Nina Simone Birthday: Meshell Ndegeocello Releases 
Cover To Celebrate The Famous Singer 

Today is the birthday of Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known as the high-priestess of soul, Nina Simone. The great American crooner, a broad-ranging jazz and blues singer with a contralto like no other, would turn 80 years old if she were still alive today.

Born in North Carolina in 1933, Simone produced a number of blues and gospel-influenced tunes that addressed civil rights in the South. From "Mississippi Goddamn" to "Old Jim Crow," her lyrics openly criticized the racial inequality in America, a sentiment that was echoed in her acclaimed 1966 album, "Wild Is the Wind."

To celebrate the noted singer's 80th birthday, fellow American singer-songwriter and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello has unearthed another song made famous by Simone -- "Black Is the Colour (Of My True Love's Hair)." The Appalachian folk song became a part of Simone's standard repertoire, sung in the deep and muddled rhythms she mastered throughout her career.

Ndegeocello's version is a ghostly homage to Ms. Simone, set to a melancholy arrangement of rolling percussions and distorted guitars. Watch the exclusive premiere of the video above, and let us know what you think of the timely tribute in the comments section.

You can watch this while you wait for the Nina Simone biopic to hit theaters.

Thank you for reading,
Kyle Phoenix
=Thanks and enjoy! You can Like Us on Facebook or Follow Us on Twitter! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Channel 56 (Time Warner), 83 (RCN), 34 (Verizon) and the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast

Prison and the Poverty Trap
Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times

Carl Harris rejoined his wife, Charlene Hamilton, and their two daughters after 20 years in prison.

Published: February 18, 2013

WASHINGTON — Why are so many American families trapped in poverty? Of all the explanations offered by Washington’s politicians and economists, one seems particularly obvious in the low-income neighborhoods near the Capitol: because there are so many parents like Carl Harris and Charlene Hamilton.

Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times

Carl Harris, 47, whose days as a crack dealer ended at age 24, when he started two decades behind bars, playing with his dog at home in Washington.

For most of their daughters’ childhood, Mr. Harris didn’t come close to making the minimum wage. His most lucrative job, as a crack dealer, ended at the age of 24, when he left Washington to serve two decades in prison, leaving his wife to raise their two young girls while trying to hold their long-distance marriage together.

His $1.15-per-hour prison wages didn’t even cover the bills for the phone calls and marathon bus trips to visit him. Struggling to pay rent and buy food, Ms. Hamilton ended up homeless a couple of times.

“Basically, I was locked up with him,” she said. “My mind was locked up. My life was locked up. Our daughters grew up without their father.”

The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.

“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”

Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.

No one denies that some people belong in prison. Mr. Harris, now 47, and his wife, 45, agree that in his early 20s he deserved to be there. But they don’t see what good was accomplished by keeping him there for two decades, and neither do most of the researchers who have been analyzing the prison boom.

The number of Americans in state and federal prisons hasquintupled since 1980, and a major reason is that prisoners serve longer terms than before. They remain inmates into middle age and old age, well beyond the peak age for crime, which is in the late teenage years — just when Mr. Harris first got into trouble.

‘I Just Lost My Cool’

After dropping out of high school, Mr. Harris ended up working at a carwash and envying the imports driven by drug dealers. One day in 1983, at the age of 18, while walking with his girlfriend on a sidewalk in Washington where drugs were being sold, he watched a high-level dealer pull up in a Mercedes-Benz and demand money from an underling.

“This dealer was draped down in jewelry and a nice outfit,” Mr. Harris recalled in an interview in the Woodridge neighborhood of northeast Washington, where he and his wife now live. “The female with him was draped down, too, gold and everything, dressed real good.

“I’m watching the way he carries himself, and I’m standing there looking like Raggedy Ann. My girl’s looking like Raggedy Ann. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”

Within two years, he was convicted of illegal gun possession, an occupational hazard of his street business selling PCP and cocaine. He went to Lorton, the local prison, in 1985, shortly after he and Ms. Hamilton had their first daughter. He kept up his drug dealing while in prison — “It was just as easy to sell inside as outside” — and returned to the streets for the heyday of the crack market in the late 1980s.

