Friday, May 20, 2005


Hand me a late pass, then smack me with it. It appears there's a new "ice cream confection" in Germany that goes by the name "Nogger Black." It wouldn't be so bad if the font and marketing of the treat was stylized in a notably hiphoppy fashion. You can read more about this and other sweets like "Negerkuss" over at It seems some folk...actually, quite a few folk are saying this is being blown out of proportion. Call me hyper-sensitive, but this reeks of callous disregard for cultural iconotypes. It wasn't well-researched and just shows yet another example of...yes, racism.

With a little background, I found that the GB Glace company that makes the ice cream is owned by a part of Anglo-Dutch group Unilever. Well Unilever also owns Breyers, my favorite ice cream. Does that mean no more vanilla bean in the little black container?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harsh Realizations: A Personal History

This morning, a bright May sun broke my deep sleep, in more ways than one. The Sunday edition of the Washington Post still lay unread on the couch. It was only Monday, "there's still time." A cover article highlights a Prince William, Virginia family that's selling their land to a host of developers, to the tune of $4.5 million. It'd help to mention these folks are African-American, with historic ties to a scrappy 15 acre parcel now being sought after to build luxury homes. In "Cashing Out Their History, Nikita Stewart writes:

"They called the land, which lies roughly along Routes 29 and 15, the Settlement. It became one of Northern Virginia's most significant, and most stable, black communities."

Now, it's going to be lost to cardboard colonial homes and probably a strip mall or two. After re-reading a couple of times, I felt both excitement (for their potential new "freedom" from economic hardship) and resentment (for the "cashing" out part). Above all... the victory seems bittersweet. That feeling somehow led to a web search of the hospital I was born in. After about 30 minutes of googling, I came to the realization that my entire life has been, and still is deeply intertwined with the pains and horrors of slavery and Native American genocide. I don't harbor a disdain for European Americans, or maybe I do. The jury's still out on that. We're all guided by unconscious thoughts and memories, perhaps even those of our ancestors.

I'm a river "negro," and much of my life has been spent on or around rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. As I learned a while ago, most blacks in the early days of America were involved with the water in some form or another. I was born on a plantation in 1977. Yes, a plantation. John Randolph Hospital in Hopewell, Virginia sits on a bluff overlooking the Appomattox River, just upstream from its confluence with the James River. The site was once part of a plantation called Cawson, owned by the wealthy John Randolph in the 1780s. Supposedly, he's a 7th generation descendent of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. She is sometimes considered a "sellout" to the "pale face invaders" that brought destruction to Native peoples. Randolph himself owned about 400 slaves throughout his tobacco empire, which stretched southeast to Tidewater. It is written he was vehemently opposed to the institution, but kept slaves nonetheless.

My parents own a small farm in Tidewater. It belonged to my father's parents and sits down the road from some of the first peanut and tobacco plantations in America. His great-grandfather George Washington King was a carriage maker on a plantation near Hampton, Virgina. It's not too far from Jamestown, site of African's first entry into America as captives. Pop's father was a black farmer. His mother was half-black, half-Powhatan Native; her family was from a small town on the banks of the Nansemond River, known for crabs and oysters. Our land was also once part of a plantation, with the original house sited near a major railway. It burned down in the 1940s; my father says it was either a spark from the train or perhaps, something more ominous. A new home was built farther from the tracks. It's been the site of countless King Family Reunions until failing health, continued migrations, and financial troubles threatened its future. Each year, developers stop by to ask if we'd like to sell. Suffolk is Virginia's largest (by land mass) and fastest growing city; the suburbs are inching into the agricultural hinterlands of Isle of Wight County. Isle...of...Wight. I think my father'd die first before selling land to developers of McMansions.

My mother is from a small town near Raleigh, North Carolina. Her father worked hard as a tobacco laborer. Her mother dropped out of school to pick tobacco and work as a domestic in the off-season. She ironed and cleaned most of her adult life, never finished school, but was one of the most intelligent and witty women I'd ever meet. I remember stories about Klan crosses being burned in the field near her childhood home. Her family was descended from African slaves and Algonquian lineage (as are most African-Americans today). I never knew my grandfathers; they both died early of heart-related illness. Stress and diet, I'm sure. My grandmothers always told me to get an education so I wouldn't have to struggle, to work hard outdoors or serve people like they did. I still remember those conversations.

