Month: September 2017

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.