Michael Conforti

Michael Conforti is the Director of New Media for the Long Island Press and many of its associated properties. He occasionally writes things. Things like his biographical information for the author excerpt thingy you are reading here. He writes in third person. Mike is awesome.

Not Black, Like Me: Why Rachel Dolezal’s Transracial Claims Are a Pigment Of Her Imagination

Rachel Dolezal Transracial claims

Most of the students at my public school were African-Americans and so were my friends. I had sleepovers at Craig’s house (he was Jamaican). Or Rob’s (his family was from Montserrat). Or Napoleon’s, whose family was from the deep South.

As an only child whose extended family lived far away, my childhood was never some exotic adventure for me, some daring venture into black coolness. It was all I knew.

When I was a senior, my first child was born. I was only 18. My mother wasn’t happy, mainly because I was messing up my chances for higher education. Her mother, also from the South, wasn’t happy either, mainly because I was white.

It was unfair treatment, I thought. I certainly didn’t consider myself white, culturally speaking, but I did have to learn there were boundaries I couldn’t cross.

While I dabbled with my appearance—designs buzzed into my hair, my oversized clothing—I learned when proposing a fun Halloween costume that blackface was never acceptable.

Though I was one of the few white people who, in certain company, could get away with using the N-word as informal term of endearment, I decided it was wiser not to let it become part of my casual vocabulary.

Despite my sincerity, I also had to accept that many people saw my adoption of hip hop mannerisms as mockery, perhaps part of a long, historically uncomfortable practice of cultural appropriation.

Impregnating a black girl didn’t help.

Of course, teaching myself boundaries didn’t come easy. Having little outside influence, how could I not develop the same cultural characteristics as my darker-skinned brethren? We shared nearly all our waking moments together. I spent time at their houses. We stayed up late Friday and Saturday nights playing video games, listening to rap music on the radio—when rap music was only on the radio late Friday and Saturday nights.

My preferences—fashion, musical taste, language, television, movies—all were influenced by my peers.

For the most part, we looked past our pigmentation, and for me, it wasn’t just a phase. Although the relationship with my first son’s mother didn’t work out, he lived with me for a good portion of his life. I later married a black woman, and we had two children together, all while becoming a stepfather to her 100-percent black daughter.

Through her I was exposed to religion and eventually was baptized a born-again Christian at an all-black church in South Jamaica, Queens.

I expanded my interest in rap music: producing, writing and performing throughout the years. Later, in my spare time, I launched a hip hop magazine and I’ve become an outspoken advocate for hip hop music and culture.

Now, as many people who have grown up, were educated in, or work in multi-cultural environments, I haven’t been exclusively intertwined with any singular way of life, but black American culture is certainly a foundational aspect of who I am.

I’m not trying to pad my Black Resume´. I am trying to demonstrate how easily I could—as Rachel Dolezal, the disgraced former head of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, has stated—“identify” with being black, to the point where I’d say I have just as much right to call myself black as she does.

But I don’t. Because I think that is absurd.

Soul Man

“Mike is BLACK!” Coleman, one of my oldest friends, will state, loudly and emphatically, to anyone who would dare question my cultural affiliation.

Despite all my deep, sincere, empathic ties to African-American people, culture and lifestyle, I have to smile and shake my head “no” to anyone else who might be listening, even those who would—and do—agree with Coleman.

But I know what he means. And I know what Rachel Dolezal means when she says, as she did to Matt Lauer on The Today Show, “I identify as black.”

And I know how being white can be a stumbling block when dealing with minorities. In any interaction there are always hovering middlemen of privilege and mistrust. It’s for good reason, but for someone eager to be accepted as a full friend or ally, I know it can be frustrating.

In fact, Dolezal sued traditionally all-black Howard University in 2002, claiming she was being discriminated against (she was not “claiming” to be black at that time). Clearly, she felt she was fully qualified, but she was being overlooked because she was white.

