Love the fruit, hate the tree

Appropriate

Two-year olds are notoriously selfish. Their favorite word? “Mine!” About everything. Especially somebody else’s stuff that’s decidedly not theirs. Most kids outgrow it. Those that don’t become sociopaths. Or Donald Trump. Or appropriationists.

I suppose it’s hard having a color as a culture. But whose fault is that? Our slaveholding founders should have thought about the limitations of elevating ‘white’ from absence of color to Ahura Mazda of color. Since they didn’t, white people simply “Mine!” their way through history. Frankly, I’m sick of it.

Anyone’s stuff that looks more interesting is fair game, but Black folks toys are the favorite for snatching because they’re usually shinier and more colorful. And Colored people have so much cool stuff! News flash: That’s ’cause making trumps taking any day.

Here’s how to appropriate in 3 simple steps

  • Step 1: Zero in on something amazing and unique Colored folks have had for centuries.
  • Step 2: Render it undesirable by belittling and disparaging it.
  • Step 3: When nobody’s looking, grab it and claim you discovered it.

Hey, it worked for Columbus. Why bother to make what you can take? And if you’re taking it, why not just claim yourself creator of it?

Looking for a new hairstyle? Go on Marc, Miley and the Kardashian KKK  – rename Bantu knots, dreadlocks and cornrows mini-buns, twists and braids. Dub them “edgy” and “fashionable,” and talk about how you inspired, debuted or rocked them. Top it off by calling Zendaya’s braids nasty, stopping just short of calling her a dirty hippy.  See? Easy as 1-2-3. Black people weren’t really all that happy being nappy, anyway.

Music putting you to sleep? Not fit for anything more turnt than the Carleton dance? Go ahead and take ours, Iggy. Billboard will make you Top Rapper of the year.

Not enough color in your life? Just take some, Rachel. And while you’re at it, why not grab an HBCU degree and NAACP chairmanship, too? Colored folks don’t know how to use all that color, anyhow.

Want regality without the reality? Put a skinny white model in blackface and exotic prints, then call her an African Queen or celebrate her sensuality. Or, put another skinny white model in an afro wig and accessorize her with a little Black baby. All that fabulosity, and you never had to set a foot on the dark continent. But if you like to travel, why not just claim the whole continent – again – for a romantically revisionist video? Right, Taylor? Though it’s surprising you couldn’t find a single Black person on the whole damn continent to put in the video, especially considering how much you like the way Black women shake it. But I guess that would ruin the colonial fantasy.

White men go for the big ticket appropriations. Want to rally folks around funding issues deleterious to Black folks and inviting racist keynote speakers to talk about them at your events? Compare your efforts to the Civil Rights movement, Mr. Koch. Want to make Kim Davis look like something other than the homophobic hypocrite she is?  Steve King and Jesse Lee Peterson have an idea — just call her Rosa Parks!

As if hundreds of years of taking Black lives wasn’t enough to affirm belief in the superiority of white ones, why not start a movement? No, wait. No need for all that. Simply change “black” to “all” and you’re there.

Look, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery when it’s stealing.  Black people, Black culture, Black lives – damn! Can we have something?!

Oh wait – that’s right. We did get to keep the economic inequity. Redlining. Poverty. Microaggressions and macroassaults. Compromised health and circumscribed happiness. You want our asses but not our ass whippings. Our slang but not our stories. Our hair but not our hurt. Our poetry minus its pain. White privilege allows you to appropriate what’s good from Black culture and absquatulate from what’s bad.

It doesn’t work like that. You have to sing through suffering, and create from nothing to make the things we do. You haven’t done that, so you steal from those who have. When you snatch and claim things that are not and never have been yours, it’s not appreciation. It’s appropriation. And we’re the thugs?

“Mine!” is kinda cute and only a little annoying when two-year olds do it because you know the bad behavior will end.  It’s ugly and infuriating when the privileged do it because it’s been going on forever. White ‘culture’ is a hell of a lot older than two. Time to start acting like it.

Apologetically Black

unapologetically-Black-2

There’s a wonderful new term floating about: Unapologetically Black. I’ve been that way for a long time, but it’s nice to have a name for it. I’m not alone; there are a whole lot of Black folks living their Black lives unapologetically. And while there’s no one way to do that, one thing just doesn’t fit: Forgiveness.

