#sugar (conversationforadults)

I want to say, “probably.” When I think about the word “bitch” and my relationship to it, I want to say I have probably used it for a long time, probably as a noun. I have probably called both women and men bitches and not understood why I should be more thoughtful about it.


    When I went to visit her in DC and made it to her apartment, she had bookmarked, highlighted, and annotated the galley copy I’d mailed her. It wasn’t in a bookshelf or cubbyhole — it was right on her nightstand, along with the pen, some bottled water. And chocolate. Not many men come with a printed chronicle of life failures, and I realized too late that trying to impress your paramour with an early version of what is essentially a memoir of your life as an asshole and the sex you had on the way may not have been the move. Because if you give her a book that catalogs your girlfriends, your one-night stands, your marriages and every flaw you have, of course she’ll read it. I’ve claimed to be a big thinker, but never a broadly. No. She thinks big, yes. She’s a different type: uncommon. She is the broad thinker between the two of us, and she had some observations on that day, maybe the third visit and the fourth time we’d spend any time together. I’m fresh off a late flight and ready to hop in bed. She’s out of belly-dancing class, fresh off a BWI pick-up. It’s late. I’m ready for bed. But she’d read the book, and she had some thoughts. Since that first time, I didn’t ask her opinion of my work. I knew better. But why can’t I just get this pussy and go to bed?
    “First thing, I’m sad,” she said, sitting on the edge her bed.
I stood in the doorway, taking it all in — a woman’s bedroom is usually overwhelming, but her’s was spartan but no less perplexing. Bed, a dresser, nightstand with a fan in the far corner. A TV that kinda worked. A red yoga ball on the brown and tan shag carpet, with signs of Africa, Chicago and hair-care products here and there. It wasn’t messy or neat. It was hers. I may not have known how many times the word “bitch” appears in my book (47), but I knew that you don’t sit in a woman’s bedroom — anywhere in her bedroom— until invited. So I stood in the frame as she sat on her bed, sweat clothes undone on a thick, juicy frame, her huge, sweet feet on the floor, eyes on me very stern, very serious. Those glasses were perfect. I could see her sweat stains. Everywhere. I looked her in the eyes because I’m not that stupid.

It’s Go Time.

    “Sad?” I say. She put her finger up.

    “Let me finish.” She leafs through as she talks.  “I have read this, and I like it,  James, but what you say makes me sad because —“

    “Well, see it’s—“

    “BE-CAUSE,” she says with her finger, “I feel as if I don’t know the people— the people you say here.” She points to a page. I nod. “These people here —who are they?” I shrug.

    “Others though. YES … this book is tough. This is a tough read in places, what you’ve gone through and what you say, and in places, I know that you are right.” She closes the book.

“It makes me tired. Tired.”

    “Bunny,” I begin, “the book is just my experiences, my choices. Those women should have never have chosen me. You have to be the thing you want, right? I took a while to figure that out. And when I figured that out —“

I point to her.


Under her cherry cordial sugar-brown, she blushes. A Smile. Ha!

I point to the book in her hand. “Everybody in that muthafucka chose badly.” She nods. “ the thesis, I’m saying, like, is get yourself together, make better choices, man, woman, dog, cat. You can’t be a Moms Mabley looking for Denzel.”

Her face.  

“Moms Mabley? She made more money than Denzel will EVER see.” She’s too smart for an argument like this. And I love her like this I am aroused when she is like this.

“Bunny, you take my point. Be the love you are looking for right? — I’m not saying anything Oprah and Michelle Obama don’t say.”


This. That sound, this moment in our conversations are most often the preamble to a rocket-fire retort.

“You’re right — that’s exactly right. But see, the language—-“

“Women talk about, they don’t know what men think…”

“But ‘bitch,’ James?”

“You don’t know any bitches?”

”No I DO NOT,”  she says. “Uh-huh,” wagging the soft-cover at me. “Not like this, James. You have to put some sugar on it. I read this, and its like you don’t love us.”

“It’s about my failings —It’s not about y’all”

“But you want us to listen, right?” This is when I pull the Harvey Card.

“Yeah, but I’m not Steve Harvey— this is not a book of gentle lies to—.”

“LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING,” she says “about that book of ‘gentle lies’.”

She begins to undress, angrily, perhaps not the ‘welcome daddy’ I had in mind. But if she wants to make a point in the nude, I don’t see any reason to stop her.

“James, I am the only woman in DC and maybe the world, that does not own that book, and I know white women, James. Lots and Lots of White women. They got it too.” She picks up The Denzel Principle, flips the pages and slaps it in my hand. “They ain’t buying this.”

“This is how men talk when women aren’t around.”

“Not my father.”

“Every man you know. Yes. My editor asked me to write it barbershop style, and so —”

“James, your editor is a fool.”

“She’s a woman who —”

“White woman.

“BLACK woman, who edits a lot of hood shit.”

“Hood shit!? So that’s what you write — ‘hood shit?'”

“Um. No. But—“

“NO, James. This is a good book, but you should have put some sugar on it.”


“SHU-gar OWN-it.”

She is naked. Yes.


Conversation for Adults (#conversationforadults) is about conversations— hosted at my home or their home mostly — with complete or near strangers. Some famous. Some not. We sit, the mike comes on and what comes up comes out — I never know what we’ll talk about. I hope that the conversation you hear will lead to a conversation in your real life because, in the age of wireless, we simply do not talk to each other. There are no inviting strangers on your porch for a glass of lemonade. Neighbors don’t offer you cookies or pie. No one has dinner parties, house parties or belly-rubs. If it’s not a flashmob or a nightclub, you meet people in the frigid social-media sphere, and emoticons are no way to talk. You wake up, and the America you thought you knew was just a stock photo — OMG.

CFA has gestated a while, mainly because I wanted some distance from The Barbershop, the NPR segment I co-hosted every Friday with Michel Martin on her show, Tell Me More. I wanted out of That Box, the one people put you in when you do things for a long period of time. Also, early in to the process, I’m trying to feel my way through the rubble of a tragedy. I thought I could work my through it by working my way through it, but I was wrong. I suppose I am back, perhaps clearer than if I’d come back to life sooner. I’m the same James (call me jimi) but different in important ways.

I decided early in when hashing out an editorial rubric for CFA, that I wanted to restrain and bleep my use of “bitch” as a noun. That is to say, I didn’t want to be calling women “bitches” willy-nilly. My use of this kind of vernacular gets to my working-class upbringing, my street life, my life raised in barbershops, my life with my men-folk. Also, My Black American Negritude.

All things considered, Blackness is unforgivable regardless of amplitude, so has never made any sense to for me hold back my — albeit kinda scholarly, published, storied and educated — bald niggerosity. I still don’t. I have concluded that my authenticity doesn’t need to tear at others — I lose nothing by striving to give people — whether they are my exes, ex-lovers or other Unfortunates —- something less than deference, but something closer to respect. Or pity. Or at least not calling them out of their name. ha. Kate Tuttle, one of my first/best editor, taught me the magic is in the editor. Or the self-edit.

I’m not reconsidering “bitch” for any politically correct reason. The word does not belong to me — women have claimed that shit as their own. It used to be a weapon but is theirs, and though some will give me a pass, in these streets, I have to stay in my lane. I love “bitch”, and my wife loved “bitch” late in the night, early in the a.m. But honestly, outside of an intimate setting, I do not need it. So, I evolve — like every free Black Man should be allowed to — and you’ll get to listen while I do.

Lucky you.

The fact is I use “bitch” in my everyday, but less than I use to, and not with women who don’t already know and trust our relationship. And when it appears in CFA sometimes, you probably won’t hear it, as it is mostly bleeped. This was not for the SJWs or feminists or any of that. It’s about my growth and the growth I want to the men I’m raising. Also, I want the #conversationforadults to be about the content, not about a number of times I say “bitch.” Censoring people language just because it offends you is immature. Censoring yourself in the cause of mutual respect and accurate communication is #grownmanshit. Maybe its just six in one hand — I dunno. Discuss among yourself. Or, if you are in Cleveland, or at least in Ohio, come on #conversationfroadults and discuss it with me.

Not for nothing, I want to honor the women in my life. And the bitches too. ha. j/k/n/k But mainly my wife, The Baddest Bitch. Of course, I write this and she puts her hands over her eyes, turns, and blushes. Grabs my arm, puts her lips near my ear and says through her teeth “Nigga, I hate you so much right now” with that nasty, nasty bitch smile you gave to me and me alone.  She did not want you to know how passionate a person she could be, or where that passion lay or the world we made together or the secrets. The Secrets. The promises.

From our world, we had grand plans for yours.

But she’s gone now, and this world is mine and mine alone.

(#conversationforadults is dedicated to my wife because I always do what she says.)


"maybe you should write about it."


it will be a year, today. tomorrow, actually.

How we met, when/why we fell in love, what our life together was like and where it turned to dust are not the kind of details I would share in this space. I wasn’t eager to write about it at all, fearing that I would subject readers to painful, sobbing exposition, like I do in real life. In real life, I have no single word for this loss - I have all of them. LOL. Just the sound of her name sometimes make me faint. I am boring, sullen company, in person, on the page. I do not wish to expose others to that.

After all, people die often — people are dying now. The fact that one of those people was sometime in the recent past, your spouse is only made interesting by the fact that you both work in media, and you worked in media for the same company.  That both of you are public figures of a sort. That some people learned you were married around the same time your spouse expired.  It is interesting, but not for long.

ASIDE: I was in a meeting with a platinum A-list Hollywood agent not two weeks after, and I told him.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but don’t open with that,” he said. “Because nobody cares.” He was not wrong.

If you choose to love someone for life, it should be a love you are prepared to protect for all time. We protected each other, but there were people I could not protect her from.  What I went through is common. But the backstory is not. My wife is legend but the details of her story, however, are horrifying.

When a life comes and goes, so rich with cautionary tales, object lessons and testimony in the face of all evil, if you are writer, a reporter — the spouse — what, exactly is your responsibility? Not for nothing, I am a relic of something greater than me: the keeper of secrets and witness by proxy.  Her story is part of our story, and our story belongs to me. If she were here, and I were not, with everything else equal, all facts in, what would she do?

As dispassionately as possible, she would tell you what she knows. Because if you tell it some, you have to tell it all. And so will I.


When Theo Huxtable Gets Shot (on Michael Dunn Verdict)


You aren't Black and male in America if people are not afraid of you — this is a fact smart people don’t refute. We are Thugs, the Exquisite Monsters trapped in a pop-culture paradox old as America itself:  Let Us Own You. Let us Love You. Let us Taste You.

Let Us Kill You Now.

(“You are your best, safest beast in a box or bag or casket of some sort.”)

If we are to survive, people need an icon of safe black maleness they can relate to. If you wear a hoodie or play loud music, even thoughtful white people will have no doubt as to why you got shot. 

Early in, Gus was the face of black maleness and the wrongly(?) accused. Small wonder lynching became a national pastime. Those ideas still persist in the absence of the soft, accommodating face of assimilation and respectability. W.E. Parks. King. Gates. Obama. Yep.

We need to go younger.


America needs a young portrait of Black American Exceptionalism for perspective, to get some legislation churning, to die for Trayvon Martin's sin of being free and unbowed -- someone black, not Black. The face of Middle-Class Aspiration has be wearing Dockers, drinking a Yoo-Hoo and shot hard in the face on his way home from Lacrosse practice. Yes -- Theo Huxtable must die, because he is black, not Black. The juries will convict, the laws will pass. Because America loves black people.

You mad because juries are slow to find a murder charge when Cockroach gets shot, never understanding that Cockroach -- young, Black, male -- has it coming. He always does.

He always did.


The Black Guy on Public Radio

Too often, producers just want you on their TV or radio show because you are Black, and your Negro-ness becomes your dominant credential. They want you to be the Negro Tour Guide Through The Dark World. I'm on record: while it pays pretty well and gets you some pretty good pats on the head, it is not for me. I am not your Black Explainer: I don't wish to be Professionally Black. No shots. Just saying. I enjoy TMM and other stuff I do because while my Blackness is relevant, it is merely tangential. Frankly, that's the way I try to live my life.

Since Obama got elected, being Black seems to be the only reason I get called, so I don't do a ton of TV or radio anymore, or I do it as it entertains me. I did Al Jazeera recently, for instance. It was fun. To me, that's the only reason to do stuff like that, for me. For fun.

I've been on TV quite a bit -- I did it back when it was difficult to get on. When it paid. Now, if your Moms has a blog, and she's angry enough, she can get on MSNBC. Meh. Also, I'm something like a hard-body but I look fat on TV.  So I'm good on that. Radio is almost always fun and involves friends and colleagues, or sometimes, a nemesis.  So I almost always oblige.

I did some local radio in Cleveland on The Sound of Ideas at WCPN, the NPR affiliate.  I pre-recorded my comments, as I was teaching the next leaders of the world about Black American social radics, classism, hip-hop, Tony Manero and the  American Dream.  It's still kinda weird for me, over at WCPN. People stop me in the streets to ask me about it, so I'm not telling any tales out of school here.

Talk of The Nation had me on when they were in town to talk Harvey -- because I am, after all the Harvey Pekar Scholar -- but WCPN only ever has me on  -- like, 3 times in 5 years -- to talk about being Black (or about TMM, which is almost just tomato, to-MAH-to) -- and it's annoying.  --  It's nice that they loaded my voice into the conversation. That's gratifying, in its way.  It's hard not to be flattered. However, I hear me, talking about "we," like I'm the King of All Blacks this week, and it makes me wince. I should have been more careful in couching my comments in my personal experiences. Ugh. I'm hoping that now that I'm a little more grounded in-town, WCPN and I will do something that doesn't have anything to do with my black maleness.

Because, while I'm proud to be Black and male, being Black is probably the least interesting thing about me. My maleness? Well. Some find my maleness quite interesting, I am told.



I said this already: #longform, nine times out of ten, is just an excuse to bury a thin argument in exposition. A lot of internet feminists and race-writers craft these whiney, earnest 3,000 word essays that have no meaning whatsoever; that reveal little except that the authors were likely paid by the word. No shots. But you know who you are.

So few people are doing that kind of prose well, chances are good you aren't one of them.

bell hooks on madonna

Feminists have such a love/hate relationship with Madonna. They love that she took slutting mainstream but hate she has no radics or politics that aren't of the moment or agenda-oriented. Black feminists particularly, because they can never be Madonna. Like every white hipster, she only loves black culture as it is able to inspire some kind of ironic response. I remain a fan, nonetheless. Madonna doesn't hide her agenda.

The Sharkeisha Problem No One Is Talking About

This argument regarding WorldStarHipHop's exploitation of Black girl-fights misses the point. Our daughters are raised on a diet of resentment, blind anger and reality television addiction where loud profane, antagonism and violence is preferred to reasoned conflict resolve.

No one is saying you’re not entitled to your anger, Sistaz. Just own it. Why is everything da Black Man’s fault?

Black feminism has no use for Black men until it needs an excuse for bad behavior.


Amiri Baraka -- as Leroi Jones -- and Me #TBT

You won't mind if I double-down, right?

Paul Springstubb, the last English teacher I had before I dropped out of high school, would turn me on to two things: Richard Wright and Black Fire, an anthology of Afro-American writing edited by Leroi Jones.

I read the poem below, to my youngest son, hours after he was born, much to my then-wife's dismay.

"We must raise fearless kings and creators," I said.


Black Art

By Leroi Jones (1965)

Poems are bullshit unless they are
teeth or trees or lemons piled
on a step. Or black ladies dying
of men leaving nickel hearts
beating them down. Fuck poems
and they are useful, wd they shoot
come at you, love what you are,
breathe like wrestlers, or shudder
strangely after pissing. We want live
words of the hip world live flesh &
coursing blood. Hearts Brains
Souls splintering fire. We want poems
like fists beating niggers out of Jocks
or dagger poems in the slimy bellies
of the owner-jews. Black poems to
smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches
whose brains are red jelly stuck
between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking
Whores! we want “poems that kill.”
Assassin poems, Poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff
poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite
politicians Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . .tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh
. . .rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . Setting fire and death to
whities ass. Look at the Liberal
Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat
& puke himself into eternity . . . rrrrrrrr
There’s a negroleader pinned to
a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting
in hot flame Another negroleader
on the steps of the white house one
kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs
negotiating coolly for his people.
Aggh . . . stumbles across the room . . .
Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked
to the world! Another bad poem cracking
steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth
Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets
Clean out the world for virtue and love,
Let there be no love poems written
until love can exist freely and
cleanly. Let Black people understand
that they are the lovers and the sons
of warriors and sons
of warriors Are poems & poets &
all the loveliness here in the world

We want a black poem. And a
Black World.
Let the world be a Black Poem
And Let All Black People Speak This Poem

Amiri Baraka and Me

Baraka did a lecture at the Louis Stokes Branch of the Cleveland Public Library in the early 2000s. I took a reader and also two copies of "Dutchman," a play Dr. Carolyn Gordon from TriC turned me on to. "Why two copies, Brother - you gon' sell one?" he asked me. No, I explained. One was for me, one was a gift for my then-girlfriend.  He snickered. "I hope she's still y'girlfriend after she reads it."

Rest In Power, Good Brother.