“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!

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“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!

“Wakanda Forever”

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When my sons were young I regularly, but reluctantly took them to the movies to see their beloved Kung Fu films. My boys loved Bruce Lee and I sat through “Fists of Fury,” “Enter the Dragon,” and “The Way of the Dragon.” None of these films made much sense to me. I would regularly ask questions about the anomalies and discontinuities in the plots only to have one of the boys or another audience member place a finger to their lips and go, “Shhhh!” I soon learned that these movies were not about plot, theme, or moral. They were all about the fighting and my kids couldn’t get enough of them. I would not come to appreciate Kung Fu movies until many years later when “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was released (2000). Here was a film with a coherent plot, beautiful scenery, and a female protagonist.

However, this past weekend I had a chance to see the film I wished I could have taken my kids to—“Black Panther.” On the surface this film is just another comic book adaptation like “Superman,” “Batman,” “Captain America,’ “Wonder Woman,” or “The Avengers.” All of these films have done well at the box office and all have focused on Euro-American super heroes who save the world. But Black Panther is the first feature film that showcases a Black super hero from Africa—the fictional nation of Wakanda.

Unlike its predecessors, “Black Panther” is decidedly Black—not just a “white” super hero in black face. No, “Black Panther” is decidedly political, cultural, spiritual, and racial. It asks its audience to think about the world we created and the world we want to live in. For this blog post I want to take up 3 reasons why I want Black children (well, Black people) to see this film:

Strong Black men in collaboration with strong Black women: “Black Panther turns our typical sense of masculine and feminine on its head. It says, a strong Black man is not intimidated by a strong Black woman. Indeed, the message of the film is that a Black man’s strength is enhanced and elevated by strong Black women. T’Challa’s mother, sister, love interest, Dora Milaje (women warriors) and Okoye the warrior general were women who made their King better and central to the film.

Being smart is “acting Black:” So much of the discourse about Black children and academics focuses on a mythology that suggests being academically excellent is tantamount to “acting White.” “Black Panther” dispels this notion by making the mythical nation of Wakanda a place with the highest level of science and technology in the world! T’Challa’s sister, Shuri is a scientific/technological genius. The citizens of Wakanda understand how to use their country’s natural resources. They are entrepreneurs, farmers, pilots, physicians, herbalists, griots, and secret agents to name a few of the careers displayed in the film. They are smart AND they are Black!

Respect for the ancestors: In our highly technological and increasingly fragmented world, each age cohort seems solely caught up with its own group. Tweens hang with tweens, teens hang with teens, twenty some things hang with twenty some things. Our elders are secreted away in nursing homes or “senior living communities.” We have places like Sun City or The Villages in Florida where people under the age of 55 are not even allowed to live. However, in Wakanda we saw the generations come together in ceremonial occasions. Children were not kept away from the cultural secrets. Even the King could not complete his coronation without a visit to the “ancestral plane” where he consults with his deceased father.

In addition to these 3 themes I want to take a lighter look at what I think of as the 5 Blackest moments in the Black Panther film:

