“Ida Already Told Us This!”

ab32c300-0e23-0133-f4ce-0e18518aac2f

 

In 1892 journalist and former teacher Ida B. Wells reported on the lynching of 3 of her friends, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart who were lynched for the “crime” of opening a grocery store called “People’s Grocery” in Memphis, TN that “took” customers from competing White businesses. The White storeowners went to attack People’s Grocery and in the ensuing scuffle the Black men attempted to defend themselves and their property and shot one of the attackers. All three men were arrested but a mob broke into the jail and brutally lynched them. In her journalist description of conditions for Black people in Memphis Wells urged Black people to move because of the city’s refusal to protect Black lives and property. Ida was telling us almost 125 years ago that “Black Lives Matter!”

From the point of her first missive in “The Free Speech,” Wells and others in the Black community began documenting the brutality of lynching that plagued their community. In 1916 the NAACP established an “Anti-Lynching” Committee to develop legislative and public awareness campaigns. In 1919 the Committee published “Thirty years of lynching in the United States, 1889-1918.” This report indicated that 3,224 people were lynched in the thirty-year period. Of these, 702 were White and 2,522 Black. This is an average of 84 Black people a year! Among the justifications given for the lynchings were petty offenses such as “using offensive language, refusal to give up land, illicit distilling.”

The differences between what Wells and the NAACP reported back then compared to what we are now experiencing are that they lacked the instantaneous communication of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and cable news to let the world know what had happened to Black people and the lynchings were allegedly carried out by extra police or law enforcement individuals. However, we know that a close relationship existed between sheriffs, deputies, and police officers and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizen Councils, and vigilante groups that carried out these heinous acts.

The point I am making is that killing Black people at will has been a way of life for some segments of law enforcement. And, claims of “implicit bias” have become the latest and most convenient cop-out. While I do not deny Eberhart’s theoretical construct, I do not believe we should use it to give trained, professionals a pass on killing Black people. I walk into university classrooms all the time and truth be told I have “implicit bias” toward White students. My implicit bias comes from more than 30 years of working with them and more than a few unpleasant interactions based on our racial differences. However, I have disciplined myself not to allow my biases to interfere with giving each INDIVIDUAL a fair chance to counter any biases I might have. I am still uncomfortable walking into a sporting event filled with drunk and rowdy White males. I am still uncomfortable when recognizing that my career fate may lie in the hands of White professionals. But, nothing in those “implicit biases” forces me to pack a weapon and shoot them when I feel threatened. I cannot let my “implicit biases” over rule my judgment.

This “rash” of shootings of unarmed Black people we see on the nightly news and on our social media feeds are not new. Ida B. Wells told us more than a century ago that although many Whites do not believe it, “Black Lives Matter!”

Stay Black and Smart!

 

 

“The Land of the Free…The Home of the Brave?”

colin-kaepernick-110315-getty-ftrjpg_s4n6247965w81ekojhcpvhlab

Over the past few weeks the US news media and blogosphere have been flooded by the news that San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem AND that his refusal was linked to his strong feelings about the way Black people continue to live under oppression in this society—specifically police brutality. Reaction to Kaepernick was swift and brutal. To be fair “Kaep” has had his supporters but rarely do his critics address the context and bigger picture Kaepernick is attempting to expose.

One question that has surfaced is “Why is he doing this? He’s a football player he should just play ball.” That kind of thinking reflects the “minstrelsy” we demand of the Black body. Just entertain us. Do not think. Do not speak…unless you are speaking to tell us how grateful you are to be here and how thankful you are to please us. The main reason I believe Kaepernick is protesting the anthem (and by proxy the nation) is because no one will listen to a retail store clerk (or any other no name citizen)! And, to his credit Kaepernick has pledged $1million to helping organizations fighting racial injustice.

