“We All Have to Survive”

I really wanted to avoid talking about R. Kelly. I had stopped listening to him years ago when the allegations of predatory behavior toward young girls, particularly African American girls first surfaced. The recent docu-series produced by dream hampton placed the artist and his horrific behavior front and center in our consciousness. Social media as well as conventional media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.) have been abuzz with R. Kelly stories. How has he been allowed to get away with this? Would this have persisted this long if his victims were White? Are the girls/women and their families complicit in this horror? His supporters have pointed to other sexual predators and their ability to evade prosecution. Some of his supporters have cried “foul” and insist that the only motive in going after R. Kelly is to “bring down another Black man.” My motive in writing this blog is to make sure we do not lose sight of how vulnerable our children are in a world determined to destroy them.

1. One’s childhood victimization is not a pass to victimize others: Over and over we have heard how R. Kelly was abused as a child. That fact does not mean he is permitted to abuse others. He probably does not understand how to enter into healthy relationships but his childhood abuse doesn’t mean he has a right to visit that same behavior on others. By his own admission, Kelly’s younger brother was also abused but he lacks the fame and fortune that allows him to manipulate others and perpetrate these crimes on others like his brother.

2. Young minds are malleable: Many of us who are not caught up in the web of sex abuse do not understand mind control. We forget that before about 25 or 26 years old, individuals’ brains are not fully developed and the part of the brain that is still developing is the frontal lobe—the place that houses evaluation and judgment. When you’re 40 and someone says they’re going to make you a star but you have to come to their studio late at night you are likely to question that. However, if you are 16 and a big star pays attention to you, you are likely to do whatever he says. After all, he is the star. He knows the industry. If that star tells you that he is the only one who cars about you, you may begin to mistrust family and friends. Your isolation makes you susceptible to all kinds of lies.

3. Predators exist throughout our society: While R. Kelly’s behavior seems particularly egregious it is emblematic of predatory behavior everywhere. The scandals in the Catholic Church, the behavior of the Olympic and Michigan State University doctor, and the Penn State University football assistant coach are all examples of how widespread this behavior is our society. Anyone who has ready access to our children—teachers, Scout leaders, childcare workers, youth leaders, pastors, coaches, parents, grandparents, older siblings, neighbors, and friends—can prey upon them. Our role is to be ever vigilant and make sure we are talking with our children about how adults treat them.

4. Let’s not forget the enablers: While the documentary focused on R. Kelly, there is no way he could have gotten away with all he’s done (and allegedly continues to do) without the help of those around him. People facilitated his access to young victims. They knew/know about what happened in his homes and studio. Some of the enablers cried, “mea culpa” in the documentary, others continue to aid and abet his criminal behavior. The reasons for their complicity are varied. Some are financially dependent on the singer. Others have a misplaced sense of loyalty. Still others suffer from a similar psychological manipulation as the victims. But, they are just as responsible for these crimes. They did not speak up.

5. Nobody Protects Black Girls: Black girls are the forgotten segment of our society. We know of the vulnerability of Black boys and the “Black Lives Matter” movement primarily focused on Black boys and men. We know about the pernicious problems of sexual harassment and assault but despite being founded by a Black woman (Tarana Burke) the “Me Too” movement has been co-opted by wealthy and famous White women. R. Kelly knew that Black girls were considered less valuable, less worthy than other children. I am convinced he could not have gotten away with this behavior for this long had his victims been young White girls. We see far too many images of Black girls being highly sexualized and referred to as “too fast.” No one is willing to open his or her mouth and say, “They are CHILDREN!” In this R. Kelly saga we saw that not even the girls’ parents did enough to protect them.

The R. Kelly story is not merely an occasion for spilling tea and pointing fingers. It is a call to conscience. We have to have honest conversations about sexual abuse, sexual predators, and sexual harassment in our homes, schools, churches, and communities. We have to teach our children (girls and boys) that their bodies are sacred and no one has a right to do things to them they do not want. We have to teach them that they are not to keep adults’ secrets (e.g. “Don’t tell anybody about our special time together) and that their self-worth is not tied to whether or not they do things that please a more powerful person like a teacher, a pastor, or an older relative. We also have to be cognizant of what our children are consuming. Rather than dismiss all of their music as garbage we have to listen carefully to what they are listening to and have frank conversations about the message the music conveys. We have to talk about the movies and videos they watch so that they can understand the difference between Hollywood fantasies and real life. We have to do all of these things because we all have to survive!

