Author: Hopewell

dcgentrification

The District of Columbia is being sued for gentrification. A lawsuit against DC alleges that “The city is intentionally trying to lighten black neighborhoods.” Gentrification does “lighten” black neighborhoods but the issue is far deeper. Gentrifying neighborhoods are warzones. Gentrification is a battle for physical spaces in cities but in the ultimate sense, a fight to maintain white power and dominance in America. Babies of color now outnumber white babies, who will be in the minority by 2050. Cities are power centers — of government, commerce and culture. To control cities is to maintain white power, even in an emerging majority-minority America. Gentrification is war and black people sit in the crosshairs.

dcgentThe Civil War was launched, in part, because Southerners could not match the electoral muscle of their industrial counterparts in the North. Despite their hatred of Abraham Lincoln the South simply did not have the numbers to beat him, so they fought. Whites today are waging a different type of war in order to avoid being relegated to insignificance socially and politically — gentrification. Illinois has 18 congressional districts, 7 contain some portion of the city of Chicago. The Illinois General Assembly has 59 senate districts, 20 contain some portion of the city of Chicago. All this means over one-third of the state’s political power is tied to one city. To the degree blacks in Illinois — 15 percent of the state population — have enjoyed political influence, it has been a function of our concentration in the city. In 2010 the city was roughly one-third black. A gentrified Chicago erases any reasonable possibility of black political power in the state for at least a generation.

The average white 26 year-old moving into Bronzeville, Brooklyn or Northeast DC may not think of gentrification in terms of war. Black people, however, can’t afford not to. The fate of black America rests on whether or not we are erased from the American city. The viability of white power in this century, conversely, hinges on the ability of whites to populate urban centers. The urgency of the matter has activated a variety of forces against black communities, including the police, financial institutions and the gentrifiers themselves. Consciously or otherwise, these forces are not simply fighting for space in urban centers but the continuation of white power.

columbia heights

This war is not simply theoretical, it features armed and hostile combatants. When gentrifiers move into historically black neighborhoods they utilize an often lethal force —  we call them police. “There’s some evidence that 311 and 911 calls are increasing in gentrifying areas,” Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson said in a recent interview with The Atlantic. Neighbor-related complaints to 311 disproportionately originate from gentrifying neighborhoods, according to research done by Dr. Joscha Legewie, a sociologist at New York University, and Dr. Merlin Schaeffer of the University of Cologne. Legewie and Schaeffer found that that neighbor-related complaints (read gentrifiers complaining to the authorities about their new neighbors) to 311 were 26 percent higher in transitioning neighborhoods. Often this takes the form of complaints about music or other longstanding practices in a community but it can be deadly.

Alex Nieto’s body was mutilated by 14 bullets from police. Nieto was shot at the age of 28 because he was a man of color living in a San Francisco neighborhood he’d lived in his entire life — it just happened to be a gentrifying neighborhood. On the evening he was killed, gentrifiers thought Nieto to be suspicious so they called the cops on him; in his own neighborhood. Minutes later Nieto was dead. Nieto’s case just happens to be one of the more “Googlable” ones but we shouldn’t think it unique.

What happened to Nieto is ultimately rooted in a long tradition of whites using law enforcement to police the movement of black bodies, a tradition which gentrification brings into focus. This feature of American life extends at least to The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In essence, law enforcement across the nation was tasked with finding and returning anyone suspected to be a slave. Ordinary white people were empowered and bound by law to police black bodies and control black life. It is in our collective DNA for whites to monitor black motion and use law enforcement to restrict it. It manifests when black men at a Starbucks are arrested for sitting. It first happened to me as a seminary student, when cops were dispatched to question me for the crime of walking. Gentrification only intensifies this dynamic. When an influx of whites suddenly find themselves in regular and immediate proximity to people of color, a war of subjugation is inevitable.

