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It's Fat Tuesday!

Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver Velez

Today is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, or Carnival—the last day of celebration before people give up meat for Lent, and though the practice came from Europe it has now become a major part of African-diasporic tradition—from New Orleans, to Trinidad and of course Brazil, where the largest celebration in the world is held in Rio.


Many of the costumes in Brazil exhibit the nation's colors of green and gold.

In Trinidad Carnival has a long history.

The French Revolution (1789) had an impact on Trinidad's culture, as it resulted in the emigration of Martinican planters and their French creole slaves to Trinidad where they established an agriculture-based economy (sugar and cocoa) for the island. Carnival had arrived with the French, indentured laborers and the slaves, who could not take part in Carnival, formed their own, parallel celebration called Canboulay. Canboulay (from the French cannes brulées, meaning burnt cane) is a precursor to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and had played an important role in the development of the music of Trinidad and Tobago. The festival is also where calypso music through chantwells had taken its roots. In 1797, Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population.

Stick fighting and West African percussion music were banned in 1880, in response to the Canboulay Riots and British laws at the time. They were replaced by bamboo sticks beaten together, which were themselves banned in turn. In 1937 they reappeared, transformed as an orchestra of frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums. These steelpans are now a major part of the Trinidadian music scene and are a popular section of the Canboulay music contests. In 1941, the United States Navy arrived on Trinidad, and the panmen, who were associated with lawlessness and violence, helped to popularize steel pan music among soldiers, which began its international popularization.

Carnival was created when West African slaves mimicked their French owners who where known for their lavish costumes balls. Forbidden to partake in these festivities and confined to their quarters, slaves combined elements from their own cultures to their master's fete. Hence the creation of characters such as Jab Jab or Jab Molassie (Devils), Midnight Robbers, Imps, Lagahroo, Soucouyant, La Diablesse and Demons. With the abolition of slavery in 1838, freed Africans took their version of Carnival to the streets through expression of drums, riddim sections like tamboo bamboo and as each new immigrant population entered Trinidad, Carnival evolved into what we know today.
Trinidad is also famous for the Moko Jumbies.
A moko jumbie (also known as "moko jumbi" or "mocko jumbie") is a stilts walker or dancer. The origin of the term may come from "Moko" (a possible reference to an African god) and "jumbi", a West Indian term for a ghost or spirit that may have been derived from the Kongo language word zumbi. The Moko Jumbies are thought to originate from West African tradition brought to the Caribbean.

A book well worth purchasing is Moko Jumbies—The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad: A Photographic Essay of the Stilt-Walkers of Trinidad and Tobago, by Stefan Falke.

Seventeen years ago, Glen “Dragon” de Souza founded the Keylemanjahro School of Arts and Culture on the island of Trinidad. His mission was to revive the almost forgotten West African tradition of the Moko Jumbie or “stilt-walker,” and adopt it into the annual Carnival celebration. Today, more than one hundred Moko Jumbies—boys and girls starting from the age of four years old—practice at the Keylemanjahro School. Internationally recognized photographer Stefan Falke spent six years documenting these “dancing spirits” of Trinidad. With rare power, he captures the vivid costumes and haunting beauty of the Moko Jumbie dances in over 200 dazzling color photographs.

Throughout the Caribbean, men and women dance and "whine" (or wine) in the streets.
If you are a bit dance challenged here's a simple "how to" video.

In Ponce, Puerto Rico during Carnival you will run into roving bands of vejigantes.


The vejigante is a folkloric figure who's origins trace back to medieval Spain. The legend goes that the vejigante represented the infidel Moors who were defeated in a battle led by Saint James. To honor the saint, the people dressed as demons took to the street in an annual procession. Over time, the vejigante became a kind of folkloric demon, but in Puerto Rico, it took on a new dimension with the introduction of African and native Taíno cultural influence. The Africans supplied the drum-heavy music of bomba y plena, while the Taíno contributed native elements to the most important part of the vejigante costume: the mask. As such, the Puerto Rico vejigante is a cultural expression singular to Puerto Rico.
Similar to the masks of Puerto Rico, in Bahia, Brazil masked citizens dance through the streets.


Also seen are large numbers of the Sons of Gandhi in Bahia.


The first Sons of Gandhi were dockworkers on strike in Salvador who were inspired by Mohandas Gandhi's philosophy of equality and nonviolent resistance to oppression. When they heard of his assassination, they decided to march at Carnival in his name.

