live and learn

Patriarchy and rape culture are not okay. They can result in death, in trauma, in oppression. Problem is, it’s ingrained in American culture, due in no small part to the patriarchy ingrained in European culture, which is its backbone. No American, no group of Americans, no subculture of Americans is unaffected by it. This includes what I’ll call here, “the black church.” I’m no scholar, I haven’t studied black churches, I haven’t been to all types of black churches, so I can’t speak to all black churches and black church experiences. I will say that when I say, “the black church,” I mean churches that are 1) Protestant, 2) historically and predominantly composed of black Americans with southern family origins, like the kind that Ms. Aretha Franklin grew up in. Now although there is a culture in the black church that is unique to the black church, that culture didn’t spring out of nowhere. Most of these churches are conservative, but remember the black church didn’t invent the tradition of dressing conservatively for church. Africans received Christianity from the white people who ran this country, and those white people, many of them, dressed conservatively, as was done for centuries. Our society in general – whites, blacks, everyone – was more conservative than it is now only a few generations ago. Men always wore hats outdoors, and women covered their legs down to the ankles and didn’t expose their bare shoulders or cleavage in public, let alone in church. This is the society that our current elders – folks Ms. Franklin’s age – grew up in.

If you walk into the black church now, in many churches you will find a wealth of older people. As I understand it, that’s actually not different from many white churches. Churchgoers are getting older, because their children and grandchildren aren’t coming with them. The society is more secular and more skeptical of churches’ message, mission, and relevance. But the elders are holding the churches up, keeping the doors open, retaining the traditions that raised them and give them comfort. People say the church belongs to everyone, but let’s just say that the elders are our hosts, and they are the current backbone of most churches. Anyone who has visited church with an elder or who has been raised in the church knows – at a minimum, you do your hair respectfully and/or cover your head, you wear your best shoes, women wear dresses or skirts (traditionally) with an appropriate hem, men wear slacks, and you clean and press your clothes.

The tradition of black people dressing fancy for church is related to our history of oppression in this country. Church was one of the few places we could be fancy and ostentatious.  You wear your “Sunday Best” when you go to the Lord’s house. There are some more casual black churches, but typically, in most black churches, congregants wear their nicest things.

But because the Puritans affected those who taught Christianity to our former owners, and us, holiness and modesty are intertwined. So not only do you wear nice things, you also dress with modesty. Hems should be low, skin should be covered. This is especially so among our elders, who were raised in a more conservative/respectability politics/church-centric culture. Respectability politics is problematic, this is true. But from the perspective of the elders, who came of age before the civil rights movement, before the black-power movement, before people of color and liberal whites began to change the society to accept black people as we are as equal citizens, the idea that acting/dressing/speaking “respectably” would earn reprieve from oppression was one of the few tools we had to try to protect ourselves from white folks’ mess. Take a good look at the protesters in those videos you see of teenagers getting hosed and bitten by dogs in 1960s Birmingham, Alabama. Take a good look at what the kids at those lunch counters were wearing. Today’s young people may argue, “a lot of good respectability politics did them – wearing those clothes and still getting their asses whupped.” But today’s old folks understand that the images of well-dressed, well-mannered teenagers got those kids a lot more outside pressure and agitation on their behalf than pictures of “unkempt” children in sharecropper clothing would have received. They wore their Sunday Best clothes to protests with purpose. Respectability politics today causes unnecessary division and judgment, and now we argue that it’s more trouble than it’s currently worth, but for our elders, it was another thing altogether.

Wearing your best, conservative clothing to church is what our elders know. It’s what they were taught. It has value to them. And so, like the generations before them, they taught us what they know. Its roots are in patriarchal oppression, yes. It smacks of respectability politics, indeed. It may not be progressive, but as long as our elders remain the backbone of the church, it is what it is. Not all spaces are progressive. And not all people want their spaces to be progressive. Culture and tradition are powerful things, and black people are descended from folks with no easily traceable history because our African ancestors were forced to forget their culture and struggled to pass scraps on their children – we are wary of change, and who could blame us? In our social institutions, change happens, but perhaps not as quickly as outsiders would prefer. I don’t think traditional black congregants need to apologize for who they are, what they prefer, how they got here, or how long it may take them to change.

So for those black folks who say that Ariana Grande’s dress was too short at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, I’ll say this – I ain’t mad at you. You are applying the standards for church dress that you were given by the elders of your family and the elders of your church. I understand that you are not attributing “slut” attributes to shame Ms. Grande, but rather applying a dress code that you understand because it’s a part of your culture. I’m not going to conflate the patriarchal sensibilities of the Puritans who shaped the American church to today’s modern church folk who take comfort in following tradition – that’s too blanket an accusation to make. Some of y’all need to learn that showing skin ain’t about thirst or temptation, but some of y’all already know that and are just obedient to Granny’nem.

For all the people who revel in pointing out the flaws of Christians every time you get the chance – when we say, “come as you are,” we mean it. When you walk in the door, we’re happy to have you. Don’t NOT come ’cause of what you have on. But once you come and become a part of the church family, you’re going to wind up doing as the church folk do. There’s a place for everyone, and if the people who don’t like the dress code don’t want to dress that way, there are plenty of other places – non-conservative churches included – where they can go besides the traditional black church.

