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An Atheist on Christmas – 2015 Edition

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I grew up a spoiled kid in suburban Staten Island freebasing on sugar, Jesus and Santa Claus. For a boy raised by Italians and Polacks, what other choice was there? Though we didn’t always go to church on Sunday, we did have regular religious instruction to prepare for Communion and Confirmation and other rituals to keep me involved. I even remember my folks hosting religious classes at home for the local kids. A lay person taught the class in my basement. My parents probably used the time to smoke cigarettes and bone upstairs, finally free of my brother and I for an hour. It was 1981. I remember that because the timer on my archaic VCR made a loud clicking sound during class as it began recording The Greatest American Hero.

I have great memories of Christmas. I ate it up, loved every single thing about it. The lights, the music, the animated specials, the religious stories, even midnight mass. Of course my brother and I were spoiled rotten. The gifts under the tree inched into the corners of the room. When I was seven, he and I opened every present under the tree before the family awoke, even theirs to each other. That must have been fun for them.

For years I’d walk slowly through the neighborhood marveling at Christmas lights, eventually driving across Staten Island to see some of the more outlandish ones, Bing Crosby bu-bu-bu-ing away on cassette in my old Mercury Topaz. I had a Jesus bauble in that car staring up at me by the radio controls. I’d make a cross on it with my thumb whenever I passed an ambulance or church, which ultimately gave Jesus a weird black eye. I could see him staring at me whenever I fooled around in the backseat.sta4

Not very long after this I made a drastic change, at least religiously. In a few short years I was a devout atheist. A real atheist. I wasn’t “mad at God.” I didn’t believe in God, so how could I be mad at something I didn’t believe existed? I was mad at humans for believing in such things, and at myself for being fooled so long.

I was engaged to a lovely Italian girl, Catholic through and through. She watched in despair as I changed my entire belief system. Everyone I knew was Catholic back then. All my friends and all my family, and none of them could relate to me. They felt much like I had just a few years earlier. They pitied me and were sad I’d “never know what it’s like to love God” like they did. Yet, here I was on the other side. And I wasn’t a monster. I knew love. I knew joy. I found beauty in places many folks couldn’t comprehend.

“I didn’t believe in God, so how could I be mad at something I didn’t believe existed.”

“But I’ll never be a Catholic again,” I told my fiance’s parents one quiet afternoon. To their credit, they listened and even tried to understand, religious as they were. They were good to me anyway, and I was good to them. Until, of course, I plucked out their daughter’s heart months before our wedding when I couldn’t bear the religiosity any longer.

“I just don’t think I’ll be happy,” I said to her, unraveling all our arrangements and pulling out the carpet beneath her. Before you take out your violin, know that she landed on her feet and has exactly the family she always wanted. The one she wouldn’t have had with me. Getting married was the best thing I never did.

sta3Christmas didn’t die with my atheism. Not yet, at least. I kept that fire burning for years. I was an atheist with a Christmas tree who still enjoyed the music and community surrounding the holiday. I bought Christmas presents for my new girlfriends, even the Jewish ones, and especially a 100% percent Italian girl who loved Christmas with an exuberance that was contagious. We’d wake and bake Christmas morning, tear into breakfast and presents and play video games. We had a fricking ball.

Then that relationship ended, around Christmas time, in fact, in the months that followed 9/11.  A lot of folks got closer to the ones they loved after 9/11. I went the other direction. I was already an angry atheist, but this was the icing on the cake.

I’m not an angry atheist anymore. If anything, I’m a complacent atheist, which is worse. I haven’t really celebrated Christmas since, though, and I don’t miss it at all. I feel a huge sense of relief that I’m not involved, actually. I used to be just as brainwashed to be a seasonal power consumer as the next guy – but this guy woke up.