They needed costumes, of course, so the prostitutes from the docks gave them their sheets to use as robes, and towels to wrap around their heads. Dressed up to look vaguely Indian, the men marched through Brazil's first colonial capital.

The chants they still sing honor the Yoruba gods worshipped by many Afro-Brazilians. But 60 years ago, African religion was still systematically repressed by the dominant Catholic society. By garbing themselves in their namesake's philosophy of peaceful resistance, the Sons of Gandhi were able to bring their beliefs into the streets without provoking the police.

In Haiti, a controversy has erupted around censorship of Carnival songs.
In a country where past carnival songs have predicted the fate of governments, lyrics are viewed as the social and political pulse of Haiti. Some bands behind controversial tunes say they were disinvited from this year's carnival. Now, as president of Haiti, some say Michel Martelly is banning other artists from taking part in this year's carnival celebration for doing the same thing he did as a singer: criticizing the government.

Lead singers behind some of this season's most controversial carnival tunes - most of them critical of the Martelly government - say they were disinvited from being among the 15 bands to be featured on floats for this year's carnival.

"As young artists, we learned how to do this from him, watching him denounce government after government," said Don Kato of the group Brothers Posse, whose alleged ban has lit up social media and become a lead story for Haitian journalists. "It makes no sense that as an artist I can't sing about the environment I am living in, and you want to sanction me because I'm not singing in favor of you."

In New Orleans, the black community is proud of its Mardi Gras Indians and second line, yet it is a tradition that is struggling to survive.

The documentary Flags, Feathers, and Lies, examines this tradition.

Behind the luxurious extravaganza of the famous Mardi Gras in New Orleans on the desolate back streets, devastated by Katrina, survives one of the most ancestral and hidden celebrations of the African-American population: “The Mardi Gras Indian”.

The Mardi Gras Indians date back to the time of slavery as a tribute to the Native American tribes in Lousiana sho helped slaves runaway from the plantations seeking their freedom.

Dressed in splendorous costumes of bright feathers, the Indian Chiefs reenact with rituals and songs the roots and historical struggles of their community.These rituals and songs are one of the main sources of contemporary jazz music of New Orleans.

Nevertheless, this tradition, a cultural heritage of United States, is running the risk of disappearing due to racism and the displacement created by Hurricane Katrina.

Many of us are familiar with beat of Iko Iko, which references the flag boys of the Indians.

Also part of black Mardi Gras tradition is the The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, known as the Zulu Crewe.

While the “Group” marched in Mardi Gras as early as 1901, their first appearance as Zulus came in 1909, with William Story as King.

The group wore raggedy pants, and had a Jubilee-singing quartet in front of and behind King Story. His costume of “lard can” crown and “banana stalk” scepter has been well documented. The Kings following William Story, (William Crawford – 1910, Peter Williams – 1912, and Henry Harris – 1914), were similarly attired...

Zulus were not without their controversies, either. In the 1960’s during the height of Black awareness, it was unpopular to be a Zulu. Dressing in a grass skirt and donning a black face were seen as being demeaning. Large numbers of black organizations protested against the Zulu organization, and its membership dwindled to approximately 16 men. James Russell, a long-time member, served as president in this period, and is credited with holding the organization together and slowly bringing Zulu back to the forefront.

In 1968, Zulu’s route took them on two major streets; namely, St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, for the first time in the modern era. Heretofore, to see the Zulu parade, you had to travel the so-called “back streets” of the Black neighborhoods. The segregation laws of this period contributed to this, and Zulu tradition also played a part. In those days, neighborhood bars sponsored certain floats and, consequently, the floats were obligated to pass those bars. Passing meant stopping, as the bars advertised that the “Zulus will stop here!” Once stopped at a sponsoring bar, it was often difficult to get the riders out of the establishment, so the other floats took off in different directions to fulfill their obligations.

So no matter where you are, come dance, sing, don your mask, parade and grab some beads.


Carnival is a festival for us all today.

We can worry about tomorrow later.