And for all the Christians who think that because you’re in the church, you’re immune to criticism – when you say, “come as you are,” you can mean it all you want, but if you can’t notice that someone’s not dressed the way you prefer them to be dressed, and let that roll off your back like so much water, are you really trying to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Yes, her dress was too short. OK, and? Yes, it would have been nice if someone had let her know about what black Baptists deem appropriate funeral attire. But your point is? Do you have any idea how many times your Savior taught by example rather than conspicuous condemnation? If you are renewing your mind and growing in the Spirit of the Lord as you are supposed to be doing, you should at some point reach a level of maturity where you know how to focus on what’s more important than a high hem. Just saying. She came to pay her respects to the Queen, God bless her for it.

And for every person who talked about her dress as reasoning for why men in the church reacted to her or treated her, Christian or not, examine yourself. You are part of the problem. No better than the people who blame the girls R. Kelly seduces. No better than the people who ask rape victims what they were wearing. That pastor was absolutely wrong for how he spoke to and touched that young lady and nothing can mitigate that. He needs to renew his mind and reform his acts. And if you tried to defend him, you aren’t helping him or anyone else.

Maturity ain’t free, but you as you continue to live, you can learn, if you try.

what we can’t afford

I don’t know what it’s like to be white. If, in a white supremacist culture, white is normal, default, ordinary, and average, and anything else is “other,” ethnic, urban, and exotic, I imagine that white people aren’t frequently reminded that they are white. I’m going to have to remember to ask a white friend that one day, like, “how often do you remember that you are white?” I’m curious, because I don’t know what it’s like to forget that I’m black.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with the new girl at work. I like her. She’s young, recently finished school, and is very pleasant. As we talked about a neighborhood that she and I are both familiar with, she wondered aloud about a peculiar thing that I’ve pointed out to others many times. See, Philadelphia’s school district has a bad reputation. Many people who stay educate their children in private schools. Among those who stay in the city, many enter lotteries to get their children into charter schools, or quietly rub elbows and pull strings with the right people in order to network their children into the public schools that have better reputations than the rest. But of those parents who don’t have private school money or influential friends, many leave the city once their children are school-aged, if they can afford it. I imagine that this may be true of a number of American cities. Anyway, the new girl said that she wondered why, on one side of this Philadelphia street, it felt like a completely different world from the other side of the street, which was another municipality, boasting one of the best school districts in the state.

It’s school segregation, separate and unequal. It’s completely legal because it’s not explicitly done on the basis of race, as it once was. When race-based school segregation is discussed in history classes, at least the ones I took, it’s usually discussed in the context of 20th century Jim Crow laws in the south, which were invalidated by Brown v. Board in the 1950’s. I remember seeing some stray notes about busing controversies in northern cities like Boston, but other than that, it seems Americans are content to pretend that school segregation discussions 1) don’t pertain to the northern area of the country, and 2) don’t pertain to the modern day. My grandmother lived her entire life in New Jersey, and she attended segregated schools. By the time her daughter had finished high schools, Brown v. Board made that kind of de jure race-based segregation illegal, but economic segregation had efficiently replaced it. Between the racist redlining of mortgages, hiring discrimination against minorities in unions and other companies, race-based application of the GI Bill, racism in renting, racism in town planning, and plain old intimidation, neighborhoods remained as segregated as they had ever been. White and middle class families lived and attended schools in the suburbs created for them in the post-WWII economy, while poor black and brown families remained living and attending schools in the cities they could neither afford to maintain with their tax dollars nor afford to leave with their lower incomes.

None of the housing and labor practices that created this situation are legal today, but by the time they were no longer in wide practice, the segregation had already been achieved. The declining urban schools kept the income stratification, and in turn, the segregation, going in perpetuity. As long as neighborhood public schools continued to be funded by taxpayer dollars, and black and brown neighborhoods continued to have lower property values, separate and unequal public education continued – pardon me, I mean continues, present tense. In Pennsylvania, talk of an equitable school funding formula is floating around. Imagine guaranteeing every child a well-funded education, irrespective of the property taxes their parents can afford. Sounds a bit like the opportunity to pursue economic success without being weighed down by caste, as Europeans often were before they came to the New World fleeing serfdom and seeking fortune. But I digress.

When my new co-worker asked why the worlds were so different on either side of a street, I thought the Cliff Notes version of all of this in my head. But I said simply, “It’s economic stratification. Folks on one side can’t pay the property taxes the other side can pay.”

You know why I left the race out?

You know why I left the race out.

I never forget that I am black. Not even in a non-professional situation with a co-worker. Not even when I have more tenure than her at work.  Not even when I’m well over ten years her senior. I’m black. She’s not. Expressing my opinion on race, even when it’s backed up by facts, could cost me, and much more than your average white colleague. Anywhere outside of the four walls of my own home, it’s my first job to remember that I am black if I want to keep a paycheck, take care of my family, or be safe from harm. Any mistake costs me more, because for me the rules are different.

“What about all those white people getting fired from their jobs or expelled from school when they go viral online being racist on video?” you may ask. Well, it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to the times we lose jobs, lose pay, or get demotions because of those times that we forget that our mistakes cost us more, because the rules for us are different. In a world where most people – even “liberals” and “progressives” – are willing to look the other way as de facto racial segregation continues in housing and education in this country, black people literally cannot afford to forget that for us, the rules are different.

what to our wokeness is the fourth

I actually appreciate how on social media, many people remind us that July 4th, 1776 found Africans in America working for free, no more independent than they had been on July 3rd. It’s a fact worth remembering, and it’s part of what makes Juneteenth celebrations so important.