Stay Black & Smart!

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“Let Me Explain Something to You”

If you follow social media you probably already know about the viral sensation known as Ms. Denita Roseborough. You probably don’t know her by her actual name but you do know her as the Philly KFC sister who checked and re-checked the man who came into the restaurant complaining that one of the younger clerks had written her phone number on his boyfriend’s receipt. I loved this video so much I have watched it at least 10 times. I watched it so many times because Ms. Denita was a wonderful reminder of why I loved being raised by Black women from Philly.

There are a number of things that Ms. Denita did that I wish more Black women would do for each other—especially those of us in the so-called professions (e.g. doctors, lawyers, corporate women, academic women, etc.).

She took charge of the situation: The model of womanhood that is so regularly held up in to us is a submissive, vulnerable, White woman that cries when she feels threatened. That is not the model I was raised with. My mother, my 7 aunts, the church mothers, and my neighborhood mamas were not shrinking violets. They did not suffer fools. And when Denita opened up with “Let me explain something to you,” that is the signal to the man that she is running this show. My own mother’s take-charge catch phrase was, “Are you finished?” When she offered that question it told me that I was about to “get told!”

She rode hard for her sister: So many of us have become timid and afraid to “be our sister’s keeper.” Denita was clear that the man with the complaint was not going to come into the KFC and take advantage of her younger, seemingly bewildered co-worker. Denita let him know that if there were any “checking” to be done in that store on that day, SHE would be the one doing the checking. As a little girl I was known for my big mouth. I was known for “selling wolf tickets” because I had some “big girl” friends who would ride hard for me. I could count on them to do the “checking.” I often look around for those sisters in the academy. There are so few of us that far too many of us think the only way to survive is to keep our heads down and avoid confrontation at all costs. That is a strategy that may save your job, but it won’t save your soul. I wish Black women had ridden harder for Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and today Cyntoia Brown!

She kept it real: The thing that endears so many of us to Denitra Roseborough is her verbal virtuosity. The man tries to plead his case or interrupt the verbal beat down by declaring, “Denita, it’s Christmas.” She quickly responds, “Ho, ho, ho!” Next the man tried to argue that he thought he was in suburbs as if that would command a different response. By this time Denita is joined by 2 other Black women, one of whom removes her headset in case the confrontation is about to get physical. Again, this kind of authenticity is missing in professional work places. We walk into our offices, our labs, our classrooms wearing masks. We never let the people we work with see our real selves. We believe being who we really are will scare them… it probably will. But, I believe it will also keep them from taking advantage of us and continuing to disrespect us.

She never forgot who she was: Finally, Denita was clear about who she was. The man declares, “I thought this was the suburbs,” as if that geographic location would change who Denitra and her co-workers were. After declaring they are “da hood” Denita and her girls shout out their neighborhoods…North Philly, South Philly, West Philly, Chester! This declaration tells the man that they “rep their set.” The neighborhoods that formed and shaped them are deep in their being. No amount of fancy neighborhoods, bougie speech, or phony airs changes any of that. How refreshing would it be if as Black people—Black women—we owned who we are no matter where we were. What if we stopped apologizing for having had to come up in “da hood?” What if we valorized Big Mama, ‘nem for teaching us the hard lessons of life? What if we were proud to be Black women?

Of course, we do have examples beyond Denita. When Congresswoman Maxine Waters declared she was “reclaiming my time” she was representing like Denita. When Congresswoman Frederica Wilson called out Donald Trump’s and John Kelly’s lies she was representing like Denita. When Kimberle Crenshaw developed the African American Policy Forum and the “Say Her Name movement she was representing like Denita. When Tarana Burke began the “MeToo movement she was representing like Denita. When Viola Davis ascends the Academy Awards stage with her natural hair she is representing Denita. When Erika Badu, Jill Scott, Beyonce, and many other Black women artists have fought long and hard to represent like Denita and whenever a Black woman begins with “let me explain something to you,” you better be ready to be “checked”, “read,” and “told!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“For Colored Girls”

I didn’t think I could feel any lower. The week started with the news that George Soros, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama were the targets of some deranged person sending pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and supporters. Next I learned of two Black people over 65 years old who were gunned down at a supermarket in Kentucky by a man who initially attempted to kill people in a Black church. By Saturday I learned that 11 people between the ages of 54 and 90 something were murdered by a madman in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It was all too much and it forced me to shut off the television, the radio, and stay off social media. I just needed a break from bad news. However, when I decided to re-engage I was greeted by the news that poet Ntozake Shange had died. At that point, every bit of resilience I thought I had evaporated.

