Monday, January 25, 2010

BLACK ROCK AND AFRO PUNK: An Interview with Rock Music Critic Rob Fields

Rob Fields is music ambassador and creator of, a website devoted to the new wave of underground black rock artists.

YLW: Why do you believe there is a new wave of black rock bands?

RF: I just think that what we are beginning to see is that people, particularly black folks are reaching beyond the narrow bounds of black life that we had been relegated to in greater numbers than before. You always had people in the fringe, people who were into rock or punk. But one of the beautiful things about technology is that it has allowed people of like minded interests to find one another. There are a lot of people out here who are into punk or rock and aren't into the paradigm of commercial hip hop or the r & b lover kind of thing. There is so much more to life than that.

YLW: The flourishing black rock scene is a cultural statement?

RF: It's a really exciting time. Black rock isn't about black kids picking up guitars, but rather an invitation to be brave and to question what we do, how we express ourselves and what we think of as traditionally black. Those are important things to look at if we are going to be citizens of the world. We have to be open to ideas, new people, and embrace diverse influences. It puts us in touch with our humanity. That is what black rock offers.

YLW: Is the rise of black rock also a way of challenging hip hop as the primary expression of black youth culture?

RF: Black folks aren't all thinking about the hip hop paradigm in terms of the way it presents masculinity or the way it presents black authenticity. There are a whole lot of black identities out there. We've always known that. We've never been this monolith. We have more ideas about what black is and you are broadening that definition with the Post Black concept at a time when we need. it. The world has gone global and we're still trying to rep our hood and our block. That's not even the game anymore.

YLW: The nerd culture is also cool today. There are even black nerd t-shirts. What are your thoughts on this?

RF: It's cool to be a nerd now. When I was growing up it wasn't . You had to be hard and street. As a nerdy kid, I didn't walk down the street and have girls throw themselves at me. I didn't know that.

YLW: How did you become a rock fan?

RF: I wrote about it in my piece My Life in Black Rock. I've never been so much into punk rock. When I was in junior high school, I got tired of the repetition on black radio and I started listening to top 40 which coincided with me going to prep school. When I got to college I was introduced to jazz and world music. Later, I was trying to get into the music industry and someone suggested that I should follow the Black Rock Coalition, which led to my first PR (public relations) gig. It lead me to black artists who were embracing diverse influences in their life. They sang about their humanity in a way I hadn't heard on commercial radio. I met the Family Stand, I met Living Color. I found a community of people who were into a diverse sound of black music and I felt, well how come more black people aren't into it.

YLW: Stylistically, what kind of rock do you like?

RF: I tend toward traditional song structure. Anyone doing very punky kind of stuff, angst and screaming into the mike, I don't really get it. I wasn't an agnsty kind of teen.

YLW: Why did you create

RF: I started it 3 years ago. I felt a cultural shift happening. With black rock, black people were exploring the musical spectrum. (Black rock) was moving off the fringes. It's in the mainstream. You have Passing Strange on Broadway, Farai Chideya did a novel called Kiss the Sky about a black woman who has a rock band. Artists like Janelle Monet and others aren't fitting neatly into what's black. It's happening in London, too. President Obama is the example of what you're talking about with Post Black. We can't be Post Black until people stop being racist, but Obama is a sense of this larger world. It 's happening in music, in art. It's all this post blackness. I interviewed an African American artist recently and she said her favorite artist was Led Zepplin. Back in the day you would never say that.

YLW: There was a resurgence of black rock artists like Living Color and Fishbone in the late 80s. Then it faded away. What happened?

RF: There was such a big push for Living Color. They came out in 88'. That was 22 years ago which is a head blower in itself. After they hit, there was a lot of excitement, but there was also a lot of excitement about the black film movement with film like “Do the Right Thing.” A lot of black rock bands got signed. There was a lot of hope, but most were never able to recreate Living Color's success.

