It’s Not Trump. It Wasn’t Obama.

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When President Donald Trump made derogatory comments about NFL players that chose to take a knee rather than stand and salute the American flag, his opponents and critics accused him of dividing America along racial lines.  Interestingly, a few years ago-2013 to be exact-when President Barack Obama made statements about Trayvon Martin, many of his opponents and critics accused him of dividing America along racial lines as well.  Now, which is it?  Is President Trump dividing America or did President Obama divide America?

Let’s look at both presidents’ comments more closely.  President Trump alluded to black male football players that had decided to take a knee rather than stand for the National Anthem before their games. He called them “sons of bitches” and suggested that they needed to be fired.  President Obama referred to a young, black male by the name of Trayvon Martin. He said that Trayvon could have been his son and than made it more personal by saying “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Do you see the common denominator in these statements?  Both presidents refer to the same racial group, black males. What’s dividing America isn’t politics.  What’s dividing America is our perspectives on race.

It is no secret that we are split down the middle when it comes to race.  In 2016, the Pew Research Center released its findings on race in America and below is a brief summary based on a survey given to almost 4000 Americans (click here to see the full report):

84% of blacks believe blacks are treated less fairly by police.  Only 50% of whites believe blacks are treated less fairly by police.

41% of whites feel too much focus is on race and racial issues while only 22% of blacks said too much focus is on race and racial issues.  

88% of blacks believe the country needs to continue making changes for equality to occur while 53% of whites believe the country needs to continue making changes for equality to occur.  

64% of blacks feel they are treated less fairly in the workplace.  22% of whites believe blacks are treated less fairly in the workplace.  

And for those that think Americans are more unified in the church, it just isn’t true.  Although both black and white Evangelicals share similar beliefs around Christmas, Jesus as Savior and Lord, along political lines they are just as divided.  Over 80% of white Protestant Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in last year’s election.  At least 80% of black Protestant Evangelicals voted for Hillary Clinton.  

If we factor in economic division, you will also notice there is a huge gap among blacks and whites.  The average household income for whites in 2014 was $71,300 and for blacks in 2014 it was $43,300.   

I could keep going, but I think all of you get the point. We simply do not see racial issues from the same perspective, and that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone.

Yesterday morning, my husband decided to go for a very early jog. It was close to 5 am.  I found myself becoming fearful, as I heard the door close behind him.  What if he looked suspicious to someone and they called the police?  What if the police tried to stop him but he didn’t hear them because his ear-buds were in his ears?  I literally had to turn my mind off from thinking negative thoughts.  It was just an early morning jog.  He would be okay.

Now, depending on where you live, your background, your race or your age, my experience either makes a lot of sense or no sense at all. The bottom line is it made sense to me and whether you agree that I had a legitimate reason to be apprehensive about my husband’s run, or if you disagree and think I am blowing things out of proportion, can you respect my experience?  I can respect you without agreeing with you. Sadly, we seem to have lost that ability as we rush to attack anyone that thinks or acts differently.

America isn’t divided because of what President Trump tweets or because of what President Obama said.  America is divided because we are different and we refuse to acknowledge, challenge, or accept those differences.  Until we choose to begin talking and listening to each other, we will keep maintaining our divisions in spite of who we elect to be president of the United States.

I’ve spent a lot of time in a series of blogs on Charlottesville talking about how we can promote change in America but here are a few other practical things we can do to really work toward unity.

  1.  Stop Looking to The White House and Lead from Home.  The racial problems we are facing began when we brought the first enslaved Africans to America in 1619.  We didn’t inaugurate our first president until 1789. As I’ve stated before, our country’s legacy of slavery and racism is much older than our country’s legacy of freedom and democracy.  Blaming presidents past, present, and future will do little to bridge the racial gap in our country.  Sitting down with someone who doesn’t agree with your views will be much more productive.  By no means am I exonerating the White House from responsibility as it relates to race relations.  I am just not optimistic that the White House will be the place that we see racial healing.
  2. Recognize that your neighbor probably shares different views on subjects that are very personal to you, and that’s okay.  Go back and read over some of the statistics that I shared earlier.  It’s very possible that your neighbor, coworker, teammate, family member, or friend may agree with you in some of those areas and adamantly disagree with you in others.  Disagreement is not a bad thing until you refuse to respect it.  Have you ever met spouses that agreed on everything?  If their marriage has lasted, it is because they learned how to work together in spite of their disagreements. America can still learn to work together, in spite of its differences.
  3. Find something that you can agree upon and begin the conversation there.  It is has been interesting to listen to military veterans supporting the NFL players that want to take a knee, and then listening to other military veterans refusing to support the NFL players that want to take a knee.  Both groups are sharing the same reasons for their different opinions: they fought to protect the flag.  Rather than pit one group of veterans over another group, why not agree that both groups think the flag is worth fighting for? I know it is just a small point of agreement, but at least it is a point of agreement no matter how small it may be.
  4.  Try as much as possible to speak from your humanity first.  The truth is as much as we believe that race is real, it doesn’t exist. We come from one race, the human race. Our humanity is what is at stake-not our race. If we neglect our humanity to defend our politics, our religion, or our social positions, we will just continue to grow further and further apart. That’s not the America I want to leave my children and I’m certain you don’t either.

