Jimee Lowe Interview Transcript

JIMEE LOWE: Jimee Lowe. Actually it's James H. Lowe, Jr. I go by Jimee. I am 52 years old. I'm an Army brat. I'm a veteran of the United States Air Force. I guess I call home Eufala, Alabama. I'm a product of integration. I was a guinea pig in the '60s. My parents put me and my sister into an all-white school. So I guess I've experienced racism just like most people, but maybe a little bit more because I was thrown directly into it. MATT JACOBSON: That was still in Alabama, those years? JL: Alabama, right. So I finished high school, and I integrated through the first grade in high school. My father was in Vietnam at the time. In fact, he had two tours in Vietnam. I can honestly say I was really proud to see a black President. I wish my grandparents were around to see it. I thought it would never happen, but it did happen. It was good to see it. I think it's kind of caused a little upheaval with some of the networks on TV like Fox. I always jokingly say Fox is getting back for all the years of Living Color. So that's what I kind of say when I see Bill O'Reilly and Hannity & Colmes. And the new idiot I can't think of his name. Glenn Beck. MJ: Oh, Glenn Beck. JL: Yeah. So that stuff is kind of -- And I knew that was going to start happening. Even my father talked about it, that he'd have problems. But it's good to see some of the changes that have happened in America. I'd like to see more. I'd like to actually see Obama get into -- I'm really big into civil rights -- some of the cold cases that have happened that the presidents in the past have not really been interested in opening up. I'd like to see some of those things happen. I do worry about the President as well as Eric Holder, some of the statements he's been making. And I think we're ready for change, but a lot of people don't want to change. And they're going to do as much as they can to stop change, I believe. And even to the point where they're exciting a lot of these nuts. And hopefully nothing will happen, but I do worry about the stuff happening. Kind of like the Kennedy brothers, but a different type of brothers, I guess in another aspect. But I actually am doing a presentation, I don't know if you know that, for the Day of Absence, for the Day of Presence [a “diversity” event at the college where Lowe is an administrator]. And I want to actually include some of the things that Eric Holder spoke of in his speech [at the 50th anniversary conference of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee]. And I don't think he would have done that, to be honest with you, if the President hadn't been black. I was glad to see him do it. Because people aren't really used to seeing black men expose their manhood, for lack of a better term. And to speak out on things that they normally wouldn't speak out about. Like Colin Powell was kind of a politician -- he would never speak out. But I have Colin Powell on my film talking about race. Something you normally wouldn't -- it's kind of taboo for politicians to talk about those areas. But that's kind of my take on what's been going on. MJ: OK. Can we go back over--let's put on the breaks a little bit and go over this territory kind of more leisurely. JL: OK, sure. MJ: So let's go way back to those childhood years in Alabama that you were talking about. And maybe some of the things that you remember. I mean you called yourself a guinea pig. JL: Right. MJ: Can you kind of put yourself back in your own child's perspective on the way the world was changing around you? And how you saw it, how you and your classmates, black and white, were responding to these things. But also maybe some differences that you saw between the adults around you and the way that the kids were thinking about these things. JL: Well, when I say back then, it was me and my sister were the only two blacks in the school. MJ: Oh, OK. JL: We had the maids and the janitors and the cooks in the school were black. But my first year we were the only blacks. And we had to actually walk through, back then, the white projects. On that note, have you ever heard of Eufaula, Alabama? MJ: No. JL: Eufaula, Alabama sits on the border with Georgia. It's Marilyn McCoo [singer from the 1960s musical group, The 5th Dimension]-- MJ: Oh, OK. JL: --her grandfather was the first black doctor in my town. Dr. T.V. McCoo. George Wallace is originally from -- you know who George Wallace [segregationist governor and presidential candidate] is? MJ: I do, indeed. JL: He was originally from my town. He was originally, as a matter of fact, a judge in my town and in my county. And I think a lot of the racism mainly came from the parents. And that was one thing my grandmother would always say. She was extremely afraid of white people. And she would always say once the older white people died out, things would get a lot better. And it did get a lot better. A lot of times when you were at school, the white kids would start speaking. When I first got there, I'd walk down the hallways and the white kids would get up against the wall. Sit down to the lunchroom table, everybody would get up from the table. You would hear nigger jokes in the first grade. I heard them all the time. There was this one kid, it was like it was his job to razz me every day. He'd pronounce me a free nigger everyday. Kind of like Abraham Lincoln. This was, like I say, in the '60s. But back then and then when I finally graduated from high school, our prom was segregated. And still to this day pretty much, in my town, we have a black graveyard, we have a black funeral home. They have the white funeral home, they have the white