“Be Black…and Die”

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As a child growing up I can remember numerous conversations where two Black adults might be bickering and one might insist that the other HAD to do something or other. The response to this mandate was often, “I don’t have to do nothin’ but be Black and die.” The response was meant to underscore two immutable conditions—our race and our mortality—as the only certainties in this life. However, today the phrase “stay Black and die” has a very different meaning for me. Today I think of being Black guaranteeing one’s death…often a premature death!

It is impossible to ignore the growing focus of anti-Black responses throughout the nation. We have gone from “driving while Black” to “riding while Black” (on the Napa Wine Train) to “smoking (in your own car) while Black” (Sandra Bland), to “being broke down on the road while Black” (Corey Jones), to “using a cell phone while Black” or “being a surly, disrespectful teenager while Black” (Richland County, SC) to what I would now describe as “just being Black” as cause for violent responses that can and do lead to death! This latest incident (i.e., video of girl being thrown across the room by the school resource officer) has sent me over the edge, around the bend, into apoplexy! I can’t remember the last time I was this upset and angry about something/someone I don’t even know. I am frustrated by the incident. I am upset about the reporting. And, I am angry at the Black people who insist that this child did something that made the response of this officer justified.

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of attending a filled to overflowing lecture by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I have loved reading of Stevenson’s work at the Equal Justice Initiative and was eager to hear what he had to say. One of the main lecture takeaways for me was Stevenson’s statements that “we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” and “a child is ALWAYS a child no matter what s/he has done!”

Nothing that child in Richland County, SC did was deserving of the treatment she received—NOTHING! I am a mother, a grandmother, and an aunt. I have seen the range of crazy teenaged girl responses. I have been as pissed off at them as any adult can be. I have witnessed my share of stupid decisions, smart mouth-back talk, lying, stealing, cheating, and disrespect and STILL, none of that justifies the level of violence aimed at that CHILD! She was NOT a danger to herself or others. She may have been disrespectful, even profane but had her own mother done what that officer did SHE would be the one sitting in jail today.

I am also deeply troubled by the seeming response (or lack thereof) of the other people in the video. I know, I know we don’t have the entire context. I didn’t have the entire context when I learned Baltimore’s Freddie Gray died being transported in a police van. I just know he went in the van alive and came out dead! What is the responsibility of a teacher to manage a classroom and get students to comply? Why did this degenerate into a power struggle that required the adults to win? Where was the threat?
The additional trauma that has made me weary of this incident is the apparent numbness exhibited by other students in the class during the video segment. The students bow their heads, avert their eyes, and for the most part remain silent (it was later revealed that one student did speak up and she was arrested for doing so)! The students’ responses reminded me of the scene in the film, “Twelve Years a Slave” when all of the other enslaved African Americans refuse to render aid, look at, or even acknowledge Solomon Northrup who is hanging at the end of a noose and “dancing” on the tips of his toes to avoid death by asphyxiation! The self-hatred and erasure is palpable. Our humanity is literally being sucked out of us. And then people wonder why we kill each other?

I can hardly describe how mortified I am by some of the reporting and responses by Black people who claim, “she just should have complied.” Complicity got us off the shores of Africa and on to slave ships. Complicity got us telling slave masters about those plotting escape and insurrection. Complicity got us agreeing to buy from stores that would not hire us. Complicity has us living in substandard housing and accepting horrendous schooling. I am sick of Black people who perpetuate this “blame to victim” discourse. Our tax dollars pay for police services just like everyone else. We should not be their victims just because we are Black. And we should not sit silently by while this continues.

This incident should move us past “hash-tag activism.” So, before you say, “Well what can I do, I am providing the contact information for the Superintendent of Schools, principal and the School Board Members of Richland County, SC. Let these people know that we will not participate in our own destruction. We will not just “be Black and die!”

Stay Black & Smart!

Spring Valley High School phone number: 1-803-699-3500
Email addresses for Richland School District 2 in South Carolina:
Principal: jtemoney@richland2.org
Superintendent: dhamm@richland2.org
Board members: jamesmanningsc@gmail.com; abutlermckie@gmail.com ; ccautionparker@aol.com ; calvin.jackson@bwcar.org ; puttingstudentsfirst2012@gmail.com ; craig@craigplank.com

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“I Do Not Like…Green Eggs & Ham”

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About a year ago I wrote a blog titled, “A Few of My Favorite Things” where I described things that Black people (at least the ones I know) really loved. A few of the things I listed included barbers and beauty shops, napkins, Pepsi, and preachers. Today I want to share some things that Black people I know do NOT like:

Oven fried chicken – Oh, we’re all right with baked or roasted chicken but when you tell us fried we expect something cooked in a cast iron skillet with a layer of Crisco. And please fry it hard!