I know the bible tells us so. The books of Matthew and Luke are replete with the idea. Even the Lord’s Prayer/Pater Noster — which everyone knows — admonishes us to forgive. But it also begs for deliverance from evil.

I can’t tell anyone how to grieve. I don’t know how I would deal with losing a loved one to racist violence. But I DO know I wouldn’t be offering any forgiveness. I’m sorry Black people, but we need to stop being apologetically Black.

For one thing, why forgive people who aren’t apologizing? A Confederate-flag waving racist guns down nine people in a church and their families forgive him. I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness. Funny how that works — racists don’t ask for forgiveness, because they aren’t sorry. And yet we offer them forgiveness because somebody said we should. How apologetically Black of us.

So, where did this notion come from? Christianity, of course. And I realize I’ll make enemies with this, but consider the source. As late as 1800, most slaves weren’t even converted to Christianity. But when the Protestants said God didn’t need a middleman, Black folks jumped at the chance to set the record straight with Him about what was really happening down here.

By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the evangelists stopped opposing and started defending slavery. Told slaves they should obey massa. Because God said so. All of a sudden, Christianity was a thing — for massa. Slaveowners were converting slaves as fast as they could. Letting them come to their churches (because they knew better than let slaves do their own kind of interpretation). They couldn’t sit in the pews, but even way up there in the balcony, they could hear the Word — obey, endure and no matter how bad massa was, forgive.

As far as subjugation strategies go, I can’t think of a better one: Strip people of their humanity and replace the belief system that sustained them with a religious Simon-says:

  1. God says…some people are born masters and some people are born slaves.
  2. God says…the more hell you catch on earth while you’re alive, the more joy you’ll have in heaven once you’re dead. God said so.
  3. God says…but if you’re the slave and don’t forgive the master who doled out that hell — even if it kills you — you’ll never get to heaven.

Very wrong.

Highly effective.

Consider the source.

I don’t expect anyone to reconsider Christianity or question its convenient ‘truths’. But I think forgiveness is something you earn. Forgiveness is something you might need to beg for but, at the very least, should have to ask for. Forgiveness is something you get only if and after you stop doing whatever it is you need forgiveness for. Forgiveness is apologetic Blackness. It needs to stop.

Black, woman, victim: Who shall I be today?

IsRapeWarFrontI was going to write a different post today, but then President Obama essentially called Bill Cosby a rapist. I’ll write that other post later.

I’m Black (just in case that wasn’t clear). I’m a woman. And I’m a rape victim. It might seem I would applaud automatically any man who spoke out against a rapist, right? But check that hierarchy:

Black.

Woman

Rape victim.

In terms of where my sensitivities rest, I’m Black first. Call it my personal Scoville subjugation scale.

As a Black person, I know all too well how the myth of the Black rapist has led to the death of thousands of Black men. How it is so endemic to the White collective consciousness that, even though lynching is now frowned upon, White cops and civilian kooks routinely kill Black men just for breathing. White women clutch their purses and cry rape because the myth of a Black rapist makes a great cover. And  it’s not like it doesn’t still happen, as a recent case in Brooklyn shows. So, when Black men are accused of rape — especially by White women — I’m skeptical. Sometimes it’s complicated.

This ain’t one of those times.

The fact that President Obama spoke out against Cosby makes me love him even more. Cosby was an icon in Black culture. President Obama is an iconoclast. Cosby is a man in a world dominated by men. President Obama defected. Goddess bless him.

I believed Cosby was a rapist. I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly why I believed that. In all fairness, I’d heard the rumors for years. I knew the woman he settled out of court with all those years ago was Black. Common sense told me the likelihood of a Crush-the-Cosby conspiracy was slim from a bunch of women with lots to lose and little to gain, even if they are White and he is Black. And when Beverly Johnson, a Black woman, came out — reluctantly and with complete understanding of what her statements would mean for a Black man — well, I was as sure as one could be without having taken the red pill myself.

I think this where my other definitions came into play. As a woman, I want to believe women when they cry rape. But as a Black woman who loves and protects Black men, when a White woman cries rape about a Black man, my brain immediately starts calculating probabilities. Automatically. The factors, the people, the situation — these factors are thrown into a belief formula developed over centuries of historical racism, perfected and adapted to decades of modern racism. The answer always falls at some point on a 1 – 10 scale of probability — Carolyn Bryant, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price? One. Barbara Bowman? Eight. And when the next two or three accusations started rolling in – 10. I wish I could have believed the first victim. But that’s another really ugly symptom of racism — I don’t have the privilege to be a woman first.

