2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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“Welcome to the Minstrel Show Or… The Invitation To Participate In Your Own Degradation”

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One of the most fascinating and shameful chapters of United States History is the development and flourishing of minstrelsy and the infamous minstrel show. In this so-called “art form” White vaudeville actors blackened their faces and drew on exaggerated features (e.g. lips, eyes), put on garish outfits and wooly hair and poked racist, hurtful fun at Black people. In the moment of the minstrel show Whites simultaneously displayed their hatred and love of all things Black. They hated our skin, they hated our features, and they hated our very presence. But, they also loved our music, dance, humor and artistry in general. Although minstrelsy emerged in Medieval Europe with singers and troubadours traveling from town to town to entertain, black-face minstrelsy was a product of White supremacy and rose to its heights in the post Civil War era.
At some point in this era the minstrel changed from a White performer blackening his face to a Black performer blackening his face. As famous minstrel performer Bert Williams once said, “I’m a Black man playing a White man who’s playing a Black man.” The absurdity was not lost on the actor and while minstrelsy was one of the few venues in which Black actors could perform, most understood it as a form of degradation and were more than ambivalent about their participation in it. The Black female minstrels helped to cement in the US psyche the imagine of Black women as sexually promiscuous and/or overweight, overbearing maids or “mammies,” capable of only caring for White people.
Finally, by the 1960s we began to see Black characters in roles where they were fully human—not only maids, butlers, chauffeurs, and other servile positions. Of course, Black filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux had produced more humane portrayals of Black people beginning in 1918. But, those films had limited distribution and a limited audience. Actors like Sidney Poitier, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Douglas Turner Ward, Diana Sands, Claudia McNeil, Al Freeman, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, and others created more realistic visions of Black people and Black life.
But, now despite the gains and sacrifices of the Civil Rights movement and a dedicated group of Black actors, film makers, and performers that include those mentioned above as well as Cicely Tyson, Denzel Washington, Maya Angelou, Spike Lee, John Singleton, Anna Deavere Smith, Danny Glover, and Ava DuVernay, reality television seems determined to take us right back to the minstrel show.
Several weeks ago, the cable network VH-1 decided to air a program, “Sorority Sisters” that shows women who belong to the “Divine 9” sororities—Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho. Initially slated to air this past summer, a storm of protest delayed its debut. However, despite the overwhelming opposition from the various sororities’ corporate headquarters and individual members and supporters, VH-1 decided to go ahead with airing the show in December. Black Twitter ® and Facebook ® went crazy. All kinds of campaigns to boycott sponsors and boycott the show have emerged. Some of the organization’s corporate headquarters have made statements threatening legal action. And, there are some who argue, “Where was all of this passion and anger when VH-1 and Bravo put on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, and Love and Hip Hop? All of these shows degrade and demean Black women.” That’s a fair criticism. My response to those shows was the same as my response to “Sorority Sisters”—I don’t watch them!
I see all of these shows as attacks on Black women and I have no intention of participating in the glorification of “ratchet-ness!” The primary difference for me is that “Real Housewives” are neither real nor housewives; “Basketball Wives” are not married to basketball players, and “Love and Hip Hop,” …well, you get the idea. “Sorority Sisters” is comprised of actual women who were initiated into Divine 9 organizations (I can’t say if any are financially active members). Also, the other series are about individuals who have decided to pimp themselves much like “The Real House of Beverly Hills (or New Jersey),” “The Kardashians,” or “Honey Boo-Boo.” They are not about 100 plus year legacies of brave women who made the uplifting of Black people and Black womanhood their central focus. They marched, protested, and sacrificed for racial and gender equality. They built job centers, registered Black voters, dug wells in Africa, and built and operated schools. They all have a legacy of service, scholarship, and sisterhood.
It is unfortunate that too many in the general public only focus on “wearing colors” and “step shows.” It is unfortunate that some members create rivalries based on demeaning those outside of their group. The histories and legacies are important and worth preserving. So, while I can’t tell individuals how to “sell themselves” (and make no mistake, they are selling themselves), when you try selling me in the process I have a right to speak against it.
I detest minstrelsy. It’s not something we have to do anymore. But, as long as you feel compelled to tune in to “Sorority Sisters” all I can say is “Welcome to the minstrel show!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife…”

