omorosa

Omorosa is right — it’s not going to be okay. The reality star made that declaration recently on the show Big Brother when commenting on the Trump and Pence administration. Trump and Pence are menacing figures but for those of us who live in black neighborhoods there are threats much closer to home. We worry about vacant lots neglected by the city. Often we are disproportionately targeted by speed cameras, disproportionately ticketed for riding our bikes or not removing snow from our sidewalks (I literally just heard this story on the radio today, in Chicago). Before Trump and Pence can get to us we are in the crosshairs and many of our black politicians are complicit. It’s not going to be okay.

I eat at a black owned cafe two blocks from my home most days. Recently I saw a city employee eating there and I struck up a conversation with him. I raised my concerns about land usage policy in the neighborhood and how black neighborhoods were in effect being devalued as a result. I was hoping our local, black elected officials could help but he quickly told me I was wasting my time. “They all had to kiss the ring downtown to get on so they’re apart of it. They aren’t going to do anything about it,” was his forthright assessment. The black politicians elected to defend black taxpayers in cities are ultimately, in many cases, not loyal to black constituents but white political bosses and fundraisers.

Black people died for the right to vote because they believed voting would help secure liberty and safety, among other things. What they could not have foreseen was our day — a day in which political institutions and campaign financing barriers render any “democratically elected” public servant unresponsive to public opinion. This reality is not only salient to black people. Indeed, Congress recently passed a tax bill that most of the country did not support — white folks, that is. For his service in passing the wildly unpopular bill, Paul Ryan was handed a $500,000 check from Charles Koch. Koch’s interests trumped (no pun intended) that of Ryan’s constituents. One would have to think that the reality for black Americans is that much worse. Daily we are confronted with challenges and crises in our own cities and the hope of political change is slim, so long as our leaders — even those with black faces — do not truly belong to us.

It’s not going to be okay. Not unless we, on a local level, begin to buy our own politicians. Seriously. Forget “hope and change” and start collecting some loose change. Maybe your block can’t afford to purchase a mayor but you could collectively raise enough money to run a candidate and put up a hell of a fight in a city council race. That city councilperson can’t change the country’s tax code but they could get city agencies to be more responsive to your block’s needs. They could, at least, start looking into the placement of speed cameras in our neighborhoods. They can do much more, if funded by the community, than anyone else bought by another.

There are a few PACs (political action committees) founded by and for black people. BlackPac is one such example. The Collective PAC specifically seeks to fund black candidates. But we need not wait for a “super PAC” to come save us. Perhaps we can simply begin by identifying the smallest office locally that could, if occupied by the right individual, contribute to a better quality of life in our neighborhood. From there we can identify someone we trust to run for that office and absolutely get behind them. We can get our neighbors involved, put in money collectively and help raise a bit more. Start small but grow tall. It won’t be okay unless we make it so.

netflix

This black man will not be participating in anymore boycotts until further notice. Every other week there is a call for boycott because some company did something racist or treated a black celebrity less than they desire (what’s up, Monique). But I’m not interested in boycotting H&M so that they will become more culturally sensitive in their public dealings. I don’t care to skip House of Cards in order to secure bigger paydays for a select number of celebrities. If you are asking me to boycott anything with the end result being black people — collectively — are no more wealthy or powerful than before I inconvenienced myself for the cause, count me out.

If black people boycott Netflix en masse until the company offers comedian Mo’Nique $30 million for a standup special, she will be $30 million richer. Netflix — already worth over $100 billion — will be further enriched because of  her celebrity and talent. None of those outcomes will change the fact that black unemployment is still double that of whites. KweliTV, a black owned streaming service, is actively seeking to pay black filmmakers and curate content for black audiences. Boycotting Netflix for the sake of Mo’Nique will not help KweliTV fulfill its mission and in doing so, ensure Mo’Nique and other black entertainers will not face discrimination because of their color. If you are asking me and millions of black people to boycott Netflix so one black celebrity can get a check, I’m simply not interested.