graveyard. I think maybe in two incidents where they've mixed where they've had white people in a grave, one was this guy's lover, and the other one was from slavery, that the master buried his servant next to him because he wanted his servant in heaven. And you can go right to my town and I can show you the grave, and this is all put on his grave. So that's kind of the mentality I grew up with. Now on Facebook, a lot of people that wouldn't even talk to me are contacting me because they have kids now. And I guess they don't want their kids to think that they were that way and they're changed now. They're not their parents. And there's the same thing when you were downtown. The little white girl that would every once in a while speak to you in class, and when she was with her mom she was afraid to say hi. So you got that type of stuff. MJ: And you learned how to read it. JL: Oh, yeah. Like I said, I grew up with my father in the military. And that was one of the reasons he didn't want, when we moved South, to go to the black school. On our first day of school, he took me and my sister to the black school, and he asked to see their books. And then he took us to the white school, which was actually right up the hill from us, and the black school was on the other side of town. And then we went to the white school, and he asked to see their books. And he saw that their books were brand new and nicer. And he said, well, this is where you're going to go to school, not taking into account what would happen to his children. He just was interested in that they had new books. And he wanted to, I guess, flaunt his-- I won't say flaunt, but-- he wanted to exercise his rights for his children to get a better education. That's why I believe he-- but it didn't really work out that way. It's kind of hard to get an education when people are spitting on you and they're putting you in a remedial reading class when you can read better than anybody in the class. So that's some of the things they asked -- You know, also changing the subject, I heard you were a big Jimi Hendrix fan. I actually brought a few things for you to check out. MJ: That's great, thank you! JL: But that's pretty much the way I grew up. And I've kind of made it, I guess, a mission to educate people on race. And so that's been one of my things. I've kind of combined music and African-American history together to try to tell a story. And it's not like the Tuskegee Airmen or any of that stuff. It's the graphic stuff, like lynchings and stuff like that. And I wanted to kind of show, compare it with the blues. And I also brought you a copy [of Lowe’s documentary, Red, White and Blues] to take with you too, to check out. MJ: OK. JL: But I redid “Strange Fruit.”  And I wrote a song called "Red White and Blues." I wrote it after I saw George Bush talking about the "axis of evil." That's what kind of inspired me. And they were talking about looking for terrorists, and I thought about all the terrorists from the '60s that had gotten away and the cold cases filed. And so when I made this film, I actually had problems even making the film. When I started sending it around to a bunch of people, and all of a sudden I started seeing all these cold cases being reopened. MJ: Do you remember, going back to the '60s, do you remember the first time that you were aware that there was a movement afoot that might really change things? JL: Oh, yes. My father is a very peaceful man, but he's always kind of looking for things. So he had this Malcolm X grass roots. I can remember when calling a black person black was a bad thing. And even back then I didn't want to be called black then. James Brown's "Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." The Afros, the dashikis. And Roots, I think, really was a big inspiration for black people to start -- you start getting away from the Billy's, Johns, and James'. You start getting Abdul, Rakim, Shaniqua. The things that people make fun of now. But there was really, black people trying to claim their identity. Or the whole Back to Africa movement, I remember that first hand. As a matter of fact, I got really excited. Saturday on BET [Black Entertainment Television], they were showing, they were finally releasing Soul Train DVDs. And it's like nine and you're seeing the Afros and the Afro Sheen and Black History month, and they had Frederick Douglass. I remember those commercials about Afros. And I said, man, this is so cool that somebody has finally got a clue to release this stuff. And they came out with the Midnight Special. If you don't mind me asking, how old are you? MJ: I'm 52. JL: I'm 52, too. MJ: Yeah, yeah. JL: I just turned 52 in March. So since then all those things kind of really said, well this is good. And also, too, the younger generation of black people aren't playing instruments. And so that's kind of become a void. And you don't really see enough of that to inspire people to play instruments. And so that whole, it's like the music has kind of died. And even the content of what we sing about is not as powerful as it used to be. That was the more message oriented. And even the message oriented stuff, a lot of times, won't even get played, which is bad, too. I've seen the change in BET. You know, BET is not the quality that it used to be. I had seen BET go through its period with Comic View, where they were dropping the N-word. And then when they refer to white people, they refer to white people as white people. And they refer to each other, ourselves, as nigger. And every other word was this and that. And there were comedians. And finally somebody got a clue. Hey, we