Did you know that for a time after emancipation in the American South, black Americans celebrated our own freedom on July 4th? I sure didn’t, until I read an article about it, and the efforts by white Americans to make patriotism great again by taking the holiday back from black revelers.

Not celebrating Independence Day is not a revolutionary act of resistance. On a personal level, it can provide a sense of satisfaction that we are remembering and acknowledging the ongoing struggle our ancestors faced, which survives in various forms in the present day. If you want revolution, however, you could donate time or money to some liberating action today. What I suggest you don’t do is pander on social media for #WokerThanTheRestOfYall credit, crowing about how you ain’t celebrating the oppressor’s independence, trying to shame everybody with melanin who likes barbecues and fireworks. Especially if all you’re doing is Netflix and chilling, or wasting time on Facebook and the ‘Gram.

Because celebrating Independence Day is not an act of surrendering to oppression. Many of us have the day off on a hot summer day. Spend it how you want. This is the day the Creator has made. Rejoice. Be glad. Holla at your families. Play some spades with Al Green in the background or something, if that’s what you wanna do.

Have a great nonjudgmental day, no matter what you choose.

feed the warriors

In perspective, living in a republic that is openly hostile to minorities and women is no new thing. It may be almost a cliché to say so by now, but we have been through worse, and we will get through this, also. Perhaps not unscathed, but we will.

The arts in America are a direct result of our continuous processing of this relationship. Gospel, blues, folk, jazz, soul, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, hip hop, disco, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, trap, go-go, house, the list will go on and on. Our creativity is, if not directly inspired, then at least indirectly molded by our experience here as Africans in America. We heal with our poetry, music, and dance.

This weekend I went to see Jill Scott in concert (for the eighty billionth time), and the timing could not have been better. I was surrounded by folks who reflected the many skin tones and hair styles that make me feel at home. Even on the hottest day ever, the bees kept flying among us, looking for nectar among the shea-butter and cocoa-butter scented crowd. We glistened at dusk. We sang along to the music, we danced in the heat, and we clapped on the two and the four, together.

I’m a major fan of Jill Scott because she is a consummate performer, and I call what she does on stage sorcery. By the time she took the stage after her preceding acts, the moon was up, the breezes started to provide intermittent respite from the heat, and we were left to be held spellbound by the beautiful set, her beautiful outfit, and her beautiful voice. We journeyed together through her catalog, the hits and the b-sides, full of poetic inspiration, lamentations, and celebrations. It was a welcome respite from social media and the news. Like in a church service, the crowd sang back and hollered back. It was a safe space. I don’t know her personally,(though I’d love to join her for lunch one day.) But her stage persona is an intelligent, confident woman who completely understands that she is still on a journey of becoming herself, who has a sense of humor about her own weaknesses and mistakes, and who cares about whether her audience gets what they’ve come for. She is my big sister in my head. She shares what she has to give.

This is how we have gotten through. I am six generations away from one of the freed slaves to whom I’ve traced my ancestry. I have no idea how many generations of her ancestors were here between here and Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Congo. But what I do know is that all these generations shared what they had to give in church services, on guitars, with tambourines, on dance floors, in skillets, in ovens, in sermons, in paragraphs, with needle and thread, with hot combs and hair grease, with salve, with oils. We anoint each other with what we have to give. It creates culture. Culture gives us comfort and rest, confidence and strength. It ties us to our ancestors and evolves to meet the needs of our young people. Come through, Black Twitter. I say these things not to fetishize our culture as the answer to our political problems, but to remind us that we are not out here struggling against oppression empty handed. We have resources to help us enjoy life even as we stay informed about the news and even as we take action to right the wrongs around us. I say these things to encourage the talented among us to understand the value of your gifts to others. Share what you have to give. Warriors need energy to stand and fight.


It sure would be nice, in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire, cementing a conservative vote in the Supreme Court, to say that everything will be alright. I have the skill to bend language to do that work. And I know that there are people who are feeling very pessimistic about the current state of the nation and the prospects for this nation’s future, so there’s really no better time to cheer folks up.

But what comes to my mind this morning is one of Naughty by Nature’s best songs, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Ghetto Bastard).” (Link to the video is NSFW, here are the lyrics.) It’s my favorite song of theirs. The chorus repeats everything’s gonna be alright over a pleasant track, but the verses… The verses indicate the exact opposite. It’s not pessimism, it’s realism. It’s a song about how ugly life can be. It’s unflinching and unapologetic. It is the very spirit of what it feels like to know your situation is fucked up, and it’s a harsh rebuke to anyone who insists someone should only speak positively in the midst of a bad situation. “Say something positive? Well, positive ain’t where I live.” There’s a time and a place for optimism. But there’s also a healthy and necessary time and place to call a bad situation what it is.

Our country is in a bad situation. And I think that maybe we need to absorb the weight of this reality – just sit in that for a minute. And maybe conjure up some of the anger that Treach put into his delivery of the Ghetto Bastard lyrics. Throw in a healthy measure of the defiance and resilience you hear in that last verse. We’re all gonna need it, because it’s going to get worse before it gets better.


cowards, the lot of them

I’m sorry, what did you cowards say about Maxine Waters?

