Sunday, February 16, 2014

Just Listen - Sexual Harassment In the Comic Book Scene...

Check that website!

Every human is sovereign in their own body.

They have the right to say what happens to it. 

I might be preaching to the choir with this one but I felt that I needed to say something about the level of sexual harassment that goes on in the comic book scene - specifically the stuff that happens at the conventions. 

Please listen to my podcast where I discuss this in great detail:

To sum it up: Just because a woman turns you on sexually, it does not mean she is obligated to engage you on a sexual level.

She is not responsible for your hormonal reactions. Part of being a mature person is understanding what you are entitled to and what you are not entitled to – men are not entitled to sexual favors just because they get hot and bothered.

And here's some rules when encountering women cosplayers:

a) Keep your distance until you ask if it is okay to take a picture with her.

b) If she says yes, DO NOT touch her unless she initiates contact first.

c) If you are unsure she is open to being touched, ask if it is okay for you put your arm around her shoulder for the picture, if she says NO – then DON’T TOUCH HER.

d) Do not make any sexual comment about her body or costume. Trust me, she is fully aware of what body parts are heaving out or how much skin is showing, she has a right as a human being to wear what she wants – the issue of taste and morality is an important one and deserves a lengthy conversation – but not now.

I agree that some folks shouldn't dress a certain way in a family-friendly environment, but that does not warrant sexual assault or harassment.

e) Chances are, approaching one of these women for a date in the middle of a comic book show is not a good idea, she is usually not there for romantic reasons. However, I will say that if a woman is interested in your romantically, she will find a way to let you know. Usually, women aren’t that ambiguous or coy – at least that’s been my experience.

There are many women cosplayers whom I find incredibly attractive, but in my entire life, I've only taken pictures with two of them.

Mainly because I get why they enjoy dressing up and why they come to shows. I feel it is enough to say “nice work there” and keep moving. 


a) Listen… just be quiet and listen to what she is saying.

b) Don’t make excuses for the harassment.

c) Don’t assume the woman is being too sensitive.
d) If you don’t believe her, the worst time to tell her would be in the moment where she relates her situation.

e) Geas much information about the incident as possible and don’t be afraid to contact the organizers or law enforcement authorities if the incident was more than innuendo.

f) Talk to other men – even the men who come off as the most sexist. Men generally don't LISTEN when women relate their issues with patriarchy. It is a powerful statement when a man will take a stand about sexism with no women around. 

Damn right...

Monday, February 03, 2014

Black Geek Stockholm Syndrome... It's real...

Stockholm syndrome

noun Psychiatry.
an emotional attachment to a captor formed by a hostage as a result of 
continuous stressdependence, and a need to cooperate for survival.

Contrary to what many people in the geekscape believe, there's a very, very large population of Black geeks in the U.S. and abroad. There are roughly three generations of Black media consumers who've grown up with a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG, video games, Marvel and DC Comics, D&D role playing modules and novels, Shaw Bros. Kung-Fu flicks, Japanese animation, Asian monster cinema, old school science-fiction and fantasy literature and the smorgasbord of speculative TV programming of the last 50 years. 

Geoffrey Thorne

In a "classic" episode of my WRITING FOR ROOKIES podcast - Star Trek: Titan author Geoffrey Thorne muses that the explosion in Black geek fandom and creators is a direct result of the boom of middle class Black communities of the 1960s - 1980s. 

Kevin Grevioux

This idea is substantiated by UNDERWORLD franchise co-creator Kevin Grevioux who believes that the lack of Black sci-fi creators in Hollywood is because the Black lower class is more concerned with survival and therefore does not have the time to invest in imagination cultivation and unreliable creative career paths. 

They are both correct - although I disagree slightly with Kevin's assessment about the lack of Black sci-fi creators. The truth is that there are PLENTY of Black sci-fi creators, the problem is Black geeks refuse to support them. 

Before anyone gets all riled up, understand this: WE (as in Black sci-fi creators) don't have the marketing budget of Marvel, DC, Sony, Warner Bros., Disney, Universal, Paramount, Microsoft, Nintendo, Harper/Collins, Scholastic or any of the ubiquitous media giants in the pop culture landscape. 

Simply put - people don't know we exist. Not just Black folks, but most people don't know we exist. Many of us hustle and hype ourselves to the point of exhaustion only to move the needle of awareness one millimeter away from obscurity but that's not enough to sustain a creative career. 