By the early 90s, you had the advent of gangster rap and hip hop went global, so everyone wanted to be down with this hip hop thing. Also, in the 90s, dancehall reggae got big. You had Shabba Ranks and Patra. However, the diversity of the music was around hip hop. Rock was met with this dismissivness. At the same time you had Arrested Development, PM Dawn, a lot of different sounds. But when hip hop went global in the 90s no one could think of anything in the black music departments but hip hop and R&B. There was no real room in the music industry for black rock bands.

YLW: What to you credit the current resurgence too?

RF: In the early parts of the 21st century, technology enabled people to meet audiences.

Back in the day, it was a big deal to have a fax machine. It was a different world. You needed a corporation to get radio airplay because there was no way to get heard. Black radio was not hospitable to anything that did not fall into a certain mode. Costs of recording started to come down. But then you did not have the Internet or the technology for things we take for granted today. Back then you couldn't, get a link to download an album or put your music on a Myspace page. In the 90s you had to go home to check your AOL account. Without the corporate support at that point, it was hard to get music out.

RF: Then you get this cultural shift, coming to the end of the Bush years, where people were just disillusioned with traditional power structures. There was also a large group of people who were looking for music that offered more substance. If I see another video with an expensive car and lots of jewelry. . . I also think the thing that hit the nail on the head was the Don Imus blow up. Black women said enough is enough with this hip hop thing. That was spring of 07. It's not that they wanted to get rid of hip hop, they just wanted more from it. There have always been creative and insightful and thoughtful people working in hip hop. We just need to support them now because the radio waves and video are full of lowest common denominator stuff.

YLW: There are a lot of black rock bands headed by women. What do you attribute this too?

RF: Hip hop started ignoring women. That's one thing about black rock, there are a lot of women out there leading bands. You have a healthy scene and community where you have both male and female representation. Hip hop would be a lot better if there were answer records. There used to be this back and forth. But now, women in hop hop are relegated to the underground. They're not on radio.

RF: I'm doing a survey and I asked people what genres of music are they listening to. Hip hop and R&B have taken the largest dip. More black people are listening to classical, world music, jazz, also afro punk.

YLW: How prolific is the scene?

RF: You can't throw a rock in Brooklyn and not hit a black rock band. There is this absence of coverage of black rock bands, though. Unless you're really big on cultivated this white following, you don't get coverage.

YLW: Which black rock bands do you like?

RF: I have a really wide list. I'm excited about the new Living Color album that came out in September. It's amazing. Kyp Malone's album Rain Machine is great. There is a band out of South Africa called BLK JKS. They are 4 men out of Durbin. They have a record that's beautiful and emotional. It's rock seen through an African prism, so you have the African rhythms, but it's a rock album. Res's new album Black Girls Rock is very good. Melvin Gibbs, the bass player for Elevated Entity mined the connection between Brooklyn and Brazil.

Tamar-Kali, will release her album called Black Bottom. She just has this powerful voice that is incredible. There's another band called Game Rebellion. They are a hip hop punk rock quartet. They are a great bridge between the hip hop world and the rock world. They write songs that deal with the complications of life. The Smyrk is real talented. The lead singer Doron Flake is what John Legend would sound like if he had the balls to do a rock record. There are a couple of other bands Shelly Nicole's Blakbush, California King. The Bots are these two kids who are 14 and 16. They have this rock, punk, ska sound.

For more information on Rob Fields go to

Monday, January 18, 2010

Filmmaking: An Interview with "Online" Director Keith Purvis

Keith Purvis is director of the critically acclaimed short film Online. The film will tour festivals this summer.

YLW: How did you get into film?

KP: I was always into film and didn't know it. My father used to watch foreign films. He had an 8 millimeter camera. My brother was into deep horror movies from Italy, etc. I never thought 'oh I'll make movies.' It wasn't until college when I was in design and I was in the Black Student Union and we crashed this alumni event with director George Tillman who suggested that I take a class. So I took a film tech one class. They were showing us films I'd already seen with my dad. I had a rudimentary film education and just didn't know it.