The Washington police never managed to catch him with the cocaine he was importing by the kilo from New York, but they arrested him for assaulting people at a crack den. He says he went into the apartment, in the Shaw neighborhood, to retrieve $4,000 worth of crack stolen by one of his customers, and discovered it was already being smoked by a dozen people in the room.

“I just lost my cool,” he said. “I grabbed a lamp and chair lying around there and started smacking people. Nobody was hospitalized, but I broke someone’s arm and cut another one in the leg.”

An assault like that would have landed Mr. Harris behind bars in many countries, but not for nearly so long. Prisoners serve significantly more time in the United States than in most industrialized countries. Sentences for drug-related offenses and other crimes have gotten stiffer in recent decades, and prosecutors have become more aggressive in seeking longer terms — as Mr. Harris discovered when he saw the multiple charges against him.

For injuring two people, Mr. Harris was convicted on two counts of assault, each carrying a minimum three-year sentence. But he received a much stiffer sentence, of 15 to 45 years, on a charge of armed burglary at the crack den.

Eric Brown

A cellblock at Lorton, a defunct prison near Washington where Mr. Harris served time in the 1980s.

With a new outlook on life, Carl Harris returned to his family in 2009. He works as a security guard.

“The cops knew I was selling but couldn’t prove it, so they made up the burglary charge instead,” Mr. Harris contended. He still considers the burglary charge unfair, insisting that he neither broke into the crack den nor took anything, but he also acknowledges that long prison terms were a risk for any American selling drugs: “I knew other dealers who got life without parole.”

As it was, at the age of 24 he was facing prison until his mid-40s. He urged his wife to move on with her life and divorce him. Despondent, he began snorting heroin in prison — the first time, he says, that he had ever used hard drugs himself.

“I thought I was going to lose my mind,” he said. “I felt so bad leaving my wife alone with our daughters. When they were young, they’d ask on the phone where I was, and I’d tell them I was away at camp.”

His wife went on welfare and turned to relatives to care for their daughters while she visited him at prisons in Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

“I wanted to work, but I couldn’t have a job and go visit him,” Ms. Hamilton said. “When he was in New Mexico, it would take me three days to get there on the bus. I’d go out there and stay for a month in a trailer near the prison.”

In Washington, she and her daughters moved from relative to relative, not always together. During one homeless spell, Ms. Hamilton slept by herself for a month in her car. She eventually found a federally subsidized apartment of her own, and once the children were in school she took part-time jobs. But the scrimping never stopped. “We had a lot of Oodles of Noodles,” she recalled.

Eleven years after her husband went to prison, Ms. Hamilton followed his advice to divorce, but she didn’t remarry. Like other women in communities with high rates of incarceration, she faced a shortage of potential mates. Because more than 90 percent of prisoners are men, their absence skews the gender ratio. In some neighborhoods in Washington, there are 6 men for every 10 women.

“With so many men locked up, the ones left think they can do whatever they want,” Ms. Hamilton said. “A man will have three mistresses, and they’ll each put up with it because there are no other men around.”

Epidemiologists have found that when the incarceration rate rises in a county, there tends to be a subsequent increase in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy, possibly because women have less power to require their partners to practice protected sex or remain monogamous.

When researchers try to explain why AIDS is much more prevalent among blacks than whites, they point to the consequences of incarceration, which disrupts steady relationships and can lead to high-risk sexual behavior. When sociologists look for causes of child poverty and juvenile delinquency, they link these problems to the incarceration of parents and the resulting economic and emotional strains on families.

Some families, of course, benefit after an abusive parent or spouse is locked up. But Christopher Wildeman, a Yale sociologist, has found that children are generally more likely to suffer academically and socially after the incarceration of a parent. Boys left fatherless become more physically aggressive. Spouses of prisoners become more prone to depression and other mental and physical problems.

“Education, income, housing, health — incarceration affects everyone and everything in the nation’s low-income neighborhoods,” said Megan Comfort, a sociologist at the nonprofit research organization RTI International who has analyzed what she calls the“secondary prisonization” of women with partners serving time in San Quentin State Prison.

