Browsing Category Race Matters

Forcing the Smile

Before she died in 2011, my Aunt Sarah often told me that there was one thing that she liked most about my writing. “I like your humor,” she would say. It didn’t matter if I thought a particular post stunk like a wet mop, as long as Aunt Sarah thought it was funny my day was made. My aunt enjoyed humor, and she had an unwavering sense of it. She would crack me up with some of the jokes she told. More importantly, she focused on the bright side of life even in her darkest hour. Oh, how I miss her.

If my aunt were alive she would understand when I say that it’s getting difficult to maintain a sense of humor. The political and social climate we live in leaves little to laugh about or even smile.

In her speech before the 1964 Democratic National Convention civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She might not have imagined that fifty years later, her words would become a mantra for people praying for relief in a society that appears to be stepping back in the past toward racial injustice as it steps forward to a resurgence of senseless and criminal acts against black and brown people.

If we are to believe the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, aren’t we (too among) the people entitled to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?”

Like Fannie Lou was in her day, generations of us today are sick and tired of feeling that we must constantly justify our existence and demand our human rights to life and liberty. We are sick and tired of being inherently suspect and perceived as threatening by people who look for reasons, no matter how irrational, to call the police. We are sick and tired of being stereotyped and presumed guilty until proven innocent. We are damned sick and tired.

We parents and grandparents feel compelled to reiterate the self-preservation talk with our black youths. “I recall a few occasions when one of my grandsons was younger and naïve, his response to “the talk” would be, “But I don’t bother anyone.” And my immediate reply was, “You don’t have to be bothering anyone for someone to bother you. It’s the world we live in.” They are grown men now and have come to understand. I think they get it.

It doesn’t help me to read disturbing articles like the one recently published by the Los Angeles Times. It discloses the findings of a study that reveals that Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America.

I have never forgotten an incident that happened years ago when my son was about 15. I took him and his male friend of the same age shopping. Nordstrom was one of many stores along the shopping strip in a high-rent district in Washington, DC. I knew that prices inside could make a hog squeal, but for the heck of it, I decided to go inside to see if I could find anything I wanted. Within moments after we entered the store, I noticed that an inconspicuous store employee pretending to be a shopper was trailing a short distance behind us. When we stopped to look at something, so would she. After a few minutes of cat and mouse, I was tempted to disregard her unspoken indication that you don’t belong here and continue browsing for the hell of it. Instead, because I was getting pissed off I told the boys, “Let’s go.” We left that store and I have never gone back there. That was over 30 years ago and every time I think about the experience, I get angry all over again.

Whether it is being followed in a department store or pulled over for driving while black, there is no justification for racial profiling and racist behavior. One bad choice or miscalculated move on our part could be a matter of life or death. That is our grim reality, and it is no laughing matter.

I prefer to write about lighthearted topics and would rather not write about my frustrations regarding racism. But I usually express what is weighing heavily on my heart and mind and right now, today, this is it. The subject of racism is exhausting, but we must keep talking about it.

One commonality shared by my Aunt Sarah and Fannie Lou Hamer is that both were proponents of civil rights. My aunt who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, would see no humor in this post, but she would certainly understand it. So would Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who in 2009 was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home after someone placed a 911 call about someone breaking and entering a residence. Gates was suspected of breaking into his own home. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson would also understand it. The two African American men were arrested in  2018 at a Philadelphia Starbucks while peacefully waiting for a friend to join them.

I am not implying that Black people don’t commit crimes, but so do whites.

I am sure that Aunt Sarah would understand why there is no humor in this post. She would also understand why I am not smiling as I write this, but I’ll smile again. Maybe tomorrow. I may even write something lighthearted – tomorrow.

In the meantime, if any of you readers have doubts about the absurdities perpetrated against Black people every day read The Root’s list of 100 Things Not To Do #While Black. Some of the things on the list are so ridiculous they might even make you smile as you shake your head at the idiocy.

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Laughing All The Way

Every year while ambitious people are making New Year’s Resolutions I am not. IF I were to make resolutions, one would be to practice having more tolerance for intolerant people. Since I am an admitted procrastinator, maybe I’d resolve to postpone saying or writing things that other people think, but wouldn’t dare say aloud or publish.

