“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”


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!”


“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!


“He Was Cool Like That”


Over the next weeks and months we will see hundreds—indeed thousands—of post-mortems, analyses, and critiques of the presidency of Barak Hussein Obama. We will hear of his perceived successes and failures. Some will tell us what went wrong and others will tell us what went right. Many will lament the transition from the 44th President to the 45th. We will hold our breath to hear what happens with health care, the environment, education, trade, immigration, treaties, and many other national and international policies. But I want to focus this blog on one aspect of President Obama I believe set him apart from all of his predecessors…and no it is not his race. It is his cool!
No matter what you thought of President Obama’s policies and legislative agenda you cannot deny he was cool. And why does “being cool” matter? In mainstream culture, “being cool” is associated with, at best a kind of hipness and urbane affect and at worst, with aloofness and coldness. But “cool” throughout Africa and the Diaspora is more than that. In Yoruba the word is “itutu” and refers to gentleness of character, generosity and grace as well as the ability to defuse fights and disputes. Among the Gola of Liberia, cool is the ability to be mentally calm or detached and to be nonchalant in situations where emotionalism or eagerness would be natural and expected. One of the qualities that Black folks most admire in people is coolness. When all hell is breaking loose, we love to be able to say, “But I was cool!” “Losing your cool” is one of the worse things folks can say about you.
All cultures have those values that they prize above all else. As I have traveled internationally I have seen the concept of “saving face” throughout Asia or the depths of “mi familia” throughout Latin America. Cool is not just a sense of style or aesthetics. It signals an important inner strength in the face of incredibly difficult situations and circumstances. When President Obama gave his first State of the Union address and that gutless Congressman yelled out, “You lie,” we saw his coolness on full display.
As President Obama’s administration progressed we regularly saw his coolness. His response at his last State of the Union address when the Republicans applauded because he said he had run his last campaign was brilliant—“I know because I won both of them!” He didn’t lose his temper. He didn’t shout. He was cool. Sociolinguists H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman in their excellent volume, “Articulate while Black” point to President Obama’s facility in moving back and forth across linguistic and stylistic codes.
However, without uttering a word we witnessed the President’s cool. He would fist bump the brothers, do a mic drop at the Washington Correspondents’ dinner, and sit in quiet deference to the “church mothers” (Do you remember the woman who shouted, “Fired up…and Ready to Go?”). His preferred leisure activity was a game of basketball not golf and he found a way to make it to Ben’s Chili Bowl to get a half smoke. And, can we talk about that walk? President Obama had a walk that embodied cool. He descended the stairs of Air Force One like a boss. But my favorite image is of him walking is him coming to the presidential podium to tell the nation that Navy Seals had captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. When he turned to leave and walked down that hallway, I could just imagine him saying to himself, “I DID that!”
The power of Barak Obama’s cool is that it was contagious. President Obama made other people cool just by hanging with him. His Vice-President Joe Biden has been in public life for decades. We have seen him run for president. But once he joined the Obama team we got to see just how cool he could be. Eric Holder was probably everyone’s favorite law geek, but on the Obama team he became the Attorney General with swagger. Initially the media and opposition tried to paint Michelle Obama as an angry Black woman but her smartness and savvy made her the coolest First Lady ever. They were a cool couple!
President Obama reunited Black and smart to show our children that they could maintain their cool while moving to the head of the class. He was as at home with Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma as he was with Kendrick LaMar and Jay-Z. He was cool with a White House where Black folks could party like it was 1999! He did not apologize for failing to schmooze and glad-hand with stuffy old White Congressmen in favor of going home at night to have dinner with his Bae and his babies! He was not bothered by stereotypes about Black men and basketball. He loved the game and he loved it enough to install a court at the White House. Although the stress of the job probably sped up the progression of his gray hair, he still showed up at his farewell address with a “tight fade” and he shed a tear when he told the world how the love of his life had handled her business as First Lady. I bet Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet” was swirling through his head when he wrote those words to salute her…”There’s something ‘bout your love…that makes me weak and knocks me off my feet!” And when he dabbed the tear from his eye, we all said, collectively…”That brother is just so cool!”
Yes, we’re going to miss the Obama’s style, grace, and elegance. We will miss his erudite discourse. We will miss a family that spent 8 years under the closest scrutiny and came away without a single scandal (unless you call Malia and Sasha’s rolling their eyes at a turkey pardoning scandalous). We will miss the killer dresses that Michelle Obama rocked at state dinners and other public events along with her cute casualness while she gardened or exercised. But most of all, I will miss Barak Hussein Obama’s cool. He was cool like that!