 

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#Charlottesville Is Us, But We Can Change: The Finale

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I have three final suggestions as to how we can end the vicious cycle of division and racism that has so long plagued our country.  You can read Parts 1 and 2 by clicking here and here.

7.  Christians Have to Stop Segregating Themselves.  I truly believe that the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow, or even slavery would not have lasted so long if Christians would have stepped up to the plate and condemned the institutions, policies, and procedures that caused a body of people to endure oppression for a period of over 300 years.  If the collective church that boasts to be of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” can remain silent and divisive when members of the church are oppressed, mistreated, or abused, how can anyone take their message of unity seriously?  If Jesus died for ALL, but your Christianity only allows you to support those that look like you or have your political convictions, what should we make of your Jesus?  When Dr. King was asked what kind of challenges or mistakes he had made during his tenure as leader of the Civil Rights Movement he responded: “Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structure. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to white ministers, most folded their hands—and some even took stands against us (see full interview here).“How could those white southern ministers remain silent as their fellow co-minister of the Gospel, Rev., Dr. Martin Luther King, braved water-hoses, incarceration, the KKK, and death as he fought for the realization of his God-given equal rights?  This silence was not specific to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.  This silence is just as prevalent today in many churches on both sides of the color line and will continue to be prevalent until we decide to truly unify with one another rather than tolerate one another.  To remain divided on racial issues is to continue to cause great detriment to the body of Christ and it sullies the message of Christ.  Either all of God’s children matter or none of them matter.  Each time the church remains segregated along denominational lines, racial lines, political lines, economic lines, or social lines, a loud and public message is being to sent to the world about what really matters and who really matters.  If you are a Christian, what message are you sending the world about racism?  What message is your church sending the world about racism?

8.  Rely on Yourself for Education. This summer I had the opportunity to speak in a corporate setting about the history of Juneteenth.  I was amazed at some of the questions that followed my presentation.  So few people truly understand the economics, the politics, and the social dynamics of slavery upon our country. Perhaps your education system glossed over these subjects and unless you majored in U.S. History or specialized in the Antebellum Period in college, it is likely that you never had to encounter a class about slavery or the effects thereof.  Regardless of your education curriculum, there’s really no excuse not to have a better understanding of our country’s history in this day and age.  Google makes personal research finger-snapping fast.  There are excellent Internet tools, books, children’s literature, and magazines that can help bring insight into the racial history of the United States and how it has affected our country.  Refuse to be educated by cable news empires that capitalize off of keeping you emotionally charged about subjects they are never going to fully reveal.  It is not economically advantageous for news channels to provide the entire story because sensationalism and emotionalism-not truth and facts brings profit. You must become your own teacher and learn the entire story for yourself.  Once you’ve learned that story, teach it to someone else.

9.  Be Patient with the Process.  The racial division within our country did not happen overnight and we cannot expect the changes to happen overnight.  We have to be patient with the process.  Celebrate the daily strides you make to be the change you want to see.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you notice that old habits are changing slowly.  Change takes time.  Our future is predicated off of the decisions and actions that happen today.   If we all do our part, there is nothing we can’t do.  Right now, people from all over America are sending their resources to help victims of #HurricaneHarvey.  People are driving down to be a part of the rescue efforts.  Strangers are helping strangers.  Neighbors are checking on neighbors.  People who speak different languages and who have different skin tones are clinging on to rafts and boats to get to safety.  It is sad that sometimes it takes natural disasters to remind us of how much we need each other and how much we all have in common.  #Charlottesville is us, but #Houston is also us.  We all have a choice in which America we will create for our children and grandchildren.  Be patient with the process, and commit to change one day at a time.

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#Charlottesville Is Us, But We Can Change Part 2

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(7 minute read)

If you are following the news, social media, or break-room conversations, than you know that emotions are riding high over the racially-charged and violent events in #Charlottesville.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I am actually living in 2017.  The hate, the division, the racism shows no signs of stopping, however, my message remains the same. We can change.  Below are three more ways to become more unified and create a new era for the next generation.  You can find the first three ways by clicking here.