Dr. King asked masses of black people to boycott white companies the night before he died. Coca-Cola and several other companies were called by name. King wanted black people in Memphis to boycott those companies because the very serious grievances of black city workers had gone unaddressed. Further, the city of Memphis had ignored many other problems specific to the black community. Rather than continue to beg the city of Memphis to do justly, King reasoned that Coca-Cola, Sealtest Dairy and other companies could be so damaged by a boycott that they would carry the grievances of black people to local government. King also insisted that a boycott should build up black institutions. He called on his audience to pull their money from white banks and deposit into black owned banks and insurance companies. King’s boycott sounds hopelessly distant from the boycotts of today.

Some boycotts have more merit than others. I thought it fitting that we boycott the NFL, if for no other reason than their blackballing of Colin Kaepernick — he stood up for us and it was right that we stood for him (in a perfect world we would start our own league with the wealth of black talent we have but that’s a discussion for another day). If the purpose of boycotting Dove or H&M was to force them into polishing their marketing strategies so that we as black people would felt better about making them rich, I have better things to do. Merit can vary and so we should use King’s proposed boycott as a measuring stick. Does the proposed boycott substantively change conditions for many black people? Does it help build black institutions such that black people will no longer have to deal with racists? Think long and hard before you call for another boycott.

 

black-girls-backing-obama-16x9

Democrats cannot advocate for policies that specifically benefit people of color. Black people have long accepted this as truth — doing so would alienate white voters and ruin a very fragile Democratic coalition. We now know that is not entirely true, as Democrats demanded that action on DACA must be included in any budget deal last week. I truly support protecting immigrant families and yet I am offended that the Party will not prioritize explicitly black issues in the way it stood for DACA. That is why today I am leaving the Democratic Party.

Imagine trying to fill your bucket with rainwater as your neighbor is given a water hose. This is the life of a black voter. In lieu of targeted policies “universal” solutions, like healthcare, are lifted up as the ultimate promise from Democrats. We have learned to accept generic policy solutions and the necessary distance the Party must keep from us in order to retain white voters. Martin O’Malley and other Democratic Presidential candidates struggled to simply utter the words “Black Lives Matter” during the last election. It hurts but we have simply concluded that to avoid a greater evil it is necessary to forego specific racial demands. We now see that the Party is capable of pushing the legislative priorities of communities of color, so long as that color is not black.

Black voters have never demanded much from the Democratic Party. We never seriously asked the Party to consider reparations. We never imagined that Democrats would force a government shutdown if Congress did not address the fact that black owned businesses receive less than 2 percent of federal government contracting dollars. We never dreamed that Democratic leadership would insist on federal legislation to address police accountability before allowing the business of government to proceed. For generations we have been content to accept symbols and gestures which indicated the Party had our interests at heart. In exchange we give our loyalty and that loyalty has often delivered elections for Democrats.

In 1960 black voters delivered the White House to John Kennedy because of a simple gesture. Kennedy was no champion of civil rights but shortly before the election he made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Dr. King was imprisoned and Kennedy made the brief call to offer his support. That call resulted in 250,000 blacks voting for Kennedy in Illinois, a state he won by a mere 9,000 votes. In South Carolina Kennedy won by 10,000 votes because 40,000 black voters pushed him over the top. Indeed, nationwide Kennedy edged Nixon by a mere 118,574 votes out of the 68,370,000 ballots cast. You’re welcome, Kennedy.

Kennedy was not the first to understand the power of symbols. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration failed to produce any specific civil rights legislation and black workers were largely excluded from New Deal programs. Even so black people felt a kinship to FDR because his administration featured prominent blacks like Mary McLeod Bethune in his so called “Black Cabinet.” Later on Bill Clinton would tap into this power when he appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show. After Obama’s first term many blacks in the barbershop had become disillusioned with the idea that the first black President could deliver substantive wins for black communities. For some, Obama’s rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was enough to communicate that he still thought of us.