 

Shange is of my generation. I still have my original copy of For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf that I purchased in 1977. I both loved it and envied her writing. She was my contemporary and she had created something that blew every Black woman’s mind. As we read each poem we saw ourselves in every page. I was reading Shange at the same time I was reading Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhabuti) and listening to The Last Poets and Nikki Giovanni. I loved each and every poem but was especially captivated by, “Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.” It detailed an experience every Black woman I knew had gone through and she said it all in a Black woman’s voice.

 

Many years later as an academic I published a book chapter titled, “For colored girls who have considered suicide when the academy is not enuf.” Ntzoka Shange was the complete inspiration for this chapter that details the way that Black women are regularly wounded in higher education. The chapter also talks about my ability to triumph over the toxicity of the academy. It was a tribute to Shange and every Black woman who had pointed the way for me…my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, the neighborhood mothers, the church mothers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Anna Julia Cooper, Septima Clark, and so many more.

 

Shange declared, “I found God in myself and I loved Her fiercely.” This theological declaration was the beginning of my developing a deeper sense of self-esteem and purpose. It moved my gaze away from the “man” in the pulpit and toward that which God had placed inside of me. Shange grew up in a middle class family—her father an Air Force surgeon and her mother a psychiatric social worker. She attended and graduated from Barnard College with a degree in American Studies. She later earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Southern California. She had many of what psychologists call, “protective factors” but they did not keep her from sinking into depression and contemplating suicide.

 

Her last 14 years were difficult. She suffered a series of strokes in 2004 and was living in an assisted living facility in Maryland. She was showing signs of recovery and had begun producing new work and doing readings. She has transitioned to the next world and knowing that makes me incredibly sad. However, I find joy in the fact that daily there is yet another Black woman who discovers there was someone who dared to speak, “for colored girls!”

 

Stay Black & Smart!

“Kanye, Bruh… We Don’t Need Another Uncle Ruckus”

In the film “Barbershop” and its sequel Cedric the Entertainer plays a contrarian character, “Eddie” a Black man who disputes the legitimacy of Rosa Parks’ sacrifice, the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights icons, and the worth of the entire civil rights struggle. Similarly, Aaron McGruder’s animated series, “Boondocks” includes a character, Uncle Ruckus, who although Black voices strong anti-Black sentiments. These characters ring true throughout the Black community because we have seen them in a variety of iterations, mostly older disenchanted Black people who suggest that the younger generation merely seeks special favors from the society and is unwilling to work hard to earn what they need.

Enter, Kanye West…a talented artist whose music has helped transform the hip hop landscape. Lately, Kanye has uttered some bizarre statements that are not merely anti-Black, they are flat out wrong! First, let’s talk about the optics. Kanye West in his “Make America Great Again” hat is an affront to most Black people. But as bad as that might seem, West’s statements about slavery being a “choice,” along with his call for a repeal of the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) and regularly singing the praises of Donald Trump make many in the Black community assume that West’s self described mental health issues are indeed quite serious.

I do not deny that West has some mental health and wellness concerns. I don’t know if they are bipolar disease, depression, or any other diagnosed mental maladies. What I do know is that what he has is probably treatable and I do not believe they fully explain what we are seeing in this young man.

I believe Kanye West is obsessed with celebrity. I think all this Uncle Ruckus-like behavior is tied to his need to have all eyes on him even if those eyes are on him for negative reasons. In his mind that is better than not having them on him at all. Kanye wanted his marriage to make he and Kim Kardashian THE celebrity couple. Instead, the hip hop world considers Jay-Z and Beyonce THE celebrity couple. Their “On the Run 2” tour is a sell out where ever it plays. Additionally, Jay-Z has become a brand. He has a clothing line…Kanye’s has sputtered and failed. Jay-Z has a cologne sold at Macy’s…Kanye has none. Jay-Z has authored a book (“Decoded”)…Kanye has not. Jay-Z is a multi-millionaire who owns an NBA franchise (Brooklyn Nets). Kanye is rumored to be near bankruptcy. The role Bey and Jay played in the Obama Administration far overshadows whatever Kanye thinks he’s doing with Trump.