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I know the expression is “all’s fair in love and war” but there always seemed to be some “rules of engagement about what kinds of behavior was clearly out of bounds. If someone killed a woman or child we almost always assumed either an accidental murder or some mental or emotional distress. Sometimes these murders are called what we term, “crimes of passion” that result when people are unhappy about a breakup or are in the midst of custody battles. We assume the stress of these life challenges causes some people to “snap” and do terrible, horrible things. This is not about excusing behavior; it’s about trying to understand it.
But, in this particular moment we find ourselves in, we are seeing another phenomenon that I am at a loss to understand or explain. People have decided that the way to get their cause advanced is to kill all the women and/or kill all the children. We have seen it in Nigeria with the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls. We have seen it in the Mexico with the abduction (and presumed deaths) of 43 schoolboys. And now, we have seen it in Pakistan with the massacre of 145 mostly schoolchildren. Whatever happened to “save the children” or “our children are our future” or “we must protect our babies?” These stories bring waves of nausea over me. I cannot imagine a world where we think the wholesale murder of children is okay.
But the truth is I’ve already accepted such a world. The difference is the children in my society are typically being murdered one at a time. But, like the examples listed above the children are unarmed and those that kill them carry authority and power. Most of us know the names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Some may know the names of Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, and Sean Bell. But how many know:
– Kimani Gray – 16 years old, shot 3 times in the back in Brooklyn, NY
– Kendrec McDade – 19 years old, college student, shot in Pasadena, CA and left on the street without receiving first aid for an extended period of time
– Timothy Russell and Malessa Williams – received 137 rounds shot in their car in Cleveland, OH
– Erwin Jefferson – 18 years old, Atlanta, GA
– Wendell Allen – 20 years old, New Orleans, LA
– Ramarley Graham – 18 years old, New York, NY
Each of these young people was found to be unarmed, but died at the hand of police or security officers. They represent a small number of the young people I found but were all within the last 2 years. I wanted us to see the dangerous parallel between the mass murder of children around the world and the “serial mass murder” of young Black people right here at home.
If we are willing to kill children (some as young as 12) and absolve their killers from any responsibility for taking their lives how are we any better than those around the world who take out whole groups of children? Are we better because we do it one at a time? Are we better because we claim we have “cause” to kill them? “After all,” we rationalize, “these people were alleged criminals.” They were stealing cigars. They were wearing a hoodie. They were brandishing a toy gun. They were playing loud music. They made an armed police officer fear for his life. They looked “suspicious.” But, let’s face it…they were all Black!
I guess the only choice we have is to do like the man on the Facebook meme said…”Hide your wife, hide your kids!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Time To Pass The Baton”

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Last night I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a march and “Die-In”, organized and sponsored by some African American students and their allies at my university. In less than a week the students had used social media and their various networks to get the word out and prepare for the event. At 4:45 pm a group of Christian students gathered at the foot of the campus hill to pray for the success and safety of the event, while at the top of the hill the event organizers were setting up lights, coordinating with campus security, and preparing for what they hoped would be a large crowd. By 5:00 pm at least 300 students were present at the top of the hill. As minutes ticked by you could see students coming from all directions to join them. Soon, the crowd that had gathered in prayer began their trek up the hill. By the time the rally aspect of the event began there were about 700 gathered around the campus iconic statue of our 16th president. Once the brief speeches were completed the group was 1,000 people strong. I looked around to see who I recognized. I saw a number of undergraduate students who have taken courses with me including many of the organizers. I also saw a number of my graduate students. What I did not see were many faculty and academic staff. I saw one other African American male faculty member from my school and 2 African American female academic staff members.
By the time I had taken note of the participants it was time to begin marching. We were 1,000 strong marching down the campus hill chanting things like, “Black lives matter,” “Hands up…Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice…No Peace.” Students were carrying signs expressing their outrage at the way the justice system has so failed Black people. I noticed the students standing in the windows of the Law Library and saw at least one Black woman who seemed a little stunned to be “in the wrong place” when a movement was happening in her midst. We marched boldly across main streets with police officers holding back the traffic. We headed across a campus mall on our way to the undergraduate library and it occurred to me that my African American male colleague and I were literally “bringing up the rear.” We were so far back in the procession that the police vehicle was right behind us. While I laughed at how far back we were, I thought, “This is how it should be.” This is a movement of and by our youth. My role is not to be in front. It is to be a supporter not a leader.
I remember what it felt like when I was in the center of a movement. I remember demonstrations in Baltimore, the formation of SNCC and the Black Panther Party. I remember the “Poor People’s Campaign” which went on despite Dr. King’s assassination. This was MY movement and I certainly didn’t need my mother or any other elders telling me how to lead or participate in it. When the 1963 March on Washington almost came apart because the youth were relegated to the sidelines, they approached Ella Baker for help. Ella explained to the young people that they had to assert themselves in their own way. And, they should not, indeed could not, expect her to lead them. It was their movement…their moment within that movement.
Of course I am not saying that I am Ella Baker…far from it. Instead I am saying it is time to pass the baton. However the baton I am talking about is not the baton that is passed in a race because I do not think my generation and the subsequent one continued to run. Many of us stepped out of the race and sat on the sidelines. We got comfortable with a few little affirmative action crumbs that let us earn college degrees, get stable careers, purchase homes and buy cars. Far too many of us just stopped running. So the baton I am referring to is the one that band or orchestra conductors hold to demonstrate that they are in charge, directing, leading, and running the show. Our youth are ready and willing to lead and I for one am ready to take direction!