4.  Speak Up and Speak Out.  I truly believe that one reason racism and division persist is because good people remain silent or selfish. We either don’t say anything out of fear or we don’t say anything because we don’t want to mess up our social or financial position. Therefore we become complicit in creating environments like #Charlottesville. Things normally don’t get better with time and silence. Things normally only improve when there is confrontation, a fall-out of some sort, and swift action takes place. Silence is always the friend of racism and division.  Several years ago, I had a conversation with a department chair and they revealed to me that in the 20 years they had been affiliated with the program, no black females had ever returned to speak or encourage admitted students or given back as alumni of the institution.  The department chair was white and I could tell they sincerely wanted to know what was going on that made black women feel so uncomfortable.  I asked several questions and the chair answered honestly.  The chair asked several questions and I answered honestly.  There were several “a-ha” moments and there were some points of disagreement but the overall conversation was great.  One thing stayed with me long after I left that meeting.  I had asked the chair had they ever received any complaints or concerns from any of their students of color and the answer was no.  This really puzzled me.  If the experience in the program was so negative and unwelcoming that no black woman wanted to be affiliated with it any longer, why didn’t anyone complain?  20 years is a long time.  A few months later I was sitting at lunch talking about the PhD process with several black females who were at different stages in their academic journey.  They all basically gave me the same speech: “You will feel isolated.  You must work twice as hard.  Keep your head down, and just get through it.  Your PhD awaits you on the other side.”  It was good advice, and now that I am in the process of getting my own PhD, I understand exactly what they were telling me.  Yet, something still nags me about that advice.  It is the part about “keeping your head down.”  How many people get this type of advice and rather than contribute to change within an organization, they unknowingly guarantee that things will stay the same?  By keeping your head down, you will undoubtedly reach your financial, social, or academic goal, but what would it have cost you and what will it cost the people who come after you?  Folks kept their heads down while their Jewish neighbors were removed from their homes and transported to concentration camps.  Folks kept their heads down while four little black girls were bombed to death in a church basement on a Sunday morning. Keeping your head down may result in some good for you, but a whole lot of bad for someone else.  Speak up for others.  You never know when you will need someone to speak up for you.

5.  Befriend Someone of the Opposite Race.  Depending on your location or your age, making new friends can be challenging, but I encourage you to accept the challenge.  I also encourage you to go beyond a social media or text messaging friendship although this is a good start.  Embrace the discomfort and seek out someone with a different skin tone, belief system, or sexuality preference and befriend them.  Is there someone on your job, at your church, at the gym, or at your favorite grocery store that you keep running into?  Is it possible for you to introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and begin the process of getting to know them?  Can you invite someone to lunch-someone who doesn’t fit in your group and makes you a bit uncomfortable?   If you allow your assumptions to dictate who you will and won’t befriend, you will most likely miss some great opportunities, partnerships, and friendships.  Yes, it is always more comfortable to be around people that talk, think, and act like you, but this is also exactly why we have so much division and racism in our country today.  We refuse to move out of our safe boxes of agreement and engage with different viewpoints and life experiences.

6.  Stop Segregating Your Kids.   I know this one is a tough one.  But if your child grows up around people that think, act, and look like them, how will they ever be able to relate to people that are different from them?  Let me be completely transparent.  My family and I live in a very culturally mixed apartment complex and the complex has its own daycare facility which has been really convenient for us.  We don’t have to fight traffic or put the boys in a car to take them to daycare.  We merely push them in the stroller on a short 5-minute walk.  The daycare is the most diverse daycare facility I have ever seen.  My oldest son’s best friend is an Arabic boy from Saudi Arabia.  His mother, like me, is working on her PhD.  His other best friend is a little girl from China who hugs him every day. The boys adore their teachers who all appear to be non-native English speakers, and their teachers seem to adore them, but in spite of all this, Richard and I were not satisfied with their multicultural experience.  We wanted to find a daycare where they could be supported in their blackness and develop confidence in an all-black environment.  That is something that we have been discussing even before the boys were born.  We did not want them in a place where they felt isolated, ostracized, or invisible so although they were being exposed to various cultures, we preferred Blackness. We actually found a place that fit all of our requirements.  The owner of the daycare is black.  Almost all of the teachers are black.  Most of the kids are black.  It was a top-notch facility, with an awesome learning curriculum and extracurricular activities.  We had found our pot of gold, but really we hadn’t.  The more we talked, the more we realized that what we were attempting to do with our sons is what many people who are fleeing public schools are doing for their kids.  They are leaving environments that don’t fit or line up with their personal ideas or goals.  Now, hear me out.  By no means, do I think cultural support is not important.  I wish I would have had more teachers of color along my academic journey.  In my four years of undergraduate studies, I had one professor of color.  During my Master’s programs, I also only had one professor of color.  That is a problem.  I also think it is a problem that there are so few black males teaching in elementary and middle schools.  My husband and I are doing all we can to surround the boys with images of themselves in the books we read to them, the shows they watch on television, and the home environment we are creating for them.  Yet, we also have to start considering the consequences of our children growing up in silos. The world is vast.  It’s global.  It’s full of color and different languages.  Will your child be prepared to live and thrive in that world or are they being groomed to live and thrive in little boxes where they can avoid conflict, competition, and change?  Richard and I realized that what we do or don’t do in the home will have the largest impact on our sons.  If our sons have to constantly be in all-black environments to learn properly and feel good about themselves, something is wrong.  If the only exposure your children have with other racial groups is through television shows or the nightly news, what messages are being sent to them? The strength of our country has always been its diversity.  The girl on the ranch in Montana, the boy on the metro in Chicago, the girl on the farm in Texas, the boy on the beach in California, and the girl on the ice in Minnesota all have one thing in common.  They all represent the United States of America.  If you lose sight of this, your children will too and we will have to live through another #Charlottesville 20 years from now.

