Sunday, October 21, 2012

Finally I'm coming out the closet. Yes I eat Chitlins, and I'm Proud!

A few days ago, October 11th, marked "International Coming Out Day", celebrating brave individuals who publicly identify as either Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual or Gay.  I'm happy for them.

 I am especially proud of those in the Black community who participated or embraced a friend or loved one who came out. 
Still, too many Down-Low Brothers are spreading the AIDS Virus because of cowardliness, but also due to the Black Community's ramped and childish homophobia. I continue to make amends for my previous acts of stupid homophobia, by aggressively denouncing any homophobic word or actions on the spot.  

But tonight, Im gonna do a little "coming out" of my own. 

I eat Chitterlings. 

Black folk call them chitlins and I'm cooking up a pot ( to be served with grits) as I type this confession. 

"Chitlins" have always had a dual relationship in America, especially Black America,  yet animal innards remain a delicacy world wide, from Asia to Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. Haggis is the national dish of Scotland, which is innards stuffed with sheep heart, liver and lungs. The finest French restaurants serve tripe, (andouillettes), which is also their name in New Orleans. The name Chitterlings is itself a middle high German word.

 In America, chitlins were relegated to Blacks during chattel slavery, and like the blues, we made something positive of it. Black captives preformed every act of hard labor for white society,  including killing hogs. In the cooler weather around the holidays, the removal and preparations of chitlins became both ritual and a delicacy of the Black captives.  One of the endless horrors of chattel slavery was the miserly food rations provided to the Black captives.   To survive, after toiling from sun up to sun down in the fields, they had to grow their own gardens, fish, and trap wild game, or starve. After killing the hog, they could take only the chitlins. After the rest of the meat was delivered to the white captors, the chitlins were cooked in a large kettle over fire and eaten out doors. The cleaning took hours, so stories were told, along with singing and dancing.

After emancipation, chitlins became problematic. More Blacks were against eating them, especially those who moved north.  Chitlins became a symbol of the humiliations, horrors, and suffering of chattel slavery, and poverty afterwords.  But during the Great Depression, rural white southerners began to eat them. Some openly, enjoying them in groups at barns and gas station garages. The smell haunts houses long after the savories are gone. They even formed clubs, like the Royal Order of Chitlin Eaters of Nashville and The Happy Chitlin Eaters of Raleigh. In some places, they took on names like Southern Oysters.

  Black people,  however continued to use the term pejoratively.  During Jim Crow segregation, Black northern musicians and comics toured "The Chitlin Circuit", which were southern predominantly Black owned clubs and juke joints that generally were little more than shacks in tin can alley communities, that sold rock gut spirits, beer, and soul food, including chitlins. Traveling the Chitlin Circuit was perilous. Most hotels, motels, and restaurants refused service to Blacks. Whites were also particularly hostile to Black outsiders, branding them as part of the civil rights movement. The goal of these artists was to work the Chitlin Circuit long enough to be discovered by some of the bigger clubs in Harlem that had all Black musicians, but were also segregated.   

When I was a kid my Aunt Mert cooked chitlins at her home in the Englewood neighborhood. My mother who grow up at the end of the very same block, joined in the preperation. My Grandfather who loved chitlins still lived there, along with my uncle, who did not.  And all of the Drakes, Aunt Mert, Uncle Mike, their one daughter and three boys, loved my Grandfather who they called Mr. Palmer. But none of them, except my Aunt, ate chitlins so they had to put up with the smell for food they didn't like. They all therefore left the house for the day.

Red bucket white top that required 5 hours of cleaning
In those days, chitlins came mostly uncleaned in a standard white top red buck, took around three hours to cook, and five to clean. They had be cut into pieces and the waste scrubbed off each piece least germs unleash a plethora of sicknesses. I loved being at my aunts house. As a baby, while my mother worked, she use to watch over me along with her youngest son/my cousin Markus, who died all to young before she passed, years ago.

As my Aunt Mert and my Mom cleaned and cooked the chitlins, I would listen to my aunt- who did most of the talking- gossip and reminisces  about "down south". My Aunt would laugh, play music, sing and dance. I remember her crooning to my mother, "Baby I Need Your Loving" by the Four Tops. Mert was a stout and tall women with a marvelous voice who could light up the dance floor, as she did that fall day on the linoleum kitchen floor.