Using celebrity to advance a cause (particularly an “unpopular” cause) is not a new thing. Artists like Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, and Bono have stood before the world for causes they believe in. Black athletes have treaded an unsure road because they do not have the protection of Whiteness or wealth (yes, they have income but rarely money to pass along inter-generationally) to fall back on. Paul Robeson lost almost everything for being willing to stand up against US oppression. His passport was lifted (and he made his living singing around the world). Rutgers removed him from its athletic hall of fame (despite being an outstanding football player). There were venues in the US that would not permit him to perform in them. The all American icon, Jackie Robinson wrote in his autobiography in 1972, “Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; (emphasis added) I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Perhaps the most memorable athletes’ protest against the US came at the 1968 Mexico Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood upon the medal stand bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists as the anthem was played. At that moment everyone forgot that Smith had run a record-breaking 200-meter race. They were largely ostracized for their stance and it was not until the 21st century that people recognized their courage and the rightness of their position. In 2008 both men were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs.

Of course we cannot forget the courage of Muhammad Ali who refused to participate in the Vietnam War. Because of it he lost his livelihood. He could not box and the 3 plus years he lost were in the prime of his career. Today we celebrate Ali as “The Greatest” but minimize the way he was punished for taking a principled stand. In each of these cases the media has trotted out Black “surrogates” to speak against the Black athletes.

Athletes are as human as anyone else. What is interesting is how quickly the powers that be are to forgive drug addicts, rapists, batterers, “serial daddies” (as in men who have multiple “baby mamas” without paying child support) and others. But let someone stand up and point out racism and inequity and we decide that she or he is not worthy of citizenship. Kaepernick is demonstrating what is allegedly the greatness of democracy—that you can hold and express opinions different from others. The “my country—love it or leave it” crowd are dangerous to civil society. Their lack of criticality is what has landed us in this particular presidential election cycle.

For those who argue that “there is another way to do it” I will remind you that Milwaukee has been languishing with a lack of adequate jobs and education opportunities. Black people are paying taxes and voting just like White people. But who wants to pay for people to ignore, demonize, and brutalize them?

When the Sherman Park community erupted in civil disobedience a few weeks ago the Governor and his people decided it was time to infuse some money into Milwaukee and create some jobs. So, “the other way” rarely produced results. Unfortunately, it takes people’s willingness to “get mad” and “tear some stuff up” to get attention. And sometimes it takes simply refusing to stand to show your righteous indignation to injustice.

Stay Black & Smart!

“Falling Across the Finish Line”

Athletics - Women's 400m Final

2016 Rio Olympics – Athletics – Final – Women’s 400m Final – Olympic Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 15/08/2016. Shericka Jackson (JAM) of Jamaica, Shaunae Miller (BAH) of Bahamas and Allyson Felix (USA) of USA finish the race. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

If you know me you know I am in sports and athletics heaven right now because it’s Summer Olympics time. I watch the swimming, gymnastics, and especially the track and field. As a former sprinter I love watching those runners get into their blocks, raise their hips after the starter says “on your mark, set” and then fire the starter gun. At that point we see the runners rocket out of the blocks head down and run themselves into an upright position with their arms and legs churning. The cameras often catch the muscles of their faces shaking and their biceps, quadriceps and calf muscles straining to propel them to the finish line.

Last night, 400 meter racer Allyson Felix, one of the world’s most celebrated track athletes appeared on the court ready to go for her 5th gold medal (7th overall) but just as she approached the finish line, Bahamas’ racer, Shaunae Miller dove (or better yet, fell) across the line just ahead of Felix. Immediately social media went ballistic. Cries of foul and unfair filled the Internet. But was it? Is the rule about finishing first or about finishing in a particular way?

I thought that Miller’s dive was an important life lesson for us all. As an African American academic I cannot tell you how many times I have seen students—especially African American students—dive across the finish line at the last minute. And, when they do their parents, families, and “mama ‘nem” show up at graduation and scream “Thank you Jesus” and “That’s my baby” at the top of their lungs. They do not care that the final project or dissertation was handed in just before the deadline. They do not care about all of the drama that led up to graduation day. They just cheer the accomplishment as their “Baby” walks across that stage.