For so long we have accepted symbols and gestures. We did so because we truly believed our best hope was generic policy solutions, made possible by a coalition with white liberals. We were resigned to the idea that those white liberals were comfortable so long as people of color were not targeted with policy solutions. We have delivered election after election for Democratic candidates — like Doug Jones — who dare not spend one cent of political capital on issues that are clearly black in nature. DACA, however, has opened our eyes. The Democrats were willing to make specific demands for immigrants but for black voters who vote them in office, the symbols will have to do.

It must be acknowledged that the Democrats don’t truly have strong convictions around immigration. Indeed, under Obama immigrants were deported at record levels. This latest stand on DACA was simply part of a larger Trump backlash. Even so, it is telling that while the Party needs black voters to win seats in 2018 they were unwilling to highlight an issue that directly impacts us. Noted.

It must also be said that like most Americans, black people are not monolithic. Some in LA just might support Trump’s border wall while others are personally devastated at the thought of immigrant families being torn apart. What is consistent, however, is that none of us first think to rid the country of immigrants when we wake in the morning. To the degree we are hurt by this latest DACA stance, it is simply because we wish to be loved as clearly and unashamedly by the Party we have been so loyal to. This simply has not been our experience.

I cannot continue to support a Democratic Party that refuses to clearly stand for black people in the way it was willing to make a public and targeted stance for immigrants. As we move toward the 2018 midterms I cannot, in good faith, continue to call myself a Democrat when cycle after cycle they ignore their ultimate and most loyal swing voters. In the past I and many others honestly believed the Party stayed clear of “black issues” in an effort to maintain a coalition with white voters who simply could not stomach championing the causes of a minority group. Now I know that the Party and many of its white supporters simply cannot stand for its black brothers and sisters to eat at the same table. Knowing this I gladly choose to step away.

h&m

Now that we’ve reacted to the H&M controversy let’s take time to actually understand it. I hear people passionately screaming but few are putting serious thought to why they feel what they do and whether there is just cause for anger.

Why Are Black People So Mad?

There is a long history of denigrating people by equating them with monkeys/apes. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint Isidore of Seville were comparing pagans to monkeys way back in the 1st century. Yet no group has been identified with simian qualities quite like black people. Indeed, Types of Mankind, the leading American text on racial differences in its day, presented racial hierarchies with illustrations comparing blacks to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. In Europe black soccer players are routinely targeted with bananas. Even Barack and Michelle Obama couldn’t escape the ape slur  — a Belgian newspaper printed images of the Obamas with ape features. The history is clearly racist and hurtful.

But H&M Isn’t An American Company, They Didn’t Know

H&M is a Swedish company, a country not so far from Belgium. If the newspaper in Belgium knew to use the ape motif against the Obamas, I’m sure the good folks in Sweden aren’t completely clueless. If black soccer players all over Europe regularly get bananas thrown at them, we can safely assume someone in H&M’s European operation was at least aware of the history.

H&M Surely Didn’t Mean To Be Racist, Can’t We Let It Slide?

If I joked about sending people to gas chambers but wasn’t in any way thinking about the Holocaust, I’m sure some Jewish people would take exception. Would any of us think it strange if they did? No. Universally, the suffering of whites is taken seriously. If we can understand one group’s sensitivity to their historical oppression and give deference to it, we should find it easy to do the same for black people — unless we are prevented by racism.

It is interesting that the UK H&M site that was selling the infamous “monkey hoodie” also featured a young white boy modeling a different hoodie. The caption read, “Survival Expert.” Dr. King often talked about unconscious racism. That is, without consciously trying to be racist, it is so embedded in us all that it still manifests. Maybe the folks at H&M did not consciously mean to suggest blacks are animals and whites lord over the animals but we must question whether or not their whiteness could have accepted the two boys switching hoodies. In the end H&M is a global company doing business in a digital age — all things connect. An ad in London can show up in the US in seconds. As a multinational it is H&M’s business to assume this and be aware of any cultural landmines.