YLW: Black images in media and film have historically been rooted in stereotypes. There's an expectation that films by black filmmakers will be used to address or resolve issues of identity and help level the playing field. What are your thoughts on this matter?

KP: A lot of black filmmakers make movies based on other black movies that aren't necessarily outgrowths of black culture. So you see a stereotype of a stereotype. Black people are drivers of culture. When I make a film I don't think black, white, whatever. I base the film around the characters. I know I have my own experiences and I want to put them in the film. But I painstakingly don't want to make something that is overly clichéd.

YLW: How do you wrestle with identity as a filmmaker?

KP: When you talk about black people, film and identity, I just try to be true to my own experience. If I say, I'm going to make Love Jones, that's bad. I don't think it's a good idea to piggy back off of black movies that have already been made. Some movies aren't authentic to what we go through. Some people make films based off of blaxsploitation movies but most blaxpliotation movies weren't written by black people. So when you imitate Superfly you're not imitating the black identity, you're imitating a character. When do you get to the authenticity when you keep making a copy of a copy of a copy?

YLW: How do you avoid creating works that are stereotypes or cliché?

KP: It's all about story. If you want to address an issue you should write an article. If you don't want to tell a visual story, you shouldn't make a movie. If you're authentic and you're not being cliché, then whatever you identify with will come out in the film.

YLW: Some would argue that a solid message is more important than the entertainment value and aesthetics of the film. How do you balance a sense of responsibility and still create good work?

KP: Orson Wells didn't do Citizen Kane because he wanted to attack an issue. Telling a story is first, everything else is secondary. If you want to be militant or deal with interracial relationships you want to tell a story first. In Malcolm X, Spike Lee addressed issues by telling a story first. But some of his later films don't work as well because he's trying to deal with issues instead of story. I don't think we're going to advance if we want to make movies that advance the race.

YLW: Really? Why?

KP: That's why Tyler Perry is so successful. For his audience the story is fun for them to watch. But while it's fun, they also get a message. If I don't make it an interesting story for them, everything else is going to fail.

What was the griot's reason for being? It wasn't just to impart knowledge. He was also telling stories because the people had nothing to do. Even Jesus spoke in parables. Why? Because if he just dropped science, nobody would listen to that. So he told a story and through that people got an interesting message. So story first, issue second.

I think a lot of young black filmmakers are programmed to say I'm going to make a movie about an issue as opposed to I'm going to make a story. We used to call them PSAs.

There are so many other things that black people deal with. We are part of the larger world. I deal with a lot in a day. You can't tell me the only thing you do in a day is deal with being angry because you're black. You didn't wake up upset about slavery. Even if you did a movie about slavery, the slaves aren't thinking about slavery as a political concept, but rather the day to day, or escaping the day to day, or focusing on when this day is going to end.

YLW: Tell me about Online

KP: The project I did came from a 'what if' scenario. I wanted to shoot a short. I wrote 5 and I wanted to figure out the cheapest and easiest to do and that one was it. It was a 'what if' based on a lot of people on Facebook. It's a how far can this go kind of thing. I wanted to do something really visually interesting. That's how the story developed. And I wondered how can I make this visually interesting. Also, I have an affinity for silent film. So I thought it would be a nice challenge to make a silent film, a throw back to Charlie Chaplin.

YLW: Online is a witty story and it's told very creatively.

KP: Yes, and once again, that was my point . . . to make a story. But I didn't sit down and say I'm going to make a black relationship movie. I said this is an interesting story I want to tell, one based on my experiences and what I've been through. But first and foremost I wanted to tell a visually interesting story.

For more information on Keith Purvis go to

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Creative Life: An Interview with Event Designer Erika Jones of A Social Life

Erika Jones is an event designer and owner of A Social Life. She also doubles as Erocka J, soulful background singer on the national underground scene.

YLW: You have an unparalleled confidence about you. What do you attribute that to?

EJ: I reflect a lot. I don't live with regrets. I often ask myself if you could do it again, would you do it again? It helps me find my center for myself. Also, my parents are older so when I came into the picture, I had older brothers and sisters, which caused me to have an older personality. It just helped shape certain things for me.