While there are plenty of good ways to celebrate the holidays, on the whole Christmas represents too many things I have no respect for. I don’t respect lying to children about Santa Claus. I don’t respect being forced to buy things under the guise of some magical holiday. I certainly don’t respect the blind acceptance of religious falsehoods – which isn’t easy to say, especially when so many of the people I love still celebrate the holiday and follow the religion. But if they can tell me how much they love it, I have a right to express myself, too, don’t I? You can always turn me off, can’t you? Maybe you already have.

sta2Hence, it can be lonely being an atheist at Christmas, or at least isolating. I’m lucky. So many of the folks I know are either atheists or agnostics now, all of which were either Christians, Baptists or Jews before. There’s more of us everyday.

“I’m not an angry atheist anymore. If anything, I’m a complacent atheist, which is worse.”

To be clear, I would say that most if not all of the religious people I know are good people. Many are smarter and more talented than me, I know that. They live decent and productive lives and teach their children how to be respectful and to tolerate others, even people like me.

Still, there are certain things I can’t get my head around, like folks praying to a God in the sky that grants them wishes. Is it a coincidence that kids do the same with Santa? Even when those prayers are selfless, the audacity is too much for me to handle. How can you think you’re humble if you also think the God that created everything is listening to you? That this God can intervene in your life to make a polyp benign, or allow you to score a touchdown, or find the hundred dollar bill you lost – but it can’t show itself for thirty seconds to finally convince every human being that it’s truly worth believing in? You know how many lives would be saved if that happened? But it won’t happen because it can’t happen, and I know why. So do millions of other atheists.

star1So yeah, it’s hard to be a free-thinking atheist and still find a way to celebrate the holidays, though it’s certainly not impossible. You can look to the solstice, you can look to family and friends, you can even look to the Santa myth, if that’s the direction you want to go in. You can do whatever you want. You can even treat Jesus like the myth he is and still enjoy the holidays. Me, I prefer ignoring it altogether. You should try it some time.

“How funny would it be if we went full Christmas this year?” my atheist girlfriend says to me. It’s important to note that we don’t buy each other presents, don’t decorate, hardly acknowledge the holiday at all. So this idea was really hysterical to us. It would be the exact opposite of who we are.

“That would be really funny,” I say. “Wreath on the door, Christmas tree, lights on the terrace. Maybe a big blow up Santa village in the living room?”
“Or we could do something really weird,” she suggests. 
“Like what?”
“I dunno. Like a Christmas yam?” she says, laughing.
“That would be great. With, like, a paper star hung on a paperclip.”
“No one would ever understand it,” she says.
“That’s exactly why we should do it.”

So, from one atheist to another, try not to let all this rampant religiosity and consumerism bring you down. You have the whole rest of the year for that. This season is yours, too. It may have even been yours first.

Celebrate what you want, however you choose to. Or don’t, no one’s watching – not a fictitious Santa or mythological God. Just the NSA.

yam

 

I was born and am alive but one day I'll be dead.

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Chadwick Boseman Forever!!

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It is clear that Chadwick Boseman chose iconic roles like Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Black Panther with deliberate intent and for a specific purpose. In an age where positive roles for Black actors is often sparse, Chadwick managed to land and portray historical figures that made most respect his talents if not revel in his ability to transition effortlessly for one character to another. Even I had to give his African accent a solid B+ (It’s the highest grade the Nigerian Standards Bureau can give for an African accent to a non African FYI.)

Holding out and preparing for these dynamic roles came with both great frustration and incredible resolve I’m certain. Not to mention the taxing ordeal of battling Colon Cancer as the grueling scheduling of filming and increasing responsibility for positive representation loomed. Even under extreme duress, Chadwick’s commitment to others appeared to outweigh his own tribulations, unbeknownst to us all.

Black Panther may have been just a movie to some and that may be because some can easily rattle off 10 movies with a king of non Af-Am origin. It represented a lot more to others. Albeit imagined, imagery on cinema often accomplishes more to augment the social narrative and society itself than actual reality. If negative stereotypes influence perception then positive ones absolutely have the same converse effect.

Even in jest, the cultural misappropriation of raisins in potato salad on SNL skits directly spoke to the tampering of black culture to which T’challa championed, represented and aptly responded “Oh hell Nah Karen!”

If you don’t understand the relevance of representation, it’s probably because you are thoroughly represented. After all, no one is ever grateful for every breath they take until they are gasping for air.