But The Model’s “Mum” Didn’t Have A Problem With It

Jerry Seinfield is Jewish. Once on his sitcom he had a little fun with the film Schindler’s List. Does that mean every Jewish person should accept it if people take away from the serious nature of the film? Hardly. Further, it must be acknowledged that the boy’s mother is Kenyan and apparently lives in Europe. That said, it’s possible that some of this discussion might possibly be lost on her. In the same way, I may not grasp certain insults leveled at one people group in Kenya to another. On the other hand maybe she absolutely gets it but simply doesn’t want to rock the boat. Her child is getting work from a global fashion brand and to speak out might jeopardize future work for her son. In the end I’ve never met the woman and can’t speak for her. Still, it is dangerous to dismiss the entire issue because she has.

What Now?

H&M isn’t the first company to put out a questionable ad — we were all mad at Dove a few months ago, remember? Another company will mess up soon, I’m sure. If our goal is to make white companies be nicer to black people then feel free to continue this cycle. H&M has issued an apology but it did not create any more black wealth. Dove’s apology did not end disparities in employment between blacks and whites. Perhaps we as black people should stop asking the powerful to be nicer to us and focus more on building black power for ourselves.

jay-z-kevin-hart-nba-finals

Black people must be twice as good for half the credit. I heard that as a child but evidently things have changed. 2017 was a yearlong celebration of black mediocrity, a collective demon I hope 2018 will exorcise us of. In 2017 Cardi B was a thing. We celebrated the fact that a woman with African blood will join England’s royal family (as if white acceptance affirms black value). Kevin Hart continued to pack out arenas even as his comedy and personal life progressively slid into mediocrity. We lost our minds when Beyonce gave birth to twins, as if women don’t do so daily. Eminem was anointed savior after his anti-Trump freestyle but black pundits like Van Jones were ignored before the election when they warned us that Trump could win. Mediocrity was consistently declared the big winner of 2017 and black people are no better for it.

Donald Trump is a monster but he’s not the first in politics. Politicians much more racist than Trump existed in the 1890’s in Louisiana and yet black political leaders figured out how to get funding for Southern University. That was a concrete win for black people, even in the face of great hostility. Adam Clayton Powell served in Congress when lynchings were still commonplace and few of his colleagues cared. During his career Powell not only pushed legislation that made lynching a federal crime but was also instrumental in expanding the minimum wage and abolishing the poll tax. Those were all tangible wins for black people. In 2017 the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) made their biggest mark simply by refusing to meet with Trump in June. Black America has any number of political concerns but there is no strategy to address them. Refusing to meet with the sitting POTUS and not securing any tangible wins for black people was the CBC’s signature, mediocre achievement.

Jay Z is closer to 50 than 45 years of age. Ironically he was applauded for his “maturity” this past year because he figured out that infidelity is wrong. No, seriously. Critics and fans across the board — including black folks — praised Mr. Carter for the deeply personal lyrics on his 4:44 album, which included apologies for infidelity. Why is that an accomplishment at 50? In what black mediocre fantasy do men at that age not get laughed to scorn when they announce to the world they’ve just figured that out? How is it that when his sexual abilities are certainly on the decline we praise his growth and evolution in that area? I look at Fred Hampton’s maturity at 21 and can’t help but notice the embarrassing disparity. When black men are allowed to parade their mediocrity the culture is diminished and we all suffer.

This past year we celebrated the most mediocre of accomplishments and elevated the most mundane of individuals. On one hand black mediocrity signals a weird racial progress — mediocre white men have been winning for centuries. It is refreshing that mediocre black people are winning in journalism, entertainment and even in the academy — I won’t name names. Indeed the true measure of how post-racial we are as a society is the degree to which black people are allowed to be mediocre and achieve similar results as our white counterparts. On the other hand the history of black progress is a history of black excellence and we should never forget it.

