Black History

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?

 

 

georgewashington

Fuck George Washington and America for asking me to celebrate his birth. I do not apologize for my language nor the attack on my own country, for it attacked me first. Annually I am asked to pretend Washington is worthy of honor and each year I am insulted that the country has the testicular fortitude to make such an outlandish request. Am I to pretend Washington is not a phony, fake patriot and fraud? Should I simply act as if the man did not subject people to the terror of slavery? Am I supposed to ignore the fact that he not only pursued escaped slaves until his death but that he also used the power of government to fortify slavery? I will celebrate him when America asks the Jewish people to celebrate the good things the Nazi Party did.

Washington was no patriot. He was an opportunistic phony who withdrew his loyalty from England after the Crown began interfering with his money. Washington and other elites like Jefferson, Franklin and Patrick Henry, were heavily invested in lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. They were land speculators, essentially. After France withdrew from North America in 1763 the “Founding Fathers” hoped to cash in by selling or leasing western lands. Instead, the Crown decided that year to issue a Proclamation, effectively halting westward expansion into “Indian” territories. All land deals would now have to go through London– cutting land speculators out of the process — and from that point forward Washington and his friends decided they did not love the Crown so much. Washington then opposed the Stamp Act in 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767 and in 1769, went as far as to help spearhead a boycott of British goods. He was mad. The fake patriot opposed the Crown at every turn, not for love of liberty but money.

Washington was an immoral man and despicable human being. While convenient to ignore, he terrorized people and held them captive from the time he inherited his first slaves at the age of 11 until his death. Washington used the brutal practices of owning people, separating families and subjecting them to all manner of terror to maintain his wealth. Washington was committed to his moral bankruptcy. After moving to Philadelphia– free territory at the time– he made sure to rotate his slaves back to Virginia regularly. This was done specifically to circumvent a state law stipulating that any slave living in the state more than six months would automatically be free. Washington also made sure to sign the nation’s first fugitive slave law, guaranteeing that any enslaved person who dared escape would have the weight of the United States government against them. Further, when a 22-year-old slave by the name of Ona Judge escaped from Washington’s home in Philadelphia, the first President of the United States relentlessly pursued her until his death. The man was committed.

There is no honor in Washington, nor any deed that would cause me to ignore his true character (or lack thereof.) While I find him loathsome, I am more troubled that my country would ask me to celebrate him. I descend from slaves and the nation asks me to overlook the terror he subjected my people to and celebrate him? Can anyone honestly fathom asking Jewish people to celebrate the social welfare programs that the Nazi Party administered or the Party’s role in helping Germany bounce back from economic depression? Would anyone take seriously the notion that we should celebrate the great and handsome actor that John Wilkes Booth was and simply overlook that he assassinated President Lincoln? If you answer no to both questions yet consider Washington’s birthday a legitimate celebration, you are saying that his deeds were not so bad. If you concede his deeds were bad but still wish to celebrate you are all the more dangerous: you know but just don’t care.

 

 

MLK Memorial

You will die one day for no one lives forever. When people gather to celebrate your life and mourn your passing, would it be okay if they mentioned your deeds as a teenager but not those of your mature self? Would you rest in peace knowing they opted not to tell people of your most urgent convictions? You would roll in your grave and yet this is precisely what we do every year on King Day. The nation’s annual bastardizing of King’s legacy is hindering the progress of black people seeking liberation. This most recent King celebration must be the last of its kind.

I cannot stomach another King holiday in which we make vague statements about equality and peace. Peace was the last thing King had on his mind when he died. His thoughts were of bringing pain. As he told an audience the night before his death, “Now we must…redistribute that pain.” The pain he was referring to was that of poor sanitation workers in Memphis who were striking. The redistribution of it was to be felt by corporations, which up to that point had been responsible for or at least apathetic to black suffering. In seeking to move from that suffering to true liberation, King told his audience, “We don’t have to argue with anybody.” Rather than argue and protest, King admonished his audience that night to practice the power of “economic withdrawal.” King was over marching and debating. His calculus was simple: we have money and we can simply withhold it to hurt our enemies, then use it to strengthen ourselves. No argument needed. Yet each King holiday fosters fresh arguments with those who don’t see a problem with our nation’s treatment of black people, empty marches and some hollow acknowledgment of America’s progress. This can’t actually be helping us.

The King holiday presents black America with a fresh opportunity to embrace apathy. It is an occasion in which we are reminded to be good, peaceful and love our enemies. We should reject that message and embrace a violent commitment to that which the mature King taught us. This is why HopewellThought chose to launch a yearlong buy black campaign this month. The time for arguing is over. We are celebrating King’s legacy by actually living up to it, not concealing it with empty pleasantries. If you have not already, read up on what we are doing and get involved. Reflecting on “peace” and praising America for all her “progress” has done nothing to change the fact that black unemployment has been double that of our white counterparts since we’ve kept stats. Giving America a pat on the back for spotting a black man a holiday has not created jobs in our neighborhoods or helped our entrepreneurs access the capital they so badly need. This cannot be the celebration Dr. King had in mind.

