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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?

 

 

h&m

Now that we’ve reacted to the H&M controversy let’s take time to actually understand it. I hear people passionately screaming but few are putting serious thought to why they feel what they do and whether there is just cause for anger.

Why Are Black People So Mad?

There is a long history of denigrating people by equating them with monkeys/apes. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint Isidore of Seville were comparing pagans to monkeys way back in the 1st century. Yet no group has been identified with simian qualities quite like black people. Indeed, Types of Mankind, the leading American text on racial differences in its day, presented racial hierarchies with illustrations comparing blacks to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. In Europe black soccer players are routinely targeted with bananas. Even Barack and Michelle Obama couldn’t escape the ape slur  — a Belgian newspaper printed images of the Obamas with ape features. The history is clearly racist and hurtful.

But H&M Isn’t An American Company, They Didn’t Know

H&M is a Swedish company, a country not so far from Belgium. If the newspaper in Belgium knew to use the ape motif against the Obamas, I’m sure the good folks in Sweden aren’t completely clueless. If black soccer players all over Europe regularly get bananas thrown at them, we can safely assume someone in H&M’s European operation was at least aware of the history.

H&M Surely Didn’t Mean To Be Racist, Can’t We Let It Slide?

If I joked about sending people to gas chambers but wasn’t in any way thinking about the Holocaust, I’m sure some Jewish people would take exception. Would any of us think it strange if they did? No. Universally, the suffering of whites is taken seriously. If we can understand one group’s sensitivity to their historical oppression and give deference to it, we should find it easy to do the same for black people — unless we are prevented by racism.

It is interesting that the UK H&M site that was selling the infamous “monkey hoodie” also featured a young white boy modeling a different hoodie. The caption read, “Survival Expert.” Dr. King often talked about unconscious racism. That is, without consciously trying to be racist, it is so embedded in us all that it still manifests. Maybe the folks at H&M did not consciously mean to suggest blacks are animals and whites lord over the animals but we must question whether or not their whiteness could have accepted the two boys switching hoodies. In the end H&M is a global company doing business in a digital age — all things connect. An ad in London can show up in the US in seconds. As a multinational it is H&M’s business to assume this and be aware of any cultural landmines.

But The Model’s “Mum” Didn’t Have A Problem With It

Jerry Seinfield is Jewish. Once on his sitcom he had a little fun with the film Schindler’s List. Does that mean every Jewish person should accept it if people take away from the serious nature of the film? Hardly. Further, it must be acknowledged that the boy’s mother is Kenyan and apparently lives in Europe. That said, it’s possible that some of this discussion might possibly be lost on her. In the same way, I may not grasp certain insults leveled at one people group in Kenya to another. On the other hand maybe she absolutely gets it but simply doesn’t want to rock the boat. Her child is getting work from a global fashion brand and to speak out might jeopardize future work for her son. In the end I’ve never met the woman and can’t speak for her. Still, it is dangerous to dismiss the entire issue because she has.

What Now?

H&M isn’t the first company to put out a questionable ad — we were all mad at Dove a few months ago, remember? Another company will mess up soon, I’m sure. If our goal is to make white companies be nicer to black people then feel free to continue this cycle. H&M has issued an apology but it did not create any more black wealth. Dove’s apology did not end disparities in employment between blacks and whites. Perhaps we as black people should stop asking the powerful to be nicer to us and focus more on building black power for ourselves.

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.

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.

Chicago_Theatre

My great-uncle left central Georgia to serve his country abroad and never returned to the Deep South. He eventually chose the greener pastures of the South Side. After 60 years in Chicago he told me, “Chicago has the best of everything…but it also has the worst of everything.” Chicago is unmatched in beauty and splendor. Chicago is also plagued by a sense of hopelessness. Chicago is America: a nation first in ideals but ranked last in health care, among comparable nations. America produces Nobel Peace Prize winners like Dr. King, who in turn called this country the “greatest purveyor of violence” on the globe. If America is the world’s greatest nation, Chicago is undoubtedly its most accurate reflection.   

