacuum.  It is, however, nurtured by silence and complacency.  The campus of Morgan State University cannot allow itself to become an incubator for misogyny.  I call upon the entire Morgan Community to come together and develop policies and procedures that balance our commitment to the First Amendment right to free speech with our moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of women.

Let us show our daughters – and our sons – that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.