My parents independently moved to Petersburg, Virginia, where they met while my mother worked at a state mental hospital, also the site of former plantations. Petersburg was an important hub on the rail and shipping route during the heyday of the Old South. It is the site of the longest siege of the Civil War (a war about slavery?). One of the major tourist attractions is "The Crater," a failed Union attempt to tunnel under Confederate lines. Black troops suffered the heaviest casualties. One of my jobs in the summer was working at a veterinarian...on Crater Road. The money from this job funded my first kayak purchase; I learned to paddle on the batteau canal towpaths of the Appomattox and James, directly under the Tredegar Iron Works, which produced cannons for the civil war. A high school internship found me a few blocks upriver, in a pharmacology laboratory. The office was several stories above the White House of the Confederacy, smack dab in the middle of the Medical College of Virginia. Without shame, I and my black peers would sometimes pry open the windows in our building and attempt to spit on the building. Coincidentally, I took Jefferson Davis Highway to work.

Later in my career, I'd work for a James River Conservation group, planting hundreds of trees on numerous plantations along that river, including the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Some days, I'd be out in a huge field, presumably where slaves once toiled under a hot Virgina sun. I'd be alone, occasionally accompanied by the cackling warble of wild turkeys, or a silent lone doe. The feeling was intense and unnerving.

The Petersburg National Battlefield (also on Crater Road) lies adjacent to historic Blandford Cemetery, site of the nation's first Memorial Day. The holiday originally commemorated the deaths of Confederate soldiers lost during the siege. Their flags still wave resiliantly beside the more politically-correct American Stars & Stripes. An uncle that helped to raise me is buried there. Today, Memorial Day usually means time off and cookouts galore. For me though, there's still a sour feeling to it all.

Most of my childhood was spent fishing or playing along the Appomattox, James, York, and many other local rivers. Their shores are dotted with old plantations, hundreds of them. All of my schools (except high school) were named after Confederate generals that owned slaves. I never went to Robert E. Lee elementary...that one wasn't very close to my neighborhood. I did attend J.E.B. Stuart though. After college (in Hampton, Virginia, site of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to southern slaves), I taught at A.P.Hill Elementary School. My boy scout camps took place at Fort A.P.Hill. Our 10-year High School reunion is taking place at Pamplin Park, site of the "breakthrough" that led to the Confederate evacuation of Richmond and the end of the war. I'm sure slaves worked there as well. Of course, we'll just be catching up on old stories and eating barbecue. Pamplin park is a couple of miles from my parents' house, along the first wood-plank paved road in America and riddled with civil-war fortifications. As a child, we'd ride our BMX bikes along the gullies. The historical implications mattered little at the time.

Currently, I work in a building referred to as "The George Washington House," one of many in America I'm sure. A historic port existed just across the street. The story goes that after the Civil War, someone dismantled the slave block and tossed it into the Anacostia River. Who knows if it's true. We hosted a meet-and-greet for a Maryland participant in the PBS histo-reality show "Colonial House." Oprah paid a visit, of course knowing she'd have probably been a slave at the time. The day of the event, I decided against dressing as a "colonial character." The joy of the occasion is still lost on me.

There's a lot more to this story. Maybe I'll come back over time and edit this post. I'm not sure what the point is. I guess I need to exorcise some demons. Or maybe, just realize who I am, where I came from, and use that to move forward.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Note About Seating....