I gave up everything to be with my love — her name is Chicago. She is reviled and scorned by many and yet known by so few. She is strange to masses who only know her through the narratives of distant strangers motivated by politics and racial resentment when they speak her name. Stop and listen for although I am not her native son, I gave everything to be held in her embrace. 

I know my love’s immeasurable beauty and I’m aware of her fatal flaws. The authenticity and forgiving nature of her people scarcely exists elsewhere and yet those people are often burdened by pain. I hear what others say about my love yet their words stray from what I have observed with my eyes. When I mention my lover’s name others are filled with terror. How can this be, especially when most of the terrorized have never been to the city? The nation has been taught to fear Chicago but not by statistics. Yes, of late there has been a surge in violent crime but you are twice as likely to be killed in St. Louis than in Chicago. Indeed, the city’s murder rate was significantly higher in the 90’s and plunged thereafter. Why the fixation now on Chicago violence? 

My love is large, in population and mass. This makes her wonderful but also a target for political posturing. It is easier to say her name than another. But my love also satisfies a national appetite for black pathology, giving life to narratives absent critical analysis. As always, race rears its ugly head. Race prohibits others from seeing my love as she is. Social analysis is never precise when race is introduced. The Moynihan report of the 1960’s told us that out-of-wedlock births indicated black families were entangled in “pathology.” That is, black families were utterly abnormal and defective. As Dr. Andrew Hacker pointed out in his book Two Nations, white families have since surpassed those same numbers Moynihan cited for black families and yet there is no mention of the pathology of whites. 

In the same way we fail to see Chicago clearly today. When 468 were murdered in the city in 2015, we were told the world was ending. That 468 pales in comparison to the 619 killed in 1925, a period when the city population was on par with today. As the South and West Sides of the city bleed today, Chicago was a bloodbath in the 1920’s, ruled by gangsters like Al Capone. We were able to do objective analysis during that period when the gangsters were white but we seem incapable today.

Dr. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard scholar, asserted in a 1999 paper that violence– and homicides specifically– peak most when prohibition of drugs or alcohol are vigorously enforced. The alcohol prohibition and the Drug War eras, naturally, have the most pronounced homicide rates. In the 1920’s and early 30’s we were able to see that bad public policy –prohibition– pushed Eastern European immigrants, who lacked economic opportunities, to accept the working conditions of the illegal alcohol business and carnage ensued. Today 47% of black men in Chicago between 20 and 24 are neither working or in school. Naturally, the illegal drug industry recruits from that demographic and carnage ensues. Unlike in the 1920’s, however, we now conclude that the people are bad and not the policies. Narratives of black pathology are far more desirable. 

Accepting these narratives robs us from seeing my love as she is. Have you ever seen the city from a perch along Lake Michigan? Have you ever learned a second language within the English language, like those spoken on the South Side, and experienced the richness of a black culture unrivaled in North America? Such literary wealth can be heard on a number of street corners, conveying more meaning than all of Shakespeare’s prose. Have you seen the fusion of an untold number of architectural traditions all singing in harmony across the city sky? Have you dined in the fine restaurants of the loop? Have you eaten rib tips from Lem’s or cupcakes from Brown Sugar Bakery on 75th street? If you haven’t, you have not yet seen the best of America.

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.

trump ny

The Confederacy is rising but its leader hails from New York City, not Mississippi. Donald Trump whistles Dixie with perfect pitch although a Southerner never taught him the tune. That irony should signal to us all that while the North never took up arms in rebellion, it certainly marches to the same cadence of white supremacy as the Confederate states that did. Donald Trump is a modern day Confederate if we’ve ever seen one; his New York roots suggest people of color are vulnerable to white supremacists in power not just in Dixie but Manhattan, Boston and Chicago, too.

A massive riot in 1863 left many blacks lynched and over 100 others killed. Hundreds of blacks were forced to flee the city. That riot was not in Birmingham or Charleston but New York City. The city was filled with angry white men, lashing out at a government that sought to draft them to serve in a war increasingly framed as an abolitionist crusade. That same anger engulfed the men of the 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment who, after the Emancipation Proclamation, deserted en masse rather than fight for black freedom. The 128th was not alone. This is the heritage of the North in which Donald Trump was shaped and it lives today.