Black excellence is what kept black families together under the most challenging of circumstances, since before the Constitution was written. Black excellence is what built our HBCUs and banking institutions, well before any legislation existed to protect them. Black excellence gave America its seasoning — metaphorically and literally — and enriched the broader culture. Our history suggests that we cannot tolerate mediocrity, despite the apparent benign nature of its various manifestations in 2017. If we are to adopt a collective resolution in 2018 it must be to reclaim black excellence and shun mediocrity.

 

jenkins

I hope NFL players didn’t protest with the expectation that all of white America would care about black suffering; that would be like seeing an Orthodox Muslim eat pork chops — never happen. NFL owners have apparently agreed to hand over $89 million to help fund organizations and causes specific to black communities. From the United Negro College Fund to local organizations fighting for social justice, several entities stand to benefit. Some see the move as a quid pro quo, a hollow gesture aimed at simply getting the players to stop kneeling. If that is true I say sellout — stand for the anthem, take the money and use it to further black institutions. Waiting for a group of rich, conservative white men to care deeply about black suffering is foolish.

Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers isn’t ecstatic about this deal. Frankly, it will cost the owners nothing — they’re merely shifting money previously earmarked for other charitable causes. My answer is, “so what?” Malcolm X said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” American history illustrates that even in the face of white indifference, green dollars can fund black progress. The Louisiana legislature cared little about the education of black people in 1880 but black politicians advocated for a black institution of higher learning and their request was granted. In 1890 the legislature designated Southern as a land grant college for blacks in order to uphold segregation while satisfying federal requirements to educate all students. The state legislature in Louisiana did not (and perhaps still doesn’t) care about the education of black people but Southern University stands today because we were smart enough to take green money from indifferent whites and build black.

The owners don’t actually care about anything the players have been protesting since Kaepernick took a knee last year. The move to shift $89 million to black institutions is a tacit admission by the owners that they’d rather write checks than lift a finger to fight injustice. It’s not personal, however. The money is being taken from breast cancer awareness and the monthlong celebration of the military so we can safely assume that the owners care nothing for those causes, either. NFL team owners care about the bottom line, not black liberation. No amount of protest will change that but the checks owners have agreed to write have the potential to change much, if handled properly.

Most of us will never play in the NFL but we can learn something from it. The causes we hold dear will only be sacred to us. If your car needs an oil change no one outside of you really cares that much. The same is true if your community is experiencing high unemployment. Black people have always lived with this violent indifference from the larger culture. We simply focused on building black, even if our benefactors didn’t have the purest intentions. We may never change white indifference but that doesn’t have to hinder black progress.

gentrification

Gentrification is a jedi mind trick where (mostly) black people conclude entire communities have no value, although everyone else can see it. Gentrification is generally unpopular among black people but in fact we bear some responsibility for it. When we refuse to see the value in our communities and others do, that’s on us. I’m tired of hearing black people complain about gentrification while refusing to invest in black communities — even middle class black communities. Real estate is finite and if we don’t buy it, someone will. If we really despise people who are wholly unconnected to the culture of a neighborhood moving in and displacing the population, then damnit start seeing the worth in black communities before everyone else does.

Gentrification — as we understand it — is not completely inevitable. Washington was about 70 percent black just a generation ago but today the city no longer has a black majority. Masses of white people did not come in the night and wipe out the black population. The dramatic loss of affordable housing is significant but the unwillingness of black homeowners to stay put cannot be ignored. The decline in federal funding to house the poor is exacerbating yet black people and organizations — while admittedly challenging — made few sustained, organized efforts to collectively invest in black communities while the real estate was still at giveaway prices. Whether the communities in question were legitimately unsafe or simply decent neighborhoods that lacked desired amenities, many made the choice to walk away.

