“Wakanda Forever”


When my sons were young I regularly, but reluctantly took them to the movies to see their beloved Kung Fu films. My boys loved Bruce Lee and I sat through “Fists of Fury,” “Enter the Dragon,” and “The Way of the Dragon.” None of these films made much sense to me. I would regularly ask questions about the anomalies and discontinuities in the plots only to have one of the boys or another audience member place a finger to their lips and go, “Shhhh!” I soon learned that these movies were not about plot, theme, or moral. They were all about the fighting and my kids couldn’t get enough of them. I would not come to appreciate Kung Fu movies until many years later when “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was released (2000). Here was a film with a coherent plot, beautiful scenery, and a female protagonist.

However, this past weekend I had a chance to see the film I wished I could have taken my kids to—“Black Panther.” On the surface this film is just another comic book adaptation like “Superman,” “Batman,” “Captain America,’ “Wonder Woman,” or “The Avengers.” All of these films have done well at the box office and all have focused on Euro-American super heroes who save the world. But Black Panther is the first feature film that showcases a Black super hero from Africa—the fictional nation of Wakanda.

Unlike its predecessors, “Black Panther” is decidedly Black—not just a “white” super hero in black face. No, “Black Panther” is decidedly political, cultural, spiritual, and racial. It asks its audience to think about the world we created and the world we want to live in. For this blog post I want to take up 3 reasons why I want Black children (well, Black people) to see this film:

Strong Black men in collaboration with strong Black women: “Black Panther turns our typical sense of masculine and feminine on its head. It says, a strong Black man is not intimidated by a strong Black woman. Indeed, the message of the film is that a Black man’s strength is enhanced and elevated by strong Black women. T’Challa’s mother, sister, love interest, Dora Milaje (women warriors) and Okoye the warrior general were women who made their King better and central to the film.

Being smart is “acting Black:” So much of the discourse about Black children and academics focuses on a mythology that suggests being academically excellent is tantamount to “acting White.” “Black Panther” dispels this notion by making the mythical nation of Wakanda a place with the highest level of science and technology in the world! T’Challa’s sister, Shuri is a scientific/technological genius. The citizens of Wakanda understand how to use their country’s natural resources. They are entrepreneurs, farmers, pilots, physicians, herbalists, griots, and secret agents to name a few of the careers displayed in the film. They are smart AND they are Black!

Respect for the ancestors: In our highly technological and increasingly fragmented world, each age cohort seems solely caught up with its own group. Tweens hang with tweens, teens hang with teens, twenty some things hang with twenty some things. Our elders are secreted away in nursing homes or “senior living communities.” We have places like Sun City or The Villages in Florida where people under the age of 55 are not even allowed to live. However, in Wakanda we saw the generations come together in ceremonial occasions. Children were not kept away from the cultural secrets. Even the King could not complete his coronation without a visit to the “ancestral plane” where he consults with his deceased father.

In addition to these 3 themes I want to take a lighter look at what I think of as the 5 Blackest moments in the Black Panther film:

  1. When Okoye snatched off her wig and threw it at the White man— You know you are in trouble when a sister takes her hair off. Granted. Okoye did not want to wear the wig in the first place but because of her distinctive Wakandan shaved head she agreed, reluctantly to wear the wig as a part of the mission to Korea. But when the “stuff” hit the fan she snatched off her wig, threw it, and began kicking butt and taking names. It was a “Black” moment.
  2. When Shuri told T’Challa, “Great, another broken White boy for me to fix”—This is how so many Black people feel on their jobs when we end up having to train less qualified people to take jobs supervising us. Some of us look at the incompetence of White colleagues and are bewildered that we have to pretend like their mediocrity is lauded as excellence. Many of my relatives who have served as domestics in White households have shared stories of “fixing broken” White women and their children in order to make their jobs bearable. Shuri’s outspoken declaration was a “Black” moment.
  3. When W’Kabi asks Okoye, “Would you kill me my love?” and she replies, “For Wakanda? … No question!”—reminds me of the many times Black women have to make pyrrhic choices. The welfare system required many Black mothers to make a choice between keeping a man in their home and receiving the kind of financial assistance to pay the rent and keep food on the table. They had to put that man out “for Wakanda”—for their futures. Don’t give Black women an ultimatum unless you are prepared for them to take the choice you don’t want. Okoye gave us a really “Black” moment.
  4. The barking to drown out the “whitesplaining”—Oh, that was a Black moment. When Agent Ross tried to open his mouth with an authority he did not possess the Jabari started barking like crazy. As I sat there all I could think was, “Wow, I’d love to do that in a department meeting!” When nobody really wants to hear the party line it’s time to start barking. Wouldn’t it be cool if the reporters in the White House Press Corps would start barking whenever Sarah Huckabee Sanders started in with another of those ridiculous explanations to cover for Donald Trump? It woud be a really “Black” moment.
  5. Finally, when Erik Stevens (a.k.a. Killmonger) shows up in the Wakandan court and says to Ramonda (Angela Bassett), “Hi Auntie”—It is the most inappropriate truth of the moment. It is true she is his aunt. It is also true that nobody wants to acknowledge it. It’s like an “outside” child showing up at daddy’s funeral and wrapping her arms around the “real” kids. It’s both true and inappropriate and it’s the kind of thing that regularly happens in Black families. It was a really “Black” moment.