None of the changes I have suggested are easy.  As we speak, I am putting every single one of them into practice and the emotions I have experienced have been crazy.  That is why I also made the cover photo for this blog a picture of my sons.  When I look at them and consider the future I want them to have, I know that I have to keep pushing myself and challenging my own ideas.  It makes no sense at all that we are still talking about race in 2017.  Let us be the generation that changes that.  I believe it can happen, one person at a time.

 

Charlottesville is Us, But We Can Change

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(7-minute read)

#Charlottesville was ugly, embarrassing, horrific, outrageous, disgusting, violent, racist, and yet very characteristic of the nature of our country.  #Charlottesville is us and has been us for a very long time.  Yet, we can change.  We just have to decide if we want to.  When I look at my sons and think about their future and the type of America they will inherit from me and my generation, I definitely want to create change.  When they grow up and become men, I don’t want them grappling with images of white supremacist groups fully clothed in militia gear yelling “you will not replace us.” Likewise, I definitely don’t want them growing up having to convince other fellow Americans that their “black lives matter.”  An entire generation of men and women braved the KKK, endured lynchings, Jim Crow, water hoses, the murder of loved ones and verbal  and mental abuse so we could be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin and yet in 2017, we seem to be on the verge of repeating history.

One of the main reasons we are still dealing with the remnants of our past is that we are much more comfortable talking about the problem, blaming different groups for the problem, ignoring the problem, and hoping the problem just goes away.  It’s so much easier to remain on the surface of the problem.  And while we do those things, racism and prejudice persist. Dylan Roof was 21 when he went into Emanuel AME church and killed 9 people.  James Smith, the guy who rammed his car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, Virginia killing a woman and injuring several others, is 20.  Racism and prejudice are not dying out.  Instead its thriving and just coming of age.

Below are my first three considerations on how to counter the racism that seems so foundational to America. I have nine suggestions in total but to keep the blogs a reasonable length, I am only posting three at a time.  These first three are personal.  The next three are more public and the last three are collective.  If you can commit to doing just one of them, we will all be much better off.

1.  Deal with your own prejudice.  Before you post or refer to the oft-used Dr. King quote, “…hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that,” commit to dealing with your own prejudice.  All of us have to check our propensities to treat other groups differently.  How do you really feel about black people? White people? Gay people? Transgender people? Latino people? Dark skinned people? Light skinned people? Poor people? Rich people? Take some time to really think about your thoughts towards other groups that are different from you?  Do you truly see them as equals?  If a Mexican family moved in across the street from you, how would you react? If you found out your son’s favorite teacher was gay, what would you do? If a white man wanted to marry your black daughter, how would you feel? If a black female pastor replaces your retiring white male pastor, would you remain a member? In your personal quiet time, ask yourself how you really feel about other groups and deal with your own answers.  The only reason love drives out hate is because love requires truth.  Without truth, love becomes tolerance and tolerance will never drive out hate.  Tolerance only masks hate.