It is curious that communities we so often deem wholly undesirable are consistently valued by everyone else. It tells me that our valuation is off, in many respects. If a developer can see the potential of a community filled with poor black people, so should we. If investor X believes there is money to be made on a block with 8 homes — of which 4 are boarded up — maybe we should, too. Why couldn’t our churches and local organizations organize families to collectively buy that block and fix up those homes? Why couldn’t families looking for starter homes put their money together and buy multi-family homes before they were swooped up by an investor and turned into swanky apartments that rent for $2,000 monthly? Why can’t our local Urban League and NAACP chapters organize citywide initiatives to pair our people together to buy communities, raise the property values and in doing so attract all the amenities we seek out in other neighborhoods?

I live on the South Side of Chicago now, having recently relocated from DC. Chicago is now in the process of gentrifying in much the same way DC has. But it doesn’t have to be. I live in a condo building that has three units and two apartments on the basement level. The units are very nice — hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and a secure entry system. The unit directly under me was just recently renovated and it is gorgeous. It is 1,700 square feet and features three bedrooms with two full baths. It is also a duplex unit, a bonus. While such a unit in DC would easily cost half a million dollars or even more in wealthier neighborhoods, that unit just sold last month for $150,000. Seriously, that’s it. The reason is my neighborhood is just outside of the gentrifying zone and while my street is nice and quieter than a street in the city should be, the neighborhood is still quite black and that is a turnoff for many buyers and thus values are suppressed. That unit, while only $150,000 today, will easily be worth 3 times that in 10 years and too many of us will lament that we didn’t simply buy it while it was easily affordable.

To be sure, there are many forces at work far beyond any personal decisions we might make. In far too many places older residents on fixed income are priced out of the homes they own because property taxes have skyrocketed. Even worse, many cities unfairly advantage newcomers. In Philadelphia, for example, new buyers qualify for a 10-year property tax abatement while older residents are often without relief. There are many challenges and yes, organizing as a community is far more difficult than being a private investor with cash who can develop entire blocks overnight (not to mention the federal and local tax incentives many of them utilize). This is not easy but it is not inevitable, either. There are still many communities in cities around the country where property values are very modest. They will eventually be developed, the only question is by whom.

Perhaps you think losing black presence in American cities is not problematic and if so, there’s nothing to worry about. If you do find it problematic, however, there are solutions. We must organize, buy and stay. If you find that too difficult or if you have an aversion to investing in black communities — poor, working or middle class — then please stop complaining about gentrification.

a-different-world

I received a minority scholarship from my alma mater — a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) — to partially fund my education and while grateful, I will never write the university a check. Each month I send money to my closest HBCU and you should, too.

PWI’s are in extreme debt to black people in America. While some understand the large role of slavery in building and sustaining them, few think about the tax dollars black families have and continue to pay to power them. Before we were allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi, we were taxed to support it. James Meredith — one person — integrated the school in 1963 but blacks attended only in small numbers for some time after. All the while we paid taxes. Before 1963 many schools up north admitted blacks but only a token few, especially if they could play a sport. Still, we paid taxes. These schools denied opportunities to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents and yes, even to many of our parents while gladly accepting their tax dollars. A generation or two of minority scholarships, targeted at a select number of black individuals, doesn’t begin to even the score for the exclusion of black masses.

Many of us benefited in some way from PWIs and that’s perfectly fine but we owe our PWIs nothing — they in fact still owe us. The assistance they provide to black students is not charity for which we are indebted; it represents a meager return on the labor and tax dollars our parents to great-great-great-great-great grandparents contributed to build those schools while being denied access to them.

Some black grads say they would like to give back to their PWI, specifically so other black students will have the same opportunity. I reject every bit of that logic. It is not incumbent upon those who descend from generations of the excluded to create opportunities for their seed at PWIs. Indeed, we have been and still are taxed for them. If the universities actually value the presence of black students on their campuses it is incumbent upon them to create opportunities for them. It is our job, as taxpayers (specific to public institutions), to push our states and state schools to prioritize the interests and recruitment of black students. That push must take our state institutions beyond the safe pursuit of “diversity” to a clear mandate addressing the opportunities denied my parents and their parents.