R.I.P Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for breathing life into the possibility of Black excellence.

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1

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We’re all familiar with movies hiding easter eggs throughout their films sending winks and nods to pop-culture references. Sometimes it will be a tip-of-the-cap to an author, actor, or creator. Sometimes it is paying homage to an inspiring series, book, or film that’s near and dear to the director’s heart. This week I’ve seen a first. A T.V. series that has several easter eggs depicting segregation and oppression that only eagle-eyed aficionado’s of the black struggle might have caught on to.

Lovecraft Country is littered with important details that would fly over many people’s heads, and as I watched it again, I caught more nods to the true oppression of many African-Americans during the post-World War II era.

As a film buff, nothing makes me happier than watching a review, breakdown, or hidden easter egg video on a TV show I enjoy. Yesterday I did the same with Lovecraft Country, and while many of the melanin-deficient reviewers on youtube touched on the themes of literature, horror, and fantasy, many understandably missed some of the most important historical references.

Here are 10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1.

 

1. H.P. Lovecraft’s little poem.

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While we all know H.P. Lovecraft as an innovator of modern horror, fiction, and fantasy in literature, many people (including myself) didn’t know about a poem he wrote that spoke horribly about African Americans. Lovecraft Country alludes to the poem, but never recites it. Once they mentioned the title, I went straight to my Google Search. Below is the poem called: On the Creation of N*****s (1912)

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceived a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N****r.

I’m sure Jackie Robinson beating the S**T out of Cthulhu at the beginning of the episode was a collective middle finger from the black community to Mr. Lovecraft.

2. Seating for Black People

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Scene from episode 1

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Actual photo of a segregated bus

While this may not come as a surprise to many of you, a lot of people are ignorant to the fact that, yes, black people were made to sit in the back of the bus. Many know the story of Rosa Parks’ defining moment, but for decades this was the way of life for black people. Where insult to injury is predicated in the show is when the bus breaks down and the bus driver gets a local pick-up truck driver to ride the stranded passengers into the city. Immediately in the next scene, the only two black passengers were seen walking down the road into Chicago.

3. Propaganda for the Negro Soldier

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In Lovecraft Country, the above poster is not shown in this episode, but instead, it’s a black soldier telling other young black men that if they enlist, they can see the world. While Atticus walks by the soldier, there’s a glance of recognition as if Atticus was once one of those impressionable young men, and he knows their being lied to. Black men had to be enticed to enlist by different methods than whites because it was hard to show patriotism to a country that still to that day had kept them oppressed. So, they would show a poster of Joe Louis joining the fight…why don’t you? Get to see the world! Little did they know seeing the world would involve PTSD, death, and despair.

4. The Negro Motorist Greenbook

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Scene from episode 1 depiction of the Green-Book

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Actual Green-Book

The synopsis according to IMDB.com is: “Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Black as he joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father.” While this is true, it’s not the whole story. Why are they embarking on this trip? It’s to help update what many people may know as, The Negro Motorist Greenbook. Yup, just like the movie, The Greenbook. If you don’t know, this book was originated by Victor Hugo Green as a travel bible for African Americans. It provided details of safe roads to travel, places for food, repairs, and lodging where they wouldn’t be turned away or even worse, assaulted.

5. James Baldwin’s monologue on racial divide

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During one of the scenes in Lovecraft Country, we see a montage of our protagonist’s road trip. In the montage we see different moments where they face discrimination, others facing discrimination, and the hardships of ignorant people with all the privilege in the world monopolizing on their entitlements. Usually, during movie montages, a composer would play a score to envoke emotions during the collection of scenes. Lovecraft Country went in a different direction. Instead, they played the monologue of James Baldwin’s renowned speech at Cambridge University where he debated with William Buckley on the subject of the United States racial divide. James Baldwin was a brilliant playwright, novelist, speaker, and activist that eloquently described the plight of the black man as it still stands today. Merged with the scenes during the montage, it speaks volumes about the state of America.