However, let's say we do manage to get people to pay attention to us, let's say we get some media coverage and are blessed with a review on television or on a popular blog or news site, let's say a major newspaper decides to go with a profile on our careers. Suddenly we're not obscure or anonymous and yet, the social media chatter remains quiet from our so-called brothers and sisters of geekdom. 

I'm going to steer this conversation toward the comic book industry because it's a microcosm of the issues plaguing Black creators everywhere. 

Over the last few years, there's been a slew of articles regarding the lack of Black writers at Marvel and DC Comics. The article that triggered the latest wave of indignation was published in June of 2012 from the BLEEDING COOL website that analyzed the hiring practices of Marvel and DC. 

The combined percentage of Black writers at Marvel and DC? 




I was willing to give them the benefit of statistical deviation in surveys and say that the number might be closer to 3%. 

To be fair, that was in June of 2012. As of this writing, I believe Marvel has 1 Black writer and DC has none (but I could be wrong about that). 

There was a deluge of anger and frustration. Black geeks complained louder than they ever did before. 

Now here's the kicker: Black geeks will complain and whine and bitch and moan 24/7/365 about the lack of Black writers at Marvel and DC. 

Black geeks will whine and complain about how poorly a Black character was written at Marvel and DC. 

They will bellyache about how there aren't any solo books featuring Black characters at Marvel and DC. 

They engage in long, pointless and ultimately stupid online debates about "who'd win ______ vs. ______" or post endless threads about who'd they cast in the (possibly) upcoming Black Panther movie. 

The inherent tragedy in all of this is that Black creators are already making the stuff these geeks wish to see. We have incredible Black superheroes, or Black-created fantasy worlds, or Black-crafted future societies and Black filmmakers making cool short films about their universes. 

But you don't have to take my word for it, you can see it for yourself...


But Black geeks won't give indie Black comic books a chance. They won't (or can't) seem to understand that the only way a Black writer will ever end up at Marvel or DC is if they are supported by a fanbase. 

You see, we don't get the coverage from popular bloggers and comics news sites that other guys do. You can run a poll with a bunch of Black creators and they will tell you how many times their emails go unanswered or if they meet a reporter in person and exchange cards, they'll never hear from that reporter again. 

What a lot of Black geeks fail to understand is that all the "known" comic book writers of the last 20 years were hyped to death by Wizard Magazine

How many writers were propped up by Wizard? Let's see: Kurt Busiek, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarello, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, James Robinson, Jimmy Palmiotti, Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman, Robert Kirkman, Brian Wood, Brian K. Vaughn, Scott Lobdell, Geoff Johns, Judd Winnick, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Brad Meltzer and to a lesser extent Gail Simone and Devin Grayson. 

For almost two decades straight, every issue of Wizard Magazine reminded you who these creators were, what they were working on, where they came from, what they looked like and why you should support them. I'm not saying the coverage was undeserved, because most of the folks there are incredibly talented, but imagine what would happen if we had the same kind of light shined on our careers? 

As a side note, there are two important names missing: Dwayne McDuffie and Christopher Priest. But that's another story. :) 

Some Black geeks go out of their way to ignore or minimize our participation in the industry. They won't share or "like" or comment on Facebook posts regarding our work - no matter how many times you "tag" them or flat out ask them to share the information. 

Their Facebook feeds are cluttered with movie and TV trailers of some mainstream blockbuster thing that doesn't need them boosting the signal. Their pages choked with memes and quizzes regarding Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones or the Avengers or the Superman/Batman movie (please shut the fuck up about Ben Affleck - he doesn't give a shit about your whining and neither do the people who actually make the fucking movies). 

Blackwolf the "Dragonmaster" - Yea, there's a lot of folks out there like this.

Thousands of sycophantic threads begging for a Black Lightning toy or Luke Cage animated series or a Static Shock board game... nothing but perpetual dependency on those who simply don't care about what you want. 

These same Black geeks have every excuse in the world for not supporting indie Black titles: 

1) I don't know who these characters are (because apparently, you were born aware of Superman and Captain America). 
2) I don't like reading ghetto stories (massive assumption, but they make this assumption without actually LOOKING at the titles). 
3) I don't want to read books with African imagery (a form of self-hate, most mainstream comics reflect unabashed Eurocentric tropes and values, but this doesn't offend them). 
4) I only have enough money to buy the books I already like (fair enough, but it costs nothing to thumb through the book if you see it at a convention or on the shelves of a comics shop). 
5) Black indie comics are lower quality (true, some are, but most aren't, again this is an assumption - how many Marvel or DC titles are low quality yet you still throw money at them month after month). 