Since people sometimes take offense at my attempt at humor, I suppose I could resolve to write strictly serious content without trying to make folks smile or laugh out loud, but that would be like having the Times Square ball get stuck mid-way during its descent on New Year’s Eve. Imagine if that big, glossy ball suddenly stops while lowering on the pole during the countdown to midnight. Would all of the revelers collectively hold their breath and freeze? Heads upturned, mouths gaping, not a single eye blinking, all movement halted mid-motion, the only souls stirring would be city officials scrambling frantically to get the ball moving again? Perish the thought.

Why should I make New Year’s resolutions? If I’m planning to do something, I’ll do it anyway and if I’m not I won’t. Some optimists busy themselves jotting down resolutions days before the New Year; others do it moments after midnight on New Year’s Eve, while I’m usually sipping sparkling cider and reminiscing about bygone years. I know that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me from longing for some days past – let me repeat, some days – and wishing for a return to the way things used to be. If I could turn back the hands of time, I might make resolutions, and these would be my top six priorities:

Number 6.           A return to normalcy. A definition I once read describes normalcy as “being usual, typical, or expected.” If that’s the case, it seems like hardly anything is normal anymore. Normal was unobtrusively replaced over the years by the so-called new norm. The new norm is a no holds barred, say anything, show anything, do anything, be anything, anything goes – insane world. The younger generation won’t get my point because they are used to the insanity. They were born into it and grew up with it. But many people of my generation get it. I’d like to see a return to normalcy as it used to be generally understood by the average intelligent person. I am not a person who follows everyone else over the cliff, meaning I cannot be persuaded to believe what I perceive to be abnormalities. You will never convince me that up is now down, black is white, left is right, and a natural born woman is now a man or vice versa because of a surgical procedure.

Number 5.           Common sense supersedes political correctness.  Granted the principle of political correctness is not entirely bad, but it’s not all good either. PC is intended to put boundaries on offensive speech and behavior, but when imposing one’s personal or a group’s belief on others, there is always the risk that someone’s rights will be infringed upon. One example of this is the use of the n-word. I hate that word and never use it. However, some black hip-hoppers and other black people use it freely, yet they are offended when members of different racial or cultural groups do the same. In a Vox.com article, author, educator, and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed his opinion – contrary to mine — about the use of that word.

Number 4.           Disciplining unruly children. There was a time when parents, teachers, or other well-intentioned adults could discipline their children or someone else’s minors without fear of being arrested. Back in the day, the worse reaction a non-relative adult would get when scolding a child for wrong-doing was for the brat to say, “You ain’t my mama.” or “You’re not the boss of me.” Today it is not unusual for some children to call the cops on their parent if the parent physically punishes them for wrongdoing. Go get my belt. I’m gonna whip your behind. It is not uncommon for a well-meaning school teacher attempting to discipline an unruly student to be attacked by a juvenile and sometimes even that child’s parent will come to the school with a bad attitude and clenched fists (especially when the parent is as immature as the child). Is it any wonder that there are so many rude and disrespectful youths wreaking havoc in the community and running wild through the streets?

Number 3.           Privacy. Ripley’s Believe It or Not stories of strange or unusual facts or occurrences had nothing on today’s world. Before the Internet, Google, people search engines, hackers, and social media one could expect to have some privacy. Anonymity was much easier to achieve a few decades ago; you could hide in plain sight. Not anymore. Today, if you want total anonymity you almost have to commit a deed that will get you placed in the witness protection program – and even then you may be discovered. Just about anyone from Internet snoops and sleuths to busybodies can obtain your social security number, address, phone number, banking info, medical records, police, court and credit records. They can even identify every one of your baby daddy or baby mamas you’ve ever known.

Number 2.           Telephones.  A non-published or unlisted telephone number once freed you from bombardment by unwanted phone calls. Now, telemarketers and robocallers are relentless. I block more calls on my phones than offensive tackle, Trent Williams does on the football field; but they keep calling. And while we’re on the subject of phones, I long for the days of one phone number per home. A good old landline. I could call the home of a relative or friend and if the person I was calling weren’t there someone would usually answer the phone and tell me that. Now, if I phone someone, it’s likely the call goes to a cell phone. If I reach voicemail or get no answer, and urgently need to speak with someone else – anyone else – in the household I have to call a second, third, or sometimes a fourth number before someone answers their phone. That’s because everyone in the household who is out of diapers has a phone and each of them has a different number.