When I was collecting data for my dissertation in a middle school in a predominately Black community I could not help but smile as the 8th graders in my study prepared for graduation (actually it was just promotion to high school). It was in stark contrast to the upper middle class 8th grade promotion ceremony at my sons’ middle class schools. Theirs was a low key, middle of the day event where the dressiest kids wore slacks and polo shirts. The kids got a few words of encouragement and the event ended with punch and cookies. But in the Black community where I was working students were dressed in their Sunday best. The girls wore semi-formal dresses and some of the boys wore tuxedos. A few of the kids arrived in limousines. I had spent a year collecting data in their classrooms and I KNEW many of them were literally diving across the finish line. They did not sprint across, upright in fine form.

And, it is not merely the students that are diving across the line. If I look back at the road I traveled I had to throw myself across the line a time or two. I didn’t have college-educated parents to give me a head start in the race for success. No, I started way in the back of the pack. I had White high school classmates who had traveled to Europe. I had never been on an airplane. Some of them drove their own cars and there were times in my home when there was no car. And, when we did have a car it was never a brand new one. When I graduated from high school, college, and graduate school my parents and family were jumping up and down like I had won a gold medal.

My own children have had the advantage of middle class life in safe communities. But, there have been instances when they have had to dive across the finish line at the last minute. There has been too much Black Greek life partying, too much athletics, and major battles with anxiety and depression. But, in the end when they were finally able to pull it together with mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and community pushing, pulling, and prodding they hurled themselves across the finish line—high school and college graduations, jobs, successful relationships, and great kids of their own—I was there cheering like a crazy woman and I didn’t care that they didn’t always do it upright. Sometimes they dove across that finish line just like Shaunae Miller.

Stay Black & Smart!

“You Are So Beautiful…To Me!”

57ab2f9b1800001701bc9f3c

United States’ Gabrielle Douglas looks at the scoreboard during the artistic gymnastics women’s team final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

After a summer filled with vicious political fighting for the presidency and various Congressional seats, ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, police shootings of unarmed citizens, alleged retaliation of those shootings by deranged people, and terrorists attacks in Orlando, FL, France, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world, I was good and ready to watch the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Like many who are deeply critical of our country when it falls short of its democratic ideals, I turn into a decided homer when it comes to USA athletes. Also, it’s BRAZIL! This is a country I think EVERY Black person should visit. Despite the huge income disparity—the horrible favelas and homelessness—it is a magnificently beautiful country. And, the African influence is unmistakable! Its art, music, dance, and culture all reflect the African aesthetic and its population is largely African in its heritage. The girl from Ipanema is a tourist industry fantasy. It should be the girl from Angola!

But, despite the excitement of the Olympics in Rio, I came across a post that suggested a group of Black women were once again reading Gold Medal gymnast, Gabby Douglas about her hair! Really, people? This young woman has accomplished more in her short life than most of her social media trollers will EVER in their lives. Indeed, I imagine that most of her haters are in far less physical shape than she is. I imagine that they cannot point to one major contribution they have made to the world. I imagine their own children’s hair can use some tightening up! But whether that is true of not what makes Gabby Douglas fair game for YOUR critique. Is her hair any worse than Katie Ledecky’s huge forehead? Is it worse than Michael Phelps’ obvious lisp? Is it worse than Breanna Stewart’s ghostly white complexion? No, yet no one is holding them up to ridicule…and they shouldn’t. They did not achieve Olympic quality greatness based on what they look like. They achieved it based on their skills and the hard work they put in to develop those skills. The physical flaws of these athletes are not unlike the flaws almost every human being has. Most of us are not runway or print models. Most of us are not screen actors. We are as John Legend’s (who incidentally, is incredibly short) song says filled with, “perfect imperfections.”

There are plenty of people who I think are fair game for potshots and clap backs—politicians, Hollywood actors and actresses, reality stars, sports figures, musicians, rappers, and the ridiculously wealthy. We can pick on them because they can take it. They expect it. They wear big boy and big girl pants. But a young woman whose only desire is to represent her country and showcase the talents she and her family have sacrificed everything to get to this point are strictly out of bounds!