need to stop this. And it stopped. But even comedians today still do that. It's like if I say that about you, then you're going to draw back. But if I talk about myself, then you'll listen. So if I refer to myself negatively. And you hear it in tons of hip hop. Every other word. And then its taken on -- we tried to kill it, and they're bringing it back. MJ: Can you talk about, in generational terms, I mean let's talk about, what is it, maybe, basically like 50 or 60 years of historical time, in which these, too many things have remained the same, but a lot of things have changed. JL: Right. MJ: Can you talk about it in kind of generational terms. In terms of the adults that you grew up with. Your elders. Then yourself, and then the younger people. Either your children if you have them, or the students that you work with. How would you describe these kind of glacial shifts in American racial understanding in generational terms? JL: The older generation, like my grandparents, they were really more afraid to talk about it. And I always saw them as being more passive, I guess. And then my parents' generation and my generation -- My parents' generations were the ones that kind of started the ball rolling. And then my generation and part of my parents' generation were the ones that kind of said, hey, and they're the ones that remember it. The younger generation has never really experienced it, I mean really experienced it. So they really say, well, there's no problem. And so a lot of this stuff is kind of just stuck in that environment. And when they're angry, they're taking it out on each other. You know what I'm saying? And if you look at the younger generation, it really seems like they're really pissed off. Even when you go out to a club, it seems like everybody is so tense. And the first thing-- in my generation, if we got in an argument, we'd fist fight. And the next day we're friends. This generation, the first thing they're going go to do is go get a gun. And even their games that they play. We went out and played baseball, we played basketball, stick ball, chess. We didn't sit down to the controller shooting cops, or raping a prostitute and then getting points for raping a prostitute and killing her afterward and getting points. There were no games like that for us. And even, I can tell you what the second form of slavery was-- the 80s when crack hit. Crack totally changed the environment. And I would say that was a big part of it. The neighborhoods went from being neighborhoods to ‘hoods. You had a large amount of pawnshops pop up. You had crack babies. AIDS. The disrespect of women. All that came along. Your welfare system really blew out of proportion at the time. And I can remember people losing their houses, losing their cars behind crack cocaine. I can remember when cocaine was considered the rich man's aspirin, and you didn't see it in the neighborhood. And then all of a sudden-- and I was in the Air Force too. So I knew when they were saying that the government brought this shit over there, they did. I knew. I was on Air Force bases when cocaine was on Air Force bases. And I knew where to go get cocaine on an Air Force base. So they can say all that bullshit about it wasn't -- it's a made up, conspiracy. That's bullshit. I know first hand that cocaine was brought in at the time. I knew people that were getting put out of the military behind cocaine. MJ: What were the years that you were in the military? JL: I was in the military from 1979 to 1992. So I know first hand. And they can say that the government had nothing to do with it. They did. But that's what really, really destroyed, I think, the black family a lot. And then the prison system. The three strikes law. And then you had the mentality, too. You would see young black men posing like they were on vacation. They're in khakis and they're in prison. Then the sexual assault, all that stuff, went on. Really bad during the prison era, and then people were getting out of prison and bringing that stuff home. And it seems like my generation has more respect for the older generation. The younger generation here doesn't really have a whole lot of respect for this generation. And it seems like a lot of times because a lot of people from my generation won't go to the boys' prison and talk to them, and tell them, hey there's a better way to do this. No, they don't have that mentor. And all those after school programs kind of depleted. They're not around for anybody to mentor or talk to. So they're not really getting a whole lot of that. And that's what I can see with the generations. My grandfather talked to me. My parents talked to me about life. They talked to me about getting ahead. And that was their goal, was education. And a lot of that's not really pushed with the younger generation. MJ: Where did you go after you left Alabama? JL: I went to Tuskegee for a year. Which is Tuskegee, Alabama. And then after that my girlfriend at the time got pregnant. And I married her, in California. And then I went to Iceland. I was in Keflavic, Iceland for a year. I was there when Reagan came with the Summit. And then from back there, I came back to California. And I got out in 1992. So, I'm sorry, my first assignment was in Montgomery, Alabama, Maxwell Air Force Base. I was there for four years. Then after that four years, I went to Edwards Air Force Base, which is in Lancaster, California. From Lancaster, California, I went remote to Keflavik, Iceland, Naval Air Station for a year back there. I came to march and then I got out in '92. MJ: And then since '92? JL: Since '92, in '93 I moved up here. I've been here, this