“Yo… Come Get Your Children!”

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

One of the frustrations of having been a student of US History is the recognition of the ahistorical nature of our society. Every time we see something that is a direct connection to our history we hear people talking about it as if it were a brand new thing. This past weekend we saw yet another example of how White supremacy remains an ongoing thread throughout American society and culture. The so-called alt-right and White nationalists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia in a show of force. Their protest was met by a counter protest and before long one of the White nationalists drove his car into a crowd of counter demonstrators killing a young woman. Additionally, two law enforcement officers in a helicopter monitoring the protests were killed when their chopper crashed.

Our airways are filled with outrage about the presence of these White nationalists but frankly they represent exactly what the nation has been fueling for centuries. Some people are pointing a finger at the current resident of the White House but I would argue that he did not create these racists; he is a product of them. I contend that our current president has no ideology outside of what ever benefits him. He learned that he could create adoration by attacking former President Obama in the vilest, most vicious ways. Racism sells!

But, the problem we are confronting does not reside just in the young White supremacists. The young people who flooded the streets of Charlottesville were mostly in their early 20s. And, they were about 12 or 13 years old when Barak Obama became president. My husband and I largely shaped our children’s political views at that age. Even as they were older, we talked positively about the president. We shared our pride in his ability to win the nomination and ultimately the presidency. But, what was being said in the households of the Charlottesville marchers. Did anyone contradict the narrative that suggested he was not a “real” American? Did anyone step up and say, “No, Barak Obama is not a Muslim AND if he were what difference would that make?” Did anyone point out that Barak Obama brought the economy back from the brink of collapse and is probably NOT responsible for the job loss that working class White people claim to be suffering (incidentally, Black unemployment always remained higher throughout his presidency). The parents of the alt-right young people raised their children to believe they should win at everything. They should be at the top of the class. They believe they deserve a place on the team. They should not lose at anything so they warrant a “participation certificate” for anything and everything. They believe they are entitled to the best jobs, the best homes, and the best lives.

Now, we see people across the nation clutching their collective chests in horror. And, I recognize a familiar pattern of behavior among White people I know. There are those who are truly upset and angry and deeply invested in attempting to eradicate racism and White supremacy. They represent the minority of the White people I encounter. Then there are those who claim to have clean hands because they divorce themselves from any of the goings-on in Virginia. For example, today at church my Pastor talked directly about the evil that we saw in Charlottesville and what our spiritual response should be. My husband attends a mostly White, Catholic Church. When I asked him if the priest mentioned anything about Virginia he looked at me and said, “You know he didn’t!” Those are the same people who raise their children to believe racial issues are not their concern. A third group of people I encounter are outright racists. They support everything that happened in Virginia, cheer on the efforts of White supremacists, and they have raised their children to do the same. I work hard not to be around those people and I can generally avoid them. However, a fourth group is a lot more troublesome for me. These are the “progressives” or “liberals” who believe they have a right to speak for everyone else. They believe they are immune to White supremacy and racism. However, the causes they rally around tend to be (White) women’s rights, class inequality, or the environment. For them, racism is “so-1980s.” For them, Barak Obama’s presidency proved that we are post-racial. They no longer have time for racism and if their children are edged out of a seat at Harvard or Yale or Stanford, they are the first people who want to re-think affirmative action.

I wish I never had to write another sentence about racism and White supremacy. It is exhausting and debilitating. But, as long as White people refuse to take any responsibility for fostering it—directly and tacitly—I know I will have to keep trying to combat it. Right now all I can say is, “Yo… Come get your children!”

Stay Black & Smart!

 

“I’m Reclaiming My Time”

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Well, Auntie Maxine did it again. She put language to our thoughts and feelings during a hearing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who attempted to run out the clock instead of answering her direct question…”Why have you not replied to the letter the House Financial Services Committee sent you?” Mnuchin thought he could evade Congresswoman Waters questions by flattering her and restating questions but she was having none of it. She told the Secretary that she did not need to hear how great she was. She wanted an answer to her question. When Mnuchin attempted to continue to delay and defer Congresswoman Maxine uttered the line every Black woman I know decided was going to be her tag line…”I’m reclaiming my time!” Procedurally, Congresswoman Waters was letting the Secretary and the Committee Chairman know that her time would not be frittered away by his stalling tactics. The rules allow her a specific amount of time and Mnuchin was trying to treat the hearing like the last 24 seconds in a basketball game when the team with the ball is up by one point. He was playing a game of “keep away” but Congresswoman Waters had her eye squarely on the game clock and cried foul by repeatedly saying, “I’m reclaiming my time!” In other words, “I will NOT be denied!” Congresswoman Maxine Waters taught us several things during that interaction that are more than “meme worthy!” They are things every Black woman should remember:

Operate With No Fear: As a member of the minority party I think Congresswoman Waters’ opposition expects her to be afraid of them. But, that has never been her style. She came out of the inauguration “guns a blazing.” She did not attend the inauguration, the parade, or the parties. She stated unequivocally, “I don’t honor him, I don’t respect him, and I don’t want to be involved with him!” Auntie Maxine was not worried about the repercussions of the opposing party. She was not going to be lukewarm and play that “respectability” game that some on the members on her side of the aisle are attempting to play. She remembers how cold-blooded and mean-spirited people like Joe Wilson and Mitch McConnell were to President Obama, right out of the box. It didn’t hurt them and she is letting them know that two can play that game. When we allow people to bully and cower us we give them power. When we are clear we are not going to be afraid, they back down because bullies are always searching for the weak.

Maintain Fidelity: Congresswoman Maxine Waters has represented her district in the Watts section of California since 1991. Before that she was a member of the California Assembly (beginning in 1976). She has consistently represented the dispossessed and down trodden. She is not afraid to call herself a political liberal and she has carried the water for liberal causes for a very long time. She does not change with the wind. Similarly, Black women have to be clear re: what we stand for and what we will NOT stand for. In her interaction with Mnuchin Maxine Waters was saying, “You are NOT going to clown me. I need you to answer my question!” If we are going to be women of integrity we have to maintain fidelity to those things that matter to our sisters, our brothers, our families, and our communities. Maintaining fidelity is rarely expedient. It means we sometimes have to stand on the side of right even when we find ourselves standing all alone.

Don’t Tolerate Foolishness: My millennials, Gen X and Y folks have another way of saying this. However, my identity as a Christian doesn’t allow me to articulate it in their way. But they would say Auntie Maxine has no “foolishness” to give. Secretary Mnuchin thought he could get around the hard questions by flattering Congresswoman Waters. When she said, “Don’t tell me how great I am,” we could have (as my mama used to say), “bought Mnuchin for a quarter!” He thought he could offer up some “sweet words” to catch her off guard. Perhaps he thought she’d say to herself, “Well, he’s not such a bad guy. Let me give him the benefit of the doubt!” No indeed, Auntie Maxine did not have any foolishness to give. How often do we tolerate foolishness in our lives? We’re trying to get a raise because we’re working harder (and better) than anyone else but the supervisor, manager, or department chair is telling us something about how nice we dress. We need to find out how our children are doing in school and the teacher tells us how nicely behaved our baby is. We know that! We sent him/her to school nice. What does s/he know or not know? How can I help him/her improve? We’re trying to figure out what is going on in our relationship and our partner starts out with, “But babe you gotta understand how hard it is out here…” It’s hard out here for us too. That doesn’t give them license to play you. No, Auntie Maxine has been clear. Do not tolerate foolishness.

When we begin to operate without fear, maintain fidelity, and stop tolerating foolishness we are reclaiming our time and the next time somebody starts “talking out the side of their neck” when you are trying to get a straight answer you just say, “Reclaiming my time…reclaiming my time!”

Stay Black & Smart!

 

 

 

 

“Calling Me Outta My Name”

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When I was a child growing up I can remember parents and other adults telling me not to be bothered by people calling me names. The old adage that I’ll bet many of you also heard was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!” But, the truth is names do hurt and not having control over your name can hurt even more. From the time African descent people were brought to the US we have been fighting for the right to our names. Our ancestral names were the first names we lost. No longer being known as Fanta or Ibahim or Kofi or N’Zinga we became Pearlie or Jupiter or Rufus or Callie. Our cultural names were also taken. We were no longer Ibo, Yoruba, Fulani, Mende or one of the other close to 100 ethnic group names we knew in our native lands. Now we became the most hated name in the English language. We became the N-word! This stealing of our names represents a stealing of our identities and it is the reason Black people in the US have struggled long and hard with what to call ourselves. We “upgraded” to “Negro” and then on to “Colored” and then “Black” and more recently “African American.” We’ve changed our name so often because none of these “upgrades” truly replaces the names of our ancestral heritages.

Being called out of one’s names is not only about calling out racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs. It is about the power and control to chart one’s own destiny.