For those people (and in this case it’s primarily Black women) who have time to pick apart Gabby’s hair I can only imagine you are spending more money on your hair and nails than you are on books. I bet your hair (whether it’s in a box or in 5 packs on the top of your head) is “slayed to da gawds” but can you get a mortgage? Are you children all on the honor roll or dean’s list? Are you bringing down a 6-figure salary? Are you donating to charity and volunteering in your community? No? Well then you need to take several seats and leave that young woman alone. I can’t imagine what you’re going to say when the two sista’s on the swim team get out of the pool and take off their swim caps. Every time I see Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles I smile and say to myself, “You are SO beautiful…to me!”

Stay Black and Smart!

“Learning to Play the Long Game”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass against the Denver Broncos during an NFL football game in Charlotte

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws a pass against the Denver Broncos during an NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina November 11, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

 

We are in the midst of a heated political debate and it is interesting to hear fellow Black progressives talk about the dilemma of voting for someone they do not fully believe in versus opting out of the process all together. I understand this dilemma because I remember being at this very same place in the summer of 1968 when the DNC erupted in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley had his police force brutally beat down the protesters and we came out of the convention with a candidate that many of us felt we could not support. Hubert Humphrey who was basically a decent human being was not Eugene McCarthy, the peace candidate of my generation. The failure to support Humphrey resulted in the election of Richard M. Nixon.

 

Now in truth, Nixon like any president has but 4 or perhaps 8 years to visit their behavior—good or ill—on us if what you are looking at is the “short game.” Over the years I have learned that what really matters is how we play the “long game.” If you will excuse a few sports analogies the 2007 New England Patriots went 18-0 but lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. They did not win the “long game.” This past year the Golden State Warriors won more regular season games than any other NBA franchise in history but ended up losing the NBA Championship to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors did not win the “long game.”

 

In politics the “long game” is not who wins the next election but rather what the long-range policies and implications will be. When we put Richard Nixon in office he began a systematic rollback of Brown v Board of Education that has resulted in the destruction of public education we are continuing to suffer from. Nixon also helped to orchestra the Southern strategy that turned the nation’s south into a solid red block of conservatism. Nixon’s election was part of a conservative long game. Similarly, when Barry Goldwater was soundly defeated in the 1964 election the American right began planning its conservative strategy of right wing think tanks, TV and print media. They began planning their long game and it continues to flourish to this day.

 

For me the current long game is the Supreme Court, not the Oval Office. Supreme Court Justices sit on the highest court for a lifetime. President Obama placed Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the bench as a part of his long game. Unfortunately, an obstructionists Senate will not allow him to appoint his third justice but someone will be making that appointment soon. And, as much as I love the “Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) her time on the court will eventually come to an end as well as that of Justice Stephen Breyer. I don’t have to be crazy about a candidate to know that I need someone who will put a justice on that court who will not work to keep my grandchildren from admission to college or insist that corporations are people.

 

Quite frankly, at my age, career status, and income, whoever becomes president is unlikely to make a huge difference in my individual life. But for me, the result of the long game for my 5 precious grandbabies is what’s at stake. I owe it to them to always play the long game.

 

Stay Black and Smart!

“A Real Prince of a…Person”

060712-music-evolution-Prince.jpgYesterday we were all alerted to the horrific news that Prince Rogers Nelson died at age 57. Most of us knew him only by his singular name—Prince! Like Cher, or Aretha, or Beyoncé he did not need a last name for the entire world to recognize this towering talent. Prince became the soundtrack of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. But this blog is less about his talent than about him as a person who brought us all to a new level of awareness about what it means to be fully human.

