“The Glass is Half Full…Wait, There’s a Glass?”

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Almost every poll about the state of race relations in the US indicates that White people believe things are getting better and Black people think things are getting worse. What accounts for these vastly divergent viewpoints? Why do White people see a glass half full and Black people question whether a glass even exists? Well, where I live one of the sites of divergence is in the material reality of life in our community. While my city is regularly lauded for being the number one place to live, 75 percent of Black children live at or below the federal poverty level. At the same moment, only 5 percent of White children live at or below poverty (and that includes those “temporarily” living in poverty by virtue of the fact that they are graduate students). In the nation 55 percent of our young men are graduating from high school while better than 80 percent of White young men graduate from high school. On every measure of quality of life, Black people are less likely to find themselves in a better situation than their White peers.
But, the divergent experiences of well-being are not just at the low end of the spectrum. When we look at what’s happening to middle class Black people we see that they too have a very different perspective on the state of race relations. Black middle class people still experience discrimination and exclusion in the work place and in civic and community life. They are rarely members of community or corporate boards which means they are not decision makers concerning local, state, or national issues. Those parents who think placing their children in suburban schools assures a quality education receive a rude awakening. The data suggest that Black children are more likely to be suspended and/or expelled in suburban schools than in urban schools. Their smaller numbers seems to place them under greater scrutiny and surveillance as they stand out in the sea of whiteness.
Black girls in suburban schools are especially isolated. They rarely receive invitations to parties or dates since their White classmates don’t ask them and increasingly Black boys don’t either. Instead, Black boys use their high social capital of being “cool,” “gangsta,” and “forbidden fruit” to woo their White classmates. Black girls rarely get chosen to be on the cheer leading or pom pom squads. They are almost never the homecoming queens. The stereotypes of them as “loud,” “rachet,” and “unattractive” leave them outside of the high school social scene.
Even on the college campus within the sacred halls of academe we see that things don’t seem to be “getting better.” My university has plenty of departments where there are NO Black faculty and often the Black faculty that are on campus are overworked because of the increased demand placed on them by students of color who need support. Often, Black faculty are not valued for their intellectual and scholarly contributions. One of my colleagues in the School of Music is one of the most eminent jazz musicians in the world. Last year he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master…a singular honor that his White colleagues seem to dismiss. He has played with the world’s greatest musicians in the jazz, pop, and European classical music worlds.  Not one of his colleagues has approached his stature yet they regularly dismiss his suggestions and attempt to contribute to the school.
Don’t get me wrong, being an academic is a privilege. It means you get to work on your passions and use your mind instead of the labor of your hands or  your back. But even in the rare air of the ivory tower racism still exists. We still have to argue to bring additional students and scholars of color. People still mistakenly believe that any Black student on campus is “taking the spot” of a “deserving White person” they know. There is never any assumption of White mediocrity–only of Black people who are receiving a “free pass.” According to many Whites on our campuses these Black people don’t realize how good they have it and that the glass is half full. But, when I look at what’s really happening to Black people in the society I have to ask, “Wait, what…there’s a glass?”

Stay Black & Smart!

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“Charles Barkley…Mr. Irrelevant”

