Black Power

ruby bridges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

black panther

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Minister Louis Farrakhan delivers a speech Friday, March 25, 2011 at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., as part of the 6th Annual Conference of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Farrakhan, who leads the Chicago-based Nation of Islam delivered a speech on the need of a new grassroots movement for a change in education. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The next time I hear a black person give “reasons” as to why they find it difficult to support black entrepreneurs I may stab them. The issue is not the quality of the businesses so much as how we unconsciously view them through an anti-black lens; yes, we as black people see the world through such a lens often. When I’m on the subway and a noisy crowd of white teenagers board, I roll my eyes. But when a crowd of noisy black teenagers board I cringe, get angry and urgently want them gone. My harsh reaction to the black teenagers reveals that I, on some level, wear anti-black goggles when viewing the world. Those goggles are hurting our entrepreneurs and ultimately, black power.

A classmate from undergrad tagged me in an Instagram post that asked people to identify reasons why black businesses fail. The IG post had over 30,000 likes and a slew of comments, most of which were laughable. Repeatedly, people cited “bad customer service,” operators who are “rude” or have “bad attitudes” and of course, “high prices.” These are the things we say when we have our goggles on. The irony is I read those comments minutes after reading that Wells Fargo found an additional 1.4 million fake accounts its employees opened without the consent of customers, adding to the initial 2.1 million phony accounts found last year. Yes, Wells Fargo literally stole from millions of their customers but they are the white teenagers on the train.

Overwhelmingly the post comments came from black people who most likely grew up and still live in black neighborhoods (regardless of income blacks still tend to live in segregated neighborhoods). There’s no way poor customer service prohibits them for they have always lived in neighborhoods filled with stores run by foreigners, whom they routinely condemn for their lack of customer service…but still support. At times there are language barriers that complicate the shopping experience. More disturbing, there is often an overt message that while your money is desired, your presence is not. That communication is so prevalent that is was portrayed in Menace to Society and later parodied by the Wayans in the infamous “hurry up and buy” scene from Don’t Be a Menace. The Wayans made light of a hostile dynamic that can even be fatal. Such was the case when Korean convenience store owner Soon Ja Du fatally shot Latasha Harlins in the back of her head as she attempted to leave the store, just 13 days after the Rodney King beating. Du received probation for the killing and no jail time. Harlins was 15.

Let’s assume black entrepreneurs are as rude and poor in customer service as some allege. There still must be a case for why we spend money with other entrepreneurs. As black people we are accustomed to shopping in stores not owned by black people, even in our own neighborhoods. While few of these interactions are as bad as the one between Harlins and Du, how often do we encounter amazing customer service in these establishments? I’ll wait. Whether it’s the local gas station, corner store or the Wal Mart in your hood, please show me all this amazing customer service we are accustomed to receiving and in turn demand before we can stomach patronizing an establishment. Again, I’ll wait while we collectively adjust our goggles.

Let us also assume that black entrepreneurs charge substantially more for similar products and services. Once again, there still must be an argument made for those whom we patronize. The Consumer Federation of America found that the five largest insurers quoted premiums 70 percent higher for predominantly black communities. The average premium for upper middle income, predominantly black communities was 194 percent higher than similar white communities. Black consumers face the same challenges when buying cars and homes — we routinely are charged, after controlling for credit score and income, a hefty “black tax.” Beyond that we all know the day to day markups we face in black neighborhoods. There are the crazy markups on toilet paper at the corner store, the subtle difference in pricing at grocery stores in our neighborhoods versus others and on it goes. As a child I was often told these markups were justified due to “increased security costs” for operators in my neighborhood.

For those who cite pricing as a deterrent to buying black, it stands to reason that they would avoid most other businesses located in or marketing to black communities, based on the facts. But they don’t. It must be the goggles. It must be that we often see the world through a distorted lens that makes all things black unworthy. Indeed, we often pay a premium for products based on the brand while we dismiss goods handcrafted, with love, by black entrepreneurs without even testing them to see whether the quality merits the price. Contrary to what we believe, all these “reasons” come not from objective analyses. Just as I have a distorted view of those black teenagers on the subway, we have a flawed view of our entrepreneurs. It’s time to take off the goggles and see them and all others as they truly are.