By all accounts we should have never heard of Prince, let alone have made him a mega-star. He was diminutive standing only 5’2” tall. Despite his size he was an accomplished basketball player. He was painfully shy, giving few interviews. He was a Jehovah Witness, practicing a faith outside the mainstream of US religions. He was not constrained to traditional gender representations. He wore heels, make up, and complex hairstyles. To be sure Prince was not the first artist to do the things he did. Little Richard was every bit as “flamboyant” in his stage persona as Prince. But Little Richard’s appeal was more limited to African American audiences. Prince was a worldwide phenomenon. Michael Jackson exhibited some of the same qualities as Prince but as fans we grew up with Michael—from a cute little brown boy to a man who was almost unrecognizable to us. Prince burst on the world scene already having embraced a hybrid, androgynous identity. Little Jimmy Scott was a vocalist in the 1950s and 60s who suffered from Kallman’s Syndrome that resulted in stunted growth and a voice that sounded like a women. His audiences were in small jazz clubs and to this day few people have ever heard of him.

Prince grew up being picked on in school. At 5’2” he was a regular victim of school bullies. Also, the fact that he was “pretty” had to exacerbate the taunts and victimization he experienced. However, as a master musician and shrewd businessman he broke all the rules. He was more than rhythm and blues, more than rock and roll. He was an accomplished singer and instrumentalist. He played the piano and the guitar. He appealed to women and men, LGBTQ and straight, Black, White, Latino, Asian, US., and international audiences. He defied categorization and that was his allure.

In his ability to defy conventions and entertain in ways we have not experienced in a generation Prince became the embodiment of the term unique. He reminded us a bit of Little Richard and James Brown. He seemed to grab a bit from Mick Jagger and David Bowie. His hairstyles alone were an adventure. Sometimes he work a curly mullet, next he wore a short, processed look, then he wore long shoulder length tresses that he shook with abandon. In his latter days he donned an Angela Davis-like Afro and continued to write amazing music and entertain at an incredible clip.

Prince also had a social conscious. In the days following the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray and insurrection in the streets, Prince performed a free concert for the community. He loved the people and he loved the music. He resisted our desire to put him in a box. He was a real prince of a person and now he has transitioned from this world to the next. All I can say is “Goodnight, Sweet Prince!”

 

Stay Black & Smart!

“Blame it on Beyoncé”

dc02e82d_Screen_Shot_2016-02-10_at_1.44.43_PM.xxxlarge_2x

So on the night before her Super Bowl 50 half time performance singer Beyoncé dropped her song, “Formation” that stands as an ode to her Black heritage. Throughout the song Beyoncé makes unashamedly Black cultural references. She talks about her father from Alabama, her mother from Louisiana teaming up to create her, “a Texas ‘Bama.” She claps back at those who think she should “tame” her baby daughter’s natural hair. She sings the praises of collard greens and cornbread. She refers to herself as someone who has “hot sauce in her bag, swag!” But, in addition to the cultural references sprinkled throughout the song the imagery of the accompanying video is evocative and provocative. She offers up images of New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, a Black Mardi Gras Indian, Southern University clad band members, a Black church service, and what might be a second line. Near the end of the video we see graffiti on the side of a building that says, “Stop shooting us!”

I saw the video Friday when the song dropped so I was anxious to see if she would include it in her Super Bowl performance. If she did, it would require some major editing to be acceptable for a prime time audience. And, she did just that. Her performance stayed away from the obscenity and instead capitalized on the star’s obvious sexuality. But that sexuality came with a twist. She and her dancers wore militaristic costumes that harkened back to the Black Panthers and in giving a nod to the Panthers Beyoncé suddenly became an undesirable. Instead of acknowledging the marketing genius of the performer—drops a song and video the day before the Super Bowl, gives an electrifying performance at the Super Bowl (that, in my estimation saved Cold Play’s anemic performance), and announces her next national tour—White folks are mad that she references her heritage and the historical contribution of the Black Panthers.

My favorite “commentary” on the response to Beyoncé was the Saturday Night Live skit called “The Day Beyoncé turned Black (https://youtu.be/ociMBfkDG1w) that describes the panic that came over the White community because Beyoncé acknowledged her blackness. Later in the week we began to see the negative response of various police departments (for example, Miami and Tampa) who urged their members not to serve as security guards for the singer because her message was “anti-police.” Let’s be clear. Mega-stars always hire a local security force for their concerts. Those security forces are often comprised of off duty police officers and security guards. Working the concerts puts money in the pockets of the individuals who take the jobs. Failure to work the concert only provides job opportunities for additional people. The local police forces will still need to insure the safety of the public concerning possible traffic congestion in the streets surrounding the venues. After all, they are supposed to “serve and protect!”