But I really think it was my third definition — victim — that sealed my opinion. As a want-to-be expert on racism and a sorry-to-be expert on rape, here’s what I know: Racism isn’t about prejudice and rape isn’t about sex. They’re both about POWER.

When comedian Hannibal Burris lit the fuse on the Cosby conflagration, he characterized Cosby as having the “smuggest old black man persona” and a sense that he could talk down to Black people because he “had a successful sitcom” in the ’80s. I had said the same, in slightly different words, for years.

To me, Cosby was always about power. About having power and making a choice about how he used it. For a while there, when he was proclaiming how f’d up young Black men are from every soapbox he could, Cosby was the darling of the right-wing, a poster child for bigots. Cosby didn’t give a damn about fueling modern racist beliefs with simplistic, blame-the-people-ignore-the-history explanations. And yet, how many of us were and still are defending him? Even if you don’t believe he’s guilty, please do what he didn’t: Keep it to yourself. Don’t dismiss women’s voices the way he dismissed Black folks’ voices.

Because of his power, Cosby voted himself Black folks’ moral judge and jury a long time ago. So, when women started saying he was a rapist, for me, it wasn’t such a huge leap of faith to believe it. Now, I’m sure that some folks will read that and accuse me of saying all powerful men are rapists. I’m not.

Hear me on this: Power doesn’t make all men rapists. But all men who rape want — and exert — power. We know the saying – power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. White slaveowners had it. Bill Cosby and Clarence Thomas had it. They all used their power for evil. Barack Obama has more power than any of them. He used his power for good.

Strange Fruit: 8 things you might not know about lynching

nooseImagine what would happen if all the people in five small Southern towns just disappeared? Slowly, over the course of 70 – 80 years. I think someone would notice the trend. Someone would conduct a study. The NYT would write about that study when it came out. If you didn’t know it was happening as it happened, you’d be asking some follow-up questions. If you did know, you might ask why, even advocate to stop whatever was ‘disappearing’ them. Evntually, someone would give the phenomenon a name and it would find its way into history books.

Guess what? Something like that did happen. From the late 1800s to the late 1960s, thousands of people disappeared as the result of one thing. More than the entire populations of Enterprise, MS; Ideal, GA; Adler, TX; Dodson, LA; and Carolina, AL. People knew it was happening because newspapers wrote about it. There were postcards with pictures. Some people advocated against it, but, since it could be contagious, only a hardy few risked those follow-up questions. Studies have been done, the NYT has written about it, and it wasn’t actually outlawed until 2005. But you won’t find it in most history books and only a few know much about it. Why is that? Because the people who disappeared overwhelmingly are Black, and Black lives don’t matter. What was it? Lynching.

Estimates of the number of Black people lynched vary.  3,446 between 1882 and 1968. 3,959 between 1877 and 1950, according to a study released earlier this year, which includes 700 people not named in previous studies, some conducted while lynching was still a thing.Map
Mind you, the number assuredly is higher than that. The recent study used the the NAACP’s definition, thereby accounting only for those events where three or more people did the lynching and somebody wrote about it. Trust and believe, the newspapers didn’t get all of them. Granted, there were picnics, photo ops and postcards at many of the lynchings, which were actually quite the social event in places and among people who didn’t know the difference between a pig pickin’ and a “coon cooking“.

FullSizeRender[1]If you’ve ever seen my library oFullSizeRenderr my bulletin board, you know
lynching is a study of mine. I just can’t fathom that so many people could die in such gruesome ways for so long with thousands of witnesses at the “hands of persons unknown”. Imagine if they had been White. And before anyone says it, I know White people were lynched, many for coming to the aid of a Black victim or speaking out against the practice. But in SC, of the 160 recorded lynchings, 156 were of Black people. Let’s be real about where the real issue rests.