Because naming is so important to human identity, Black people often use creative and special names for their children. We often reject more generic sounding names like John, Tom, Bill, Mary, or Betty for D’Andre, Shumar, L’Tonya, or Qiana as a way to speak to our style and distinctiveness. However, instead of being celebrated for this creativity our children are often demonized and ridiculed for their names. Their teachers may pretend not to be able to pronounce their names and resort to “changing” their names to suit their purposes. Employers may ascribe certain negative attributes to people because of their names. A study of MBA job candidates demonstrated that potential employers regularly rejected resumes from people with “Black sounding” names even when the education, experiences, and qualifications are equal to those of candidates with “White sounding” names.

The other day I listened to a radio interview with a respected member of our community about a racial justice coalition he heads. The coalition addresses racial disparities in education, health, incarceration, employment, and leadership in our so-called liberal, progressive community. When the phone lines opened a called wanted to know why the coalition had the word, “Anger” in it. “Don’t you think that name is too negative,” he asked. This is a classic example of White people attempting to decide for us who we should be. It is reminiscent of the uproar over the coalition of activists who have decided to declare that “Black Lives Matter!” Those 3 words have caused upset among White people. Why does it bother folks that Black people want to “matter?” The phrase does not say Black lives are more important than other lives. It does not say Black lives are more worthy than other lives. Saying Black lives matter is just our way of saying we have a right to exist!

The appropriation and distortion of the phrase to become, “All lives Matter” is an insult to the point and purpose of this movement. Black lives matter was chosen to commemorate the murdered, unarmed Black people (at the hands of law enforcement), not to make White feel comfortable. We need you to stop calling us outta our names!

Stay Black & Smart!

“No…Just No!”

So, almost a week has gone by since Bill Maher made his public faux pas with his use of the “N-Word” to describe who he was in relation to what kind of work he does. Reaction has been swift and predictable. Various civil rights and public personalities have denounced his use of the word and once again we are hearing the public debate about the tensions between free speech and censored speech. Before I go too far in this blog post I want to make my position clear. I consider the word to be a form of profanity that is particularly offensive. That said, I believe it is especially offensive for White people to use it. Now, some White people argue that they should be able to say it because Black people say it. That argument is at the heart of the notion of White privilege that suggests White people should not be prohibited from doing whatever they want to do—especially if others are permitted to do it. This is the basis for opposition against affirmative action, diversity initiatives, or women’s rights. Most people agree that men should not call women the B-word even when women use it toward other women—sometimes in affectionate ways like Black people use the N-word. Below is a list of things for which I wish White people would hear a self-censoring Black voice that says, “No…just no!”

1. Saying that you have a “Black friend” as a way to legitimate your bad behavior.
2. Touching a Black woman’s hair and believing you have a right to do it. And, believing you’re making a compliment to her by saying, “Oh, it’s soft…I didn’t expect that!”
3. Making other forms of discrimination equivalent. Sexism, homophobia, religious and linguistic prejudices are their own things. They may be analogous to racism but they are not the same.
4. Drawing specious comparisons between your family’s history and those of Black people as in, “My great grandfather came here from [insert country] without any money and without speaking English and he didn’t expect anything the society.”
5. Dismissing the impact of slavery on the psyche and material realities of Black life. “That was a long time ago, get over it!”
6. Disavowing any culpability for the privilege you enjoy at the expense of others. “I never owned slaves…it’s not my fault!”
7. Assuming a right to simultaneously appropriate and deny culture as in using hip-hop to sell your products while telling Black people they have no culture.
8. Presuming Black respectability is a protective factor in this society. “If they would just pull up their pants they wouldn’t be harassed by the police.”
9. Asking questions about what all Black people think or feel about anything. “What do Black people think about this Bill Cosby thing?”
10. Telling Black folks how hard their lives must be. “It’s a shame you have to live in that dangerous neighborhoods.”
11. Feeling like you have to speak on everything! You can listen sometimes.
12. Believing that you know what’s good for other people. “Black people should take their kids to the zoo!”
13. Assuming you know the motivations and circumstances of others. “Black parents don’t really care about education.”
14. Telling Black people that you are tired of talking about race—try living it (not like Rachel Dolezal).
15. Telling Black people because of Barak Obama we are now post-racial.
16. Pretending that race never motivates your political choices but assuming the only motivation Black people have for anything is racial.
17. Expressing surprise at Black excellence beyond stereotypical areas. “Did you hear about the Black kid chess champion?”
18. Limiting what counts as beauty and aesthetically pleasing. “Her butt is way too big. She should lose weight!”
19. Discounting the belief systems that sustain many Black people. “Black folks need to get rid of their religious superstitions.”
20. Telling us how to eat, to live, what to believe, what to do, and how to be.

