nfl

I thought integration was supposed to “fix” everything for black people but the NFL proves otherwise. Black players fought decades for full inclusion and today the league is about 70 percent black. But black presence has not translated into black power — ask Colin Kaepernick. The head of the NFL Player’s Association, DeMaurice Smith, is also black. Smith has been actively fighting for Ezekiel Elliott to get back on the field — a man accused of domestic violence — but is largely silent on the issue of Colin Kaepernick. Something is deeply broken and integration clearly isn’t fixing it.

Washington’s franchise was the last to integrate, having done so in 1962. As black people today are boycotting the NFL due to Kaepernick’s treatment, black organizations like CORE and the NACCP targeted the owner of the Washington team with boycotts during the 1950’s. The fight was to get black players integrated into a white organization and ultimately that fight was won. But what value is that victory when, according to Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, players are afraid to speak out because “They fear for their jobs, they fear for their well-being?” Martellus’ brother Michael was just recently involved in an incident in which Las Vegas police, according to Michael, pulled a gun on him and threatened to shoot him. Michael likely represents just one more black NFL player who cannot depend on unqualified support from his colleagues. Ezekiel Elliott has no such worry because he represents the violation of a woman’s body and not white men’s unquestioned power over black bodies.

Whether we work for an NFL owner or a progressive nonprofit, black people wrestle with these same realities daily. How black can we be and still keep our job? How much “pro-black” stuff can we post on Facebook before we make our colleagues or a potential employer uncomfortable? When one of our black colleagues experiences an injustice, how wise would it be to stand with them? The NFL is simply a microcosm of daily black life. That is, we as black people are trying to navigate spaces in which our presence is thought to be the ultimate sign of progress. Even so, we are keenly aware that our presence must be muted if we are to maintain it. Daily we observe injustice and endure microaggressions but we understand that to advocate for ourselves might ultimately be our downfall. It is a quiet torture.

Like the NFL players Martellus Bennett described, many of us are afraid everyday of our lives. Those whom we work for and with have no clue. We may be employed but we are certainly not free. As Marvin Gaye so eloquently said, “This ain’t living.” All of this points to the need for black institutions. Yes, it is nice that black people can exist in white spaces in 2017 but existing and freely living are very different. Integration certainly opened up avenues of entry but it didn’t necessarily guarantee true freedom once inside. We shouldn’t forget that and we most certainly should not begin to believe that black institutions are unnecessary.

You may hate what Louis Farrakhan says but he speaks freely because he heads a black institution supported by black people. Charles Barkley on the other hand? Not so much. We must learn from that. I don’t care to enter into integrated spaces if the price of admission is to check my true convictions at the door and remain silent. That is too high a price to pay. Integration is fine and we should take advantage of it but we should also be clear that black institutions are truly a necessity today, just as they were before integration. We must choose to build our own and live freely.

Minister Louis Farrakhan delivers a speech Friday, March 25, 2011 at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., as part of the 6th Annual Conference of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Farrakhan, who leads the Chicago-based Nation of Islam delivered a speech on the need of a new grassroots movement for a change in education. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The next time I hear a black person give “reasons” as to why they find it difficult to support black entrepreneurs, I might stab them. The issue is not the quality of the businesses so much as how we unconsciously view them through an anti-black lens; yes, we as black people see the world through such a lens often. When I’m on the subway and a noisy crowd of white teenagers board, I roll my eyes. But when a crowd of noisy black teenagers board I cringe, get angry and urgently want them gone. My harsh reaction to the black teenagers reveals that I, on some level, wear anti-black goggles when viewing the world. Those goggles are hurting our entrepreneurs and ultimately, black power.

A classmate from undergrad tagged me in an Instagram post that asked people to identify reasons why black businesses fail. The IG post had over 30,000 likes and a slew of comments, most of which were laughable. Repeatedly, people cited “bad customer service,” operators who are “rude” or have “bad attitudes” and of course, “high prices.” These are the things we say when we have our goggles on. The irony is I read those comments minutes after reading that Wells Fargo found an additional 1.4 million fake accounts its employees opened without the consent of customers, adding to the initial 2.1 million phony accounts found last year. Yes, Wells Fargo literally stole from millions of their customers but they are the white teenagers on the train.