Other hip hop artists are making their marks in other ways. Kendrick Lamar has been dubbed “the thinking man/woman’s rapper” and has not only been a half time performer at the NCAA Football Championship, but wrote the music for the wildly popular film, “Black Panther.” Chance the Rapper is changing the hip hop game with philanthropy. P. Diddy has always been an entrepreneur who has turned his celebrity into a brand also—clothing line (Sean Jean), cologne, and vodka (Ciroc). Common has won an academy award. There is enough fame and fortune to go around for every talented artist. There does not have to be just one.

I don’t where Kanye West’s egomaniacal, megalomania emanates from. I don’t know what the impact of his mother’s untimely death has been on his psyche. I don’t know how sick Kanye is. I don’t know how much we see of him and his interactions with and on behalf of Donald Trump are real or merely theater in an attempt to keep all eyes on him. I just know we don’t need another Ruckus!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Look Up in the Sky…It’s Kaep, it’s Serena… it’s Anti-Blackness!”

By now you know that the Nike Corporation has decided to make Colin Kaepernick the face of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign. The reaction has been swift and predictable. Some people have vowed to not purchase another pair of Nike sneakers or athletic wear. Some have taken to the Internet to show their cuting up Nike socks and burning Nike sneakers. Is this really a patriot act or is it yet another example of anti-blackness that has become business as usual for these United States?

All through the US Open Tennis Tournament, Nike has been running an ad that juxtaposes Serena Williams as professional tennis player with video of her as a little girl learning the game. The voice over in the ad is that of her dad, Richard Williams coaching, cajoling, and encouraging her. At one point we hear Mr. Williams say, “hit it like you’re in the US Open!” The slogan that closes out the ad reads, “It’s only crazy until you do it!” Serena (and her sister, Venus) has been the victim of anti-black vitriol from the moment she took the tennis world by storm. The beads in her hair were too noisy. Her style was unorthodox having been taught the game by a non-professional like her dad. She has been body shamed and told she was unattractive. Her tennis brilliance has been attributed solely to her “athleticism” rather than hard work and skill. Just after the French Open we learned that her specially designed one-piece outfit to help her cope with life-threatening blood clots would be banned from future French Opens but in perfect Serena style and flare she showed up at the US open in a one-shoulder outfit with a tutu! Although she is undoubtedly the best athlete in the world (sorry LeBron) there was a time (2015) when she earned less in endorsements than Maria Sharapova despite dominating Sharapova on the court.

Now along comes Colin Kaepernick who has taken a brave and principled stance against racist police brutality. His refusal to stand for the National Anthem has cost him his career. We may soon learn that the NFL colluded against him to keep him from earning a spot on any NFL team. But he has become a hero to Black people everywhere. The slogan attached to his Nike ad reads, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything!” The social media response was swift with #JustDontDoIt and #JustBurnIt trending on Twitter.

Nike, Inc. is a $34 billion international corporation. If you think for one minute the company did not do its market research BEFORE releasing this campaign you are ignorant of how business actually works. Nike has already locked down a $1billion contract with the NFL for the next 8 years. Colin Kaepernick is still one of its clients and he is popular among young Black people. Nike is playing the long game. Having sat on a Division IA athletic board for 7 years I have seen this game from the inside. Colleges and universities have to clothe their athletes and the days of every sport on the campus picking their own supplier are over. One contract for the entire athletic program with lots of perks is standard operating procedure and Nike has been ruthless in this game. Nike underwrites AAU and prep athletes and sponsors countless urban athletic programs. (I know this as the grandmother of an elite basketball player who was regularly invited to the Nike Invitational Tournaments and outfitted with their shoes). While this sounds benevolent on their part, their goal is to steer these young people to colleges and universities with which they have contracts. Elite prep athletes who express interest in non-Nike schools receive all sorts of pressure to choose a “Nike school.” But the Nike shoe and apparel burners and boycotters do not seem to care about this side of the Nike story.