Stay Black and Smart!

“Hiding in Plain Sight”


Like many of my friends and acquaintances I made it a point to attend the film, “Hidden Figures” starring Taraji P. Henson, Olivia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, respectively. This is the story of the African American women mathematicians behind the NASA space program in the early 1960s. My interest in the film was fueled by having seen the real Katherine Johnson receive the Septima Poinsette Clark Award at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. International Convention, this past July in Atlanta, GA.

Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson remind me that there are so many talented Black women—Black people, in general—who are all around us but who the society regularly ignores. The challenge of the film for me as a Black woman is the way segregation as an institutional system was (and continues to be) a part of the warp and woof of US culture. I also appreciate the way the film illustrates how recent this system was in full force. “Hidden Figures” is not some Civil War or Reconstruction era film. The action begins in 1961! Yes, the so-called revolutionary, free love, civil rights 1960s are the setting for this film. The women live in a world where they continue to sit in the back of a bus, use only the “colored” section of the public library, drink from a separate coffee pot, and use a separate bathroom. And, how is it that the Black women recognize that all of these things are wrong but the “smart” White people with whom they work are fully comfortable with the state of things?

Watching the film reminds me of the ongoing complicity that ordinary, every day White people endorse day in and day out and take as normal. As a society we are quick to point out outrageous acts of racism—shootings, church bombings, and shouting racial epithets. But, those are not the kinds of things that most of us experience in our daily lives. No, most of us experience the kind of racism that is hidden in plain sight. For example, when White people sit in a meeting making high-level decisions and there is not ONE person of color in that meeting that is an example of racism hiding in plain sight. When White parents head to their children’s schools (especially schools claiming to be “diverse”) and sit in concerts featuring all White orchestras or visit gifted and talented programs that are all White or applaud at National Honor Society inductions where every single student is White (or of high status Asian descent) is racism hiding in plain sight. Similarly, if in those same schools the special education designations and suspension and expulsion rates are overwhelmingly Black and/or Latino that too is an example of racism hiding in plain sight. Indeed, in all of those circumstances where I find myself as the ONLY Black person in the room I see the racism hiding in plain sight.

I am very proud of the accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. I am proud to call them my sorority sisters. But, I am also proud of the ways they fought an unjust system as college graduates who knew things were not fair, even in the federal government. They did remarkable work. What was also hiding in plain sight for me was the fact that NO African American men seemed to rise to the stature of mathematician, engineer, or programmer at the Langley NASA facility. We do know that Astronauts Guion Bluford and Ronald McNair were among the first African American men to participate in the space program, but what about Black men who could have filled some of those behind the scene roles in mathematics, engineering, and computer programming? Perhaps mathematicians like J. James Andrews, Augustin Banyaga, Albert T. Bharucha-Reid, Donald Blackwell, or W. Scott Williams or engineers like Jerry Lawson or Jesse Russell all of whom were contemporaries of the women of “Hidden Figures” could have been recruited to advance the cause of science.

As I stated in the first paragraph I learned of Katherine Johnson’s accomplishments when she won the Septima Poinsette Clark Award at the 2016 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Convention. As excited as I was to learn of Katherine’s outstanding work I had to wonder how many people witnessing the award ceremony actual knew who (our other sorority member) Septima Poinsette Clark was. Her work was pivotal in shaping my own career and approach toward fighting racism. But, just as people probably didn’t know about Katherine Johnson too many of us do not know of Septima Clark and she was right there hiding in plain sight.