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Our conversations around gentrification are far too shallow. It is disheartening that longtime black residents are suddenly priced out of communities they’ve called home for generations. It is also a cruel irony that these black residents are generally replaced by well-to-do whites who wanted nothing to do with said communities just ten years prior. But the implications for white power and dominance in a changing America are far more important. Cities have long been beacons of diversity. As these power centers become more monolithic, however, how that power is radiated and exercised could determine the fate of black people for the next 100 years. Another century of uninterrupted white power holds menacing and even terroristic prospects for black people. America’s financial institutions are doing their part to secure that outcome.

*Part 2 Forthcoming*

kanye blonde

Kanye West said that 400 years of slavery was “a choice” on Tuesday. Twitter and even a black TMZ employee quickly took Kanye to task for his words. Defending himself Kanye said, “Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.” While slaves had numbers they certainly lacked firearms and many other strategic advantages but still, in 2018 Kanye makes a point about mental enslavement that we should consider.

Starbucks recently announced that it would close stores nationwide on May 29th for “racial-bias education” after two black men were arrested for the crime of waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia store. Some see this as a victory but in fact it is not. The one day closing simply helps black people feel better about continuing to enrich a corporation that is not invested in the liberation of black folks. That many are satisfied with this outcome rather than the building up of our own coffee shops and establishing connections with Africans that actually produce the coffee, is evidence of mental enslavement. Some activists have called on black people to boycott Waffle House because the popular breakfast chain doubled down on its support of its employees and law enforcement after a black woman was dragged to the ground, had her breast exposed and was ultimately arrested at a Georgia Waffle House on April 22. That we can’t seem to direct the same energy into supporting our restaurants as we expend on temporarily boycotting those owned by whites, reveals something about the enslavement that often binds our minds.

Why are we satisfied with offending white businesses doing just enough to earn our business back, thus leaving us in a position to continue empowering those who clearly do not care about us? If racism is as damaging as we say it is, why don’t we simply stop investing in white institutions when we have the option to build up black ones? During slavery there were revolts constantly but we simply were at an insurmountable disadvantage. Today, however, we have freedom of choice and the ability to choose ourselves but far too many of us are trapped by a slavery of the mind. Far too many of us are more comfortable giving our dollar to corporations that mistreat us if they offer a mere apology or racial-bias training than we are with actually spending in a way that would build up our businesses, removing the threat of racial prejudice in our dealings. We don’t think it strange that black talent is leveraged for white wealth and empowerment, while black people merely receive the benefit of charity. This is the mental enslavement that must work to eradicate.

Apologies and racial-bias training are commendable but they do not create jobs for black people in places like Gary, IN or Detroit. Treating black customers nicer is certainly appreciated but it does not translate to black people becoming more wealthy or powerful in America. Our ancestors were stripped of their agency. We have choices but often do not exercise them. It’s time to choose ourselves and unshackle our minds.

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Beyoncé’s performance at Coachella was historic, epic and unrivaled. Beyoncé was the first woman of color to headline Coachella and did so in a way that spotlighted the beauty of black culture for all the world to see. Her performance also spotlighted our most precious black institutions — historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The problem with the performance is that while it did shine a light on HBCUs, it did not empower them. Black entertainers must begin using their celebrity to build black institutions, not simply spotlight them for white audiences.

Most of the commentary on “Beychella” has been around the genius of Queen B incorporating the tradition of HBCU bands into her performance. Apparently the 125 member band she used at Coachella was comprised of HBCU band alumni and some current members. Now, because of the celebrity and genius of Bey, the entire world is talking about HBCUs. But HBCUs — which graduate more poor black students than white universities — still have paltry endowments relative to PWIs and scarcely have the funds to recruit deserving black students. In many cases HBCUs are struggling to keep their doors open. By way of comparison, last year Coachella grossed $114 million — nearly twice the endowment of Clark Atlanta University. Bey’s performance will undoubtedly take this year’s gross beyond $114 million, evidence that her celebrity has the power to actually help build and empower HBCUs across the country, not simply borrow from their creativity.