Before the era of mass incarceration, there was already evidence linking problems in poor neighborhoods to the high number of single-parent households and also to the high rate of mobility: the continual turnover on many blocks as transients moved in and out.

Now those trends have been amplified by the prison boom’s “coercive mobility,” as it is termed by Todd R. Clear, the dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. In some low-income neighborhoods, he notes, virtually everyone has at least one relative currently or recently behind bars, so families and communities are continually disrupted by people going in and out of prison.

A Perverse Effect

This social disorder may ultimately have the perverse effect of raising the crime rate in some communities, Dr. Clear and some other scholars say. Robert DeFina and Lance Hannon, both at Villanova University, have found that while crime may initially decline in places that lock up more people, within a few years the rate rebounds and is even higher than before.

New York City’s continuing drop in crime in the past two decades may have occurred partly because it reduced its prison population in the 1990s and thereby avoided a subsequent rebound effect.

Raymond V. Liedka, of Oakland University in Michigan, and colleagues have found that the crime-fighting effects of prison disappear once the incarceration rate gets too high. “If the buildup goes beyond a tipping point, then additional incarceration is not going to gain our society any reduction in crime, and may lead to increased crime,” Dr. Liedka said.

The benefits of incarceration are especially questionable for men serving long sentences into middle age. The likelihood of committing a crime drops steeply once a man enters his 30s. This was the case with Mr. Harris, who turned his life around shortly after hitting 30.

“I said, ‘I wasn’t born in no jail, and I’m not going to die here,’ ” he recalled, describing how he gave up heroin and other drugs, converted to Islam and went to work on his high school equivalency degree.

But he still had 14 more years to spend in prison. During that time, he stayed in touch with his family, talking to his children daily. When he was released in 2009, he reunited with them and Ms. Hamilton.

“I was like a man coming out of a cave after 20 years,” Mr. Harris said. “The streets were the same, but everything else had changed. My kids were grown. They had to teach me how to use a cellphone and pay for the bus.”

The only job he could find was at a laundry, where he sorted soiled linens for $8.25 an hour, less than half the typical wage for a man his age but not unusual for someone just out of prison. Even though the District of Columbia has made special efforts to find jobs for ex-prisoners and to destigmatize their records — they are officially known as “returning citizens” — many have a hard time finding any kind of work.

This is partly because of employers’ well-documented reluctance to hire anyone with a record, partly because of former prisoners’ lack of work experience and contacts, and partly because of their difficulties adapting to life after prison.

“You spend long enough in prison being constantly treated like a dog or a parrot, you can get so institutionalized you can’t function outside,” Mr. Harris said. “That was my biggest challenge, telling myself that I’m not going to forget how to take care of myself or think for myself. I saw that happen to too many guys.”

‘Crippled by Incarceration’

The Rev. Kelly Wilkins sees men like that every day during her work at the Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, which serves the low-income neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

“A lot of the men have been away so long that they’re been crippled by incarceration,” she said. “They don’t how to survive in the community anymore, and they figure it’s too late for someone in their 40s to start life over.”

A stint behind bars tends to worsen job prospects that weren’t good to begin with. “People who go to prison would have very low wages even without incarceration,” said Dr. Western, the Harvard sociologist and author of “Punishment and Inequality in America.”“They have very little education, on average, and they live in communities with poor job opportunities, and so on. For all this, the balance of the social science evidence shows that prison makes things worse.”

Dr. Western and Becky Pettit, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimate, after controlling for various socioeconomic factors, that incarceration typically reduces annual earnings by 40 percent for the typical male former prisoner.

The precise financial loss is debatable. Other social scientists have come up with lower estimates for lost wages after incarceration, but everyone agrees it’s only part of the cost. For starters, it doesn’t include wages lost while a man is behind bars.

Nor does it include all the burdens borne by the prisoner’s family and community during incarceration — the greatest cost of all, says Donald Braman, an anthropologist at George Washington University Law School who wrote “Doing Time on the Outside” after studying families of prisoners in Washington.

“The social deprivation and draining of capital from these communities may well be the greatest contribution our state makes to income inequality,” Dr. Braman said. “There is no social institution I can think of that comes close to matching it.”