2.   Deal with your fear.  When the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished in America, new fears developed on each side of the color line.  White people, particularly in the South where blacks were the vast majority in some states, feared retaliation. They also feared the loss of social, political and economic positioning that the free labor of slavery had helped afford them.  To counter this fear, many laws and codes were enacted to make sure that freedmen would have to remain in subservient positions.  For example, after slavery was abolished, it was illegal for freedmen to be educated, to assemble together in public without a white person present, and it was also unlawful for freedmen to have guns.  (Please research Black Codes to learn more about these cruel laws).  This fear is also why the KKK was established to help ensure that blacks remained in positions of inferiority and under threat of imprisonment, death, or violence.  For newly freed blacks there were also fears that surfaced for obvious reasons.  First, there was the internal challenge of dealing with freedom for the first time.  Most freedmen had seen all of their ancestors die as slaves.  They would be given the huge responsibility to live under their own constraints with little training, little education, few mentors, and hardly any financial support.  Additionally, freedmen also lived with the fear of white supremacy.  Lynchings were common.  The KKK was rampant.  State laws did not protect people of color and juries rarely if ever voted in favor of a black person. Although free in form, in practice many freedmen were still under invisible bondages and shackles to Jim Crow. These were two sets of fears for two different groups.  For whites, the fear of retaliation and loss of position.  For blacks, the fear of violence, imprisonment, and of always being in subservient positions.  These fears arguably are still just as relevant in 2017.  #Charlottesville illustrates that.  The political rhetoric of today echoes that.  Philando Castille’s murder with no conviction mirrors that.  The fear of loss of self or position is so strong that it has blinded our country from realizing what we are capable of gaining if we would just look beyond our own skin tone. It is time each of us asked ourselves, “Why am I so afraid of that group of humans?” Why won’t I ask a person of the opposite race out on a date? Why do I refuse to greet the same sex couple that moved into my neighborhood? When the Arabic girl in my son’s school invited him to her birthday party, why did I make up an excuse to say no? What is so threatening about a black man walking down the street that I immediately clutch my purse and avoid making eye contact?  Admittedly, this is difficult. I am asking you to be vulnerable. I am doing the same thing with my own fears. After watching the countless videos of 13-year old Tamir Rice gunned down by police for carrying a toy gun, after watching Sandra Bland be taken to jail for no real reason and finding out later that she died behind bars, after watching Philando die on video as his girlfriend tried to make sense of what had just happened, fear gripped me like a plague. I found myself unable to sleep until my husband, who leaves to go to work at 3:30 in the morning, had texted me to say he arrived safely. My mind was full of fearful scenarios of the police stopping him, questioning him, finding him to be a threat and shooting him. My fears were real, justifiable, and consuming me mentally and emotionally. They were also changing me and I found myself building up a wall of resentment toward police officers, white people, Donald Trump voters, America in general. That’s no way to live. Fear is consuming and most dangerous is that your children will pick up on those fears as well.  I cannot say that all my fear has subsided as it relates to all these awful police shootings of unarmed black and brown bodies, but I am much better and I have learned not to let that fear control or dictate how I live my life. If you really want change, you will have to deal with your own fears first.  Fear always causes us to make the wrong decisions and draw the wrong conclusions. Fear made people put white sheets over their faces and burn crosses in their neighbor’s yards. Fear got Rosa Parks arrested for sitting in the front of a bus and not in the back. Fear made people write Jackie Robinson angry hate letters for hitting a baseball in an all white league. Fear lashes out at Colin Kaepernick for being unpatriotic while the same fear kept black soldiers from receiving GI bills for housing and schooling after returning from serving their country in world wars. Lastly, fear makes good people remain silent on bad issues. It’s your choice to deal with your fears. Just know they are dealing with you.

3. Stop dismissing, belittling, excusing, and ignoring the impact of slavery on America past, present and future.  The truth is slavery-not freedom-founded this country.  Slaves fought in the Revolutionary War.  Before America had gained its own freedom, it had been taking freedom away from others for over 100 years. Moreover, our first president, George Washington, owned over 300 slaves.  Thomas Jefferson, our third president, owned over 600.  Slavery didn’t just build the White House physically.  It built the White House politically.  It also shaped us religiously, socially, and economically.  To dismiss over 250 years of slavery in a country that only just celebrated its 241st birthday is absurd.  Our legacy of slavery is longer than our legacy of freedom.  To deny that legacy and to ignore it is to do so at your own peril.  We cannot heal what we won’t reveal.  We cannot create a new foundation if we won’t acknowledge and than dismantle our old foundation.  This is why #Charlottesville keeps happening.  We must address the elephant in the room called slavery.  You must personally take the time to understand the impact of taking a group of people (over 10 million) and stripping them from their homeland, their language, their religions, their culture, and their families. You must take the time to understand the racial relationships developed within our American ancestries…the stories of enslaved babies torn from their enslaved mother’s arms  and those same enslaved mothers having to nurse white babies that would grow up to be their new masters and overseers.  You must take the time to understand the impact of a newly freed black man trying to locate his two children that were sold down in Georgia, and the wife that was sold in Virginia so he could make a new home for them in North Carolina.  You must take the time to understand how the Bible Belt was also the home of slavery; how good Christian people whipped their slaves Monday through Saturday, and preached to them on Sunday.  Those pains, those contradictions are not easily broken.  You do not just get over generational tragedies.  Healing occurs when we face our past, not when we ignore it.  Yes, not all white people owned slaves.  Yes, not every black and brown person in America is a descendant of slaves.  Yet, neither did everyone fight in the Revolutionary War, yet we all like to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Being a true patriot is not just about acknowledging the good parts of American history.  It also means acknowledging the bad parts of American history.   #Charlottesville is us, largely because we have ignored the legacy of slavery and the racist foundation that it developed.  We can change it, but we have to individually stop ignoring it and wishing it would just go away. Are you ready to face the past legacy of slavery so we can create a new future?

I look forward to taking this journey of change with you and sharing my own challenges and successes.  In a few days, I will post three more ways we can reverse the effects of racism on our country.  In the meantime, I hope you will share things that you are committing to do to make this country truly the land of the Free and the home of the Brave.

Remember, be the change you want to see. Our futures will either reproduce the past or create a new future. It’s your move. Choose wisely.

Why I Love LaVar Ball, and Why You Should Too

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I have been approached several times by people that know me and some that don’t who are shocked that I am a fan of LaVar Ball.  Their faces change and they seem incredulous, but it’s true.  I am 100% on board with LaVar Ball and his sons and you should be too. Let me explain why.