I could go on, but that would only serve to frustrate me and belabor the point. 

There exists a Stockholm Syndrome with Black geeks. Their captors? The mainstream (usually White) genre creators. The Marvels, the DCs, the Robert Kirkmans, the George Lucases, the Disneys, the Biowares, the Bungies, the EAs, the Stephanie Meyers, the R.A. Salvatores, the Rick Riordans, the J.K. Rowlings, the Miyazakis, the Otomos, the Suzanne Collins and Steven Moffats of the industry. 

Ask them about Black video game designers... *crickets*
Some Black geeks swear their fealty to the Kingdom of Everything Not-Black while crossing their arms in protest at the lack of blackness within said kingdom. Over time, they slowly realize that their rulers aren't concerned in the least with their expectations of representation and grow resentful. The Stockholm Syndrome kicks in when they continue to support their rulers instead of simply turning their head to the left to see the vast riches we've laid out for them to claim. 

These Black geeks prefer serfdom rather than become warrior-explorers in support of their own images in entertainment. They'd much rather read about White warrior-explorers instead. 

So what's the solution? 

It's not complicated. If we could reach out to those willing to support us and ask them kindly to share our work on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, it could go a long way in simply increasing the AWARENESS of our careers. No one is asking you to post links to Amazon or to purchase our work directly, but posting covers, web-banners, comics pages and interviews creates a domino effect of interest. 

When people other than the creator of a property shares his/her work in social media, it feels less like huckstering and more like legitimate fandom being built from scratch. 

I don't believe the Stockholm Syndrome crowd realize how much damage they do by ignoring our work. Their relentless pursuit of mainstream geekdom is ultimately self-defeating because they are building the bricks of someone else's empire. An empire arrogantly prospering off of a loyalty they never wanted from a people they don't even care to acknowledge. 

Black Geek Stockholm Syndrome indeed. 


Friday, January 10, 2014


LIST OF QUALITY BLACK-CREATED INDIE COMICS TITLES (put together by Jason Reeves). In the interest of fostering diversity and increasing awareness of independent African-American professionals in the comics biz, here's a great list of titles that you might not know about. If you're not on the list, feel free to add your title and link(s). 

Street Team #0:
Black Comix:
Back in the Jay sketchbook Vol.1:
Storm Bringers #1:
OneNation #1:
Techwatch #1&2:
Dread Society X: Rebirth:
Midnight Marauder: the Art of Lesean Thomas:
The Future: art of Keron:
The Art of Mshindo Kumba I.:
Corsairs Prologue:
Miles Away:
Ghost Fighters:
Indigo: Essence of the Assassin 1.0:
Black Bird: Growing Pains:
Midnight Tiger:
Rotten Apple:
Concrete Park:
Number 13 (David Walker):
Miranda Mercury:
Super Pro K.O.:
The Untamed:
The Dog Years:
Five Weapons:

mostly digital:

Lion Forge Comics:
Watson & Holmes #1-4:
Ajala: A series of Adventures:
Azian Mixtape:
Punks of Rage: Remix #0:
The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury:
Lucius Hammer #1-2:
Will Power #1-4:
Powerverse: the 101 #1:
Powerverse Chronicles: the Action Pack #1:
Chew #1-6, Paperbacks 2&3: Comic shop/
Kung-Fu Skrarch! #1:
Midnight Tiger #1:
Molly Danger #1-2:
Seven % #1-4:
the Deep #1-2:
Ghetto Manga(magazine):
Sink or Swim:
F-00 Fighters #1-3:
The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven:

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

THE 3 LAWS OF THE HUSTLE (aka It's 2014 - Now Get to Work!!!)

Many creators I know had a remarkably shitty 2013. The combination of a sluggish economic recovery, the globalization of entertainment options and an increasingly fickle marketplace of ADHD millennials has made it tough for the independent creator to gain a foothold on the marketplace.

That said, there's also been an incredible amount of self-pity that leads directly into self-delusion. The introspective nature of the artistic process easily becomes a blueprint for the steady development of a self-fulfilling prophecy of stagnation and failure. Once you lose the momentum, it becomes very difficult to keep pushing forward and this destroys many careers before they get started.

Far too many talented people lack the one crucial element to get them over the top: HUSTLE.

