Black Celebs

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.

 

j-_cole

J. Cole was renting a house a in a wealthy (white) neighborhood in the ‘burbs. A SWAT team soon found its way there and kicked the door in. Having seen a parade of black artists and producers come through, Cole reasoned the neighbors thought he was selling dope. This is the sort of racism black people face daily but I only have a small degree of sympathy for Cole. He is like so many black people in America, that hate battling this type of racism but continue to confront it daily because of their need to always be near white people. Cole did not have to subject himself to constant harassment and the intrusion of a SWAT team. He could have easily bought–as opposed to rented–a much larger home in a black neighborhood for less or invested in several properties and had rent paid to him. If we as black people could ever free ourselves from the belief that we need to be around white folks all the time, we’d save ourselves a lot of headache and have a lot more money.

kanye-prez

Kanye West is so gifted that he is insane. He has said that he wants to run for president and he just might be a black Donald Trump in the making: narcissistic, occasionally clever, obviously gifted but ultimately self destructive. Kanye said he did not vote in the last election but had he done so, Trump would have been his candidate. At a concert this past Saturday he compared himself to Trump and went on to give post-election analysis on why Hillary Clinton lost. His analysis validated the hurt feelings of the “white working-class,” who were privileged enough to endorse a blatant racist for president.

nate-parker

I saw “The Birth of a Nation” over the weekend. The movie had everything to do with race but in the months before its release the discussion around it was anything but. Blacks and whites in my circle united in their insistence that I boycott the film because Nate Parker was accused of rape 17 years ago. While my reaction to these individuals differed depending on their race, one thing is certain: all were asking me to boycott in an attempt to police the issue of violence against women because our criminal justice system does not police the issue well. For systemic change to occur, however, the energy and protests toward Nate Parker (and other individuals accused) must also be turned against a criminal justice system that does not value women.

lil-wayne-carter-v

Dear white people: this article is not for you. Continue to dig deep within your souls to find racism and perhaps we’ll connect later. Yes, racism exists. It has and continues to shape outcomes from housing and employment to police shootings rooted in white fear of “the darker brother.” Still, we should pretend Weezy is a genius and adopt his fantasy. Screaming about racism and posting articles on Facebook about the subject has never made you one dollar. Further, the most brilliant scholarship on the topic has seemingly not changed one thought in the collective conscience of white America. Toni Morrison said it best: racism is just one big distraction that “keeps you from doing your work.” The work is to ensure that our children no longer have to beg white people to be nicer to them.

Behind the scenes with San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the National Anthem on Friday, protesting the treatment of blacks and other minorities in America. The quarterback said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He went on to say that, “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” If you agree with the American Revolution, you must agree with Colin Kaepernick. If you believe Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and George Washington were justified in their protests, you must also concede that their grievances are minor compared to those Kaepernick is highlighting. Colon Kaepernick just completely shitted on the American Revolution.