First, we already have too many stories of black fatherlessness in the sports world.  In fact, it seems to be the media’s favorite narrative about professional, black athletes.  It goes something like this: Young, extremely talented superior black athlete, raised by his mom or grandmother, doesn’t know his dad, dad is in jail, dad passed away, dad is not in the picture, makes it to the professional level, buys his mom or grandmother a house, catches passes on Sunday, shoots 3’s on Fridays, makes a lot of money, everyone lives happily ever after.  The end.  Can’t we all fill in the blank with countless professional athletes that fit this narrative?

Then, comes loud-mouth, extremely confident, bold father and entrepreneur, LaVar Ball, and the media and people go crazy.  He’s too arrogant.  He’s ruining his kids.  He should be more humble.  Wait a minute.  Let’s think about it.  You are okay with the media retelling the stories of the fatherlessness of black athletes, but when a black man boldly supports his sons, loves his wife, and sets his family up for success, you have a problem with it? Why is that?

What exactly is LaVar Ball doing wrong?  Would you rather he had walked out on his sons and left them to their mother to be raised?  Would you rather LaVar be his sons’ pen-pal writing to them from prison in an attempt to make sure they didn’t travel the road he traveled upon?  Would you rather he stand in the background-way back in the background-while scouts, media, general managers, and sneaker executives scrutinized, criticized, and planned how they could best exploit the athletic talent of his children?

My husband made the following statement to me earlier today.  He said if you don’t have a purpose for your children, there are plenty of other people out there who will.  That statement carries so much weight.   Yet, people are criticizing Mr. Ball because he has a vision and purpose for his own sons. The business world is designed to devalue an idea or product initially so it can be purchased at a low price and later sold at a much higher price.   They capitalize by hoping you won’t recognize the value of yourself, your idea or your product and you will take the money and sign away your rights on the dotted line.  But the role of a father is different.  His job is to protect you while helping you figure out who you are so when the world comes to capitalize, you already know your worth.  Why are you so angry that Mr. Ball is striving to teach his sons their worth?

So because Nike says that they aren’t worth one billion dollars, Mr. Ball is supposed to cower and change his belief system?  Who is Nike?  Better yet, who would Nike be without Michael Jordan, Lebron James or Kevin Durant?  The same company that has made billions off the backs of black athletes, without ever investing economically in black communities, and showing little commitment towards issues that plague black communities, does not think LaVar Ball’s children are worth a billion dollars.  Why should Nike be able to dictate what LaVar Ball can believe for his sons?  Imagine the company Nike would be if all of its black athletes pulled out…would you even recognize their brand?  Yet, we criticize Mr. Ball’ for being unreasonable and we worship Nike for being a model and genius company.  Humm…

I was going back and forth with a close friend via text messages.  She just couldn’t understand how I could support Mr. Ball and his arrogance.   How could I support someone who said his son, Lonzo, was better than Steph Curry and who said that he, himself could beat Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one?  I told her that maybe he was going too far, and maybe he wasn’t.  What I do know is this.  Over confidence is much easier to fix than lack of confidence.  What if all the black guys that are incarcerated, hanging on street corners, or working in a redundant 9 to 5, were told by their fathers that they were the best things since sliced bread? That they could do anything they put their minds to?  That they could be the greatest rapper, engineer, scientist, doctor, business owner, artist, singer, or designer in the world?  And on top of all the talk, those same dads devoted their time, energy, and money into making sure their sons had the opportunity to build up their skills and perform at high levels?  How different would the same guys who the world has largely given up on, be if they had heard a few simple words from their dads: “I believe in you.”

Frederick Douglass said “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s why I salute LaVar Ball and you should too.   He has committed himself to building his children up, and in spite of the criticism, the naysayers, or their high-priced shoes, they will not easily be brought down.

Keep building, Mr. Ball.  Keep building.

 

The Gift and the Curse of Being the First: The Obamas

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In a few days, the Obamas will no longer be present. Like the presidents that have come before them, they will attempt to slip into obscurity to make room for the president elect.  I am sure we will hear from them, and occasionally we will see them, but the familiar faces that have dotted our television screens for the past eight years will no longer have the platform or the publicity that being the President of the United States afforded them.

It is all coming to an end. The cool, gait of our President casually and slightly skipping down the steps of Air Force One. The poise, charisma, and sista-girl essence that the First Lady carried all over the world.  The continual transition of Sasha and Malia from young girls to beautiful, young women will now be behind closed doors, away from cameras, and beyond the walls of the White House. Mother Robinson, having done her job as the surviving Matriarch of both families is going home as well. Like grandmothers in Black America have been doing for generations upon generations, she’s watched, listened, and carried the heart of her daughter, the hope of her son-in-law, and the growing pains of her granddaughters within her bosom.  And now, it is coming to an end.