                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor

This article really is masterpiece, not so much for it's thesis (which is spot on), but for it's rich allotment of citations and quotations. The New Republic: Original Sin,Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.
With Barack Obama sworn in for a second term—the first president in either party since Ronald Reagan to be elected twice with popular majorities—the GOP is in jeopardy, the gravest since 1964, of ceasing to be a national party. The civil rights pageantry of the inauguration—Abraham Lincoln's Bible and Martin Luther King's, Justice Sonia Sotomayor's swearing in of Joe Biden, Beyoncé's slinky glamor, the verses read by the gay Cuban poet Richard Blanco—seemed not just an assertion of Democratic solidarity, but also a reminder of the GOP's ever-narrowing identity and of how long it has been in the making.

"Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?" Kevin Phillips, the prophet of "the emerging Republican majority," asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon's electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. "Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don't need the big cities. We don't even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?"


Reformers in the GOP insist that this course can be reversed with more intensive outreach efforts, better recruitment of minority candidates, and an immigration compromise. And a new cast of GOP leaders—Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio—have become national favorites. But each remains tethered to movement ideology. At the recent National Review Institute conference in Washington, Cruz even urged a "partial government shutdown," recalling the glory years of the '90s, but downplaying its destructive outcome.

Denial has always been the basis of a nullifying politics. Calhoun, too, knew he was on the losing side. The arithmetic he studied most closely was the growing tally of new free territories. Eventually, they would become states, and there would be sufficient "absolute" numbers in Congress to abolish slavery. A century later, history pushed forward again. Nonetheless, conservatives, giving birth to their movement, chose to ignore these realities and to side with "the South."

Race will always be a complex issue in America. There is no total cleansing of an original sin. But the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the "angry black man" still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of "outsider" groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP's dwindling base—its insurgents and anti-government crusaders, its "middle-aged white guys." They now form the party's one solid bloc, its agitated concurrent voice, struggling not only against the facts of demography, but also with the country's developing ideas of democracy and governance. We are left with the profound historical irony that the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration's assertion of equality and its vision of a "new birth of freedom"—has found sustenance in Lincoln's principal intellectual and moral antagonist. It has become the party of Calhoun.

Racial resentment is increasing, and it plays a major role in how Obama—and the Democratic Party—is perceived. The American Prospect: The Rising Tide of Anti-Black Racism.
Thomas Edsall has a fascinating column in today’s New York Times on the persistence of racial resentment in the Obama-era. For those not familiar with the term, “racial resentment” is defined as the convergence of anti-black sentiments with traditional American views on hard work and individualism.

It’s measured using questions that focus on race and effort. People who answer in the affirmative to questions like this—“Irish, Italian, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors”—and in the negative to questions like this—“Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class”—are assigned a high place on the resentment scale.

Edsall runs though recent research from a variety of sources to show the extent to which President Obama’s term has coincided with a sharp increase in the proportion of Americans who express anti-black attitudes. In one survey, for example, “The percentage of voters with explicit anti-black attitudes rose from 47.6 in 2008 and 47.3 percent in 2010 to 50.9 percent in 2012.” This wasn’t a uniform change—not only were Republicans more likely to express anti-black attitudes, but people who identified themselves as Republicans in 2012 expressed such attitudes more often than their counterparts of 2008:

In 2008, Pasek and his collaborators note, the proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes was 31 percent among Democrats, 49 percent among independents, and 71 percent among Republicans. By 2012, the numbers had gone up. “The proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes,” they write, “was 32 percent among Democrats, 48 percent among independents, and 79 percent among Republicans.”
Edsall sees this as a crucial through-line in the ongoing story of GOP extremism. Growing racial resentment has deepened the conservatism of right-wing Republicans, and contributed to their total rejection of President Obama and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012.


Legendary black filmmaker behind the scenes of ‘Walking Dead’ The Grio: Ernest Dickerson.
When it comes to filmmaker Ernest Dickerson — who in his directorial debut brought us the iconic urban drama Juice, having more recently found a home on the sets of award winning original series The Walking Dead and Treme (for which he received a 2012 NAACP Image Award, and is nominated this year for Outstanding Director in a Drama Series) — looking forward, looking ahead, is not just hopeful, it is essential. And yet, Mr. Dickerson is also quick to point out that it is not by discarding the past, like an orange rind, that we achieve true beauty and innovation, but by refashioning it in evermore creative and subversive ways.

In a career spanning more than thirty years, in an industry where successful black directors and filmmakers are few and far between, Dickerson now plans to take the lessons he’s learned, having honed his talent as a student of NYU’s Tisch school alongside colleague Spike Lee, over the years solidifying his place as one of Hollywood’s top creative talents, back to his alma mater, Howard University for a week long lecture series from January 28th to February 1st.