time, 10 years. I moved back to Alabama for two years in '96. So I moved back to Alabama for two years. I worked for a boys' prison. There, I got tired. I felt like I was locked up most the time, talking to them, trying to show them a different way. I got tired of that. And then I met a woman, I moved back out here, and I've been out here for 10 years. MJ: We talked about social change in terms of historical time, or change over time. JL: Right. MJ: What about geography? I mean, you've traveled a lot. I mean, even in the same moment, how much difference is there between Alabama in 2010 and Washington state in 2010 or California in 2010? Do you see a huge variation in those terms still? JL: Yes. Alabama has changed a hell of a lot. When I was there, it was black and white. Now we have a large Hispanic population. I don't even think people in Alabama knew what Chinese food was, to be honest with you. We have two Chinese restaurants. There's two Mexican restaurants. There's Indians that mainly have the hotel chains. So you see a lot of East Indians, which actually caused some bit of a trouble in the South. Because a lot of people weren't used to it. So the people that are normally discriminated against would be black people. And now they were doing it to Mexican people. And the sad thing about it was a lot of the black people have forgotten what happened to them. And they're trying to do the same thing. And if you look in California, now there's a thing between blacks and Mexicans in California. There's a little rival between the gangs. But it's spilled over into the regular population. So that's the stuff you see. That there is aggression. And like I say, it seems like there's a lot more hostility. I think also too, with the police. The thing with the police has kind of come to a head. I don't know if you've watched here that there's been -- My cousin was killed by the cops. So I have kind of a passion about that too. He was the 50th person to die from a taser, at the time. He was 42 years old, an ex-cop himself. He flagged down the police for help. When they wrote it up, they wrote it up as if he was some cocaine, marijuana crazed person that the cops couldn't handle. But he flagged them down and asked them for help. They started immediately trying to handcuff him, I believe was the thing. And they tasered him. She ended up tasering him eight times. It fried his liver, it fried his heart, and it fried another part of his body. And at the time, he was, like I say, the 50th person. Now they're up to 260 something, I believe it is. And my aunt sued them, and she won the appeal. They said it was excessive force. There's no question it was excessive force. He was handcuffed, and they have him actually videoed. And so they're saying-- he was dead when they took him in, but they said they had to hook him up to see. MJ: Where was that? JL: This was in Orlando, Florida. And he was, like I said, the 50th person. He was a cop himself, he used to be, back in the day. And he stopped them for help. Somebody had supposedly stolen his car and was shooting at him. And they said he was acting erratic. So he ended up dying, because he was acting erratic. And I ask people, I say, how many times have you heard of a white person stopping a cop for help and dying? And racial profiling, that's pretty much the same. Things have gotten better. You see, even on TV, TV has gotten better, but it's gotten also a little wild, a little perverted. With racial things, on TV you'll see mixed couples now. It used to be normally if you saw it, it would be the white man and the black woman. But now sometimes you see the black man and the white woman. So you see that stuff. It's become a little too loose.  I don't know if you ever watch -- I watch MTV. I'm, like I said, I'm a music junky. If you were to go look and walk in my living room, I've got two guitars in my bed that I sleep with. My living room is basically a music store. I've got a Marshall stack. I've got Mesa Boogies. I've got keyboards. I've got a full drum set. I've got bongos, congas. I collect, eat, sleep, and live music. And I figured if there's something that I like, I can combine the two passions. And history has always been kind of my thing, too. Black history, or American history has always been my kind of thing. So I figured if I combined the two together, I could educate people and call it edutainment like Harris One. So I combine the two to do these things, and to talk about the things that people don't want to talk about. Or the uncomfortable things that people don't -- MJ: Can you talk in more detail about the kind of work that you're doing? And also maybe how you gauge whether or not your message is getting across? What's the thing that you're hoping to see? What's the thing that when you see it, you know that you're there? JL: When I get feedback from people. And even if it's negative feedback, any kind of feedback to me is good. I can present it angry. And if I present it angry, no one's going to get anything. They're just going to see me as the angry black guy. And they kind of see that anyway. But if I give it to them in a nice, comfortable tone, where I'm not shouting or anything, they tend to get it a lot better. And when I present pictures of people posing with bodies and doing all these things, I tell them I didn't make these pictures up. I didn't take any of these pictures. I said all this stuff is stuff you can go right to your library, if you want to see it, and pull it down. I've gotten all kinds of different -- like I say, I've been doing this off and on for 10, 15 years. And it started out as just a slide