The Complete Brief History of Club Negro

1999-2003

“Me, we.” – Muhammed Ali

Club Negro was inspired by an object of the same name – an old, persimmon head golf club to which a mane of my own dread locks were glued.  From there it became a concept into which I have put countless hours of thought and study.

Club Negro is a place where Black Americans find themselves politically listless and ineffective.  It is where luxury and comfort are the goals we seek to obtain.  It is here where black people congregate with blinded eyes and zipped lips.  They see no, hear no or speak no points of view on racial politics, economics or the educational disparities between the black and white communities.  They speak not a word on the outright violent injustices perpetrated at the hands the ‘men in blue’, A.K.A. the ‘Po Po’.  It is an illusory state of leisure shielded by denial, wealth and celebrity.  At Club Negro one is not subject to the stop and frisk realities on the streets of America (I was going to write, “the streets of the inner city, but experience tells me it’s any street, anywhere).

It is a place of complacency where the lack of collective outrage towards conditions, which persistently burden black men and women, is the norm and not the exception.  The leaders, people of principle with the courage to speak without concern of retaliation from sponsors or political contingencies, have perished.  Whether assassinated, bought and compromised or marginalized by their own political fatigue, those people of courage and conviction are gone and no one has filled their shoes or taken the baton.  No one of integrity has come to the fore to inspire the activism that defined the 1960’s.

Athletes and entertainers, who assume role model and hero statuses, cannot break any barriers to the benefit of others.  None will speak out on issues that directly affect black people and their future.  They are too busy being arrested, jailed, put on trial for fighting in clubs, brandishing guns, driving under the influence, rape or harassment of women.  In other words, they are too busy engaged in their own self-indulgent wealth, fame and celebrity.  Where are the Harry Bellefontes, the Muhammed Alis, the Ertha Kitts, the Jackie Robinsons and the Paul Robesons?  Where are the celebrities who join their political points of view with their power to influence?  Where are the Malcolm’s and the Martin’s?

We are a generation that has abandoned principles and values for property, notoriety and wealth.  We flaunt these things as if material possessions signified an arrival to the promise land.  Material gain and individual progress have become the virtues of this generation.  We have under appreciated philosophy, intellectualism and art while over appreciating gold chains, expensive sneakers and new cars.  All the while, an unsettling level of acceptance for the devaluation of human life has become epidemic.  We have made martyrs of slain rappers who have cultivated the lifestyles of violence that claimed their lives.  That is not to say death was deserved, but in some cases, the inevitable consequence.

We are a society that continually absolves and rewards poor, anti-social behavior amongst our black celebrities.  Why do we not hold them accountable?  Why are athletes like Ray Lewis, Allen Iverson and Mike Tyson idolized?  Are there no other people in the public eye to emulate?  And why is the problem always attributed to the media “blowing things out of proportion.”   Without fail, these individuals claim they are the victims of over scrutiny by the press.  The defense? “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people (but I wasn’t doing the wrong thing”).  Can’t the responsibility for their behavior rest in the choices these individuals make?   Can’t they be held accountable for their own actions? What’s even more disturbing is, that no matter how reckless their social conduct, they are constantly returned to us in the form of product pitchmen.  We see them plastered to the sides of office buildings along 125th street promoting HBO boxing or Reebok basketball shoes.

Today, we are interested only in being seen with the right people in the right places, wearing the right clothes from the hot designers. We are interested only in that which benefits the individual.  The “I got mine” attitude is the working attitude of an aimless generation. We are setting ourselves up for a blind side hit that will serve less as a wake up call and more as a knock out punch if we continue down this shortsighted, narcissistic path.  We will be thrust further into political sedation and social ineffectiveness.  To be thrown further into this state of social narrow-mindedness is a signature on our own death certificate.

We contribute little and have left even less for the future generation of young black men and women to model.  Where are the soldiers for change by any means necessary?

Which athlete today will board a plane to fly to South America to feed hungry people only to die in the course of that duty?  Who today, among our black celebrity, would put their own career and potential on hold in protest to government policies and attitudes that directly affect the African-American population and society at large?  Who among them would join the protest against police brutality (Rodney King, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond)? Unfortunately, there is not a single celebrity who would be on the front line demanding changes in the use of force practices by police personnel.

Is Al Sharpton, political opportunist or not, the only man willing to be at the front line as a force for silenced voices and against the abhorrent treatment of young black men by New York’s finest?  Take Mr. Sharpton out of the mix and who’s left?