Black Panther is not a perfect film but it is a good film and it is the film we need right now. It has some obvious shortcomings when we think about how the Wakandans are reluctant to truly help the rest of the world, and the rest of the continent of Africa, in particular. However, the nature of super heroes is that they need conflict and if Wakanda fixes all the problems we have no sequels to look forward to. This film provides the escape we desperately need at this moment. We are in a political and social morass. We see children senselessly killed in their school classrooms. We know a foreign government—Russia—interfered in our Presidential elections. We see a rise in hate crimes. We can get no relief from the police shootings of unarmed African Americans. We needed some escape and what better place to escape to than Wakanda (forever)!

Stay Black and Smart!



“Black Women Holding Up the World!”

Well, we did it again! Who is the “we?” Black women! What is the “it?” Coming to humanity’s rescue. This past Tuesday in Alabama Black women showed up en masse at the polls to vote to ensure that an alleged pedophile, declared racist (he thought Blacks were better off under slavery), and distorter of Christianity (he believes God is going to give him the electoral victory) was defeated. Judge Roy Moore was the country’s worse nightmare. He was unseated from federal judgeships twice. He regularly defied court orders and had no sense of equality and justice for people who weren’t just like him. He thinks it is wrong for a Muslim to be seated in the US Congress.

Having Roy Moore in the Senate would have meant that his brand of Alt-Right conservatism would be endorsed once again at the height of our government. The current occupant of the Whitehouse stumped for him. He made robo-calls for him. He dismissed the mountain of evidence that alleged this man had assaulted and harassed teenaged girls when he was an officer of the court and in his 30s.

This potential catastrophe was stopped by none other than who else…Black women. Black women voted for Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones at a rate of 98 percent. (Black men supported Jones at a rate of 93 percent). But, it was not just their election day participation that made this Alabama miracle happen. No, Black women were out pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to rally the community to vote to “Make America Gracious Again.” DeJuana Thompson, a community activist shared what some of us knew all along—“When Black women show up for their community, every community is empowered.”

Thompson founded a program titled, “Woke Vote” as a way to reach millennials and during this campaign she traveled the state going to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black churches to remind Black folks how important it is to vote. Thompson knew that if she could motivate Black women she could turn this election.

The “Alabama miracle” is characteristic of the work Black women have always done in this society. Black women transported us out of slavery (Harriet Tubman). Black women spoke up for our right to be seen as women (Sojourner Truth). Black women broadcast the lynching of our men and women throughout the world (Ida B. Wells). Black women educated us (Anna Julia Cooper). Black women sparked the Civil Rights Movement (Rosa Parks). Black women were leaders in that Movement (Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker). Black women protected our children when they had to go through hate-filled crowds to enter a school (Daisy Bates). Black women held their heads up in dignity when they were not allowed to entertain in so-called all White venues (Marian Anderson). Black women have patiently waited their turn to be acknowledged for their artistic excellence (Halle Berry, Viola Davis) and Black women have moved into “non-traditional” sports to show the world they can do anything (Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Simone Manuel).