Every single person with a public platform who opposes the current president’s agenda, yet has jumped on the bandwagon to criticize her is a coward.

I learned as a child that the only way to stop a bully is confrontation. If you don’t let them know that you see what they are doing and you will not tolerate it, they will take your silence, your kindness, your patience, your civility, for not just weakness, but permission to continue to abuse you. I also learned that witnesses who don’t stand up to bullies are the worst kind of enablers.

We should stand for righteousness. We should stand with the people who speak out for the weak and the troubled. We should protect the targeted. Even at cost to our own well being. And every time that Maxine Waters criticizes this administration or the people who do its dirty work, she does the work of a hero. She speaks truth to power, constantly putting herself in the crosshairs of those people who are destroying labor rights, human rights, women’s rights, gender rights, civil rights, and voting rights right before our eyes. It is not entirely thankless work – many people have been very thankful for her presence in Congress and the way that she uses her public platform. She often amplifies the unspoken or unheard thoughts of Americans who disagree with the current federal administration.

And this is why it is shameful that people like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have condemned her. After the press secretary was publicly shamed at a Virginia restaurant, Rep. Waters said that in response to this administration’s separation of families at the border, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” No matter how you feel about what happened to the press secretary, what Rep. Waters’ remarks called for is peaceful public dissent, like the kind that happened there – not violence – dissent.

Peaceful public dissent is what makes our country worth salvaging. On any day, at any time, on any issue, if an American has a problem with their government, they can use their speech, they can assemble, they can alert the press, they can start a blog, they can make a banner, and they can speak truth to power to lobby for the changes they want to see. Peaceful public dissent is a world better than coerced private fear. We have a federal administration that is led by a shameless bully – a man who advertised his desire to kill innocent children whose guilt had not been proven, a man who tries to use intimidation and threats to “govern,” a man who regularly threatens the integrity of the First Amendment by using his administration to undermine freedom of the press, a man who gained popularity during his campaign by encouraging his devotees to literally be violent against political opponents. Coerced private fear is what he would prefer from the American people. His people are purposely trying to discourage immigration by separating families with no intelligible plans to reunite them. That is bigger than bullying, and it is being carried out at this administration’s orders.

Rep. Waters’ point is that people who are carrying out these orders and supporting these actions should be told that this is wrong and Americans don’t want this. These are human rights abuses, and we should not sit idly by and let them happen. We can donate money for their legal representation, we can call our senators and congressional representatives (unless yours, like mine, resigned in disgrace under the heat of a “me too” scandal), we can write letters, attend rallies… and we also have the right to tell these people what we think about what they’re doing when we see them out and about.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other spineless Democrats are afraid that if we open the door to on-the-street criticism , we’re also inviting that kind of criticism upon them. They know the door swings both ways, and they don’t want anti-abortion activists surrounding their cars in the drug store parking lot. I can’t imagine how scary that possibility must be for them, but I don’t sympathize with them. They were brave enough to run for office. They need to be brave enough to be accountable for their political convictions everywhere they go. Because while they were rigging the primaries, ignoring Russian interference, and trying to play nice during the 2016 election, they allowed an aspiring authoritarian strongman with crass mannerisms and knuckle-dragging ideas of how to treat people to drag down the civility and respectability of the presidential office and everything connected to it. If they thought that intimidation would only be limited to his presidential campaign rallies, that’s their fault for not reacting appropriately to an alarming rise in confrontational behavior. Don’t pin the decline in American civility on Rep. Waters – she is reacting to the radically changed environment, which civility left a long time ago. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Or better yet, govern with courage in order to change the game.

These Democrats didn’t even have to publicly agree with her statements. They could have said that although they would not choose to do the same, they understand her comments to mean that Americans should express their opinions about their government to their government. But if they couldn’t say that, they could have said nothing. Instead, they are all but publicly shaming their colleague. People are saying that she is inciting violence. There is talk of making her resign over this. And these cowards are sitting idly by, letting the bullies run roughshod over one of the few people brave enough to do what they all should be doing.

“When they go low, we go high,” does not mean to appease your bullies by being sweet and hiding behind notions of civility. It means that you can do the right thing without disrespecting others’ humanity. Had Rep. Waters endorsed violence, I wouldn’t be on her side on this one, but she didn’t. Anyone who pretends that her comments were beyond the pale is compromising themselves to meet the bully in a middle ground that hasn’t existed in a long time, paving the way for more abuse. Giving an inch, ceding a mile. Rep. Waters deserves better. If she goes for incivility, the president should go for that and more, too.

a new thing altogether

I recently watched an installment of the Vox Borders series that talked about a community of Koreans in Japan. They were brought to Japan when Korea was subject to the Japanese empire in East Asia.   The Japanese, who saw Koreans as inferior, took them from Korea to use them as grunt workers and sex workers. Japan was stripped of control of Korea after World War II. This community of Koreans in Japan, most of whom can trace their families to what is now South Korea, had already been living in Japan for years when the Korean War split their home country.

They were living separate and apart from the Japanese who surrounded them, and hungry for a connection to their homeland. The dictator who headed North Korea, a country backed by the communist Soviet Union, reached out to these lost Koreans, providing them with the money and resources to improve their lot in Japan. With this support, they built schools, bought property, and created museums and other cultural institutions in honor of their homeland. Their culture provides them with comfort and pride even though they are not in Korea. Generations of Koreans have now been born in Japan, and have never even been to Korea, but they are loyal to the Kim family, which runs North Korea. At North Korea’s invitation, some of these lost Koreans even decided to migrate back to Korea. However, many stayed in Japan.

