“It Could’ve Been Me!”

I went to church this morning. It’s something I do almost every Sunday. I don’t give it a second thought. I wake up, get dressed, and drive to church. I attend a traditional Black Baptist church. Almost everyone who attends is Black. I participated in the prayers, the praise and worship, the offertory, listened to the sermon, rejoiced during the invitation when people either gave their lives to Christ and/or decided to join the church. It never occurred to me that some crazed person would enter the sanctuary and shoot up the place.

The feeling I had was exactly the same one those in the Muslim community in Christchurch New Zealand had when they went to jummah or Friday prayer. They went to something they attended on a regular basis with the full expectation that they would see friends and families and pray to God in peace. Why wouldn’t they expect that? Unfortunately, they became victims like those in the Milwaukee Sikh temple, Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, and the Pittsburgh synagogue. The disease of white supremacy reared its ugly head again and viciously took the lives of 49 individuals.

When most of us heard the news we were horrified, of course, but I’m not sure we gave much thought to it in relation to our personal lives. But, the truth is this could have been any of us. The cancerous hate that was on display in Christchurch, New Zealand is the same hate that is spreading across the US like a wildfire. Hate crimes are up and we are allegedly led by someone who in one sentence claims to be in sympathy with the people of New Zealand and in a subsequent sentence or tweet claims we need to keep out murderers and rapists who are only identified as people from south of the US.

Racism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, sexism, Anti-Semitism all stem from the same place. It is a place of deep insecurity and feelings of losing a presumed place in the world. It requires people to turn those who are different on any dimension—race, class, gender, sexuality, language, religion, etc.—into “others.” It requires people to turn those who are different into less than human. When I examine my own cultural history I must acknowledge that it took a war and Constitutional amendments to acknowledge my personhood. As a woman it took another amendment to give me citizen rights to be able to vote. So many people have been victimized by hate and exclusion but it seems we suffer from cultural amnesia when the group under attack is a group other than our own.

You may be reading this and thinking a group of Muslims on the other side of the world have nothing to do with you. But, the perniciousness of hate is that it is never confined to one group or one moment. When it happened to the American Indians who stood against it? When it happened to the enslaved Africans and their descendants who stood against it? When it happened to Jews in Nazi Germany and throughout Europe who stood against it? When it happened in apartheid South Africa who stood against it? When we saw the Rwandan genocide who stood against it? When the news tells us about the massacre of Rohingya in Myanmar who stands against it? When our children are shot down in their schools and classrooms who stands against it? We are living in some terrible times and perhaps we will begin to stand against wanton violence when we view each act as one that could’ve been us!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Why Johnny (or Taylor) Must Cheat”

I have devoted my entire professional life to the education of Black children. I have declared from my earliest days of public school teaching to the conclusion of my career in the academy that Black children are capable of learning and possible of academic success. I have argued that because of the incredible education debt the nation has accumulated toward Black students (and other students of color), the students would regularly face an uneven playing field when it came to opportunities related to education. This debt is historical—we have always failed to provide quality education for some groups. The debt is economic—we have always provided less fiscal resources for some groups. The debt is socio-political—we have always worked to disenfranchise some groups. And, the debt is moral—some things are just plain wrong!

Yesterday we learned that in addition to White skin privilege, financial resources, access to better schools, and all kinds of social and political connections, some of the society’s wealthiest families found yet another way to cheat in order to ensure their children get admitted to some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions—Yale, Stanford, USC, and UCLA among them.

The fact that wealthy kids get into elite colleges and universities is not news. People who give lots of money to institutions can expect that their children will get greater consideration. People who are alumni of colleges and universities can expect that their alumni status will give their children a boost in their admissions profiles. People whose children are elite athletes can expect that their children will also receive special consideration in the admissions process. For example, Stanford (a school I know a little about as an alumna) is regularly lauded as a school whose athletes are also good students. That is true. The Stanford athletes are “good” students. However, they are not necessarily “great” students. In fact, the disparity between Stanford scholarship athletes and the general Stanford student population is greater than the disparity between Big Ten scholarship athletes and the Big Ten general student population. But the story that hit the news yesterday was not about gaining an advantage because of any of the above mentioned conditions (donors, alumni, elite athletes). It is about rich, White folks buying admission and cheating their way into elite colleges and universities.

The Justice Department handed down indictments to Hollywood celebrities, high profile executives—lawyers, business people, etc.—who paid money under the table, cheated on standardized tests, and defrauded colleges and universities to make sure their children got into their preferred schools. The scam included having people taking college entrance exams for their children, paying psychologists to say their children had learning disabilities to be able to get accommodations for additional time while taking either the SAT or ACT. One of the most bizarre parts of the scam included pretending that students were athletes—making up bogus prizes and accolades and even photo-shopping students into athletic pictures. This scam included, administrators, coaches, exam proctors, SAT/ACT administrators, and 33 parents.

