“When We Tell Our Own Stories”

By now you have either seen all or part or at least heard about the Ava Duvernay written, created, and directed Netflix series, “When they see us.” The 4-episode mini-series tells the story of 5 Black New York teenage boys that were arrested and convicted of beating and raping a White woman jogger in Central Park in 1989. The filmmaker meticulously and painstakingly shows how the prosecution and the press crafted a story of young Black boys out of control on a rampage that resulted in a horrific attack. Viewers saw how the story the authorities constructed ended up in convictions despite the fact the evidence did not support the young men’s guilt.

For years the boys (and later men) were referred to as “The Central Park 5.” Even the now President of the United States, Donald J. Trump weighed in on what should happen to them back in 1989. He took out an almost $60,000 full page ad in the New York Times calling for bringing back the death penalty so it could be applied to the boys. All of the juveniles were convicted spending between 5 and a half and 12 years in prison. The 16 year-old, Korey Wise was sent to adult prison where he was violently abused and assaulted.

The story of what these boys and their families suffered is hard to watch. Many people I know say they could not finish watching the series or that they would not watch it at all. People talk about how angry and upset they got while watching it. All of this is understandable but I want to address some other issues the mini-series brings up that also make us uncomfortable.

1. Far too many of us (Black people) were complicit in accusing the teenagers. Instead of hearing their stories most of us had the incident interpreted through the lens of mainstream media. In fact, the media even gave us a word that we accepted—“wilding”—as a way to describe the boys’ presumed behaviors.

2. The interest convergence between the wealth and power of White men (e.g. Donald Trump) and the defense of White womanhood was unsettling. I want to be clear I am in no way suggesting that the jogger was not victimized. She was, and any human being can sympathize with the brutal assault she suffered. But to see the way White male power and White womanhood aligns against blackness reminds me as to why 51 percent of White women voted for Donald Trump.

3. The parents’ (and most Black people’s) total ignorance of the way the justice system systematically works against us was made evident in the mini-series. The system turned these boys into men—scary Black men. Not understanding or being able to exercise their Constitutional rights meant that the families felt defeated from the very beginning. They hired people who were lawyers but not all were criminal defense lawyers. From the very beginning the boys were at a severe disadvantage.

4. No one was telling the boys’ story. The prosecutors, the press, and the public were all telling a story about the boys, that was a web of lies. The voices of the boys and their parents were silenced. This is the power and beauty of Duvernay’s filmmaking. She inverts the gaze and instead of looking at the boys as soulless, violent criminals we get to see their humanity at the same time we see the forces arrayed against them. We see how racism works, not just as individual people’s prejudices but as an entire system against which few people can stand. Duvernay was deliberate in not calling the boys (and now men), “The Central Park Five.” That identity continues to tie them to “wilding” and being a “wolf pack” as portrayed by the media. No, Duvernay made a point of saying, “When they see us”…they see something altogether different. They get to see us a human beings.

Learning to tell our own stories is one of the most powerful things we can do. If you have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC you know it moves you because it tells our story from our perspective. It does not start our story in slavery and it does not represent us as disempowered, weak, impotent people. The most common statement that Whites who visit the museum is, “I had no idea!” And they had no idea because before this museum they rarely got to hear our story told by us.

The next time a Black person is unfairly accused of a crime or abused by law enforcement, or even singled out for just living while Black (e.g. having a barbeque, selling bottled water, going to a swimming pool, etc.) we have to make sure we get to hear their stories from their perspective. Now we have to make sure that they both see us and hear us!

Stay Black & Smart!


“It Could’ve Been Me!”

I went to church this morning. It’s something I do almost every Sunday. I don’t give it a second thought. I wake up, get dressed, and drive to church. I attend a traditional Black Baptist church. Almost everyone who attends is Black. I participated in the prayers, the praise and worship, the offertory, listened to the sermon, rejoiced during the invitation when people either gave their lives to Christ and/or decided to join the church. It never occurred to me that some crazed person would enter the sanctuary and shoot up the place.

The feeling I had was exactly the same one those in the Muslim community in Christchurch New Zealand had when they went to jummah or Friday prayer. They went to something they attended on a regular basis with the full expectation that they would see friends and families and pray to God in peace. Why wouldn’t they expect that? Unfortunately, they became victims like those in the Milwaukee Sikh temple, Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, and the Pittsburgh synagogue. The disease of white supremacy reared its ugly head again and viciously took the lives of 49 individuals.

