Black Development

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.

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.

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Democrats cannot advocate for policies that specifically benefit people of color. Black people have long accepted this as truth — doing so would alienate white voters and ruin a very fragile Democratic coalition. We now know that is not entirely true, as Democrats demanded that action on DACA must be included in any budget deal last week. I truly support protecting immigrant families and yet I am offended that the Party will not prioritize explicitly black issues in the way it stood for DACA. That is why today I am leaving the Democratic Party.

Imagine trying to fill your bucket with rainwater as your neighbor is given a water hose. This is the life of a black voter. In lieu of targeted policies “universal” solutions, like healthcare, are lifted up as the ultimate promise from Democrats. We have learned to accept generic policy solutions and the necessary distance the Party must keep from us in order to retain white voters. Martin O’Malley and other Democratic Presidential candidates struggled to simply utter the words “Black Lives Matter” during the last election. It hurts but we have simply concluded that to avoid a greater evil it is necessary to forego specific racial demands. We now see that the Party is capable of pushing the legislative priorities of communities of color, so long as that color is not black.

Black voters have never demanded much from the Democratic Party. We never seriously asked the Party to consider reparations. We never imagined that Democrats would force a government shutdown if Congress did not address the fact that black owned businesses receive less than 2 percent of federal government contracting dollars. We never dreamed that Democratic leadership would insist on federal legislation to address police accountability before allowing the business of government to proceed. For generations we have been content to accept symbols and gestures which indicated the Party had our interests at heart. In exchange we give our loyalty and that loyalty has often delivered elections for Democrats.

In 1960 black voters delivered the White House to John Kennedy because of a simple gesture. Kennedy was no champion of civil rights but shortly before the election he made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Dr. King was imprisoned and Kennedy made the brief call to offer his support. That call resulted in 250,000 blacks voting for Kennedy in Illinois, a state he won by a mere 9,000 votes. In South Carolina Kennedy won by 10,000 votes because 40,000 black voters pushed him over the top. Indeed, nationwide Kennedy edged Nixon by a mere 118,574 votes out of the 68,370,000 ballots cast. You’re welcome, Kennedy.

Kennedy was not the first to understand the power of symbols. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration failed to produce any specific civil rights legislation and black workers were largely excluded from New Deal programs. Even so black people felt a kinship to FDR because his administration featured prominent blacks like Mary McLeod Bethune in his so called “Black Cabinet.” Later on Bill Clinton would tap into this power when he appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show. After Obama’s first term many blacks in the barbershop had become disillusioned with the idea that the first black President could deliver substantive wins for black communities. For some, Obama’s rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was enough to communicate that he still thought of us.

For so long we have accepted symbols and gestures. We did so because we truly believed our best hope was generic policy solutions, made possible by a coalition with white liberals. We were resigned to the idea that those white liberals were comfortable so long as people of color were not targeted with policy solutions. We have delivered election after election for Democratic candidates — like Doug Jones — who dare not spend one cent of political capital on issues that are clearly black in nature. DACA, however, has opened our eyes. The Democrats were willing to make specific demands for immigrants but for black voters who vote them in office, the symbols will have to do.

It must be acknowledged that the Democrats don’t truly have strong convictions around immigration. Indeed, under Obama immigrants were deported at record levels. This latest stand on DACA was simply part of a larger Trump backlash. Even so, it is telling that while the Party needs black voters to win seats in 2018 they were unwilling to highlight an issue that directly impacts us. Noted.

It must also be said that like most Americans, black people are not monolithic. Some in LA just might support Trump’s border wall while others are personally devastated at the thought of immigrant families being torn apart. What is consistent, however, is that none of us first think to rid the country of immigrants when we wake in the morning. To the degree we are hurt by this latest DACA stance, it is simply because we wish to be loved as clearly and unashamedly by the Party we have been so loyal to. This simply has not been our experience.

I cannot continue to support a Democratic Party that refuses to clearly stand for black people in the way it was willing to make a public and targeted stance for immigrants. As we move toward the 2018 midterms I cannot, in good faith, continue to call myself a Democrat when cycle after cycle they ignore their ultimate and most loyal swing voters. In the past I and many others honestly believed the Party stayed clear of “black issues” in an effort to maintain a coalition with white voters who simply could not stomach championing the causes of a minority group. Now I know that the Party and many of its white supporters simply cannot stand for its black brothers and sisters to eat at the same table. Knowing this I gladly choose to step away.