The New York Donald Trump calls home was the incubator of the modern drug war. John Ehrlichman, who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief, conceded that the drug war was a tool to terrorize and subjugate blacks. The blueprint from which the federal and other state governments constructed this “New Jim Crow” came from New York’s Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. Mandatory minimums for drug dealers and addicts are the legacy of Rockefeller’s administration, not George Wallace’s. Rockefeller also adopted “stop and frisk” along with “no-knock” laws to strengthen the power of law enforcement, undoubtedly against people of color. This is the public policy context Donald Trump knew as a young man. The dog whistle politics Trump employed during his campaign should not have been terribly surprising — he learned how to whistle Dixie long before the Republic primaries.

History is always written by the victors and as such, we have been taught a sanitized version of it in which the North fought for black liberation and consequently, racial attitudes differ sharply from those in the South. But black people have long been acquainted with grim realities above the Mason-Dixon line, even if others have struggled to properly discern them. We fail to see Donald Trump’s New York clearly because, in part, the North did not codify its bigotry in the same way the South did. The North’s more subtle approach has blinded most Americans to the Confederate spirit alive there; most have only noticed it during the most dramatic of moments. They saw it when parents in Boston were actively protesting busing, intended to integrate schools. Others only only recognized the tune of Dixie up North when Dr. King was being assaulted as he marched for fair housing in Chicago. It lives in the North, even when not readily apparent.

Donald Trump is acting and speaking in ways that do damage to the myth of the good Yankee man. His handling of Charlottesville, especially, made clear for many that the Confederacy is not simply a collection of states but a broader ideology that knows no geographic boundaries. Trump, a New Yorker, resonates soundly with those who cling to the Confederacy and its underlying ideals. He is one of them and we should not think that he, among his fellow Northeners, is alone. While the Northern Confederates may not always wear hoods and carry torches, they often do real estate deals and banking transactions and frankly, that is much more frightening in 2017.

charlottesville

Explaining why Charlottesville happened requires me to do something I haven’t in years — go to church. There is a big, hairy demon that possesses the soul of America and it is white supremacy. White supremacy begot racism in America and ultimately, the evil and irrational nature of it has no logical explanation other than it must be a demon. It is too diabolic, non-sensical and potent to originate from any other place but hell. As whiteness slowly depletes its privilege we are seeing an exorcism in real time; this demon is coming out but not without a fight.

Charlottesville happened now, during the Trump age. It is an age that can best be understood through a passage in the New Testament — Mark chapter 9, versus 14-29. In the story a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus in hopes of deliverance. The demon would often take control of the boy’s body and cause him to do crazy shit, basically. When the demon saw Jesus, it threw the boy to the ground and began convulsing, rolling around and foaming at the mouth. Essentially, the demon began to “act up” rather than go quietly. The demon, feeling threatened, lashed out rather than humbly submit to its fate. That is where a sizable faction of white America is today. White people run America and maintain privilege but there are discernible cracks in the foundation of white supremacy. Indeed, white power structures still frame the day to day existence of us all and yet there is a sense that white power is being threatened, a sense which energized the candidacy of Donald Trump and gives rise to groups like the “Alt Right.” Charlottesville is but the latest convulsion in an ongoing exorcism. This demon feels threatened.

Drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide are driving a peculiar trend among whites. Of late, their life expectancy is not increasing but decreasing. That is according to Elizabeth Arias, the statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics. Based on federal data of deaths recorded nationwide, black men actually had the greatest gain in life expectancy in 2014 of any group. White supremacy is under attack. Babies of color now outnumber non-Hispanic white babies. 2014-2015 was the first year in which minorities were more populous than white students in America’s public schools. America will be a majority-minority nation soon, led by individuals who more closely resemble Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Luis Gutierrez than Mitch McConnell. The world that has always been will simply not be anymore. For those conditioned by generations of privilege, that is a scary proposition.

A big demon is being exorcised, slowly. It senses its demise and in response shrieks, convulses and lashes out, even irrationally. And Charlottesville was irrational. The rally was initially a protest against removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a slaveowner who fought vehemently to uphold slavery during the Civil War. Removing the statue is not an attempt to erase whites from the American tapestry. Objecting to its removal, however, suggests a commitment to the ideals of Lee and ultimately that is what this demon is fighting for. The critical question now is what we will do as this demon continues to lash out.