I have no choice but to live with the issues I’ve cited above. But if there is anything that makes me hope that when the New Year rolls in at midnight, I will awaken to discover that like Rip Van Winkle I had been asleep for a long time and it was all nightmares, it is the Number 1 item on my if-I-could-turn-back-the-hands-of-time list.

Number 1.           There was a different outcome to the 2016 presidential election.

Happy New Year!

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Black Like Who? Some Folks are Dying to be White

Under the new norm, anything goes, and few things are taboo. It seems like nothing is a given anymore. Before sex reassignment surgery if you were born male or female most likely, you lived and died that way. A medical or cosmetic procedure can now alter nearly every natural human feature. Laser surgery can permanently change eye color. Hair — that’s a no-brainer, think color, weaves or extensions. There are makeovers available for one’s BBF – breasts, butt, and fingernails. And Black people who so desire can change their skin color. That’s right. If you are a person of color and you dislike your appearance, you don’t have to stay that way.

“Say it Loud, I’m Black, and I’m Proud” was a 1968 hit song with a strong meaning by “the Godfather of Soul” James Brown. Sometimes, it seems as though Brown’s message of Black pride did not filter down to some Blacks in post-boomer generations.

Numerous high profile Black people are believed to have whitened their skin. Most notable is pop star, Michael Jackson. Some of the Braxton’s, fashion model Iman, rappers Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj are only a few among a growing list of celebrities who have chosen to shed their darkness and lighten up.

There are various ways to lighten dark skin. Glutathione treatments are popular. Depending on where you get the treatment, how many shots you take, and the maintenance doses required to keep you looking light and bright, the cost of regular injections can range from several hundred dollars to as much as $4000 per treatment. Skin-lightening can also have dire consequences.

In spite of the risk and cost, skin-lightening is not done exclusively by the rich and famous.

Glutathione treatments, bleaching creams, and other skin-lightening treatments are popular, not only in the U.S. but in other countries, as well, including India, Asia, and Jamaica where lighter skin tones are perceived as more beautiful than darker skin.

Although some skin-lightening crèmes are deemed to be dangerous because they contain mercury and cancer-causing chemicals, that doesn’t prevent the industry that sells the products from enjoying a booming business.

Many Blacks see skin-lightening as a rejection of black identity. What is it that causes some Black people to abhor their dark skin? Is it self-esteem? Vanity?  Mental illness? Anti-dark skin color bias and the notion that life and living are much easier when you are light or darn near white is an assumption that stems from slavery and racists propaganda.

How about you? Are you are a dark-skinned Black person reading this, if so, are you comfortable with who you are or are you shameless about changing skin color? Do you believe that dark skin color is the black man’s burden?

If you are conflicted, perhaps you will find some understanding about the subject in this stunning and sometimes graphic video. It includes a wealth of information concerning everything from the reasoning behind skin-lightening to the famous doll test. Teachers will certainly be familiar with the doll test. Set aside 20 minutes because once you start watching this video, you won’t want to turn it off.

 

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Judging the Book: Two Tales

Although numerous people aim to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society a reality, antagonists ensure that the struggle for equality continues. And every day, accidental encounters between perfect strangers from different racial groups either leads them to ignore apprehension and prejudgments or it reinforces stereotypes.

Several weeks ago my son, a former Gulf War trooper, was seated at a table in a Panera Bread café. He was wearing his baseball style black cap with the words “Desert Storm Veteran” embroidered in gold, raised lettering on the front panel. Although his attention was focused on his laptop screen, he was mindful as he always is, of what was going on around him.

From the corner of his eye, he saw an elderly white couple strolling in his direction. The petite woman, dwarfed by her platinum colored beehive hairdo, was walking, hand-in-hand alongside a frail man. He was slightly taller than she and his shoulders were stooped by time. On his head, he wore a World War II Vet cap.

As soon as the strangers approached his table and stood by his side, my son immediately turned around to face them. Like most black people, he is well aware of the problematic political climate in this society, but he is not presumptuous. And beneath his outwardly calm demeanor, he sometimes entertains a wry sense of humor. I imagine that he was thinking, “What’s the problem now, sitting while black?”