Interesting, police departments advocating boycotting Beyoncé regularly found their way to NWA concerts where the group from Compton openly defied the cops in songs like “F*%k the Police” and “9-1-1 is a joke.” The tensions that exist between African Americans and police departments are not a result of Beyoncé dropping a new song. Evoking the Black Panthers in Black History Month when filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Jr. debuts his documentary on the Black Panthers was another example of the artist’s marketing genius.

I would never look to Beyoncé to lead a movement or educate my children. However, the fact that she has taken up a current, relevant topic in her latest song makes me hopeful that our art is starting to be about more than drinking vodka, getting high, and having sex with any and everybody. When a major star like Queen Bey takes on a serious topic that impacts our community I appreciate it—and for that I blame Kendrick Lamar!

“Liar, Liar…Pants on…!”

PantsOnFire

Over the past decade we have seen the emergence of a clothing fad on African American boys that almost no adults like—sagging pants. We’ve seen them in the malls, in the streets, in the schools, on the concert stage, on TV. Yes, they wear sagging pants with various and sundry boxer shorts on full display. Most adults hate this fad and that’s just as it should be. Young people do whatever they can to be transgressive. They relish the fact that adults object to their styles and fads. That’s why they choose what they do—to annoy adults.

We have done everything we know how to do to discourage them from wearing sagging pants. We have told them a story of how this fad emerged in prisons because inmates were not permitted to have belts. We have told them that wearing their pants down with their underwear showing was advertising that they were available for sex from other men. And, we have told them that “saggin” spelled backwards was who they were telling the world they were! None of these negative portrayals has discouraged them from wearing their pants almost to their knees.

I started thinking about this pants thing today as I was sitting in an airline club. You know the airline clubs—the exorbitantly priced respites from the rest of the airport. They are places where middle class mostly business travelers duck into to avoid the crowds, get their flight schedules straightened out, and eat what are undoubtedly over-priced snacks. I have a membership because it’s one way to spend the thousands of miles I accumulate and never use. People in those clubs tend to be White, middle aged, and male. They are heading to some business meeting or conference. Every once in a while a celebrity shows up. I once saw Macklemore in an airline club. I was probably the only one in the club who recognized him.
The men who frequent these clubs are generally in business suits. Their alternate “uniform” is “business casual” that typically consists of khaki pants and polo shirts or “mom jeans” with blue blazers.

Today in the Los Angeles airline club I saw an older man (definitely over 75) and his pants were the opposite of sagging. They were high…no I mean REALLY high…like up under his armpits. I realized that like the sagging adolescent, the “rising” senior citizen is making a statement about who he is. I chuckled because his pants did not make him a “bad” person. They did not mean he was untrustworthy. It also made me think about when those pants positions were reversed. In the 1940s the “Zoot Suit Riots” began when Mexican American young men wearing distinctive clothes (big suits with high waist pants) clashed with soldiers in LA. During this era, young men were derided for wearing their pants too high! Respectable men wore their pants lower…much lower!

The fad of wearing sagging pants will go the way of all fads. A few years from now no one will be doing it. Do you remember the group Chris Cross? Their trademark was wearing their clothes BACKWARDS! How silly was that? Lots of people railed against that fad. I remember telling a friend, “Who does this inconvenience other than people who wear their clothes backwards? I mean can you imagine the hassle of going to the bathroom with your clothes on backwards?

Our youth have so many more challenges than how they wear their clothes. When Trayvon Martin was murdered Geraldo Rivera actually said it was because he was wearing a hoodie! We know our children are targeted no matter what they wear. If they wear hoodies, throwback jerseys, jogging suits, baseball caps (wore sideways or backwards), skinny jeans, or puffy down jackets these items of clothing are not the reason they are being assaulted and killed.