Overwhelmingly the post comments came from black people who most likely grew up and still live in black neighborhoods (regardless of income blacks still tend to live in segregated neighborhoods). There’s no way poor customer service prohibits them for they have always lived in neighborhoods filled with stores run by foreigners, whom they routinely condemn for their lack of customer service…but still support. At times there are language barriers that complicate the shopping experience. More disturbing, there is often an overt message that while your money is desired, your presence is not. That communication is so prevalent that is was portrayed in Menace to Society and later parodied by the Wayans in the infamous “hurry up and buy” scene from Don’t Be a Menace. The Wayans made light of a hostile dynamic that can even be fatal. Such was the case when Korean convenience store owner Soon Ja Du fatally shot Latasha Harlins in the back of her head as she attempted to leave the store, just 13 days after the Rodney King beating. Du received probation for the killing and no jail time. Harlins was 15.

Let’s assume black entrepreneurs are as rude and poor in customer service as some allege. There still must be a case for why we spend money with other entrepreneurs. As black people we are accustomed to shopping in stores not owned by black people, even in our own neighborhoods. While few of these interactions are as bad as the one between Harlins and Du, how often do we encounter amazing customer service in these establishments? I’ll wait. Whether it’s the local gas station, corner store or the Wal Mart in your hood, please show me all this amazing customer service we are accustomed to receiving and in turn demand before we can stomach patronizing an establishment. Again, I’ll wait while we collectively adjust our goggles.

Let us also assume that black entrepreneurs charge substantially more for similar products and services. Once again, there still must be an argument made for those whom we patronize. The Consumer Federation of America found that the five largest insurers quoted premiums 70 percent higher for predominantly black communities. The average premium for upper middle income, predominantly black communities was 194 percent higher than similar white communities. Black consumers face the same challenges when buying cars and homes — we routinely are charged, after controlling for credit score and income, a hefty “black tax.” Beyond that we all know the day to day markups we face in black neighborhoods. There are the crazy markups on toilet paper at the corner store, the subtle difference in pricing at grocery stores in our neighborhoods versus others and on it goes. As a child I was often told these markups were justified due to “increased security costs” for operators in my neighborhood.

For those who cite pricing as a deterrent to buying black, it stands to reason that they would avoid most other businesses located in or marketing to black communities, based on the facts. But they don’t. It must be the goggles. It must be that we often see the world through a distorted lens that makes all things black unworthy. Indeed, we often pay a premium for products based on the brand while we dismiss goods handcrafted, with love, by black entrepreneurs without even testing them to see whether the quality merits the price. Contrary to what we believe, all these “reasons” come not from objective analyses. Just as I have a distorted view of those black teenagers on the subway, we have a flawed view of our entrepreneurs. It’s time to take off the goggles and see them and all others as they truly are.

 

trump ny

The Confederacy is rising but its leader hails from New York City, not Mississippi. Donald Trump whistles Dixie with perfect pitch although a Southerner never taught him the tune. That irony should signal to us all that while the North never took up arms in rebellion, it certainly marches to the same cadence of white supremacy as the Confederate states that did. Donald Trump is a modern day Confederate if we’ve ever seen one; his New York roots suggest people of color are vulnerable to white supremacists in power not just in Dixie but Manhattan, Boston and Chicago, too.

A massive riot in 1863 left many blacks lynched and over 100 others killed. Hundreds of blacks were forced to flee the city. That riot was not in Birmingham or Charleston but New York City. The city was filled with angry white men, lashing out at a government that sought to draft them to serve in a war increasingly framed as an abolitionist crusade. That same anger engulfed the men of the 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment who, after the Emancipation Proclamation, deserted en masse rather than fight for black freedom. The 128th was not alone. This is the heritage of the North in which Donald Trump was shaped and it lives today.

The New York Donald Trump calls home was the incubator of the modern drug war. John Ehrlichman, who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief, conceded that the drug war was a tool to terrorize and subjugate blacks. The blueprint from which the federal and other state governments constructed this “New Jim Crow” came from New York’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. Mandatory minimums for drug dealers and addicts are the legacy of Rockefeller’s administration, not George Wallace’s. Rockefeller also adopted “stop and frisk” along with “no-knock” laws to strengthen the power of law enforcement, undoubtedly against people of color. This is the public policy context Donald Trump knew as a young man. The dog whistle politics Trump employed during his campaign should not have been terribly surprising — he learned how to whistle Dixie long before the Republic primaries.

