Author: Hopewell

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.

 

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.

browns

When people claim National Anthem protests are disrespectful to the military they are simply using servicemen and women as a cover for their own bigotry. Since Colin Kaepernick began his protest last year critics have embraced the, “this is disrespectful to the military” talking point. Few have stopped to ask who is actually in that military. Black people serve at a higher rate than whites and generally always have. It is obvious that critics, like Trump, are not thinking of the black men and women who’ve served for generations and that oversight is a cruel reminder that for many, black lives do not matter. Using the military as a cover for anti-black sentiment is shameful and must be challenged.

Those who condemn black NFL players for protesting due to an alleged sensitivity of the military couldn’t be thinking of my great-uncle, who served in the Army during the Korean War. After returning to the US he was, in his words, “treated like shit.” Defenders of the flag and military personnel have mentally whitewashed the armed forces, seemingly unaware that racial and ethnic minority groups make up 40% of active-duty military. Black men and women make up roughly 17% of active-duty military, although we are only 13% of all adults between 18 and 44. I doubt that any of the protest critics are thinking of these individuals when they seek to defend the honor of veterans and active military personnel. Don’t they count?

The anti-Kaepernick crowd cannot see that the freedoms they hold so dear are guarded, significantly, by people of color. Their hatred of black people and resentment of black protest produces, in their minds, a whitewashed patriotism that will not acknowledge our military as it is. In this world of whites-only patriotism the actual history of the armed forces vanishes, also. During the Civil War some 179,000 blacks fought for the Union. The irony is there were only 226,152 free blacks living in all the Northern states. During the conflict in Vietnam blacks both served and died disproportionately. Indeed, in 1965 alone black accounted for 25% of all casualties and since that time have comprised over 20% of the Army, while never representing even 15% of the general population. Trump and his followers are not mindful of these men and women and they certainly have not bothered to ask them about their feelings. They simply do not exist, to so many.

I have two grandfathers that served — one in the Air Force and the other in the Navy. They, like the black men and women who serve today, are largely ignored in the debate over the anthem protests. Somehow, white men who’ve never served in the military have managed to own and speak for it. They have no rightful authority to do so. They have no right to whitewash the armed forces. They have no right to use the military as a tool for the perpetuation of white dominance over black lives. All these white men are entitled to do is answer the one outstanding question in this drama and that is, how are they are more offended by a perceived disrespect for the flag than direct atrocities committed against the people for whom it stands?

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.