In the return to Bill Maher and his use of the N-word, I am reminded of my friend and colleague Professor Marc Lamont Hill who says to White people who ask him, ”Why can’t I use the word?”…”Why do you WANT to use the word?” I think we really do need to hear how people answer that. Despite the power and the privilege White people may enjoy (even poor White people have White skin privilege) there are some things to which I as a Black woman need to say, “No…just no!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“They Took A Stand”

I received an early Mother’s Day gift a few days ago. The 2017 graduates of Bethune Cookman College petitioned, pleaded, and begged their administration to rescind its invitation to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to speak at their commencement. But the administration turned a deaf ear to them, the alumni, the NAACP, and countless others and proceeded with a graduation with Ms. DeVos at its center. Indeed, they even gave DeVos an honorary degree! This was no mere speaking engagement where people might choose to attend or not. This was the day that represents the culmination of 4 or more years of hard work that they, their families, and friends have been dreaming of. And the students took a civic action that made me proud. When DeVos rose to speak many stood up and turned their backs on her. Students also booed throughout her address.

Some have argued that the students dishonored the university, but I would say it was the administration that dishonored the university. It dishonored the very memory of Mary McLeod Bethune, the university’s founder. Mary McLeod Bethune built that university out of nothing. She was the daughter of enslaved African Americans born in Mayesville, SC. She started Bethune School as a school for Black girls that began in a space she rented for $11 a month. She built benches and desks from crates and used $1.50 to start the library. Mary McLeod Bethune was known as the “First Lady of the Struggle” and to bring Betsy DeVos, whose major agenda is to destroy public education, to the school she founded is nothing short of an insult. I believe Mary McLeod Bethune smiled down on those students who took a stand.

DeVos is infamously known for not being able to answer simple questions about the difference between achievement and growth during her confirmation hearings. After her confirmation she went on to say that Historically Black Colleges and Universities were examples of “school choice.” That kind of ignorance is revolting and the Bethune Cookman students’ response to having her as their commencement speaker was exactly what was called for. They took a stand!

Far too often we talk about our young people as consumed with frivolous pursuits—posting selfies or engaging in Twitter wars—or worse, totally apathetic to the world around them. But I believe this generation is engaged deeply in fighting for justice and equality. This is the generation that has taken to the streets to shout “Black Lives Matter.” This is the generation that shimmied up a flagpole to remove a state sanctioned symbol of hatred and racism, the Confederate flag. This is a generation that is being shot down in the street just for being Black. This is a generation that realized that having an African American occupy the Oval Office would never be enough to bring the nation to the realization that Black people are fully human and entitled to all rights and responsibilities of citizenship in these United States. So on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 the graduates of Bethune Cookman University represented their generation well and took a stand!

In response to their courageous action the administration has followed the Trumpian style and claimed only 20 or so students stood and turned their backs on DeVos. One need only look at any of the news reports and see that many students participated in this act of civil disobedience. (See for example, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/10/politics/betsy-devos-bethune-cookman-commencement-protest/)
I don’t know what the President of Bethune Cookman thought he would get from inviting someone from an administration that in 5 months has shown itself openly hostile to Black people. The thought of currying favor with those people reminds me of how much we have NOT learned from our history. We have NEVER had a good result from trying to ingratiate ourselves to those who oppress, hate and despise us. The only time we have made any progress in the struggle for liberation is when we took a STAND!

Thank you young people…keep fighting!

Stay Black and Smart!

“There is no ‘P’ in our PTSD”

It has happened again. A young Black boy was shot by a police officer who claims he was doing something he was not doing. Dallas area teenager Jordan Edwards was not drunk. He was not high. He was not belligerent. He was not committing a crime. He was a teenager sitting in a car with his two brothers. Like many teens at the end of the school year they went to a house party (with their parents’ permission). The party got loud and the neighbors complained. Jordan and his brothers decided they should leave before there was any real trouble. They were driving away from the party when the police officer got an ASSAULT rifle and shot into their car. He blew this boy’s head off…for what?

While Jordan lay dying his brothers who had just witnessed this trauma were arrested…for what? The officer lied about what happened, claiming the boys were illegally backing their car up on the road. When the police department saw the body camera they realized the officer lied. He has been fired for failure to comply with police procedure but not arrested. This kind of thing keeps happening to Black people. This is why there is no P (Post) in our PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Every Black person I know can tell me of the moment they first experienced the trauma of being Black in America. My father had horrific stories of growing up in South Carolina, the son of a sharecropper. People would mysteriously disappear and sometimes show up hanging from a tree out in the country reminiscent of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” My trauma came at the age of 7 when I saw the photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated body in Jet Magazine. At only 14 years old this baby was brutally attacked by grown men, hanged, strangled, and body tied to a cotton turbine, and submerged in a river.