Black people have always known that Black women hold up the world. Now the world knows they do. They exhibit moral courage in times of challenge. In the 2016 election Black women made the practical choice. Despite not being overwhelming excited about Hillary Clinton, they knew that Donald Trump would be a disaster and they were right. So Black women voted for Hillary Clinton at a rate of 96 percent while White women voted for Donald Trump at a rate of 53 percent. Black women ride hard for any cause that will better humanity—women, men of color, children, seniors, immigrants, etc. But when it comes to Black women’s issues, no one else rides for them. That’s okay…we will keep holding up the world and the rest of the world better hope we don’t put our arms down!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I Know What You Said…And, I Know What You Meant”


“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” ~ Bob McNair, Owner Houston Texans

Well, it’s happened again. A powerful White man whose business is almost solely supported by Black labor has said aloud what has been ruminating in his head. In 2014 then Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA because his racist conversations were recorded and released to the public. As shocked as everyone seemed to be, it is clear to most Black people statements like those of Sterling are common place among Whites—both those in power and those in lowly positions. We know that many Whites harbor incredibly racist thoughts about Blacks and other people of color. And, in a free society they are allowed to have those thoughts. But, for the last few decades, in this post-Civil Rights Era, we have come to expect people to at least monitor their behavior in a society that is rapidly changing along racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sexuality, and ability lines.

When Paula Dean, the Food Network star, was castigated for having used the N-word, most Black people I knew who were at least 50 years old shrugged their shoulders and said, “Of course a 60 year old woman from the South has used the N-word. We’d be shocked if she hadn’t.” We recognize that as long as we live and operate in ethnic enclaves unsavory racial and racist comments will be spoken.

We are in an especially difficult time in our country. Racism has reared its ugly head in all kinds of places. We see it on our college campuses. We see it in corporate boardrooms. We even see it in the highest office of the land when the President declares that “there were bad people on ‘both sides’,” when referring to Nazi, Klan, and White supremacists protestors and their counter protestors.

Houston Texan football team owner Bob McNair revealed something that has bothered me about American football and basketball for a long time. African American athletes dominate both sports. And although they are well compensated, they play sports that have no guarantee of career security or longevity. At each contest players are one play away from some career-ending injury. And, they make the owners an astronomical amount of money. The NFL owners are worth between 2 and 6 plus billion dollars! Bob McNair is worth 3.8 billion. But he believes that the simple act of taking a knee in protest of continued police brutality against African Americans represents “the inmates running the prison.” Actually, I think he really means, “the slaves are running the plantation.” In his mind he “bought” these players and they are to do what he wants them to do.

The relationship between an employer and employee is often fraught with tension. They are not in an equal status relationship. But, they are supposed to be in a respectful relationship. Their contracts determine the parameters of that relationship. But working for someone does not mean they own you. The 13th amendment banned slavery and involuntary servitude but far too many powerful White people act as if the amendment is just a formality or a suggestion.

Bob McNair is not alone in his low opinion of Black athletes. Their bodies are mere interchangeable parts on the fields, stadiums, and courts they own. They are their “boys” and for the most part all they want from them is to be “good boys” who win games and earn the owners more money. When they struggle with substance addictions or devolve into situations involving domestic violence the only thing the owners seem to want to know is how soon they can get back on the field or court. But when they express a political opinion they are seen as stepping out of line. They are being “uppity” and no one likes an “uppity” Negro!

Bob McNair has since apologized and claims his remark was not aimed at the players but at the league office. But that makes no sense. The league office is not subservient to the teams. The league office administers the game. It dispatches the officials. It is the place where the rules get made. They are SUPPOSED to run the league, so saying they are the “inmates “is nonsense. Mr. McNair, we know what you said…and more important, we know what you meant!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Where Black Excellence Abounds”


I had one of my all time great weekends this past Friday and Saturday. I went to my undergraduate college homecoming weekend. I graduated from Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD) and I was celebrating the reunion of the class of ’68 (we kick off our 50th celebration at Homecoming and culminate at Commencement in May 1968). On many of my Facebook posts I posted photos and comments from the university’s Gala, the football game, a class of ’69 reception (that I crashed…because I was supposed to be in that class but did enough summer school credits to graduate with the class of ’68) and my own class party. What struck me throughout the weekend was how many outstanding African Americans have passed through my life at that little college (now about 7,500 students, about 4,000 when I attended).

Morgan State University is celebrating its sesquicentennial and it has been an amazing 150 years. In May the National Preservation Trust designated the campus a National Treasure. As I sat at the Homecoming Gala of close to 1,000 attendees I could not help but notice the outstanding accomplishments of fellow Morganites. I sat at a table with a classmate who is the Senate President Pro-Tem of the Maryland State Legislature. Across from me sat a woman who (along with her late husband) has donated $1million to our Alma Mater. I sat next to a woman who was a partner in a major Wall Street brokerage house. At the table next to me sat White House correspondent April Ryan (of Sean Spicer, “stop shaking your head” fame) and the Mayor of Baltimore, both Morgan alums. The man who was once mayor of my hometown of Philadelphia is a Morgan State alum. Another man in the class ahead of me became the Chief Justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals. There were several four star generals at the table. Another of my classmates is a judge in Pennsylvania. One of my roommates became the first woman to pastor a historic 160-year-old church. Another roommate was a fitness expert who had a recurring role on the PBS classic, “Mr. Rogers.”