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Black people must be twice as good for half the credit. I heard that as a child but evidently things have changed. 2017 was a yearlong celebration of black mediocrity, a collective demon I hope 2018 will exorcise us of. In 2017 Cardi B was a thing. We celebrated the fact that a woman with African blood will join England’s royal family (as if white acceptance affirms black value). Kevin Hart continued to pack out arenas even as his comedy and personal life progressively slid into mediocrity. We lost our minds when Beyonce gave birth to twins, as if women don’t do so daily. Eminem was anointed savior after his anti-Trump freestyle but black pundits like Van Jones were ignored before the election when they warned us that Trump could win. Mediocrity was consistently declared the big winner of 2017 and black people are no better for it.

Donald Trump is a monster but he’s not the first in politics. Politicians much more racist than Trump existed in the 1890’s in Louisiana and yet black political leaders figured out how to get funding for Southern University. That was a concrete win for black people, even in the face of great hostility. Adam Clayton Powell served in Congress when lynchings were still commonplace and few of his colleagues cared. During his career Powell not only pushed legislation that made lynching a federal crime but was also instrumental in expanding the minimum wage and abolishing the poll tax. Those were all tangible wins for black people. In 2017 the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) made their biggest mark simply by refusing to meet with Trump in June. Black America has any number of political concerns but there is no strategy to address them. Refusing to meet with the sitting POTUS and not securing any tangible wins for black people was the CBC’s signature, mediocre achievement.

Jay Z is closer to 50 than 45 years of age. Ironically he was applauded for his “maturity” this past year because he figured out that infidelity is wrong. No, seriously. Critics and fans across the board — including black folks — praised Mr. Carter for the deeply personal lyrics on his 4:44 album, which included apologies for infidelity. Why is that an accomplishment at 50? In what black mediocre fantasy do men at that age not get laughed to scorn when they announce to the world they’ve just figured that out? How is it that when his sexual abilities are certainly on the decline we praise his growth and evolution in that area? I look at Fred Hampton’s maturity at 21 and can’t help but notice the embarrassing disparity. When black men are allowed to parade their mediocrity the culture is diminished and we all suffer.

This past year we celebrated the most mediocre of accomplishments and elevated the most mundane of individuals. On one hand black mediocrity signals a weird racial progress — mediocre white men have been winning for centuries. It is refreshing that mediocre black people are winning in journalism, entertainment and even in the academy — I won’t name names. Indeed the true measure of how post-racial we are as a society is the degree to which black people are allowed to be mediocre and achieve similar results as our white counterparts. On the other hand the history of black progress is a history of black excellence and we should never forget it.

Black excellence is what kept black families together under the most challenging of circumstances, since before the Constitution was written. Black excellence is what built our HBCUs and banking institutions, well before any legislation existed to protect them. Black excellence gave America its seasoning — metaphorically and literally — and enriched the broader culture. Our history suggests that we cannot tolerate mediocrity, despite the apparent benign nature of its various manifestations in 2017. If we are to adopt a collective resolution in 2018 it must be to reclaim black excellence and shun mediocrity.

 

jenkins

I hope NFL players didn’t protest with the expectation that all of white America would care about black suffering; that would be like seeing an Orthodox Muslim eat pork chops — never happen. NFL owners have apparently agreed to hand over $89 million to help fund organizations and causes specific to black communities. From the United Negro College Fund to local organizations fighting for social justice, several entities stand to benefit. Some see the move as a quid pro quo, a hollow gesture aimed at simply getting the players to stop kneeling. If that is true I say sellout — stand for the anthem, take the money and use it to further black institutions. Waiting for a group of rich, conservative white men to care deeply about black suffering is foolish.

Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers isn’t ecstatic about this deal. Frankly, it will cost the owners nothing — they’re merely shifting money previously earmarked for other charitable causes. My answer is, “so what?” Malcolm X said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” American history illustrates that even in the face of white indifference, green dollars can fund black progress. The Louisiana legislature cared little about the education of black people in 1880 but black politicians advocated for a black institution of higher learning and their request was granted. In 1890 the legislature designated Southern as a land grant college for blacks in order to uphold segregation while satisfying federal requirements to educate all students. The state legislature in Louisiana did not (and perhaps still doesn’t) care about the education of black people but Southern University stands today because we were smart enough to take green money from indifferent whites and build black.