For some people witnessing the Rodney King beating awakened the trauma. More recently the series of shootings and exonerations for these shootings have reinforced the trauma. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Gardner, Rekia Boyd, Alton Sterling, and many more remind us that the lives of Black people are not valued in this society. We are not naïve. We know that the society despises us because we are a constant reminder of its lack of humanity. Unlike other groups we did not choose to come to America. And the kidnapping, brutalizing, raping, and exploiting of Black people are historical facts. Every time the society looks at us it is reminded of its own lack of humanity. We know America hates us. We just need you to leave us alone. We need a space for healing.

We cannot say we are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We experience Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our lives and those of our children are so tenuous. We have to worry that people entrusted with protecting us are likely to prey upon us. We have to worry that we are never believed in situations when we testify against a White person who insults or assaults us. Even in the spaces of “higher learning” our children are verbally, emotionally, and physically attacked. Just this past week an African American young woman became student government president at American University and awoke the next day to a series of nooses and bananas. This kind of intimidation reminds us that there is no ‘P’ in our ‘PTSD’. The American University incident is just one among scores that have occurred in the Trump era. These aggressions (they are not micro) have been there all along. They just seem more evident because we live in a time of increased surveillance.

We need to be aware that this trauma is not going away. This society is committed to its hatred of Black people. It is determined to traumatize and terrorize us and the only thing we have to fight it is our humanity. We must remind ourselves that we will not let the society’s definitions of who we are govern us. They are not valid. We must remind our children that they are worthy and wonderful. We must continue to fight even when the fight seems futile. We must not be overcome by the fact that there is no P in our PTSD!

Stay Black and Smart!

“Every Black Person Needs a Friend Like Rod”

Originally, I was not going to see Jordan Peele’s film, “Get Out.” I had seen previews and trailers of the film for weeks and decided while sitting in the theater that I was not going to see it. For one, I am no fan of the horror genre. Second, it seemed so predictable that I didn’t think it would be worth my while. However, after its release the buzz about and around the film peeked my curiosity. People who I trust implicitly insisted that I go see it. Finally, a Black colleague suggested that we were outside of an important conversation and we needed to go see it. So, on a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon we decided it was time to go.

I don’t want to write about some of the obvious components of the film like the “Becky Treachery” or the “love-hate, desire-revulsion” dance that Whites seem to constantly play with Blacks in this society. The one aspect of the film I want to comment on is the role of loyal friends in the lives of Black people. Without giving away too much of the film, “Get Out” is a story of an African American young man, Chris who is dating a White young woman, Rose. Rose invites Chris for a weekend to meet her parents at their secluded suburban estate. Almost all of the film’s action takes place at this estate and when things begin to go wrong, Chris’ only link to the outside world and his former life is his buddy, Rod.

Although Rod initially comes across as the film’s “comic relief” there are some lessons he teaches as the Black buddy. Every Black person needs a “Rod” in his or her life. One of the things a friend like Rod brings is a sense of clarity to your relationships with White people. For most Black people interacting with White people is unavoidable. Our work places, our access to capital and other social benefits typically place us in contact with White people. Every time we think we can trust a White friendship or relationship we need a Rod to remind us that leopards don’t change their spots. Now I know my White readers of this blog will say I am being cynical to suggest no White people can be trusted. However, Rod is not saying that. He is asking you to go over the facts and ask yourself what is basis for believing this White person is someone you can trust. After the November 2016 Presidential election it was our Rod friends who told us you cannot count on White people to put anything before whiteness. When 51 percent of White women voted for Donald Trump we saw the allegiance to whiteness in action. When Rod tells Chris NOT to go to those people’s house that is the BEST advice in the entire film. Rod knew that neither the numbers nor the optics looked good for his friend.

A second lesson your Rod friend will teach you is just because you develop a relationship with one White person do not assume that goodwill will extend to their other White friends and family. Some of the most “liberal” White people I know emerged from the most racist roots imaginable. Indeed, one of the reasons a White person may choose to befriend you is to irritate and infuriate their parents, family, or friends. Your Rod friend can sniff out when you are being used as a boy or girl toy to prove “Amber’s” or “Chad’s” independence and “open-mindedness.” But, your Rod friend has heard plenty of stories about “liberal” White people sitting across a Thanksgiving table listening to a “beloved” grandfather spew epithets about Black people and how they are “lazy,” “dumb,” and “criminal.”