As they cooked I would also walk down the street to explore my Grandfathers, old, dark, junkie, cigar smoke filled, and mysterious house, that my mother, other aunt, and uncles grew up in.  My Grandfather did not like a lot of people including members of his own family, but he loved and doted on me. He always had candy at the ready, although some might be stale, but I never minded. And he loved chitlins

Although I only had them once a year, my father tried hard to stop me from eating chitlins. One year, after a long lecture about how bad they were, he offered me twenty dollars if I never ate them again. I asked If I didn't eat them next year, could I have the twenty dollars?  He said,  I might eat them the year after, so I had to wait till I was twenty-one. I wasn't even thirteen so I refused. When my mother and I left him, she still never made chitlins.

Chitlins are still a stigma. I never admitted liking them, until now. Yet when I graduated from college, I made them. I was dating a women from a Black Muslim background and knew not to ask her to join me. So one Saturday, I brought the red bucket and frankly almost gave up after the first four hours. I knew at that time that my Aunt's preparation of chitlins for us was a labor of love and probably related to her growing up in Alabama.

What I didn't know was, a chitlin revolution had occurred. The red bucket of chitlins are about six bucks. Now machine cleaned chitlins are available for eight dollars, requiring minimal cleaning.  Hand cleaned chitlins sale for  thirteen dollars, requiring no cleaning. The Red Bucket Option has far more chitlins, but for safety and connivence, I go with the hand cleaned. Just to be safe I still go over them twice.

Only My mother knew of my secrete.

In Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, published in 1952, there is a potent scene about the complexity of chitlins in Black America. After being unfairly dismissed from an all Black southern agricultural college by the haughty but influential school principal Dr. Bledsoe ( modeled after Booker T. Washington),  the novels protagonist, fantasizes about getting revenge by exposing a secrete chitlin passion,

"I saw myself advancing upon Bledsoe . . . and suddenly whipping out a foot or two of chitterlings, raw, uncleaned, and dripping sticky circles on the floor as I shake them in his face, shouting: "Bledsoe, you're a shameless chitterling eater! I accuse you of relishing hog bowels! Ha! And not only do you eat them, you sneak and eat them in private when you think you're unobserved! You're a sneaking chitterling lover!"

My chitlins are ready now, and the grits will take another few minutes. Once again I am now publicly coming out.

 I. Love. Chitlins.
I also love them because eating them connects me to my ancestors   who endured the unspeakable acts of chattel slavery and as a race struggled through it. I am proud to eat what they ate. I am proud that my Aunt Mertha demonstrated her deep love for me and my Grandfather by cooking them when they required eight hours of labor, and included my Mother in this ritual. I am proud that I could feel how deeply my Grandfather, who grew up desperately poor, loved me and was proud that I shared his love for chitlins.

 My Aunt Mert and Grandfalther are no longer in physical form. But by partaking in this ritual, I can feel strongly connected to them. 

I am blessed in this way. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Is the election of President Hugo Chavez more hope for the African Diaspora in The Americas and abroad than the U.S. Presidential Election?

South African Police shot down Strikers 
The African Diaspora lurches forward into uncharted dark times.  Like an updated Charles Dickens novel, we, Her children, exist between greed, corruption, and poverty.  It's the best of times for our elite. South Africa is now politically "free" and governed by the famed liberation organization, The African National Congress, (ANC).  But the ANC does nothing to check corruption and supports the wealthy white aristocracy of old, including the min owners. Taking a page from the former white Apartheid government, the police are still allowed to shot dead Blacks workers who dare strike against dangerous work conditions and low pay.

 In the United States, the world's most powerful nation, A Black man is President.  But Blacks 
continued to be the last hired, first fired, marred in double digit unemployment, imprisonment, and pandemic murder rate. To added insult, the Black community have never been used as political pawn as much as we have by this President.  Meanwhile, the wealthy 2 percent continue to loot and pillage every source of public and private coin available aided and abetted by "our" Government.  

And for Black South Africa and Black America, there is no longer a direct enemy to point to or focus on. And truth be told, we are our worst enemy.