History is always written by the victors and as such, we have been taught a sanitized version of it in which the North fought for black liberation and consequently, racial attitudes differ sharply from those in the South. But black people have long been acquainted with grim realities above the Mason-Dixon line, even if others have struggled to properly discern them. We fail to see Donald Trump’s New York clearly because, in part, the North did not codify its bigotry in the same way the South did. The North’s more subtle approach has blinded most Americans to the Confederate spirit alive there; most have only noticed it during the most dramatic of moments. They saw it when parents in Boston were actively protesting busing, intended to integrate schools. Others only only recognized the tune of Dixie up North when Dr. King was being assaulted as he marched for fair housing in Chicago. It lives in the North, even when not readily apparent.

Donald Trump is acting and speaking in ways that do damage to the myth of the good Yankee man. His handling of Charlottesville, especially, made clear for many that the Confederacy is not simply a collection of states but a broader ideology that knows no geographic boundaries. Trump, a New Yorker, resonates soundly with those who cling to the Confederacy and its underlying ideals. He is one of them and we should not think that he, among his fellow Northeners, is alone. While the Northern Confederates may not always wear hoods and carry torches, they often do real estate deals and banking transactions and frankly, that is much more frightening in 2017.

charlottesville

Explaining why Charlottesville happened requires me to do something I haven’t in years — go to church. There is a big, hairy demon that possesses the soul of America and it is white supremacy. White supremacy begot racism in America and ultimately, the evil and irrational nature of it has no logical explanation other than it must be a demon. It is too diabolic, non-sensical and potent to originate from any other place but hell. As whiteness slowly depletes its privilege we are seeing an exorcism in real time; this demon is coming out but not without a fight.

Charlottesville happened now, during the Trump age. It is an age that can best be understood through a passage in the New Testament — Mark chapter 9, versus 14-29. In the story a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus in hopes of deliverance. The demon would often take control of the boy’s body and cause him to do crazy shit, basically. When the demon saw Jesus, it threw the boy to the ground and began convulsing, rolling around and foaming at the mouth. Essentially, the demon began to “act up” rather than go quietly. The demon, feeling threatened, lashed out rather than humbly submit to its fate. That is where a sizable faction of white America is today. White people run America and maintain privilege but there are discernible cracks in the foundation of white supremacy. Indeed, white power structures still frame the day to day existence of us all and yet there is a sense that white power is being threatened, a sense which energized the candidacy of Donald Trump and gives rise to groups like the “Alt Right.” Charlottesville is but the latest convulsion in an ongoing exorcism. This demon feels threatened.

Drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide are driving a peculiar trend among whites. Of late, their life expectancy is not increasing but decreasing. That is according to Elizabeth Arias, the statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics. Based on federal data of deaths recorded nationwide, black men actually had the greatest gain in life expectancy in 2014 of any group. White supremacy is under attack. Babies of color now outnumber non-Hispanic white babies. 2014-2015 was the first year in which minorities were more populous than white students in America’s public schools. America will be a majority-minority nation soon, led by individuals who more closely resemble Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Luis Gutierrez than Mitch McConnell. The world that has always been will simply not be anymore. For those conditioned by generations of privilege, that is a scary proposition.

A big demon is being exorcised, slowly. It senses its demise and in response shrieks, convulses and lashes out, even irrationally. And Charlottesville was irrational. The rally was initially a protest against removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a slaveowner who fought vehemently to uphold slavery during the Civil War. Removing the statue is not an attempt to erase whites from the American tapestry. Objecting to its removal, however, suggests a commitment to the ideals of Lee and ultimately that is what this demon is fighting for. The critical question now is what we will do as this demon continues to lash out.

In the biblical text Jesus responded quite curiously to the demon’s little sideshow. As the boy rolled on the ground convulsing and foaming at the mouth, Jesus calmly turned to his father and asked him, “how long has he been like this?” It was as if Jesus was saying, “I refuse to get caught up in this show. I will not pay attention to you lashing out and I certainly will not be intimidated. I will simply pretend that you do not exist as I go about the work of overpowering you.” The father explained that the boy had been that way from his youth. He pleaded with Jesus, “but if you can do anything for us please help us.” Jesus, perhaps almost offended replied, “If!?!? Bruh…all things are possible if you believe. Ain’t no if to this!” Jesus exorcised the demon and went about his business. I choose to ignore the noise and the shrieks. I choose to go about the work of black power, even in this age of Trump.