When most of us heard the news we were horrified, of course, but I’m not sure we gave much thought to it in relation to our personal lives. But, the truth is this could have been any of us. The cancerous hate that was on display in Christchurch, New Zealand is the same hate that is spreading across the US like a wildfire. Hate crimes are up and we are allegedly led by someone who in one sentence claims to be in sympathy with the people of New Zealand and in a subsequent sentence or tweet claims we need to keep out murderers and rapists who are only identified as people from south of the US.

Racism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, sexism, Anti-Semitism all stem from the same place. It is a place of deep insecurity and feelings of losing a presumed place in the world. It requires people to turn those who are different on any dimension—race, class, gender, sexuality, language, religion, etc.—into “others.” It requires people to turn those who are different into less than human. When I examine my own cultural history I must acknowledge that it took a war and Constitutional amendments to acknowledge my personhood. As a woman it took another amendment to give me citizen rights to be able to vote. So many people have been victimized by hate and exclusion but it seems we suffer from cultural amnesia when the group under attack is a group other than our own.

You may be reading this and thinking a group of Muslims on the other side of the world have nothing to do with you. But, the perniciousness of hate is that it is never confined to one group or one moment. When it happened to the American Indians who stood against it? When it happened to the enslaved Africans and their descendants who stood against it? When it happened to Jews in Nazi Germany and throughout Europe who stood against it? When it happened in apartheid South Africa who stood against it? When we saw the Rwandan genocide who stood against it? When the news tells us about the massacre of Rohingya in Myanmar who stands against it? When our children are shot down in their schools and classrooms who stands against it? We are living in some terrible times and perhaps we will begin to stand against wanton violence when we view each act as one that could’ve been us!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Why Johnny (or Taylor) Must Cheat”

I have devoted my entire professional life to the education of Black children. I have declared from my earliest days of public school teaching to the conclusion of my career in the academy that Black children are capable of learning and possible of academic success. I have argued that because of the incredible education debt the nation has accumulated toward Black students (and other students of color), the students would regularly face an uneven playing field when it came to opportunities related to education. This debt is historical—we have always failed to provide quality education for some groups. The debt is economic—we have always provided less fiscal resources for some groups. The debt is socio-political—we have always worked to disenfranchise some groups. And, the debt is moral—some things are just plain wrong!

Yesterday we learned that in addition to White skin privilege, financial resources, access to better schools, and all kinds of social and political connections, some of the society’s wealthiest families found yet another way to cheat in order to ensure their children get admitted to some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions—Yale, Stanford, USC, and UCLA among them.

The fact that wealthy kids get into elite colleges and universities is not news. People who give lots of money to institutions can expect that their children will get greater consideration. People who are alumni of colleges and universities can expect that their alumni status will give their children a boost in their admissions profiles. People whose children are elite athletes can expect that their children will also receive special consideration in the admissions process. For example, Stanford (a school I know a little about as an alumna) is regularly lauded as a school whose athletes are also good students. That is true. The Stanford athletes are “good” students. However, they are not necessarily “great” students. In fact, the disparity between Stanford scholarship athletes and the general Stanford student population is greater than the disparity between Big Ten scholarship athletes and the Big Ten general student population. But the story that hit the news yesterday was not about gaining an advantage because of any of the above mentioned conditions (donors, alumni, elite athletes). It is about rich, White folks buying admission and cheating their way into elite colleges and universities.

The Justice Department handed down indictments to Hollywood celebrities, high profile executives—lawyers, business people, etc.—who paid money under the table, cheated on standardized tests, and defrauded colleges and universities to make sure their children got into their preferred schools. The scam included having people taking college entrance exams for their children, paying psychologists to say their children had learning disabilities to be able to get accommodations for additional time while taking either the SAT or ACT. One of the most bizarre parts of the scam included pretending that students were athletes—making up bogus prizes and accolades and even photo-shopping students into athletic pictures. This scam included, administrators, coaches, exam proctors, SAT/ACT administrators, and 33 parents.

This scam peaks my interest because I have heard more than enough arguments about why affirmative action is unfair. Black students are regularly told they don’t belong in college because they are unqualified. They are told they are taking up space that some “more qualified” student (read, White) should have. They are told they need to learn to compete in a “meritocracy.” Yesterday we saw how the so-called meritocracy actually works. People with enough money and power can (and do) bend systems to their will. They don’t play by the rules because they see themselves as people above the rules. This same attitude is characteristic of what we now see in our political sphere. People who already have every advantage find it necessary to cheat to guarantee they get what they want.