 South Africa was suppose to reshape and propel Africa into the progressive civilization that it once was, and connect Black Americans- who helped destroy Apartheid- to our lost African heritage.  None of this happened.  About six years ago, I read an article in The New York Times Magazine about the creation of an elite class of Black South Africans. There was a picture of a Black South African exiting his BMW, talking on a cell phone, carrying his golf clubs to an elite country club that was formally off limits to Black-Africans under Apartheid.  I knew then that Nelson Mandela's revolution had failed, because when the ANC assumed control of South Africa, instead of junking the capitalist system that fueled Apartheid, for a progressive model designed to benefit the masses of Black Africans grievously wronged under Apartheid, they embraced American Capitalism .  The end result is a broken mirror of America. A vast and growing ravine between rich and poor, endemic corruption, and violence.  The only difference between us and them, is their masses are too poor to be mesmerized by the circuses of corporate and religious entertainment that keeps Black Americans pacified.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic Ocean in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez continues a radical experiment of wealth redistribution began by Fidel Castro. America's continued economic choke-hold on the Cuban People and Government, has in many ways stalled and in certain ways, reversed the Revolution. But it still serves as a roll model and inspiration for the bold and brave, like President Chavez. 

In Venezuela's last election, President Chavez pole-vaulted over the "moderate" American favored candidate, winning another six year term to continue an economic model that doesn't placate America and the western world. This model is organic to the masses of South America, called, Simón de Bolívar Socialism. The results continue to both improve the economic lots and equally important, raise the level of political and social consciousness of the masses. Meanwhile, South Africa denigrates to yet another African quagmire while Venezuela rises as a symbol of hope of what the bold and just can achieve.

 President Chavez, who recognizes himself firmly in the African Diaspora and publicly embraces his Black African blood, is copying the foundations of what was done by the late Muammar Qaddafi, building a Trans-African Movement.  But President Chavez is using a more enlightened and non cynical model. Further President Chavez is now able to forge ahead with what could be, world changing projects by expanding, The Bank of the South, which promotes development though out Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, with out the exploitative and detrimental polices of the International Monetary Fund, and creating;

Petrosouth to marshal and pool oil and gas resources of the above continents. President Chavez noted that the European oil companies continue to exploit and evade taxes in Africa- as opposed to paying a 30 percent tax now demanded by Venezuela-,

Telesouth, a TV and  radio station, broadcasting alternative progressive voices to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and

The University for the South to educate and train the youth of the above continents to run the above projects  

 It's ironic that in the next three weeks, America will hold Presidential elections, but the last elections in Venezuela might means more to Black Americas in terms of progressive policies, no matter who is elected. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hugo Chávez Continues The Latin American Revolution! & The Monday Red Beans & Rice Tradition

Francisco Toro wrote an Op-ed centered prominently in The New York Timesentitled "How Hugo Chávez  Became Irrelevant". There's no need for me to go deep into it, as Red Beans & Rice demands far more attention.  But the "cheap-seats recap" is that Toro "doth" proclaimed progressive radicalism as bad and out dated,-along with Fidel Castro-, while political "moderation" is  Godly. And, that Venezuelan voters would overwhelmingly reject Hugo.  Well, Nope! The results are in and Hugo (got to love a progressive-world-change-agent name Hugo) overwhelmed his challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, in a clean and fair democratic election. Given what went down with Gore/Bush and w the current attempts to erase Black votes in the up coming Presidential elections, America could learn a thing of two from Hugo.

Overlooking throngs of cheering supporters both old and young, Hugo Chávez said "Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and [ Simon] Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century." 
                          Red Beans & Rice, A Tradition. 


Historically, Black folk have existed between superstition, that gave us both a desperately needed crutch and a semblance of control-when in fact we had none; and a white supremacist Hell created on earth for Black people. 

 This is why during slavery, the African tradition of jumping over a broom stick, morphed from both a traditional African marriage ceremony and a way to determine who would run the household, to  a Black marriage ceremony in America, evoking a powerful forces to keep the married couple from being torn apart and sold off, which was a common occurrence. 

