Month: October 2017

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.

 

dove

Recently Dove pulled an ad campaign that implied women of color were dirty. The ad featured a black woman pulling off her brown shirt to reveal a white woman. Since then, there has been a call to boycott the company altogether. But is a boycott justified? Or does the ad merely prove a larger point about racism in white America? Dr. King said that a “majority of white Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously.” Dove may not have meant to suggest that black skin is necessarily dirty but they unwittingly showed the company’s — and white America’s — deep rooted, unconscious programming that cannot reconcile the idea that black skin equals clean or pure. Previous Dove campaigns have subtly spouted this same message that white equals right. The ads are merely a symptom of a larger epidemic in our country and boycotting one company won’t change the root of the problem. Dove is not the first or the last company that will put out an ad that, without thought or intention, is harmful to black people. How many companies have to belittle us before we are all motivated to buy black?

When harm is unintended the impact is no less painful. Such is the case when a nice judge unwittingly sentences black defendants more harshly than whites in similar circumstances. It is often the good police officer who isn’t aware that he treats me differently during a traffic stop. At times it is the teacher who wants to make a positive difference in the world who just doesn’t think Quincy should be in advanced courses but Becky should. In each scenario there is no intended harm or conscious effort to treat black people differently and yet there are real life consequences. When the power, influence and money of a major corporation are added to the analysis, the danger is heightened.

Corporations are able to contribute big dollars to politicians who can do real harm to black people. Corporations have the power to hire hundreds or thousands of people and in doing so, impact the employment rate of an entire community or not. Corporations have the power to make advertisements and produce media to be consumed by the masses, effectively shaping how we see the world. They can even involve themselves in international affairs, helping to further or hinder the liberation of poor people abroad. That is a lot of power. The question is whether black people should continue entrusting our dollars to companies that might be well intentioned but can so badly miss the mark and in doing so cause us tremendous harm.

The original ad Dove made wasn’t all that bad but when it was displayed online as a still shot it was atrocious. It is likely that a lack of diversity within the company is responsible for the oversight. But if Dove does not value me enough to bring me into their creative process but wants my dollar, why should I give it? If Dove or any other company is filled with individuals who are unconsciously of the mind that I am inferior or less valuable, why would I continue to empower them to harm me — even if the harm is unintentional? It makes no sense and we must change.

Ladies, are you looking for a product to replace the gentleness of Dove for feminine hygiene? Try a “Nookie Cookie” from KJ Naturals, owned and operated by a phenomenal black woman. Fellas, are you looking for a new body wash now? Check out Garner’s Garden and their organic body wash. It’s not that Dove’s ad was the worst thing in the world. Rather, it’s that we cannot continue empowering entities that have the power to do us harm and because of their blind spots and unconscious racism will inevitably do so.

Most people who drive impaired are probably decent people and they make it home just fine. Still, we don’t think the risk is worth encouraging the behavior, under any circumstances. The potential harm is simply too great. Unconscious racism is the same way. I’ve used Dove for years and while I’ve been telling myself that I will find a new body wash, I’ve been slow in doing so. It’s time for me to stop spending, it’s just not worth the risk.