Yet instead of using that experience to further understand and empathize with the similar experiences that black people have to deal with everywhere besides places like Howard, Dolezal seemingly got the notion that it might be better to cut out those middlemen.

After all, in an age when identity is starting to mean whatever one wants it to mean, and when race has been determined to be a social construct, why can’t someone with such a visceral connection to the black American lifestyle, simply consider themselves “black?”

*Snaps finger* POOF!

Perhaps the biggest problem with this idea of Dolezal being “transracial,” and the term itself–aside from her dubious story about depicting herself as a brown-skinned girl with crayons when she was 5, her claim that a black man was actually her father, and her assertions that she lives the black experience because she has black children—is that race isn’t really a thing.

The idea that race is a social construct is a concept that, in essence, suggests that no clear definition of “race” exists, that it is simply a fabricated lumping together of people based on some set of characteristics that are convenient for whatever reason. Race, often mistaken for ethnicity or ancestry, is in of itself not something concrete.

As such, there is no white race. There is no black race. No one can belong to one or the other.

So while technically someone can decide that they identify as another race, the only people who could find this acceptable would be people who recognize that there is no clear definition of race to begin with. So any such claim becomes moot.

This is why a term like “transracial” can’t possibly exist, and why any correlation to transgender doesn’t make sense.

I can understand the concept of transgender. If you are a man biologically but inside you feel you are a woman, you can make a claim to identify as a woman because each is clearly defined. You can’t biologically be a woman if you are biologically a man.

So, you can be a woman trapped inside the body of a man. Or vice-versa. Cool. I get it.

In the case of Dolezal, however, if race cannot be truly and clearly defined, there is nothing preventing someone from simply considering themselves part of another group or culture in the first place, without having to go through a presto-change-o makeover and make up a litany of presumably fabricated backstories.

How can someone feel trapped on the inside, being part of another group of people that isn’t, by definition, exclusionary in the first place?

Black Is Black

So it’s a strange paradox that Dolezal has put herself in. Perhaps, because we are collectively in the throes of a national discussion regarding identity, coupled with the recent high-profile emergence of GLBT issues thanks to Caitlin Jenner, there is a rush to equate the two.

The debate can be interesting but the idea that Dolezal, by adopting a particular lifestyle, advocating for a group of disadvantaged people and changing one’s appearance to match them, means that she can be considered one of them, ignores the real characteristics that historically most black Americans have in common.

The shared consciousness of the black experience in America cannot simply be adopted.

No matter how close I have been to black people, no matter how much I consider black American culture to be a part of my life, no matter how much I raise my mixed children to recognize, embrace and celebrate their “blackness,” nothing I could ever do, say or experience, could bring me close to knowing what it would feel like if it was my father telling me what it was like being raised in fear of the Ku Klux Klan, stories I heard from my ex-father-in-law.

No matter how many times I’ve been pulled over in poor, black neighborhoods—because I was obviously only there to buy drugs—it could never come close to knowing the constant fear that I or one of my family members might be killed by police—21 times more likely.

Acceptance by the hip hop community doesn’t mean that I know what it’s like to not get called for a job interview based on my last name, or to receive a more lengthy jail sentence than some of my white friends for the same crime, or to be turned down for a home loan, unlike my white friends with similar income.

Being called a “nigger lover” while walking with a black girlfriend in Atlanta is not the same as being called a nigger.

People of color in America deserve equal treatment. Until this happens, they need smart, dedicated, sincere people of color in positions that can advocate for the issues that need to be addressed.

Ideally, this can be done through local politics, through community organizations and through institutions like the NAACP.

But until equality is reality, people of color in America also need outside allies in these positions. Allies can do great good for these causes, as they have in the past.

It is not entirely clear why Dolezal felt she had to be one instead of the other.

While she is currently doing the media rounds, attempting to explain her behavior, I contend that Rachel Dolezal did herself, her family, her children, her causes, and the group of people that she says she feels so connected to, no favors with her elaborate roleplaying.