A third lesson your Rod friend will teach you is telling you about yourself and cussing you out can be the best thing somebody can do for you. Real Black friends are not trying to spare your feelings, especially when your health and safety are at stake. Rod friends are not about kindness and tippy-toeing around your feelings. They are about the reality of Black life. They will risk your anger and the silent treatment if it means keeping you from doing something really stupid. Your Rod friend is the one who will grab you by the shoulders and “shake some sense” into you because your Rod friend loves you. Rod friends do not bite their tongues. It is their bluntness that can sometimes shake you out of your complacency or failure to act in your own best self-interests.

Finally, when all else fails your Rod friend will come and get you. When you get to that place where you cannot help yourself, a Rod friend will show up to say, “Let’s ride!” Your Rod friend comes to the party or bar in the middle of the night to get you when you are so wasted or devastated by a breakup. Your Rod friend shows up at your house after the dissolution of a relationship to pack your stuff and move furniture. Rod friends don’t need an explanation or details. Rod friends just need to know what time you need to go and whether you have some place to go. Sometimes you don’t even know you need someone to come get you but Rod friends do. They show up to get you.

Yes, a friend like Rod is indispensible in this racially charged society. They don’t care what other people think about them. They care what happens to you. Thank you to all my Rod friends and I hope I’ve been a Rod for my close friends and loved ones!

Stay Black & Smart!

 

“They Already Got Their Black Girl”

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Many years ago a dear friend of mine was frantically looking for a private school where she could send her adolescent daughter who I will call “Imani” for the purpose of this blog. The schools in her area were under a court ordered desegregation mandate and their track record with Black children was hideous. Almost 7 out of 10 Black children dropped out of those schools. So, she began the quest of looking for a private school alternative. One of the schools she looked at was an exclusive girls’ school with a lovely expansive campus in an upscale community. The custom of the school for prospective students was to have those students come for a “shadow day” where they would be paired with a freshman student and attend classes to get an idea of what life at the school was like. At the end of her shadow day, my friend came by to pick up her daughter. Imani got into the car and slumped down in the passenger seat. “How was it?” my friend asked with enthusiasm. “Do you want to go there?” “No mom,” Imani replied. “They already got their Black girl!”

Imani’s comment that they “already got their Black girl,” referred to the fact that the school had ONE other Black girl and throughout the day, Imani was constantly being measured by the Black girl who was already enrolled in the school. At every turn Imani heard, “Tiffany” doesn’t do that.” “Tiffany doesn’t wear her hair in braids like that.” “Tiffany plays field hockey, do you?” “Tiffany went to such-and-such middle school, did you?” Any deviation from Tiffany’s choices and ways of being were seen as suspect. The point of this illustration is that even as we move into adulthood, Black women who are able to “conquer” White spaces are regularly being measured and the measuring rod is often that of another, “more acceptable” Black woman.

Over the past several years I have written letters and responded to reference calls for highly capable Black women academics. In each case, the subtext of the conversation I had with the search chair or dean was, “We already have our Black girl and how is this one going to fit with the one we have?” It also implies that there can only be ONE Black girl in an organization and more than one means they will regularly be pitted against each other. Heaven forbid they should work in coalition and try to accomplish a common purpose.

The primary perpetrators of this “divide and conquer” strategy are White women. They often determine they will be friends with ONE of the Black women and so they often look for faults in the other. Their description of the “other” Black woman is that she is “difficult,” “not a team player,” “angry.” In other words, she is not like “our Black girl.” I was subject to that behavior in one of my early academic jobs. White women colleagues would come to my office to “tell me something” about the one other Black woman in our department. What they did not did not understand was I owed my job to that other Black woman. She sought me out. She lobbied for me to get the position. We had each other’s back. There was no way I would team with those people against my sister friend.

When my own career began to take off and I got a fair amount of notice in the scholarly community I began to notice that when White people disagreed with me they would reference another up and coming Black woman scholar. Every talk I gave included someone (typically a White woman) during the question and answer period saying, “Well, Dr. ‘So-and-So’ says…” as a way to challenge my legitimacy. Interesting, when my sister scholar was giving lectures she received the same treatment where I was used as the person to challenge her. Of course these challengers did not realize that Dr. ‘So-and-So’ and I were professional and personal friends. We had spent many hours talking over the issues we studied. I can remember my then 3-year-old daughter comfortably perched on her lap during a session at another Sister-Scholar’s home. We had a good laugh over the fact that one of us was regularly thought to be “their Black girl.”