In the biblical text Jesus responded quite curiously to the demon’s little sideshow. As the boy rolled on the ground convulsing and foaming at the mouth, Jesus calmly turned to his father and asked him, “how long has he been like this?” It was as if Jesus was saying, “I refuse to get caught up in this show. I will not pay attention to you lashing out and I certainly will not be intimidated. I will simply pretend that you do not exist as I go about the work of overpowering you.” The father explained that the boy had been that way from his youth. He pleaded with Jesus, “but if you can do anything for us please help us.” Jesus, perhaps almost offended replied, “If!?!? Bruh…all things are possible if you believe. Ain’t no if to this!” Jesus exorcised the demon and went about his business. I choose to ignore the noise and the shrieks. I choose to go about the work of black power, even in this age of Trump.

 

 

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”

 

In this image released by HBO, host Bill Maher, left, appears with actor-rapper Ice Cube during a broadcast of "Real Time with Bill Maher," on Friday, June 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Janet Van Ham/HBO via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET663

After “niggergate” last week, Bill Maher did little on his show this past Friday to convince me that he learned anything. I saw Maher, a political commentator, try to hide under the shield of comedy and throw himself on the altar of, “I made one mistake.” Maher never wrestled with the simple truth that white supremacy and indifference to black suffering are the American norm and that is what brought about this whole thing.

It matters. The world is not a dangerous place for black people because the Klan patrols the streets of our cities. The world is dangerous because although black suffering exists, from the White House to the trailer parks of America, there are too few human responses of compassion. Policymakers have shown the ability to respond to white opioid users in their suffering and they should. Yet black people suffering with addiction are met with law and order. Indifference is dangerous.

I never see (non-Jewish) comedians dare try or get away with Holocaust jokes. I haven’t seen anyone bold enough to joke about 9/11. Yet slavery, somehow, is a subject for white liberals to joke about. How, Sway? It is understood that the suffering of 9/11 and the Holocaust are no laughing matters but Maher was quite comfortable invoking references of house slaves in his attempt at humor last week. The use of the n-word was an obvious offense but the reference to slavery in the most casual and irreverent manner is, on its own, deeply offensive. How is it that the death of millions during the Middle Passage, the raping of women and children, the decimation of families and untold horror over centuries are laughing matters? Only when those who suffer are black.

As I watched this week’s show, it was clear that Maher doesn’t think he, like most Americans, suffers from some deeper condition. Maher continued to insist on this week’s show that he made one mistake, one bad joke and that not rooted in any racist sentiment. I’m sure most members of Congress and state legislatures honestly believe they hold no racial animus either but their indifference to black suffering still yields policies that often have a disparate, if not targeted impact on black communities. From the War on Drugs to the disparities in funding HBCUs receive, many lawmakers who think themselves well intentioned do actual harm to black people. Maher seems unable to connect his actions to this larger machinery of white supremacy and that is unfortunate. That Maher is a liberal, one of the “good guys,” is frightening.

Symone Sanders and Michael Eric Dyson made the point on this week’s Real Time show that slaves in the house were also subject to terror. Still, the message that slavery along with the n-word are off limits was not pressed. Further, Dyson challenged his friend (Maher) to see how his actions as a “good guy” speak to the danger in the world that exists but did not press the matter, choosing rather to highlight some mythical record Maher has fighting for black liberation. Perhaps Dyson did not want to eternally wound a friend or perhaps he sensed Maher’s unwillingness to do more than navigate the bad PR from last week. Who knows? I only know Maher seemed agitated when his guests tried to delve into the matter, repeatedly throwing up his wonderful liberal credentials.

Maher blew it. It is clear he simply wanted the matter to be over, the storm to pass. Maher probably believes in his heart that he is truly one of the good guys and that any energy spent correcting his “one mistake” or other white liberals is better spent on the really bad people in the world. Then again, if my roommate showed signs that he was capable of harming me, I’d probably pay more attention to him than the “n-word” down the block.