YLW: I thought you came up with a really cool design element for the Post Black Launch Party. What was your vision?

EJ: With Post Black I thought, let's focus on the book and let's have the book be the basis for the design. The thought process was about promoting the book through edgy moments within the book. I played on the controversy through the design element. I was using the book excerpts as fuel for the design. Sometimes in event design simple is more classy. You don't have to have gold chandeliers hanging or tumblers unless that's what the client wants.

Sometimes people want something really nice, really different. So we had visual recreations of the book with a quote. People think they're picking up the book, but it's really a design element that highlights a passage. People just want to feel good and by creating that feel good atmosphere you get what you want, too.

YLW: You have a knack for creating unique simple elements that elevate affairs. What are some of your other favorites?

EJ: I'm very proud of this last event I did at for the movie premier of Online at The Wit. It was a simple event but effective. Because the movie was fashion forward we took two of the outfits from the event and brought that to life in the vignette.

I had another art event where the artist did his rendition of pin up models and instead of having someone be a bartender, I had a model sit on top of a bar and pour the wine. So we had a model in 1950s style as a wine bearer.

YLW: How did you get into event design?

EJ: My mom was a caterer and she would do event design as well. Growing up we would always watch certain shows. I grew up watching Martha Stewart who did design as well as catering. I loved the aspect of making a place look plush or pretty. I knew I could plan a party well, but I also loved the ambiance. I knew that I could be crafty and creative and do things on a budget. It's kind of innate. I can visually see how it can go and putting those aspects together and finding the people who make it happen.

YLW: Did you study event design formally?

EJ: No, I didn't. I was into tablescapes and branched off from there. I have a lot of designers as friends. I just had an eye for it. It was something I was taught as a child – how to do design on a budget. I learned it from watching different shows. Basically, I taught myself.

YLW: How did you become a background singer?

EJ: I always knew I had a voice. I remember the very first time I sang something I was in catholic school, I remember growing up singing and thinking I could do something with this. In college, I hooked up with some other people who were singers. My brother is a guitarist in Chicago so we would be paired together and we would perform together.

In college, I started meeting different musicians . My brother was in a band and I said I can sing background for you. I started singing with them. From there, I would do background for different artists. Then I sang background for Esthero, a Canadian artists who was really known underground. She took a seven year hiatus and she needed a background singer to sing the low parts. A woman I frequently sang background with referred me, and the lady said Erika Jones will be the only person who will give you what you need. I auditioned over the phone and it moved from there. You know how people fall back on a degree? Well, I have a degree, so I fall back on singing.

EJ: Who do you sing back up for?

A lot of underground artist like Discopoet Khari B., Bumpus. I'm just for hire. I sing in studio, too. I'm a background singer for hire.

YLW: What's your vocal range?

EJ: I'm a contralto, mezzo soprano.

YLW: You run an event planning company and you sing backup? How do you juggle both responsibilities?

EJ: I turn into a whole different person. When I am party planning, I'm Erika Jones, I can still come to you as corporate as you need to be. When I'm singing background, I'm Erocka J. She's the chick who wears all the stuff she wants to where, as funky as she wants to be. I'm an artist.  I'm able to find balance in that as long as I remember I'm an artist and that everyone will see the artist in me. There's people who know me as a singer, but don't know me from a Social Life. There's people who know me as A Social Life, but don't know me as a singer.

YLW: That's funny, because I shared with a friend of mine that you were planning my event, and he said, wait you mean Erika the singer? He was very surprised.

EJ: Happens all the time.

YLW: Many women today feel incredible pressure to “do it all.” Do it all doesn't just refer to balancing work and home, but also having so many options and talents and not knowing what to do. Did you ever feel you were at a crisis point?

EJ: I was in that state right before I went on tour. I had graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with an Arts Management Degree with a concentration in music business. In 2002, the music industry was changing and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had started a company before and I was producing events. It was going slower than your average start up.