When the two men made eye contact, the WWII soldier extended his open hand toward my son and said, “Thank you for your service.”

He had noticed my son’s cap and saw a comrade-in-arms. He told my son that he is 92 years old. My son is slightly more than half his age. The two vets clasped hands in a firm shake, and reciprocally, my son thanked the senior vet for his service.

While the two men enjoyed a brief but engaging conversation, the older man’s wife stood patiently by his side. The men chatted about their respective wars, how things have changed for veterans since the Second World War and even touched upon other service-related matters including benefits that are now available to eligible veterans that were non-existent when the WW II soldier was discharged. Although their conversation lasted only about 15 minutes, my son later told me that it was a strange, but pleasant encounter.

Overall, black people (particularly black men) have become so accustomed to being in the crosshairs of negativity until a positive experience sometimes catches them off guard. A white stranger approaching – God forbid it is a police officer – will cause some to brace for a verbal or physical attack. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is when you are black in America. And that’s why a pleasant occurrence like the one described above is worth sharing.

But then there is the other side of the story.

The dialog below was posted on Facebook allegedly by the black man who experienced it (not my son). Some of you may have seen it. It describes an incident that allegedly happened when a black man who was preparing to catch a flight stepped in the boarding line for first-class ticket holders. The white woman who came up behind him immediately assumed that the man was in the wrong line. Here is their exchange:

Her:  Excuse me I believe you may be in the wrong place. You need to let us through. This line is for priority boarding

Him: Priority meaning first-class correct?

Her:  Yes. Now excuse me. They will call y’all after we board.

Him:  [Putting his first-class priority boarding pass in her face.] You can relax ma’am I’m in the right spot, been here longer, so you can board after me.

Her:  [Still not letting it go and talking aloud to no one in particular.] He must be military or something, but we paid for our seats so he still should have to wait.

Him:  Nope. Not military. I’m just a n***a with money.

Word is that some people waiting in line applauded him.

Of course, I wasn’t there, and I can’t vouch for the validity of this story, but I believe that it could have happened. You think not? Read the book.

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Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows

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“Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Charles Dudley Warner 

I am a huge fan of political programs. Although I realize that politics and political discussion is a lightening rod for some folks, sometimes I like to talk about it anyway with close friends and associates.

This morning I was watching “#AMJoy” on MSNBC. Host, Joy Reid, held a discussion with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Primarily, the topic concerned the refusal of the CBC to meet with 45 at the White House. Rep. Richmond stated that although some members of the caucus may meet with Trump individually, the caucus as a whole will not.

Citing that the CBC is working to address serious issues, Rep. Richmond said, “We don’t have time to be part of a social gathering and unorganized meeting with 50 or 60 people.” He further asserted that “the Trump administration has taken steps to hurt the black community.” Cuts in social programs and other obscured activities will not only encumber numerous black people, but programs beneficial to underprivileged and medium income people of all races are on the chopping block. Apparently, CBC members are concerned that a meeting at the White House would be nothing more than a disguised photo opportunity for 45.

Omarosa Magigault, the Big O in the White House aka Omarosa, accuses members of the CBC of “showboating.” Previously a contestant on Trump’s TV reality program “Apprentice” Omarosa now has a position in the White House and an official title as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. Far beyond the White House fence, some people view her simply as the HSICN (head sister in charge of nothing) put in place merely as a puppet to give the illusion that 45 desires to bridge a perceptible widening racial divide.

Although other black celebs, among them, Jim Brown, Bob Johnson, and Steve Harvey, have raised eye-brows and fallen into disfavor with some black people for meeting with Trump, none seem to incur as much ire as the Big O.

Omarosa alleges that by declining to meet with Trump, CBC leaders are ignoring their opportunity to address issues relevant to the black community. On the other hand, her adversaries disregard anything and everything that the Big O says. They see her merely as a fish out of water that, over time, flip-flopped from being a scheduler for Al Gore in the Clinton Administration to what one associate refers to as a “contemporary female version of Stepin Fetchit” in the White House.

Sometimes it’s best to avoid lightening strikes whenever possible.

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