Drs. DeFina and Hannon, the Villanova sociologists, calculate that if the mass incarceration trend had not occurred in recent decades, the poverty rate would be 20 percent lower today, and that five million fewer people would have fallen below the poverty line.

Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Harris have now risen above that poverty line, and they consider their family luckier than many others. Their two daughters finished high school; one went to college; both are employed. Ms. Hamilton is working as an aide at a hospital. Mr. Harris has a job as a security guard and a different outlook on life.

“I don’t worry about buying clothes anymore,” he said. He and his wife are scrimping to save enough so they can finally, in their late 40s, buy a home together.

“It’s like our life is finally beginning,” Ms. Hamilton said. “If he hadn’t been away so long, we could own a house by now. We would probably have more kids. I try not to think about all the things we lost.”

Accentuating the Positive

She and her husband prefer to accentuate the positive, even when it comes to the police and prison. They appreciate that some neighborhoods in Washington are much safer now that drug dealers aren’t fighting on street corners and in crack dens anymore. They figure the crackdown on open-air drug markets helped both the city and Mr. Harris.

“If I hadn’t been locked up, I probably would have ended up getting killed on the streets,” Mr. Harris said. His wife agreed.

“Prison was good for him in some ways,” Ms. Hamilton said. “He finally grew up there. He’s a man now.”

But 20 years?

“They overdid it,” she said. “It didn’t have to take that long at all.”
Thank you for reading,
Kyle Phoenix
Thanks and enjoy! You can Like Us on Facebook or Follow Us on Twitter! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Channel 56 (Time Warner), 83 (RCN), 34 (Verizon) and the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast

Total Three Martin Luther King Projects: Now HBO & Oprah Developing Miniseries


EXCLUSIVE: In their first substantial project since moving from ABC to HBO, Harpo Films’ Oprah Winfrey and Kate Forte are teaming with HBO to mountAmerica: In the King Years, a 7-hour miniseries about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr based on Taylor Branch’s celebrated book trilogy.

Robert Schenkkan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Kentucky Cyclewho most recently wrote four episodes of HBO’s 10-part mini The Pacific, will write seven hour-long episodes. HBO acquired rights to Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Parting The Waters, as well as Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge.

The HBO-Harpo mini means that, 42 years after his 1968 assassination, King isnow the focal point of three ambitious projects.

Precious director Lee Daniels is gaining traction on the drama Selma. The film has struggled with budget, but I hear it’s gaining steam for a fall production start on a $22 million budget, with Harvey Weinstein circling as the missing piece of the financing puzzle. The Weinstein Co. would join Pathe as financier on a film Plan B and Christian Colson are producing. David Oyelowo (MLK), Liam Neeson (Lyndon Baines Johnson), Hugh Jackman (playing Jim Clark, one of the sheriffs who arrested the civil rights leaders) and others are setting aside time for the fall shoot. (Given Oprah’s ferocious support of Precious, it is interesting to see she and Daniels in rival MLK projects).

The third MLK project is a DreamWorks biopic that Ronald Harwood is writing, with Steven Spielberg among the producers. DreamWorks made a deal with the King estate that reportedly gives it access to exclusive papers and speeches but I’m told that HBO will be using many of the same resources for its mini.

Harpo’s Forte said that the prospect of turning all three Branch books into a mini was a key reason that Harpo left its exclusive deal with ABC in late 2008 to make minis and films for HBO.

“People have tried telling this story using Parting the Waters, but nobody had all three books until now and that was incredibly enticing for us,” she said. “This really is America in the King years, from 1954-68. Dr. King is the most dominant character, but there are so many other players who figure prominently. That includes his relationships with two presidents, JFK and Lyndon Johnson, his relationship with Coretta Scott King and his family, Bobby Kennedy, Stokely Carmichael and SNCC. This will cover the freedom rides, the Birmingham campaign, Selma, and the poor people’s march on Washington that he was organizing when he was killed. It will be the seminal Civil Rights era film. We thought Robert’s work on The Pacific was incredible and he can hit the ground running.”