Things went well for these Koreans until North Korea began to act aggressively and pose a nuclear threat to its Japanese neighbor. The Koreans in Japan were stripped of their financial holdings. They are harassed in the streets by the Japanese. They are only safe to culturally identify as Koreans among each other. They are increasingly turned inward towards their own community as a result of icy relations with their Japanese countrymen, and the Japanese, who are known for holding their own culture superior to others, hate the Koreans even more for their loyalty to North Korea and their refusal to let go of their culture and fully assimilate to Japanese ways.

I was absolutely fascinated by this story – the idea of a people who were fully a part of a country but who are not really a part of that country at all. The parallels between their story and the story of Africans who were brought to America for labor, only to be resented and treated like second-class citizens after their involuntary migration are too strong to be ignored.

I saw discussion about the video about these Koreans in Japan online and scrolled through the comments to see what people thought about it. Again, the parallels were too strong. Over and over again, people asked why the Koreans don’t just leave Japan if things are so bad for them there. Why don’t they just go back to Korea where they came from? Or, if they want to stay in Japan, why don’t they just assimilate and become culturally Japanese? Sound familiar? Why don’t black people stop [insert behavior considered black here] and be like “real” Americans? Or, if they hate it so much here, why don’t they just go back to Africa? I swear, some people are stupid.

These Koreans in Japan are neither Korean (North or South) nor Japanese. Culturally, they are a new thing altogether. Their hearts are with the Korean people, with the language, with the stories. But their bodies have long been in Japan. In their own way, no matter how hard they try not to be, they are Japanese people, living in Japan, enjoying some of the freedoms of being in Japan, as opposed to the stringent lifestyles their cousins are currently living in North Korea. They are used to the lives they currently live. They are surrounded by the people who know and love them. They should not be expected to shrug all of this off to move to a new home, and even if they did, how do you think these people would be seen upon arriving in North Korea? As Japanese. A better outcome would be for the Japanese to accept the Koreans for who they are, and open themselves to the idea that there isn’t just one way to be Japanese. I think this is unlikely, given that Japan and North Korea are bitter enemies and that may pose a danger to Japan. If only they could find a way to accept each other…

Like how Americans claim they have. “Melting pot,” indeed. Despite the way we’ve been treated, and still are treated, black Americans are still here for many reasons. We don’t know much about Africa. We didn’t have an African benefactor to foster our love for Igbo, Hausa, or Akan people and traditions – Wakanda is not only isolationist,  it’s also fictional. Also, if we wanted to go, how would we afford to scrap our lives here and start all over elsewhere?  Why should we leave our elders and infirm who would struggle to make the journey? If we were to go – to Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana – where would we go? Who would welcome us? Surely we would be seen as Americans. We don’t even know who would hire us or patronize our businesses. We would be at home, but we would not be at home.

We are Africans. We are Americans. Staying here, going there – either way, we are a new thing altogether. A better outcome would be for other Americans to accept us for who we are, open themselves to the idea that there isn’t just one way to be American, and truly treat us like how they would want to be treated.  Because we are Americans, we will agitate until that happens in earnest. And because we are Africans, what we do know about African cultures provides us with comfort and pride even though we are not in West Africa. We will continue to unapologetically be who we are, without leaving to appease others.

And although my ancestors have been here, working to build this country for centuries, since before this was even a country, and much longer than many of the families who are comparatively only a few generations in, I will resist the urge to answer calls for us to leave with, “Go back to Europe.” Not because they don’t deserve it, but because it’s stupid. Once their ancestors came here to America, they also became a new thing altogether. That’s how this works.