Earlier this year Nike attempted to rectify the pay disparity that exists between its male and female employees. Female employees at Nike regularly reported sexual harassment and unequal pay at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. But the shoe and apparel burners and boycotters do not seem to care about this side of the Nike story.

Nike like most of the athletic-leisure wear industry has a terrible track record when it comes to exploiting workers in developing countries. The sweatshop conditions that exist in Nike factories are well documented. The fact that children and women are working under harsh conditions for subsistence wages does not seem to bother these patriotic, “principled” consumers. They will not burn their sneakers or boycott the company over this.

Nike is not making a political statement. It is making a business move. It is clear on its target consumers. Those consumers are not the ones buying Nike Monarchs for $65 dollars at JC Penney’s or $39.99 at TJ Maxx. No, Nike continues to court inner city kids whose parents scrimp and save to pay over $100 for the latest version of Air Jordans. That a few White men (who may or may not be able to jump) burn their sneakers is a calculated risk that ultimately will not hurt their bottom line. Remember when people in Cleveland burned their LeBron jerseys? By the way, Nike also owns Converse, Vans, Cole Haan, Umbro, and Hurley so there’s a lot of burning and cutting they need to do!

The outrage over Nike is just one more salvo being fired in the anti-black campaign that the current resident of the White House has made his rallying cry. If it is about patriotism where were they when a presidential candidate claimed that Senator John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured? If it is about patriotism where were they when this same candidate maligned a Gold Star family? No, this is about Black people having the temerity to say that they are sick and tired of racism. This is about Black people exercising their right to protest injustice. This is a continuation of the anti-blackness that pervades every aspect of American life.

Stay Black & Smart!

“The Queen is Going Up Yonder”

Although we knew she was gravely ill, it still hit us hard to learn that Aretha Franklin had died. Her passing was close in time with that of Arizona Senator John McCain. Both were luminaries and in this small space I could not adequately attempt to speak of their impact and legacies. However, Aretha’s passing is an opportunity to share with a wider community the import and significance of the Black homegoing celebration. Incidentally, I am writing this while watching Aretha Franklin’s homegoing broadcast on BET.

Yes, we grieve and mourn at the passing of a loved one, but the Black tradition is also to celebrate the transition from this world to the next. For Black people this is not the end…it is the beginning of the promise. In this blog I’d like to share why we do it and how we do it.

Why We Do It: Our sojourn in this nation has been among the harshest of any people in its history. We have been enslaved, beaten, separated from family, language, culture, and everything we knew as home and connection to humanity. We sing a song that says, “We’ve been lied on, cheated, talked about and mistreated.” We came to these shores as spiritual beings. We came understanding that there was something bigger and more transcendent than this place or ourselves. And, when slave masters sought to give us the Christian religion as a pacifier, we grabbed hold of it and made of it what we believe it was truly meant to be. When the scriptures said that we were not citizens of this world, we found comfort in the notion that we had “another building…not made with hands.” The Black homegoing is a return to our God, it is not just a funeral. It is a celebration of life, not a sorrowful, morbid, sad occasion. It is our way to tell this world the deceased is heading home—from labor to reward! Also, we do our homegoings as a caution to those who remain. If the deceased was a believer the homegoing is an admonition to those who are not that their only opportunity to see him or her again in eternity is to become one.

How We Do It: Because we are celebrating a life we often pull out all the stops. Our homegoing celebrations are elaborate and often reflect a grandeur that we did not experience in life. We have dozens and dozens of flowers and beautiful caskets in which we lay “open casket sharp!” We invite everybody…family, friends, loved ones, enemies, haters, the curious, and questioners. We plan a program but we often go off script. We PARTICIPATE in the homegoing. We sing, we testify, we shout, we share stories, we laugh, and yes, we cry. We may have treated you badly in this world, but we feel obligated to send you home in style.
After the service (and the internment) we participate in something known as the “repast.” This is the bountiful, scrumptious meal where we gather to remember the deceased. In the traditional Black church the foods are brought in from people who know how to cook! A typical repast will have chicken (fried and baked), ham, turkey macaroni and cheese, candied yams, potato salad, spaghetti, collard greens, green beans, dressing, rolls, sweet potato pie, pound cake, peach cobbler and of course, sweet tea and red Kool-Aid. This is a Black repast!