A great number of schools integrated only at gunpoint — literally. It is clear that PWI’s have made great strides since that time but the atmosphere on many campuses still leaves much to be desired. Just ask students at the University of Missouri or scour through all these recent events on campuses. Still, we are paying taxes. In some cases those taxes support public universities that have very healthy endowments. Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are the top two public universities, in this respect. The billions those universities have are far too often managed by investment teams or outside firms with little to no black presence. The universities crave our dollars and invest them in various places, including Africa, yet we have little say in the process.

Imagine if I were unemployed, broke and had few prospects. Imagine that I have an amazing woman who sticks with me, supports me while I try to get things on track and helps me realize my potential. Now imagine me on my feet, making money and desired by many women who wanted nothing to do with me just a few years ago. If I left my woman for another that only now desires me, what would you say? If my woman began to fall on hard times herself but I chose to ignore her and chase another who never wanted me before, what would you think of me? This is precisely our relationship to HBCUs today. When no one wanted us, they embraced us. When we had no other options, they sheltered us and made us great. Even now they outperform PWIs in vaulting the lowest income students into the top quintile as adults. They are still our best investment as a people and yet too many of us are eager to date the girl who wouldn’t even let us walk across her lawn a few years ago.

For some time I have wanted to write checks to HBCUs but just didn’t have the cash — or so I thought. I recently made the choice to start where I am and do something. I now live on the South Side of Chicago and to my surprise the closest HBCU is Harris Stowe State University, in St. Louis. I sent them a check and will continue to do so each month, so long as they are my closest HBCU. My first check was only $10 — it was all I felt comfortable giving. But if 500,000 black people in Chicago gave the same $10 each month it would change everything for that school.

I’m grateful for my degree and the strides my university has made to incorporate black students but that doesn’t mean I owe them anything. My ancestors paid my bill in full. Our HBCUs loved my grandparents when no one else would and for their sake I am writing these checks. I sincerely hope you will do the same.

Chicago_Theatre

My great-uncle left central Georgia to serve his country abroad and never returned to the Deep South. He eventually chose the greener pastures of the South Side. After 60 years in Chicago he told me, “Chicago has the best of everything…but it also has the worst of everything.” Chicago is unmatched in beauty and splendor. Chicago is also plagued by a sense of hopelessness. Chicago is America: a nation first in ideals but ranked last in health care, among comparable nations. America produces Nobel Peace Prize winners like Dr. King, who in turn called this country the “greatest purveyor of violence” on the globe. If America is the world’s greatest nation, Chicago is undoubtedly its most accurate reflection.   

I gave up everything to be with my love — her name is Chicago. She is reviled and scorned by many and yet known by so few. She is strange to masses who only know her through the narratives of distant strangers motivated by politics and racial resentment when they speak her name. Stop and listen for although I am not her native son, I gave everything to be held in her embrace. 

I know my love’s immeasurable beauty and I’m aware of her fatal flaws. The authenticity and forgiving nature of her people scarcely exists elsewhere and yet those people are often burdened by pain. I hear what others say about my love yet their words stray from what I have observed with my eyes. When I mention my lover’s name others are filled with terror. How can this be, especially when most of the terrorized have never been to the city? The nation has been taught to fear Chicago but not by statistics. Yes, of late there has been a surge in violent crime but you are twice as likely to be killed in St. Louis than in Chicago. Indeed, the city’s murder rate was significantly higher in the 90’s and plunged thereafter. Why the fixation now on Chicago violence? 

My love is large, in population and mass. This makes her wonderful but also a target for political posturing. It is easier to say her name than another. But my love also satisfies a national appetite for black pathology, giving life to narratives absent critical analysis. As always, race rears its ugly head. Race prohibits others from seeing my love as she is. Social analysis is never precise when race is introduced. The Moynihan report of the 1960’s told us that out-of-wedlock births indicated black families were entangled in “pathology.” That is, black families were utterly abnormal and defective. As Dr. Andrew Hacker pointed out in his book Two Nations, white families have since surpassed those same numbers Moynihan cited for black families and yet there is no mention of the pathology of whites. 