proteck ya neck

A group I’d rather not contribute internet traffic to has a clip making the internet rounds that tries to make the case for why black people should “get off the plantation” of voting Democrat. Its main point is that we should not trust the motives of the white people who contribute to liberal political organizations, because white people don’t have black political interests at heart and they want our families decimated so we keep depending on them and voting for them. I agree 100% that just because white liberal people are liberal, that does not mean they necessarily care about black lives. Depends on the people. I agree that we should look at the motives of white people who want our agreement and our votes. I have witnessed, over and over again, white liberal people being paternalistic, racist, and ignorant. But that’s where we stop agreeing, and I’m going to state my disagreements point by point.
In this video clip, a young black man in an audience full of white people says that Black Lives Matter is “white liberals in blackface,” because they care about feminism and LGBT issues. I imagine this may alienate this guy, since he is a man, who we are to assume is straight. So we are now supposed to think that men should not care about societal oppression of women, and that straight people should not care about societal oppression of gay or non-gender-conforming people. Or that if black men and/or straight people do care, it’s not because they personally care about how other people are treated, but it’s because some white person with money told them to care. That’s basically saying black people don’t think for ourselves. Here’s a hint – the way to get me to hear your point of view is not to start by telling me I’m too stupid to know when someone is running a con on me.
In language clearly intended to speak to our resentment of slavery, he repeats, “I’m off the plantation, bro.” Putting aside that I don’t know any brothers who talk like that, “bro,” I’ve heard that language before from conservatives who assert that black people use peer pressure to make us all espouse the same political opinions. I think to some extent, that’s true, not just of black people, but all subpopulations in this country. But I’ve only heard the plantation language in relation to black people, and I’m insulted someone thinks that black people who don’t politically align with conservatives didn’t come to their conclusions using thoughts of their own.
He calls “LGBT, women, non-binary, white feminism, [and] all that Hillary Clinton stuff,” “white people ideas.” First, tell that to all the black queer people in our communities, who “live with roommates,” never bring significant others around their families, throw themselves into church activities, or who live out and proud all without consulting a single white person about how to live their lives. Second, the irony that he’s saying this in a room full of white people who are nodding and clapping and laughing approvingly is not lost on me.
Now, BLM being started by lesbian women is problematic, he says, because it’s not supporting black families. Because they don’t mention black fathers on the website. First, a moment of silence for my frustration at this assertion. BLM is a social justice organization, which states on its website that black families are one of its priorities. But besides that, being lesbian is not in opposition to caring about black families and black fathers in any way, full stop. Black lesbians come from black fathers and black families, and many birth black fathers and raise black families. Many of the men BLM has stood up for are black fathers. Other victims of racist violence were born black males and killed because they weren’t gender conforming, and their lives matter no less than black fathers like Eric Garner’s or Walter Scott’s lives did. BLM – lesbians, gay men, straight people, an entire group of black and brown people – was there for justice for them.
So then this black woman on the panel in this video responds to the young man’s comment, talking about how liberals “[M]anipulate you by using a term that no one in their right mind would be against.” Then she goes on to talk about Planned Parenthood and how they kill black babies every day. Well, who wants black babies killed every day – who in their right mind would want that? She is doing for the conservative cause exactly what she is saying her liberal opponents do – we’re not supposed to notice that because we’re supposed to blown away by the revelation of what she’s saying as a supposed aside. (And we’re supposed to forget that most political conservatives don’t believe in funding comprehensive sex education or adequately supporting poor families because Reagan’s mythical welfare queen is black.)
She says when you do a deep dive you’ll see that BLM is an arm of the [liberal] Democratic party that wants to keep black people enslaved via their emotion and their anger. Because I suppose it’s black people’s emotion and anger shooting unarmed people in the streets, de-funding public schools, warehousing young people in prisons, ticketing and fining, nickel and diming us out of productive citizenship?
Well, I have questions. Enslaved and dependent to whom? The Democrats, of course.  If we don’t vote for the Democrats, who should we vote for, the Republicans? Got it. Because they’ll talk about the things that matter, she says, like straight black men, and black fathers in the home. First, paternalistic much? Right in line with what most racists jump to first as the “problem with the black community,” this woman went straight for family values as opposed to the many societal injustices black people face. Secondly, when was the last time you heard a Republican or conservative talking about straight black fathers in the home or doing anything to keep black families together other than to scold black people for not doing it, as if 1) we don’t know any “better,” and 2) disinvestment in our communities by both private industry and Dem and GOP administrations haven’t led to high unemployment, low graduation rates, high crime, and high incarceration rates, which put pressure on poor families of every color, disproportionally affecting black families.
See, here’s the thing. Not all black people think alike. We differ on whether abortion is okay and whether homosexuality is acceptable. Some of us are religious conservatives. Some hate welfare and resent the people on it. Some resent wage wars with immigrants who will work for much less than we feel we’re worth. Some resent how Democrats are in political power in the cities where many of us live, and that seemingly has done little for us over the past 50-60 years. Not all black people, and in fact, I’d guess most black people, are not enthusiastically behind all liberal notions. There is no small number of black people who believe in supporting the economy by having business-friendly policies, in small government, in lower taxes, and in fiscal conservatism.
But we are intelligent people. We are capable of thinking with nuance. We don’t need white people – liberals or conservatives – to tell us how to think. We make the best political decisions we can given the choices we have (and there honestly aren’t enough viable choices).  Conservatives seem to think that white liberals told us a paternalistic story about how we are victims of racism, we need a big government to take care of us, and that we are not responsible for improving our economic and social prospects in this country because whites are bad and guilty and owe us everything. Conservatives believe we lapped that up gratefully and that’s the reason why we vote with Democrats more often, because that’s what conservative media leaders tell them. Conservatives believe if they paternalistically tell us a counter story, appealing to the American propensity to believe conspiracy theories, and saying that we’re being bamboozled by liberals. They believe that their opening with us is to appeal to our well-known spirituality and our conservative religious beliefs. If we begin to focus on policing personal decisions of others, then we may defect from voting alongside (NOT WITH. ALONGSIDE!) white liberals and begin to support conservative politicians.
But it’s white conservatives who lied and said that separate was equal when it wasn’t. They didn’t want to integrate schools, workplaces, or neighborhoods. They started whites-only private schools and fought school bussing in the north and in the south. They didn’t support the Civil Rights Act or Affirmative Action. They disagreed with the categorization and special treatment of hate crimes against people of color. In revolt against the integration and civil rights progress of the 20th century, they defected from the Democratic party to become Republicans in response to appeals to racism by Nixon and Goldwater. They infiltrated and transformed the party of Lincoln into the mob of tiki-torch wielding racists who gave us the current president, making a deal with the devil so they could control the supreme court, roll back worker rights, women’s rights, affirmative action, civil liberties, start COINTELPRO-type monitoring activities against black activists and the press, strip retirement benefits from our parents and grandparents, return to the economics that squeezed us during the Reagan years, and strip away every accomplishment of the first black president that they possibly can. We know what “take our country back” and “make America great again” means. We know when they say, “law and order,” they mean, “lock ’em up.” We know that being forced to stand for a song that talks about liberties we still don’t have is the same stuff our soldiers had to fight against decades ago in Europe, just to come home and be told the GI Bill was not for them, and Jim Crow was God’s will.
We didn’t believe a story told to us by white liberals. We believe the facts of the lives that we live, the lessons we were taught from our elders, and the reality of what we see in the news every day.
We can hold conservative beliefs and still vote for people who won’t actively try to screw over the most vulnerable among us. And we do, time and time again, as if it’s a matter of survival. Because it is. Imagine the irony, the unmitigated gall, of people who knowingly harbor neo-Nazis in their political party saying that we need to beware the motives of white liberals and trust them instead. We’ve been watching our backs for over 400 years. We know what we’re doing, and we don’t need the help of transparent propaganda from people who would just as soon send us back to Africa if they could, since our lives don’t matter to them.