Four years ago, in Annapolis Maryland during a road construction project, a bundle of "magic" was found in a tattered and mostly disintegrated leather pouch, roped around the top.  Inside was lead shot, nails, pins,- some of them purposely bent, and a stone with a tiny ax on top, which represents the Yorùbá Orisha, Shango. The bag and its contents date back to the early 1700's and records place the find at what was then a crossroads.  

Eshu Legba
Crossroads have special significants in the Yorùbá spiritual world and are guarded by the Orisha, Eshu Legba, who at the cross roads takes the form of an old man with a humped back. Eshu Legba is the messenger between the world of humans and the realm of the Orisha. Clearly some in slaved African/ Black person,  needed to evoke some form of protection arising from the Yorùbá religious tradition, passed down to them.

The Great Migration Series by Jacon Lawrence 

The problem with the Northern urbanization- The Great Migration  of Black people from the South to the North from 1910-1930, is that we've left numerous traditions behind that rooted us to the land and to our people as a race.  The only tradition we now share is the Black church, which I personally cannot honor.  I can appreciate the progressive actions of a church, and a few  individual churches as single institutions, like Saint Sabina on Chicago's South side. But not enough to honor the Black church as a tradition, at least not any more.

I'm therefore learning to create my own traditions based upon my family history and the history of my people.

My first tradition will be to cook Red Beans & Rice, every Monday that I'm at home. Beans were big in my family on the Mississippi, and the Louisiana side- that I'm just now learning about. But only my Aunt Murk cooked Red Beans & Rice.

I've cooked them before, but never as good as last Monday. Cooking Red Beans & Rice is a New Orleans Black tradition. Many Creoles would strongly object to being called Black, but as "Creoles" exist only in New Orleans, in any other place in America they would be Black.  I therefore think it's fair to call the kettle what it is.  The Red Beans & Rice tradition demands some form of ham which was always served on Sundays and the left overs went into Monday's Red Beans & Rice.  Monday was also wash day, which in those days was a laborious process consuming most of the day, so letting the red beans soak and then cook, while washing  was an efficient use of time for the day.

Red Beans & Rice appears to be an easy dish, but it's complicated as I've found out. In order to honor the tradition, you must take it seriously.  So I researched the dish thoroughly finding numerous sites on the internet, many of which were not about red beans but other staples of Louisiana that in turn, provided me more insight into Red Beans & Rice. For instance, Gumbo which was already a tradition passed down to me by my Aunt Murk. What I learned was that she taught me how to cook the "democratic" Cajun version of Gumbo, with a tomato base that she combined with okra ( the African word for gumbo), sea food, chicken, and sausage, which is acceptable, along with any other salvageable left-overs in the refrigerator. This is how I prepare it today.  I further learned that what's generally available in New Orleans is the aristocratic Creole form of Gumbo, that uses only okra and has strict rules of what can go into it,( Seafood) and in what season it can be cooked, fall and winter.  I also was put on the right track for Red Beans & Rice.  I learned that red beans were a traditional meal in African and were brought over to to the Americas with the kidnapped Africans who spoke the Bantu languages and inhabited large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, and the Comoros Islands.  Many of these captured Africans were first brought to Haiti where red beans were introduced there first. The African word for red bean is Maharagwe.

I then had the history down. But the proper preparation remained elusive, as they're so many sources on the internet.  Even "Meagan from Iowa" was a self proclaimed  "expert" and used tomato past and spam, so I had to be wary of whom to trust, which takes a lot of time to figure out on the internet.

 I had a decent cook book that I purchased years ago from the outdoor French Market in the NOLA French Quarter, called "Louisiana Lagniappe".  But the problem with this book is it also has a lot of  non NOLA southern dishes like Tennessee Chicken N' Dumplings and worse, straight up red neck stuff, like Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings with soy sauce fried rice, Mini Rolls Stroganoff, and Chicken Lu-Lu.  No Thank you.

Then I discovered the grand and majestic Picayune Creole Cook Book. I'd heard about this book before and wrote it off as "touristy" because the ones I'd seen on the internet were the latest editions, glossy and in soft cover.  The Times Picayune had stopped printing them in 1989. But a few weeks ago, I came across and older 1954, 10th edition copy in great condition for relatively cheap.  There are twenty editions total, starting with the 1915 one.