There he will talk with young filmmakers about the industry, about film making, and about the creative process.

When asked about what it means to be able to return to Howard and conduct the week-long lecture series, Dickerson was grateful for the opportunity.

       Director Ernest Dickerson on the set of "Walking Dead", Courtesy of AMC

Harlem’s Fashion Row creates fabulous platform for designers of color. The Grio: 2013 New York Fashion Week.
Harlem’s Fashion Row held its sixth annual Fall/Winter show last night, kicking off 2013 New York Fashion Week at the Apollo Theater with a presentation that was also a call to action. Founded in 2007 by CEO and founder Brandice Henderson, the “HFR Movement” as she has coined it promotes the capsule collections of emerging designers of color selected by her organization.

By giving these up-and-coming style stars a chance to shine during an important market for buyers, HFR provides a complementary experience for African-American fashion journalists, stylists and more to mix and mingle. Standing apart from the official tents of Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, a critical nexus of the mainstream industry where only three African-American designers are showing, HFR  addresses this lack of representation.

This cultural space for connection is a platform of much-needed exposure for blacks in fashion.

“I love it. We don’t, as black designers or designers of color, get opportunities like this — at all,” Terese Sydonna, a New York City-based designer said of Harlem’s Fashion Row. “You have to work very hard as a designer first of all, and then to have something like this that’s so accessible, it’s incredible.”

The designers chosen this season are: Chantell Walters, Deidre Jefferies of her Espion line, Evelyn Lambert, Shauntele, Kimberly Goldson, Sandro Romans, and Kahindo Mateene of her line, Modahnik.

                  Designer Chantell Walters of CHANTELL WALTERS — Fall/Winter 2013 Harlem’s Fashion Row. (Photo by Alexis Garrett Stodghill)


Carnival!!!!! Miami Herald: Rio's samba dancers stars by night, workers by day.
It's a life of stark contrast: By day, Diana Prado is a supervisor at an insurance company's drably lit call center cramped with blue cubicles. But when night falls, she dazzles as a scantily clad samba school dancer in over-the-top performances glittery enough for a Hollywood musical.

Like many samba dancers, or "passistas" as they're known in Portuguese, the 26-year-old splits her time between the feathers, body paint and shrunken bikinis of Carnival and the workaday office reality of headsets and cubicles.

Though passistas are unquestionably the star attractions of the world's most iconic Carnival celebrations now under way in Rio de Janeiro, they're not on the payroll of the samba schools they represent. So when they aren't rehearsing or tending to their sculptural figures, many passistas work as secretaries, store clerks or maids.

"I get up, run to dance class, come to work, go to rehearsal and fall into bed," Prado said at her office, looking every inch the career woman in olive slacks, demure beige sweater and dark framed glasses. Her fingernails, acrylic appliques in shimmering gold glitter that produce rapid-fire clicks as she types, are the only visible clue as to her double life.

"In the run-up to Carnival, it's pretty chaotic. I don't sleep much at all from September through now," she said.

Samba dancer Diana Prado performs during a carnival parade at central station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Prado spends her daylight hours working as a supervisor at a call center. At night, she is a samba dancer, or "passista," as they're known in Portuguese. Prado made her Carnival debut at age 19, after auditioning for a spot with the Sao Clemente, one of 13 top-tier schools that will compete for the annual titles at the Sambadrome this weekend. Felipe Dana / AP Photo


A father adjusts ‘race talk’ with his daughter after a racial incident. Ebony: A Dad Deals with His Baby Girl’s N-Word Encounter.
There’s no reason to get into specifics about how racism and prejudice entered my child’s life—I’ve detailed it thoroughly in another essay. I will offer that it involved the word “ni&&er” and the accusation of me harming a (White) child, when I was actually assisting the child because she was hurt. While my child had never heard “ni&&er” before, she knew that it was powerful because she saw Daddy cry after the aforementioned incident.

When she asked, “What does it mean, Daddy?” I was stuck between shouting: “It means nothing! Don’t you dare hold that word! Forget it!” and “It means everything! I want you to hold on to this word. I want it to start a fire in your gut. Never let it go out. You have to be ready to unleash that fire at a moment’s notice.” But I did not have the presence of soul to say anything other than that timeworn parental go-to: “I’ll tell you when you become a big girl.” And like the remarkably resilient child she is, she promptly (or so I thought) forgot. But as I stated, negative race attitudes are known to flare up like social herpes.