No, these figures of today are anesthetized by fame and wealth.  They are buffered from conditions out of which they grew (not all came from poverty, obviously) and they have become the establishment.  They cannot be bothered with conviction on political issues, racial politics or collective advancement because their own personal and economic progress is far too important to risk losing.  Their opinions are kept in secret or spoken amongst each other so as to not be construed by their employers or benefactors as ungrateful.  They appear on late night television to plug movies, concerts or sporting events, but their silent rage at the dragging death of James Byrd or the outright murder of a defenseless Amadou Diallo, stays hidden.  They have no opinion in public on matters such as these, but that is exactly where they can be most affective. From there they can sway the attitudes and actions of public officials or younger people who listen to them, and in some instances, look to them for guidance and leadership.  The young cannot find leadership in their neighborhood, the music they listen to and they go un-nurtured at home and in public schools to be responsible, intelligent young men and women of purpose and vision. This is not to say that none are, but a large number are being left by the wayside and that is the unfortunate and indisputable truth.

And what’s more, these so-called roll models and celebrities are unwilling to accept the fact that they do influence young people while simultaneously impressing each other.  They rationalize their music by saying the vulgar lyrics are an expression of their first amendment right to free speech.   “We just keepin’ it real” they reply.  But would any of these so-called hardcore gansta rappers, some of whom are parents, let their children listen to the violent bitches and ho’s “free speech”  hip-hop songs of the last 10 years?

If one of these popular figures in music stepped to the head of the pack by distinguishing him or her self as a politically conscious and racially sensitive and compassionate individual, others would follow suit and join them. What kind of ripple affect would a contingent of our most revered actors, athletes and musicians, joined as one voice and lending their celebrity to “grass roots” struggles, have on the people who admire them?  Are not atrocities like police brutality more susceptible to change when people with power are joined in opposition to such matters?  But no one is willing to put at risk anything they’ve worked so hard to achieve, forgetting in the meantime that the generations before them suffered great injustices for the opportunities they now enjoy!

These celebrities are, after all, “getting paid.”   They have, in a sense, forgotten where they came from.  They are examples of personal entitlement and material possessiveness run amuck.  We are the “don’t worry, be happy” generation.  We are participating in an extended and self-imposed hibernation from political activism while grave conditions persist and worsen within the black community.  The lifting of “the race” attitude is gone and duly substituted with product endorsements, corporate and movie studio pressures and plush, opulent, demonstrative living.

“Why be on the front line when you can be on the front nine? Introducing the new Nigger 2000. The golf ball for revolutionaries who just don’t have the time.”

This was the tag line for a fictitious product at Club Negro, which promised political and economic advances by simply buying the item.  One did not have to demonstrate and march en masse.  They need only purchase the freedom and rights that normally come from pressures made on government to change and be more inclusive.  One could reap the rewards

with out shedding the blood, sweat and tears.  The life style that accompanies celebrity is too valuable to jeopardize and the sport of golf was the perfect example of leisure not lending itself to radical political involvement and outspokenness on racial issues. After all, what would the membership think?  And, what about that controversy clause in my endorsement contract?

The Nigger 2000 ball was inspired by the thought of Malcolm X delaying the start of a rally in Harlem because of a Sunday morning tee time in Westchester. The thought is ridiculous of course.

Imagine Malcolm X involved in a recreational activity as frivolous as golf and placing its importance over the struggles of Black America.

He would not have allowed such distractions when there were so many dire conditions and issues that needed direction and leadership. He was a committed man of principle and political conviction.  He put his financial security and in the end, his life, on the line for what he believed in and on behalf of his children’s future.  He did not want his children to grow up with the shame and disgrace that was thrust upon him as a boy.

The Malcolm X Golf Ball, 2000  “…Now you can scare white folks and lower scores at the same time!  Guaranteed to improve your game by any means necessary!”

Today, I live in an atmosphere, which, although not perfect, has the benefits of his and many others’ struggles and personal sacrifices. Men and women before me who made, at times, the ultimate sacrifice and any freedom I am experiencing, possible. They made these decisions for the common, collective good of a people and not just the individual.  Rosa Parks said no to the back of the bus.  Martin Luther King said march and boycott.  Malcolm said by any means necessary.  And in sharp contrast, Michael Jordan says just do it and be like me.  Tiger Woods says don’t leave home with out it or your Buick.  Spike Lee says do the right thing on the bus or you’ll get mo’ better jungle fever from girl 6 in crooklyn.  Where are the sacrifices and the outspoken opinions, which can prove affective in changing the way society thinks?

The closest thing to conviction towards racial politics is politically conscious rap music, i.e. Chuck D of Public Enemy – a well versed, intelligent man who knows what the issues of the day are and whom they affect. He is a politically astute man who can affect change in the way the young people think about their life and future.  Another example would be Al Sharpton.  Like him or not, he is the only black man who dares to confront and lend a voice to urgent matters.

Club Negro is the state of mind of Black Americans born in the post Civil Rights Act era – or after 1964.  This generation carries with it the shame, guilt and remorse for the sacrifices made by prior generations.  The post Civil Rights Era marks the birth of an entirely new form of racism – a more covert and subtle version.  With legalized racism outlawed, we had to encounter the more understated forms which were now embedded in hiring practices, loan distributions, college admissions, housing and the like.  It manifested in the practice of what is commonly referred to as racial profiling.