 

 

dr dre

In parts one and two I said that Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Middle Class/Well Paid Uncle Tom

Dr. Dre came from the hood, put in work and became successful. As a businessman Dre has made a killing from his headphones and various other ventures. What to do with all that cash!? Not build up black institutions, apparently. Dre gave a whopping $35 million to USC, a school with an endowment greater than all black colleges — combined. How can a wealthy guy from the hood feel no urgency to build up the black institutions that will produce the next black success stories? There are levels to this.

The middle class Uncle Tom does not feel the urgency of the black struggle, perhaps because he lives in comfort. I am that Tom. At times I fail to understand the extreme level of dedication and discipline necessary –from all black people– to secure black power. Since I do not live in any tangible crisis I fail to realize that, while I am fine, the condition of the black masses is in many ways critical. I don’t always grasp that there can be no days off and that every black person must maintain a laser focus on liberation, if it is to be achieved. My actions (or inactions) have real consequences for others.

It starts small. I got a decent job out of college and felt good about myself, as I should have. I knew the obstacles I overcame to get there and wanted to protect my gains. I tried to integrate myself with my colleagues at work and show them I was worthy of my station in life. That I felt the need to validate myself to a white world is in itself problematic but understandable. One day I boarded the subway for my commute home. The subway car had twenty whites and me. At the next stop a young black man boarded who was obviously not middle class. He was listening to rap lyrics and reciting them — loudly. I was embarrassed. I did everything in my power to distance myself from the brother and show all the white passengers that I was not like him.

That seems innocent enough but this root of perversion grows. I did not understand, as Elijah Muhammad said, “No one man can rise above the condition of his people.” I did not understand that because black unemployment is always wildly out of step with white unemployment, I must go out of my way to support black institutions toward eradicating this disparity. I often fail to realize that, unlike other groups, black people do not have the luxury of allowing black entrepreneurs to fail. If the Tide laundry brand fails there are a number of others that will thrive. If the True detergent brand (black owned) fails, however, it will mean yet another space where black representation is non-existent. There is no room for complacency.

My middle class lifestyle affords me the privilege of sometimes paying just a little bit extra to support black businesses. I can afford to give money to black organizations and colleges. I often forget this. At times I do not connect to the larger struggle for black power and so I sit on the sidelines as black institutions, which I could help sustain, crumble.

Worse than sitting on the sidelines, I can be critical of black institutions which I do not even bother to support. In the past I’ve said, “Black colleges can’t get their shit together!” and “I’m not going to support some black bank with my money, they might steal it!” (sidenote: many Toms are unbothered by the fact that Wells Fargo literally got caught stealing money from its customers, they still bank there). I said those things and yet wondered why things didn’t change for black America. I am part of the problem.

In my Tom moments it’s not that I’m an evil person or unaware of racism — I’ve personally been stung by it. I simply want to enjoy the finer things and eat at the same restaurants my counterparts do. In those moments, however, I fail to understand that just because I am okay, it doesn’t mean urgency is not required. I am sometimes clueless, because of my own security, as to how fragile our collective state is and thus why I must have a firm dedication to building all things black. Through my inaction and passivity, I unwittingly retard black progress. My inaction renders me an Uncle Tom, if only temporarily. Malcolm X described the middle class Uncle Tom like this: “But there’s another kind of Black man on the scene. If you say you’re in trouble, he says, “Yes, you’re in trouble.” He doesn’t identify himself with your plight whatsoever.”

handsoap1

Since January we’ve been talking about how we can create jobs in our community simply by buying products we all use, from black owned companies. The method is to find one product or service each month you already use, then make the switch. It’s perfectly fine to protest and march but the routine act of washing your hands can do more to dismantle white supremacy. Protests are appeals from the powerless to the powerful, in hopes that they will be more benevolent. Using black dollars to create black jobs and wealth, however, is a demonstration of and bridge to black power. I’ll take power over anyone’s benevolence. hs3

I featured Garner’s Garden before, highlighting their natural mouthwash and tooth powder (which I use on a daily basis). This amazing company also offers a handmade, organic hand soap that is currently in my bathroom. The soap gently and effectively cleans, softening your skin. It is made with the finest blends of natural oils, organic ingredients, and essential oils. With regular use you will feel and see a noticeable difference in your hands. It is easy on sensitive skin and can soothe reactions. It will not dry out your skin but leaves a clean, moisturized feel. Further, this soap is a goodness that carries no guilt: it’s safe for the entire family, environmentally friendly and made by a company that shares our values. I feel good about every dollar I spend with them!