be about it

I’m at the point where I pretty much hate all forms of patriotism. Like, I see an American flag hung conspicuously on the outside of someone’s home and think to myself, they are either a grateful immigrant or they’re one of those white people who care more about red-scare-era symbolism than about the freedom of speech. I mean, outside of the Fourth of July, Veterans’ Day, or Memorial Day, I’m out here side-eyeing every flag I see. I don’t own an American flag and I won’t be buying one. I’m not saluting no American flag. I’m not dressing my kids in red-white-and-blue. I’m not putting my hand over my heart for nothing. I’m not singing for God to bless this country for its own sake.

It has nothing to do with disrespect for our professed ideals or for veterans or first responders. I will never forget, for example, the selfless bravery of the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free enslaved people, or the sacrificial courage first responders displayed during the 9/11 tragedy. I am the child of a veteran, the grandchild of a man who volunteered to serve this country after the Pearl Harbor attacks. I believe in the genius of the Bill of Rights and a living Constitution. I will never forget the pride I had for my fellow Americans on the night Barack Obama won the highest elected office in this land. Great things are possible here. There is a reason why immigrants come here. I am proud of what my ancestors’ labor has built here. The ideals of America are inspiring and beautiful. In these dark days, I don’t know if I’ll live to see my country actually realize them, but I truly believe they are right and good.

My profound distaste for patriotism has nothing to do with protesting police brutality, either. I did and do support Colin Kaepernick sitting and kneeling, Malcolm Jenkins raising a fist, and the many other athletes and other public figures who have used their platforms to call attention to the country’s shortcomings. I have no such platform, however. My refusal to fly or salute or display the flag accomplishes nothing in the way of bringing attention to the issue, and there are other ways that I can express my solidarity with others who are concerned about bias in policing.

But what I have noticed since the Colin Kaepernick protests and all their aftermath is that displays of patriotism have become  a more visible way for people to agitate for a status quo that supports white supremacy by misdirecting people away from addressing race-related problems. That is, of course, why 45 inserted himself in the the NFL’s little PR problem. He and his constituency used patriotism to hijack the conversation away from the reason for the protests. They see a wealthy black man exercising his first amendment right to express his feelings and they want to put him in his place. They exalt patriotism to a virtue, and then excoriate people based on their choice to opt out of “virtuous” behavior. They see unpatriotic black people – especially wealthy ones – as ungrateful for the good life they’re living that is better than some struggling white folks. There’s nothing worse to people who believe in white supremacy than an ungrateful darkie. They figure the least we can do is thank them from rescuing us from the poverty, disease, and awfulness of Africa, and the least we can do is sing America’s praises, especially if we’re not trapped in one of the ghettos that was created for us by de jure Jim Crow or de facto redlining. When some black person has the audacity to believe that the first amendment is theirs to embrace and that they can call the status quo into question or speak truth to power, white supremacists lose their collective shit. (Hence the NFL’s recent ruling that players must stand for the anthem at games.)

My understanding is that the pledge of allegiance and standing for the anthem in public sporting events is Red Scare bullshit imposed upon Americans by leaders who wanted to propagandize the American public into loyalty against socialism and communism. My understanding is that there was no such social obligation when the republic was formed. My observation is that there is absolutely no reason for displays of patriotism or the pledge of allegiance at any sporting events any-fucking-way. My observation is that this whole military parade, celebration of country, deport them if they don’t show loyalty rhetoric coming from D.C. is more like North Korea or the U.S.S.R. than it is like the United States of America I was raised in. My opinion is that, “If you don’t like it, leave,” sounds a lot like, “Go back to Africa,” just like how “Make America great again,” sounds a lot like, “Segregation now, segregation forever.” “Build the wall,” sounds a lot like, “No bussing,” to me. And I am not here for it. It’s propaganda and it’s bullshit. I will not take part in the mob mentality of shaming people over not being patriotic enough. That’s exactly the freedom my many military family members have protected with their service. Bending to demands to show my appreciation for that freedom waters down the very thing that they’ve sacrificed for, and I won’t do it.

