“NO, Wisconsin”

The fight song of the University of Wisconsin is “On Wisconsin.” It is played at all major sporting events and even in a medley at graduations. One verse says, “On Wisconsin, on Wisconsin fight on for her fame. Fight fellows fight, fight, fight we’ll win this game!” However, this past week the UW Alumni association released a promo video to encourage people to come back to campus for homecoming that could only prompt me to say instead of “On Wisconsin”… “No, Wisconsin!”

The video features the University and its students… some of its students. You see students going to class, football games, biking, hiking, playing in the band, eating pizza—all things students do. However, there is no representation of students of color in the video. Unfortunately, this is a familiar racial faux pas for UW. Some years ago the university photo shopped a Black student into the student section of the stadium. Its response was to apologize. More recently, a Black student was spat upon by another student and told she did not belong there (despite her incredible performing arts portfolio). About that same time another Black student was arrested in class in front of his fellow student for doing anti-racist graffiti. The list of racial microgressions is too numerous to enumerate in one blog but every day students of color are confronted with reasons they should not feel welcome or safe on the UW campus. UW-Madison is 13 out of 14 (University of Nebraska is worse) Big Ten Conference campuses in the number of students of color. Out of over 44,000 students there are only 593 African American undergrads and 255 African American graduate students.

Before someone thinks I’m hating on UW-Madison let me be clear, I am not. I was a faculty member on that campus for 26 years. It afforded me a great career. I was the first African American woman to earn tenure in my School (in 1995). I served for 7 years on the University’s athletic board and was the Big Ten faculty representative. But, I understand how institutions work. Some years ago I was asked to conduct a workshop for practicing physicians who made the decision to enter academic medicine (become faculty at the Medical School). One of the first things I told them was “Institutions have no capacity to love you back!” My point was no matter how much you love the university it cannot love you back. I still believe that. However, just because the university can’t love you does not mean it has the right to abuse you.

What makes the video so egregious is the homecoming committee solicited many student groups to participate in the filming and groups of color did volunteer and participate. All of them were cut in the final editing and somehow no one saw a problem with that. This is a pattern that the university must break. It must stop giving lip service to “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” It must stop using the athletic department as its “diversity program.” It must stop pretending that students of color are all here under some “affirmative action” benevolence. Trust me, after teaching hundreds of students I have had my share of mediocre White students (I’ve had some outstanding ones too, so save the White tears)!

I am always amazed (and proud) when I see Wisconsin students of color do great things despite their constant marginalization. As a part of the 100th anniversary of the “On Wisconsin” fight song the university sponsored a contest to re-mix the song. It was the students of color who are a part of our award winning “First Wave” Scholars program who won that award with an amazing update of the song (see, https://youtu.be/Fbe_H5n_1qY ). One of my Black students, DeShawn McKinney, not only led the campus’ “Black Lives Matter” effort, he won a Truman Scholarship for his civic engagement, was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, and a Marshall Scholarship winner which afforded him the opportunity to student for his master’s degree in Oxford, England. Another of my students, Jonathan Williams won the national “Raise Up” competition designed to encourage high school students to stay in school. He later went on to win a fellowship for a highly selective Masters of Fine Arts Program at the University of Florida. A few years ago Sports Illustrated named the Wisconsin Basketball Team the most politically active one in the nation. Star Nigel Hayes regularly spoke out on injustice (and mounted his own respectful protest at the singing of the National Anthem) and Bronson Koenig made his was to the protests at Standing Rock to both express his solidarity with other Native Peoples and help conduct basketball clinics for the children there. There is not enough room in a blog post for me to detail all the amazing things I have seen scholars of color accomplish on our campus. The university must do better by them.

My undergraduate classes focus on preparing teachers to teach history and social studies. I remind my students that the rich, powerful, and privileged don’t really need democracy. They have ways of getting what they want whenever they want. No, democracy is what the marginalized, disenfranchised, and under represented need. It’s their only hope for true justice and a fair opportunity. So until the university recognizes its needs to attend to the concerns of the most vulnerable among its students (and faculty) we can’t really sing “On Wisconsin.” Our song will be, “No, Wisconsin!”

Stay Black & Smart!

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“Gratitude in the Midst of Humiliation”

Today is my last day of 7 weeks of radiation for a recurrence of breast cancer. After living 27 years cancer free I was once again diagnosed with this horrible disease this past winter. I was devastated. For 27 years I have been an advocate for breast cancer research and support for those who were diagnosed—especially Black women. Interesting, we have a lower incidence of breast cancer, but when we get it we have a higher mortality rate. We are more likely to get a more aggressive form and to get it at an earlier age. My first battle I was younger, stronger, and more fearless. I fought through every step of it—surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I went up against the breast cancer establishment in my town for not having wigs that were appropriate for Black women. I mobilized women in my church to participate in the breast cancer 5K race/walk. I became an advocate for Black women and breast cancer. This time I had a diagnosis of a much less aggressive, non-invasive cancer but aspects of these last 7-weeks have been among the hardest I have experienced.