The owners don’t actually care about anything the players have been protesting since Kaepernick took a knee last year. The move to shift $89 million to black institutions is a tacit admission by the owners that they’d rather write checks than lift a finger to fight injustice. It’s not personal, however. The money is being taken from breast cancer awareness and the monthlong celebration of the military so we can safely assume that the owners care nothing for those causes, either. NFL team owners care about the bottom line, not black liberation. No amount of protest will change that but the checks owners have agreed to write have the potential to change much, if handled properly.

Most of us will never play in the NFL but we can learn something from it. The causes we hold dear will only be sacred to us. If your car needs an oil change no one outside of you really cares that much. The same is true if your community is experiencing high unemployment. Black people have always lived with this violent indifference from the larger culture. We simply focused on building black, even if our benefactors didn’t have the purest intentions. We may never change white indifference but that doesn’t have to hinder black progress.

gentrification

Gentrification is a jedi mind trick where (mostly) black people conclude entire communities have no value, although everyone else can see it. Gentrification is generally unpopular among black people but in fact we bear some responsibility for it. When we refuse to see the value in our communities and others do, that’s on us. I’m tired of hearing black people complain about gentrification while refusing to invest in black communities — even middle class black communities. Real estate is finite and if we don’t buy it, someone will. If we really despise people who are wholly unconnected to the culture of a neighborhood moving in and displacing the population, then damnit start seeing the worth in black communities before everyone else does.

Gentrification — as we understand it — is not completely inevitable. Washington was about 70 percent black just a generation ago but today the city no longer has a black majority. Masses of white people did not come in the night and wipe out the black population. The dramatic loss of affordable housing is significant but the unwillingness of black homeowners to stay put cannot be ignored. The decline in federal funding to house the poor is exacerbating yet black people and organizations — while admittedly challenging — made few sustained, organized efforts to collectively invest in black communities while the real estate was still at giveaway prices. Whether the communities in question were legitimately unsafe or simply decent neighborhoods that lacked desired amenities, many made the choice to walk away.

It is curious that communities we so often deem wholly undesirable are consistently valued by everyone else. It tells me that our valuation is off, in many respects. If a developer can see the potential of a community filled with poor black people, so should we. If investor X believes there is money to be made on a block with 8 homes — of which 4 are boarded up — maybe we should, too. Why couldn’t our churches and local organizations organize families to collectively buy that block and fix up those homes? Why couldn’t families looking for starter homes put their money together and buy multi-family homes before they were swooped up by an investor and turned into swanky apartments that rent for $2,000 monthly? Why can’t our local Urban League and NAACP chapters organize citywide initiatives to pair our people together to buy communities, raise the property values and in doing so attract all the amenities we seek out in other neighborhoods?

I live on the South Side of Chicago now, having recently relocated from DC. Chicago is now in the process of gentrifying in much the same way DC has. But it doesn’t have to be. I live in a condo building that has three units and two apartments on the basement level. The units are very nice — hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and a secure entry system. The unit directly under me was just recently renovated and it is gorgeous. It is 1,700 square feet and features three bedrooms with two full baths. It is also a duplex unit, a bonus. While such a unit in DC would easily cost half a million dollars or even more in wealthier neighborhoods, that unit just sold last month for $150,000. Seriously, that’s it. The reason is my neighborhood is just outside of the gentrifying zone and while my street is nice and quieter than a street in the city should be, the neighborhood is still quite black and that is a turnoff for many buyers and thus values are suppressed. That unit, while only $150,000 today, will easily be worth 3 times that in 10 years and too many of us will lament that we didn’t simply buy it while it was easily affordable.

To be sure, there are many forces at work far beyond any personal decisions we might make. In far too many places older residents on fixed income are priced out of the homes they own because property taxes have skyrocketed. Even worse, many cities unfairly advantage newcomers. In Philadelphia, for example, new buyers qualify for a 10-year property tax abatement while older residents are often without relief. There are many challenges and yes, organizing as a community is far more difficult than being a private investor with cash who can develop entire blocks overnight (not to mention the federal and local tax incentives many of them utilize). This is not easy but it is not inevitable, either. There are still many communities in cities around the country where property values are very modest. They will eventually be developed, the only question is by whom.