He will have to, as the intention is to begin shooting next year.

What Is Happiness For You?

Its been a challenging couple of years.  Not the worst ever that I've experienced but these past few years have really changed some of the concepts I had of myself and where I was going and what I was doing.  I often think about happiness, my own, and family and friends' and I imagine what could I do to make them happy.  Then sometimes i sit back and really look at my own sadness---ill parents, the instability of teaching from the place you work at to the outcome of the students---I'm never sure if I've gotten it right, if I've made a substantial difference, if a good program is in process or if this is merely the iteration of an idea that needs to be hashed out some more.  

Then I have this other project of The Kyle Phoenix Show and the associated blogs, websites, podcasts, development designs and trying to think about how to develop this whole thing into something useful and helpful.  It makes me pleased some times and frustrated other times because I'm not exactly media obsessed but it demands that I learn about how to create, distribute and control media.  It's not something I've normally had to think about: my public image.  That's even weird for me to see in a detached way to myself now.  I'm reading two books on narcissism and media---I go on tears, this one actually came from developing workshops, shows and blogs around passive aggressiveness and dealing with many narcissists in my work---and I was struck by how unrelated to my own happiness attention is to me.  

I've been trying to discern what makes me happy, what kinds of things I want to do, where to go, what to study, how to enter the next third of life more intentionally.  There are things I'm not satisfied with, but who doesn't have some of those?  But now an element of my life is about being in front of a room or a camera or presentations where I'm trying to convey some nugget of information and emotionally I'm generally expected to be reasonably upbeat and happy.  I have to be emotionally present in certain ways that demand that I'm reasonably okay with myself.  I even get lots of push and pull from people who are wrestling with the value of whatever it is I'm sharing.  There have been only two negative incidents in the past three years of intensive school/teaching where I've been doing more than 40 hours of both a week, trying to integrate new knowledge from university in the design of schools and how to focus adult learning to the implementation of those skills, sometimes in the same week---the ride is exciting most times but I never notice it within the ride.

Again I return to happiness and am I happy?  I suppose that for us all it's a decision of which side of the yes or no you fall onto but there's a gap of gray space so sometimes I'm more happy and others times I'm less happy, but I am happy.  I am pleased with the things I've gathered so far in life.  I do think about death, it's been a decade of death in my family, so I often pick up the phone from relatives and it's the report of who's passed away or close to it.  I guess I meander through this blog, the personal ones are always the less concise to my ear and eye   but I do know that somehow I keep re-birthing myself.  

All this happiness questioning came from working on my Vitae, an academic resume/record of what I've done, produced, written/published, taught, etc. over the course of time.  I'm often stunned by how much I do, the product, the output because I never think it's enough, not from measuring myself against others but because I'm not sure if it creates happiness.  It represents a form of happiness, most of the stuff on my Vitae I liked doing in some form or another, I liked the creation of it whether I cared for the total outcome.  One of the things I've learned over these past few intensive years is that in education it never quite meets outcome vision.  I've spent a lot of the past few months really doing intensive writing about my work, it's presentation time; time to articulate what I observed and learned from my vantage points in the classroom.  

My point?  How do you measure your own happiness?  Is it an ongoing process or something that you've found is elusive?  Do you feel like an essentially happy person, honestly or are you at war with it?  I consider this because of how much unhappiness I often hear (or is emailed to me) from workshops/groups.  So many men in particular are unhappy with their race, their work, their sexuality, their loneliness.  Sometimes when I'm sitting with people with my best professional face on, sometimes even with friends, I'm saddened by the lost, sad people I'm seeing who do small and huge destructive things.  I watch them thinking that an unhealthy relationship or drugs or drinking or lying or narcissism or adulation or magic or stuff will bring them a sense of peace, of happiness.  
I was looking at one of the bookcases near my bed, it's barely the tip of my book iceberg, so I was imagining all of my books in bookcases along a long wall, and the DVDs  and the CDs and the magazines and that was making me happy to think of that perfect picture.  Ironically I was reading a book about death of parents and examining for happiness and contentment and liberation but somehow I got kind of happy thinking about all of these things, light and dark and the happiness that we take and miss in ourselves.