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People who know me know that I am a sports junkie. I like all kinds of sports and this time of year when the Baseball World Series, the first half of the NFL and College Football seasons, and the tip off for the College Basketball and NBA seasons are like harmonic convergence for me. My smart phone regularly goes off with ESPN alerts (da-da-dah) to let me know what the rankings are, who is hurt, and what the latest scores are. I tend to know itty bitty esoteric information about sports because they so captivate me. So, I do know that the last man chosen in the NFL draft is known as “Mr. Irrelevant.” He’s the guy that probably will not make a team and if he does he is likely to have no impact and/or not last long in the league. He is taken because some team has to have the last draft pick.
Now, along comes what I’d call a “tempest in a teapot” when someone from the Seattle Seahawks football team “allegedly” said quarterback Russell Wilson was not “black enough.” I have a special affinity for Russell because he completed his last year of athletic eligibility at my university. He enrolled in my school as a graduate student and he led the team to the Rose Bowl. I don’t want anyone saying bad things about Russell. But, since I don’t know for sure that ANYONE said anything about Wilson’s “Black bonafides” I cannot give such rumor mongering any attention.
But then, Charles Barkley, former NBA player (Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Houston) decides to speak up. He tells the world that Black people are like ‘crabs in a barrel’ who don’t like an ‘intelligent’ Black person to succeed. Really, Charles? First off, there is not one shred of evidence that anyone said what the “opinion columnist” wrote. Second, there is no name associated with the alleged remark. Credible journalist at least tell us things like, “sources close to the team” or a “player on the condition of anonymity” stated the following. What we do know is that when teams are struggling (which the defending champion Seahawks are) tempers in locker rooms flare because people who are used to winning struggle with losing. They point fingers. The assess blame. So all kinds of crazy things could be said. But, later, Seattle linebacker Richard Sherman said, “Nobody actually said what was being reported!” But, none of that kept Charles Barkley, Mr. Irrelevant from opening his mouth. Worst, I cannot figure out for the life of me why the mainstream sports media gives Charles Barkley a platform on which to pontificate on the state of Black America. This is the same Charles Barkley who once spit on a fan, declared he was not a role model (that became a major ad campaign), broke a man’s nose in a fight, threw another man through a plate glass window, is a compulsive gambler, and was arrested on a DUI in Arizona in 2008. Why is he allowed to speak on ANYTHING beyond basketball?

More importantly, why does mainstream media seek his opinion on things like this? Is it because he is likely to say something that puts Black people down and demonstrate once again to White audiences that Blacks need to be “managed” and “muzzled?” Does Barkley’s seeming buffoonery and Uncle Tom like pronouncements address some affirmation that there are “good N-words” and “bad N-Words” and the task of the larger society is to align itself with the “good” ones as a way to assuage guilt and claim to be acting in the interests of the society as they do everything they can to keep the “bad” ones down?

In my field there are those “edu-tainers” who travel the country and fill the airways with comments about how Black parents (especially Black mothers) are terrible and don’t know how to raise their children and how Black children need to pull up their pants and stop listening to hip hop. They tell us that our children will not be shot in the streets if they don’t wear hoodies and “look” threatening. And, they rake in tens of thousands of dollars spouting this nonsense because this is what the mainstream wants to hear.

Statements like Barkley’s tell the society that meritocracy is real and whatever complaints Black people have are because of their own shortcomings and failure to work hard enough to succeed. When we give the Charles Barkley’s of the world a platform that suggests he speaks for all of us we diminish our own credibility. As far as I’m concerned Mr. Barkley is Mr. Irrelevant!

Stay Black & Smart

 

“That’s So Raven…Or Is It?”