What eventually happens to those children who got admitted to elite schools under fraudulent circumstances? I speculate that they will end up sitting on our school boards, on our city councils, in our state legislatures, in our governor’s mansions, in our House of Congress and US Senate, and perhaps in the White House. And, they will occupy those positions claiming that they got there based on merit.

Stay Black & Smart!

“Can We Have A Black History Month Do-Over”

Well we made it to the month of March but the February 2019 Black History Month was one for the ages. In addition to the in-group assaults—coming into February on the heels of “Surviving R. Kelly” and attempting to unravel the Jussie Smollett debacle—we experienced a litany of racial insults that make me think we just need to do Black History Month all over!

Black History Month 2019 had the Governor of Virginia (the state that had the tiki-torch bearing racists the year before) trying to explain away his yearbook page with a picture of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood. First, he said he didn’t know which of the two people was he. Then, a day or so later he said he was neither of the people. However, he did admit to putting on blackface as a part of a Michael Jackson contest (can I remind you that Michael Jackson didn’t even have a blackface by the time he was in his 40s)! In a post dust up interview with CBS This Morning host, Gayle King, the governor referred to enslaved Africans in his state as “indentured servants!” Thank you Gayle King for the swift correction!

When people starting denouncing the governor and began looking to the Black Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax as the possible replacement for Governor Northam, we learned that he allegedly sexually assaulted two women. Then, the third possible gubernatorial replacement, State Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he wore blackface in college.

To make a bad situation worse in Virginia, the Governor’s wife, Pam Northam reportedly interrupted a tour of the governor’s mansion and handed a ball of cotton to a Black student as asked, “Can you imagine being a slave and having to pick this?” Epic fail Ms. Northam—epic fail! And while all eyes were on the mess in Virginia, down the road in Florida the newly appointed Secretary of State Michael Ertel had been forced to resign in late January when photos of him surfaced in which he was in blackface and dressed as a woman as what he termed a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”

Over in Alabama, Goodloe Sutton, publisher of a small town newspaper wrote an editorial saying it was time for the Klan to night ride again and get some hemp for nooses to hang Democrats in Washington, DC.

While this foolishness was going on in high places, the folks in the world of fashion decided to join the “fun.” Gucci advertised a blackface sweater. Katie Perry produced some shoes that look strikingly like blackface and Burberry showcased a hoodie with a noose pull at fashion week in London.

As we thought things were getting back to a celebration of Black excellence at this year’s Academy Awards—Regina King won best supporting actress, Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, Ruth E. Carter won for best costuming, Hannah Bechler won for best production design, Peter Ramsey won for best animation, and finally…finally, Spike Lee won for best screenplay adaptation—the best picture award went to a film that gives us a White man’s narration of a Black man’s story, “Green Book!”

As we return to reality, Maryland State Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti told a colleague who was stumping for votes that he was knocking on doors in a N-word district. When her statement was revealed her defense was, “Everybody’s said that word. I’ve said the f-word; I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain.” No Mary Ann, everybody hasn’t said it and certainly not everybody who seeks to hold public office.

By Wednesday, February 27 I was holding my breath hoping we could make it to March 1 without another “incident” but then Donald Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen took the stand at a Congressional Hearing. In his opening statement he declared that Donald J. Trump was a racist (is that really news?) and gave examples of statements he personally heard Trump say about Black people. To rebut his assertion, Congressman Mark Meadows had Lynn Patton—event planner turned HUD appointee—stand behind him as a human prop and evidence that Trump was not racist. It was only when a Black woman, Representative Stacey Plaskett turned around and told Republican Representative Jim Jordan to “shut up” and did the “church mothers’” eye roll that I breathed a sigh of relief. It was at that moment, I declared that Rep. Plaskett was the woman who saved Black History Month—at least for me.

However, I still think we could use a Black History Month do-over!

Stay Black & Smart!

“We All Have to Survive”

I really wanted to avoid talking about R. Kelly. I had stopped listening to him years ago when the allegations of predatory behavior toward young girls, particularly African American girls first surfaced. The recent docu-series produced by dream hampton placed the artist and his horrific behavior front and center in our consciousness. Social media as well as conventional media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.) have been abuzz with R. Kelly stories. How has he been allowed to get away with this? Would this have persisted this long if his victims were White? Are the girls/women and their families complicit in this horror? His supporters have pointed to other sexual predators and their ability to evade prosecution. Some of his supporters have cried “foul” and insist that the only motive in going after R. Kelly is to “bring down another Black man.” My motive in writing this blog is to make sure we do not lose sight of how vulnerable our children are in a world determined to destroy them.