Then I got into the mundane of getting a job that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do. I always knew in the back of my mind that this was not going to be for the long run. I was just trying to stay afloat. I don't think I was singing at that time. It was a noncreative time in my life. That lasted for a year and a half. I would dabble in some creative things but it wasn't enough. I kept saying I need to get on somebody's tour singing background. It's amazing how what you say will come into fruition. Then next thing you know I was at the brink of crying at my job.

EJ: I wanted to quit but I couldn't quit. Then I got a phone call from Astero, saying she needed a background singer. I said this could change the rest of my life. I could say to hell with it, don't do anymore party planning and just sing background. You can always do whatever you want to do after you do this particular thing. After that tour ended, I looked into reality with a whole different eye. The tour ended, you don't know if another tour will happen, so I dissolved my old company, started a new company. I got back into the workforce, but I had a different mindset. This job was to fund what I wanted to do.

I tell a lot of women sometimes when you look at where you are right now, that doesn't mean that's where you're going to be next week, next month. For people who are in their job and hate it, when you hate it the most, that's the time to get creative. Write down the things you like to do and figure out how you're going to make it happen.  People need to realize that sometimes when you lose your job it's a blessing in disguise.
YLW: Are you bombarded with questions about your locks?

EJ: People ask how long is it or how many years have I had it. They don't ask too much. They may say they like it. It's amazing in the hood some people try to compliment you by not complimenting you at the same time. They say, your hair looks like Medusa. They're not trying to cap on it, they just don't know how to say it. I still get compliments on my bad hair days. I don't get too much flack. I've gotten some of my best jobs since I got locks. I remember my mom telling me don't lock your hair because you'll need to get a job and I' m like what are you talking about? It's been a plus and has become a part of me. I have a piercing in my lip, too.

YLW: You do? I've never seen it, which is odd because I see you frequently.

EJ: I forget that it's there. I've gotten my best jobs with my piercing. I got my piercing and hair locked in the same year. It's interesting that I was able to get my best jobs with both. I've worked with clients from across the U.S, with doctors and corporate managers and I had this piercing in my lip. But it's all about how you perceive yourself. I didn't come across like I'm a teenager with a piercing. I thought about changing it and getting a black ball instead of a silver. But I said don't fix something that's working.

YLW: So no one says anything?

EJ: I get compliments. They say it looks really nice on you. You think when you get a piercing you can only work in retail. I basically carry myself like I'm a grown women. If anything they'll see you're an artist. It all depends on how you perceive yourself.

YLW: Amazing. Where is it?

EJ: It's right under my nose, like a mole. I put it in a place where you wouldn't see it. I've had my locks for 11 years and this piercing for 11. I knew it was OK when my mother and father saw it separately but together. I got off the plane and my dad gave me a hug and said 'wow, did it hurt?' My mom said I would give you a whippin if it wasn't so cute. So I knew that I was OK.

For more info on Erika Jones contact


The Post Black Book Launch in Chicago was wildly successful. Nearly 200 people trekked through Thursday's freezing temperatures and snowstorm to attend the Post Black Book Launch at Plush in Chicago last Thursday. Despite an 11th hour venue change (the scheduled venue refused to open and notified organizers a little over an hour before the affair began), the team of supporters and organizers launched a massive viral campaign, turning to blackberries, tweets, Facebook and emails to drive attendees to the new venue. The event began promptly at 6pm at Plush in Chicago's West Loop.

Susan Betz, editor for Chicago Review Press which published Post Black: How A New Generation is Redefining African American Identity by Ytasha L. Womack said had never seen a book event stir such excitement. The enthusiastic supporters, the viral rerouting, the tasteful decor, the high volume of book sales and the size of the crowd were all a testament to the innovation in Post Black The event which embodied the Post Black theme featured futuristic art videos, theme pillows and teaser books all styled by Erika Jones of A Social Life. According to Betz, the Post Black Book Launch set a "new bar" for book events.