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By now, most people have heard TV actress Raven-Symone’s declaration that she does not want to be called an African American because she rejects labels. She’s just an American. Well actually Raven if you reject all labels why accept a nationalistic one? Why not just be “human being?” Why not be just “Raven?” Why not just be “individual?” Her rejection of the “label” African American is her right, however her right does not dictate what the rest of the society will call her. Each of us is defined both internally (by ourselves) and externally (by others). That’s called living in a society.
But, the focus of this blog post is less about Raven-Symone than it is about my interactions with Whites who don’t want to be called White. Many years ago I was teaching a course on Cross-Cultural Communication. I was standing in for my colleague who was on leave that year and I had not taught this particular course before. However, my colleague (another Black woman) and I were close friends and she generously shared her previous syllabus with me and I followed it closely. At one point in the course I posed a question she suggested asking students to write about, “What can White people be proud of?” The room (filled with almost all White students and 3-4 Latinas) virtually exploded!
“Why do we have to be White?” asked one young woman. “Why can’t we just be Americans?” I responded with what I am sure was a puzzled look on my face, “What’s wrong with being White? And, if you cannot acknowledge your racial identity, how are you going to teach Black and Brown children you will encounter in the classroom and will look to you for affirmation?” Another student claimed that I was just asking the question to embarrass White people because I wanted them to struggle to find positive things to say about Whites. Again, I responded to the students and said, “But, don’t you find it curious that every February teachers across this nation assign students to write about things that Black people can be proud of? Why is it all right for Blacks to do this but Whites can not?” Finally, in disgust one of the students said, “I know I will write that Whites can be proud that we’re the only people who have been President of this great country (this was in the late 1980s)?” With that she folded her arms across her chest. Others in the classroom sank into their seats because they knew her utterance reflected the systematic and structural racism that existed that to that point had kept all but White MEN out of the nation’s highest office!
If we were living in an ideal world perhaps the notion of colorblindness would make sense. But, the overwhelming statistics on life chances ARE racialized. The proportion of those who are suspended and expelled from school, who drop out from school, who are unemployed and underemployed, who are living at the poverty line, and who sit in prisons is overwhelmingly Black. We cannot deny that being Black means something in this society.
Yes, Ms. Raven-Symone you can call yourself whatever you want. Tiger Woods made up his own name for who he is–“Cablinasian” signifying his Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian heritage–but that did not shield him from racism. O.J. Simpson moved almost exclusively in White circles but he was still subject to racism. Indeed, whenever a Black person of celebrity and stature falls, one of the first indicators that race matters is how the larger society distances itself from them while the Black community will often stand by them as they go through the fire. This is not to say that we absolve them of guilt because of their race, rather it is to say we do not reject their humanity because of their errors.
Declaring that one is Black does not dehumanize. It does not negate your nationality. It does not deny you of a gender identity. It is a declaration that you are heir to a particularly historical legacy. It declares that wrapped up in your humanity is a link to a resilient and long suffering people. Ms. Raven I do not think of my Blackness as a label. It is a blessing! It is a constant reminder that despite all of the odds my people–those whose genetic and cultural makeup I share–are able to overcome life’s most daunting challenges. And, I will answer proudly to Black every single time!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Looking for a Soft Place to Land…For a Minute”

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“Why on earth did you go to an HBCU?” is a question I have gotten from White and Black colleagues and students alike. I suppose they feel like someone with a PhD from Stanford should have “set her sights higher.” I almost always have to “set them straight” by explaining that I could have gone to one of the PWI (Predominately White Institutions) that admitted me–University of Pennsylvania (Ivy League), Temple University (Private back when I was a high school student), Bryn Mawr (out on the Mainline of Philly), and Swarthmore (Mainline and elite liberal arts). My smart-mouth answer to Whites who asked the question was, “I didn’t want to live in a room with someone to whom I had to explain my hair!” The more nuanced and carefully thought out response to that question is, “I wanted to go somewhere where I could be surrounded by Black excellence and did not have to mediate all of my interactions through race.  I wanted to be in a campus community where I could participate in student government, student organizations, and campus social life. I wanted to be reasonably assured that I’d be asked to dances and events. I wanted to not only be successful (which I had proven I could be in the majority White, highly competitive environment of my high school), I wanted to be significant and I knew the people I met at my HBCU could help me be significant–to matter to the community and make a difference.” And let’s face it…you haven’t “partied like it’s 1999” until you’ve gone to an HBCU football game, homecoming, or Divine 9 Greek Step Show!
People who attended my HBCU during the time I was there went on to star in the NFL (including a Hall of Famer), sit on the Maryland Supreme Court, lead a major religious denomination, and be the first African American to head one of the Federal Reserve Banks. They would have been smart and talented wherever they attended school but something about being in the “cocoon” of a HBCU let us exhale and excel. We recognized that whatever limitations we “thought” we had may have been self imposed. For the chance to live and work with so many amazing people I am beyond grateful. That’s the reason that I am more than an HBCU grad…I am an HBCU alum. I am a life member of the alumni association and I have my HBCU high on my list of charitable giving. I want my university to last long after I am gone.
Without sounding Pollyannish I want to celebrate HBCUs as viable (and perhaps, preferable) choices for “some” students. I realize not all students will benefit nor excel at an HBCU–but not all students benefit or excel at an Ivy League,  liberal arts college or major state school. The diversity of post-secondary choices reflects that there are indeed, “different strokes for different folks.” HBCUs serve an important place in our communities. Perhaps not the least of which is to prove, as my grandfather used to say, “that the White man’s ice is not colder!” And, imagine my delight when one of my “White/Latino” graduate students arrived in my classroom here on a major PWI campus with a sweatshirt proudly advertising an HBCU. When I asked if he’d visited the school his response was, “Visited? No…I am an alum of this school!”
Most of the nation’s HBCUs were founded by a group of formerly enslaved Black people who understood that their true legacy would be in providing educational opportunities for the future. They loved us enough to secure our futures. They cared enough to sacrifice. I, for one, am deeply grateful for my experience on the campus of an HBCU. It made a world of difference for me and for a “minute” in my life’s timeline it provided a “soft place to land!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Hashtag Activism”

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Like many people I know I have reposted a variety of hashtags. I did #Bring Back our Girls for the Nigerian School Girls who were kidnapped. I have posted a photo of myself in a hoodie because of George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin. I posted a hashtag “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” I’ve even let my husband dump a bucket of ice water on my head, videotaped the event, called out fellow Divine 9 Presidents AND sent my donation to ALS. But, I wouldn’t call any of those actions activism. They were trends or fads in support of activism but they were not examples of activism.
Yes, I’m old enough to have participated in some serious activism and one clear aspect of activism is sacrifice! Activists give up time, talent, and money. Activists sometimes place their lives on the line. Activism is not merely complaining or griping. It is principled action concerning some deeply held belief or values. I used to go to a dentist that shared a building with an abortion provider. Every time I went to the dentist–summer or winter, rain or shine, scorching heat or snowstorm–there was a little old lady outside the clinic with her anti- abortion sign. Now it matters not whether I share this woman’s beliefs or ideology. I was impressed with her real activism. Being there every single day had to be a sacrifice for her.
I remember my first bit of activism as a little girl. My church joined with other Black churches in Philadelphia in a selective patronage program. We stopped buying from those places that had not hired or promoted Blacks. We stopped our evening newspaper, we stopped eating our favorite snack cakes, and we no longer purchased Pepsi Cola…for some reason Black people really love Pepsi! Eventually all three companies relented and that taught me something about sacrifice as a key component of activism. Later I would participate in boycotts of Woolworth’s and Kresge stores. Even though the stores in Philly served Black customers ,at their lunch counters<!–more–their affiliates in the South did not and so we marched! Throughout high school I was regularly involved with “movement” politics. Indeed, while most parents tell their kids as they head off for college, ” No sex, no drugs, no alcohol!” Mine told me, “Please don’t be in no protests and get locked up!” Unfortunately activism had been bred into me by those very same parents and I found myself in a demonstration 2 weeks after school began. I ended up with a roommate who had fought to desegregate her summer work place…the Maryland Glass Factory. She and I became lifelong friends around our activism.
Indeed, I partied with the best of them as a collegian, but I always found ways to be actively involved in struggles for Justice. So, the next time you hash tag some injustice just remember a few clicks of your computer mouse or smart phone don’t make you an activist. It makes you someone who’s found a new kind of selfie! Hashtag that!!!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Dear White People…”

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This weekend the satirical film, “Dear White People” will have a limited release in selected markets. The film based on a mythical college campus radio personality purports to instruct White people in ways that will help them not seem racist. I found this premise interesting enough to write my own list of things I wish White people would do, stop doing, or just flat out know.
1. Don’t tell another Black person that some of your best friends are Black. Your association with someone doesn’t give you special insight into their experiences. I’ve had close friends who are elderly, paralyzed from stroke, or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I have no special insight into any of those conditions.
2. Don’t touch Black people’s (especially women’s) hair. I don’t care how interesting or exotic you find my hair, please keep your hands out of it unless I invite you to touch it. And, if you do slip up and touch it, please don’t exclaim, “Oh, it’s soft!”
3. Don’t tell Black people, “I’m not a racist!” Quite frankly, NO ONE except the most virulent race haters thinks s/he is racist. The society is rife with racism. How did you escape what has become a part of the DNA of America? The system of racism is so pervasive we all are infected by it. Even Black people suffer internalized racism–their own negative feelings about being Black and other Black people. However, whatever prejudice or bias we have toward White people is not racism and there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” The REVERSE of racism would be no racism–the very thing we are all striving for.
4. Don’t tell Black people that racism is over. What you are really saying is YOU are done with it. YOU don’t want to engage in anti-racist struggle. YOU are experiencing racial fatigue…just imagine how tired Black people are of it!
5. Don’t tell Black people how “good” they have it or, in fact, they have social advantages BECAUSE of their race. Not one White person I know would be willing to change places with a Black person who is at their same economic or class station–NOT ONE! Bill Gates doesn’t want to change places with Oprah; Taylor Swift doesn’t want to change places with Beyonce and my neighbor doesn’t want to change places with me!
6. Don’t call your neighborhood or work place “integrated” because there is ONE Black family or person there. Trust me, that Black family or person does not describe their neighborhood or workplace as integrated. They will tell you that their environment is White!
7. Don’t try proving your point in an argument by citing another Black person. We don’t all think alike. Telling me what Clarence Thomas said doesn’t prove anything to me.
8. Don’t confuse Black people’s economic situation with their culture. Poverty reflects the entire society’s social arrangements. Thus, Black people adapt to their circumstances just like everyone else. The culture upon which they draw transcends socioeconomic status. The sweet potato pie in the ‘hood and the one in the “moving on up deluxe apartment in the sky” both taste good. The difference is in how often the two households can afford to make it.
9. We don’t actually need your affirmation to determine who is beautiful or handsome. We know Lupita N’Yongo is stunning and Denzel is drop dead gorgeous…so are a lot of Black folks…ordinary, everyday Black folks that you likely will never know. Go ahead and appreciate their attractiveness–don’t say it as if we need you to.
10. We rarely see your cultural appropriation as flattery. Your wearing braids, dreads, and adopting African American vernacular English to seem hip or in solidarity with Black people is actually insulting. Like scholar Audrey Thompson says in her article “Tiffany, friend of Black people,” most Whites struggle to be what they think of as “good Whites.” Part of that “goodness” takes the form of cultural appropriation where you advertise to others that you are a White “insider” among Blacks.
I know I haven’t listed all of the things White people should know about their interactions and experiences with Black people. What are some of your do’s and don’ts?

Stay Black & Smart!

“Black…ish and other Media Mistakes”

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OK, I’m trying to give the new TV season a try. We all know that every year there are hits and misses and with the growing number of platforms and venues…500 plus Cable Channels, Netflix, Hulu, and now Amazon Prime there should be something for everyone to view. However, the major broadcasters still hold incredible power in the media world. For example ABC also owns ESPN and all of its offspring. The company is actually a Disney subsidiary so if you go to Disney Land or Disney World you will see many iterations of ABC programs.
Over the past few years ABC has made quite a splash with both drama (e.g. Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, and the wildly popular Scandal) and comedy (e.g. Modern Family, The Middle). This year ABC introduced 2 shows that feature either Black ensembles or lead actors. The first is “Blackish”–a story of an economically successful Black couple who is raising their family in the suburbs with fairly predictable results. Cut off from the everyday experience of being around Black peers, the children are gravitating to the lifestyle and cultural modes of their White peers and the father (and his father who lives with them) bemoan the “whitening” of the family.
While such a premise can indeed lead to an interesting and entertaining show, the writers seem to miss the mark in some significant ways. First, the show is billed as a “Cosby Show” revival. I don’t think so. The Huxtable family lived in New York amidst a wide array of Black people from many walks of life. The parents attended a mythical Historically Black College and most of their friends were Black. Bill Cosby drew heavily from his own experience to develop the show. He grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with a population of working class and middle class Blacks and probably a number of White families during his formative years. Phylicia Rashad attended Howard University in an era where the “best and the brightest” in the Black community sought to send their children there. The Cosby Show was an attempt to counteract the rampant stereotypes of Black people that pervaded the media and placed us in roles as stupid, lazy, inarticulate buffoons. Everything from Amos and Andy to Rochester (on the Jack Benny Show), to Beulah were standard fare. In the late 1960s we began to see a few more complex renderings in shows like Good Times (the poor but honest family) and The Jeffersons (the strivers who were conscious of their tenuous hold on middle class American life). Of course there continued to be those shows that pulled on past images–Sanford & Son (which I still love) and Martin. However, when the Wayans brothers developed In Living Color we got a range of satirical and edgy comedy that began to display a variety of Black perspectives.

ABC has been at its best with a comedy show like Modern Family–tackling issues of change in our most intimate setting–our homes and I imagine its hope is that Blackish will fulfill a similar niche concerning race. But thus far it is not there. I am reluctant to offer a wholesale condemnation of the show at this point because I recall the incredibly slow start of the Cosby Show. In those early episodes it was clear that Cosby has assembled a good-looking group of Black people who were not very good actors. At times those early episode seemed to be an enactment of Cosby’s stand-up with other people buzzing around him. However, overtime the cast got better…much better. So with that in mind I am hoping that Anthony Andrews and Tracy Ellis (who has wonderful comedic talent–remember, Girl Friends?) will take the show in a better direction. Right now, the only solution to the angst that main character Andre Johnson (Anthony Andrews) has seems to be moving…back to the hood, to a more diverse community, or continuing to live that tortured life that these early episodes feature. I’m not sure what it will take to salvage the show but typically if it’s a show that White people like and Blacks don’t it will survive…Anybody remember “Friends?”

Stay Black & Smart!

“A (Black) American in Paris”

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Well, it happened once again. I find myself traveling internationally and while sitting on the Metro an older White man and his wife begin smiling at me. I nod in acknowledgement and politeness back and shortly after he points to my backpack. “Are you actually from that university?” “Yes,” I respond and he quickly tells me that their son was a graduate of the school. From there on he (and she to a lesser extent) keeps trying to engage me in conversation. However, I can’t help but notice that in a metro car filled with Black passengers, it is my American-ness that stands out. Perhaps the backpack was a dead giveaway but there were probably other cues–the shoes, the luggage, and the fluency in English signal my national identity. The scores of Francophone Africans remain invisible to this couple. Something about me says, “worthy,” “civilized,” “American,” in the same ways their African-ness shouts “refugees,” “foreign,” “social burden.”  Despite the fact that many of these Africans may be French citizens and/or highly educated, it is my American passport that gives me a certain privilege in this European space.

I also feel strange because the people with which I would rather converse are the Africans and they are all speaking French. While I can pick up a word or two of French in their conversations I am far from fluent. My English language dominant register keeps me locked in a dialogue with the European-American couple. I can’t even acknowledge and share cordial remarks with the Africans. If I say, “Bon Jour’ my accent may be too off or worse, it may signal I actually know French and then I will be unable to maintain a conversation. I wonder as the train rumbles on if this same couple riding along on the DC, NYC, or Chicago Metro would have bothered to speak to me. In that context would I have been the “scary Black?”

The way our sense of the “other” operates is entirely situational. This couple saw me, at least nominally, as “One of them.” However, the Africans were not to be included in our “circle of humanity.” In this context my American identity trumps my racial identity. I get to be a part of the “we” that Westerners claim as the universal identity.

I am also reminded of the romanticized notion that Black Americans have of Paris since it became a place of exile for so many notable Blacks–James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, and so many jazz musicians. We heard all about the way the French embraced them and how for the first time ever they felt like their humanity mattered. But they could not have been naive. They had to know that the humanity ascribed to them came at the expense of the Caribbean and African colonial subjects the French held in such disdain.

I will say that I do enjoy walking the streets here in Paris without anyone as much as giving me a second look. In the quick interactions that occur as people walk along the street to the parks, plazas, shops, and restaurants my presence draws little or no attention. Indeed, soon after I arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport someone approached me for directions. I blended into my surrounds and went unnoticed. Paris is such a cosmopolitan, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national city that almost all public spaces are filled with people from a variety of backgrounds. The young African girls I have seen are sporting braids identical to their sisters in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and LA. The young African boys are wearing hair cut in Mohawk styles as well as dreadlocks. Skinny jeans and sagging jeans are the universal uniform..

But, I am acutely aware of my class and national privilege as I move around the city with Black skin that does not matter in the same way it matters at home. The socially constructed nature of race is even more evident to me at this moment. For a few days I get to call myself an “American!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Can We Talk About Interracial Romance?”