When she asked, ‘What does it mean, Daddy?’ I was stuck between shouting: ‘It means nothing! Forget it!’ and ‘It means everything! I want it to start a fire in your gut. Never let it go out.’

It happened (again) while we were at a park. The kids and parents playing and occupying the benches were almost evenly split between White and Asian—all were a certain kind of upper middle class (if these things can be judged by high-end diaper bags, sculptured strollers and a general air of “you’re beneath me”). I was recovering from knee surgery, and couldn’t play with my daughter as I normally would.

None of the other kids played with her. She was entertaining herself, but getting bored. She made overtures to the White children, but was rebuffed. Same with the Asian kids. She came towards me, looking so sad.

“Those kids won’t play with me, Daddy.” I comforted her, but it wasn’t enough. She craves contact with other kids, so not playing with them was painful for her. She asked, “Is it because I’m what that lady called you at that other park?”

I was confused for a minute, but then it smacked me. My daughter had been carrying the burden of the hateful influence of “ni&&er,” for over a year.


Voices and Soul

By Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

A picture may indeed, be worth a thousand words. If done with precision though, a poem wouldn't nearly require that much verbiage for an image to occur.

Picture this: A gun. The Freeway. Smog-filled hazy sky. Stark Mountains. The Beach. Concrete. Red spanish brick tile. Oleander. A body.

Self Portrait as the Letter Y

 I waved a gun last night
 In a city like some ancient Los Angeles.
 It was dusk. There were two girls
 I wanted to make apologize,
 But the gun was uselessly heavy.
 They looked sideways at each other
 And tried to flatter me. I was angry.
 I wanted to cry. I wanted to bury the pistol,
 But I would've had to walk miles.
 I would've had to learn to run.

 I have finally become that girl
 In the photo you keep among your things,
 Steadying myself at the prow of a small boat.
 It is always summer here, and I am
 Always staring into the lens of your camera,
 Which has not yet been stolen. Always
 With this same expression. Meaning
 I see your eye behind the camera's eye.
 Meaning that in the time it takes
 For the tiny guillotine
 To open and fall shut, I will have decided
 I am just about ready to love you.

 Sun cuts sharp angles
 Across the airshaft adjacent.
They kiss. They kiss again.
 Faint clouds pass, disband.
 Someone left a mirror
 At the foot of the fire escape.
They look down. They kiss.
She will never be free
 Because she is afraid. He
Will never be free
 Because he has always
Been free.

 Was kind of a rebel then.
 Took two cars. Took
 Bad advice. Watched people's
 Asses. Sniffed their heads.
Just left, so it looked
 Like those half sad cookouts,
 Meats never meant to be
 Flayed, meant nothing.
Made promises. Kept going.
 Prayed for signs. Stooped
 For coins. Needed them.
 Had two definitions of family.
Had two families. Snooped.
 Forgot easily. Well, didn't
 Forget, but knew when it was safe
 To remember. Woke some nights
Against a wet pillow, other nights
 With the lights on, whispering
 The truest things
 Into the receiver.

 A small dog scuttles past, like a wig
 Drawn by an invisible cord. It is spring.
 The pirates out selling fakes are finally
 Able to draw a crowd. College girls,
 Inspired by the possibility of sex,
 Show bare skin in good faith. They crouch
 Over heaps of bright purses, smiling,
 Willing to pay. Their arms
 Swing forward as they walk away, balancing
 That new weight on naked shoulders.
 The pirates smile, too, watching
 Pair after pair of thighs carved in shadow
 As girl after girl glides into the sun.

 You are pure appetite. I am pure
 Appetite. You are a phantom
 In that far-off city where daylight
 Climbs cathedral walls, stone by stolen stone.
 I am invisible here, like I like it.
 The language you taught me rolls
 From your mouth into mine
 The way kids will pass smoke
 Between them. You feed it to me
 Until my heart grows fat. I feed you
 Tiny black eggs. I feed you
 My very own soft truth. We believe.
 We stay up talking all kinds of shit.

                -- Tracy K. Smith


We're throwing beads off the Front Porch today



Originally posted to Black Kos on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 01:00 PM PST.

Also republished by LatinoKos, Barriers and Bridges, and Black Kos community.

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