Barack Obama Sworn In As U.S. President For A Second Term

We have all been witnesses to an era that many said would never happen: a black family in the White House-not as part of the cleaning staff, not as part of a visiting group of distinguished guests, not as the entertainment at the inaugural ball-but as the President, First Lady, and First Children of the United States.  You have to admit that it is laughable and Divine all at the same time.  Whether people liked it or not, Blackness would be on display in front of our nation and the world for 8, straight years.  The last had truly become the first.

As with most firsts, there are certain challenges that come with the territory.  There is much scrutiny and criticism, but little guidance.  There is much anticipation, but little awareness about what is to come.  There is the dilemma of trying to prepare for something you’ve never experienced.  There is also the pressure of the realization of how many people attempted to do what you have done and failed.  This is the environment that the Obamas as the first Black family found themselves in; and they lived within that environment with poise, integrity, character and grace.

Did they always do the right thing?  Of course not.  Are they above criticism? Never.  Could President Obama have done more politically?  Spoken out more personally?  Certainly.  But, let us not be so quick to lambaste the President without recognizing that he was the first.  Michelle was the first.  Sasha and Malia were the first.  And as the first, they have provided a springboard that will launch the next Black First Family even further.

Let us honor them for being the first. Let us honor them for enduring an America that uncloaked its racism from the very beginning and spread it all over their presidency.  Let us honor them for reminding America who we are and who we have always been. America has always tried to control the image of Blackness that would be disseminated on the air waves and via television. In increments they would air our successes and in excess they would reveal our failings.   But when the Obamas arrived at the White House, America could no longer control the narrative or the image of Black America. They were forced to deal with our Blackness in all its glory, in all its strength, and in all its resilience.

Yet, the first are easy to forget.  Ask Earl Lloyd. In 1950 he broke the color barrier in the NBA. 33 years later, Michael Jordan would enter the league. 20 years later, Lebron would be drafted out of high school.  Regardless of who you debate to be the greatest, they all must pay tribute to Earl Lloyd for opening the door. earl-lloyd

Earl Lloyd isn’t the only name that has faded into history. Before Oprah there was Madame C.J. Walker. Before Dr. Mae Jemison, there were the hidden figures of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Before Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniels.  Before Cam Newton there was James Harris.  Before Deray McKesson there was Bayard Rustin. Their Eyes Were Watching God long before The Color Purple.  

Every single one of us is indebted to someone who came before us.  Their sweat.  Their labor.  Their blood.  Their failures.  Their successes.  Their journeys.  We stand upon their shoulders. Their break-throughs have carried us and now they have carried us to the White House: The House that slaves built.  The House that secretly sired children from black servants.  The House that ignored lynchings and sanctioned segregation.  The House that pushed the progress of White America and turned a blind eye to the plight of Black America.  The Obamas were the First Family to reside in that House.   Hundreds of years of wrongs, could not possibly be righted within two presidential terms, but the foundation has been laid and it is sturdy, dependable, and most importantly it is irreversible.

#Salute

 