Youth are always going to adopt outrageous clothing trends. One of my sons went through his “Prince” phase (ugh) and another had a few MC Hammer get ups. I just had to grin and bear it and now as adults—husbands and parents—we all get a big laugh out of looking at old pictures of them in those outfits. In the meantime I’ve got a great Chaka Khan outfit of bell bottoms with a long buckskin fringe vest I might have to see if I can still get into!

Stay Black & Smart!

“Black to School!”

University_of_Missouri_protest_ap

The recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University, and Ithaca College along with the subsequent show of support on various campuses across the nation remind me of yet another way Black parents have had to prepare their young adults differently from their White peers. When it’s time to go “back to school” we have to be sure that our students understand what it means to go “Black to school.”

I will confess my generation actually dropped the ball. I am a baby boomer and Generation X didn’t do much better. Thus, we have Millennials facing some harsh realities about race and racism in higher education. When I set off for college, even though I chose a Historically Black college, my parents (Depression Era, Greatest Generation folks) made it clear that White people would not be pleased. They told me that although I might find myself in the safety of a Black space, leaving that campus and interacting with White folks would provoke some negative responses. And, they were right. My first encounter at Read’s drug store in Baltimore resulted in my being ignored by a White waitress with a high school diploma or less. She took it upon herself to ignore the fact that 3 college students were sitting at the lunch counter. She had no intention of serving Black people. Fortunately, my friends and I had received similar lessons. My roommate got up, walked to the wall, copied the information about the store’s license to serve food and before long a manager showed up to begrudgingly serve us. Some 10 years earlier Read’s had been the sight of one of the nation’s first lunch counter sit-ins. We sat in that restaurant not expecting to be greeted with open arms. We knew they resented us not only because we were Black, but also because we were Black collegians!

A generation later I prepared to send my own children to college. Of course I gave them the standard lines about “no drugs, no alcohol, and no sex” (knowing they would probably ignore me on all three) but I didn’t tell them much about the likelihood of racist encounters. As a college professor I know enough about subtle racism and discrimination to avoid fighting certain battles for my children. Faculty and staff have a wealth of tools with which to exact punishment (e.g. lower grades, stalling, ignoring contributions, etc.) and I wanted my children to be good problem solvers. I must admit that I also felt as an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement that we had already confronted some of the major demons. We had passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and we were moving ahead…yeah right!!

When my niece entered a top university she had an experience where a White student called her the “N-word!” She was devastated almost to the point where she wanted to leave school. My brother (her father) and I thought this was absurd. But, we also realized that we had done little to prepare her (or my own children) for these kinds of encounters. Writer Jane Smiley, in her university set novel, “Moo” wrote of a similar encounter with a Black female student. The student, from Chicago found herself on a midwestern university campus where a White male student calls her the N-word. Her White housemates respond quickly to the young man and in their minds the insult has been handled. However, the young Black woman is traumatized. She cannot sleep; she has trouble concentrating, and lives in fear. She tells her sister who lives in a Chicago Housing Project that she intends to drop out of school. Her sister, a struggling single mother, replies, “Drop outta school because some cracker calls you a nigga? Are you outta your mind?” This young woman struggles until she finds a sympathetic Black faculty person who provides her with some support.

Today, we are watching African American and other students across the country take up the cause of civil rights to fight against racism on our college and university campuses. What we are responding to are the obvious and visible manifestations at places like the University of Missouri, Yale University, and Ithaca College but these places are not home to “isolated incidents.” Racism is alive and well in the “halls of ivy.” They reside in the White Greek-letter system (see the numerous Black-face and “Illegal Immigrant” Halloween costumes). They reside in admissions offices (you could not make these campuses this White without deliberately ignoring diversity). They reside in administration offices where issues of race and racism are lumped in with discussions of “diversity” and trivialized. They reside in college and university classrooms where faculty members remain skeptical about the ability of Black students. They reside in campus housing where Black students live in fear of anonymous threats and overt discrimination. They reside in athletic programs where Black bodies earn all the money on the field or court for the entertainment of students, alumni, and the wider community. They reside at every level of decision-making and privilege that college and university affiliation offers. In 1988, PBS aired a documentary called, “Racism 101” to reveal some of the deep-seated racism that is a part of American college life. Those conditions have not changed much in almost 30 years!