Instead, she ironically expressed an incredibly extreme example of privilege—the arrogance to think that she is worthy of owning the resilience, self-love, pride, ancestry, heritage and unique experience of another group of people, simply because she decided she could.

Equal, But Separate

A common refrain I’ve heard all my life is that “Mike wishes he was black.”

No. I am extremely proud of who I am and how I live.

But I am also similarly proud of the culture and larger communities I have become a part of.

I believe these things are not mutually exclusive. I can be both without having to hide behind makeup or made-up terms.

My perceived cultural “blackness” is derived from my participation in a varied set of experiences, lifestyle choices and preferences, perhaps shared more by people of color than otherwise, but not always exclusively so.

But it is absolutely vital that, in any culture, participants respect those who created and developed the customs and traditions they follow, and acknowledge how and why they came to be.

Completely, not just when it’s convenient. For originators as well as converts.

Black Americans have endured an incredibly difficult journey. But out of that journey, great contributions to humanity have emerged. I personally admire many of them, the communities that created them and many individuals from those communities. I have chosen to immerse myself among them, advocate for them and many, I view as family.

But I will never forget that the lifestyle is theirs. The culture is theirs. The stories are theirs. The history is theirs. The bloodshed was theirs.

My involvement is voluntary. Their acceptance of me is a privilege.

I could never pretend otherwise.

Hip Hop Legends Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Others to Appear at NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Iconic Rap Vet Rakim Will Return to His Long Island Roots at The NYCB Theatre at Westbury (Photo: Manny Faces / Birthplace Magazine)

Iconic rappers with roots on Long Island along with veteran hip hop heavyweights to hit the stage at NYCB Theatre at Westbury

The word “legendary” is thrown around in hip hop a bit too often. Hip hop has many participants worthy of bombastic titles like pioneer, architect, Grandmaster and Godfather, but in its music, the word “legendary” can only be applied to the few, and in terms of performances, rarely do such artists appear together.

However, the NYCB Theatre at Westbury will serve as truly hallowed ground as some of hip hop’s true veteran heavyweights will appear together at the Legends of the Fall concert on Saturday, October 4. The event will feature Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie, each a titan in his own right, and together, an Avengers-like collective of rap royalty.

Long Island native and widely accepted “God Emcee” Rakim will deliver the rugged-but-intricate rhymes that made him a truly ranformative artist in the genre, cementing his role atop “top 5” lists of greatest rap orators. His seminal Paid In Full album is widely considered one of the genres’ finest works, and his connection to the Island has always been a source of pride, for Rakim and fans alike.

Equally celebrated in the annals of rap history is Brooklyn wordsmith Big Daddy Kane. One of hip hop’s greatest, both stylistically and lyrically, Kane set the bar for rapid-fire delivery, expanding the depth of what rap could say and how it could be said. Coupled with a smooth demeanor and a variety of subject matter, Big Daddy Kane certainly sits perched atop hip hop’s proverbial Mt. Rushmore.

Big Daddy Kane Performing at the 40th Anniversary of Hip Hop Event in NYC's Central Park (Photo: Manny Faces / Birthplace Magazine)
Big Daddy Kane Performing at the 40th Anniversary of Hip Hop Event in NYC’s Central Park (Photo: Manny Faces / Birthplace Magazine)

Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh rose to rap prominence together with their undisputed classics “Lodi Dodi” and “The Show,” and have gone on to create equally classic material as solo artists. Often performing apart, to see both on the same bill promises the possibility of witnessing those crowd favorites being performed by one of rap’s most appreciated duos.

Biz Markie, who also has Long Island roots, is an artist in a class by himself. A prolific beatboxer, DJ and rapper known for his sense of humor, Biz Markie has one song that is instantly recognized world-wide. When Biz drops the commanding “Youuu!” at the chorus of his piano-laden classic track “Just A Friend,” the resulting “GOT WHAT I NEEEEED” singalong will assuredly be emphatic, and complete.