  1. When Okoye snatched off her wig and threw it at the White man— You know you are in trouble when a sister takes her hair off. Granted. Okoye did not want to wear the wig in the first place but because of her distinctive Wakandan shaved head she agreed, reluctantly to wear the wig as a part of the mission to Korea. But when the “stuff” hit the fan she snatched off her wig, threw it, and began kicking butt and taking names. It was a “Black” moment.
  2. When Shuri told T’Challa, “Great, another broken White boy for me to fix”—This is how so many Black people feel on their jobs when we end up having to train less qualified people to take jobs supervising us. Some of us look at the incompetence of White colleagues and are bewildered that we have to pretend like their mediocrity is lauded as excellence. Many of my relatives who have served as domestics in White households have shared stories of “fixing broken” White women and their children in order to make their jobs bearable. Shuri’s outspoken declaration was a “Black” moment.
  3. When W’Kabi asks Okoye, “Would you kill me my love?” and she replies, “For Wakanda? … No question!”—reminds me of the many times Black women have to make pyrrhic choices. The welfare system required many Black mothers to make a choice between keeping a man in their home and receiving the kind of financial assistance to pay the rent and keep food on the table. They had to put that man out “for Wakanda”—for their futures. Don’t give Black women an ultimatum unless you are prepared for them to take the choice you don’t want. Okoye gave us a really “Black” moment.
  4. The barking to drown out the “whitesplaining”—Oh, that was a Black moment. When Agent Ross tried to open his mouth with an authority he did not possess the Jabari started barking like crazy. As I sat there all I could think was, “Wow, I’d love to do that in a department meeting!” When nobody really wants to hear the party line it’s time to start barking. Wouldn’t it be cool if the reporters in the White House Press Corps would start barking whenever Sarah Huckabee Sanders started in with another of those ridiculous explanations to cover for Donald Trump? It woud be a really “Black” moment.
  5. Finally, when Erik Stevens (a.k.a. Killmonger) shows up in the Wakandan court and says to Ramonda (Angela Bassett), “Hi Auntie”—It is the most inappropriate truth of the moment. It is true she is his aunt. It is also true that nobody wants to acknowledge it. It’s like an “outside” child showing up at daddy’s funeral and wrapping her arms around the “real” kids. It’s both true and inappropriate and it’s the kind of thing that regularly happens in Black families. It was a really “Black” moment.

Black Panther is not a perfect film but it is a good film and it is the film we need right now. It has some obvious shortcomings when we think about how the Wakandans are reluctant to truly help the rest of the world, and the rest of the continent of Africa, in particular. However, the nature of super heroes is that they need conflict and if Wakanda fixes all the problems we have no sequels to look forward to. This film provides the escape we desperately need at this moment. We are in a political and social morass. We see children senselessly killed in their school classrooms. We know a foreign government—Russia—interfered in our Presidential elections. We see a rise in hate crimes. We can get no relief from the police shootings of unarmed African Americans. We needed some escape and what better place to escape to than Wakanda (forever)!

Stay Black and Smart!

 

“Black Women Holding Up the World!”

Well, we did it again! Who is the “we?” Black women! What is the “it?” Coming to humanity’s rescue. This past Tuesday in Alabama Black women showed up en masse at the polls to vote to ensure that an alleged pedophile, declared racist (he thought Blacks were better off under slavery), and distorter of Christianity (he believes God is going to give him the electoral victory) was defeated. Judge Roy Moore was the country’s worse nightmare. He was unseated from federal judgeships twice. He regularly defied court orders and had no sense of equality and justice for people who weren’t just like him. He thinks it is wrong for a Muslim to be seated in the US Congress.

Having Roy Moore in the Senate would have meant that his brand of Alt-Right conservatism would be endorsed once again at the height of our government. The current occupant of the Whitehouse stumped for him. He made robo-calls for him. He dismissed the mountain of evidence that alleged this man had assaulted and harassed teenaged girls when he was an officer of the court and in his 30s.

This potential catastrophe was stopped by none other than who else…Black women. Black women voted for Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones at a rate of 98 percent. (Black men supported Jones at a rate of 93 percent). But, it was not just their election day participation that made this Alabama miracle happen. No, Black women were out pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to rally the community to vote to “Make America Gracious Again.” DeJuana Thompson, a community activist shared what some of us knew all along—“When Black women show up for their community, every community is empowered.”

Thompson founded a program titled, “Woke Vote” as a way to reach millennials and during this campaign she traveled the state going to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black churches to remind Black folks how important it is to vote. Thompson knew that if she could motivate Black women she could turn this election.

The “Alabama miracle” is characteristic of the work Black women have always done in this society. Black women transported us out of slavery (Harriet Tubman). Black women spoke up for our right to be seen as women (Sojourner Truth). Black women broadcast the lynching of our men and women throughout the world (Ida B. Wells). Black women educated us (Anna Julia Cooper). Black women sparked the Civil Rights Movement (Rosa Parks). Black women were leaders in that Movement (Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker). Black women protected our children when they had to go through hate-filled crowds to enter a school (Daisy Bates). Black women held their heads up in dignity when they were not allowed to entertain in so-called all White venues (Marian Anderson). Black women have patiently waited their turn to be acknowledged for their artistic excellence (Halle Berry, Viola Davis) and Black women have moved into “non-traditional” sports to show the world they can do anything (Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Simone Manuel).