Stay Black & Smart!

“But What About Camille?”

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With each new day bringing yet another accusation about comedian, actor, producer, educator, and culture critic Bill Cosby I want to ask a different question…”But, what about Camille?” I don’t ask this question from a standpoint of “feeling sorry” for this “poor, long-suffering” woman but rather about the place of women’s dignity as they stand for and by the men in their lives.
Camille Olivia Hanks met and married Bill Cosby while a student at the University of Maryland and dropped out to be a wife and soon after mother to 5 children. So, what does it mean to be married to a larger than life personality who has used his life with you as the center of his routine? And, what does it mean when a seemingly ideal life goes off the rails in the most public of ways? What does it mean to stay absolutely silent in the face of the most horrible set of accusations that are both violent and intimate? I would not dare begin to judge Camille Cosby despite the fact that she appears to be “fair game” among the “twitterati.”
People are presuming they know what Camille Cosby knows or that she is complicit in Cosby’s behavior. That is not a presumption I am willing to make. Given the number of people who live with people only to learn they have a secret life is fairly large, why are we assuming Camille Cosby knew? Given that people in the limelight are quite likely to face charges of infidelity, out of wedlock paternity, etc. which of these things would we expect Camille Cosby to believe?
When I ask the question, “but what about Camille” I ask it from the perspective of a woman with children. What can she say to her children? How can they be comforted in the midst of this media frenzy? Where can she go for support and respite? What about Camille?
It may be very true that Camille Cosby is in denial and refusing to face the growing body of evidence that says her husband is a predatory monster who has violated scores of women in a deliberate and premeditated way. If that is true, Camille is in need of some serious therapeutic help because when the reality hits it will probably destroy her.
But, if I had to speculate I would say that a woman who is a part of a 50 year long marriage has learned to make some HUGE compromises. Truth is ALL of us who have been partnered for a very long time have made some HUGE compromises. We have put up with some stuff that as young adults we claimed we would never tolerate. Now, of course I am not talking about criminal behavior but the truth of life together with someone means almost everything in your life is enmeshed with the other person–your money, your property, your friends, your children and family. Your mind is linked with that person. You have no idea how to do life without them and it is very scary. In the case of high profile people the investment is probably even deeper because the resources are greater.
When Bill Clinton’s scandal was revealed and he was busy “getting off” with a 20 something intern downstairs from his family quarters most of us said self-righteously that we would “never put up with that!” Well, that’s because most of us have no plans of becoming a U.S. Senator and perhaps the first woman president. Many of these marriages are “business deals” (actually most marriages throughout the world are economic arrangements). People do weigh the pros and cons of staying/leaving and make the “best” decision they can make with the information they have.
I think if I were a friend of Camille Cosby I would act just like the biblical characters who were friends of Job in their first responses. They first went to Job’s house, saw the condition their friend was in and sat down with him, wept, tore their garments, and said absolutely nothing for seven days! I don’t think she needs to hear another voice telling what she “should” do. Not being in her situation I don’t know if I have ANYTHING to TELL her. But, I know how to be a friend. I know how to sit with you (I’ve been to the homes of scores of grieving family and friends) and I know how to just be quiet.
I know we are not going to leave Camille alone…we (as a society) don’t know how to leave people alone. We are voyeuristic and cruel. We love train wrecks. We love being “holier than thou.” But, every time I hear another salacious story about Bill Cosby I always think, “but what about Camille?”