So, here are a few things you might not know about lynching:

  1. Lynchings were festive occasions — for racists. People came from miles around for a lynching. Lynchings were announced and photographed for postcards. Sometimes thousands of adults and children attended.
  2. For lynching victims, the noose usually was the best part. Lynching of Black people — especially men — was not like what you see in movies. More often than not, Black men were castrated, dismembered, set afire and shot before they were hung. Women often were raped. Why? Because a core tenet of racism is a belief in the moral inferiority — immorality — of Black people. Black men are brutal beasts intent on raping White women, whose purity must be protected at all times, by any means. Black women are oversexed, doing their best to tempt White men anyway, so it isn’t really rape. And these perceptions exist. They’ve morphed into the myth of the scary, Black man who makes cops feel their lives are in danger and incites racist vigilantes to stand their ground — even if the only ‘weapon’ a Black man has is tea and Skittles, a toy gun or loud music. Or even if he’s still a child. Black women are exotic reductions of T&A — lots of A — appropriated by White girls like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lily Allen and Taylor Swift.
  3. Lynching — as an idea — is great creative fodder. SAEs Need a frat ditty? Lynching works. San Francisco cops need to bond over email? Nothing says brotherhood like lynching. Looking for an interesting way to invite your friends to hang out? Use a noose! Or, do something creative with one on a presidential poster. Even Black people use lynching as creative inspiration. Just not the same way. Ask Billie Holliday.
  4. At least three men share the dubious honor of being the source of the term ‘lynching’: First, there was  Charles Lynch, a planter, politician, and American revolutionary from Virginia who led a kangaroo court where “Lynch’s Law” — organized but unauthorized punishment of criminals — was used on British Loyalists.  Next, came William Lynch (not to be confused with Willie Lynch), who actually laid claim to the term, “Lynch’s Law”, saying it came from a 1780 agreement he signed with his Pittsylvania County, VA neighbors, to handle things outside of the law. Finally, there was Willie Lynch, who gave a speech in 1712 about his special methods for “The Making of a Slave“. My money is on Charles.
  5. Lynching has been a legal issue since…two weeks ago. Earlier this month, in an ironic legal twist, at least two Black activists in Los Angeles were charged with felony lynching during Black Lives Matter protests. Gov. Brown had to fix that mess. But hey, just 10 years ago, you might actually get away with lynch murder. Not until 2005 did the U.S. Senate apologize for not passing anti-lynching laws long before, admitting it had failed — repeatedly — to make lynching a federal offense.
  6. There are still folks around who know about lynching – firsthand. The last mass lynching in America happened on July 25, 1946 when two young Black couples – George and Mae Murray Dorsey, and Roger and Dorothy Malcom — were murdered in Walton County, Ga. People still living know what happened, saw what happened and the case has been reopened. But nobody’s been convicted. Laura Wexler wrote a great book about it, Fire in a Canebrake. Filmaker Jacqueline Olive, is working on a documentary, Always in Season, which introduces you to relatives of both the perpetrators and victims of lynchings in four communities. You can see clips on indiegogo, where she’s crowdsourcing funding for it; I was happy to help.
  7. Lynching monuments are rare. Some spots local folks know all about, like the Chickasawhay River bridge, where at least six Black people — two brothers, Major and Andrew Clark and two pregnant sisters, Maggie and Alma Howze in 1918; 14 year old Ernest Green and 15 year old Charlie Lang in 1942 — were lynched. The locals refer to it as “the hanging bridge”. As for finding monuments to the victims? Good luck with that. Bryan Stevens, head of the Equal Justice Alliance, is working to get memorials erected, but many people in most towns would rather just not talk about it.
  8. Women were lynched, too. Maybe this was a surprise only to me. But when I saw this picture of Laura Nelson, Laura-Nelsonlynched with her son, JD Nelson, on March 25, 1911, I had to be quiet in myself for a long time.

Hers is the picture that hangs on my bulletin board. Hers is the picture that started me on a journey to write the story of Marie Scott, another woman lynched, then forgotten. One day, I’ll actually get it written. But, according to records, at least 150 women were lynched between 1886 and 1957. I’ve decided to do a pilgrimage, and visit every known site where a Black woman was lynched. I’ll write about it when I do.

SLAVERY: GOOD TIMES

happy-slaves

When, in an interview on the June 16 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, the would-be-funny-except-he-might-president Donald Trump said,”… if you are an African-American youth right now, you’re in worse shape than you practically ever were in the history of this country,” I was offended but not totally sure why. Of course, Trump offends me by breathing. And I kind of forgot about the comment considering what happened the day after in Charleston.