At the Gala there were a number of undergraduates. Two spoke to the gathering. One was a physics major who entered the university at age 16 and was carrying a 4.0 into his senior year. The other was a sophomore woman studying computer sciences who spent last summer as an intern at Facebook. In fact, Morgan sent more interns to Silicon Valley last year than any other college/university in the nation. When I graduated my class was awarded more Fulbright Scholarships than any other school. Over time, 115 Morganites have won Fulbright Scholarships because we had a professor who had won several and he offered a “class” for students who were interested in applying for a Fulbright.

In addition to the University’s academic excellence, we have also had athletic excellence. When I attended the football team NEVER lost a game. Our Coach Earl Banks was a legend (a kind of Vince Lombardi or George Halas). Our tiny school produced 4 NFL Hall of Famers (Roosevelt Brown, Willie Lanier, Leroy Kelly, and Len Ford), while the University of Wisconsin has produced 3.

I share this information because Morgan State is but one of 120 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across this nation (mostly in the South) and each of them has its list of luminaries and outstanding alumni. So many Black people of note got their grounding in an HBCU—Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Toni Morrison, Taraji P. Henson, Marian Wright Edelman, Thurgood Marshall, David Satcher, Barbara Jordan, George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, and Alice Walker are but a small sample of African Americans who matriculated at HBCUs.

The larger point of this post is that I am sick of hearing what African American children cannot do. I am weary of all of the failure rhetoric. I am done with all the discourses that insist that Black children need grit and resilience to succeed. What they need to succeed is to be surrounded by adults who care deeply about them. They need adults who do not assume they cannot do things. They need adults who will persist even when it takes them longer to grasp a concept or develop a skill. They need adults who remain in their corner no matter what.

It strikes me as ironic when people tell me how “smart” I am. Yes, I’ve had a great career. I’ve garnered many accolades. But, the truth of the matter is I was just an “ordinary” Black girl growing up in a community who kept encouraging me. My teachers in my segregated elementary school encouraged me. My neighbors encouraged me. My church members encouraged me. My African American physician and dentist both encouraged me. And, when I was admitted into an Ivy League School I declined in favor of an HBCU because I knew I wanted to be surrounded by caring adults. I was right and I went to a place where Black excellence abounds.

Stay Black and Smart!

“The Right Way to Protest”

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen various commentators (and commentaries) about how wrong NFL players are to “disrespect the flag.” As a part of a campaign rally in Alabama the President claimed that they were ungrateful SOBs who should be fired for not standing during the singing or playing of the National Anthem. Lost in all of the kneeling, sitting, and locking of arms during the anthem is the man who started it all…Colin Kaepernick AND the cause for which he took a knee.

Last year Colin Kaepernick was a quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers. He began taking a knee during the singing/playing of the National Anthem to call attention to the rampant injustice in the US that repeatedly allows unarmed African Americans to be shot by police officers and most of those officers never being convicted of murder, manslaughter or even wrongful death. By the end of the season, Kaepernick was let go and NO other team picked him up. Some argued that Kaepernick was not “good enough” to be on a team. Kaepernick who recently took his team to the Super Bowl was “not good enough.” And, while experts can disagree I think Kaepernick is better than a number of current quarterbacks. Indeed, even if no team thought he was good enough to start, he is at least good enough to be a back up on some team. I can only surmise that Kaepernick is not on a team because the NFL owners have decided he is too publicly toxic to sign. And, I assume that they have colluded to insure that no one broke the code that said, “Do not sign Kaepernick!”

One of the things we hear over and over about Kaepernick and now the players who are protesting is what they are doing is “not the right way to protest.” So now I ask, “What is the RIGHT way to protest?” The players taking a knee are not disrupting the anthem. They are not causing a scene. They are expressing their Constitutional right not to stand during the anthem. At my university last year 2 of our basketball players decided to step off of the line away from the rest of their teammates during the singing/playing of the National Anthem. Again, it was not disruptive. It was a silent protest and yet at one game I heard a fan yell, “[Player’s name] step up to the line!” The fan disrupted the anthem, not the player!