Each weekday since July 22 I have driven to radiation therapy and back. My husband asks everyday if he can take me. I always say, “No.” Other friends have called or texted to volunteer to drive me and again I say, “No.” My own sense of control makes me want to take myself. In the car for those 20 minutes there and back I think about what I have to face and how to face it. Wanting to have some modicum of control is something you crave when it seems things are spiraling out of control.

Once you become sick, you lose all access to personal modesty. Every day I had to enter a room with youngsters (some young enough to be my grandchildren) and disrobe. In a cold, brightly lit room I laid down for treatment trying to avoid eye-contact. In an attempt to make me feel comfortable the technicians engage in friendly banter, “What else do you have planned for today? Those are really cute shoes you’re wearing. What a pretty nail color you have!” Every morning as I prepared to go I had to make sure I had on a “good” bra (Black women know we have “good bras” and “bras”) to avoid judgment at the hands of young White women (and sometimes a man). I am embarrassed by the fact I cannot shave or wear deodorant on my left side. I’m constantly checking myself to ensure my underarm does not emit body odor. As I lay there taking and holding deep breaths my mind wanders in different directions. As humiliating as this is, I wonder what happens to those Black women without adequate health care? Who is available to take them back and forth to therapy every day? Who buys them new bras so they don’t have to stand in front of young White girls with tattered underwear?

I also lay there thinking of my ancestors. In this 400-year commemoration of the first enslaved Africans arriving on these shores I can hardly imagine the humiliation they felt standing naked upon an auction block being picked at and prodded. Clearly, there is no comparison between them and my situation. Every woman with breast cancer who receives treatment, regardless of race and ethnicity, will undergo what I went through. Most will be grateful for the skill of the health care professionals and the technologies that will save their lives. But, I wonder if every woman will feel the humiliation placed upon Black women in this process? I am grateful for what the radiologist and radiation therapy personnel have done for me over the past 7 weeks. However, I hope never to see them again!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Why 1619 Matters”

This month marks the 400-year commemoration of the first enslaved Africans who arrived in what would become the United States of America. Granted these were not the first Africans to set foot in the New World. In 1572 Estevanico or “Little Esteban” arrived with a group of Spanish explorers who explored what today is known as Florida. For eight years he traveled with Spanish explorers who made their way to what was called New Spain and later the US Southwest. The fact that people of African descent can point to a 400 year sojourn in this nation gives us one of the strongest claims to national ownership excluding that of Indigenous peoples.

Today, many people when confronted with the fact of slavery say, “But that was so long ago. People need to get over it!” I want to argue that slavery and its legacy is one of the more enduring memories of this nation. It taints almost everything we do and the recent compendium of essays in the New York Times Magazine underscores how everything from healthcare, to education, to housing reverberates and suffers from the sting of slavery. However, I want to tell a personal story of how slavery lingers in my own life.

I had a number of friends who were a part of the “Jamestown to Jamestown” voyage from Virginia to Ghana. Having traveled to Ghana myself some 20 years ago I remembered many of the sites they shared on social media. Going to the Nkrumah Museum, the W. E. B. DuBois Institute, and the Cape Coast Slave Dungeon brought back many memories. The pain of seeing the “Door of No Return” is an experience that is difficult to articulate. But what is equally painful is watching the legacy of slavery put its mark on my children.

Years ago, after writing an outstanding 8th grade project on the Black impact on the Revolutionary War Era my daughter refused to participate in the optional “Colonial Days” fair. When I pressed her she responded, “I’m not going to stand up there and be a slave in front of those White people!” As a parent I was obligated to support her decision. In 9th grade she railed against having to read Huckleberry Finn. She was the only Black student in her class and having to repeatedly read Twain’s use of the N-word was just too much. An additional insult came when she was repeatedly the top student in her classes filled with White students and one of her classmates asked if she were “mixed” (having at least one White parent) presumably because of her intellect and linguistic abilities.