Click here to buy the soap today. While you’re on the site feel free to browse the many other products available. I said previously that I also use their mouthwash and tooth powder but they have a variety of other products that you’ll love for yourself or as a gift. It’s perfectly okay to overspend because not only is this a great company but also, all orders $50 and up are eligible for free shipping when you enter the code, “FreeShip.” If you want a revolution, just go wash your hands.

future

In part one I said that Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Hood Uncle Tom

Atlanta rapper “Future” is addicted to misogyny. His lyrics ooze with disrespect toward women. From his treatment of Ciara, his ex, to his habit of impregnating various women, it is clear he believes black women are disposable. When he’s not bringing down black women in lyrical form, he makes video games to do so. It cannot be too emphatically stated that any man who does not uplift black women is squarely against black progress and ultimately, black power. He is an Uncle Tom.

Future has a large platform as an entertainer but does little to further black independence with it. Future makes beats, babies and at his best hands out turkeys to senior citizens around Thanksgiving. None of this amounts to black power. Contrast Future with LeBron James. James leveraged his value to launch other black men around him like Maverick Carter and Rich Paul in business (both from humble beginnings). These men are now, independent of LeBron James, moguls and their success is a reminder that black people do not lack talent but often do lack opportunity. James is also fronting the cost to send thousands of children from his hometown to college for four years. LeBron is using his platform to expand opportunity to black children and entrepreneurs, thus extending black power. Future and other black entertainers should take note.

The hood Uncle Tom thinks he, of all people, is down. He “keeps it real” at all times. He wears his blackness (or what he believes is blackness) proudly and loudly. When this Tom spits rhymes he believes himself to be giving voice to the pain in the hood. He believes this, somehow, makes him a freedom fighter. But Thomas fails to realize that he often chooses to only give voice to the most negative aspects of hood life. Thomas will tell you that he only raps about violence because that is his reality. Strange how people in the hood hug each other far more than they shoot each other but Thomas scarcely gives voice to that.

When this Tom makes it as an athlete he spends his money on that which is temporal. He, unlike LeBron James, allows the usual sports agents and business managers to profit from his performance — people who care nothing about the state of black institutions. This Tom, like Lil Wayne, allows his celebrity to blind him to the frailty of the black masses, feeling that he is distant from their struggle. He has frequent run-ins with the law but never with organizations striving for black power. He is simply a hood Uncle Tom.

This Tom exists everyday in the hood. He is unknown to the world but like Future, Lil Wayne and a host of other personalities who think they’re keeping it real, they choose the worst elements of street life to personify, even if those elements are not a true reflection of their daily lives. They choose to self-destruct, even when they do not have to. While many in the hood are unfortunate victims of circumstance, the hood Uncle Tom chooses to tear himself, his women and ultimately his people down. He is not keeping it real or advancing black power, he’s just an Uncle Tom.

jay

You streamed 4:44 but need to listen much more. Stop rappin’ to Jay and just do what he say. Playtime is ova’, so says Hova. He spit one line to kill white supremacy. What line, fam? He said “I’ll be damned.” 

Jay Z may have given us his best work with 4:44. What we know for sure is he has our attention: Tidal jumped to number one in Apple’s App Store after 4:44 dropped, with more downloads on a single day than any other app over the past year, according to Apptopia data. I could say much about the album but only one line matters: “I’ll be damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got Ciroc.” If we truly grasped all that line conveys and lived by it, we would no longer wake up to headlines of police shooting black people. Black power would be the new norm.

Jay Z is a multimillionaire and should he choose to have a drink, his options are unlimited. He could import exotic vodkas or fly overseas to drink them. Still, the choice is simple for him: he’ll be damned if he picks up another bottle when his black brother has stake in Ciroc. You heard the lyric but did you get the weight of it? “I’ll be damned” is something like, “over my dead body.” When you say “I’ll be damned” you are drawing a line in the sand. “I’ll be damned” means there are no exceptions. “I’ll be damned” connotes a firm commitment that cannot be easily broken; even if honoring that commitment is inconvenient. If we shared that level of determination to build up black businesses, banks and other institutions, black people would live in true freedom, regardless of who the president happens to be.