1. One’s childhood victimization is not a pass to victimize others: Over and over we have heard how R. Kelly was abused as a child. That fact does not mean he is permitted to abuse others. He probably does not understand how to enter into healthy relationships but his childhood abuse doesn’t mean he has a right to visit that same behavior on others. By his own admission, Kelly’s younger brother was also abused but he lacks the fame and fortune that allows him to manipulate others and perpetrate these crimes on others like his brother.

2. Young minds are malleable: Many of us who are not caught up in the web of sex abuse do not understand mind control. We forget that before about 25 or 26 years old, individuals’ brains are not fully developed and the part of the brain that is still developing is the frontal lobe—the place that houses evaluation and judgment. When you’re 40 and someone says they’re going to make you a star but you have to come to their studio late at night you are likely to question that. However, if you are 16 and a big star pays attention to you, you are likely to do whatever he says. After all, he is the star. He knows the industry. If that star tells you that he is the only one who cars about you, you may begin to mistrust family and friends. Your isolation makes you susceptible to all kinds of lies.

3. Predators exist throughout our society: While R. Kelly’s behavior seems particularly egregious it is emblematic of predatory behavior everywhere. The scandals in the Catholic Church, the behavior of the Olympic and Michigan State University doctor, and the Penn State University football assistant coach are all examples of how widespread this behavior is our society. Anyone who has ready access to our children—teachers, Scout leaders, childcare workers, youth leaders, pastors, coaches, parents, grandparents, older siblings, neighbors, and friends—can prey upon them. Our role is to be ever vigilant and make sure we are talking with our children about how adults treat them.

4. Let’s not forget the enablers: While the documentary focused on R. Kelly, there is no way he could have gotten away with all he’s done (and allegedly continues to do) without the help of those around him. People facilitated his access to young victims. They knew/know about what happened in his homes and studio. Some of the enablers cried, “mea culpa” in the documentary, others continue to aid and abet his criminal behavior. The reasons for their complicity are varied. Some are financially dependent on the singer. Others have a misplaced sense of loyalty. Still others suffer from a similar psychological manipulation as the victims. But, they are just as responsible for these crimes. They did not speak up.

5. Nobody Protects Black Girls: Black girls are the forgotten segment of our society. We know of the vulnerability of Black boys and the “Black Lives Matter” movement primarily focused on Black boys and men. We know about the pernicious problems of sexual harassment and assault but despite being founded by a Black woman (Tarana Burke) the “Me Too” movement has been co-opted by wealthy and famous White women. R. Kelly knew that Black girls were considered less valuable, less worthy than other children. I am convinced he could not have gotten away with this behavior for this long had his victims been young White girls. We see far too many images of Black girls being highly sexualized and referred to as “too fast.” No one is willing to open his or her mouth and say, “They are CHILDREN!” In this R. Kelly saga we saw that not even the girls’ parents did enough to protect them.

The R. Kelly story is not merely an occasion for spilling tea and pointing fingers. It is a call to conscience. We have to have honest conversations about sexual abuse, sexual predators, and sexual harassment in our homes, schools, churches, and communities. We have to teach our children (girls and boys) that their bodies are sacred and no one has a right to do things to them they do not want. We have to teach them that they are not to keep adults’ secrets (e.g. “Don’t tell anybody about our special time together) and that their self-worth is not tied to whether or not they do things that please a more powerful person like a teacher, a pastor, or an older relative. We also have to be cognizant of what our children are consuming. Rather than dismiss all of their music as garbage we have to listen carefully to what they are listening to and have frank conversations about the message the music conveys. We have to talk about the movies and videos they watch so that they can understand the difference between Hollywood fantasies and real life. We have to do all of these things because we all have to survive!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Let Me Explain Something to You”

If you follow social media you probably already know about the viral sensation known as Ms. Denita Roseborough. You probably don’t know her by her actual name but you do know her as the Philly KFC sister who checked and re-checked the man who came into the restaurant complaining that one of the younger clerks had written her phone number on his boyfriend’s receipt. I loved this video so much I have watched it at least 10 times. I watched it so many times because Ms. Denita was a wonderful reminder of why I loved being raised by Black women from Philly.