Thank you for reading,
Kyle Phoenix
Thanks and enjoy! You can Like Us on Facebook or Follow Us on Twitter! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Channel 56 (Time Warner), 83 (RCN), 34 (Verizon) and the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast on

I've known Ororo Munroe longer than I've known practically everyone in my life.  I first discovered here in X-Men 135 where they were fighting their own errant teammate Phoenix.  This was when there was one X-Men title and it was done superbly by scribe Chris Claremont, artist John Byrne and inker Terry Austin.  At that time she was very wind goddess tryign to reason with an insane White teammate and a dozen issues later after being kidnapped and tortured/imprisoned by Dr.Doom, Storm had her own Phoenix-esque freak out.  Claremont was setting up the idea that all mutants, particularly those who manipulated energy, forces of nature could be a threat.  A serious threat to others, innocents, not just villains.  Through X-Men #140s to the late 160's, Storm was central as a character, becoming co-leader when Cyclops left and she was....changing.  We got to see her switch minds with another of my favorites, Emma Frost, the White Queen and learn to manage being a telepath.  She was then subjugated by Dracula and then came the seminal shift in her character.  The X-Men were in a pitched battle with the underground mutant Morlocks who were vicious in a way, a gritty street way that the X-Men (Nightcrawler, Colossus and Ariel/Shadowcat) weren't ready for.  But Storm was.

Storm had grown up a street urchin/.thief in Cairo and had.....skills.  No, skills that had been hinted at and used---lock-picking, muscle coordination, cunning---but when Callisto challenged her to a knife fight and arrogantly flung a blade at her....and Storm, ill, beaten and not allowed to use her powers caught the knife like a dark professional---I remember gasping like Callisto did.  Storm adroitly killed Callisto (who was later revived.saved by a mutant healer) but Storm, Ms. Gentle Goddess with an attic that looked like the Botanical Gardens aced Callisto for the X-Men's freedom and became the Morlocks leader.  But Claremont kept twisting her character until she went all mohawk and embraced her viciousness.....and just when that seemed like the pinnacle, she lost her powers.  
And insanely, Storm became a better, stronger X-Men, leader and more dangerous opponent.  For me the height of her capabilities was when she fought the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths with her wits and a shotgun to save the life of the man she'd come to love Forge, who was responsible for the weapon that robbed her of her powers.  In real time, her de-powering lasted about 40 issues until Forge found a way to restore her powers.  But there was a point when no matter the villain, a powerless Storm was a feat to behold, an opponent to be reckoned with.  Claremont stayed on for about another 40 issues so she morphed, matured a bit more but then he left over the dispute around too many X titles and too little creativity.
For the past 200 issues of the X-Men she's been lots of things.  More often than not goddess, weather mutant and now most recently wife to the Black Panther.  Which brings us to the racial miasma around the long white haired, blue eyed mutant.  There was a few attempts at racializing her by Claremont and Byrne in the beginning, putting her into a Harlem setting with Luke Cage in an attempt to "Blacken" her.  Problematically, none of the writers were Black, nor the artists so their racial perception was a grain above racist, they were somewhere along the lines of White men trying to write authentic Black characters.....yeah, that messy.  But then we have to examine the context of comic books which are ultimately White male dominated from characters to creators and primarily therefore geared/marketed towards the population with the most disposable income, again White males.  So Storm will always be an African forced through the lens and libido of White men which is why all of her paramours have either been more powerful than her (Akron) or minorities themselves (Forge, Black Panther).  What then is Storm to those of us who are brown, of African descent, who want and need heroes and heroines?  Sadly, she's a cipher.  She's a shell.  She's a caricature of a caricature.  I could trust Chris Claremont because not only did he care but he seems to be one of those White men who doesn't simply find White men and their peccadilloes fascinating.  He's often bringing in characters of varying cultures and races and religions and moralities.  But the rest of the stable of White men who've had their pens on Storm?  Ehhhh....