We have been pacified by material possession and the desire for economic gain. However, this generation has grown up with a psychological burden of a racism that is ghostly, elusive and in some cases, a matter of opinion or perception. We carry with us the knowledge that we don’t have to march, be denied basic public conveniences or go to jail for our beliefs.  How many of us would sit in jail indefinitely in favor of our strongly held political convictions?

We are an ineffectual generation burdened by the fact that we have no boycotts or sit-ins, no real stage to protest collectively.  In addition, we are undecided and largely ignorant, on the issues that matter most to our children.  We have had staged protests but to what end?  Both the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. and the so-called Million Youth March in Harlem were enormous failures because they were events and not part of a persistent series of collective actions.  They imparted no pressure on the system because they were events – one time mass gatherings that achieved little in the bigger picture.

Some t-shirts were sold along with a few buttons and banners and that was it. Everybody went home and it was a return to business as usual.  What was accomplished?  What was sacrificed?  The Million Man March was televised, but it far from a revolution.

It is only too obvious that we have not struggled for our freedoms and luxuries (for that, we have the previous generations to thank) and we’ve relinquished nothing on behalf of the next generation’s accessibility to and assurance of, the same freedoms.  Our own individual gain is far too important.  We have forfeited nothing and for this we should be ashamed and held accountable.  We have become de-sensitized by inactivity and we are gathering moss.  The decades of prior to the 90’s, where collective political activism was an essential part of the landscape, were vital in securing any freedom we now enjoy. Without the efforts in the 50’s black people would still be in the back of the bus.

Subtract the 60’s and we’d have no voting rights.  Our freedom to choose where to live would be nullified.  The schools we choose and our vacation destinations would still be segregated.  Young people of today (and those born after 1964), have no idea what it was like to live in the Jim Crow era.   The simple truth is that most of what we take for granted in the course of one day are some of the luxuries and opportunities not afforded past generations in their entire life times!  If you are a young man or woman sit down with your grand parents and ask them what life was like for them growing up.

The last real examples of persistent public activism in this country were the protests against Apartheid in South Africa in the 1980’s.  This was not only an American effort but also an international phenomenon that insisted on Apartheids fall.  The consistent political pressure and the continuing corporate action of economic divestment ensured its ultimate demise.  Today, however, we are preoccupied and numbed by video games, meaningless Sunday NFL football marathons and $49.95 Pay Per View garbage. The chasm between our own courage to change conditions and the declining compassion of society at large to care is widening quicker than we’d like to imagine.  We don’t see it because we are distracted and placated by a handful of wealthy black Americans, starring in their own sitcoms or signing new muti-year contracts to play baseball or some other sport.  We are content to let others suffer in the absence of the basic human rights of education and sufficient health care.  And for years now young black men have been at the mercy of police forces that seem determined to impose the penalty of death before trial for infractions as small as graffiti in public place to carrying a wallet in one’s hand!

We’ve become acutely aware of language and innuendo responding to our race-inspired interpretation of things rather than our potential for unbiased insight.  We look out of our own individual bubble suit of cowardice and think only about ourselves and what things mean to us – how we’re affected.  Our view of society has been limited by an overindulgence in the concept and relevance of race.  We see everything through that lens!  We have, in part, lost our minds or at least our ability to think and act rationally when encountering perceived slights.  We cannot see rudeness for rudeness, impoliteness for impoliteness and anger for anger.  It must be racially charged anger, racially charged rudeness and more recently biased crimes.  A crime is a crime and violence is violence.  I don’t mean to infer that bigotry does not exist.  That would be naïve.  But I do suggest that our perception and interpretation of things is more important than our propensity to channel everything through race.

Lynch Ball Tag Line:  When Your Game Starts To Go South Be Prepared.  Play The Lynch Ball Because Sometimes It’s Just Not Your Day.

We are baffled by perception and coincidental exclusion from aspects of the workplace and society in general. Whether in housing, a simple taxi ride or the discomfort that comes with being watched in a convenience store or high end electronics shop, we are saddled with being on alert at all times, in every circumstance.  “Is it my imagination or are they really watching me? Or “Maybe the taxi really didn’t see me.”  We are in a constant conversation with self as to how we are perceived.  We are constantly under the assumption that people see only skin color.  Sometimes, and to our detriment, we act according to what we think other people believe us to be.  In the last 30 years we have acquired the unenviable social characteristic of a race-based paranoia that cannot distinguish between real and imagined discrimination.