Perhaps you think losing black presence in American cities is not problematic and if so, there’s nothing to worry about. If you do find it problematic, however, there are solutions. We must organize, buy and stay. If you find that too difficult or if you have an aversion to investing in black communities — poor, working or middle class — then please stop complaining about gentrification.

a-different-world

I received a minority scholarship from my alma mater — a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) — to partially fund my education and while grateful, I will never write the university a check. Each month I send money to my closest HBCU and you should, too.

PWI’s are in extreme debt to black people in America. While some understand the large role of slavery in building and sustaining them, few think about the tax dollars black families have and continue to pay to power them. Before we were allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi, we were taxed to support it. James Meredith — one person — integrated the school in 1963 but blacks attended only in small numbers for some time after. All the while we paid taxes. Before 1963 many schools up north admitted blacks but only a token few, especially if they could play a sport. Still, we paid taxes. These schools denied opportunities to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents and yes, even to many of our parents while gladly accepting their tax dollars. A generation or two of minority scholarships, targeted at a select number of black individuals, doesn’t begin to even the score for the exclusion of black masses.

Many of us benefited in some way from PWIs and that’s perfectly fine but we owe our PWIs nothing — they in fact still owe us. The assistance they provide to black students is not charity for which we are indebted; it represents a meager return on the labor and tax dollars our parents to great-great-great-great-great grandparents contributed to build those schools while being denied access to them.

Some black grads say they would like to give back to their PWI, specifically so other black students will have the same opportunity. I reject every bit of that logic. It is not incumbent upon those who descend from generations of the excluded to create opportunities for their seed at PWIs. Indeed, we have been and still are taxed for them. If the universities actually value the presence of black students on their campuses it is incumbent upon them to create opportunities for them. It is our job, as taxpayers (specific to public institutions), to push our states and state schools to prioritize the interests and recruitment of black students. That push must take our state institutions beyond the safe pursuit of “diversity” to a clear mandate addressing the opportunities denied my parents and their parents.

A great number of schools integrated only at gunpoint — literally. It is clear that PWI’s have made great strides since that time but the atmosphere on many campuses still leaves much to be desired. Just ask students at the University of Missouri or scour through all these recent events on campuses. Still, we are paying taxes. In some cases those taxes support public universities that have very healthy endowments. Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are the top two public universities, in this respect. The billions those universities have are far too often managed by investment teams or outside firms with little to no black presence. The universities crave our dollars and invest them in various places, including Africa, yet we have little say in the process.

Imagine if I were unemployed, broke and had few prospects. Imagine that I have an amazing woman who sticks with me, supports me while I try to get things on track and helps me realize my potential. Now imagine me on my feet, making money and desired by many women who wanted nothing to do with me just a few years ago. If I left my woman for another that only now desires me, what would you say? If my woman began to fall on hard times herself but I chose to ignore her and chase another who never wanted me before, what would you think of me? This is precisely our relationship to HBCUs today. When no one wanted us, they embraced us. When we had no other options, they sheltered us and made us great. Even now they outperform PWIs in vaulting the lowest income students into the top quintile as adults. They are still our best investment as a people and yet too many of us are eager to date the girl who wouldn’t even let us walk across her lawn a few years ago.

For some time I have wanted to write checks to HBCUs but just didn’t have the cash — or so I thought. I recently made the choice to start where I am and do something. I now live on the South Side of Chicago and to my surprise the closest HBCU is Harris Stowe State University, in St. Louis. I sent them a check and will continue to do so each month, so long as they are my closest HBCU. My first check was only $10 — it was all I felt comfortable giving. But if 500,000 black people in Chicago gave the same $10 each month it would change everything for that school.

I’m grateful for my degree and the strides my university has made to incorporate black students but that doesn’t mean I owe them anything. My ancestors paid my bill in full. Our HBCUs loved my grandparents when no one else would and for their sake I am writing these checks. I sincerely hope you will do the same.

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.

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.