But then came the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and the dissents, the most remarkable from Justice Thomas: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.”

Clarence Thomas has lost his damn mind.

Since his side lost, I would be inclined to ignore the statement, to write it off as ‘Oh, you mad?’ But as the Confederate flag arguments are teaching us, you can lose the war and still win some battles. Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump and their ilk are doing just that. The battle they’re winning? Convincing a whole lot of people – primarily White, but some Black – that slavery wasn’t all that bad.

Thomas just came out and said it. I’m with Larry Wilmore: “Do you even know what slavery is? Slavery is the complete stripping of humanity and dignity! That’s the point of slavery!” 

Trump, on the other hand, did a down low downplay.  I think it’s safe to say — bullseye on their backs, educational inequity and systemized racism notwithstanding — African American youth caught a hell of a lot more hell in slavery than they’re catching now.

Acknowledging this does not preclude the need to fix today’s problems. Indeed, acknowledging the extent of the damage done by slavery is the first step in trying to fix those problems.

And then there’s Karen Cooper, a Black woman from Virginia who loves the Confederate flag and says slavery was a choice. Death was the alternative. Yes, she really did say that.

I understand the temptation to pretend slavery wasn’t that bad. Well, I understand the attraction of that delusion for many White people. It assuages guilt, relieves responsibility and palliates privilege. It’s all about self-preservation.

I have a harder time understanding Black poster children for racism like Thomas and Cooper. While they’re living with just a different flavor of delusion, for them it’s all about self-hatred. Sadly, we have slavery to blame for that. It’s one big, disturbing psychological circle.

Contrary to all-too-popular belief, slavery was not the good old days. There were no happy go-lucky spiritual-singing darkies. Mammy did not find fulfillment in birthing and then nursing missus’ babies while her own children were ragged and hungry  — if she knew where her own children were. Want to know the truth about slavery? Listen to what the people who lived it have to say in the WPA slave narratives. Read one of the many books written by slaves and by historians who have studied the ‘peculiar institution.’ Check out chapters I and II of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself to understand how, even during slavery, there existed the mythical slave happily whistling while he or she chopped cotton or Julia-child happily prepared meals in the kitchen. And see how he slaps that myth in the face with first-hand accounts of the real pain, humiliation, and brutality of slavery. Because despite narratives from former slaves who liked things the way they were (racist bedtime stories), there’s a lot more evidence to the contrary.

Do the research. Then stop rolling your eyes, sighing and wishing we’d just get over it already. Some things you can’t get over – especially when you’re still feeling the effects. So, Black people can’t just shut up about slavery. White and Black people shouldn’t try to pretend it didn’t happen or at least not the way it did. It’s all about insisting on inconvenient truth, about really understanding our history. If we don’t, while we may not actually repeat it, we are proving that we can perpetuate it.

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Feelin’ like 1852…and 1985 (or why I am the way I am)

Left-Quotation-markAt a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.Right-Quotation-mark

Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave is the 4th of July?

Am I like the ultimate buzzkill or what? I get on my own nerves sometimes. I appreciate those of you read and listen to what must seem like a never-ending fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.” I probably sound like a lunatic to some, a bigot to others, a pain in the ass to most. That’s ok. I can be all those things on any given day.

But this issue of race? It’s real to me. I wake up thinking about it. And even if I didn’t, I couldn’t get a foot on the floor without somehow being reminded of it. Those who have known me since my Davidson College days are not surprised that I’m like this. Well, maybe surprised that I’m still like this. Those who have known me even longer, since Rocky Mount Senior High, Fannie Gorham or even O.R. Pope Elementary, are perhaps surprised that I ever got this way.

But let me say this: I didn’t become the way I am until I really understood why I am the way I am. Many things shape us. How, where, when and by whom you’re raised are key determinants of whom you become. So is race. Indeed, race is an even bigger determinant because you don’t control that.

Black or White, you can overcome your upbringing; you can’t ‘overcome’ your race. If you’re Black, you are burdened with collectively conscious stereotypes and assigned assumptions. If you’re White, you’re burdened by privilege (and yeah, if you care about what’s right, privilege can be a burden). You’re born with these things, you live with them, you die with — and sometimes because of — them. Race shapes us all in ways we cannot control but can choose to understand.