There are a number of things that Ms. Denita did that I wish more Black women would do for each other—especially those of us in the so-called professions (e.g. doctors, lawyers, corporate women, academic women, etc.).

She took charge of the situation: The model of womanhood that is so regularly held up in to us is a submissive, vulnerable, White woman that cries when she feels threatened. That is not the model I was raised with. My mother, my 7 aunts, the church mothers, and my neighborhood mamas were not shrinking violets. They did not suffer fools. And when Denita opened up with “Let me explain something to you,” that is the signal to the man that she is running this show. My own mother’s take-charge catch phrase was, “Are you finished?” When she offered that question it told me that I was about to “get told!”

She rode hard for her sister: So many of us have become timid and afraid to “be our sister’s keeper.” Denita was clear that the man with the complaint was not going to come into the KFC and take advantage of her younger, seemingly bewildered co-worker. Denita let him know that if there were any “checking” to be done in that store on that day, SHE would be the one doing the checking. As a little girl I was known for my big mouth. I was known for “selling wolf tickets” because I had some “big girl” friends who would ride hard for me. I could count on them to do the “checking.” I often look around for those sisters in the academy. There are so few of us that far too many of us think the only way to survive is to keep our heads down and avoid confrontation at all costs. That is a strategy that may save your job, but it won’t save your soul. I wish Black women had ridden harder for Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and today Cyntoia Brown!

She kept it real: The thing that endears so many of us to Denitra Roseborough is her verbal virtuosity. The man tries to plead his case or interrupt the verbal beat down by declaring, “Denita, it’s Christmas.” She quickly responds, “Ho, ho, ho!” Next the man tried to argue that he thought he was in suburbs as if that would command a different response. By this time Denita is joined by 2 other Black women, one of whom removes her headset in case the confrontation is about to get physical. Again, this kind of authenticity is missing in professional work places. We walk into our offices, our labs, our classrooms wearing masks. We never let the people we work with see our real selves. We believe being who we really are will scare them… it probably will. But, I believe it will also keep them from taking advantage of us and continuing to disrespect us.

She never forgot who she was: Finally, Denita was clear about who she was. The man declares, “I thought this was the suburbs,” as if that geographic location would change who Denitra and her co-workers were. After declaring they are “da hood” Denita and her girls shout out their neighborhoods…North Philly, South Philly, West Philly, Chester! This declaration tells the man that they “rep their set.” The neighborhoods that formed and shaped them are deep in their being. No amount of fancy neighborhoods, bougie speech, or phony airs changes any of that. How refreshing would it be if as Black people—Black women—we owned who we are no matter where we were. What if we stopped apologizing for having had to come up in “da hood?” What if we valorized Big Mama, ‘nem for teaching us the hard lessons of life? What if we were proud to be Black women?

Of course, we do have examples beyond Denita. When Congresswoman Maxine Waters declared she was “reclaiming my time” she was representing like Denita. When Congresswoman Frederica Wilson called out Donald Trump’s and John Kelly’s lies she was representing like Denita. When Kimberle Crenshaw developed the African American Policy Forum and the “Say Her Name movement she was representing like Denita. When Tarana Burke began the “MeToo movement she was representing like Denita. When Viola Davis ascends the Academy Awards stage with her natural hair she is representing Denita. When Erika Badu, Jill Scott, Beyonce, and many other Black women artists have fought long and hard to represent like Denita and whenever a Black woman begins with “let me explain something to you,” you better be ready to be “checked”, “read,” and “told!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“For Colored Girls”

I didn’t think I could feel any lower. The week started with the news that George Soros, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama were the targets of some deranged person sending pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and supporters. Next I learned of two Black people over 65 years old who were gunned down at a supermarket in Kentucky by a man who initially attempted to kill people in a Black church. By Saturday I learned that 11 people between the ages of 54 and 90 something were murdered by a madman in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It was all too much and it forced me to shut off the television, the radio, and stay off social media. I just needed a break from bad news. However, when I decided to re-engage I was greeted by the news that poet Ntozake Shange had died. At that point, every bit of resilience I thought I had evaporated.