Black people have always known that Black women hold up the world. Now the world knows they do. They exhibit moral courage in times of challenge. In the 2016 election Black women made the practical choice. Despite not being overwhelming excited about Hillary Clinton, they knew that Donald Trump would be a disaster and they were right. So Black women voted for Hillary Clinton at a rate of 96 percent while White women voted for Donald Trump at a rate of 53 percent. Black women ride hard for any cause that will better humanity—women, men of color, children, seniors, immigrants, etc. But when it comes to Black women’s issues, no one else rides for them. That’s okay…we will keep holding up the world and the rest of the world better hope we don’t put our arms down!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I Know What You Said…And, I Know What You Meant”

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“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” ~ Bob McNair, Owner Houston Texans

Well, it’s happened again. A powerful White man whose business is almost solely supported by Black labor has said aloud what has been ruminating in his head. In 2014 then Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was banned from the NBA because his racist conversations were recorded and released to the public. As shocked as everyone seemed to be, it is clear to most Black people statements like those of Sterling are common place among Whites—both those in power and those in lowly positions. We know that many Whites harbor incredibly racist thoughts about Blacks and other people of color. And, in a free society they are allowed to have those thoughts. But, for the last few decades, in this post-Civil Rights Era, we have come to expect people to at least monitor their behavior in a society that is rapidly changing along racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, sexuality, and ability lines.

When Paula Dean, the Food Network star, was castigated for having used the N-word, most Black people I knew who were at least 50 years old shrugged their shoulders and said, “Of course a 60 year old woman from the South has used the N-word. We’d be shocked if she hadn’t.” We recognize that as long as we live and operate in ethnic enclaves unsavory racial and racist comments will be spoken.

We are in an especially difficult time in our country. Racism has reared its ugly head in all kinds of places. We see it on our college campuses. We see it in corporate boardrooms. We even see it in the highest office of the land when the President declares that “there were bad people on ‘both sides’,” when referring to Nazi, Klan, and White supremacists protestors and their counter protestors.

Houston Texan football team owner Bob McNair revealed something that has bothered me about American football and basketball for a long time. African American athletes dominate both sports. And although they are well compensated, they play sports that have no guarantee of career security or longevity. At each contest players are one play away from some career-ending injury. And, they make the owners an astronomical amount of money. The NFL owners are worth between 2 and 6 plus billion dollars! Bob McNair is worth 3.8 billion. But he believes that the simple act of taking a knee in protest of continued police brutality against African Americans represents “the inmates running the prison.” Actually, I think he really means, “the slaves are running the plantation.” In his mind he “bought” these players and they are to do what he wants them to do.

The relationship between an employer and employee is often fraught with tension. They are not in an equal status relationship. But, they are supposed to be in a respectful relationship. Their contracts determine the parameters of that relationship. But working for someone does not mean they own you. The 13th amendment banned slavery and involuntary servitude but far too many powerful White people act as if the amendment is just a formality or a suggestion.

Bob McNair is not alone in his low opinion of Black athletes. Their bodies are mere interchangeable parts on the fields, stadiums, and courts they own. They are their “boys” and for the most part all they want from them is to be “good boys” who win games and earn the owners more money. When they struggle with substance addictions or devolve into situations involving domestic violence the only thing the owners seem to want to know is how soon they can get back on the field or court. But when they express a political opinion they are seen as stepping out of line. They are being “uppity” and no one likes an “uppity” Negro!