Can someone please win the lottery, or donate adequate funding to place my appreciative buttocks in one of these chairs? Please? I'm serious. The first one's by Finn Juhl for Niels Vodder. It's called the 'Chieftan' and it debuted in 1949. The second is an 'Office Chair' by Hans Wegner for Johannes Hansen, 1955.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Energy Prices and the Low-Income Family

It's a bad time to be broke in America. While most people are focusing on gasoline prices, there are other areas where energy costs are depleting consumer bank accounts, and posing a health risk as well. Low-income households spend much more of their income on energy bills than do families with median incomes. This "energy burden," can be substantial for many Americans. According to the US Department of Energy, some elderly participants of energy assistance programs, and who live on fixed incomes, pay as much as 35% of their annual incomes for energy bills. Though many of these individuals don't drive, a large proportion do. Additionally, they may live far from public transporation (which requires a car, insurance, and fuel). This leaves less to spend on energy-efficiency technologies like compact fluorescents, improved windows, and God-forbid, solar photovoltaic panels or micro-wind turbines. Energy crises disproportionately affect lower-income citizens, and we can only expect more as cities grow and consumption right along with it.

So how are things looking for the future? We're well aware that citizens of the so-called "developed" Western world consume far more energy than our "third-world" brethren; the U.S. is the world's leading oil consumer, using over 26 percent of daily consumption despite having less than 5 percent of the world's population. Around 70% of our fossil fuel imports are used for transportation alone. In developing nations, power outages and limited access to personal transport are a way of life. Unfortunately, America's high standard of living equates to high energy use. Now we are realizing a supply and demand inbalance, not just in oil but in electrical generation as well. About 24% of our power needs are met with natural gas (methane), and more than 70% of new homes are heated with it. A majority of the world's methane reserves are in Russia, Qatar, and Iran. Fun times ahead, eh?

The key to our continued economic growth, or even sustained basic living conditions for lower-income residents, is conservation and implementation of energy-efficiency measures on a broad scale.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What's The Big Deal?

This blog is about globalism, a predominant worldly "religion" of immense importance. It highlights the wonderful creations that have come as a result, as well as examines the –ism’s inherent problems. As the world flattens to pancake-like proportions, each and every person is somehow affected by the actions of others. Thousands of miles and cultural distinctions matter little; we’re increasingly connected to the other astronauts on this biospheric spaceship. Although many exciting innovations were borne from the rise in globalism, our world systems are experiencing growing pains unlike any seen in humanity’s existence. Problems of incomprehensible scales threaten to nullify the advances made during the Industrial Revolution, the Green Revolution, the Post-War boom, and the Age of Information. It seems as though modernity has unwittingly made us slaves unto ourselves. Things ain’t the same anymore, except the slave part.

I am a child of 1980’s Virginia. Living in a community still flush with the dollars of pre-lawsuit Big Tobacco, childhood was grand. Days consisted of searching for crayfish and turtles in local creeks, playing football and racing motorcycles, skateboarding and pedaling our bicycles to hitherto unvisited neighborhoods. The era of urgency was still a few years off, at least to our childish brains. Oil prices had dropped to almost perverse levels, Atari and Apple were changing the face of computing (as well as social interaction, we’d soon learn), and hiphop was yet to become a global force in youth artistic expression. Despite the horrors of Reaganomics, a mood of complacency gently washed over the American populace. Our main worry was a communist nuclear assault, but even that fear was assuaged by a little concept called "mutually-assured destruction." Fast-forward to 2005 and things are radically different.

The faint blip of warning signals are being heard worldwide; humanity it seems, is overextending itself. Corporations are more powerful than ever, terrorism (we’re told) threatens to undo the fabric of democracy, the Earth’s ecological continuance hangs in the balance, and humans are as apathetic as ever. Without sounding like a Malthusian Chicken Little, it seems we’re in a bit of a bind. What can save us? What are the options that will allow us to live in cooperation with our support systems? How can we maintain the Western world’s levels of comfort achieved during the age of cheap and abundant fossil fuels? Mankind’s ability to adapt to change is uncanny. It has defined our existence thus far, and is probably the only thing that will save us from ourselves. This blog is a proponent of hi-technology and methodical innovation, of utter simplicity and purpose-driven design, of mundane pleasures and raucous celebrations of life. It is possible for these myriad of worlds to coexist, if only their interconnectedness is identified and reinforced. In the end, PSK is about finding the beauty in localism and community. This promises to be the last and most dominant identifier of future humans dwelling on this planet. Come to think of it, that's not such a bad thought.