In the same way we fail to see Chicago clearly today. When 468 were murdered in the city in 2015, we were told the world was ending. That 468 pales in comparison to the 619 killed in 1925, a period when the city population was on par with today. As the South and West Sides of the city bleed today, Chicago was a bloodbath in the 1920’s, ruled by gangsters like Al Capone. We were able to do objective analysis during that period when the gangsters were white but we seem incapable today.

Dr. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard scholar, asserted in a 1999 paper that violence– and homicides specifically– peak most when prohibition of drugs or alcohol are vigorously enforced. The alcohol prohibition and the Drug War eras, naturally, have the most pronounced homicide rates. In the 1920’s and early 30’s we were able to see that bad public policy –prohibition– pushed Eastern European immigrants, who lacked economic opportunities, to accept the working conditions of the illegal alcohol business and carnage ensued. Today 47% of black men in Chicago between 20 and 24 are neither working or in school. Naturally, the illegal drug industry recruits from that demographic and carnage ensues. Unlike in the 1920’s, however, we now conclude that the people are bad and not the policies. Narratives of black pathology are far more desirable. 

Accepting these narratives robs us from seeing my love as she is. Have you ever seen the city from a perch along Lake Michigan? Have you ever learned a second language within the English language, like those spoken on the South Side, and experienced the richness of a black culture unrivaled in North America? Such literary wealth can be heard on a number of street corners, conveying more meaning than all of Shakespeare’s prose. Have you seen the fusion of an untold number of architectural traditions all singing in harmony across the city sky? Have you dined in the fine restaurants of the loop? Have you eaten rib tips from Lem’s or cupcakes from Brown Sugar Bakery on 75th street? If you haven’t, you have not yet seen the best of America.

nfl protest

If you hate your boss just start your own company — problem solved. We should approach the NFL in the same way. I along with many other black people are boycotting the NFL because the League has made clear that it can stomach men who assault women and actually kill people but not the protest of black suffering. The League and many of its consumers are offended by a perceived “disrespect”of the flag but not the atrocities committed against those “for which it stands.” I want nothing to do with such a league and thus I welcome P. Diddy’s tweet last week, suggesting that he would like to own a football league. Protesting the League is fine but owning your own is much better.

Nearly 70% of NFL players are black. There is no League without black men. The challenge is convincing black men that they can exist without the League. Far too many of us are comfortable allowing others to profit from our talents and afraid to own them. It is only by owning and monetizing our talent, however, that we will find freedom. In a world in which whites controlled every aspect of music production and distribution, Berry Gordy realized the talents of ghetto children in Detroit were greater than the world of bigotry surrounding them. He built a real life empire in Motown off of them. Oprah Winfrey recognized that it was her talent and celebrity that sold content and built Harpo Productions off of them. The OWN network is part of Harpo’s holdings.

NFL players have such talents. Some of these men run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds and a select few can do it in under 4.3. Some weigh over 200 pounds and yet have the agility of a fox. Others have the ability to maintain their balance while running full speed and avoiding collisions. We love watching the players because they simply have abilities that we do not have. Their speed, power and skill are almost superhuman. The players in the NFL — with the help of wealthy backers — could opt to do something similar to Winfrey and Gordy. While the new league would not instantly have the same financial resources as the NFL today, it could grow. Indeed, Motown Records started in a little home in Detroit but the talent would not be denied.

At some point we must move beyond protest. Protest, on some level, will always be the powerless appealing to the powerful. You cannot have self determination so long as others control your fate, possessing the power to hear your grievances or ignore them. Colin Kaepernick would tell you the same. Yes, he made a stand through protest but 32 NFL teams are now exercising their power to keep him unemployed. Perhaps the players and the rest of us should now exercise our collective power to build, maintain and grow a new league. After all, it’s always about the talent.

 

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