What is "hustle?" There are probably 150,000 rap tracks and twice as many self-help gurus all with flashy definitions of that word, but for me it's always come down to three fundamental ideas:

1) The Law of N-GAS (Nobody Gives A Shit).
2) The Law of Letting Go.
3) The Law of Forced Discomfort.


It took me most of my 39 years to fundamentally grasp this concept. When you're a kid in a somewhat normal family situation, you can't understand this because everyone around you is dedicated to keeping you fed, clothed, housed, bathed and educated. When you hit college, less people care, but there's still a vast support network of professors, staff and counselors/therapists available to you when you have some tough times.

However, this is assuming that you had access to college and from what I've seen, a lot of creative folks bypassed the college scene and began studying their craft. I've also run into a lot of creators who have strained and/or dysfunctional relationships with their families so many have been forced out into the world prematurely and developed specialized survival skills instead of career-boosting techniques (and this is where socio-economic class privilege kicks in).

In any case, you have talent, you have a plan, you have ambition and you enact your scheme for global domination as a writer, dancer, illustrator, singer, actor, etc. You rush out into the world with open arms only to be greeted with glassy-eyed  indifference; a collective shrug from those you consider to be unsophisticated and undeserving of your brilliance.

From this point on, creators take the first step on the well-worn trail of pity, regret and a yearning for attention from their respective industries and a non-existent fan base.

The basic idea of the Law of N-GAS is very simple: Nobody Gives A Shit about you.
Nobody cares about your last break up.
Nobody cares about your shitty living situation.
Nobody cares if you had an abortion.
Nobody cares if you can't make the rent.
Nobody cares if you're homeless.
Nobody cares if you've been single for 15 years.
Nobody cares if your parents kicked you out while you were in 10th grade.
Nobody cares if you're broke.
Nobody cares if you have an eating disorder.
Nobody cares if you have a horrible job.
Nobody cares how many degrees you have.
Nobody cares if you're a single parent.
Nobody cares if you have a tragic disease.

I could go on forever but you get the point. Nobody Gives A Shit about you unless you can make them FEEL something.

You ever wonder why complete fucktards like Snooki, J-Wow, Honey Boo Boo, the Kardashians, the Duck Dynasty assholes and every other cheap, manufactured "reality" TV personality manages to grab the attention of millions of people worldwide?

Because they elicit an emotional response. 

Somehow, they've gotten in front of a camera (or created a situation where someone would WANT to put them in front of a camera) and dazzled the zeitgeist with wild, sexy, ridiculous and simple-minded stories about excess. And guess what, it works.

The entertainment industry is in the throes of a movement known as the POST-CONTENT ERA which means that studios are no longer looking to "develop" an unknown talent from scratch, they only wish to capitalize on those who have already have "pre-awareness" aka an established fan base to bring to the table. If you don't have something to show (and preferably something already known by thousands of people) the chances of you breaking in are significantly diminished.

Sure, there will always be that "lucky" person whose lighting-in-a-bottle script, song, monologue, etc., gets them a deal, but it is far more likely and common for those creators who bring their rabid fans to the dance to get the attention they want and deserve.

You cannot sit still and wait for the world to show up at your door.

It won't happen.



Nobody Gives A Shit.


So many artistic people find themselves in horrible personal situations usually caused by family, lovers, best friends or colleagues. They are enablers to emotional addiction. They are usually hosts to financial or spiritual parasites unwilling to inspire or break away from their meal ticket. I've known way too many creative people who cannot move forward in their lives because they believe they "owe" someone else their undying loyalty or obedience.

Usually, these are dangerous and corrosive co-dependent relationships and it is a tough thing to remove someone from their symbiotic trap without them making a consistent, conscious effort to do so.

Here's the thing: the people that sponge off of your generosity, time, energy and kind nature will be FINE if you cut them off. No one is saying you need to shut them completely out of your life, but if your goal is to be a screenwriter and you work three jobs to help maintain a household while your siblings hang out all day, and your parents give you a hard time about nonsense and you can't find a moment to clear your thoughts in order to compose a story... well, you know where I'm going with this.

I've had to cut off a lot of people. It wasn't easy. I won't sit here and pretend it was. I lost a bunch of friends over the last 5 years. The thing that struck me hardest was the fact that the more successful I became, the more resentful and distant these friends behaved toward me. Suddenly, I was getting attitude from guys I'd known for over a decade. Folks who I'd turn to when things got dark for me would respond with nasty and negative comments. Dudes who I'd helped when they were down and out turned into raging bastards over the smallest perceived slight. People who'd say "I always knew you were going to make it" but never once purchased any of my graphic novels nor spread the word when incredibly cool things happened in my career.