It’s frustrating the way White women attempt to manipulate their Black women colleagues. It is no honor for most of us to be accepted by White people. We rarely sit in complete alignment with White women. Our issues tend to remain closer “to the ground.” We care about child support, being paid the same as our White women colleagues, different standards of beauty, availability of suitable partners, access to affordable housing as well as housing discrimination. We want our ideas acknowledged. We are tired of sitting in meetings, offering ideas, being ignored and having some White person offer the VERY SAME idea and be told that it is brilliant! We live in a Black girl world that can accommodate a Beyonce AND an India Aire; a Viola Davis AND an Angela Bassett; a Maxine Waters AND a Sheila Jackson. Stop looking for the ONE!

We are not here to make you feel like you’re a “good” White person. We are not here so you can identify at least one Black “friend.” We are not here to validate you and acknowledge your white tears. We are not here to be your Black girl!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I Am Not THAT Negro”

mv5bmjeynzizmtk3ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwnde1nzc1mdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Last night I viewed the Academy Award nominated film, “I am not your Negro,” the documentary focusing on author, essayist, and activist James Baldwin’s experiences with 3 American martyrs, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Given my own life experiences I recall vividly the stories of those times—I lived through those times. What stuck in my mind was the film’s title, “I am not your Negro.” What was the filmmaker trying to say? Was it that no matter how you construct Black life in the U.S. I am not here to be serviceable to you. The more I thought about the title, I kept thinking, “I am not THAT Negro.”

Who is “THAT Negro?” It’s the Black person that White liberals invite into their “next level” circle. They are not at the most intimate level but they are closer than a casual acquaintance they wave at in the office. That Negro is the one who is invited to White people’s children’s weddings, backyard barbeques and potlucks, and family funerals. Of course when they attend these events they realize they are the only Black “friend” these White people have. They find themselves standing around awkwardly at the affair and realize they are only there to provide “local color.”

Having been cast in the role of “That Negro” more times that I like to admit, I know that many of my White liberal friends are comfortable with me. After all, I am “educated.” I move in professional circles. I have achieved some level of success in the White, middle class hierarchy. I have made a name for myself. I am a “credit to my race!” They think I am “That Negro” who gives them liberal “street cred.” My presence on their social media feed and friends list is their way of saying, as scholar Audrey Thompson says, “I’m a GOOD White person.” The ability to drop my name (and that of other Black people seen as safe and/or legitimate) means they are not like the rest of the White people. They are aware. They are conscious. They are not racist. They are “on the right side.”

But, the truth is I am NOT THAT Negro. As Baldwin’s words express in the film, White people’s anger emanates from a place of terror. Black people’s anger comes from a place of rage. We channel our rage in all kinds of ways…some healthy and some not so healthy. People like me write, organize, and participate in our community in things unashamedly and unapologetically Black. I work in coalition to the extent that those coalitions help Black people. I don’t care if people suggest I need to be more “multicultural.” I don’t see White women organizing to include “other” people in their movements—at least not to the extent that they actually change their behavior. But, some of my Black friends and families engage in destructive behaviors and activities as a way to deal with the rage they feel. They drink, the do drugs, they abuse their bodies and other people. They do all of this because they live lives that hem them in and limit their potential. They do this because they cannot see their way up or out. And, still another group of my friends and family place their hope in their faith. Their theology teaches them that this is a world filled with trouble and disappointment and they place their hope in their God and His promises. Truth be told, I am someone who falls into all 3 categories—I work in coalition, I sometimes do destructive things (let’s not talk about my diet and failure to engage in healthy habits), and yes, “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I KNOW I am filled with rage and I try to channel that rage, produced by the trauma of racism—past and present—in ways that feed my hope. I watch beautiful Black children demonstrate Black genius in their poetry, their scientific understandings, their athleticism, their dance, and their art. I talk to Black elders who share with me their stories of “how they got over” in the midst of segregation and ongoing discrimination. I find solace among my Sistah friends who with a roll of their eyes or a long drawn out “Guuurrrl” help me laugh through the tears. I burst with pride at the Brothas who bring more swag to the planet than anybody else—whether it is a thunderous LeBron James dunk, a melodious sermon of a Black preacher, or a Barack Obama strolling through the halls of the White House (alas, I wish I could see that again). I rejoice in the absolute majesty of the history of the Black experience on this continent and throughout the world.