My first time attending a White funeral left me totally depressed. The ceremony was solemn; there were a few speeches and a few tears. At the “repast” (I think they called it a “reception”) they served finger sandwiches and cookies. I turned to a colleague and said, “You know I can’t grieve right without some homemade macaroni and cheese!”

We celebrate our deceased royally because we knew they were not accorded their full humanity during their time on earth. We celebrate because it is the only way we can endure the pain of oppression. We celebrate because we have to have hope. We celebrate because we want the world to know that we have citizenship in another land.

Yes, we celebrate the Queen, Aretha Franklin in the style we believe is worthy of her. Her body belongs in a gold plated casket. She is entitled to a change of clothes. She deserved a celebratory evening with her beloved sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. We were supposed to devote a Sirius XM station to her for the past weeks. She needed to lie is state at the Wright African American History Museum. We needed to stand in long lines to pay reverence to her. We love her and all she sacrificed for us. She sang us through good times and heartaches. She gave us R-E-S-P-E-C-T and now we give you honor. Our Queen is going up yonder!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Freedom Ain’t Free!”

Today is the quintessential summer holiday, the Fourth of July! From my childhood days it was a family favorite. My mom and her 6 siblings, close friends, and all of the attendant children would gather in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park for a huge picnic. Every family brought their specialty dish and we shared the chicken, ribs, burgers, hotdogs, and drinks. The adults settled in to rounds of pinochle, the teens pumped up the music to dance, and the little kids jumped double dutch, played dodge ball, and tag. And of course, Philly being Philly our fireworks displays were “off the chain.” We all loved the Fourth!

July 4th is also special in Philadelphia because it is considered the birthplace of the nation. Almost every year the sitting President of the US would come to the city to deliver a speech at Independence Hall…the place where the “Founders” signed the Declaration of Independence. Philadelphians are used to this “hallowed” position in the nation’s history. As a Black person I was always proud of the fact that Philadelphia was home to the oldest settlement of Free Black people. But, despite that history, Black people in the City of Brotherly Love have never been immune to the virulent racism that underscores the nation. Our “freedom” has always been contingent on the whims of White America and its willingness to grant us the very rights it has carved out for itself.

This year, 2018, is a particularly difficult “Independence Day.” The nation has incarcerated over 2,000 children from Central America and Mexico. Their parents are also detained and separated from them. Unarmed Black people are routinely shot by the people they pay taxes to, to protect them. Our prisons are over flowing with Black and Brown bodies—the largest rate of incarceration of any “civilized” nation. We are trembling at the prospect of a Supreme Court appointment that will roll back protections for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and anyone else who does not fit into the narrow box of acceptability American now embraces as a part of its campaign to “make itself great, again!”

I so want this nation to live up to the promises of its founding documents—both the Declaration and the Constitution. I don’t want my grandchildren to have to re-fight the battles I fought 50 years ago. I don’t want them to worry about whether they can vote, or get a fair shot at attending college, or just live! I want the Fourth of July to really mean true freedom and independence. I want this to finally be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Unfortunately, under this current regime (I refuse to call it an administration), we are all learning that freedom ain’t free!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Hello Police? … I See Black People”

By now you’ve seen all the funny memes of a White woman making a call in front of a variety of scenes of Black people… historic, artistic, or cultural. While the memes are sheer genius, they mask a truly painful reality. A week or so ago a Black family went to an Oakland, CA park to have a barbeque. Shortly after firing up their grill a White woman decided to call the police because of their “suspicious” activity—and the police responded. Fortunately, for them another White woman decided to stay with them until the police arrived to vouch for them—to say they were doing NOTHING! This incident reflects the ongoing challenge of being Black in a society where your mere existence can be read as criminal behavior.

Shortly after this incident memes started appearing all over social media with pictures of Black people from Soul Train dancers to President Obama sitting at his desk in the Oval Office and had the White woman on her phone superimposed on the image. Black folks started doing what we always do—turning a painful experience into humor.