show. And I would do it sometimes in my house, and people would bring their kids to see. And back then it was just a CD with some music, with me playing some blues chords and soloing over the top of it. Then I added speeches from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And I pulled up the Martin Luther King -- not the "I have a dream" speech, but the angry Martin Luther King. MJ: Yeah, the "My government is the purveyor of violence." Right, right. JL: Right. That type of stuff. The stuff that people normally don't talk about when they mention Martin Luther King. And I basically took the two and tied them together and showed how similar they were. Their tactics were a little bit different, but they were basically saying the same thing. A lot of people are interested in hearing what you have to say, and want to learn. And there are people that don't want to. And those are the people that normally go into the other sciences. The stuff they don't want to hear. And then you have people that react, act on it. And it's good. It's like, we had a riot here. Do you know who Dead Prez is, by chance? MJ: Mmhmm. JL: We had Deb Prez here and they had a riot where they flipped over all the cars. And I was telling them, I said now, they use excessive force. And see, we've had plenty of incidents with the students and the police here. So they came in. First of all, they arrested the guy that had nothing to do with it, which was a black guy. And this is something you very seldom will see is white people standing up for black people. And I told the kids you know what, it's cool that you did this. You stood up. But if you'd have been black, somebody would have accidentally gotten shot. And that's normally the way it works. And me saying that is "no, no, no." But it's true. I said I've seen it happen a billion times. The guy in the BART thing that Cynthia McKinney, was just here. She showed the BART thing. And I said I remember in the '70s seeing the Ku Klux Klan on national TV get out of their cars -- this was in North Carolina. MJ: With that whole communist parade thing? Yeah. JL: Yes. Get out of their cars, show them on film shooting these people down point blank. And every last one of those people got off. And I pulled out old footage of stuff from the Civil Rights, from the '30s and '40s with Jesse Jackson. They did a re-enactment a few years ago. I have some of this stuff. I brought stuff to actually show you if you want to see it. [JL and MJ look through a wide assortment of things that JL is pulling out of his briefcase—CDs, records, newspaper clippings…] JL: … This is what I wanted to show you. This was a cold case. MJ: Louisiana Weekly. JL: They never did find the killers of that. MJ: Oh, I remember this. The Morris Fort Bridge, 1946. JL: Right, so that kind of got reopened and never really happened. And even doing this type of stuff, a lot of times it causes me trouble. Actually, I got suspended from work for like two weeks here, behind some of this stuff. And I ended up having to fight the college. I fought the college, I beat them. They had to pay me two weeks' back pay. Then I went after the union who refused to represent me. I won. And then I beat them, and they had to give me my money back. MJ: What was the suspension about? JL: They said that I was harassing people. And it always happens right after I show this film, I always have a problem. There's a thing on cultural appropriation. I address a bunch of different issues. That deals with the physical violence and also deals with the mental violence. And I took clips of different stuff that I thought was important. And I tied some in. And then there's some stuff that's pretty controversial in there, too. I do some stuff in blackface, and I do some stuff in whiteface. But it's “Strange Fruit,” is what I do. And as I say, it's pretty graphic, but it's history. MJ: Yeah. Well so I have a bunch of questions about this. First of all, to be clear on it, what was the language they used to articulate what they thought you were doing -- JL: They said-- I have this -- this is the court case. I have sent stuff to Julian Bond. I was a little cocky with it, and his response was a little negative. Because he was doing a speech, he did a speech for the NAACP. And I wrote him and said it seems like somebody's seen my film and then followed the sequence. I'm thinking well, hell, he's part of history, too. He's been around a lot longer than I have. And he knows the sequence, and you basically follow the sequence. And I guess I was a little arrogant, a little cocky. I said, well, I think you've watched my film. And I know he has. But he was thinking that I was saying that he didn't know anything, I guess. And that's not what I meant. I was just saying that you've seen my film. Because when he did his speech, it followed, pretty much, this film note for note. And he talked about the same stuff that was in this film. But his response was yeah, thanks for the film. One little line. I said OK, cool. But I sent it to Cornell West, I sent it to BET, I sent it to museums. And all of a sudden, I started seeing all this stuff pop up on the news. I said well no one was even thinking about this stuff before this came out. MJ: So the suspension and all of the legal stuff in its trail, that was all really recent. This was the early 2000s you're talking about? JL: Yeah. They, as a matter of fact, they got rid of him. He was the head of human resources. They ended up firing him. This is how I went after the union. They threatened me. When I first came here, they said that I -- I didn't even know, I thought it was automatically taken out of