After much soul-searching and long nights of whisky-induced angst I came to a realization: there are folks out there who are only comfortable with you when you're on "their level." The moment you start to follow the path to your goals and ambitions is the moment they start secretly resenting you and cheering for you to fail. It doesn't happen overnight, but the seeds are planted whenever you make a life-altering decision that removes the parasites from being the center of your existence.

GET AWAY from these black holes of negativity. Just because you have a lifetime of shared experiences thus far doesn't mean that they are meant to be with you on the next phase of your journey.

Let go of anger about ex-lovers.
Let go of disappointment about your family (we've all been programmed to believe our lives are supposed to be like the Brady Bunch or the Huxtables - not gonna happen, grow up and move on).
Let go of your expectations for immediate success.
Let go of being superficial.
Let go of being exploited.
Let go of friends who bring nothing to your life except drama.
Let go of friends who don't encourage you to be the best person you can be.
Let go of those who are comfortable with you being miserable.
Let of of those who have no goals or ambitions of their own.
Let go of your excuses. All of them.
Let go of feeling sorry for yourself.
Let go of expecting the worst.
Let go of those who won't make time for you.
Let go of confusing a few positive experiences with a legitimate friendship.
Let go of sitting around waiting for something cool to happen while the rest of the world continues to ignore you.

Which leads to the final law...


This means change. Forcing a change in your habits. Forcing a change in geography. Forcing a change in your self-perception. The reason a lot of people don't make it has nothing to do with their talent, it has a lot to do with their inability to take big risks in service of their dreams.

I've spoken often about how I left a great life behind in NYC to go to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams of being a screenwriter. CLICK HERE if you want to read that story

I also dedicated an entire podcast episode to my decision many years ago.

It would have been highly unlikely, if not impossible, for me to have achieved what I have so far if I hadn't left my comfort zone in NYC. The film and TV industry is not on the East Coast, it is in Southern California and as much as it tore my soul in half to abandon the culture and people I love, it was a necessary evil to accomplish a monumental good in my career and personal life.

If you want to make it in the entertainment biz, you've got to find a way to stand out. Regardless of what some will tell you, the reality is that you need to move to Los Angeles if you want to be a screenwriter, film or TV actor, filmmaker or do conceptual artwork for production companies. In fact, there's so many jobs for illustrators in LA as storyboard artists and so on that I wonder why so many are afraid to make the move.

Will moving to LA suck ass? FUCK YEA.

It will mean couch-surfing.
It will mean working really, really, really shitty retail gigs.
It will mean having asshole roommates who might lie or steal from you.
It will mean needing a car to get around.
It will mean having to deal with spoiled, insensitive, superficial jackasses.
It will mean spending a few years relegated to the very bottom of the social order.

This isn't just a Los Angeles thing, if you move to NYC and want to become an actor or a novelist or a musician or a dancer, you will likely go through the same crap except the subway in New York goes just about anywhere you need to be.

I get that it's not easy to give up the things that make our lives comfortable. When I first moved to LA I had to give up video games, fast food, living alone, cable television, clean bathrooms and a sense of security. I got up each day not knowing if I was going to make it or not.

Guess what happened? I wrote more in the first three months of living hard in LA than I had written in the previous SIX YEARS.

A good, swift kick in the ass removes our complacency and forces us to become something new. It forces us to evolve.

There are things we don't like about the world we live in. There are things we would like to see happen. I've learned the only way to change it is to DO IT ourselves. For example: I've long been pissed off at the treatment of African-American writers in the comic book and sci-fi world. Instead of complaining about it, I decided to get off my ass and make a documentary that showcased all the Black writers who've been ignored by the mainstream as well as fandom. I cherry picked the best creators I could find and interviewed them about their ideas and experiences.

Well, here's the result:

The documentary should be in the can by April 2014. I made that with a budget of under $1,000. Key words: I. Made. That.

The easy thing to do is sit around and complain. Anyone and everyone does that.

To get up and do it? Well, that's why a minuscule sliver of the population gets from Point A to Point B.

One of my favorite quotes is: "Adversity introduces a man to himself."

That shit is real.

There's no secret to achieving your dreams. It's hard work. Hard work. Hard work. Hard work. Hard work.

And then there's not being afraid to change your surroundings. Not being afraid of cutting off dead weight. Not being afraid to go out into the world regardless of the odds.