This book is a corner stone of Louisiana tradition and not just because it has four hundred recipes including four for Red Beans Rice, including my favorites, Red Beans Burgundy Style and Bacon and Beans a la Creole. This book also has recipes for numerous crawfish dishes, lamb, rabbit, squirrel, duck and venison. And, I've discovered a place on the westside of Chicago "Moo and Oink" that has all of those ingredients. My freezer is now stocked with four rabbits as they're now in season. Soon will be venison, and then squirrel season, which was a favorite of Aunt Murk's.

 The Picayune Creole Cook Book's introduction reads like a history of the people, homes, cultural clashes, traditions, lies, and politics, that combined to make NOLA restaurant dining the experience that it is today. This book focuses on Creole as opposed to Cajun, yet Africa is "politely" left out when explaining the culture of the food. However, a certain honesty does lend the writer ( there are no author's name attached) to say in the introduction, all the earlier books have different intros., 

"these are the old, old recipes which your mother used, and her mother, and her grand mother, and her grand mother, who caught it from the old-time Mammy who could work all kinds of magic in the black raftered kitchen of long ego." 

As this book was written in 1954, we know those "old time mammies" were in slaved Black women. 

 I am honored to have this book because not only does it tie me to my Aunt Murk who instilled in me the art and love of cooking, but also those Black women who toiled in those black raftered kitchens, whom I'm now in spiritual dialogue with them as I learn form them. I picture them watching over me as I perfect their craft to share with my people as the keeper of this sacred tradition.



"From the pass
the essence

of accumulative

the remnants of
lost ceremonies
the loosening and
unwrapping of 
the emergence 
from Shadows
to face the unknown 

-Betye Saar

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Time to bring the plants in/ The Most Anemic Presidential Debate Ever.

It’s that time again. Tomorrow, with heavy hart, I bid farewell to summer by bringing my twenty-five cacti, ten jade plants, three large bonsai trees and two huge agave inside for the long dark winter. 

The major draw back to owning a condo is the lack of yard space, but almost every inch of my porch space is filled with greenery, which creates an urban tropical cacti forest day and night.

People think cacti are "indestructible" but that's not close to being true, especially indoors as they are not considered house plants.  Like me, they also don't like extreme cold. Further, Chicago's winters deprive them of light as well. They go through dormant stage from November to March, but they have to be closely watched indoors because they can completely dry out and die. Even worse because Chicago is so different than their natural environment they get weakened as the winter drudges on   and often get infected by a cotton like fungus that weakens them until they rot. I know how to treat this fungus if I catch it early. But I use to lose two or three cacti a year this way.  Last year I only lost one right at the end of winter. I've grown a lot more experienced in their care over all. But it's still nerve wracking to watch them weaken, becoming more visibly stressed as the winter drips by. 

But I also enjoy them inside during the winter as my house assumes a tropical look and my plants  consume the toxins out of the stale and stagnant winter air replacing it with pristine oxygen for my dog and I to breath.

The above cactus is a Rhipsalis, which is actually more of a rare cactus. I keep this one indoors year round inside a salvaged world globe in my study/library/ studio.

And Now.......................

On To...........................

          "The Lackluster Presidential Debates"


The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 were seven debates in each of the then nine Illinois congressional districts. Lincoln road a mule through out the state to reach each point. I wonder what he would have thought of this first Presidential Debate of 2012?

Leading up to it, both campaign's  adviser's felt comfortable enough to actually admit publicly their cynical objective and work "to dampen the [ public's ] expectations" for these debates.  It would have been great to hear those eternal conversations.

But, they certainly earned there money.

And President Obama as the front runner didn't even seem to want to participate in this farce of a democratic debate.

The irony is that the candidate that actually wanted to be there, and should have been there, Jill Stein of the Green Party was refused entry.  Most media outlets declared Romney the winner.  But this debate will go down in history as the most anemic and where the moderator had to struggle to find issues on which both candidates actually, disagreed. Yet another glaring example of how far gone, what passes for our democratic system, is.

But as Abraham Lincoln said "The people get the type of government they deserve" and now they also get the campaigns as well.