For your sake and mine, I have found something to do with the rage. But, do not kid yourself, the rage is real and the rage is there. And, despite my politeness, the smile I place on my face, and my calm demeanor, one of the things the rage reminds me of daily is I am not THAT Negro!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Alice…Girl…I Feel You!”

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“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

As a young girl one of my favorite books was Alice in Wonderland by mathematician Lewis Carroll. The challenge the protagonist, Alice experienced was attempting to make sense of a world that was operating from the opposite side of her reality. I think I may have been attracted to Alice and her predicament because that was the way I felt in many academic and professional situations. When I left my community to attend a white junior high school and to take honors classes in my high school I experienced a world that was lived in direct opposition to the one I knew and loved. Most Black people know about these two worlds but in recent weeks we have seen this opposition in unprecedented degrees.

Black people have become quite skilled at living in 2 competing worlds. Intellectual heavyweight W. E. B. DuBois accurately described the “twoness” we experience. Our white friends love watching hockey; we’d rather see basketball. They serve herb dressing and green bean casserole; we love that cornbread dressing and collard greens. These differences in style and presentation have generally been able to co-exist and we have learned to accommodate and appreciate each other. But now, we find that we have dropped far down into a rabbit hole presided over by the maddest of the mad hatters—the Orange hater!

Amid 19 months of chants and screams to “Build the Wall,” “Lock her up,” and “Ban all Muslims” we all believed that we would somehow find our way home and crawl back to the other side of the mirror. But no, on November 8, 2016 we saw the affirmation of the madness and a few weeks ago on January 20, 2017 we started hearing the crazy pronouncements. In Alice in Wonderland all of the characters seem quite mad. The Queen of Hearts plays croquet with live birds she has shaped into mallets. Whenever she does not win a point she screams, “Off with their heads!” The Mad Hatter hosts a tea party where no one actually gets any tea. Instead he insists that everyone “move down to a clean cup!” As I consider the absurdity of Alice’s predicament I can honestly say, “Alice, girl…I feel you!”

We are living in a political situation that is truly terrifying. The Orange Hater has just signed an order to ban immigrants from 7 countries with large numbers of Muslim citizens. He did this with no regard to those who have already begun the immigration process and have gone through months (and in some cases years) of screening or “extreme vetting.” One family was in transit from Iraq and was taken off an airplane in Cairo, Egypt. The father has 3 degrees and they had sold their home and all of their possessions in anticipation of arriving in the US within a day or so. Now they are being deported back to Iraq.

For those in this country who have that dreaded disease known as Islamaphobia (a strain of the horrible malady known as racism), Orange Hater’s decision is exactly what they wanted. However they fail to realize that US armed forces are stationed in a number of these places. The decision to ban their citizens can ultimately put those soldiers at greater risk. A number of the people who are seeking to immigrate to the US put their own lives on the line to assist US forces. Now it appears that we are doing the same thing we did when we pulled out of Vietnam…leaving our collaborators in dangerous and vulnerable positions.

Anyone who thinks the “Muslim ban” is the end of the hate and vitriol has a poor perspective on history. This is the first group. When he “sends the feds” to Chicago it will be on a “shoot to kill” basis. The planned 20% tariff on Mexican imports means the Patron that some folks like sipping is about to skyrocket in price along with avocados, Volkswagens, and a myriad of goods we rely on from Mexico our 3rd largest trading partner.

We must be mindful that when they come for your neighbor, they will come for you next. Alex Baldwin and Saturday Night Live aside, none of this is funny. A dangerously unbalanced megalomaniac is not merely sitting in the Whitehouse. He is sitting there with access to the nuclear codes. The people who surround him are sycophants who are afraid to tell him the truth. An entire level of experienced State Department executives and managers has resigned. A man with a badly fitting suit appears before journalists to say, “Who you gonna believe…your lying eyes, or me?” when it comes to the number of people attending the inauguration. All of this foolishness is occurring while another branch of government—the Congress—that couldn’t criticize President Obama enough, is acting like the 3 monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

We are definitely on the other side of the looking glass. We are experiencing an alternate reality where someone can actually utter the phrase, “alternative facts” on a national news program as if that was a “thing!” By the way, there IS a name for “alternative facts.” They’re called LIES!

Black people we cannot wait until 2020 to do something about this. At this rate we may not live until 2020. We have to call, write, email, and text legislators. We have to write editorials and blogs. We have to organize and march. We have to financially boycott those businesses that go along with this foolishness (I cancelled my Uber account today and switched to Lyft since the Uber dude is supporting the Orange Hater’s policy on immigration). We have got to get out of this rabbit hole…and fast!

Stay Black and Smart!