Stay Black & Smart!

“A Few Of My (Black) Favorite Things…”

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“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens…”

You’ve heard these words before to describe some “favorite” things that I believe reflect mainstream tastes. But I’d like to share what appear to be favorite things of Black people…at least the Black people I know and love. Their favorite things include:

Pepsi Cola – For some reason Black people love Pepsi. You bring Coke, be prepared to get the “side-eye.”

Chick-fil-a – Now we love chicken in general but it’s not politically correct to acknowledge that so I’ll just point out that despite the expressed homophobic attitudes of its owner, Black folks will line up for some Chick-fil-a.

Newport and Kool cigarettes: It is true that smoking rates are down among all groups, including African Americans but for those who smoke, they just cannot get enough of those Newports and Kools.

Nicknames: Nobody assumes as many aliases as Black folks. From Ray-Ray to L’il May May we always have nicknames. And, those nicknames always have a story attached. No respectable Black person gives themselves a nickname. You have to earn a nickname.

Preachers: Oh, we LOVE preachers…especially those who are half way good at delivering a sermon. Our White friends may like or respect their preachers but we LOVE ours. White folks refer to “The Pastor” but Black folks almost always say, “My Pastor.” When you get demoted from the pronoun “my” to the article “the” you are not long for that church!

A male singer with a sexy voice – Barry White, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrast, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Trey Songz, Maxwell, Jaheim…whoever. We don’t care what you look like. It’s about how you sound!

Hairdressers and Barbers – White folks go to therapy; we go to the person who massages our scalp.

Bootleg DVDs – We will put up with a little shaking and blurring to see a first run movie for $2. Incidentally, we generally get these movies from our therapists/hair salons and barber shops.

Movies with Black actors: We don’t really care about the cinemagraphic  value of movies as long as there are some memorable lines delivered by Black folks. Everybody I know has seen “Coming to America,” “Love and Basketball,” and “New Jack City” multiple times…and “Boyz in the Hood” is a religious experience for us…we keep waiting for Morris Chestnut to make the right decision and not end up dead!

Funerals – I know it sounds morbid but Black folks really do like a good funeral. It is a major family gathering, filled with drama, and the food is generally off the chain!

The heat turned up to at least 80 – We know there’s an energy crisis and that gas and electric is expensive but we cannot stand to be stuck in a cold house. If you want to keep us happy crank up that heat (and turn on the air in the summer).

Red Kool-Aid – We have no idea why they make other flavors.

Bling – Sometimes you just need a little shiny something. And bling on a sista over 75 is IT!

Napkins – I actually can’t figure that one out but we just have to take more than one napkin in self-serve restaurants and ask for additional napkins in sit-down restaurants. We love napkins.

Laying out our clothes – Black people love to just “lay out their clothes” before work or church. And, if we’re going on a trip we start “laying out our clothes” weeks ahead. So we say things like, “My clothes is already laid out!”

Seasoning Salt – This is our attempt to follow doctors orders about going low sodium. However, we never look at the jar to see that the first item in it is SALT!

Cooking Grease used a minimum of 2 times – What do you mean your chicken don’t taste like fish? Are you wasting good Crisco?

Lotions, creams, and body butters – Most Black folks would rather be deprived of water than not have access to “the butters.” Whatever can help us fight that ash is a necessity.

Dining rooms that we only use twice a year. And if there’s a china cabinet…OoooWeee!

Tin Foil – We know you call it ALUMINUM foil but we call it tin foil and we use it for all kinds of things…wrapping food, cooking food, stuffing a mouse hole, tuning a TV or radio…and yes, we save and reuse it!

The Soul food side dish triumvirate – Baked macaroni and cheese, candied yams, and greens. These 3 can be accompanied by almost any meat–chicken, fish, turkey, beef. We are not interested in swamping these out for arugula, goat cheese, or any other fancy, upscale sprig of nothing.

Martin Luther King – Let’s get this straight. WE DO NOT TOLERATE PEOPLE SAYING BAD THINGS ABOUT DR. KING! #thatisall

Stay Black & Smart!

“Fear of Flying (With White Folks) & Other Irrational Phobias, Quirks, and Idiosyncracies”

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I have a number of irrational thoughts and behaviors that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over. They don’t make sense but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this way. The only difference is that I’m willing to tell folks about them. One of my fears is of flying with White folks. Now, that really sounds crazy since I fly all the time (2-3 times each month) and almost every flight is filled with White people. However, I always check to see if there is at least ONE other Black person (or other person of color) on the flight. My rationale is that White folks have done so many egregious things that God is going to get fed up one of these days and snatch a plane full of them out of the sky. So, I rationalize if there is at least one other person of color on my flight our presence can persuade God to have mercy. It doesn’t make sense but this post is not about sense making. It’s about how I go through this world, in this skin, in this country.
One of my other phobias is drunk, White men. They really scare me. I am used to drunk, Black men. My encounters with them typically involve some sort of attempt to “sweet talk” me that is almost always quite harmless and rarely belligerent. But, drunk, White men, especially those drunk on beer, are a scary sight. In frat houses they have been known to sexually assault women or hire Black strippers for their voyeuristic and racist purposes. Even when it doesn’t degenerate to that kind of violence I have certainly been in professional settings where a drunk colleague has decided to get way too “familiar.” And, quite frankly I don’t want to dance with your no-dancing self. You don’t know me like that and I have NO desire to know you like that!
I have a quirk of over-interpreting what White folks say. Of course they respond that I am being “too sensitive” but when you tell me you’d “like to move to the city some day” I hear, “once they’ve displaced all of those pesky poor people of color!” Or, when I hear that White people would like to put their children in a “good public school” I once again hear, “one with none of those undesirable children.” And my favorite—which I hear far too often, “You’re AMAZING!” I have no idea why White people think that’s a compliment when the only thing I hear is, “You’re so different from the ‘rest of them’!”
I absolutely cannot stand disrespectful White children. Now, truth is I shouldn’t tolerate disrespectful children of any race or ethnicity but somehow I have assurance that once out of public view a disrespectful Black child is going to have a “reckoning.” I just presume—perhaps erroneously—that disrespectful White children are going to persist.
White mediocrity…oh my! Again, I don’t like mediocrity of any kind but typically mediocre Black people don’t get very far (unless they’ve been tapped by some White person whose bidding they must do) but I have seen White mediocrity in HIGH places…the academy (one of their special hangouts), government, private industry, etc. I once had a White man tell me his SAT score was 750. I asked, “verbal?” He said, “No, combined!” You would faint if I told you what his position was and he was sitting there BRAGGING about his mediocrity. Reminds me of George W. Bush who bragged about his C average.
One of my crazy measures of whether something is good for kids is if White people want it for their children. So, when White people don’t clamor for “reforms” like “Teach for America,” “school uniforms,” or “vocational training.” I’ve decided not to ask for it for Black kids.
Try as I might I can’t eat White folks potato salad or mac n cheese. Even Martha Stewart’s that I’m sure is superb. But, when I think of the love my mama put in each of those dishes I am certain that I would be attuned to that love as a missing ingredient.
No, none of these quirks, phobias and fears makes ANY sense—they just are. And, I bet if you’re honest you have your own. You don’t have to tell me what they are but if you see me on an airplane, rest assured I have counted to see if there is at least one more person like me on it for some “trabelin’ mercy!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“Apparently The ‘Talk’ Is Not Enough!”

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After young Trayvon Martin was killed by “neighborhood watch” member George Zimmerman, White America “discovered” that Black families have “the talk” with their children—especially their male children. No, it’s not the so-called “birds and bees” talk about where babies come from or how to avoid a potentially life-threatening sexually transmitted disease. That’s the talk ALL parents have to prepare to have. The talk that Black parents have to have with their children is the talk about how to interact with authorities, specifically law enforcement authorities and especially if said law enforcement authority is White.
Interesting, when Geraldo Rivera made his rather ridiculous assertion that Black boys should not wear hoodies (as if hoodies were the reason Black children are killed), I recognized the truism that Black parents have to share with their children—how you dress may (but not assuredly) save your life. Much of what we have to say to our boys sounds as far fetched as Geraldo but we’re desperate and we’ll say anything if we believe it will keep our children alive. So, below are some of the things I have told my own sons if they were in an encounter with law enforcement:
1. Always refer to the police as “officer”—not cops—and conclude your responses with “sir” or “ma’am” depending on gender.
2. Keep your hands in plain sight at all times. In a car this means at the top of the steering wheel or atop the dashboard.
3. Request permission before you do ANYTHING (e.g. reach into your pockets, glove compartment, etc.)
4. Describe to the officer what you are doing as in “I’m going to open my glove compartment to get my registration.”)
5. Avoid anything that can be construed as confrontation, even if you are totally in the right and feel your civil rights are being violated.
6. Stay alert. Look at the officer’s badge. Try to remember the name and badge number.
7. If you are a passenger in a stopped car say NOTHING unless asked. If asked follow directions #1-6 listed above.
8. This is not a time to exercise your “manhood” or air grievances. You don’t have to be doing anything for them to treat you like you did.
9. No, none of this is fair but because you are in a life or death situation you can’t quibble about “fairness” in that moment. Just focus on trying to stay alive.
10. Try to stay calm. Despite the temporary embarrassing nature and violation of civil liberties these encounters represent don’t do anything to escalate the situation.
11. Make sure you have your parents/guardians in an “ICE” (In case of emergency) speed dial on your phone (This is a new rule brought on by the ubiquitous use of cell phones).

Having to tell these things to a 10 – 18-year-old multiple times is wearying. Having to live in perpetual fear every time your youngsters go out to play or just “hang out” with friends is agonizing. I am from a family that has had a young person walk out the door in the morning but not return than evening—ever! And the cause of that death has not always been a police officer or other authority figure. But, that’s not the way any parent in a “free” society should have to live. Having been afforded the luxury of living in university communities for much of my adult life I learned that my White neighbors did not live in the constant fear that I did. They worried that Chad would not pass an AP exam or get high SAT scores. They worried that Matt’s “unfortunate incident” with being drunk at a school dance would show up on his record. They worried that the mid-April letter that arrived during Josh’s senior year from the Ivy League school would be a “fat” one. They worried that Tyler would lose his starting quarterback job to a talented but clearly “going nowhere” Black kid or that Wes would not be the class valedictorian because of the recent influx of Asian descent students. They worried that Jeff would not follow in their footsteps and become a physician or engineer. But we worry that our children will be alive!
We keep having “the talk” but apparently it’s not working!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Yes LaTonya There Is A Santa Claus…and SHE is Black!”

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This post is inspired by my friend Rick Ayers who wrote a post of Black representations of Santa throughout the world last year on Huffington Post. But rather than a historical look at Santa I want to look at the reality of Santa for Black children. My friends and I were raised knowing that no White man was coming to our neighborhood at night. And we definitely knew he wasn’t coming with a bag full of toys to slide down our non-existent chimneys. It didn’t matter how many times James Brown sang, “Santa Claus go straight to the ghetto the only Santa coming to our house was coming in the form of Mama or Big Mama.
Most Black children don’t have the luxury of hoping some jolly fat White man is going to be benevolent and bring them loads of toys. Instead, they see hard working parents who do everything they can to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. They know that whatever money can be sacrificed for toys is a real blessing and the person who will purchase those toys is the person who looks into your face each night before bed and first thing when you awake.
My mother’s strategy for pacifying us during the Christmas season was to take us down town and place a bunch of things on lay-a-way (for my White readers lay-a-way is what stores serving the poor and working class do so that people will place a small “deposit” on items and pay on them over time before eventually redeeming them). Unfortunately, for us my mother often never went back for the things she had placed a dollar on. The exercise of wishing and hoping was what Christmas was going to be in our house. We generally got one or two of the things we’d seen on that shopping trip. Another thing my mother was famous for was getting you a “reasonable facsimile” of what you actually wanted. We never got the brand name or designer label item. My mother always went to some discount store and got us a “knock off” and while disappointed we dare not say anything! I still remember the horrible light blue mohair sweater that looked nothing like the cool cable knit mohair sweaters that were popular in my school that year. Instead I ended up with a sweater that looked like a hair shirt!
But, Christmas was always festive in our home not because we got lots of toys and clothes. It was festive because our entire family came together, ate a delicious home cooked meal, told stories and jokes, and poked fun at each other. Every once in a while when my brother or I had some very special desire my mom would do what she could to get it but that was the ONLY thing we were getting. No chubby cheeked White man made that happen. That special gift came from long hours of overtime and side hustles and bank Christmas Clubs that required you to pay in a few dollars a week so you would have a little nest egg by December to buy gifts.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have the right to decide for themselves if they want their kids to buy into the Santa Claus myth. No, I’m saying for most of the Black children I grew up with in our working class community the very idea of Santa was a joke. The person who was feeding you was going to be Santa. The person who was putting clothes on your back was going to be Santa. The person who paid the rent so you had somewhere to live was going to be Santa.
So yes, Latonya there is a Santa Claus and SHE is Black!