This is not just about black colleges. For far too long black celebrities have failed to discern their true power. They jump at the chance to endorse products made by white companies and break their necks to make money for them — all the while they complain about the lack of racial justice in our world. Black entertainers determine what brands consumers buy. Unfortunately, they are overwhelmingly choosing to make kings of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other brands that have no stake in the freedom of black people. They have cashed in the power of their celebrity to build white institutions when all along they’ve possessed the power to build black businesses, banks, schools and culture at large. Black celebs have not only done a disservice to the culture but unbeknownst to them, they have cheated themselves.

Magic Johnson said he made the biggest mistake of his life when he turned down a deal to endorse Nike. Nike was sort of a startup at the time and could not offer Magic the cash Converse could. Instead, Nike offered Magic stock — ownership — to endorse the brand. Had Magic taken the deal he would still be profiting from every Nike sale today. Ownership is permanent, cash is temporary. This is a lesson our black celebs need to learn and quickly. Mary J Blige was reportedly paid $2 million to appear in a Burger King ad. Burger King was never going to pay her one cent more. Diddy, on the other hand, inked a deal with a little known vodka brand that was selling 40,000 cases annually and now sells millions, purely based on his celebrity. What makes Diddy’s deal with Ciroc unique is that in exchange for his celebrity (which is driving sales), Diddy shares a 50/50 profit split with the vodka brand. That’s knowing your value and getting your worth.

Diddy’s deal is great but would be better if it benefited a black owned startup. Clearly Diddy, Queen B, LeBron and so many others have the power to drive demand. They are kingmakers and their celebrity is enriching quite a few people who are indifferent to black suffering. Why not for the benefit of our own institutions? Why should they continue to enrich entities that have no commitment to black freedom and in the end have no ownership? If Diddy can take Ciroc from 40,000 cases annually to millions, even a B-list rapper could take an ownership stake in Garner’s Garden and make it a household name. Rappers are driving sales for fashion brands worldwide so why not become part owners of black owned brands and build them up? If Bey can help Coachella gross well over $100 million and raise over $44 million for Hurricane Harvey relief with other black stars, that same celebrity could build black institutions 365 days a year.

 

After publishing it was announced that Bey is helping to award $100,000 in scholarships to students at Xavier, Wilberforce, Tuskegee and Bethune-Cookman, all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). One student from each school will win a $25,000 scholarship for next school year. This is a great gesture and a nice step. We should stay focused, however, on the larger argument. Black entertainers have the power to go beyond charity with respect to black people and institutions. The celebrity of black people actually empowers and enriches white companies and other institutions regularly. We must now love ourselves to prioritize empowering ourselves, first and foremost. 

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Black unemployment is higher now than it was before the Civil Rights Act. Since the Federal Housing Act of ’68 was passed black homeownership has not increased and the wealth gap between whites and blacks has more than tripled. In many ways we’ve lost ground in the age of civil rights and the reasons are clear. Racism has always been a powerful force but unlike in our past, today we are not overcoming it and integration is partly to blame. It certainly opened up opportunities but also duped us into thinking we could live just like white folks and be free. We have opted to enjoy the fruits of integration and rejected the notion that for black progress to continue, we must choose to live in a state of perpetual discomfort and inconvenience.

Black people will never gain ground unless we do the radically inconvenient everyday and in the age of integration we simply resist that. Black homeownership and entrepreneurship will not increase unless black financial institutions have the capital necessary to make strategic investments in black communities. Getting that capital requires us to radically inconvenience ourselves and bank black. Black unemployment will not cease until black businesses thrive and hire black people by the millions. We must inconvenience ourselves and support those businesses, at all cost. Black people will be collectively vulnerable until we bend over backward and forward to grow and strengthen our own institutions — political, social, economic and educational. True black liberation requires us to do a whole lot of stuff the average white person just doesn’t have to do and we don’t want to accept that. Maybe 50 years of stalled progress doesn’t convince you but our greater history should.

