Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We danced hard.

We watched him. We studied those moves. We studied those moves like our lives depended on it. We succeeded and failed. I had no rhythm in 1982. Eight year old me struggled to copy those moves. In third grade at Golda Meir Elementary, we had a talent show and a group of us practiced a dance routine to You Wanna Be Startin Something. I was the weakest link. I danced like the Tin Man in the Wiz, even though I always adored the limberness of the Scarecrow.

I remained a fan but kept it closed to the vest.

My late friend Peter had a saying, 'Sometimes, you just gotta dance out your demons.' He picked up from watching an episode of Charmed. I used to mock him, but I still accepted the underlying wisdom.

I've been watching old videos of Michael like everyone else has over the past few days. A few videos come to mind, Beat It, Jam, Black or White and the seminal work, Thriller. Watching Michael's dance solo at the end of the Black or White video (beg at 6:32) I can't help but feel he was dancing out demons. He morphs from panther to man dancing fluid, masculine, and wild, then back to panther.

Michael was Matrix before the Wachowski Brothers dreamed it.

What were those demons? Only time will tell us the full extent. We saw evidence of them over the years, never quite grasping his metamorphosis from black man to indeterminately ethnic. Perhaps it was a hybrid of love and hate for mankind that compelled him to make his body a template to teach us something. That we are one people, beyond artificial lines of color. I did see that. However, I also saw a soul in crisis, sacrificed to us for contempt and ridicule.

I did eventually figure out how to dance. It was in 1991. Shit was pretty bad then for me, but this song may have saved my life. Flexibility and abandon came when I finally let go and surrendered myself to pulse of the music. And the body memory of those moves revealed themselves to me.

Sometimes, you gotta dance it out.

Only now, I realize that I turn to his songs to help me deal. In his voice, the rage at injustice, poverty, racism, all the things that divide us vibrate underneath his songs. I connected to that. It's the equivalent of a primal scream for me. Growing up in '80s and '90s America and being black were challenging times. My family struggled during those times. My parents couldn't afford to buy me a Thriller jacket. We ate government cheese. I was lucky to score an old copy of Right On to clip pictures and pullout posters of El Debarge, Michael Jackson, and Prince. There were drugs. There was crime. There were senseless deaths. There was hunger.

Things that make you wanna holler. Or scream.

It seems to me Michael came from a musical tradition to give voice to those struggles. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On begot Stevie Wonder's Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life, begot the Jackson's Can You Feel It, begot We are the World begot Man in the Mirror, which begot Heal The World.

He was an artist.

He used music to give voice to our shared frustrations, local and global. He also gave us hope. He entertained us. His videos challenged convention and elevated story. He merged forms revolutionized dance as means of communication. He reminded us that there is ecstasy and joy in dance.

He held his crotch because when you have Kundalini energy moving through you, you gotta try to harness it.

Shiva is known also as the cosmic dancer. It is said that Shiva's dance manifested in two forms, gentle and violent. Shiva dances to destroy, create and build again. Watching Michael, I can't help but wonder if that was the energy he was trying to manifest in his fluid motions, pirouettes, pops and locks, gravity defying leans and moonwalks. Michael broke down old forms and barriers in everything and birthed something new.

He was a deeper creative spirit than I had originally imagined. It seems clearer to me now as I look back on all those years with adult eyes. Michael was a student of history and culture. It didn't seem obvious to me growing up, but now, I'm a better student. I've studied other cultures and their dances, and I understand now what Michael was trying to show us.

I weep for yet another marker of the end of my childhood. Nothing lasts forever. It sucks that sometimes you have to lose something to realize how much really had.

But I'll never forget the dance. I'll shake my body onto the ground as if all of creation depended on it.

They Don't Care About Us

I'm not alone in seeing the connection.

The person who posted this originally created it before MJ's passing. If anyone denies Michael Jackson's reach, message and legacy. I encourage you to look at the video.

Warning: These images contain graphic content and may not be suitable to minors.

The world is watching.