The event was attended by an ecletic mix of young professionals including writers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, ministers, and other business leaders.

"I was amazed by the turnout and the number of young African American professionals that turned out to the event. In light of the weather and circumstances, I was amazed to see that so many people wanted to share in the experience. As as people looked at the quotes and art on the screens to quotes in the book it just made everyone so excited," said Vikki Ewing, a banker who was also featured in the book.

 Womack was equally touched by the crowds sentiment and credited the books success to the audience. "Whenever I talk about Post Black I always use the word 'we.' While I wrote this book myself, this book is a reflection of your life's work, passion and drive."

The Post Black Book Launch was sponsored by

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Featured interview with Post Black author, Ytasha L. Womack. Interviewer: Chris Chaney of NV Magazine. Chaney is featured in Post Black as well.

CC: Post Black has been a term that has bounced around really since Obama has taken office. What does it mean to you?

YLW: Post Black embraces the diversity within the African American community and includes those communities and lifestyles that don't fit neatly into the “African American Identity Box.” This box includes a range of assumptions, beliefs and ways of life that all African Americans are assumed to ascribe to. So I start the book off really knocking all the assumptions as to what the book is about before I go deep into the subject matter.

In the book itself, I take a look at communities in the Gen X and Y world including professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, spiritualist, as well as identity issues involving young women, immigrants, biculturalism, the President, The Talented 10th concept and more.

CC: Why did you decide to write this book now? What about the America we now live in or the generation that we are a part of made this the time?

YLW: There have been incredible innovations in the past decade or so. Social constructs have changed and managing or embracing this diversity is forcing many people to reevaluate their beliefs. For some people this is a very fluid process and for others it is extremely difficult. It's actually a global occurrence. But there wasn't much of a context for the discussion within our community and I hoped that this book would provide one. I include conversations with family, friends and people of all walks of life. I include anecdotes. I also include some personal experiences because it's not fair to talk about African American identity and not talk about myself.

CC: You cover a lot of topics in your book that are all integral to this generation’s identity. What portion of the book do you see as the most significant? What interview responses to what topics were the most surprising?

YLW: I thought it was very profound that everyone I interviewed either consciously or subconsciously made life decisions based around the notion of African American or black identity. In many cases the careers and schools they chose, the interests they pursued, the decision to be an entrepreneur, their commitments to service, etc were all extensions of defining themselves culturally. All decisions were seen as either a reflection of, responsibility to, or some way of advancing African American culture. Even spiritual pursuits. That's major. So whether someone was a salsa musician or an African immigrant opening a restaurant, a minister, or a homeowner in a gentrified area, each felt this need to make decisions out of a larger sense of cultural awareness.

I was surprised when an African immigrant shared that she felt she was at a crossroads of sorts having to defend native born African Americans to other African immigrants and vice versa. She also said that for African Americans to know their history wasn't enough. We needed to take a DNA test to learn our African lineage. I found myself thinking about that. For the blog, I interviewed an immigrant who was raised in Europe and talked at length about how he was influenced greatly by African American culture and the civil rights struggle before he came to the U.S. I interviewed a woman who was told “you're from slave” when she was in Europe and introduced herself as African American. In some countries to identify yourself as African American causes confusion. No one knows what you're talking about. I interviewed black gay men who couldn't relate to gay identified culture. But I was also surprised to learn that many people who had religious practices and weren't traditional Christians initially felt very alone in their journey. This surprised me because the number of people who share these beliefs are significant.

CC: You covered some subjects that are taboo in everyday conversations, specifically religion and sexuality. Why do you think it was necessary to write about how African Americans see themselves in this area?

YLW: Probably some of the greatest change has taken place within the frameworks of how people view themselves both spiritually and sexually. They are both core subjects for this generation. To ignore them would be to ignore some of the leading changes within the African American social paradigm.

CC: With regards to religion you go into detail about your personal beliefs and you highlight those who have broken from religions traditional to African Americans to embrace Buddhism, Yoruba, etc. What effect did you want to have on the reader?