Puffy does not own Ciroc but his deal with the vodka brand is quite awesome: he literally invests nothing but still reaps half the company’s profits, through the duration of their deal. Although it isn’t ownership, Jay Z still sees the value of creating wealth for his black brother and has decided that he will remain committed, no matter what. We must go beyond hearing the music and begin imitating the actions. We have to decide that we’ll be damned if we buy from company x, so long as there is a black owned company that can satisfy that need and create jobs for other black people. If we are tired of living in a world full of black oppression we have to finally say, “I’ll be damned if I deposit my money in bank x” when there are black owned institutions we could support, who in turn will support our community. We need an “I’ll be damned” revolution in black America. Buying, banking and building all things black must transition from a trendy ideal in our heads to an “I’ll be damned” lifestyle.

The challenges of blackness in America will not be overcome through a casual commitment to conquering them. “I’ll be damned” is the only way. We as black people can exist with some degree of freedom as Americans if we continue to live as we always have but we will never have true power — the freedom to be independent and choose our own fate in this country. This is black power and it requires a more solid and unwavering commitment to ourselves. Just as Jay Z has committed himself to supporting his brother — no matter what and I’ll be damned — we must also commit to our community. Jay said a lot on the album but one line holds the key to black freedom and power: I’ll be damned.

 

** No One Can Oppress You Unless You Give Them The Money To Do It**

mirror tom

Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Religious Uncle Tom

Bishop T.D Jakes has shined brighter than most preachers for years. His books and sermons have reached millions. Still, given his tremendous platform, it is fair to ask how it all has furthered the quest for black freedom. The bishop is to be commended for preaching a message of self-healing and empowerment but he is positioned to actually erect or support institutions to help facilitate that empowerment. Based on the ministries his church website promotes, this is not the case. Further, sermons are fine but black people need his voice to confront the many crises we face on a more consistent basis.

Yes, his ministry helps ex-offenders and needy people but because the Bishop has been given much, more is required. Some might say his role as a preacher is simply to inspire individuals, who then will minister to society. That argument is tempting but disarmed when the history of the black church is considered. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church is the oldest denomination founded by black people in America, back in 1816. They preached the word but also built colleges like Wilberforce University and by 1880, operated over 2,000 schools. In an era of strict segregation, their congregations raised the money needed to keep those schools operational.

In a time when black people literally risked death for speaking out on social issues, AME bishops like Henry Mcneal Turner were fearless in the political arena. From the dangerous terrain of central Georgia, Turner successfully ran for the state legislature and used his voice as a trumpet for justice. Jakes, on the other hand, speaks loudly on prosperity but historically has been mute on topics of black oppression. He plays it safe, not wanting to alienate supporters. Turner risked his life to speak out but Jakes appears apprehensive about losing offerings or influence. After all, he never would have gotten a talk show had he gone all Jeremiah Wright.

The religious Uncle Tom is dangerous and I have been him. My thoughts were of heaven and developing the self toward godliness. In that state I chose to downplay social issues, having been taught that if we all just stopped sinning everything would be fine. I knew oppression existed but again, I was told that it was the result of sin. I saw racism but rather than call it out, I was taught that we should focus on –you guessed it– the sinful nature. I was told that it was godly to bring people together rather than directly rebuke those who oppress others. Those who taught me seemed unaware that it was Jesus who said that he did “not come to bring peace but a sword.” As we looked to the sky in our piety, we failed to see the urgency on planet earth.

I prayed often but the ills of the world persisted. At times I even tried to feed the hungry but never evolved to the understanding of Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” The religious institutions I belonged to played it safe. Feeding hungry people earned our nonprofit a grant. Speaking against those who oppress the poor and building institutions that promote power, however, might lose offerings and friends. Our nonprofits ultimately rendered us “non-prophets.”

Some of our churches can raise a nice offering. In fact, the black church is one of the few institutions that successfully pools the capital of black people. Those dollars, however, go toward maintaining facilities and the work of the “ministry.” We can’t seem to connect the dots. Our community faces crises in employment and resources and yet, the church’s successful pooling of black capital never results in job creation or combatting the deep disparities our communities face. The church building remains in tact, however, as the neighborhood crumbles. We believe we are doing the Lord’s work but in fact, we hinder the progress of black people.