I am so proud of this generation of Black (and other) collegians who have mobilized to force the issue. Yes, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has helped people along the social class spectrum recognize the plight of Black people and law enforcement. But many of us had mistakenly believed that college was the “safe space” we have worked hard to send our children to. They are reminding us that not only do we send them “back to school,” we also send them “Black to school!”

Stay Black & Smart!

“With My Mind On My Money & My Money On My Mind”

tumblr_m6anngwihE1rv0yspo1_500

For 20 years I have been researching and writing on the educational application of the legal scholarship known as, “Critical Race Theory (CRT).” This work reflects ideas promulgated by law professors Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, Kimberle Crenshaw, Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, Ian Haney Lopez, Devon Carbado, and a host of others. Many scholars in education discouraged me from this line of inquiry because they read it as too political. After all, I was already making a scholarly “name” for myself by writing about “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Researching and writing about race would limit me and antagonize people.

The biggest thing that “turns folks off” about CRT is that its primary claim is, “racism is normal, not aberrant in US society.” It just sounds so hopeless to people who want to be optimistic and “positive.” But CRT is about racial realism! Racial realism asserts that Black people in the US historically and currently suffer actual harm just because they’re Black! Another thing that critics of CRT dislike is that it uses chronicles or stories to illustrate its legal principles. Some of these stories are fanciful and otherworldly but at their core they focus on legal principles. I published a University of North Carolina Law Review article titled, “Can We at Least Have Plessy?” where I argued that it was better to have a REAL Plessy than a FAKE Brown. Many of my education colleagues were mortified! How could I fail to endorse the promise of Brown?

One of the primary principles of CRT is called the “Interest Convergence Principle.” In it, Derrick Bell argued that the ONLY way Black people will advance in the society is if they can align their interests with those of White people. As a consequence civil rights legislation only gets passed if there is a way to demonstrate that Whites can also benefit. Think about Affirmative Action. Although it was designed to act as a form of redress for African American and other people of color, it was quickly amended to include women and the major beneficiaries have been White women.

Today we see the Interest Convergence Principle in full display. Black students at the University of Missouri have endured a number of racially motivated insults and despite appealing to the school’s administration they have received no real relief. Graduate student Jonathan L. Butler (who was also an undergraduate at Missouri) had enough. He began a hunger strike a week ago because his efforts at going “through channels” have not worked. A friend of his was sexually assaulted and the University provided no help. She ultimately took her own life. A group of Black students were pelted with cotton balls. He has been the object of racial slurs. In the latest incident, the Nazi swastika was placed in the bathroom in feces! Butler has had enough. He wanted the system president, Tim Wolfe to resign for his failure to address the racist, sexist, and homophobic climate that has been allowed to fester on the University of Missouri system campuses. Mr. Wolfe was adamant he would not step down.

Yesterday, 30 or so Black members of the University’s football team declared that they would not participate in any football related activities including practices and the upcoming game with BYU. The football coach declared via Twitter that the team was united in its stance against racism. Failure to play that game would result in a loss of $1 million. Now the issue grabbed the president’s attention! This is a classic interest convergence. The non-athlete students’ complaints were unworthy of a response. Perhaps they just needed to “get over it.” But once you start messing with White folks money, you can get their attention.

In fairness to others of good will on the University of Missouri campus it is important to acknowledge the way groups were starting to galvanize around a real problem on the campus. Faculty members were about to assist students to stage a walk-out. But, the real lever in this situation was the football team. Their declaration that they would not participate in any football activities resulted in President Tim Wolfe’s resignation in less than 24 hours.

While I was not in the room or on Mr. Wolfe’s phone or email, I can imagine that the calls, emails, and conversations from his board of trustees, alumni, donors, and athletic boosters were fast and furious. Wolfe, you’ve got to go…now you’re messing with OUR money!

Stay Black & Smart!