If kneeling quietly before the anthem is not the right way to protest what is the right way? There has never been a protest movement led by Black people that was considered “right.” Nineteenth Century abolitionists were not protesting “the right way.” The protests of Black people throughout the South was not considered “the right way.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. led protests in Montgomery, Selma, Chicago, and cities across the nation it was not considered “the right way.” When John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico it was not considered “the right way.” When Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam War it was not considered “the right way.” When Black people in the US staged protests on behalf of Apartheid in South Africa and were being hauled off to jail it was not considered “the right way.” None of these protests were considered “the right way” but it turns out every last one of these protestors was on the right side of history. Protests against big, powerful systems are almost always seen as “wrong.” But history almost always proves them right.

Colin Kaepernick is right! He was being respectful in his protest and he is paying the price for it. Indeed, a recent post on my social media wall says, “Racism is so American that when we protest racism the average American assumes we’re protesting America!” Thus, if the folks who claim that Black folks are not protesting “the right way” were honest with themselves they would admit that they think the only right way to protest is to be White!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Don’t You EVER Call My Sons, SOBs”


The past month has been filled with travel, the start of schools, and scores of writing assignments with near impossible deadlines. Thus, I have had little or no time to sit down to write a blog. Also, the craziness of events in this nation has been coming fast and furious—so fast that I have just stared at the news reports with my mouth agape. Where do we begin? There were the multiple firings of Spicer, Scaramucci, and Bannon (sounds like a discount law firm, doesn’t it). Then there were the constant reports of the Russian investigation and daily threats to North Korea. When the “leader of the free world” gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly and referred to another country’s leader as “Rocket Man” I thought we could not sink any lower. But then he headed to Alabama to support the Senate candidacy of Luther Strange and used the occasion to castigate NFL and NBA players who chose to exercise their Constitutional rights to protest by taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. He referred to them as SOBs and called on NFL owners to fire them! SOBs!!! Who does this man-boy think he is? How dare he hurl insults at people acting as citizens? What is wrong with him?

One of the people who have been singled out in this is NBA super star, Steph Curry. Curry has decided he would not accept and invitation to the White House should his team decide to go (actually, his team, the Golden State Warriors, voted not to go). Curry is the epitome of the clean cut All American athlete. He comes from a strong, supportive family, completed his college degree, married his college sweetheart and is a doting father. On top of all of that he is an amazing athlete, an avowed Christian, and just the example Americans should want their children to emulate.

But, the Orange Terror (I will never call his name) was deliberate in his attack against Black athletes. It plays directly to his base—White, disaffected, working class people who swear that they are losing ground because of some perceived advantage that Black people have (no data support this perception). His hatred of President Barak Obama is palpable. He still cannot accept that a Black man became president and his entire administration has been about undoing any and every thing Obama did. His endorsement of White supremacists and racists is on record and yet there is always some apologist who will argue that he, himself, is not a racist. I’m sorry, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!

The reference to these Black athletes as SOBs hits at the very heart of racist sentiments in this country. Black women have never been able to claim their full humanity or womanhood. They have always been regarded as over sexualized units of labor. They not only had to endure the N-word, they have also been subject to the B-word. So now the so-called president is calling them B-word! What can I call his mother—mother of an adulterer, mother of a sexual predator, mother of a liar? Trust me if I had a chance to see him face-to-face I would not mince words. I would not pretend that I had to respect the office because he has already disrespected it so many times I cannot count. I would tell him he’s a liar, a cheat, his feet stink, and he don’t know Jesus!!! He just better not call MY sons, SOBs!

Stay Black & Smart!


“Yo… Come Get Your Children!”

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

One of the frustrations of having been a student of US History is the recognition of the ahistorical nature of our society. Every time we see something that is a direct connection to our history we hear people talking about it as if it were a brand new thing. This past weekend we saw yet another example of how White supremacy remains an ongoing thread throughout American society and culture. The so-called alt-right and White nationalists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia in a show of force. Their protest was met by a counter protest and before long one of the White nationalists drove his car into a crowd of counter demonstrators killing a young woman. Additionally, two law enforcement officers in a helicopter monitoring the protests were killed when their chopper crashed.