It was not convenient for slaves to revolt in search of liberation but they did so, a lot. Before slavery was abolished in 1865 there were hundreds of slave revolts, none of them very convenient — ask Nat Turner. It would have been much more convenient to simply work, eat and not cause trouble but the promise of liberation prompted slaves to risk death and starvation to free their children. Slave revolts helped to push the nation to Civil War, a conflict in which nearly 200,000 black men fought to destroy chattel slavery. They were discriminated against harshly and although willing to take a bullet for Uncle Sam, paid less than white soldiers. All this was very inconvenient but they did it for freedom’s sake.

Dismantling Jim Crow was very inconvenient, as the Montgomery Bus Boycott demonstrated. Rather than ride a segregated bus — which black taxpayers were funding — black maids and other workers literally walked miles each way to work for over a year. It would have been more convenient to ride the bus and hope for change. It would have been more convenient to appeal to the moral conscience of white America while enjoying a comfortable bus ride to work. But those maids were willing to make themselves extremely uncomfortable when they didn’t necessarily have to, for their seed. They understood, like their ancestors who embraced inconvenience to bring down chattel slavery, that black progress was not inevitable. It disturbs me that in the age of integration we are under some strange delusion that we can somehow live normal, convenient lives and still see freedom.

We are no longer in chains or in the back of the bus. Still, numbers don’t lie — too many indicators are moving back and not forward. That next tier of freedom is black communities not relying on others to feed, clothe or sustain them. That next level of freedom is us deciding what will happen in our community and not others — say amen, gentrification. The next step is waking up and not feeling as though white institutions can determine our life outcomes, be they government or private institutions. There is a next level of self determination and based on what we’ve seen the past 50 years, our current course will not get us there. If we continue to live, shop, invest, bank and support institutions based on what is convenient and in line with our white counterparts, we know what the next 50 years will look like.

I relocated to Chicago this past summer after living in the DC area for several years. I lived in Takoma Park, an odd bastion of white liberalism literally situated on the DC line — Takoma Park is a neighborhood in DC and a city in Maryland, depending on which side of the street you stand on. The community has a high concentration of Central American immigrants that impressed the hell out of me. They felt comfortable living in such a liberal area, knowing that the mostly white political leadership held favorable views on immigration and the like. Still, they did not trust those whites to secure their prosperity. I was always amazed at their dedication to a certain grocery store that catered to them. Although there was a nicer, fancier Giant grocery store literally around the corner, they shopped at their grocery store. The produce wasn’t as fresh, the prices were sometimes slightly higher and it didn’t look nearly as nice as the Giant but still, they shopped there. All of the employees were Central American and the customers knew that shopping there, inconvenient as it may be, was the reason why. The same was true for a variety of other businesses and organizations in the neighborhood — not as fancy but the people lined up to support themselves, knowing they could not rely on me or anyone else to do so.

For generations black people have understood that we had to live differently than whites. Whites didn’t need to revolt against their masters or walk miles each way to work simply to make a point. After the Civil Rights bills of the 60’s however, it seems as though we’ve forgotten that. After the 1960’s too many of us believed that the day had come to trade in our struggle boots for lounge slippers. We wanted to sit at the same nice restaurants whites ate at and enjoy the same services. We simply wanted to live a life of enjoyment and yet we thought black progress would magically prevail. We honestly just want to go to work, get paid and enjoy our lives, just as other Americans do. Why should we have to, with every decision we make, be intentional about building up black institutions? Why should we have to limit our choices to the black community? Why should we have to inconvenience ourselves by sometimes accepting the objectively inferior, like my old neighbors in Takoma Park did? Our grandmothers would get out of their graves and slap us silly for even asking. They lived with constant inconvenience to free us of chains. They walked miles to work and yet won’t drive a little further to a different bank or search on the internet a little longer to find black institutions to fund rather than the conventional nonprofits we give to for tax write-offs. Shame on us for dishonoring their legacy.