But, we need to be clear. This woman’s actions and the police response to her call is not an isolated incident. Earlier this spring two Black men in Philadelphia were arrested in Starbucks for sitting, waiting for a business associate, and not purchasing a Starbucks product. In another incident, 3 women, (one of them the granddaughter of Bob Marley) were detained by the police as they left an AirBnB because a White neighbor saw them as “suspicious.” Also, this spring a Black Yale college student was in her dormitory’s common room working on a paper for a class. Like many college students she was tired and nodded off to take a nap. Before she knew it she was confronted by campus police. A White woman in the dorm called the police on her. She had to allow the police to walk with her back to her room and use her key to open her door to prove she was a resident in the dorm. Even then, the police wanted to see her ID.

What is going on here? The easy answer is racism. But these responses by White people, concerning the very presence of Black people, speak to something even deeper and more sinister in our culture. White people need to control when and where they see Black people. They need to determine what spaces are “White” spaces and what spaces Black people need to be relegated to. When Black people occupy those spaces White people have staked out for themselves White people feel entitled and empowered to have them removed.

This is not merely a question of ignorance. The White woman in Oakland allegedly has a PhD and affiliation with Stanford University. This is about the visceral reaction to Black people and their very existence. For years we talked about “Driving while Black” to describe the phenomenon of Black people being stopped in their cars by police for no apparent reason but it is clear that it goes beyond “moving violations.” White people have determined that as long as we are entertaining, collecting trash, cleaning toilets, making hotel beds, in prison or jail, locked in disadvantaged neighborhoods, or making hotel beds we are in our “proper places.” But when we dare to live ordinary lives that allow us to express our humanity, we are a danger. We don’t belong in the executive suites, in the banks, at the upscale malls, on a trip to the Wine Country, or on a university campus. When we “trespass” into these White spaces we can expect some White person to call the cops to report they see Black people!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Wadler Forever!”

On Saturday, March 24, 2018 11-year-old Naomi Wadler stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of protestors who formed the powerful “March for Our Lives” march on Washington. This march was organized in 5 short weeks by youth who have been deeply impacted by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people—students and staff—lost their lives to a former student who showed up on campus with an assault weapon. The march also looked at the culture of gun violence that has plagued our schools and youth in general.

Naomi spoke truth to power when she pointed out the unnamed, unspoken Black girls and women who have been victims of gun violence. Naomi pointed out that Courtlin Arrington of Alabama was senselessly killed at her high school right after the Parkland shootings but hardly any news agency carried the story. Naomi called out the names of Hadiya Pendleton and Tianna Thompson, two young Black girls killed in Chicago and Washington, DC, respectively. Naomi along with her friend Carter organized a walk out at her elementary school in protest of the recent school shootings. However, rather than walk out for 17 minutes, they walked out for 18 minutes—adding that additional minute on behalf of Courtlin Arrington.

In an interview Naomi said she was unsure if her speech would be considered “off topic” but she said it anyway. Naomi’s courage is what this next generation is all about. For far too long Black children have been deprived of an authentic childhood. Instead of having the ability to run and jump and play they are dodging bullets. Instead of dreaming and playing make believe they are hiding under desks and in closets. Instead of being seen as a part of the human development continuum, Black children are treated as if they are men and women by educators and law enforcement that should know better.

Naomi’s speech shows what happens when children have to fight for their own childhood. If we are going to make them become grownups, then we are going to see what kind of grownup message they intend to deliver. They will not forget who listened to them and responded. They will not forget who put their own political futures ahead of the people’s lives. They will not forget the names of the thousands of Black people—children and adults—who lose their lives to senseless gun violence.

I am encouraged and excited by the Naomi Wadlers of our nation. She may be just 11-years old. She may be from an immigrant background. She may be Black. None of these facts about Naomi Wadler diminishes her voice and her power. In the conclusion of her talk she quoted Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison when she said, “If there is a book that you want to read that hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one who writes it!” Naomi, thank you for re-writing the gun violence narrative. Thank you for including my grandchildren. Thank you for including the children in my church. Thank you for including the children in my community. (Naomi) Wadler Forever!

Stay Black and Smart!

“The ‘Dora Milaje’ Must Scare Trump”

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For the 10 people who read my blog and haven’t yet seen “Black Panther,” the King of Wakanda has a powerful fighting force of fierce Black women called the “Dora Milaje” who have shaved heads and an unwavering dedication to the nation and culture of Wakanda. Anyone with an ounce of sense would not mess with the Dora Milaje. The writer and filmmaker understand some important aspects of Black culture. One such aspect is that Black women are not afraid to fight for their own—their children, their culture, their families, their faith, their dignity and self-worth. And, it appears that the current occupant of the Whitehouse is really afraid of the Dora Milaje!