6. Ice Cream stand Scene

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Scene from episode 1

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Gordon Sparks photograph

In one of the scenes in the montage, we see a black man and his children waiting at an ice cream stand for service. Right over them is a sign that says “colored” and on the other side of the stand is a group of white people with ice cream being tended to by the servers. This scene looked extremely familiar to me. When I did some research, I realized this scene was based on a famous photograph by Gordon Parks, photographer and journalist who well-documented scenes of the segregation and civil rights era. Years ago I saw his work in its full brilliant quality at the High Museum in Atlanta. The color and detail brought a realism that a black-and-white photo could never do. It made this a real thing.

7. Mother and daughter under the neon sign

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Scene from episode 1

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Actual photo

This scene once again pays homage to another photograph by Gordon Parks. A mother and her daughter dressed elegantly as if they were going to church, standing under a large neon sign that says ‘Colored Entrance’.

8. The billboard across from the gas station

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Scene from episode 1

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Advertisement the billboard is based on

While Atticus and company are at a gas station filling up their car, they are approached by a gas station attendant pretending to be a gorilla to mock them. Leticia holds Atticus back from approaching the man as the attendant intensifies his ignorant behavior and she forces Atticus into the car. As they pull off, you can see a Billboard for Aunt Jemima in the background. Aunt Jemima has always been a misrepresentation of black culture through the lens of the white man and advertised to his fellow man as the overall perception of black people. The image of  Aunt Jemima is a source reflection of the learned behavior of the gas station attendant.

9. Sundown towns

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Scene from episode 1

Two years ago was the first time I’ve ever heard of a Sundown Town. No, not through a history book, but as a warning about staying too late in a little town in Texas that exists today! If I didn’t hear about this first hand, I would’ve thought it was a theme of the past, but no. There are currently county’s that do not condemn the abuse of black people once the sun goes down! While the billboard here might be a relic from the past, Sundown Towns are definitely alive and well across America!

10. White walls

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Scene from episode 1

Not only is this one telling, but it also holds all kinds of subliminal messages. While the group finds a Green book safe haven for dining called Lydia’s, they are surprised to find the restaurant is now called, Simmonsville Dinette. Still, they walk in and are greeted by unwelcoming faces. While the server goes to the back for what seems like their coffee orders, Atticus realizes that the walls are painted white. He asks his uncle to remind him why the white house was white. His uncle tells him about the war of 1812 when British soldiers torched it and when slaves were tasked to rebuild it, they had to paint it white to cover up the burn marks. This tells us two things. Lydia’s restaurant was burnt down and rebuilt by trespassers (obviously for being a safe haven for blacks in this all-white town) and the blackness of this restaurant was erased and covered up by the ‘white’ paint. My goodness, I could go on and on about this one!

I was expecting this series to be littered with easter eggs, but knowing they have incorporated easter eggs specifically about the black movement and struggles has me fired up to see what else is in store for these characters. Did you see any easter eggs that I missed? Comment and let me know.

 

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OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS

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Dear Members of Congress,

The tipping point is here and we need to put aside our political differences to save this country right now! Silence and remaining behind party lines is no longer an option. A unified address by our elected officials in Congress on the issue of police brutality and equality under the rule of law is required to begin the healing process as well as ensure the future of this nation.

There are three steps that immediately need to be taken to bring this to fruition. The arrest and charging of the three remaining individuals involved in the death of George Floyd must occur as the first step of good faith. The second step requires clear and transparent action items stated to the public in order to address the issues at hand. Those action items should include:

  • The revision of Qualified Immunity to specifically address the problematic assertion that “Qualified Immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought before – Institute of Justice
  • The reforming of Civilian Review Boards with the purpose of increasing the decision-making abilities on the disposition and discipline of police officers.

The third step is the creation and funding of a systemic racism task force with the goal of dismantling systemic racism.

  • Accelerating judicial system reform
  • Equating the public education system
  • Eliminating redlining

These are just the preliminary steps that will begin the framework of the changes we need enacted to better the experiment called the United States.

I look forward to seeing a response in the form of action on the behalf of the citizens of this country.

HB aka The World Traveler is fully committed to exploring and sharing with you what the world has to offer in travel and music. Get on board and enjoy the ride!

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