YLW: I'm hoping that the reader sees the diversity in the African American religious experience. There's a growing interest within America at large in both spirituality, Eastern religions, indigenous spiritual beliefs as well as both New Age and New Thought. African Americans are a central part of that experience. In many cases we provided a number of pioneers in those areas and the beliefs have been in the making for several generations in this country.

CC: There is a quote in your book where you are writing about misogyny in Hip Hop and this one young female college student you interviewed defends scantily clad women in a video by saying “Wearing no clothes is a part of our culture. People in Africa don’t wear clothes.” Did that really happen? And do you know where that young lady is now so she can be further educated?

YLW: That's a true story. I don't know where she is. But hopefully the conversation gave her something to think about. The video in question was Nelly's Tip Drill, which caused a protest amongst college women. The young lady couldn't explain why she liked music and videos with misogynistic themes. Many young women can't. But she got flustered trying to explain it all and defended it by saying it was a part of her heritage to do so.

It was appalling to say the least. But the odd thing was she was trying to understand misogyny or sexuality in the context of African American identity. It was an attempt to make some connection between her decisions to listen to sexualized, misogynistic music and her ancestry. Her connections were totally off, inaccurate, and ignorant. But even that decision was an attempt to link her life to some greater sense of African American identity. It goes to show how powerful and misguided notions of black identity can be. She couldn't just say I like the women in these videos or I like dressing that way and I feel guilty. She had to explain her guilt away by saying it was part of her distant lineage. Britney Spears can wear revealing outfits but I can't imagine anyone defending her right to do so as a part of her European ancestry.

CC: You spend time in your book discussing the new black populace and how they identify themselves with African Americans. What you reveal is a definite cultural gap. What do you think it will take to close that gap between Africans, Caribbeans and African Americans?

YLW: I don't think the gap is that wide. However, increased social interaction is the key. Frequenting cultural events and meeting people of other cultures so that other cultural groups aren't viewed as “other” is a necessary step. This is happening in many arenas. In some cases it has happened for years, but in places where it is not [happening], some initiative has to be taken. I also think it's important that there's a recognition that being black in America embodies a variety of cultural backgrounds. There should be more dialog and education on that issue. That recognition alone will forge more inclusiveness within groups and organizations who may not realize their limited definition of “black in America” is repelling various segments of the black community.

CC: When you take on the lofty goal of writing a book about a culture it definitely puts you in a position of being criticized. Immediately, people ask who are you to write this, especially African Americans. So how about you answer that now. What qualifies you to write this book?

YLW: I quote Robert Kennedy. If not me, who? If not now, when? Well, that applies to any burning idea someone has. And this limited concept of African American identity has disturbed me for some time. The issue of identity kept popping up in my work and life experiences. And I've devoted a great deal of time to trying to be me in the midst of many assumptions as to who I should be and how I should operate. I've written for numerous publications targeting African Americans. I've interviewed a span of black people on a range of interests and issues. And personally, I've been involved in a wide spectrum of black life from the arts to business to media. My perspective is a valid one.

One thing that became very clear as I explored these issues is that the notion of blackness wasn't created by black people alone. It's a definition we were boxed into and have been struggling to redefine ever since. Much of this effort to redefine took place in the midst of harsh and extreme resistance. However, with respect to identity, everyone has an invested view into whatever descriptions they use to identify themselves, whether that be racially, ethnically, sex, etc. In changing times, all of these labels come into question. What does it mean to be a man in 2010 is as complex a question as what does it mean to be African American, or Asian American, or bisexual or blonde.

CC: If there could be one ideal African American identity what components would it have and is there anyone who represents it past or present?

YLW: There is no ideal black identity . . . and that's a good thing. At the same time, I do think it's very important that people know the richness and diversity of culture, history and the role it plays on the world stage and in their own lives. I also think people should have a strong sense of responsibility to both educate and empower people around issues of culture and history. Moreover, cultivating a sense of purpose that includes a respect for humanity and a dedication to social good is important. But I would advise that to anyone.