The pattern of attacks against Black women by this man is relentless and I understand why. First and foremost Black women were NEVER a real part of his base. Despite being faced with a less than ideal presidential candidate, Black women voted OVERWHELMINGLY for Hillary Clinton (94%) in the 2016 election while 51 percent of White women voted for Trump. With the exception of Diamond, Silk, Stacy Dash, and Omarosa we were not in the Trump camp! As clueless as Trump is he can see that we are not his base and it is unlikely that he will make any inroads with us. White women, on the other hand, cannot be counted on to stand against his excesses, his incompetence, his infidelities, his racism, his sexual assaults, and his outright dangerous decisions that place the nation (indeed, the entire world) in jeopardy. His attacks against Black women are not coincidental. There are at least 3 reasons why he fears us.

Black women WILL vote: In the Alabama special Senate race Black women mobilized and fought hard to ensure that Judge Roy Moore, an accused pedophile did not earn that seat. For the first time in decades, a Democrat defeated a Republican in a very “red” state. Despite Donald Trump’s endorsement, the “Dora Milaje” of Alabama closed ranks to make sure their voices were heard. If other Black people are discouraged from the ballot box and/or disenfranchised because of past felony convictions or lack of “government issued ID,” the sisters will find a way to go vote. Our mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and church mothers taught us long ago that we HAVE to vote. Too many people fought and DIED for our right to do this and to not vote is to dishonor their sacrifice. We got that message loud and clear!

Black women WILL organize: Although there are male organizations that are wonderful counterparts to women’s organizations, nothing beats the organization of women. The Divine 9 sororities (AKA, Deltas, Zetas, SGRhos), the Links, Top Ladies, National Council of Negro Women, 100 Black Women—hey even the Bey Hive—will get it together to mobilize, organize, and act for the culture! Twenty-seven years ago Professor Anita Hill was under attack for speaking up about the sexual harassment she experienced while working for Clarence Thomas. Over 1,000 Black women academics took out a full page New York Times ad, titled, “African American Women in Defense of Themselves,” (https://www.thenation.com/article/black-women-still-defense-ourselves/) to express our solidarity with our sister. Now with the co-optation of the #MeToo movement people are re-thinking Professor Hill’s testimony and realizing she bravely stood up and told the truth! She was a real Dora Milaje!

Black women WILL speak truth to power: Last weekend, Trump traveled to whiter than white western Pennsylvania (says, a girl from Southeastern Pennsylvania, aka Philly) and 2 of the people he decided to attack were Oprah Winfrey and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. He claimed to know Oprah’s “weaknesses.” Seriously? Oprah has told the world about her personal pain and trauma. Oprah’s weakness is bread! And, O…girl, so is mine!!! There is nothing to see here folks. Oprah is an open book, warts, billion dollars, and all. Then Orange Cheeto had the nerve to take on Auntie Maxine! No! No! No! The Congresswoman has called this man on his “stuff” (it’s a blog read by young folks, too) from day one! She refused to attend his inauguration or his State of the Union address. She’s not trying to kiss up to someone whose ethics, morals, and sense of loyalty are more than questionable. Auntie Maxine is a real Dora Milaje!

Trump is afraid of Black women and it was clear in the midst of the 2016 campaign when he went to speak at a Black church in Flint, Michigan (https://secondnexus.com/news/politics/trump-shut-down-by-black-pastor/). When he took to the pulpit and started disparaging Hillary Clinton, Pastor Faith Green-Timmons stood up and tapped him on his arm and “low talked” him. “Mr. Trump, we didn’t bring you here for that.” Every Black person I know knows what it means to be “low talked” by a sister. Trump started stumbling over himself and was clearly flustered. She was telling the reputed billionaire, “I don’t care how much money you have and who you think you are… you not coming up in THIS church with no foolishness. She was a true Dora Milaje!

So, we have the 2018 mid-term elections starring us in the face and once again the Dora Milaje will strap on their “vibranium pumps” and knock on doors, staff call centers, and register folks. And then we will pick up our spears and head to the polls. When you ask, “Will you kill me, my love?” We will respond, “For Wakanda (our culture)…without question!

Stay Black & Smart!