Grand Street and Lexington Avenue

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

May you find peace in the afterlife that evaded you in this life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mad World

I feel their sense of urgency. And I'm hopeful for their success in achieving self determination as a society. The people deciding who represents them. It's not so much about the who's the best leader for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It's about respect for the process, the structure of the civil society itself. Mousavi is symbol now. I don't think we'll ever come to know what kind of leader he would be. But these protests do show that the people were seeking an alternative to Ahmadinejad, a leader that could be a vehicle for reform within their society. And the system failed them.

Remember 1989? There's a weird symmetry in history. Deja vu all over again. I remember feeling the same desperate sense of urgency and hope and dread for the students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. I was a tween then, but I understood the longing of an oppressed people challenging the system. Later when we started high school that same year, two German tourists spoke to my world history class and talked about the shifts they were feeling then in their own country. I asked them a question that I felt in bones. I asked them if they thought the Wall would come down. I still remember his facel, and he said, 'I hope so. I sure hope so.' It could not have been more than two weeks later and the unthinkable happened. I remember Jeremy running to class the next morning saying to me, 'Syreeta! How'd you do that? How'd you know? You called it!'

All I can say is that people dream in a common language. If you heard those German tourists in my history class in 1989, you could feel the urgency for change. And I don't think it's a stretch that young Germans felt a kinship with the students in Tiananmen Square. In the wake of that tragedy, they might have found their courage to challenge the old order in their nation.

The poignant part of the President's Cairo speech two weeks ago sort of reads now as a prophetic allusion to events that are now manifesting. Pundits have found fault with the connection with Civil Rights Movement and resistance movements -fringe to moderate- of some Arab communities to regimes. I felt that it struck a very raw nerve. Something that we all had to acknowledge. African Americans learned from the Indian struggle against British rule during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1947, India became a sovereign nation again. Our own history shows how civil disobedience can affect change. It ended injustices my forebearers suffered through. It gave me the right to vote without fear. It seems clear to me now that the Iranian kids heard him. Still, Obama can't engage them directly. That's not his purpose at this time. A statesman engages governments. This is a populist movement. And all we can do is watch, support, and hope that human rights are respected.

My color scheme is green so that they know that I'm with them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catch A Fire

, originally uploaded by mousavi1388.

I don't know about you, but I'm riveted by the events in Iran since the weekend. If you've been living under a rock, Twitter has emerged as the critical source for following the events in Tehran. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan has masterful coverage. A must read. Print media as it lives online has in-depth accounts, images, and analysis. Television has failed. Perhaps today we'll see a difference in the type of coverage that the cable news and major networks will show than the pallid interest it had displayed over the weekend.

I can't help but think if we had Twitter in 2003 during the height of the antiwar protests, would we have had a larger impact on the mainstream media coverage? Would that have stopped the invasion of Iraq? Hindsight remains fuzzy. But now? We have this technological infrastructure to support digital communication. And that communication supports civic engagement and action. Perhaps a revolution.

I'm watching these events very closely. We're getting information in real time. This is the future of journalism. The future is now.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A More Perfect Union 2.0

This is simply brilliant.

If you don't have time to watch the video, please read the transcript. I can't think of another person who has the moral authority to deliver this speech. I felt the same way about his speech on race last year. There's a maturity beyond the words. There's clarity and acknowledgment that he gets it. And so do we. He doesn't insult our intelligence or talk down to us about it. He's embracing it full on. There's honesty in balancing our fixed perceptions and opposites, naming them and then challenging us to transcend.

I don't even need to glean what the Right will say about this. But in embracing this 'third rail' of sorts, he's taking the road I don't think any of the candidates last year ever could. The opportunity here is to challenge the world community to be the change we wish to seek in the world.

The middle ground is something close to freedom.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Writing On The Wall

St. Marks and Third Avenue, New York City.

© syreeta mcfadden

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Funkin' Lesson

I don't know what's going on in my brain today. But it began with a question that I woke up with this morning: what is black?

And then I remembered the jam from back in the day.

Still thinking about where I'm going with this question. But right now, I'm shakin' my ass to early '90s hip hop.