This scam peaks my interest because I have heard more than enough arguments about why affirmative action is unfair. Black students are regularly told they don’t belong in college because they are unqualified. They are told they are taking up space that some “more qualified” student (read, White) should have. They are told they need to learn to compete in a “meritocracy.” Yesterday we saw how the so-called meritocracy actually works. People with enough money and power can (and do) bend systems to their will. They don’t play by the rules because they see themselves as people above the rules. This same attitude is characteristic of what we now see in our political sphere. People who already have every advantage find it necessary to cheat to guarantee they get what they want.

What eventually happens to those children who got admitted to elite schools under fraudulent circumstances? I speculate that they will end up sitting on our school boards, on our city councils, in our state legislatures, in our governor’s mansions, in our House of Congress and US Senate, and perhaps in the White House. And, they will occupy those positions claiming that they got there based on merit.

Stay Black & Smart!

“Can We Have A Black History Month Do-Over”

Well we made it to the month of March but the February 2019 Black History Month was one for the ages. In addition to the in-group assaults—coming into February on the heels of “Surviving R. Kelly” and attempting to unravel the Jussie Smollett debacle—we experienced a litany of racial insults that make me think we just need to do Black History Month all over!

Black History Month 2019 had the Governor of Virginia (the state that had the tiki-torch bearing racists the year before) trying to explain away his yearbook page with a picture of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood. First, he said he didn’t know which of the two people was he. Then, a day or so later he said he was neither of the people. However, he did admit to putting on blackface as a part of a Michael Jackson contest (can I remind you that Michael Jackson didn’t even have a blackface by the time he was in his 40s)! In a post dust up interview with CBS This Morning host, Gayle King, the governor referred to enslaved Africans in his state as “indentured servants!” Thank you Gayle King for the swift correction!

When people starting denouncing the governor and began looking to the Black Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax as the possible replacement for Governor Northam, we learned that he allegedly sexually assaulted two women. Then, the third possible gubernatorial replacement, State Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he wore blackface in college.

To make a bad situation worse in Virginia, the Governor’s wife, Pam Northam reportedly interrupted a tour of the governor’s mansion and handed a ball of cotton to a Black student as asked, “Can you imagine being a slave and having to pick this?” Epic fail Ms. Northam—epic fail! And while all eyes were on the mess in Virginia, down the road in Florida the newly appointed Secretary of State Michael Ertel had been forced to resign in late January when photos of him surfaced in which he was in blackface and dressed as a woman as what he termed a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”

Over in Alabama, Goodloe Sutton, publisher of a small town newspaper wrote an editorial saying it was time for the Klan to night ride again and get some hemp for nooses to hang Democrats in Washington, DC.

While this foolishness was going on in high places, the folks in the world of fashion decided to join the “fun.” Gucci advertised a blackface sweater. Katie Perry produced some shoes that look strikingly like blackface and Burberry showcased a hoodie with a noose pull at fashion week in London.

As we thought things were getting back to a celebration of Black excellence at this year’s Academy Awards—Regina King won best supporting actress, Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, Ruth E. Carter won for best costuming, Hannah Bechler won for best production design, Peter Ramsey won for best animation, and finally…finally, Spike Lee won for best screenplay adaptation—the best picture award went to a film that gives us a White man’s narration of a Black man’s story, “Green Book!”

As we return to reality, Maryland State Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti told a colleague who was stumping for votes that he was knocking on doors in a N-word district. When her statement was revealed her defense was, “Everybody’s said that word. I’ve said the f-word; I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain.” No Mary Ann, everybody hasn’t said it and certainly not everybody who seeks to hold public office.

By Wednesday, February 27 I was holding my breath hoping we could make it to March 1 without another “incident” but then Donald Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen took the stand at a Congressional Hearing. In his opening statement he declared that Donald J. Trump was a racist (is that really news?) and gave examples of statements he personally heard Trump say about Black people. To rebut his assertion, Congressman Mark Meadows had Lynn Patton—event planner turned HUD appointee—stand behind him as a human prop and evidence that Trump was not racist. It was only when a Black woman, Representative Stacey Plaskett turned around and told Republican Representative Jim Jordan to “shut up” and did the “church mothers’” eye roll that I breathed a sigh of relief. It was at that moment, I declared that Rep. Plaskett was the woman who saved Black History Month—at least for me.

However, I still think we could use a Black History Month do-over!

Stay Black & Smart!