Remember what Morpheus said in The Matrix? “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” 

At Davidson, I took the red pill. I’ve been navigating the rabbit hole ever since.

3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets and the 4th of July

us_afro7

The kids were small, the neighbors had amazing (and highly illegal) fireworks displays and I loved to entertain. So, I had parties and settled for subtle resistance. Invitations and invocations were for 4th of July, not Independence Day. Red, black and green were my colors instead of red, white and blue. But I was never quite comfortable with the celebration. Now that the kids are doing their own things, I can be completely honest: I don’t celebrate the 4th of July.

As we all know, July 4, 1776, was the day the thirteen New World colonies that would become the United States of America claimed independence from England. It’s known as Independence Day. But for whom? Frederick Douglass asked the question even more eloquently in his speech, What to the Slave is 4th of July?”

Granted, 1776 was a good year for slaves in some places. In Philadelphia, the Quakers forbid members from holding them. Delaware stopped their importation from Africa. Indeed, an antislavery clause almost made it into the Declaration of Independence:

“…he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

Almost.

It was edited out by request of the delegates from South Carolina (surprise) and Georgia. Supposedly, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the declaration, was pissed about that edit until he died. Funny, since he was a slaveholder himself. But I digress…

My point is, the 4th of July is no more about me and mine than Cinco de Mayo is about a bunch of drunk Americans. I’ve thought it might be more appropriate to fire up the grill on June 19th, or Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston got the memo — two years late — that the Emancipation Proclamation said they were free. But this year, that would have been only two days after nine Black people were gunned down by a racist in a Charleston church.

Or maybe I could decorate a special tree and throw a party on December 6, the day slavery officially ended in the U.S. with ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. But given the rate at which Black people are being shot down by police and stand-your-groundlings, it might be a rather depressing affair.

So this year, I didn’t accept any invitations to cookouts. Instead, I went to the screening of 3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets, the story of the murder of Jordan Davis, a 17-year old Black teenager shot by a White man who felt threatened when Jordan and his friends didn’t turn down their music at a gas station. The film is opening in limited release in several cities, and will run on HBO later this year. Go see it. It’s amazing in all aspects.

What made today’s screening important for me was the Q&A with Jordan’s mother, Lucy. I realized about 15 minutes into the film that she was sitting a couple of rows ahead of me in the theater. I saw her wipe her eyes a couple of times and I wonder at the strength it must take to see those images of herself and her son, fullscreen. I told her as much. I hugged her, too.

Celebration is not the right word, but that movie and the conversation afterwards? Well, it was, for me, the first truly authentic commemoration of this day.

Because the reality is this: July 4th celebrates the day White people declared freedom for White people, all the while enslaving Black people. It wasn’t my ancestors’ holiday, but rather just another day in the cotton fields. And it isn’t mine, because it’s just another day in the killing fields for Black people. A day where JWB, WWB, DWB or just plain BWB (jamming, walking, driving, breathing while Black) is enough of a perceived threat to get me or my children shot with immunity by cops or civilians.

So,  I appreciate all the invitations. I believe in the goodness of family and friends, together.  I know how good the ribs, chicken, fish, potato salad and fireworks were. But, I just can’t. Not yet. Maybe one day.

The fallacy of fact

FactsA friend of mine had a discussion going on his Facebook page with a guy who took umbrage to my friend’s posting of a picture contrasting the way Roof the Racist was treated by the police and the way Robocop in McKinney treated an unarmed Black girl. My friend asked me to weigh in, and I did:

‘Facts’ are relative when used solely to support the all too common arguments of modern racism. Let me start by explaining the difference between historical and modern racism.

‘Historical’ racism holds that Blacks are biologically inferior to Whites and therefore the races should be segregated.  By contrast, ‘modern’ (AKA ‘symbolic’) racism holds that some Blacks are morally inferior to Whites, and as such, don’t hold to such traditional White American values as hard work and independence. Modern racism has four basic themes:

  1. Blacks no longer face much prejudice or discrimination,
  2. Blacks don’t progress because they don’t work hard enough;
  3. Blacks are demanding too much too fast, and
  4. Blacks have gotten more than they deserve.