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We’ve all seen it…an interracial couple walks by, enters a restaurant, movie, or other social event and a Black person who gives them a lot more than the “side eye.” There is a deliberate stare that essentially says, “Race Traitor” Why has racial solidarity come to mean that people cannot date, love, or marry outside of their race?
I get that the initial reaction is linked to a long history of both forbidden fruit when it comes to Black men coupling with White women and rape and sexual assault when it comes to Black women coupling with White men.
On one hand our Civil Rights fight has been linked to undoing laws against miscegenation that made it illegal for Whites and Blacks to marry. On the other hand, we sometimes see the decision to be romantically involved with someone across racial lines as a rejection of something fundamental and primal. Is picking a White woman the same as rejecting your mother and declaring that Black women are unattractive, less feminine, and less desirable as partners? Is choosing a White man the same as saying that Black men are trifling, powerless, and unable to provide?
Interracial couplings are more complex than these explanations. They speak directly to cultural, social, and political perspectives. The remind us that although we claim that race is a “social construct” it still has material consequences.
At one time we were more likely to see romance across racial lines primarily among the middle class. Today, we see these relationships up and down the social spectrum. But the data tell us that while Black men are among the most likely to marry outside of their racial group, Black women are the least likely to do so. Do we know why? What are our speculations? My sons were regularly courted by their White female classmates. They called, they asked them out. They offered to pay for dates. They offered to give them money and if I am not being naive I suspect they offered them sex. My daughter, who is beautiful, stands about 6 feet tall and is one of the smartest people I know has never received such attention by either White or Black males. My heart aches for her because she has seen so many less attractive White friends have scores of dates…many with Black males.
I recall when then Senator Barak Obama was introduced on the national political stage. My friends were sitting with baited breath to SEE Mrs. Obama. When she appeared as an “unambiguously Black” woman there was a huge sigh of relief! How do we move ahead on issues of race when we can’t even move past two people of different races walking hand in hand in public? When are we going to talk about interracial romance?

Stay Smart & Black!

“Just Because You’re Black!”

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In the late 1960s the iconic spoken word group, “The Last Poets” produced a poem on their first album titled, “Just Because You’re Black.” It was a critique of Black people who were unwilling to die for a just cause. In today’s blog I’d like to flip that script and suggest that far too many Black people encounter things “just because they’re Black.” They don’t need to die for a cause when the cause of their dying is “just because they’re Black. The difference in life expectancy (although improving slightly) between Black men and White women is 11 years. Our churches are filled with older women sitting on the “Mothers’ Board” many of whom are widowed while there is a paucity of older men.
Today marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Black women are 40% more likely to die from this disease than their White counterparts. Just because they’re Black. The ironic thing is Black women develop breast cancer at a LOWER rate than White women…we’re just more likely to die from it. We have higher incidence of high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, high cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s disease…just because we’re Black! Of course, some would argue that we don’t make the requisite life style changes to avoid these health issues but I would counter than when you live under as much stress as the average Black person does in this society, making healthy choices is not always as simple as it might seem.
Black women who walk into an automobile showroom will pay more for a car, just because they’re Black. A Black couple who attempts to rent an apartment, secure a loan, or buy a house will have a more difficult time at it, just because they’re Black. We’ve seen the experiments where individuals with IDENTICAL credentials apply for the same job and the one with the “Black sounding name” does not get a call back or interview while the one with the more “White sounding name” almost always gets invited to interview. Same credentials, same qualifications but you don’t get a chance at the job…just because you’re Black.
Of course the startling disparities our children experience in school fall into these same categories. Black children are more likely to be retained, suspended, expelled, and assigned to special education. They are less likely to have an opportunity to take honors or advanced placement courses (even when their PSAT scores indicate they are eligible for such courses) just because they’re Black.
I know that there are those who argue, saying this is another example of a Black person “playing the race card.” Unfortunately, that’s the card we’ve been dealt and not one White person I know would be willing to switch cards with us without major “compensation.” If you think I’m kidding you should read the experiment that sociologist Andrew Hacker (who is White) did with his college students. He asked them if they woke up tomorrow and EVERYTHING about them was the same, except for their skin color (they were now Black), what compensation, if any, would they want for having changed racial identities. Their response was, “1 million dollars!” Yes, although they would maintain their intellect, their living arrangements, their jobs or places in the university, if they had to go through life with Black skin they’d want $1million in “damages!” Just Because (now) They’re Black!

Stay Black & Smart!