Bob McNair has since apologized and claims his remark was not aimed at the players but at the league office. But that makes no sense. The league office is not subservient to the teams. The league office administers the game. It dispatches the officials. It is the place where the rules get made. They are SUPPOSED to run the league, so saying they are the “inmates “is nonsense. Mr. McNair, we know what you said…and more important, we know what you meant!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Where Black Excellence Abounds”

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I had one of my all time great weekends this past Friday and Saturday. I went to my undergraduate college homecoming weekend. I graduated from Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD) and I was celebrating the reunion of the class of ’68 (we kick off our 50th celebration at Homecoming and culminate at Commencement in May 1968). On many of my Facebook posts I posted photos and comments from the university’s Gala, the football game, a class of ’69 reception (that I crashed…because I was supposed to be in that class but did enough summer school credits to graduate with the class of ’68) and my own class party. What struck me throughout the weekend was how many outstanding African Americans have passed through my life at that little college (now about 7,500 students, about 4,000 when I attended).

Morgan State University is celebrating its sesquicentennial and it has been an amazing 150 years. In May the National Preservation Trust designated the campus a National Treasure. As I sat at the Homecoming Gala of close to 1,000 attendees I could not help but notice the outstanding accomplishments of fellow Morganites. I sat at a table with a classmate who is the Senate President Pro-Tem of the Maryland State Legislature. Across from me sat a woman who (along with her late husband) has donated $1million to our Alma Mater. I sat next to a woman who was a partner in a major Wall Street brokerage house. At the table next to me sat White House correspondent April Ryan (of Sean Spicer, “stop shaking your head” fame) and the Mayor of Baltimore, both Morgan alums. The man who was once mayor of my hometown of Philadelphia is a Morgan State alum. Another man in the class ahead of me became the Chief Justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals. There were several four star generals at the table. Another of my classmates is a judge in Pennsylvania. One of my roommates became the first woman to pastor a historic 160-year-old church. Another roommate was a fitness expert who had a recurring role on the PBS classic, “Mr. Rogers.”

At the Gala there were a number of undergraduates. Two spoke to the gathering. One was a physics major who entered the university at age 16 and was carrying a 4.0 into his senior year. The other was a sophomore woman studying computer sciences who spent last summer as an intern at Facebook. In fact, Morgan sent more interns to Silicon Valley last year than any other college/university in the nation. When I graduated my class was awarded more Fulbright Scholarships than any other school. Over time, 115 Morganites have won Fulbright Scholarships because we had a professor who had won several and he offered a “class” for students who were interested in applying for a Fulbright.

In addition to the University’s academic excellence, we have also had athletic excellence. When I attended the football team NEVER lost a game. Our Coach Earl Banks was a legend (a kind of Vince Lombardi or George Halas). Our tiny school produced 4 NFL Hall of Famers (Roosevelt Brown, Willie Lanier, Leroy Kelly, and Len Ford), while the University of Wisconsin has produced 3.

I share this information because Morgan State is but one of 120 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across this nation (mostly in the South) and each of them has its list of luminaries and outstanding alumni. So many Black people of note got their grounding in an HBCU—Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Toni Morrison, Taraji P. Henson, Marian Wright Edelman, Thurgood Marshall, David Satcher, Barbara Jordan, George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, and Alice Walker are but a small sample of African Americans who matriculated at HBCUs.

The larger point of this post is that I am sick of hearing what African American children cannot do. I am weary of all of the failure rhetoric. I am done with all the discourses that insist that Black children need grit and resilience to succeed. What they need to succeed is to be surrounded by adults who care deeply about them. They need adults who do not assume they cannot do things. They need adults who will persist even when it takes them longer to grasp a concept or develop a skill. They need adults who remain in their corner no matter what.

It strikes me as ironic when people tell me how “smart” I am. Yes, I’ve had a great career. I’ve garnered many accolades. But, the truth of the matter is I was just an “ordinary” Black girl growing up in a community who kept encouraging me. My teachers in my segregated elementary school encouraged me. My neighbors encouraged me. My church members encouraged me. My African American physician and dentist both encouraged me. And, when I was admitted into an Ivy League School I declined in favor of an HBCU because I knew I wanted to be surrounded by caring adults. I was right and I went to a place where Black excellence abounds.

Stay Black and Smart!