True power and confidence and love of country is lived, not shouted. As was said in the America that I am from, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” I am over here actually living the ideals of the country these racists are out here professing to love. I pay my taxes, I follow the laws, I volunteer to be useful to someone other than myself. I give to causes that further the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for other Americans – and not just English-speaking people. I vote in every general election. I report for jury duty. I hold the door open at Wawa. I try to treat people the way I’d want to be treated. The fuck I need to honor a flag for? I honor this country’s people. Fuck the symbolism, embrace what the symbolism symbolizes – the American people. If you’re out here worrying about what athletes are doing on the field instead of what the pompous head of the executive branch is doing to American credibility and leadership on the world stage, with his authoritarian and white supremacist temper tantrums, you’re focused on the wrong way to make this country great, and you can kiss the blackest part of my ass for your part in turning this country from  a moral leader on the world stage into a modern day adaptation of the 1984 novel.

And oh yeah, GO EAGLES!

it’s culture, just not the one you thought

One thing that I’ve noticed in relation to discussions involving race are the comments made by people who assert that the problems that we face with race, and most especially with black people, are due to problems with the black culture. Black families are dysfunctional because they’re incomplete, they say. Blacks don’t succeed because their culture doesn’t promote a lifestyle of success, they say. Our socioeconomic status is what it is because of the ways we raise (or don’t raise) our children. It’s “typical” of us to be violent, uneducated, etc. I’ve seen these talking points so many times online that I could argue them myself. I wonder if they were handed down on high from some grand architect of internet trolling, as if the speechwriter who invented Reagan’s welfare queen was still around when the internet took off, and he convened a bunch of disenfranchished white people with everything to lose in order to give them the script. I encountered one of these guys with a belief in this culture argument the other day. I responded to him roundabout this way:

American culture – pop culture – MAINSTREAM culture – promotes violence to all Americans. Most people who are killed are killed by people who share the same race, because that’s who they live around, and that’s who they come into contact with. An unwed mother is not necessarily parenting alone, and if she is, SHE is there to teach her children right from wrong. Not all functional families are married two parent families.

It is a false narrative that “it’s culture.” That’s a euphemism for, “black people have no one but themselves to blame for their criminality and how police and others treat them.” People say this because it’s easier to believe that than to consider, for example:

  • the entire criminal justice system has flaws,
  • youthful indiscretions are punished harder in black kids,
  • the school to prison pipeline begins in preschool,
  • generational wealth among white people assists them in ways that many black people can’t fathom,
  • school funding formulas that disinvest in predominantly minority schools exacerbates the problem,
  • law enforcement tactics exacerbate the problem,
  • lawmakers are incentivized to make decisions about law enforcement that unnecessarily swell prison populations, separating families, and
  • the rise of the service economy exacerbates the problem of poverty and the underground economy.

Either white voters and taxpayers know these things, but largely don’t care about their fellow neighbors, or they don’t care to listen or believe when these things are explained, since it feels better to believe that their being born to a non-black family was all the virtue they needed, and that their “superior culture” is what kept them out of jail. White mass murder suspects are walked, alive, to custody, but black corpses keep coming up unarmed. “Culture” doesn’t explain that away. Where is the culture argument to explain angry white males who shoot up schools? Or criminal whites both in and out of jail?

The moneyed classes have excelled at this game for centuries. Pit working people of modest means against each other based on race, and they’ll be so busy in that struggle that they’ll have no hope of confronting the American elite for their exploitation of everyone else. Every time some working white guy says the black guy’s problem is “culture,” a rich white man who could buy and sell that white guy ten times over gets his gilded wings.

If we want to blame a culture, let’s blame the one where numerous videos show that police brutality against people of color is happening, but people insist that our complaints are “not backed up by anything.” That’s a culture of willful ignorance. A callous, unfeeling culture.

Many of the people who subscribe to this intellectually lazy point of view believe strongly in their own moral authority, because the privilege they are afforded in a society built for their well being and comfort to the exclusion of others makes them the default “salt of the earth.” They say they respect life, liberty, and country; they lament the lack of values in our society. But they become hypocrites when they blame the ills caused by systemic racism and poverty on the targets of those societal sins. They feel no responsibility for their refusal to meaningfully engage others. They reject any obligation to put themselves in the shoes of the people they believe are inferior  They reject opposing points of view. It’s a cancerous, selfish, shameful culture.

Let me be clear, this is not just a problem that racists or conservatives have. Everyone’s ego is stroked when others agree with them. Yet those of us who are people of faith, and secular people of reason are challenged to do better than that – to do right for its own sake. We are supposed to seek justice and the greater good. Without civil cooperation between people who disagree, the race relations problems in this country won’t get better, and that doesn’t just affect the minorities among us. The reckoning of all this conflict and division has consequences for us all. An answer is to turn from a culture that continues to promote and enforce white supremacist thinking. Turn from a culture that makes every disagreement into a zero-sum game. Turn from a culture that makes it acceptable to have no compassion for others who are suffering or in danger. Turn from a culture where violence is normalized to young people. Turn from a culture that makes every issue into a partisan slug fest. Turn from a culture that is reactive, fear-based, and vindictive.

When I engaged the guy who was trotting out the culture argument, he didn’t meaningfully address my response. I wasn’t surprised, but I also felt like I hadn’t wasted my time.  Perhaps other people learned from our exchange, or my response let them feel like they weren’t alone. Maybe next time they’ll address the culture argument better. I don’t usually engage the trolls – self preservation – but I’d like to hope that we can plant seeds that could turn into something good and be a part of the solution.