your union dues. So they threatened me: You have to be a part of the union to work here. So they weren't taking union dues, and all of a sudden, I get this letter saying, hey, we're going to fire you if you don't pay your union dues. So I immediately went down to payroll and they started taking out my union dues. I had problems and I went to the union for help. They said they couldn't win my case with ten lawyers. I've never had a day of law school my life. They tried, as a matter of fact, they tried to get my friend who works with me not to represent me. He was my union shop steward at the time. They wouldn't let him speak, but he went anyway. And he wrote down the information for me to display. And I beat them and they gave me my money back. And I started to say, well I can sue you. But I just want all my union dues back from the six years that I've been paying dues and you refuse to represent me, and I win myself. I said if you're not going to represent me and I represent myself and I win, what do I need you for? Why am I paying dues? I used a little intimidation, but I kind of scared them. MJ: What union was this? JL: This is, it's the Washington State union. MJ: Oh, so it's the government employees union. JL: Right, yeah. AFL-CIO or something to that effect. But all these days when I don't want to really be bothered, or I'm in kind of my mode, I have lynching shirts, and so I wore a lynching shirt to trial. And that's what they really focused on more. And I also made them watch the film to show them what the people were really upset about. And they got the point. MJ: So the film became an exhibit? JL: Yes. I put it on. And they didn't want to watch it. They didn't want to watch it. I said first of all, I put this on my list for an exhibit. You need to find a DVD player and you're going to watch it. But a lot of people want to deny this stuff. It's like-- I've seen old German soldiers deny that the Holocaust ever happened. You know, you see these people. And so that's another thing they talk about. The black soldiers and how they experienced racism from the Germans. And how the Germans were treated better than that. So I take all this stuff and I show it. But a lot of times people don't want to see this stuff. It's just, they're in denial about stuff that they know happened. So that's always been my passion. And it was my passion with trying to get some of the old cold cases opened. MJ: Can you talk more about your initial inspiration to do that kind of work? When was the moment when it occurred to that that's what you wanted to do? You wanted to deal with history in a certain way and maybe fuse it with music or other kinds of artistic work? Where does that come from? And who were your models for that? JL: I listened to a lot of Gil Scott-Heron, and I listened to The Last Poets. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. My being here -- I learned a lot. When I was a kid, I really didn't like blues. My guys were James Brown, the funk stuff. Because I always thought blues was a man always whining about whiskey or mojo or women. And I felt like the black man's problem is a lot bigger than whiskey or mojo. When he's getting lynched and his house is being burned and stuff like that, and he's singing about whisky and women. So why do I want to cry over women? And then I start listening to KPLU and hearing a lot of white people singing the blues, and not really knowing the true history of the blues. And they think well it's a one four five pattern, it's an pentatonic scale. But no, the blues is a lot more than that. It's just like the early hip hop when they had some sort of message. Like you had the Black Power movement with Public Enemy. KRS-One where they went from the gold chains to the African medalions. The cultural end of it. And so I looked at the blues and said why can't he sing about what his problem really was? And as a joke I said, well, I'll play some blues and I'll see -- And some of it also came from Living Color. Did you ever watch the old blues guy? He said I wrote a song about it. Y'all want to hear it? And he'll talk about, he'll say, I know a lot of you all think the old mayor here is a womanizer. But no, he's not a womanizer. He likes them little boys. I wrote a song about it. And he's kind of exposed -- that was my theme. To kind of expose or play with the stuff that people don't really want to talk about. The real issues. And so that's what I wrote "Red, White and Blues" about. I figured America has caused a lot of people the blues, so why not show how they caused the blues? And The Last Poets do poetry, but there was never actually a blues song. And then in the process of me thinking that way, I started learning about blues songs that were about that. And learning that they had to sing in code. So the person didn't know what they were talking about. And that's what I learned from the Martin Scorsese film. And after I had been talking all that noise, I had to turn around and add that to what I said I learned in the process of making the DVD. And also hearing Led Zeppelin. I grew up listening to Jimmy Page. "When the Levy Broke," the whole time I thought that was a Led Zeppelin song. And then I heard something from the '20s, an older blues acoustic version of "When the Levy Broke." And then Robert Johnson's line: "I'm going to squeeze the lemon ‘til the juice runs down my leg." That's in his lyric. And I had never heard Robert Johnson's lyrics. But I had heard it in Led Zeppelin. And then there's another tune that Led Zeppelin does that was a Muddy Waters tune. I said, wow! So and I said, well, I am going to go back and research this