If we are to celebrate this day we must do so in a different way. No more empty words and feel-good service projects. Those things are befitting of the 26 year old Dr. King who was the front man for the Montgomery Bus Boycott but not the mature leader who came to Memphis years later to redistribute pain. King felt no need to argue with anyone–he saw an opportunity to take power. The Dr. King who spoke in Memphis the night before his death was fully grown in his thoughts and convictions. He’d seen the weaknesses of the movement up to that point. He’d learned from his earlier successes and failures. He was ready to lead black America down a path toward true progress and power. Then he was shot. Since that time his voice has been muted in history and we are annually seduced by a holiday in his honor; it has been perverted and lacks the revolutionary spirit of the man it claims to honor. Join the campaign and let’s truly honor the legacy of Dr. King because this is not helping us.

 

 

kaep

Plenty of people are still mad at Colin Kaepernick and as I wrote before, they are quite hypocritical. More importantly, the entire ordeal has shed light on this ugly truth: racism doesn’t really bother the majority of Americans. In theory we all denounce the idea of “racism” but when confronted with it directly, it’s not a big deal. In 2013 NFL wideout Riley Cooper was caught on video using the “N-word” specifically to threaten violence against black people. Most of the country was embarrassed but not terribly offended.

simones

Simone Biles and Simone Manuel stole our hearts with Olympic gold. Black America cheers them fiercely because their rare and historic accomplishments have much deeper meaning than sport. But when we cheer the Simones are we actually cheering for the United States? Or are we cheering on two black women who happen to be from the Houston area? In Houston the median income of blacks is roughly half that of whites. Such disparity indicates that the Simones and the rest of us live in two separate Americas. Living in separate Americas creates separate identities and as such we are capable of rooting for the same person but not necessarily the same America. After the games have ended, we should remember this and keep rooting for ourselves.

mobama

Michelle Obama had the audacity to say that slaves helped build the White House and the Fox News crowd flipped out. Bill O’Reilly quickly pointed out that the slaves were well-fed and had “decent lodgings.” I suppose Bill felt that them being slaves was not in and of itself problematic. The rush to downplay the First Lady’s comments shows how uncomfortable we are with our past. It is a past that FLOTUS barely scratched the surface on; she left out that not only did slaves build the White House but this entire country was in fact built on the backs of slaves. From our institutes of higher learning to the financial sector, we have enslaved Africans to thank for it all. Acknowledging that bothers us as a country and disturbs the delusion that our “Protestant Work Ethic” is the root of our prosperity. The First Lady removed one small stone from a mountain of delusion that must come down.

ali

I thought I had a cold this morning but I realized I was just sick of the fake tributes to Muhammad Ali. We hated his guts, just be honest. UNC professor Matthew Andrews points out that we hated him so much, we made the movie Rocky about a white underdog beating a faux Ali because no one could do it in real life. Ali had the audacity to say that whites were universally the enemy of suffering blacks. Ali delved further into race when he refused to fight in Vietnam because those “darker people” had never lynched him or called him nigger. As he is now being celebrated, our hypocrisy is on display and we must reckon with it–we still hate what he stood for and thus we should stop our insincere praises posthumously.

1nv9Kl3

Georgetown University is a microcosm of America: built on slavery, unwilling to repay that debt and still maintaining our admiration and support. Georgetown University has an endowment of $1.5 billion. In its early days the school relied on Jesuit slave plantations to finance its operations. In 1838, however, the school was close to financial ruin. Georgetown survived thanks to the

Old American Cars in Old Havana

This week President Obama made a historic visit to Cuba – the first by a US President in nearly 90 years. While this trip explores the potential relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, many Americans feel the only thing President Obama should talk to Cuban leadership about is granting its people Democracy and freedom. However, are we (America) in a position to give lectures on Democracy and freedom? Especially when unarmed black people are routinely shot by police, we incarceratemore citizens than any nation, and in many ways, Cuba has been more supportive of black people than America. This also begs the question of whether Fidel Castro is as evil as we’ve been taught.

black-panthers

Full disclosure: I’m divorced. I have hundreds of friends, family and acquaintances who’d willingly testify to my overall good character but I’m uncertain that my ex-wife and her family would extend such grace. I suspect they might be slightly more eager to tell you of my shortcomings and more dangerously, attribute innocent actions to ill intent. I would not want my ex’s family charged with writing my biography. Sadly, this is precisely the way we treat the history of the Black Panther Party.