Church singing without feeling – We aren’t mad if you are a little off key, or “pitchy.” We can even deal with you forgetting the words. But, please don’t stand up there like you are not feeling it. When we say “Let Him use you” we are beseeching you to put that emotion on display.

Teachers who act like they know our kids better than we do – There is nothing more infuriating than a teacher telling us inane stuff like, “He’s a really nice boy!” Well, we know that. We sent him to school nice. We need you to tell us what he knows and is able to do!

Black girl children in White families with uncombed hair – We realize that little Black girls can have uncombed hair regardless of their parents but something about seeing them with hair looking a mess beside White parents who have their hair well-combed just sets our teeth on edge.

People who assume we only vote for Black candidates – We could easily respond by saying that White people only vote for White candidates but the truth is there are plenty of Black candidates most Black people did not get behind. Do you remember Herman Cain? How many Black people do you think are backing Ben Carson? Barak Obama lost his first Congressional bid in a largely Black district.

Box cakes – If you’re going to take the time to actually “cook” a cake we’d like you to actually bake the cake—flour, butter, sugar—the whole nine yards.

Kraft macaroni and cheese – This needs nor deserves any explanation.

Confusing co-workers or colleagues with friends –We will be cordial, friendly, and nice to the people we work with but know we tend to keep a strict line between work lives and personal lives. No matter how “important” the career or profession we think of them all as a J-O-B!

White folks thinking saying the N-word is okay – Why on earth White people want to say the N-word is beyond me. If they think it makes them hip or cool or “down” let me assure you it does not. It is still insulting and hurtful.

Minimalist looks – When people have been deprived of material things as long as we have, we want to have stuff in our houses. We like a sofa (and probably a love seat), a side chair, and a coffee table. We need to see a dining room table AND the china cabinet. We do not like homes without photos. Don’t you have some family?

People who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom – Ewwwee! This will send us into orbit. You use the bathroom, you walk right out and then you want to start touching things? My hand? Food? Not in this life!

Parties without enough food or drink – This dislike is our proof positive that Jesus was Black. Do you remember Him showing up at a wedding and the host had run out of wine? That was a disaster that had to be fixed. We can’t stand showing up to significant events like weddings, graduation parties, or funerals and find “finger sandwiches” and punch!

Politicians who think we’re too dumb to know what’s good for us – Black folks have been voting their self-interests as long as they have had the franchise. People who claim we are in the Democrats pockets don’t know our history. Coming out of the Civil War we almost always voted Republican—the party of Lincoln. Indeed, we remained Republican because the Democrats systematically kept us from voting and participating in the democracy. However, once FDR came into office with the New Deal we realized we were better served by a Democrat and nothing in the political process has changed that impression. We know that neither side has us as their priority but we hedge our bets and choose the lesser of two evils.

“Let the Church Say Amen…Or Sing…Or Just Be The Church”

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Yesterday I received a post from a friend about a Black church in Oakland, California that was being fined $3500 by neighbors for its choir’s loud singing. (See, http://sfist.com/2015/10/15/oakland_gospel_choir_threatened_wit.php) This church has been in the West Oakland community for 65 years but with the astronomical cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area (and other central urban areas in the US), traditional African American (and Latino) communities are experiencing gentrification. The “new neighbors” seem to find the “joyful noise” annoying and want the church to pipe down!

The issue of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church is much bigger than its noise level. It is about the ways that young urban professionals, hipsters, or “new neighbors” are changing the character and composition of what were traditionally communities of color. No one is suggesting that Whites cannot move into any neighborhood they so choose. Rather, why is it that their movement almost always displaces those who were there before and is accompanied by a sense of entitlement to make over the community in their image?

Filmmaker Spike Lee offered what some called a tirade about the way his Brooklyn community was experiencing gentrification. His point was that before certain people moved into the community, the trash was not picked up on a regular basis, the police did not regularly patrol, and the “new people” get to set the rules. One rule in particular concerns noise. Lee’s father who is a musician was cited for creating a nuisance for playing his acoustic bass. The senior Mr. Lee has owned his home since 1968—47 years! Yet, his new hip neighbors insist that he is too noisy and they operate with the full force of the law on their side.