stuff. And so I just started buying as much blues music as I could. That's how I got that. And there was KPLU, which is 88.1. It's actually the only radio station I really listen to. It's a college station that's in Tacoma. Back when I was here before, they had a lady named Julia Sintrais. She was an excellent DJ. And when she would talk about the music, she would give you a little history behind it. And that's what encouraged me to research this stuff. So my newer thing is called Blues 101. And there's a George Carlin sample that I took when he's talking about the blues that I thought was funny. But a lot of people, when you start talking or joking this way, they get real tense about this stuff. It is for everybody. It is for everybody, but we have to be able to be real about it and talk about it. MJ: Do you find yourself-- I mean, I'm really struck by this story about the suspension here. Do you find yourself carrying a big burden for people of color at the university? Do you find yourself doing a lot of the work that more people ought to be doing? Or how do you understand your role in those terms at the college? JL: I do it because I think a lot of people are really afraid to do it. And when I first started doing it, I think they brought me into the classrooms to keep me from really showing so much to the public, probably. Because I used to it out in the -- when I first started doing it, I would do it -- even the president tried to send me some sort of little hidden message. And he started singing to me one day in his office. So they kind of think I'm a little half-crazy anyway around here. So he started singing to me in his office about send me somebody to love. And he happened to see my slide show out there. The first time I actually did it, there were four people and all were my friends. And outside in the lobby way where the library is, there used to be a stairwell. There used to be a staircase and it came down. And so at the bottom of the staircase, I had four people watching me. My piece, "Red, White and Blues" is like eight minutes long. And I'm sitting there with my eyes closed, and by the time I open my eyes, I've got 200 people watching me. And this really set the head of human resources off. He kind of got mad because he feels like that I'm showing something that shouldn't be shown. He was a little redneck guy. They ended up firing him. This is the head of human resources and he would stay stupid shit about Native Americans. That's what ended up getting him fired. He was just an asshole that was just out of touch. And in the human resources department. So he kind of sparked a lot of stuff. And one day he told me about this black guy that he had -- a roommate that didn't like him because he was white. He started telling me all these things. I said it's probably not because you're white, it's because you're an asshole. And he was an asshole. A lot of people want to know things, but they're afraid to -- They want to see things by themselves or they want to be in a comfortable environment where they're not thinking that, hey, they're going to judge me. Or this or that. And it was the same thing when I was a kid. But, back to my childhood. We had a friend-- the teacher would assign a student to show the new student around. And this guy's name was Kendall Kelley, and they started calling him a nigger lover. And after that he was afraid of what the other people thought, so he stopped talking to me. But that's how a lot of times people want to know things but are afraid. Or people want to learn things but they're afraid a lot of times, so they don't. Or they worry about what their friends say. And then this generation has gotten better with, I don't care if you don't like it. This is what I like, this is what I do. But in the past, the younger generation always worried about it. It's the same with new music. The way our music is accepted. Like how Jimi Hendrix had to go to England to be brought back here. And now we claim him. And it's just like how Muhammad Ali was such an asshole back then. But now he's our hero. Because I remember people didn't want to call him Muhammad Ali, they wanted to call him Cassius Clay. And he was a big mouthed trouble maker. But now all that's passed and he's a hero. MJ: Right. And what happened to all the people who hated Martin Luther King so much? Try to find them today. JL: Thank you. Thank you very much. That's what I think. Because I remember a kid calling him a communist and he hated him. Back to that, when he was murdered, there was a guy -- My mother came and got us all out of school. And we went down to the courthouse. I'm not sure exactly why we went down to the courthouse. But I remember truckloads of white people rolling around saying yeah, that nigger got what he deserved, da-da-da-da. See I knew it was going to happen, da-da-da-da. And so that's what I grew up with. And that's probably the big reason why I do a lot of this stuff. And then my father, what he went through, and what my grandfather went through. I was telling you my grandmother was afraid of white people. And I always wondered why she was afraid of them, until I started doing the research. And then I said well I understand. MJ: How did they communicate that to you? How conscious was it on their part that they wanted to give you an archive of really important stories to help you navigate this shit? JL: My grandmother was really afraid to talk about it. My mom would talk about it. And seeing history books with lynchings in it really kind of gave me a desire to learn more. And then later, I had a collection of lynching pictures. Every time I could