Visit the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Saturday, October 4 to be transported back to the “Golden Era” of hip hop, when lyricism, originality and charisma were first and foremost.


John Legend Sizzles at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury (Concert Review)

John Legend All Of Me Tour at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Sitting at his gleaming grand piano, accompanied only by the subtle brilliance of four string instrumentalists and a guitarist, John Legend reminded his captive and captivated audience that the NYCB Theatre at Westbury is simply a wonderfully intimate venue.

“We wanted it to feel like my living room,” the 35-year-old crooner told the crowd. “Apparently,” he continued, flashing a devilishly sly smile used several times through the night, “My living room has great lights and amazing sound, too.”

Though it wasn’t the true “theatre in the round” experience, as part of the stationary stage and a small section of seating was sacrificed for a giant backdrop, the setup was nevertheless precisely the way John Legend deserves to be witnessed.

Up close. Personal.

So that when he oozes his nearly-whisper-like seductive “mmhm hmms,” or unleashes his passionately guttural yells, you feel it. In a venue like this, close enough to decipher his facial expressions, the furrowing of his brow, that smile, you feel it the way he wants you to feel it.

Legend was at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury as part of his All Of Me tour, a nod to his current hit single of the same name, and in the show, Legend sprinkled in personal anecdotes and stories about his rise to stardom, that made him as personable as he is talented and handsome. A seasoned performer, he worked the crowd well, mostly from behind his piano, but often standing toward the front of the stage, or perched on a stool, smoothly playing to the catcalls and shouts of “We love you, John!”

Legend ran through a bevy of his standards, more often than not smoothly morphing his mid-tempo pop hits like “Save Room” and “Made To Love” into sexy slow jams.

Telling the backstories behind songs such as “Maxine” nicely complimented his sharing of behind-the-scenes memories of working with peers like Kanye West and Bruce Springsteen. In doing so, Legend gave audience members a look into his personal-life history and his artistic process, instead of appearing like an untouchable superstar.

Legend prefaced what was perhaps his most emotional performance with stories of his early days, playing gospel music in church. The soul-stirring rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” which followed demonstrated that connection in nearly show-stopping manner.

A crowd-pleasing entertainer for sure, John Legend has the chops, both vocally and musically, to impress on many levels, and did so at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury with an ease and flair that proves him to be one of our era’s finest performers.

For more about the NYCB Theatre at Westbury, visit their page in The Island Ear.

The Mother of All Wedding Invites a.k.a. Damn Right I’m Gonna Save The Date!

Every other bride and groom: Awww, our Save The Dates are so cute! It’s a refrigerator magnet. And it has cute little puppies! They’re in love! See, they’re sharing a dog biscuit! It’s a metaphor for how we’re going to share our lives together! I know it will make people want to come to our wedding. It’s the cutest invite ever!

Bambo & Janice: SAVE THE DATE BITCHES!! [drops mic]

ASPCA Declares April 8 National Dog Fighting Awareness Day

ASPCA - National Dog Fighting Awareness Day

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has declared April 8, 2014 to be their National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.

In a message on their website, the organization states:

[blockquote]The ASPCA designated April 8 as National Dog Fighting Awareness Day (NDFAD) to increase understanding and awareness about dog fighting and to encourage animal lovers across the country to take action against this brutal form of animal cruelty.[/blockquote]

A video on their site demonstrates the efforts being made to end the practice.

To find out more about how you can get involved in the fight against dog fighting, or to learn more about the ASPCA in general, visit their webiste at www.aspca.org/dogfighting.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T_B_Ba6MV4″ hd=”1″ rel=”0″]

Hey Long Island! Know Anything About This LIRR Proposal? #HaveYouSeenThisCouple

LIRR Proposal


Ok, so it’s time to use the powers of The Buzz for good, instead of evil. Not that I typically use the power of The Buzz for evil, but never much for good. Unless you count making people laugh or learn something as “good.” Ok, so maybe I do use the powers of The Buzz for good. But now, I am trying to use the power of The Buzz for even GOODER!