Almost every stereotype Black people endure finds their origins in slavery. The watermelon, fried chicken eating, slow-talking, lazy but happy slave images are replayed in countless popular culture images. The desire for some Whites to put on Black face (indeed 2 former state governors recently were found to have done so) and perform as minstrels reminds Whites of a time when they were “masters” and Blacks were slaves. When I hear Southern Whites claim that the Confederate flag reminds them of their “heritage” I ask, “What specifically in your heritage does that flag represent?” The only thing they can honestly say is slavery, the Confederacy (designed to defend slavery), and when Whites could legally terrorize Blacks.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a phrase that keeps the horror and their survival despite the Holocaust alive. That phrase is, “Never forget!” No one begrudges them the use of that phrase. It is the way they pass the memories of their collective horror down to their children and their children’s children. Black people have to be willing to do just that. We can’t be afraid to say, “1619 still matters!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“She had ALL the words”

Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the place where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts into her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away.
Toni Morrison- Beloved, 1987

Today was one of those days when everything stopped for me. The Queen of the English language has died. Born Chloe Ardella Wofford, Toni Morrison was America’s most celebrated literary artist. In 1993 she became the first Black woman to win the Noble Prize in Literature. Her accolades are numerous. Her career amazing, but my attachment to Toni Morrison feels personal. No, I never met her (although I did speak with her on the telephone once), but through her novels I felt like she was speaking directly to me.

There are many Black women writers who gave voice to my concerns and identities—Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Dorothy West, and Alice Childress are but a few. But, no one had the command of language Toni Morrison did. Her powerful use of language and understanding of the challenge of Blackness in the midst of the most virulent racism and White supremacy spoke to the nation and the world in ways few others could. James Baldwin was a literary genius but he rarely spoke directly to the double bind of race and gender. Toni Morrison knew me from the inside out.

As soon as it was published (1987) I began reading Beloved. It is not a long book—a mere 275 pages but it took me a long time to finish it. Every evening I would come home from work and sit down to read it. It was so heavy, so soul shattering, and so disturbing that I could only process a chapter or two at a time. For someone who reads tons of books every year, this was new. I had breezed through The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby. I loved every book but Beloved was something all together different. Morrison dedicated it to “Sixty Million and More” and every conscious Black person knows who those 60 million and more were.

In 1989 the Michigan Quarterly Review published her University of Michigan lecture, “Unspeakable things unspoken: The Afro-American presence in American literature” and Morrison once again rocked the world. Her critique of the American literary canon spoke to all of the ways racism pervades every aspect of American life. Her words so energized and challenged me that I began to re-think much of what I was writing. At that time I was finishing up data collection on a study that would result in my first book. I was also writing articles about “multicultural education” but something was disturbing me about what I was attempting to argue. Morrison’s unflinching look at race and White supremacy woke me out of the academic sleepwalking that had become a part of “playing the game.” If one of the best writers in the world could call out race, I could at least begin to explore it in my scholarship.

From the moment I began writing about Critical Race Theory (1995) I have quoted Morrison. From the time I began teaching about race and racism in education I have required students to read Morrison (especially, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination, 1992) and watch a portion of her PBS interview with Bill Moyers (1990). Watching her do what she does with the English language blew my students’ minds. How did she think of that? Who knew you could create such eloquence with English? I feel so inadequate listening to her! These were just a few of my graduate students’ comments. I knew exactly how they felt. When I truly discovered Toni Morrison I came to realize she had ALL the words!

Rest in Peace and Power our beautiful Literary Queen!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I Am Baltimore”

Well, he’s done it again. The current occupant of the White House has declared that the city of Baltimore, Maryland is a rat-infested city in which no one should live. If you’re anything like me you are growing weary of these childish tantrums and rants that are mere distractions from his ineffectiveness, bad policies, and possible high crimes and misdemeanors. But the slap at Baltimore and Congressman Elijah Cummings in particular is infuriating and insulting. How can someone call himself President of the United States but decide that many of the cities, that are the economic engines of their respective states and that he ultimately presides over are unworthy? The pattern of attack is clear. Find a city with a large number of Black and Brown residents, a Congressional representative or Mayor of color and denigrate it. These statements are raw meat to the White nationalists who fawn over him. He has derided Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. His comments are not dog whistles—they are bullhorns. We all hear them and know exactly what they mean.

My own attachment to Baltimore began when I decided to attend Morgan State University in the mid 1960s. Morgan State was named a National Treasure in 2016, only the second Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to receive this designation from the National Preservation Trust. The first HBCU to be named a National Treasure is Howard University in Washington, DC. As someone born and raised in Philadelphia I found Baltimore a very comfortable place to live and study. It was similar to Philly in many regards—large number of African Americans, temperate climate, home to culture, arts, sports, and a vibrant music scene. What it lacked, in my opinion, was a subway system and decent cheese steaks. However, those shortcomings did not keep me from appreciating its many assets. In addition to Morgan State, Baltimore was home to Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University of Maryland. It had the wonderful Enoch Pratt Library System and an amazing history. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman came from nearby parts of Maryland. Geographically, Baltimore is perfectly located between Philadelphia and Washington, DC. And, no place has better crab cakes!