find something in a different book, I'd either take it and have a slide made from it. And then all of a sudden there was a book called Without Sanctuary that somebody was talking about. And I ended up getting a copy of that book and taking more stuff out of it. And this guy, what he-- you know James, do you know about Without Sanctuary? MJ: Yeah. JL: OK, well this guy, how we started was he was collecting antique furniture and he would find all these old post cards. MJ: Oh, the postcards, yeah. JL: Right. So I said well if this guy has made a book, I can take some more of this stuff. And I have constantly seen newer stuff that I want to add to it, but I haven't yet. MJ: Can we talk a little bit about -- I'm jumping forward again in time -- just about your sense of the first year and few months of the Obama administration? Both what he's done as President. Just your general sense of how it's gone. And including the opposition that's come out of the woodwork over this stuff. JL: I've always thought it'd be good to have a health care plan. I always thought it would be good for anybody that needed to go to the doctor to be able to go to the doctor. Especially as rich as this country is. When I was in Iceland, they had a health care system. And it seemed like it worked pretty good for them. And it's sad that if you don't have money you can't live. And it shouldn't be that way. He's the President of all people. But I think he needs really to invest more in the black community. Do some investment in the black community. More investment in the black community. I think he needs to really speak out on racial issues. I know he was forced to. But he shouldn't have to be forced to. He's a black man. He's experienced. Just because you're a politician doesn't mean you stop being a black person. You can speak as a black person and speak as a President too. Like I said, I'm really proud to say it. I think a lot of black people in the beginning were a little hesitant about him becoming the President. They were a little scared and saying all the stuff that they said. I don't know if you watch the State of the Black Union with Dick Gregory. Did you happen to see that? MJ: Yeah, yeah. JL: OK, well I thought that was really enlightening for him, Dick Gregory, to say. Especially when they were saying Obama isn't as black as Bill Clinton. What kind of shit is that? And don't get me wrong, I've said that about black people, too. But he's married to a black woman, and that was one of the big things that black women liked. It's normally said when a brother gets a position, he marries a white woman and forgets who he is. And he automatically will say that they want more to claim the white side of his culture. And he's calling himself a black man. That's a plus by itself. And from being here, you see that with a lot of biracial people. And that's another thing that's really changing. The world is a lot more mixed than it was before. You have more categories of people. And I really think it's cool that that end of it has changed. And I think that does, that scares a lot of people. You see even on the programming. Like if you watch the History Channel. The History Channel has been hyping a lot of racist groups. They had the Hammerskins, they had W.A.R., White Aryan Resistance. And they had another skinhead group that they've been showing. And so they're hyping all that stuff. And they're giving voice to these skinheads. And they're saying, well, that's what's happening now. The ZOG, and they think all this stuff. Obama's going to do this. And he's going to take away their guns. So you hear that type of environment. And you see even TV ramping this stuff up. Like the end of the world. So you've got all these nuts that are hearing this stuff. And eventually they're going to act on it. They're tired of shooting at-- this is just my opinion-- but they're tired of shooting at trees out in the woods. They want to shoot people. And eventually it's going to come to that. That's my opinion. So I think they need to really kind of ramp up. I mea,n we're looking for Al Qaeda and all these guys. But I think we need to look for Uncle Sam around here too. MJ: I'm thinking of that Chris Rock routine. I'm not afraid of Al Qaeda, I'm afraid of "Al Cracker." [Laughter] JL: But yeah, just that. And you see it. And you see it on TV. And it scares people, you know? People don't really want to change that fast. And I just remember seeing it in the South, how people really hated black people. But they like the culture, and they like the food, and they like the service. But the people, they don't really like them. Now that's changed. It's like the Mexican has become the bad person to them. And the Mexicans and blacks -- they should be, to me, best friends. Just like Native Americans. But they're bumping heads. It's like they're using them to go against each other. Just like in the South, a lot of black people are robbing Mexicans because they know that they have money. That's been going on. And in the West, the gang bangers are shooting blacks. They're calling it ethnic cleansing. Neighborhoods that were predominantly black now have become largely Hispanic. So you've got the gangs going at each other. And that's been going on for God knows. My kids are down in California. Like I said, I lived in California and that's how I know all that. The world has changed but it's a lot the same. MJ: Yeah. Well, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like we should have? Or anything you wish that you had said that you haven't? JL: I can't really think of anything...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *