Black Celebs

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.

beychella

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. 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

dr dre

In parts one and two I said that Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Middle Class/Well Paid Uncle Tom

Dr. Dre came from the hood, put in work and became successful. As a businessman Dre has made a killing from his headphones and various other ventures. What to do with all that cash!? Not build up black institutions, apparently. Dre gave a whopping $35 million to USC, a school with an endowment greater than all black colleges — combined. How can a wealthy guy from the hood feel no urgency to build up the black institutions that will produce the next black success stories? There are levels to this.

The middle class Uncle Tom does not feel the urgency of the black struggle, perhaps because he lives in comfort. I am that Tom. At times I fail to understand the extreme level of dedication and discipline necessary –from all black people– to secure black power. Since I do not live in any tangible crisis I fail to realize that, while I am fine, the condition of the black masses is in many ways critical. I don’t always grasp that there can be no days off and that every black person must maintain a laser focus on liberation, if it is to be achieved. My actions (or inactions) have real consequences for others.

It starts small. I got a decent job out of college and felt good about myself, as I should have. I knew the obstacles I overcame to get there and wanted to protect my gains. I tried to integrate myself with my colleagues at work and show them I was worthy of my station in life. That I felt the need to validate myself to a white world is in itself problematic but understandable. One day I boarded the subway for my commute home. The subway car had twenty whites and me. At the next stop a young black man boarded who was obviously not middle class. He was listening to rap lyrics and reciting them — loudly. I was embarrassed. I did everything in my power to distance myself from the brother and show all the white passengers that I was not like him.

That seems innocent enough but this root of perversion grows. I did not understand, as Elijah Muhammad said, “No one man can rise above the condition of his people.” I did not understand that because black unemployment is always wildly out of step with white unemployment, I must go out of my way to support black institutions toward eradicating this disparity. I often fail to realize that, unlike other groups, black people do not have the luxury of allowing black entrepreneurs to fail. If the Tide laundry brand fails there are a number of others that will thrive. If the True detergent brand (black owned) fails, however, it will mean yet another space where black representation is non-existent. There is no room for complacency.

My middle class lifestyle affords me the privilege of sometimes paying just a little bit extra to support black businesses. I can afford to give money to black organizations and colleges. I often forget this. At times I do not connect to the larger struggle for black power and so I sit on the sidelines as black institutions, which I could help sustain, crumble.

Worse than sitting on the sidelines, I can be critical of black institutions which I do not even bother to support. In the past I’ve said, “Black colleges can’t get their shit together!” and “I’m not going to support some black bank with my money, they might steal it!” (sidenote: many Toms are unbothered by the fact that Wells Fargo literally got caught stealing money from its customers, they still bank there). I said those things and yet wondered why things didn’t change for black America. I am part of the problem.

In my Tom moments it’s not that I’m an evil person or unaware of racism — I’ve personally been stung by it. I simply want to enjoy the finer things and eat at the same restaurants my counterparts do. In those moments, however, I fail to understand that just because I am okay, it doesn’t mean urgency is not required. I am sometimes clueless, because of my own security, as to how fragile our collective state is and thus why I must have a firm dedication to building all things black. Through my inaction and passivity, I unwittingly retard black progress. My inaction renders me an Uncle Tom, if only temporarily. Malcolm X described the middle class Uncle Tom like this: “But there’s another kind of Black man on the scene. If you say you’re in trouble, he says, “Yes, you’re in trouble.” He doesn’t identify himself with your plight whatsoever.”

future

In part one I said that Uncle Toms are the greatest threat to black America. In 2017 Uncle Tom might take the form of Dr. Dre on Monday, T.D Jakes on Tuesday, Future on Thursday and morph into Very Smart Brothas by week’s end. Even I, the writer, am guilty. In his autobiography Malcolm X indicated that he could stomach a conservative racist more than an Uncle Tom. Malcolm understood the danger. If black people are to achieve true revolution and freedom, we must eliminate Tom, wherever he might be found.

The trouble in 2017 is that we don’t understand what makes one an Uncle Tom and we resist the notion that each of us, woke as we believe ourselves to be, have some Uncle Tom in us. Again, I myself am not exempt.

The Uncle Tom, for our purpose, is any person who identifies as black but actively or passively undermines black power; black power= black freedom and self determination. This can be momentary or a permanent condition, for some. Holding conservative views does not make one an Uncle Tom. Having liberal views –which I do– does not make one aligned with black power, either. In fact, the most dangerous Uncle Toms in 2017 happen to be liberals/Democrats. The danger we pose is that we think ourselves woke because of our liberalism. When our lives are misaligned with the ideals of black power and independence, however, we have to be convinced that we are in fact Uncle Toms.

By virtue of American citizenship all black people wrestle with some level of internal Tom. Indeed, it is often a necessary evil for survival. In the 1940’s it may have been necessary to buy from white folks to literally escape death. Survival. In today’s world Van Jones went from basically condemning Trump voters on election night as bigots to now traveling the country, holding town halls with Trump supporters to explore their “viewpoints.” Again, survival. But black power is beyond survival and to attain it we must be mature enough to reflect on our level of Uncle Tom and work to kill that son of a bitch. Are you bold enough to join this collective journey and identify which variety of Tom lives in you?

The Hood Uncle Tom

Atlanta rapper “Future” is addicted to misogyny. His lyrics ooze with disrespect toward women. From his treatment of Ciara, his ex, to his habit of impregnating various women, it is clear he believes black women are disposable. When he’s not bringing down black women in lyrical form, he makes video games to do so. It cannot be too emphatically stated that any man who does not uplift black women is squarely against black progress and ultimately, black power. He is an Uncle Tom.

Future has a large platform as an entertainer but does little to further black independence with it. Future makes beats, babies and at his best hands out turkeys to senior citizens around Thanksgiving. None of this amounts to black power. Contrast Future with LeBron James. James leveraged his value to launch other black men around him like Maverick Carter and Rich Paul in business (both from humble beginnings). These men are now, independent of LeBron James, moguls and their success is a reminder that black people do not lack talent but often do lack opportunity. James is also fronting the cost to send thousands of children from his hometown to college for four years. LeBron is using his platform to expand opportunity to black children and entrepreneurs, thus extending black power. Future and other black entertainers should take note.

The hood Uncle Tom thinks he, of all people, is down. He “keeps it real” at all times. He wears his blackness (or what he believes is blackness) proudly and loudly. When this Tom spits rhymes he believes himself to be giving voice to the pain in the hood. He believes this, somehow, makes him a freedom fighter. But Thomas fails to realize that he often chooses to only give voice to the most negative aspects of hood life. Thomas will tell you that he only raps about violence because that is his reality. Strange how people in the hood hug each other far more than they shoot each other but Thomas scarcely gives voice to that.

When this Tom makes it as an athlete he spends his money on that which is temporal. He, unlike LeBron James, allows the usual sports agents and business managers to profit from his performance — people who care nothing about the state of black institutions. This Tom, like Lil Wayne, allows his celebrity to blind him to the frailty of the black masses, feeling that he is distant from their struggle. He has frequent run-ins with the law but never with organizations striving for black power. He is simply a hood Uncle Tom.

This Tom exists everyday in the hood. He is unknown to the world but like Future, Lil Wayne and a host of other personalities who think they’re keeping it real, they choose the worst elements of street life to personify, even if those elements are not a true reflection of their daily lives. They choose to self-destruct, even when they do not have to. While many in the hood are unfortunate victims of circumstance, the hood Uncle Tom chooses to tear himself, his women and ultimately his people down. He is not keeping it real or advancing black power, he’s just an Uncle Tom.

moonlight-19405x

It was not strange to work under white people ten years my senior when I was 18. Around 30, however, I was enraged that I routinely interviewed to work under people who were slightly younger –or the same age– and less credentialed. The moment you realize your graduate degree is no match for your boss’s B.A. in music, you begin to question how “post-racial” we are. Joi McMillon, a black woman, knew very well the rage that stems from seeing whites with less qualifications advance while she did not. She was told she lacked the right experience while her less qualified white peers were advancing. But Joi will not experience that rage again. She is a film editor who made history with her Oscars nomination for her work on Moonlight; a film based on the writing of two black men, directed by a black man with a black cast. The self determination of black people ended Joi’s frustration, not the benevolence of whites.

In a world where discrimination and disparities abound, it is critical that black people create our own opportunities and support those endeavors as a community. Joi was nominated for an academy award precisely because of such an endeavor. Sean Combs became a music mogul only because Uptown Records, a company founded by a black man, gave the young college dropout the opportunity to become a talent director. It is doubtful that Combs would have been given the same opportunity at another major label. In the same way, Moonlight is a work of black self determination which afforded McMillon the opportunity to finally move up from “first assistant editor” into the editor’s role. The quality of her work is obvious, for even the Academy had to give her a nod. McMillon never lacked talent but simply opportunity, in a white male-dominated film industry. Rather than waiting for acknowledgment from benevolent white people, the creators of Moonlight created an opportunity for Joi.

Moonlight’s excellence led to their infamously delayed Oscars award. That mixup was far less controversial than Jada Pinkett-Smith igniting the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm. While several have opined that Pinkett-Smith’s motives may not have been pure (oddly, Denzel failed to take home an Oscar this year and Jada raised no fuss), we should not discount what Jada actually said when she told the world, “Maybe it is time…we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways we see fit.” Also, “Begging for acknowledgement or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.” Moonlight fulfills much of Jada’s sentiments. We should appreciate that the Academy (after some delay) awarded Moonlight best picture but only celebrating that misses the larger significance of the film. Moonlight gives us yet another model of what we should all be striving toward in every industry. In a world in which even black people with a college degree are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than our non-black peers, we need strong black institutions and creative ventures, brought about by our own self-determination.

There is only one thing that could have made Moonlight even more triumphant and that is if the movie was also financed by our community. By no fault of their own, the creators of the film had to seek financing from outside of our community and thankfully, they found it through A24, an Indie distributor. Still, we must continue striving to attain that next level of independence and power and that is to self finance our own ventures. As we support our own, that will happen. Joi had her day but now let us continue investing in our community to create opportunity for millions more. HopewellThought will continue our campaign each month to help get you started.

**No One Can Oppress You Unless You Give Them The Money To Do So**

michele

Spike Lee announced that he would not be using Chrisette Michele’s song “Black Girl Magic” in his upcoming Netflix series. The reason? Michele had decided to perform for Trump (although she ultimately did not). Facing a strong current of white supremacy in America, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of blackballing someone because they sing at an inauguration. True, Michele and her “boycotting is not the answer” self is no Angela Davis but her performance at Trump’s inauguration isn’t holding us back as a people. A herd mentality that draws our focus to the surface and not the substantive is holding us back. Black people are diverse and should be allowed to think differently, so long as we are all committed to our progress as a race. Not sharing that commitment should get you blackballed, not singing a song.

So what, Michele wanted to perform at the inauguration. Our herd mentality, predictably, strongly reacts to that and we drag her. We did the same thing when she wrote her letter on the Black Lives Matter movement a while back. She said some questionable things but she also said a great deal that would be helpful, like encouraging people to attend city hall meetings. Why didn’t anyone rush to promote those parts? As soon as we hear something we don’t like, we discount all else and that is not helpful. Conservative or liberal, we all have some insight that would ultimately help us attain power as a people and that should be our focus, not blackballing each other. Sadly, the herd mentality just won’t allow for that level of thoughtful analysis. Most tragic, the surface level bickering distracts us from the substantive and that pattern of oversight has real and very damaging consequences. While we are blasting Michele for not hating Trump enough, countless other black celebs get a pass for being “woke” but do nothing to help us advance as a race.

How many black celebrities are actively creating opportunities for black people? How many invest their money with black owned investment firms? Is “Black Twitter” dragging anyone because they don’t do these things? We have enough entertainers and athletes that, if all were intentional about it, progress could be attained much more quickly. Love or hate him, LeBron James gets a lot of this right. Behind his billion dollar empire is his management team, once dubbed the “Four Horsemen.” They grew up together in Akron and rather than just hang out in clubs, LeBron decided that they would all learn the business world together and run his empire. Maverick Carter, his business manager and Rich Paul, his agent, are now giants in the business world. They are black men who earn millions every year and employ others. LeBron used his gifts as an athlete to create black wealth and impact his community. The celebs that do not possess enough commitment to their people to mimic LeBron are the ones we should be blackballing. Their actions help to perpetuate unemployment in our community, not Michele’s performance.

We do not live in an authoritarian state. We should be free to differ with each other and still work together to build up our community, without being blackballed. Plenty of white Hillary supporters probably don’t like Tom Brady’s love affair with Trump but he isn’t being thrown off of white people island, either. What black people should not tolerate are the celebs who are not committed to the values that will actually create black power. We should not tolerate black entertainers who take our dollars but don’t use them to create more opportunities for our community or even hire their own people. That should ignite “Black Twitter,” not a song.