Our airways are filled with outrage about the presence of these White nationalists but frankly they represent exactly what the nation has been fueling for centuries. Some people are pointing a finger at the current resident of the White House but I would argue that he did not create these racists; he is a product of them. I contend that our current president has no ideology outside of what ever benefits him. He learned that he could create adoration by attacking former President Obama in the vilest, most vicious ways. Racism sells!

But, the problem we are confronting does not reside just in the young White supremacists. The young people who flooded the streets of Charlottesville were mostly in their early 20s. And, they were about 12 or 13 years old when Barak Obama became president. My husband and I largely shaped our children’s political views at that age. Even as they were older, we talked positively about the president. We shared our pride in his ability to win the nomination and ultimately the presidency. But, what was being said in the households of the Charlottesville marchers. Did anyone contradict the narrative that suggested he was not a “real” American? Did anyone step up and say, “No, Barak Obama is not a Muslim AND if he were what difference would that make?” Did anyone point out that Barak Obama brought the economy back from the brink of collapse and is probably NOT responsible for the job loss that working class White people claim to be suffering (incidentally, Black unemployment always remained higher throughout his presidency). The parents of the alt-right young people raised their children to believe they should win at everything. They should be at the top of the class. They believe they deserve a place on the team. They should not lose at anything so they warrant a “participation certificate” for anything and everything. They believe they are entitled to the best jobs, the best homes, and the best lives.

Now, we see people across the nation clutching their collective chests in horror. And, I recognize a familiar pattern of behavior among White people I know. There are those who are truly upset and angry and deeply invested in attempting to eradicate racism and White supremacy. They represent the minority of the White people I encounter. Then there are those who claim to have clean hands because they divorce themselves from any of the goings-on in Virginia. For example, today at church my Pastor talked directly about the evil that we saw in Charlottesville and what our spiritual response should be. My husband attends a mostly White, Catholic Church. When I asked him if the priest mentioned anything about Virginia he looked at me and said, “You know he didn’t!” Those are the same people who raise their children to believe racial issues are not their concern. A third group of people I encounter are outright racists. They support everything that happened in Virginia, cheer on the efforts of White supremacists, and they have raised their children to do the same. I work hard not to be around those people and I can generally avoid them. However, a fourth group is a lot more troublesome for me. These are the “progressives” or “liberals” who believe they have a right to speak for everyone else. They believe they are immune to White supremacy and racism. However, the causes they rally around tend to be (White) women’s rights, class inequality, or the environment. For them, racism is “so-1980s.” For them, Barak Obama’s presidency proved that we are post-racial. They no longer have time for racism and if their children are edged out of a seat at Harvard or Yale or Stanford, they are the first people who want to re-think affirmative action.

I wish I never had to write another sentence about racism and White supremacy. It is exhausting and debilitating. But, as long as White people refuse to take any responsibility for fostering it—directly and tacitly—I know I will have to keep trying to combat it. Right now all I can say is, “Yo… Come get your children!”

Stay Black & Smart!


“I’m Reclaiming My Time”


Well, Auntie Maxine did it again. She put language to our thoughts and feelings during a hearing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who attempted to run out the clock instead of answering her direct question…”Why have you not replied to the letter the House Financial Services Committee sent you?” Mnuchin thought he could evade Congresswoman Waters questions by flattering her and restating questions but she was having none of it. She told the Secretary that she did not need to hear how great she was. She wanted an answer to her question. When Mnuchin attempted to continue to delay and defer Congresswoman Maxine uttered the line every Black woman I know decided was going to be her tag line…”I’m reclaiming my time!” Procedurally, Congresswoman Waters was letting the Secretary and the Committee Chairman know that her time would not be frittered away by his stalling tactics. The rules allow her a specific amount of time and Mnuchin was trying to treat the hearing like the last 24 seconds in a basketball game when the team with the ball is up by one point. He was playing a game of “keep away” but Congresswoman Waters had her eye squarely on the game clock and cried foul by repeatedly saying, “I’m reclaiming my time!” In other words, “I will NOT be denied!” Congresswoman Maxine Waters taught us several things during that interaction that are more than “meme worthy!” They are things every Black woman should remember:

Operate With No Fear: As a member of the minority party I think Congresswoman Waters’ opposition expects her to be afraid of them. But, that has never been her style. She came out of the inauguration “guns a blazing.” She did not attend the inauguration, the parade, or the parties. She stated unequivocally, “I don’t honor him, I don’t respect him, and I don’t want to be involved with him!” Auntie Maxine was not worried about the repercussions of the opposing party. She was not going to be lukewarm and play that “respectability” game that some on the members on her side of the aisle are attempting to play. She remembers how cold-blooded and mean-spirited people like Joe Wilson and Mitch McConnell were to President Obama, right out of the box. It didn’t hurt them and she is letting them know that two can play that game. When we allow people to bully and cower us we give them power. When we are clear we are not going to be afraid, they back down because bullies are always searching for the weak.