In many ways Storm is an embodiment of racism trying to work itself out but only in the sphere of White men, which is why there is so little advancement. She started out as the African thief/urchin rescued and civilized by the patriarchal White man (Professor X), humanized, civilized (she was originally introduce naked and wild)---yes, it was was very Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness.  She's since been demoted from team leader to sort of staunch, disconnected royalty---another racial context for the exotic "Other".  People of color look at Storm, read about her, see the films, admire the artwork but we have no control over her.  There have been one or two comics where the writers and artists have been Black, Halle Berry played her in the X-Men movies and Jill Scott voiced her in the Black Panther cartoon series but Chris Claremont controlled her the longest from X-Men early 100s to the 280s---which is about 17 years and there's been another 10 close to 16 years of this mishmash Storm since.
I recently went wild on Amazon and bought X-Men Forever---all of the issues, Chris Claremont re-imagining the X-Men if he'd never left and picking up the characters and storyline directly afterwards.  Read as all the trade paperbacks together with him bringing out all the villains and drama and dialogue and deep thoughts---I mean real writing---I was deeply impressed and nostalgic.  But at the same time I was also disturbed at the clunkiness of it, because I have years of "other X-Men" to compare it to.  Like looking at a magic trick from backstage. 

I stopped buying the X-Men a few years ago---simply too many title, too confusing, too expensive, too many crossovers, too little good writing.  It became an exercise in trying to be over the top for the sake of being over the top.  I hung in during Grant Morrison's X-Men and bought all of X-treme X-Men done by Claremont and Salvador Larocca but fizzled out soon afterwards.  I found that while Claremont had reenergized X-treme X-Men, he was shot in the kneecaps when Larocca left.  The X-Men need a committed long term artist of clean, sensual caliber to be really good when an able writer is at hand. 

When people become aware of my comic book collection, a few thousand, not nearly as big as it used to be, they often ask me why I didn't continue my teenage aspirations and go into writing comics.  Going to college and learning and coming to understand race and literature was a big part of it from a creative point of view.  There are also certain characters that are mainstays that I don't care for.  But mainly the static control of editors that if you look closely, the characters don't significantly "change" anymore.  For about 20 years there was an excitement with Claremont  Byrne, Walt & Louise Simonson and others that these people could change.  That they were growing up and their powers were altered, their allegiances shifted, their viciousness got ramped up and questioned next to their morals.  There was even Storm lashing out at Professor X with a knife in ways that gave hints of slave rebellion.  But without legal ownership of the characters, a long standing reputation and therefore carte blanche and the incessant need for change, there's no room for anything new in comics.  (It was also why I scrapped several Star Trek novels---there's a writer's bible for the Star Trek universe and nothing essentially changes without a conference room meeting---and that's not how good writing has ever happened.)  But as you can see in the Fan Fiction section of this very blog, several years ago I dabbled in some writing of the X-Men.

I also felt it was a White universe with sprinklings of people of color and one of two things would happen.  I would spend an inordinate amount of time being the racial translator of characters or I would spend the same amount of time having to juggle White characters instead of other raced ones.  It didn't seem like an arena that could be won in.  I expect that it's a difficult market to work in because you have to sell 60,000 to 100,000 copies of each issue to keep it on the stands and while that may seem like very little compared to the population, you probably have to times that by 5 or 10 titles, which is what the normal collector buys a month.  I went into a comic book store a few weeks ago and tried to figure out how to buy some X-Men titles and the racks were so confusing that I left without buying anything.  Also as just a matter of writing ability  I could flip through an issue and get the whole story without having to make a $3 investment.  In the past you weren't just looking at it, you had to read it as well.  Lots of new words and ideas were packed into 20 pages, in many ways they became passive study aides.  Even now I use graphic novels and comics with my students to cover spans of history and art and biographical figures and business and ideology.  It's pretty good, in fact it's so good I was just talking with a professor about how we both will ramp it up in future classes.  There are even aspects of Storm that I will be using for some elements on Africa, pan-Africanism, feminism, lack of feminism, hegemony, all the fun stuff.
But the Storm I grew up with is not quite dead, but more of a zombie.  There are occasional flashes but for the most part when the racial marriage happened and now the heavy Africanization occurred, she was forever lost to a White person's projection of race.  Isn't it funny that White people think Africans are Black people?  isn't it even more funny that Black people want to be Africans but aren't?  Isn't it even funnier still that Africans know the difference?  Somewhere in the corner of her blue eyes, somehow in the comic multiverse there's a Storm, the wise, sanguine, ruthless Storm who would gently tell us.  "I was never Black.  Hell, I wasn't even really African either. I was originally created to be some sort of cat hybrid female but that changed.  I am and always was the closest thing to a darker White woman who was exoticized with some slapdash Africanness to explain my propensity for cultural confusion, Caucasian features and less clothing.  I was never yours, you just thought I was until you could truly see what racial construction in media is."