Stay Black & Smart!

“Why ‘Fences” Speaks Directly to Black Folks”


Like many of the folks I know my husband and I along with another couple went to the movies to see the film version of August Wilson’s masterpiece, “Fences.” We have all seen the stage play before. I initially saw it starring James Earl Jones in the lead as Troy Maxson. I later saw it starring Roscoe Orman (formerly Gordon of “Sesame Street”). Going to see it as a film was probably more about supporting good Black cinema than it was about seeing something new. However, there was something about seeing it as a film that reminded me of why Wilson’s work speaks directly to Black folks.

Most people know it is a post World War II story about a garbage man whose dreams of a major league baseball career were thwarted because he was a man before his time. The frustration of not being able to move up in life, provide for his family, and not wanting his own son to pin his hopes on a similar dream as a football player casts Troy Maxson as an angry and bitter middle aged Black man. It also made Troy one of the more recognizable characters in Black urban life.

Sitting in the theater I realized how much like my own father Troy Maxon was. Troy worked a horrible job, made a meager living, took his pay home to his wife every Friday, lived in a rundown home but took pride in it because it was his home, and was hard on his young son. So much of Troy’s disappointment with life was rooted in the all-encompassing fact of racism in his life. He left home as a 14-year-old after a violent dispute with his own father. The move to the north fell far short of the promised “freedom” many Blacks in the south imagined. Daily life was about hustling to make a living and the one relief from this “going nowhere” life was the pint of gin he shared with his co-worker and friend, Mr. Bono.

My own father ran away from his home in South Carolina at the age of 12. A sharecropper’s life was the only thing that stretched out before him and he and an older brother believed they could have a better life in the north. Troy Maxson made his way to Pittsburgh. My dad made his way to Philadelphia to join some of his older siblings. He was met with the same disappointments as Troy—low-paying jobs, strict segregation, and limited opportunities for advancement.

The people who suffered most from the oppression that Troy felt were his family. He dealt with his son with the same ruthlessness as his father dealt with him. And, despite struggling side by side with him to make a life, his wife Rose experiences an ultimate betrayal. Troy has an affair with another woman who becomes pregnant. Through 2016 lenses Black women probably watch this drama declaring to themselves that they would never stand for what Rose Maxson did. But, when you consider the tenuous circumstances the Maxson family exists under you realize they are stuck! Neither Troy nor Rose can leave. Somehow they have to make their relationship work and in the midst of this their son Cory is steadily building up the same anger his father exhibits.

Many Black people have grown up in family circumstances that mimic the Maxsons. Life is hard and any unexpected expense—medical, household, legal—places a family at jeopardy. The “good” times are manufactured by the people who enter our lives. “Fences’” Mr. Bono was the same as my dad’s friend, “Uncle Ashbury.” He was the foil or straight man for my father’s tall tales. My dad struck the same kind of fear in our household as Troy Maxson struck in his. It was not until I was an adult did I understand that the little West Philadelphia house was the ONLY thing my father controlled in this world and he ruled it with an iron fist. It was his house, his telephone, his electricity, his television, and his food. My mother did her best to soften his hard edges. She put up with a lot but realized she was one of the “lucky” Black women. Her husband kept a steady job (often 2 or 3), bought her a house, owned a car, paid the bills, and didn’t complain too much about her regularly, “running down to the church house.”

The Black people of Wilson’s “Fences” are the unacknowledged Black heroes and heroines of the American narrative. They are not the criminals, drug addicts, pimps, and prostitutes who dominate both the Hollywood depictions and the nightly news. They are the hard-working laboring class that seemingly has no place in the annals of sociology. They are not really “interesting” because their lives are so ordinary. They go to work, they pay their bills, and they raise their children. What those outside of their experience fail to recognize are the years of pain and frustration they tolerate and the high price each subsequent generation pays as it attempts to construct fences to blot out the hurt and ugliness of systemic racism that shapes our lives.

Stay Black and Smart!