Maintain Fidelity: Congresswoman Maxine Waters has represented her district in the Watts section of California since 1991. Before that she was a member of the California Assembly (beginning in 1976). She has consistently represented the dispossessed and down trodden. She is not afraid to call herself a political liberal and she has carried the water for liberal causes for a very long time. She does not change with the wind. Similarly, Black women have to be clear re: what we stand for and what we will NOT stand for. In her interaction with Mnuchin Maxine Waters was saying, “You are NOT going to clown me. I need you to answer my question!” If we are going to be women of integrity we have to maintain fidelity to those things that matter to our sisters, our brothers, our families, and our communities. Maintaining fidelity is rarely expedient. It means we sometimes have to stand on the side of right even when we find ourselves standing all alone.

Don’t Tolerate Foolishness: My millennials, Gen X and Y folks have another way of saying this. However, my identity as a Christian doesn’t allow me to articulate it in their way. But they would say Auntie Maxine has no “foolishness” to give. Secretary Mnuchin thought he could get around the hard questions by flattering Congresswoman Waters. When she said, “Don’t tell me how great I am,” we could have (as my mama used to say), “bought Mnuchin for a quarter!” He thought he could offer up some “sweet words” to catch her off guard. Perhaps he thought she’d say to herself, “Well, he’s not such a bad guy. Let me give him the benefit of the doubt!” No indeed, Auntie Maxine did not have any foolishness to give. How often do we tolerate foolishness in our lives? We’re trying to get a raise because we’re working harder (and better) than anyone else but the supervisor, manager, or department chair is telling us something about how nice we dress. We need to find out how our children are doing in school and the teacher tells us how nicely behaved our baby is. We know that! We sent him/her to school nice. What does s/he know or not know? How can I help him/her improve? We’re trying to figure out what is going on in our relationship and our partner starts out with, “But babe you gotta understand how hard it is out here…” It’s hard out here for us too. That doesn’t give them license to play you. No, Auntie Maxine has been clear. Do not tolerate foolishness.

When we begin to operate without fear, maintain fidelity, and stop tolerating foolishness we are reclaiming our time and the next time somebody starts “talking out the side of their neck” when you are trying to get a straight answer you just say, “Reclaiming my time…reclaiming my time!”

Stay Black & Smart!





“Calling Me Outta My Name”


When I was a child growing up I can remember parents and other adults telling me not to be bothered by people calling me names. The old adage that I’ll bet many of you also heard was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!” But, the truth is names do hurt and not having control over your name can hurt even more. From the time African descent people were brought to the US we have been fighting for the right to our names. Our ancestral names were the first names we lost. No longer being known as Fanta or Ibahim or Kofi or N’Zinga we became Pearlie or Jupiter or Rufus or Callie. Our cultural names were also taken. We were no longer Ibo, Yoruba, Fulani, Mende or one of the other close to 100 ethnic group names we knew in our native lands. Now we became the most hated name in the English language. We became the N-word! This stealing of our names represents a stealing of our identities and it is the reason Black people in the US have struggled long and hard with what to call ourselves. We “upgraded” to “Negro” and then on to “Colored” and then “Black” and more recently “African American.” We’ve changed our name so often because none of these “upgrades” truly replaces the names of our ancestral heritages.

Being called out of one’s names is not only about calling out racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs. It is about the power and control to chart one’s own destiny.

Because naming is so important to human identity, Black people often use creative and special names for their children. We often reject more generic sounding names like John, Tom, Bill, Mary, or Betty for D’Andre, Shumar, L’Tonya, or Qiana as a way to speak to our style and distinctiveness. However, instead of being celebrated for this creativity our children are often demonized and ridiculed for their names. Their teachers may pretend not to be able to pronounce their names and resort to “changing” their names to suit their purposes. Employers may ascribe certain negative attributes to people because of their names. A study of MBA job candidates demonstrated that potential employers regularly rejected resumes from people with “Black sounding” names even when the education, experiences, and qualifications are equal to those of candidates with “White sounding” names.