More important, Baltimore was the place where I really did grow into adulthood. My college career was bookended by the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. I came to true political awareness in Baltimore. Most of my professors were African American and I had the privilege to study with the eminent historian, Professor Benjamin Quarles—foremost authority on the African American contribution to the Revolutionary War. I learned to mount cogent arguments in Baltimore at Morgan State. My budding activism was encouraged and cultivated in Baltimore. I participated in housing discrimination protests and sat in auditoriums listening to Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure), Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali, and others who were at the forefront of the civil rights struggle. Yes, Baltimore was the place where I had to put on my “big girl panties!”

To hear the alleged leader of the free world talk about such an iconic city in such a demeaning and disparaging way is more than offensive. It is racist and there is no skirting around that. He does not talk that way about cities and towns struggling with opiod and methamphetamine challenges in West Virginia, Kentucky, or parts of Ohio. He deliberately targets cities that are home to large numbers of Black people. Perhaps if he knew anything about Baltimore he’d realize that it has a vibrant Inner Harbor that is home to the National Aquarium. He’d know that the city is home to Camden Yards, one of the best baseball venues in the country. He’d know that Baltimore is home to Fort McHenry where the National Anthem he claims to revere was written. He’d know that his own Health and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson came to fame as a neurosurgeon at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University Hospital. He’d also know that his favorite son-in-law Jared Kushner owns more than a dozen apartment complexes in Baltimore that have been cited hundreds of times for mice infestations.

Baltimore is no different from other major cities in the US. It has a combination of pluses and minuses. Yes, there is traffic, crime, struggling schools, and a lack of quality affordable housing that leads to homelessness. But, there are also museums, parks, street festivals, music venues, theaters, restaurants, sports, and most of all hard working Americans who are building their lives and contributing to the economy and the body politic.

It is clear as we get closer to the 2020 presidential the more outrageous the tweets, statements, and actions that emanate from number 45 will become. We have to be focused on what we need to do to get government that is responsive to our concerns and that embraces a vision of the country that includes people from different races, ethnicities, linguistic groups, national origins, religions, sexual and gender orientations, abilities, and political perspectives. Right now we are dealing with our very own circus clown who is the laughing stock of the world. He has as much right to criticize Baltimore as he has to criticize someone’s hairstyle. However, no matter what he says, I am proud to say, “I am Baltimore!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“We ARE Home!”

Over the last few weeks the current resident of the White House tweeted a message indicating that 4 freshman members of Congress—all women, all women of color—should “go back to where they came from.” By every standard of decency we recognize this as a racist sentiment, unbefitting anyone in public office, let alone someone occupying the highest office in the land. The comments on the left have been swift and condemned Donald Trump for his constant race baiting. Many members of the Republican Party have twisted themselves into pretzels attempting to justify his words. How many passes does this rich, White, entitled male get?

The four Congresswomen—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.- NY), Ilhan Omar (D.-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D. – MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D.-MI)—were elected in the 2018 midterm election that allowed the Democrats to gain control of the House of Representatives. Three of the 4 women were born in the US. Congresswoman Ihan Omar was brought to the US at the age of 10 from war torn Somalia and became a naturalized citizen at the age of 17. By every measure recognized in this country these women ARE home. There is no need for them to go back anywhere.

If we were to use this “go back to where you came from” standard, most White people would find themselves heading back to England, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and countries throughout Europe. And, since most of them came during the great European migration their tenure in the country is shorter than that of African Americans, many Latinx Americans, and of course, Native or Indigenous Peoples. But when people arrive is irrelevant to their standing as citizens in the US. A citizen is a citizen is a citizen. Even Donald Trump’s two immigrant wives are citizens!

Because the White House resident does not reflect a real knowledge of the US Constitution, he seems unaware that critique and challenge of the powers that be are an integral part of democracy. It is in totalitarian regimes that citizens are not permitted to criticize their government. You cannot criticize the governments of Russia or North Korea or Iran. Apparently Mr. Trump knew this when Barack Obama was President. He criticized him and the country incessantly. Now, the rules have apparently changed.

The more unfortunate aspect of this incident is that it has once again revealed the deep-seated racism and xenophobia that is rife in the nation. When this kind of vile language emanates from the highest office in the land it gives license to people throughout the nation to act on their racism. We saw this in Charlottesville and again in rallies with people shouting, “Send her back!”

As an American of African descent I am so angered by this hate and venom. Does this man realize that we actually built this nation? The entire economy of the South and much of that of the North were built on the free labor of my ancestors. We are responsible for what would become the world’s most prosperous nation. If we go back to where we allegedly came from we are taking our “stuff” with us—our music, our art, our dance, our inventions, our language, our style, our athleticism, our Championships, and our Olympic Gold medals. We are taking it all. Indeed, we are taking the buildings and institutions we built—the White House, the University of Virginia, the Ivy League Universities, and the insurance companies that profited from money that lucrative cotton crops produced.

Of course, we really don’t have to worry about taking all of those things with us because we really are not going anywhere. We ARE home!

Stay Black and Smart!

“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!