This active imagination and emphasis on the way we are viewed by society is where most of the expressions in this exhibit are derived.  They originate from the casual language of our white friends, acquaintances or co-workers.  They are inspired by “black on black” perceptions of race and social differences, prime time portrayals of black families (The Cosby Show included), Funk, Rap and Soul music, politics and literature. The expressions are evasions of reality and indulgences in misunderstanding and ignorance.   Is there really such a thing as a black man?  And if so, who is he and what does he look like?  Is there really such a thing as talking white or sounding black?  Can white men jump?  Can black people really not swim?  Can black men be a third base coaches, quarterbacks, airline pilots, surgeons or CEO’s of fortune 500 companies?  Or are we George Jefferson, Fred Sanford and Kid Dynomite all rolled into one?  Can we all dance, play basketball and have intercourse all night long?

There are as many questions as there are confirmations of the truth and invalidations of the many much-coveted points of view on race.

This body of work attempts to strip naked the person to whom these perceptions are applied. The statements are both true and false.  They are meant to dis-own and discard the labels and standards in which society and individuals have so much energy invested. They are meant to be accepted and denied, embraced and abandoned. They are expressions that compel the viewer to see the man, the individual, as he really is in the eyes of God – the human being to whom all these beliefs were attached and cultivated into living mis-perceptions. Who is the real man without these perceptions heaped upon him?  He may or may not be what you believe him to be or not to be.  But, as a friend of mine once said, contempt prior to investigation is ignorance.  Are we all this contemptibly ignorant?

Our perceptions can prove more powerful than race, yet the misguided ideas of race govern our perceptions.  So we have trapped ourselves in a web of racial confusion that is of our own making. We have painted ourselves into a corner and against freshly painted walls and there we stand, baffled as to how we got there, blaming others for our condition.  We have narrowed our choices down to two things – material and economic gain or denial.   Furthermore, we have tapered our ability to see people for whom they really are, based on our own experience, through such a small lens, that we’d accept someone else’s point of view before we’d form our own.  The ability to deduce, from our own experiences, reason and common sense as we encounter new people has been abandoned for presumption, prejudice and generalization based not in fact, but in deceit and fabrication. We are acting on false information derived from a fear of who or what a person may be, what he may do, or what he may have done.  We apply our learned misperceptions to people from a distance and before they have even opened their mouths to us.

Why were the police in Montgomery county Maryland looking for a lone white male sniper suspect?  The driver of the Caprice was a black man and the police profiled the obvious perpetrator as a white male loner.  If the unwritten rules of racial mis-perception weren’t so strong a force in our decision-making would fewer people have died as a result of the three-week, bloody rampage?  Would racial open-mindedness have solved the case earlier?  How many of us were surprised to discover that, although most serial killers are white men, the sniper in this case was actually two black men who were stopped and let go by police no less than 10 times during the course of the spree, sometimes hours before or after a shooting?   One could be sure that if a Susan Smith type kidnap of two white children story were front-page news these men, had they been stopped, would have been detained and questioned thoroughly.  But a black sniper?

And why was the media grading Chief Moose’s “performance” as the leader of the task force?  How did the black cop do in a typically white man’s role?  Is John Muhammad every black man and does he reinforce racial stereotypes about the African-American businessman looking for a taxi, a loan or a house?  Why isn’t Colin Powel a dark skinned Bush cabinet member and why won’t he run as vice president even though he is an experienced and formidable candidate.  Is it because he may very well become the first asassinated vice president?

Why do people fear Manhattan above 110th street?  Why isn’t James Bond a strong black man and why was Shaft resurrected?  Why did Halle Berry have to get naked and nasty with a white man before a black woman could earn an Oscar for best actress?  And why is any outspoken black man, no matter how ridiculous, a spokesman for the entire population of black America?  Is there really a Black America?  Are the walls of this room and the floor on which we stand so wet with indecision and cowardice that more of us will have to die and be relegated to lives in obscurity before we collectively make moves to change?  Is the configuration of the self-spun web so complex that we cannot navigate ourselves back to common sense, compassion and racial impartiality?

So Club Negro encourages self-examination relative to political involvement.  It is a state of mind that continually questions the validity, and even the existence of, race.  It is the gray area between pride in self and the acknowledgement of a racial identity versus the need for an exclusively personal one.  It is the psychological state of being that surfaced once the Civil Rights Act went into law and overt, government sponsored racism went underground – when it became even more insidious.

The questions now are – Will we ever stop rationalizing the anti-social behavior of celebrity’s and athletes?  When will we start acting according to the fundamental principles that value all human life and ourselves?  Why are we so easily influenced by lyrics, innuendo and the side-ways looks that society continually washes over us?  Do we adhere to this acquired identity or forge a reality of self that is closer to the nature of God?  Do we abandon the labels, classifications and categories for what would remain?  Do we pick up the remnants of what’s left and accept that we are not what people, white or black, think we are?  Are we even who we think we are anymore?

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” This Bob Marley lyric could easily serve as the motto for Club Negro.

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