What is happening in Oakland and Brooklyn is also happening in Harlem, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, DC, and East Palo Alto, CA to name a few. What had been communities that were home to our beauty parlors and barber shops, sandwich shops and chicken shacks, music stores and black-owned bookstores, funeral parlors and churches have now become the places to pick up over-priced coffee drinks, home improvement items, and Scandinavian furniture. Rents are astronomical and our ability to live, love, and celebrate in ways we have always done are de-legitimized. Lee referenced the Fort Green, Brooklyn community’s proposed celebration of the life of Michael Jackson where their new hipster neighbors complained that such a celebration would bring a lot of “different” people to “their” neighborhood. In San Francisco’s Mission District hipsters ride private buses with specially built bus kiosks that take them down the peninsula to their Silicon Valley jobs. However, when they arrive back home they expect to dominate soccer fields that Latino children have played in for years. In at least one confrontation over the use of a neighborhood field, the hipsters told the Latino boys that they had “reserved” the park through the city so they did not have to share the space. In East Palo Alto what once was the nation’s “murder capital” is now filled with gated communities with housing prices approaching $1million. Needless to say the long-standing African American community is being pushed eastward to cities like Union City, Hayward, and San Leandro.

This displacement and gentrification is sometimes called “columbusing”—a term that refers to the phenomenon of claiming to have discovered something when others were already there. The total disregard for the traditional residents and their wishes is happening all across the nation. Unlike their White counterparts, Black and Latino families rarely establish neighborhoods with covenant restrictions that keep individual families from engaging in certain lawful activities like outdoor grilling, throwing a party, parking on the streets, or having outdoor celebrations. Instead, most of the neighbors I have had while living in Black communities typically alerted us to impending parties or other celebrations. Even better, they almost always invited us to those celebrations. Now, living in a predominately White community I learned that I was not permitted to hang my laundry outdoors or mow my lawn before 7:00 am. It would never occur to me to change the rules of the neighborhood I MOVED into that was not a neighborhood I helped established.

I hope that Pleasant Grove Baptist Church will stand its ground and continue to make a “joyful noise unto the Lord!” I hope that perhaps the “shame factor” will persuade them that their complaints make them look like what they are—privileged and entitled.

Stay Black & Smart!

“What’s Your Number?”

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When I was a teenager my girlfriends and I often talked about things we would never do. We would never wear certain dorky clothes. We would never join certain clubs. We would never date certain people and we certainly would never date inter-racially. However, whenever we would make one of these “I never would” declarations another of us would say, “What’s your number?” That question implied that there was some price that would get us to renege on the “I would never” declaration. We typically maxed out at one million dollars as in, “would you do it for a million dollars?”

The implication of what’s your number is that we all have a price or a limit. Two recent items in our news have caused me to wonder what our (as in our society) number is. One is the horrific shootings resulting in 9 deaths in an Oregon community college. Earlier this year 9 people were shot to death while in Bible study at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. Is 9 the number that finally prompts us to institute some sensible gun control? Of course not! We know 9 isn’t enough to move us because 12 people were gunned down in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. So maybe the number is 12. But wait, 12 can’t be the number because 26 were killed in an elementary school in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. And, most of those killed were CHILDREN. So clearly 26 is not the number.

According to the Center for Disease Control in 2013 gun violence resulted in 11, 208 people in the US who were victims of homicide, 21,175 were suicides, 505 were accidental, and 281 were of undetermined intent. So, 33,169 is NOT the number. Apparently we have an unlimited tolerance for gun deaths. Nothing about this rampant gun violence makes any sense to me. I grew up in a large (almost 2 million people at the time) city with incredible diversity. But, this huge complex city was not the murder factory then that it has now become. What’s changed? We can argue over all kinds of probable causes. We can point to rampant drugs in our communities. We can point to wage inequality. We can point to glorification of violence in our entertainment and other media. And, all might be contributory. All I know is that you cannot shoot people with a gun you do not have.

The ready availability of guns in this country is a controversial issue. People are quick to point to the Second Amendment and our “right to bear arms” and I agree that the Constitution does make that guarantee. I think the Constitution is a magnificent document. It has stood the test of time. It is what allows for the orderly transition of power in our highest offices. It protects the minority. And I see it as a living, breathing document, not some dead, irrelevant piece of paper. I do not believe we can interpret the founders’ original intent despite probing their other writings and positions. Indeed, I think the Constitution was written with broad latitude and interpretive powers so it would stand the test of time. However, the idea that the right to bear arms was intended for individuals to stockpile arsenals in their homes seems a stretch.
I am weary of reading about gun violence, particularly in the African American community. I am weary of watching mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, and sons and daughters grieving over another senseless murder. I could see that weariness on President Obama’s face (and heard it in his voice) as he addressed the nation yet again about citizens being gunned down for no reason. He seemed to be asking my question, “America, what’s the number?”

Oh, and I started this post with there being two things over which I could ask, “What’s the number,” and the second thing is Bill Cosby…but quite frankly, I just can’t right now!

Stay Black & Smart!