Have you seen this couple?

Someone did, witnessing a Long Island Rail Road, Say Anything-inspired act of love, on a Babylon line train headed for the Big Apple. He held a portable music player up, the smooth sounds of blue-eyed soulster Justin Timberlake wafting through the cabin, as he dropped to one knee, displaying a ring to his soon-to-be betrothed. She said yes, and the train sped on to Penn Station, temporarily turning that short, dark approach into a true tunnel of love.

Ok, maybe I should keep my day job and not try and write for Hallmark. The point is, if you know who the couple from the January 12, 2014 Manhattan bound Matrimonial Express, these self-described documentary film producers want to know too.

Check their video re-enactment below and if it jogs your memory or you actually know who the real happy couple is, hook it up and contact the filmmakers at (646) 770-4707 or haveyouseenthiscouple@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: I don’t know any of these people. The Long Island Press takes no responsibility for any of this. Unless it helps and there is a connection and it’s awesome. Then, it’s all thanks to me.

What’s Old is Old Again. But Still Very Much Worth Seeing. (Video)

What’s Old is Old

“The Winter Olympics are over you know.”

His not-so-subtle way of telling me that my last Buzz article was old.

He’s right of course (he’s the boss, which makes him always right, but even if he wasn’t, he’d still be right, just not always). 

“Shutup,” I said.

In my head. Cuz he’s the boss.

“You’re right,” I said. “I have failed living up to the standards set by this fine organization. I will immediately rectify the situation, and I assure you that this complete collapse of journalistic responsibility required of even the most junior members of our esteemed establishment will never, ever happen again. I wish for you to significantly decrease my remuneration until I have adequately proven my diligence in not putting up old sh*t.”

Also in my head. Cuz yeah right.

What I actually did say was “Yeah. I know, sorry. It’s old. I’ll fix it.”

After all, the Buzz should be buzzing! New, fresh, now, next, tomorrow, FUTURE! (FUTURE!, future! future..) 

That was an echo.

So, in the spirit of NEW, FRESH and FUTURE, and because I’m a smart ass, I filled this Buzz with nothing but old sh*t.

(Don’t worry. It’s all cool old stuff.)

Enjoy this trip down memory lane.



ONLY EXISTING FOOTAGE OF THE TITANIC (at least according to the title)



and NEW YORK CITY in COLOR (1939)

1939, New York en couleur from Melimelo News on Vimeo.

Mo’ Sochi, Mo’ Problems: Twitter’s @SochiProblems Relays Olympic-Sized Fail Tweets

Mo’ Sochi,

Sochi toilets - OlympicsWhile we prepare for a production of pageantry and perfectly proportioned people presenting powerful and precise performances, some people are having #SochiProblems.

While the world awaits the Sochi Winter Games, the Olympic event is receiving a bit of a bad reputation, even before it has officially begun, as those visiting, journalists in particular, are reporting from behind the scenes of the worldwide extravaganza.

Much of what they report, or at least much of what it catching people’s attention, isn’t great.

From plumbing problems to unfinished hotels to double-toilets (!), the stream of folks putting a comedic spin on the accommodations, or lack thereof, is quite steady.

One place, a Twitter account created especially for the occasion, helps keep track of others who are commenting, in one tidy, giggle-inducing place.

Welcome to @SochiProblems!

For the uninitiated, Twitter parody accounts are created to poke fun at certain figures or instances that capture the attention of others.

For instance, a Twitter account was “created by” the escaped Bronx Zoo snake, documenting its adventure in the urban wild:


And one of my favorites, that unfortunately has seen it’s endo, Mayor Bloomberg… en Espanol:


Now, we have @SochiProblems!! … Happily retweeting the tweets of troubled travelers. Tweets like these:






For more, fire up your favorite Twitter client and follow @SochiProblems