Shange is of my generation. I still have my original copy of For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf that I purchased in 1977. I both loved it and envied her writing. She was my contemporary and she had created something that blew every Black woman’s mind. As we read each poem we saw ourselves in every page. I was reading Shange at the same time I was reading Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhabuti) and listening to The Last Poets and Nikki Giovanni. I loved each and every poem but was especially captivated by, “Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.” It detailed an experience every Black woman I knew had gone through and she said it all in a Black woman’s voice.


Many years later as an academic I published a book chapter titled, “For colored girls who have considered suicide when the academy is not enuf.” Ntzoka Shange was the complete inspiration for this chapter that details the way that Black women are regularly wounded in higher education. The chapter also talks about my ability to triumph over the toxicity of the academy. It was a tribute to Shange and every Black woman who had pointed the way for me…my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, the neighborhood mothers, the church mothers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Anna Julia Cooper, Septima Clark, and so many more.


Shange declared, “I found God in myself and I loved Her fiercely.” This theological declaration was the beginning of my developing a deeper sense of self-esteem and purpose. It moved my gaze away from the “man” in the pulpit and toward that which God had placed inside of me. Shange grew up in a middle class family—her father an Air Force surgeon and her mother a psychiatric social worker. She attended and graduated from Barnard College with a degree in American Studies. She later earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Southern California. She had many of what psychologists call, “protective factors” but they did not keep her from sinking into depression and contemplating suicide.


Her last 14 years were difficult. She suffered a series of strokes in 2004 and was living in an assisted living facility in Maryland. She was showing signs of recovery and had begun producing new work and doing readings. She has transitioned to the next world and knowing that makes me incredibly sad. However, I find joy in the fact that daily there is yet another Black woman who discovers there was someone who dared to speak, “for colored girls!”


Stay Black & Smart!

“Kanye, Bruh… We Don’t Need Another Uncle Ruckus”

In the film “Barbershop” and its sequel Cedric the Entertainer plays a contrarian character, “Eddie” a Black man who disputes the legitimacy of Rosa Parks’ sacrifice, the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights icons, and the worth of the entire civil rights struggle. Similarly, Aaron McGruder’s animated series, “Boondocks” includes a character, Uncle Ruckus, who although Black voices strong anti-Black sentiments. These characters ring true throughout the Black community because we have seen them in a variety of iterations, mostly older disenchanted Black people who suggest that the younger generation merely seeks special favors from the society and is unwilling to work hard to earn what they need.

Enter, Kanye West…a talented artist whose music has helped transform the hip hop landscape. Lately, Kanye has uttered some bizarre statements that are not merely anti-Black, they are flat out wrong! First, let’s talk about the optics. Kanye West in his “Make America Great Again” hat is an affront to most Black people. But as bad as that might seem, West’s statements about slavery being a “choice,” along with his call for a repeal of the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) and regularly singing the praises of Donald Trump make many in the Black community assume that West’s self described mental health issues are indeed quite serious.

I do not deny that West has some mental health and wellness concerns. I don’t know if they are bipolar disease, depression, or any other diagnosed mental maladies. What I do know is that what he has is probably treatable and I do not believe they fully explain what we are seeing in this young man.

I believe Kanye West is obsessed with celebrity. I think all this Uncle Ruckus-like behavior is tied to his need to have all eyes on him even if those eyes are on him for negative reasons. In his mind that is better than not having them on him at all. Kanye wanted his marriage to make he and Kim Kardashian THE celebrity couple. Instead, the hip hop world considers Jay-Z and Beyonce THE celebrity couple. Their “On the Run 2” tour is a sell out where ever it plays. Additionally, Jay-Z has become a brand. He has a clothing line…Kanye’s has sputtered and failed. Jay-Z has a cologne sold at Macy’s…Kanye has none. Jay-Z has authored a book (“Decoded”)…Kanye has not. Jay-Z is a multi-millionaire who owns an NBA franchise (Brooklyn Nets). Kanye is rumored to be near bankruptcy. The role Bey and Jay played in the Obama Administration far overshadows whatever Kanye thinks he’s doing with Trump.

Other hip hop artists are making their marks in other ways. Kendrick Lamar has been dubbed “the thinking man/woman’s rapper” and has not only been a half time performer at the NCAA Football Championship, but wrote the music for the wildly popular film, “Black Panther.” Chance the Rapper is changing the hip hop game with philanthropy. P. Diddy has always been an entrepreneur who has turned his celebrity into a brand also—clothing line (Sean Jean), cologne, and vodka (Ciroc). Common has won an academy award. There is enough fame and fortune to go around for every talented artist. There does not have to be just one.