 

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.”

handsoap1

Since January we’ve been talking about how we can create jobs in our community simply by buying products we all use, from black owned companies. The method is to find one product or service each month you already use, then make the switch. It’s perfectly fine to protest and march but the routine act of washing your hands can do more to dismantle white supremacy. Protests are appeals from the powerless to the powerful, in hopes that they will be more benevolent. Using black dollars to create black jobs and wealth, however, is a demonstration of and bridge to black power. I’ll take power over anyone’s benevolence. hs3

I featured Garner’s Garden before, highlighting their natural mouthwash and tooth powder (which I use on a daily basis). This amazing company also offers a handmade, organic hand soap that is currently in my bathroom. The soap gently and effectively cleans, softening your skin. It is made with the finest blends of natural oils, organic ingredients, and essential oils. With regular use you will feel and see a noticeable difference in your hands. It is easy on sensitive skin and can soothe reactions. It will not dry out your skin but leaves a clean, moisturized feel. Further, this soap is a goodness that carries no guilt: it’s safe for the entire family, environmentally friendly and made by a company that shares our values. I feel good about every dollar I spend with them!

Click here to buy the soap today. While you’re on the site feel free to browse the many other products available. I said previously that I also use their mouthwash and tooth powder but they have a variety of other products that you’ll love for yourself or as a gift. It’s perfectly okay to overspend because not only is this a great company but also, all orders $50 and up are eligible for free shipping when you enter the code, “FreeShip.” If you want a revolution, just go wash your hands.

jay

You streamed 4:44 but need to listen much more. Stop rappin’ to Jay and just do what he say. Playtime is ova’, so says Hova. He spit one line to kill white supremacy. What line, fam? He said “I’ll be damned.” 

Jay Z may have given us his best work with 4:44. What we know for sure is he has our attention: Tidal jumped to number one in Apple’s App Store after 4:44 dropped, with more downloads on a single day than any other app over the past year, according to Apptopia data. I could say much about the album but only one line matters: “I’ll be damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got Ciroc.” If we truly grasped all that line conveys and lived by it, we would no longer wake up to headlines of police shooting black people. Black power would be the new norm.

Jay Z is a multimillionaire and should he choose to have a drink, his options are unlimited. He could import exotic vodkas or fly overseas to drink them. Still, the choice is simple for him: he’ll be damned if he picks up another bottle when his black brother has stake in Ciroc. You heard the lyric but did you get the weight of it? “I’ll be damned” is something like, “over my dead body.” When you say “I’ll be damned” you are drawing a line in the sand. “I’ll be damned” means there are no exceptions. “I’ll be damned” connotes a firm commitment that cannot be easily broken; even if honoring that commitment is inconvenient. If we shared that level of determination to build up black businesses, banks and other institutions, black people would live in true freedom, regardless of who the president happens to be.

Puffy does not own Ciroc but his deal with the vodka brand is quite awesome: he literally invests nothing but still reaps half the company’s profits, through the duration of their deal. Although it isn’t ownership, Jay Z still sees the value of creating wealth for his black brother and has decided that he will remain committed, no matter what. We must go beyond hearing the music and begin imitating the actions. We have to decide that we’ll be damned if we buy from company x, so long as there is a black owned company that can satisfy that need and create jobs for other black people. If we are tired of living in a world full of black oppression we have to finally say, “I’ll be damned if I deposit my money in bank x” when there are black owned institutions we could support, who in turn will support our community. We need an “I’ll be damned” revolution in black America. Buying, banking and building all things black must transition from a trendy ideal in our heads to an “I’ll be damned” lifestyle.

The challenges of blackness in America will not be overcome through a casual commitment to conquering them. “I’ll be damned” is the only way. We as black people can exist with some degree of freedom as Americans if we continue to live as we always have but we will never have true power — the freedom to be independent and choose our own fate in this country. This is black power and it requires a more solid and unwavering commitment to ourselves. Just as Jay Z has committed himself to supporting his brother — no matter what and I’ll be damned — we must also commit to our community. Jay said a lot on the album but one line holds the key to black freedom and power: I’ll be damned.