Do it.

That's it. No tricks. No cons. No magic potion.

Do it.

That's all there is.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE EVOLUTION OF BRANDON (2.0) aka "Goodbye Prolonged Adolescence..."

I've long believed that the real problem with the modern world stems from prolonged adolescence. A marked inability to accept the fact that we can't be perpetually frozen in the zeitgeist of low responsibility and sexual abandon of our early twenties.

Men and women unwilling to move beyond shallow and superficial definitions of career and culpability. Folks that blame the bad economy for having to live with their parents or be unnecessarily focused on narcissistic worship of social media technology. Where previous generations had the guts, ambition and desire to achieve despite the odds, many today regularly drink from the bottomless well of excuses enabled by like-minded bloggers also caught up in their own whirlwind of self-deprecation.

You see it everywhere, especially within the geek community where pangs of nostalgia are masking the fear and contempt of adult responsibility. I know this because I was one of those people. I spent my college years gripping the fond memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons so tight that my proverbial fingers and knuckles turned white from the pressure. 

I spent my post-undergrad years chasing the remnants of 1980s pop culture via cartoons, sitcoms and movies. As I used to be one of the World's Biggest Transformers Fans (tm), I slavishly tracked down other devotees via Usenet/Deja newsgroups and felt arrogantly vindicated by their existence. To justify my childish obsession, I'd point to other fans and say, "See! If you think I'm bad, look at what that guy does." In reality, I was shifting reasonable critique of my unhealthy preoccupation with a line of kids toys to someone just a few degrees crazier than myself. 

This could have been me... sorta.

My infatuation with Transformers was so intense that it damaged a romantic relationship and cost me a couple of good friends along the way. Of course, after several hard, cold slaps in the face by the demands of a regular sex life, I slowly moved beyond my "hardcore" phase into a manageable, respectable "old school fan" phase where I champion the inherent genius of the Generation 1 line of Transformers toys and pretty much ignore everything else. 

In other words, I'm still a fan, but I've got it under control. 

I actually don't like GEARS OF WAR!

As this time of year is a natural breeding ground for both positive and negative manifestations of nostalgia, I wonder if being stuck in nostalgia inhibits our natural progression into adulthood? My grandfather, a Black man who fought and served in World War II, used to tell me of the nonsense he endured and how hard he had to work to achieve a zero sum. 

Then I think of my own life and how I began working at the age of 15 and then had to leave my family's care at the age of 16.5 and then pretty much being on my own by the age of 17 and I wonder if my own Peter Pan complex was caused by my premature entry into the world of adult responsibility - in essence, an attempt to find a safe harbor in the tempestuous ocean of antipathy. 

I've often remarked that I was a supreme naive idealist; fundamentally believing in the inherent "goodness" of humanity and that all it would take for peace was people sitting down together and discussing their differences. I had no idea how much of this world was dominated by avarice, gluttony and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise the weak and the poor. 

Growing up in Baltimore during the emergence of the crack epidemic still wasn't enough to change my naivety. What did change me was a series of experiences at Ithaca College where I was one of maybe fifty Black men (total) on campus. I was exposed to rich kids - the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers all of whom came from towns where Black people simply didn't exist.

This wasn't just a racial thing, but more like an intersection between race, class and gender. I was not only Black but ridiculously poor (and when I say poor, I mean poor, as in not being able to afford winter boots in a place that used to be covered in ten inches of snowfall from October to May). I began to realize that other Black folks weren't necessarily my "brothers and sisters" just because of our melanin content. Issues of economic class and regional upbringing drove deep wedges between us and at the time, it was one hell of a wake-up call. 

The thing that stands out to me, even now, is that few of us were capable of existing in a state of prolonged adolescence. This was before the explosion of geekdom when a public discussion of comic book storylines or Japanese animation design would get you labeled as a "nerd" - which was every bit as offensive as the other N-word as far as I was concerned. Human nature dictated that I rebel against the prevailing doctrine of behavior - so I continued to dig deeper and further entrench myself in the cloth of geekhood. 

However, the one shining, glorious, fantastic thing I took from all the negative experiences I had at Ithaca College was my exposure to non-fiction literature. As a sociology major, I became fascinated with the "hows?" and "whys?" of human socio-political interaction. Reading certain texts forever changed my life and obliterated my previous and pathetically limited understanding of the global political-economic scene. I began to reconcile how racism, sexism, homophobia and classism affected everyone regardless of their station in life. 