We have to confront the reality that black progress has always required inconvenience and always will. No, you can’t just go to your white university, write them a check, move into a “nice neighborhood” and shop at the same stores your neighbors do, go to your nice job and expect black people universally to progress. That strategy has not worked for 50 years and it won’t work next year, either. White folks don’t have to think about how every single decision they make will impact the security of white people. Black people do and while it is unfair and inconvenient, it’s the world we have. The Kerner Commission in 1968 identified “white racism” as the key factor producing gross inequality between races. Since then, black unemployment and incarceration have increased — racism isn’t going away tomorrow, deal with it.

McDonald’s started in 1940 and 50 years later posted $800 million in profit. A lot can happen in 50 years with dedication and yes, sacrifice (another nice word for inconvenience). I know what I’m suggesting isn’t sexy. We are no longer slaves or living under Jim Crow and yet I’m saying we should commit to less comfort, more inconvenience and at times restrict our choices to that which is inferior, for the greater good. Who wants to do that? You are absolutely free to reject my advice but as we sit here today Hispanics have a lower unemployment rate than blacks. No, they haven’t endured the continuing hell we do in America but they aren’t hopeful that white folks will somehow save them, either. Said another way, you remember the definition of insanity, right?

 

 

black panther

Black Panther has earned a place in history with the second-biggest-four-day opening of all time. The superpowers of black people did that. Not only was the film brought to life by a black director and largely black cast but 37 percent of the patrons that made it an all time hit were black — we are only 12.6 percent of the nation’s population. As a minority group we showed that we have the power to determine cinematic history. Black Panther is an amazingly entertaining film with empowering images of black superheroes but to truly create our own Wakanda we have to first recognize that we as a people have possessed superpowers all along. That is part 2.

We have the power to determine what sells in America and beyond. Stone Island was the 41st hottest brand in the world in quarter 2 of 2017, then catapulted to number 8 in quarter 3 after Drake made the clothing brand his unofficial outfitter for his tour. With her 83 million Instagram followers Nicki Minaj has created more than $14 million in earned media value for brands including Chanel, Gucci and Versace, according to Tribe Dynamics. Cardi B had created an estimated $4.5 million media value as of November 2017, along with a 217 percent spike in searches for Christian Louboutin shoes since releasing her song, “Bodak Yellow” (the song mentions red bottoms). P. Diddy helped Ciroc grow from annual sales of about 40,000 cases a year to millions, simply because he attached his image to the smalltime brand. Superpowers.

Those superpowers go beyond consumerism. We have shown the ability to change the political landscape, also. Doug Jones is a United States Senator because black people — particularly black women — decided that he would be. In Alabama’s special election this past December blacks in Alabama made up a larger percentage of voters than their actual population percentage. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 because young black people turned out in higher proportions than whites for the first time in history. I could go on. We can literally reshape the world around us. Superpowers.

Black Panther was a little known comic book character to most until we showed up and created Wakanda in theaters nationwide. Ciroc was an unknown until we came. Doug Jones had no shot until we came. No one thought a black man could become President but then we came. Unfortunately, far too often we only use these superpowers for the benefit of white institutions or platforms. We failed to show up when Stephon Marbury wanted to create an affordable shoe line for black kids. When Wendell Pierce tried to bring grocery stores to our community, we didn’t show up. Some of our black colleges are struggling to stay open. We followed Nicki Minaj on Gucci but left her in the cold when she tried to launch her own line, which was scrapped last year. Many of our black owned banks have or are on the verge of closing their doors and yet we sit on superpowers.

There is a petition asking Marvel’s parent company, Walt Disney, to invest 25 percent of Black Panther’s worldwide profits into black communities. That won’t happen and there is no reason to think it should. Marvel and Walt Disney produce entertainment and people decide whether or not to consume it. The end. Meanwhile we have the power to see that 100% of the profits from our purchases are invested in black communities. We have the power to make sure all of our dollars support education in the black community. We have superpowers and if we used them to make an unknown Ciroc a global leader we can use them to build brands brought to us by black entrepreneurs. We can use those superpowers to charge our HBCUs and banks. If we can swing national elections and rearrange the fashion industry then certainly we can do anything else. Wakanda can be built and we have the power to do it — that’s part 2.

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.

 

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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.