 

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

mirror tom

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 Religious Uncle Tom

Bishop T.D Jakes has shined brighter than most preachers for years. His books and sermons have reached millions. Still, given his tremendous platform, it is fair to ask how it all has furthered the quest for black freedom. The bishop is to be commended for preaching a message of self-healing and empowerment but he is positioned to actually erect or support institutions to help facilitate that empowerment. Based on the ministries his church website promotes, this is not the case. Further, sermons are fine but black people need his voice to confront the many crises we face on a more consistent basis.

Yes, his ministry helps ex-offenders and needy people but because the Bishop has been given much, more is required. Some might say his role as a preacher is simply to inspire individuals, who then will minister to society. That argument is tempting but disarmed when the history of the black church is considered. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church is the oldest denomination founded by black people in America, back in 1816. They preached the word but also built colleges like Wilberforce University and by 1880, operated over 2,000 schools. In an era of strict segregation, their congregations raised the money needed to keep those schools operational.

In a time when black people literally risked death for speaking out on social issues, AME bishops like Henry Mcneal Turner were fearless in the political arena. From the dangerous terrain of central Georgia, Turner successfully ran for the state legislature and used his voice as a trumpet for justice. Jakes, on the other hand, speaks loudly on prosperity but historically has been mute on topics of black oppression. He plays it safe, not wanting to alienate supporters. Turner risked his life to speak out but Jakes appears apprehensive about losing offerings or influence. After all, he never would have gotten a talk show had he gone all Jeremiah Wright.

The religious Uncle Tom is dangerous and I have been him. My thoughts were of heaven and developing the self toward godliness. In that state I chose to downplay social issues, having been taught that if we all just stopped sinning everything would be fine. I knew oppression existed but again, I was told that it was the result of sin. I saw racism but rather than call it out, I was taught that we should focus on –you guessed it– the sinful nature. I was told that it was godly to bring people together rather than directly rebuke those who oppress others. Those who taught me seemed unaware that it was Jesus who said that he did “not come to bring peace but a sword.” As we looked to the sky in our piety, we failed to see the urgency on planet earth.

I prayed often but the ills of the world persisted. At times I even tried to feed the hungry but never evolved to the understanding of Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” The religious institutions I belonged to played it safe. Feeding hungry people earned our nonprofit a grant. Speaking against those who oppress the poor and building institutions that promote power, however, might lose offerings and friends. Our nonprofits ultimately rendered us “non-prophets.”

Some of our churches can raise a nice offering. In fact, the black church is one of the few institutions that successfully pools the capital of black people. Those dollars, however, go toward maintaining facilities and the work of the “ministry.” We can’t seem to connect the dots. Our community faces crises in employment and resources and yet, the church’s successful pooling of black capital never results in job creation or combatting the deep disparities our communities face. The church building remains in tact, however, as the neighborhood crumbles. We believe we are doing the Lord’s work but in fact, we hinder the progress of black people.

Black churches have not the luxury to exist as other churches do. No other group in America had to emerge from the depths of chattel slavery, live under neo slavery/Jim Crow and seek equality in the face of constant harassment, void of meaningful reparations. The urgency, focus and commitment required to overcome this legacy leaves no room for passivity. Here are a few tangible ways to take action as a faith community:

  1. Use money collected from members to start a fund to support local entrepreneurs and black institutions, such as your closest HBCU.
  2. Deposit church funds into a black owned bank.
  3. Use the pulpit and church communications to direct members to business owners in the congregation and the community.
  4. Require candidates for public office to articulate their plan for black empowerment through economic development prior to giving them a platform at your church.
  5. Use the pulpit to rebuke policies and policymakers that hinder black freedom, especially locally.

To kill Tom must be a daily fight and it is difficult. On the other side of that fight, however, is a world where black people are free, independent and collectively walk in power. Religion can serve the aim of liberation or pacify both the oppressed and the powerful.

Stay tuned for the next installment on “The Hood Uncle Tom”