I don’t where Kanye West’s egomaniacal, megalomania emanates from. I don’t know what the impact of his mother’s untimely death has been on his psyche. I don’t know how sick Kanye is. I don’t know how much we see of him and his interactions with and on behalf of Donald Trump are real or merely theater in an attempt to keep all eyes on him. I just know we don’t need another Ruckus!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Look Up in the Sky…It’s Kaep, it’s Serena… it’s Anti-Blackness!”

By now you know that the Nike Corporation has decided to make Colin Kaepernick the face of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign. The reaction has been swift and predictable. Some people have vowed to not purchase another pair of Nike sneakers or athletic wear. Some have taken to the Internet to show their cuting up Nike socks and burning Nike sneakers. Is this really a patriot act or is it yet another example of anti-blackness that has become business as usual for these United States?

All through the US Open Tennis Tournament, Nike has been running an ad that juxtaposes Serena Williams as professional tennis player with video of her as a little girl learning the game. The voice over in the ad is that of her dad, Richard Williams coaching, cajoling, and encouraging her. At one point we hear Mr. Williams say, “hit it like you’re in the US Open!” The slogan that closes out the ad reads, “It’s only crazy until you do it!” Serena (and her sister, Venus) has been the victim of anti-black vitriol from the moment she took the tennis world by storm. The beads in her hair were too noisy. Her style was unorthodox having been taught the game by a non-professional like her dad. She has been body shamed and told she was unattractive. Her tennis brilliance has been attributed solely to her “athleticism” rather than hard work and skill. Just after the French Open we learned that her specially designed one-piece outfit to help her cope with life-threatening blood clots would be banned from future French Opens but in perfect Serena style and flare she showed up at the US open in a one-shoulder outfit with a tutu! Although she is undoubtedly the best athlete in the world (sorry LeBron) there was a time (2015) when she earned less in endorsements than Maria Sharapova despite dominating Sharapova on the court.

Now along comes Colin Kaepernick who has taken a brave and principled stance against racist police brutality. His refusal to stand for the National Anthem has cost him his career. We may soon learn that the NFL colluded against him to keep him from earning a spot on any NFL team. But he has become a hero to Black people everywhere. The slogan attached to his Nike ad reads, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything!” The social media response was swift with #JustDontDoIt and #JustBurnIt trending on Twitter.

Nike, Inc. is a $34 billion international corporation. If you think for one minute the company did not do its market research BEFORE releasing this campaign you are ignorant of how business actually works. Nike has already locked down a $1billion contract with the NFL for the next 8 years. Colin Kaepernick is still one of its clients and he is popular among young Black people. Nike is playing the long game. Having sat on a Division IA athletic board for 7 years I have seen this game from the inside. Colleges and universities have to clothe their athletes and the days of every sport on the campus picking their own supplier are over. One contract for the entire athletic program with lots of perks is standard operating procedure and Nike has been ruthless in this game. Nike underwrites AAU and prep athletes and sponsors countless urban athletic programs. (I know this as the grandmother of an elite basketball player who was regularly invited to the Nike Invitational Tournaments and outfitted with their shoes). While this sounds benevolent on their part, their goal is to steer these young people to colleges and universities with which they have contracts. Elite prep athletes who express interest in non-Nike schools receive all sorts of pressure to choose a “Nike school.” But the Nike shoe and apparel burners and boycotters do not seem to care about this side of the Nike story.

Earlier this year Nike attempted to rectify the pay disparity that exists between its male and female employees. Female employees at Nike regularly reported sexual harassment and unequal pay at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. But the shoe and apparel burners and boycotters do not seem to care about this side of the Nike story.

Nike like most of the athletic-leisure wear industry has a terrible track record when it comes to exploiting workers in developing countries. The sweatshop conditions that exist in Nike factories are well documented. The fact that children and women are working under harsh conditions for subsistence wages does not seem to bother these patriotic, “principled” consumers. They will not burn their sneakers or boycott the company over this.

Nike is not making a political statement. It is making a business move. It is clear on its target consumers. Those consumers are not the ones buying Nike Monarchs for $65 dollars at JC Penney’s or $39.99 at TJ Maxx. No, Nike continues to court inner city kids whose parents scrimp and save to pay over $100 for the latest version of Air Jordans. That a few White men (who may or may not be able to jump) burn their sneakers is a calculated risk that ultimately will not hurt their bottom line. Remember when people in Cleveland burned their LeBron jerseys? By the way, Nike also owns Converse, Vans, Cole Haan, Umbro, and Hurley so there’s a lot of burning and cutting they need to do!