Black churches have not the luxury to exist as other churches do. No other group in America had to emerge from the depths of chattel slavery, live under neo slavery/Jim Crow and seek equality in the face of constant harassment, void of meaningful reparations. The urgency, focus and commitment required to overcome this legacy leaves no room for passivity. Here are a few tangible ways to take action as a faith community:

  1. Use money collected from members to start a fund to support local entrepreneurs and black institutions, such as your closest HBCU.
  2. Deposit church funds into a black owned bank.
  3. Use the pulpit and church communications to direct members to business owners in the congregation and the community.
  4. Require candidates for public office to articulate their plan for black empowerment through economic development prior to giving them a platform at your church.
  5. Use the pulpit to rebuke policies and policymakers that hinder black freedom, especially locally.

To kill Tom must be a daily fight and it is difficult. On the other side of that fight, however, is a world where black people are free, independent and collectively walk in power. Religion can serve the aim of liberation or pacify both the oppressed and the powerful.

Stay tuned for the next installment on “The Hood Uncle Tom”

 

In this image released by HBO, host Bill Maher, left, appears with actor-rapper Ice Cube during a broadcast of "Real Time with Bill Maher," on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Janet Van Ham/HBO via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET663

After “niggergate” last week, Bill Maher did little on his show this past Friday to convince me that he learned anything. I saw Maher, a political commentator, try to hide under the shield of comedy and throw himself on the altar of, “I made one mistake.” Maher never wrestled with the simple truth that white supremacy and indifference to black suffering are the American norm and that is what brought about this whole thing.

It matters. The world is not a dangerous place for black people because the Klan patrols the streets of our cities. The world is dangerous because although black suffering exists, from the White House to the trailer parks of America, there are too few human responses of compassion. Policymakers have shown the ability to respond to white opioid users in their suffering and they should. Yet black people suffering with addiction are met with law and order. Indifference is dangerous.

I never see (non-Jewish) comedians dare try or get away with Holocaust jokes. I haven’t seen anyone bold enough to joke about 9/11. Yet slavery, somehow, is a subject for white liberals to joke about. How, Sway? It is understood that the suffering of 9/11 and the Holocaust are no laughing matters but Maher was quite comfortable invoking references of house slaves in his attempt at humor last week. The use of the n-word was an obvious offense but the reference to slavery in the most casual and irreverent manner is, on its own, deeply offensive. How is it that the death of millions during the Middle Passage, the raping of women and children, the decimation of families and untold horror over centuries are laughing matters? Only when those who suffer are black.

As I watched this week’s show, it was clear that Maher doesn’t think he, like most Americans, suffers from some deeper condition. Maher continued to insist on this week’s show that he made one mistake, one bad joke and that not rooted in any racist sentiment. I’m sure most members of Congress and state legislatures honestly believe they hold no racial animus either but their indifference to black suffering still yields policies that often have a disparate, if not targeted impact on black communities. From the War on Drugs to the disparities in funding HBCUs receive, many lawmakers who think themselves well intentioned do actual harm to black people. Maher seems unable to connect his actions to this larger machinery of white supremacy and that is unfortunate. That Maher is a liberal, one of the “good guys,” is frightening.

Symone Sanders and Michael Eric Dyson made the point on this week’s Real Time show that slaves in the house were also subject to terror. Still, the message that slavery along with the n-word are off limits was not pressed. Further, Dyson challenged his friend (Maher) to see how his actions as a “good guy” speak to the danger in the world that exists but did not press the matter, choosing rather to highlight some mythical record Maher has fighting for black liberation. Perhaps Dyson did not want to eternally wound a friend or perhaps he sensed Maher’s unwillingness to do more than navigate the bad PR from last week. Who knows? I only know Maher seemed agitated when his guests tried to delve into the matter, repeatedly throwing up his wonderful liberal credentials.

Maher blew it. It is clear he simply wanted the matter to be over, the storm to pass. Maher probably believes in his heart that he is truly one of the good guys and that any energy spent correcting his “one mistake” or other white liberals is better spent on the really bad people in the world. Then again, if my roommate showed signs that he was capable of harming me, I’d probably pay more attention to him than the “n-word” down the block.

 

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