Stay Black & Smart!

“WWRD – What Would Rosa (Parks) Do?”

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Today, December 1st marks the 59th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give her seat on a bus to a White man. With that bold move Mrs. Parks became the icon of the modern Civil Rights Movement. And, like most icons we have sanitized and distorted not just the incident but also the person. The story we tell children in our classrooms is that Mrs. Parks was a “tired seamstress” who just didn’t have the energy to get up and move and it was her tiredness that kept her rooted in that seat. Oh she was tired all right. Tired of the b.s. that made daily living in a city like Montgomery, AL in 1955 intolerable for a Black woman. But more than being tired of racism, Mrs. Parks was a warrior and like all good warriors she had carefully prepared for this moment.
Rosa Parks was the FIRST woman to join the Montgomery NAACP and was its secretary for many years. She worked with Black youth in the NAACP and with E.D. Nixon of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. She took a youth group in Montgomery to see the 1954 traveling exhibit of the Declaration of Independence on the Freedom Train. Because it was a federal exhibit it could not be segregated. It was the first time many of the Black youth were in an environment with White youth. Civil Rights was Rosa Parks work, being a seamstress was her job. She never got the two twisted.
Rosa Parks attended the Highlander Folk School where she learned more about civil disobedience and helping Black people obtain their full citizenship rights. But even on the day of the infamous incident Mrs. Parks was not disobeying the racist law. She was sitting in the “colored section” of the bus but there were no more seats in the White section. And, in her own words, she hadn’t moved in some time and she thought it was ridiculous to have to go to the front of the bus to pay, get off, and then enter the back of the bus.

Rosa Parks had trouble with bus drivers over the years. She had been evicted from buses before. What made this December 1, 1955 incident the memorable one is that the bus driver called the police and she was arrested. Rosa Parks was not an isolated case. In the months prior to her arrest at least 3 other Black people in Montgomery had been arrested for refusing to give up their seats to Whites. In each case the NAACP investigated the background of the person who was arrested to determine if they would be a good model around which to build a civil rights case. Mrs. Parks had the respect of the community and the strength to withstand all of the publicity that would come with making her the catalyst for a massive bus boycott.

Today, Mrs. Parks statue is the only one of an African American woman to adorn the US Capitol Rotunda. But in between the time of the bus arrest and being enshrined in the Capitol Mrs. Parks had her share of struggles. She lost her job in the department store, her husband was forced to quit his job and the family moved to Hampton, VA where she worked at Hampton University (then, Institute). From there the couple moved to Detroit to join some of Mrs. Parks relatives. One by one, everyone close to her succumbed to disease and death–her husband, her siblings, and her mother. However, the biggest insult was a break-in and assault by a neighborhood drug addict who recognized who she was (after he broke in) and still proceeded to rob her and strike her.

I think of Mrs. Parks in the midst of the Ferguson, MO protests and debates. Although she was a highly sought after speaker she never got rich. She regularly gave away money from speeches and books to civil rights causes because she believed deeply in the dignity of every human being and the right of African Americans to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. I think she would stand on the side of those who are protesting the wanton shooting of Black people by those who are supposed to serve and protect. I think she would stand on the side of people who are calling for an end to racial profiling. I think, in her quiet and dignified way, she would stand (or perhaps sit) her ground to assert her right to be treated as a human being. That’s what I think Rosa Parks would do!

Stay Black & Smart!