The outrage over Nike is just one more salvo being fired in the anti-black campaign that the current resident of the White House has made his rallying cry. If it is about patriotism where were they when a presidential candidate claimed that Senator John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured? If it is about patriotism where were they when this same candidate maligned a Gold Star family? No, this is about Black people having the temerity to say that they are sick and tired of racism. This is about Black people exercising their right to protest injustice. This is a continuation of the anti-blackness that pervades every aspect of American life.

Stay Black & Smart!

“The Queen is Going Up Yonder”

Although we knew she was gravely ill, it still hit us hard to learn that Aretha Franklin had died. Her passing was close in time with that of Arizona Senator John McCain. Both were luminaries and in this small space I could not adequately attempt to speak of their impact and legacies. However, Aretha’s passing is an opportunity to share with a wider community the import and significance of the Black homegoing celebration. Incidentally, I am writing this while watching Aretha Franklin’s homegoing broadcast on BET.

Yes, we grieve and mourn at the passing of a loved one, but the Black tradition is also to celebrate the transition from this world to the next. For Black people this is not the end…it is the beginning of the promise. In this blog I’d like to share why we do it and how we do it.

Why We Do It: Our sojourn in this nation has been among the harshest of any people in its history. We have been enslaved, beaten, separated from family, language, culture, and everything we knew as home and connection to humanity. We sing a song that says, “We’ve been lied on, cheated, talked about and mistreated.” We came to these shores as spiritual beings. We came understanding that there was something bigger and more transcendent than this place or ourselves. And, when slave masters sought to give us the Christian religion as a pacifier, we grabbed hold of it and made of it what we believe it was truly meant to be. When the scriptures said that we were not citizens of this world, we found comfort in the notion that we had “another building…not made with hands.” The Black homegoing is a return to our God, it is not just a funeral. It is a celebration of life, not a sorrowful, morbid, sad occasion. It is our way to tell this world the deceased is heading home—from labor to reward! Also, we do our homegoings as a caution to those who remain. If the deceased was a believer the homegoing is an admonition to those who are not that their only opportunity to see him or her again in eternity is to become one.

How We Do It: Because we are celebrating a life we often pull out all the stops. Our homegoing celebrations are elaborate and often reflect a grandeur that we did not experience in life. We have dozens and dozens of flowers and beautiful caskets in which we lay “open casket sharp!” We invite everybody…family, friends, loved ones, enemies, haters, the curious, and questioners. We plan a program but we often go off script. We PARTICIPATE in the homegoing. We sing, we testify, we shout, we share stories, we laugh, and yes, we cry. We may have treated you badly in this world, but we feel obligated to send you home in style.
After the service (and the internment) we participate in something known as the “repast.” This is the bountiful, scrumptious meal where we gather to remember the deceased. In the traditional Black church the foods are brought in from people who know how to cook! A typical repast will have chicken (fried and baked), ham, turkey macaroni and cheese, candied yams, potato salad, spaghetti, collard greens, green beans, dressing, rolls, sweet potato pie, pound cake, peach cobbler and of course, sweet tea and red Kool-Aid. This is a Black repast!

My first time attending a White funeral left me totally depressed. The ceremony was solemn; there were a few speeches and a few tears. At the “repast” (I think they called it a “reception”) they served finger sandwiches and cookies. I turned to a colleague and said, “You know I can’t grieve right without some homemade macaroni and cheese!”

We celebrate our deceased royally because we knew they were not accorded their full humanity during their time on earth. We celebrate because it is the only way we can endure the pain of oppression. We celebrate because we have to have hope. We celebrate because we want the world to know that we have citizenship in another land.

Yes, we celebrate the Queen, Aretha Franklin in the style we believe is worthy of her. Her body belongs in a gold plated casket. She is entitled to a change of clothes. She deserved a celebratory evening with her beloved sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. We were supposed to devote a Sirius XM station to her for the past weeks. She needed to lie is state at the Wright African American History Museum. We needed to stand in long lines to pay reverence to her. We love her and all she sacrificed for us. She sang us through good times and heartaches. She gave us R-E-S-P-E-C-T and now we give you honor. Our Queen is going up yonder!

Stay Black & Smart!