This discussion is typical – a string of logical fallacies peppered with microaggressions — and it hits just about every one of those themes. It’s a view that is myopic, and, I would add, revisionist, racist, paternalistic, and condescending.

First, there are the microinvalidations: “I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist but,…” There is no ‘but.’ Try an ‘and’ and maybe we can have a real discussion. White people are always trying to discount racism and its legacy – slavery – by deciding that it just doesn’t matter anymore. That’s privilege. YOU decide it doesn’t matter, ergo, it doesn’t matter. You’re not saying racism doesn’t exist because you can’t say it doesn’t – at least you can’t say it honestly. And if you do say it – or rather, if you actually believe it – then White folks are not the “phantoms” to which you refer, but real, live people exercising privilege just by waking up in the morning.

Then, there are the one-sided ‘truths’, hasty generalizations, false dichotomies and all other manner of fallacious arguments using the random facts. Allow me to analyze just a few of your arguments…

“… black people themselves are scared of young black men. You can’t say it’s not true because I have been told that by especially older black people. Apparently, Jesse Jackson agrees with me because, the quote was from Jesse Jackson.” Hello argumentum ad verecundia, or the appeal to authority (Jackson) and anonymous authority (older Black people). Jesse Jackson is not an authority on Black people or Black issues, and he is not the defining voice of Black America. He is not the Black stamp of approval to your racist views. And anyone can say they’ve been told anything by anyone. Doesn’t make it universally true. I’ve been told by Black people, especially angry ones, that all White people are the devil. Apparently, Malcom X agreed with me. Does that make it true?

Let’s look at another of your statements: “Black people kill more black people in Chicago in one year than all of the events you mentioned combined. The problems are there because people in the black community will not tell their kids these things…” Cum hoc ergo propter hoc coupled with non sequitur.  Your premises:

  1. Black people kill Black people and…
  2. Black people don’t tell their kids that intelligence is good, out-of-wedlock babies are bad and the reason you won’t get a job is because you can’t pass a piss test, therefore…
  3. Inadequate parenting by some Black people leads to large-scale Black-on-Black crime.

Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Says who? Based on what?  Correlations that imply causations, conclusions that don’t follow from the propositions. If it were that simple, if inadequate parenting led to murder, then White neighborhoods would have bloodbaths. Unless of course what you’re really saying is that Black people – as a race – are morally inferior, so the same set of causations will, by default, produce different conclusions if you’re White? Modern racism? Nailed it!

One more of your textbook racist arguments: “Having babies before you get an education and without being married is the quickest route to poverty. 70% of black kids are born out of wedlock and for that reason they start in a disadvantaged environment.”

Your premises:

  1. Black people kill Black people, and…
  2. Having babies out-of-wedlock and sans college degree leads to poverty, and..
  3. 70% of Black kids are born out-of-wedlock, therefore…
  4. If you’re Black and poor, you’re likely to kill other Black people.

First of all, that doesn’t follow even a little bit. It’s a stupid argument. Even if the cause/effect were valid, the conclusion is completely invalidated because of the sheer magnitude of other, more logical reasons for your conclusion. You’re employing timeworn racist tactics – expedient vision, convenient truth. There’s a whole bunch of other factors that you’re just not even factoring in. Revisionist history is a mark of privilege.

And given the fact that, among Millennials, ‘outside’ babies are the “new norm” I guess all of us – including White folks – better buckle up because it’s going to be a bloody, bumpy ride when all these illegitimate kids reach open carry age.

I’m not even going to deal with your comments about the pool party in Texas. Let me just say: Look at the video. The child was sitting down, the cop walked away to pull his gun on some other unarmed kids, came back to where she was STILL sitting (with one of those “mysterious white folks” you mention seemingly standing guard), to snatch her further to the ground and sit on her. I guess she wasn’t close enough to the dirt to suit him.

Oh, yes he did

n-wordIn a recent podcast interview, President Obama did something racists have done ad infinitum and rappers do ad nauseum. He said ‘nigger.’

Specifically, during an interview for a WTF With Marc Maron podcast, he said: “We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.” He didn’t say ‘the n-word’. He didn’t say ‘racial slurs’. He said nigger. Oh, yes he did.