Thank you for reading,

Kyle Phoenix




Thanks and enjoy! You can Like Us on Facebook or Follow Us on Twitter! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Channel 56 (Time Warner), 83 (RCN), 34 (Verizon) and the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast

The Celebrity Apprentice & Star Jones
(I'm writing this because I've done lots of classes on the 48 Laws of Power and will start doing blogs and tv shows on the book and the Laws as well as Thick Face, Black Heart---stay tuned!)

 I believe that so far the women and to some degree the men are trapped in that building with Star Jones. From purely the POV of a fellow student of the 48 Laws of Power, I have watched Star play a masterful game. Not only is she technically intelligent but she's a masterful psychological evaluator and has impeccable manners. I predict she's the winner! Even when she objects or is wronged or is in the wrong, she presents the most professional face and level of maturity. They've all gotten on her nerves at various stages (Dionne Warwick, NeNe, LaToya) and she's been honest but at the same time she's held back from losing her temper, her cool, her dignity.

I normally don't watch TV but I was on my way out one evening and watched it just to see what Celebrity Apprentice was as I was thinking could I use this in the classroom teachings I do. I was blown away (and late) by watching the construction of the show and particularly how Star Jones was laying in the cut. How she was applying her lawyering skills at negotiation, manipulation and evaluation to half a dozen people so effortlessly. They're putty in her hands. She loses I'm done. She gets tossed off I'm done watching.

The NeNe/LaToya two-shot where she brought them back in (saving Hope for the next fall guy position---Marlee and NeNe being her real competition) was an excellent tactical move. I'll also add that negotiating product placement for her book Satan's Sisters (five women on a daytime talk show--fiction---Lord, are any of us ready for her! lol) in the opening promos of EVERY show! Wonderful. No, no, it gets better----Star's deflecting a downgrading of her abilities and picking it up with a grand compliment-----"My best mentors so far have been Johnnie Cochran in law, Barabara Walters in television and now you, Mr. Trump in business"----I nearly fainted in ecstasy!!!!

LaToya----a little "special" and I think I mean that in a upper class/wealth way where she's steeped in being wealthy and treated a certain way and not use to this level of engagement and competition---never had a chance. I think she's in some ways genuinely kind and her apology to NeNe seemed real (the fact that Star orchestrated it made me delirious with joy!) and then Star bringing the two easiest targets to eliminate while leaving Marlee and Hope as lame ducks to get burned strategically in the future was orgasmic. She is a mistress at Thick Face, Black Heart! She wedged NeNe, still new in getting over her grudge against the slightly bougie LaToya's classist condescension---she would have no where to go but to aligning with Star against LaToya who was put between Star who's so neutral that Trump himself might be in danger from her and NeNe who she'd been offending for awhile so no alliance/support was possible. Delightful manipulation! I think Trump canned LaToya on the grounds that she was playing short game.

Ms. Star Jones is playing to win.

*****Update: She didn't win.  And sure as Pepsi I stopped watching when she was "fired" but I did feature her and Marc Lamont Hill on The Kyle Phoenix Show focusing on Resources: Persistence and Motivation, where he is interviewing her at an Entrepreneur Conference in Atlanta.*****************

Thank you,
Kyle Phoenix
Thanks and enjoy! You can Like Us on FaceBook or Follow Us on Twitter! Don't forget to watch The Kyle Phoenix Show on Channel 56 (Time Warner), 83 (RCN), 34 (Verizon) and the Thursday/Friday 12am/midnight simulcast on

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