The other day I listened to a radio interview with a respected member of our community about a racial justice coalition he heads. The coalition addresses racial disparities in education, health, incarceration, employment, and leadership in our so-called liberal, progressive community. When the phone lines opened a called wanted to know why the coalition had the word, “Anger” in it. “Don’t you think that name is too negative,” he asked. This is a classic example of White people attempting to decide for us who we should be. It is reminiscent of the uproar over the coalition of activists who have decided to declare that “Black Lives Matter!” Those 3 words have caused upset among White people. Why does it bother folks that Black people want to “matter?” The phrase does not say Black lives are more important than other lives. It does not say Black lives are more worthy than other lives. Saying Black lives matter is just our way of saying we have a right to exist!

The appropriation and distortion of the phrase to become, “All lives Matter” is an insult to the point and purpose of this movement. Black lives matter was chosen to commemorate the murdered, unarmed Black people (at the hands of law enforcement), not to make White feel comfortable. We need you to stop calling us outta our names!

Stay Black & Smart!

“No…Just No!”

So, almost a week has gone by since Bill Maher made his public faux pas with his use of the “N-Word” to describe who he was in relation to what kind of work he does. Reaction has been swift and predictable. Various civil rights and public personalities have denounced his use of the word and once again we are hearing the public debate about the tensions between free speech and censored speech. Before I go too far in this blog post I want to make my position clear. I consider the word to be a form of profanity that is particularly offensive. That said, I believe it is especially offensive for White people to use it. Now, some White people argue that they should be able to say it because Black people say it. That argument is at the heart of the notion of White privilege that suggests White people should not be prohibited from doing whatever they want to do—especially if others are permitted to do it. This is the basis for opposition against affirmative action, diversity initiatives, or women’s rights. Most people agree that men should not call women the B-word even when women use it toward other women—sometimes in affectionate ways like Black people use the N-word. Below is a list of things for which I wish White people would hear a self-censoring Black voice that says, “No…just no!”

1. Saying that you have a “Black friend” as a way to legitimate your bad behavior.
2. Touching a Black woman’s hair and believing you have a right to do it. And, believing you’re making a compliment to her by saying, “Oh, it’s soft…I didn’t expect that!”
3. Making other forms of discrimination equivalent. Sexism, homophobia, religious and linguistic prejudices are their own things. They may be analogous to racism but they are not the same.
4. Drawing specious comparisons between your family’s history and those of Black people as in, “My great grandfather came here from [insert country] without any money and without speaking English and he didn’t expect anything the society.”
5. Dismissing the impact of slavery on the psyche and material realities of Black life. “That was a long time ago, get over it!”
6. Disavowing any culpability for the privilege you enjoy at the expense of others. “I never owned slaves…it’s not my fault!”
7. Assuming a right to simultaneously appropriate and deny culture as in using hip-hop to sell your products while telling Black people they have no culture.
8. Presuming Black respectability is a protective factor in this society. “If they would just pull up their pants they wouldn’t be harassed by the police.”
9. Asking questions about what all Black people think or feel about anything. “What do Black people think about this Bill Cosby thing?”
10. Telling Black folks how hard their lives must be. “It’s a shame you have to live in that dangerous neighborhoods.”
11. Feeling like you have to speak on everything! You can listen sometimes.
12. Believing that you know what’s good for other people. “Black people should take their kids to the zoo!”
13. Assuming you know the motivations and circumstances of others. “Black parents don’t really care about education.”
14. Telling Black people that you are tired of talking about race—try living it (not like Rachel Dolezal).
15. Telling Black people because of Barak Obama we are now post-racial.
16. Pretending that race never motivates your political choices but assuming the only motivation Black people have for anything is racial.
17. Expressing surprise at Black excellence beyond stereotypical areas. “Did you hear about the Black kid chess champion?”
18. Limiting what counts as beauty and aesthetically pleasing. “Her butt is way too big. She should lose weight!”
19. Discounting the belief systems that sustain many Black people. “Black folks need to get rid of their religious superstitions.”
20. Telling us how to eat, to live, what to believe, what to do, and how to be.

In the return to Bill Maher and his use of the N-word, I am reminded of my friend and colleague Professor Marc Lamont Hill who says to White people who ask him, ”Why can’t I use the word?”…”Why do you WANT to use the word?” I think we really do need to hear how people answer that. Despite the power and the privilege White people may enjoy (even poor White people have White skin privilege) there are some things to which I as a Black woman need to say, “No…just no!”

Stay Black & Smart!