Not surprisingly, several Fox News pundits have weighed in, positing such scenarios as President Obama dropping the word during his State of the Union address — and confirming Point 1 of my 7 Points About Racism. The word is not the problem. Calling a Black person the word is a problem, but that’s not what he did. However, the word certainly gives them something to talk about instead of things like the all those heretofore unknown donations to Republican campaigns from the Council of Conservative Citizens.

They didn’t hear a single other word he said. These people go to extraordinary lengths to criticize President Obama. To the point of lunacy, actually. What they don’t see is just how stupid they sound. Arguments — good ones — are logical, and that makes them easy to build. When you have to work really hard by stringing together a bunch of random facts, cherry-picking history, ignoring what’s right in front of your face, focusing on the irrelevant and blowing it out of proportion, it’s probably time to check your inferences. As a writer, one thing I’ve learned is if a project is way too hard, if it just won’t come together at all, it’s usually time to reexamine the premise.

Personally, I’m glad he said it. It makes people uncomfortable. And that’s exactly what racism should be — uncomfortable. Unbearable is better, but that’s our reach state-of-being.

7 Points about racism (IMHO)

1. Racists are stupid.

The definition of stupid is, “lacking intelligence or common sense.” Not crazy, not depressed, not nostalgic, not misinformed. Stupid. Wily enough to string together random facts but lacking the intelligence to avoid non sequitur. Erudite enough to invoke history but obdurate enough to revise it. Accepting traditional ‘truths’ while lacking the common sense to know when they aren’t. You see facts and you ignore them. And what’s worse is you’re happy being stupid. Not willing to learn. And don’t kid yourself: racism is not the domain of the uneducated, the high school dropouts. Presidents, senators, CEOs, professors, doctors, lawyers — all can be and many are racist. Ignorance is a condition; stupidity is a choice. When White people appropriate Black culture for their own ends, they aren’t crazy or transracial. They are greedy, opportunistic and exploitive. When White people kill Black people just because they want to, they’re not crazy, depressed, or scared. They are evil. I hope they burn in hell right after they die in prison. I don’t forgive.

2. Racism is the American way.

This country was built on and by slavery, and this country is determined to protect that foundation. It isn’t changing because you (I’m not going to say ‘we’ to make you feel better) don’t want to change it. In fact, you institutionalized it. You advocate for it. You obfuscate it. You romanticize it. You deny it. You impotently despair of it. You give up on it. You accept it.

3. White privilege is the problem.

Look, I get it – privilege is good. It’s not something anyone alive asked for. And it’s not something easily relinquished. If Black folks had it, would we want to hold on to it? Absolutely. Would we pray about it and decide to give it up for your sake? Absolutely not. And our protestations about wanting to end racism while enjoying that privilege would be the same bullshit. Bottom line is this: White people created racism, White people have to end it. We can protest, educate, explain and define all day and it will do nothing but wear us down and make you feel a little better if you’re one of those who listens.

4. Black people can’t be racist.

We can be prejudiced, small-minded and pissed but not racist. Not because we’re better morally, but because racism is prejudice PLUS power. And, for the most part, we don’t wield the power.

5. When it comes to racism, there is no neutral.

Middle ground is slippery slope. The Confederate flag is a racist symbol. Old South weekend is a racist celebration. Stone Mountain is not a nice place for a cookout – it is racists carved in stone. Streets and bridges named after racist slaveowners are racist. “Logical” arguments that place the blame for our situation on our moral failings while ignoring the immoral history that created the situation are spurious, illogical – and racist. If the words “dixie” and/or “plantation” are in the name, the name is racist. Microaggressions? Racist. Conservative apologists? Racists.

6. White-on-black racism is the worst.

I know we aren’t the only ones who have been discriminated against. But NOBODY else has caught and continues to catch the hell we do. NOBODY else has been reduced to the level of subhuman. So, while I can appreciate what other races, genders and subjects of discrimination endure, don’t you dare bring that up to me until cops start killing you and dragging your children by the hair or White people blow and/or shoot up your churches and then blame YOU for bringing it on yourselves. I. Don’t. Want. To. Hear. About. What. You. Endure. Too.

7. Racism has a cure.

Racism didn’t create slavery; slavery created racism. It was an economical, political and societal construct engineered to justify, perpetuate and expand white privilege. And that means it CAN be undone. Not quickly, but eventually. I have some ideas about how and I’m starting work with some of the smartest people out there to do it. Stay tuned.