I'd like to share some of these books with you. Most of them skew to the left (as we define the political spectrum in the Western World) but all of them offer a unique perspective on politics, economics, race, class, pop culture and how we've all been molded by the forces of history and our peer group. I must stress that I get no money from Amazon for suggesting these to you, I'm including the links in case you decide to take my recommendation and read these works for yourself. 

These are presented in no particular order and I'll explain why these books had such a profound impact on my psyche. 

DEMOCRACY FOR THE FEW by Michael Parenti

FROM THE BOOK COVER:  "DEMOCRACY FOR THE FEW is a provocative interpretation of American Government. It shows how democracy is repeatedly violated by corporate oligopolies, and how popular forces have fought back and occasionally made gains in spite of the system. By focusing on the relationship between economic power and political power, discussing actual government practices and policies, conspiracies, propaganda, fraud, secrecy and other ploys of government and politics, this book stands apart in its analysis of how US Government works."

My Take: This book opened my eyes to how multi-national corporations, lobbyists, Wall Street mega banks, the Federal Reserve and private corporate interests took control of the U.S. Government and managed to convince Americans that it is not only the standard operating procedure, but also is the right thing to do. A massive wake-up call for anyone under the delusion that democracy is a spectator sport. It challenged me to stand up and protest, vote, help draft legislation and participate locally. Rips the blinders off and burns them. 4.5 out of 5 stars

THE CULTURE OF FEAR by Barry Glassner 

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "In the age of 9/11, the Iraq War, financial collapse, and Amber Alerts, our society is defined by fear. So it’s not surprising that three out of four Americans say they feel more fearful today then they did twenty years ago. But are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? In The Culture of Fear, sociologist Barry Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism. In this new edition of a classic book—more relevant now than when it was first published—Glassner exposes the price we pay for social panic."

My Take: As a large Black man, I regularly deal with people's apprehension with my presence. There's been a ton of books about this, tons of Black male celebrity essays, tons of talk show episodes, etc. To this day, I wonder if some White folks can tell the difference between a Black gangbanger and just a regular Black dude going about his day? Judging by the body language I read on a daily basis, I'd wager that they cannot. Getting to the root of media-hyped fears, The Culture of Fear explains how the news media operates, how they structure what you hear for maximum impact and what the real problems are in our society that get completely ignored (i.e. the looming fresh water crisis, health care inequity, etc.). 

A society that is constantly afraid will not stand up as their rights are taken away under the guise of "security." Americans are terrified of each other. People walk around under the assumption that "something bad" is going to happen to them despite the fact that roughly 300,000,000 Americans get up every day, go to work, school, the gym, fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, movie theaters, gas stations and walk their dogs and pretty much NOTHING happens. Reading this book helped me to understand why people are afraid of everything except the stuff that actually can effect their lives. 4.5 out of 5 stars

TOMS, COONS, MULATTOES, MAMMIES AND BUCKSAn Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Fourth Edition by Donald Bogle

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Completely updated to include the entire twentieth century, this new fourth edition covers all the latest directors, stars, and films including Summer of Sam, Jackie Brown, The Best Man, and The Hurricane. From The Birth of a Nation--the groundbreaking work of independent filmmaker Oscar Micheaux--and Gone with the Wind to the latest work by Spike Lee, John Singleton, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Will Smith, Donald Bogle reveals the ways in which the depiction of blacks in American movies has changed--and the shocking ways in which it has remained the same."

My Take: The holy grail of film analysis as far as African-American imagery is concerned. This book confirmed many of my thoughts about how Blacks were presented in American movies. As a kid, I'd watch movies with my family and laugh at the openly racist characters back in the days when they'd still show un-ironic blackface on TV. Bogle takes us back to the earliest days of cinema and breaks down the depictions of Black people that have rained down through the decades and still haunts pop culture today. 

For the first time in my life, I'd realized that there was someone else out there who saw the world like I did and had the academic cache to be taken seriously. Anyone who loves cinema should read this book immediately - especially those writers out there who are concerned about how they might portray Black characters in screenplays and graphic novels. 5 out of 5 stars

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in She's Gotta Have It, the independent-film success story of 1986. Shot on a shoe-string budget of $175,000 in black-and-white 16mm, the film was made with Spike Lee's persistence and talent plus the help of family and friends. It grossed $8 million at the box office and proved to be a major hit with both critics and audiences. Now Spike Lee reveals how he did it, mapping out the entire creative and production processes-from early notebook jottings to film festival awards. Spike Lee's Gotta Have It is a unique document in film literature - it's funny, absorbing, and fresh as the hit film itself."

My Take: I never saw Spike Lee's first movie when it released in art houses across the country in 1986. I was a bit too young and the story was far too adult for me. However, when I came of age and watched SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, I was blown away by the quality of the work as well as the incredibly complex examination of 80s-era Black sexuality. The very fact that Spike got a movie made that centered around a Black woman's sexual awakening and experimentation during a time when there were relatively few Black movies on the scene at all was extraordinary. 

Spike tells a fascinating, but frustrating, story of trying to produce a feature-length independent film about Black subject matter with a microscopic budget. He details the process from scripting to casting to fundraising to production to begging for money to editing to getting a distribution deal to marketing the movie to the eventual release and reception. A bible for indie filmmakers. While the technology has changed considerably, the independent spirit of hustling for an artistic project is timeless. Before I read this book, I had no idea how movies were physically made. I also had no belief that I could make a movie myself but after reading Lee's words, I suddenly realized that the only thing that stops us from creating anything is usually the person in the mirror. 4.5 out of 5 stars

FROM THE BOOK COVER: "Howard Zinn infuses the often-submerged voices of blacks, women, American Indians, war resisters, and poor laborers of all nationalities into this thorough narrative that spans American history from Christopher Columbus's arrival to an afterword on the Clinton presidency.
Addressing his trademark reversals of perspective, Zinn--a teacher, historian, and social activist for more than 20 years--explains, "My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)--that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth."
My Take: It is said that history is written by the victors. That's certainly true for American history as the accomplishments of straight, White, Christian, conservative males have been trumpeted to the heavens; many of those said accomplishments being outright lies or based wholly on the blood, sweat, tears, rape, murder, torture and subjugation of men and women of color, White women, the poor, the working classes, the gay and lesbian. 
Zinn's book is an antidote to the endless rhetoric regarding the "fathers" of our nation. It presents extensively cross-referenced material the enriches the stories about American history going back to the Columbus expeditions. You get a much better understanding of the bloodier side of our formation as well as the behind-scenes-reality of the Revolutionary Era, the War of 1812, Westward Expansion, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution, the birth of American Empire, the Great Depression and everything up til the Clinton Administration.
Reading this book gave me a proper understanding of American society and my place in it. Instead of making me less proud of being an American, it gave me hope that we can make this democratic experiment work in the future. It taught me that everyone who ever set foot on this land - by choice or by bondage - contributed to the tapestry of the U.S. and their stories have to be acknowledged. It would be impossible to walk away from this book with a simple-minded right-wing belief system regarding American history unless you were trying to remain ignorant on purpose. 4 out of 5 stars
You may wonder what any of this has to do with my initial thoughts on prolonged adolescence? 
Without exposure to these works, my universe was no larger than the periphery of my vision. Until my resolve was tested, I defaulted to a narrow-minded narcissism reinforced by a culture interested only in celebrating petty indulgences. That was in the late eighties-early nineties before the advent of social media and smartphones came along and distracted us from basic human communication. 
In the 21st century, I've watched two generations become socially awkward ghosts, eyes glued to plastic touchscreens, moving past each other through the mists of slick-but-empty Hollywood blockbusters, horrible electronic dance music, materialistic rap and a reality-television-fueled-expectation of celebrity entitlement. All of which has led to a population unwilling and/or incapable of perceiving the need for increased (not decreased) democratic engagement. 
I remain naive enough to believe that these folks are worthy of saving because without their assistance, our world will continue to spiral toward a permanent feudal state with the richest of all lording over the programmed and drugged masses. 
Prolonged adolescence is a dangerous phenomenon that plays into the hands of those determined to keep the wealth gap between the elites and working classes growing larger than it already is. Watching a generation bury their heads in the dirt like ostriches, while exposing their asses to the wind, is a horrifying thing. When I pulled my head out of the ground and took a look around, I didn't like what I saw, but afterward, it was impossible for me to bury it again. 
Is the fear of adulthood really the fear of pain? Growth hurts like a motherf--ker. I mean really hurts. When you avoid pain, you might be happy for the short-term, but you don't learn a new survival skill that aids in your evolution as a human being. 
On the recent Doctor Who special, one of my favorite lines was: "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame. Whatever the cost." 
My fear is that the "lesser men" (and women) will forget how fires are forged.