This Ain’t New. We’ve Been Here Before

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Being black in America means experiencing incredible highs and depressing lows. It means experiencing slavery, than emancipation, then reconstruction, then the lynching era, then Jim Crow, then the Civil Rights Movement, then institutionalized segregation, then Obama and now Trump. You see the pattern? After great victories, there are painful defeats. It’s not new. We’ve been here before. The methods may have changed, but the cycle remains the same: You are oppressed.  You are freed.  You are oppressed again. You are freed.  You are oppressed again.  You are freed.  You are oppressed again…you get the point?  This cycle is consuming, debilitating, historical, political, spiritual, and most of all it is capable of being broken.
That’s the good news.  In spite of all of the ups and downs that Black America has faced collectively, you don’t have to keep going around this volatile merry-go-round.  You can choose to stop riding any time you want.  Yes, we just elected a racist, misogynistic, divisive, arrogant, extremely privileged unapologetic white man to be the 45th president of the United States of America.  Yes, he is calling for more law and order while we grapple with the fact that the police that were called to serve and protect all Americans, keep shooting and killing unarmed black bodies with regularity. Yes, the KKK is coming out the woodwork to celebrate and get behind our new president, but none of those things, in my opinion, warrant deep discussion.  What we need to be focused on is how we can put ourselves and our families and thus our communities in a position to thrive within an ever-increasing threatening environment.  Below, are my suggestions for succeeding in spite of the challenges we face:
1.  Recognize You Live in America
America has always been structured to favor certain groups over others and historically our country has proven it will do that by any means necessary.  If it means stealing land from the Native Americans and then taking the least desirable portions of that stolen land and “reserving” it for the surviving people that they stole it from, America will do it.  If it means bringing enslaved Africans across the Atlantic ocean and instituting a system of slavery that lasted in practice for over 400 years, America will do it.  If it means putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps and seizing their homes, assets, and identities, America will do it.  If it means euthanizing young Black and Latino mothers throughout several states without telling them, America will do it.  If it means building private, for-profit prisons and filling them with black and brown bodies, America will do it.  America has proven time and time again that when it comes to maintaining its advantage, it will do it at your expense, at my expense, or anyone’s expense that stands in their way.  Ask the people out there fighting in Standing Rock what America is capable of.  Yes, it is disgusting, disappointing, disheartening, and devastating, but this is part of the package when you are a citizen of America.  There are a lot of freedoms and opportunities, but there are also a lot of restrictions and obstacles.  Knowing that will equip you not to be so shocked or devastated by the challenges.  In other words, control what you can control.  For the most part, we can control ourselves.  We cannot control America.
2.  Get Healthy
I need you to get healthy, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  It is hard to fight when you have to spend so much time fighting your self.  You have to deal with your hurts.  If that means getting counseling, get it.  We cannot continue to pretend to be strong, we must be strong and in order to be strong means being healthy.  Mental illness and depression do not have to define you.  Life is hard.  Life hurts.  Life can be heavy.  I have experienced it firsthand.  I know the pain of losing loved ones,ending toxic relationships, being betrayed and mistreated, but you can not build a home surrounded by your pain.  Actually, let me take that back.  You can build a home surrounded by your pain and that is happening within countless households all over the world.  Yet, in order to live the life that you truly wan to live, you will have to figure out a way to let go of your hurts and heal.  I know I am not mentioning much about physical healing because I strongly believe that if we can heal emotionally and mentally, we will eliminate most if not all of our physical challenges.
3.  Avoid the Compulsion to Blame White People
I really didn’t want to include this suggestion.  I didn’t want to be pegged as one of “those people that blames the victim.”  I didn’t want to be seen as an Uncle Tom or be confused with asserting respectability politics.  Yet in spite of all of these fears of being misunderstood, I have to urge you not to blame white people.  It is too easy and it is too divisive to do that.  Admittedly, white folks have done some jacked-up stuff to black folks.  The Tulsa massacre of all of those black people happened.  The Tuskegee experiments happened.  The Wilmington massacre happened.  Flint water crisis is happening.   Thinking about these things get me mad all over again, but to give my energy, my passion, my intensity to blaming white people rather than improving me is senseless.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the role white people have played in developing these systems of oppression, but as soon as I begin to blame them I lose.  By blaming white people for my predicament I make them not only responsible for my demise,  I make them responsible for my success. This means I am empowering them to not only keep me oppressed, but I am empowering them to give me their permission to be free.  No one, absolutely no one, needs to grant you permission to be free.
4.  Learn What You Need to Know
I can’t stress enough to you that ignorance has been the greatest culprit of Black America.  We simply do not know what we need to know, and we rely too heavily on outlets (school systems, television-news media, churches) that will never tell us the full truth.  Learning what you need to know is up to you.  Google, read, ask questions, interview people.  Just don’t remain ignorant.  A few weeks ago I attended a workshop and one of the participants shared how during her undergraduate studies, all Business majors had to interview a former alum in marketing, finance, and economics.  She said the business department wanted to make sure that each student was able to talk to someone from the inside before they made their decision about a major or career.  She continued by stating how often the alums would develop relationships with the students and keep tabs on them.  Wow.  Can you imagine how different your life might be had you had the chance to interview someone before choosing your major in college or choosing your career?  What might you have done differently?  What if you could interview a group of men in their late 60’s and 70’s and ask them to share with you things they wish they would have done differently when they were 25, 30, 35.  How could their responses help you?  I know there is a great satisfaction in figuring things out on your own, but do we really have time to keep learning from mistakes when we could learn from other people’s mistakes?
5.  Get Out of Debt
In America, black wealth barely exists. To compound this bleak fact, black college graduates amass much higher amounts of student loan debt when they graduate.  Of course, there are some systematic reasons why the wealth disparities and student loan debts are so high, but we can only focus on the things we can control and when we eliminate debt, we are in a much better position to control our destinies.  We are also in a much better position to help others when we are not bogged down by our own debts.  Michelle Alexander wrote a book entitled The New Jim Crow which focuses on how mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow system that strips black men from their humanity.  It’s a great read.  In terms of modern day slavery, I would say that debt is the new way to enslave people.  Although the process doesn’t happen overnight, nothing is more fulfilling than to be able to live a debt-free life and pass on to your children a financial DNA of debt freedom.
 6.  Give Back
Everyone has something to give that can help someone else.  Too many of us read or hear the word, ‘give’, and we immediately think of financials.  I want to ask you to broaden your concept of giving to include time, wisdom, and energy.  No matter your financial situation or your education level, you have something that can help somebody else.  People are waiting on your know-how.  Young mothers need to hear from older mothers.  Young fathers need to see older fathers.  Our youth are starving for attention.  Can you take the time to listen and engage them?  Can you give your encouragement to someone who doesn’t see any way out of their situation?  Who can you talk off of a ledge-a ledge that you once considered falling from.  Give your leadership.  We cannot keep waiting for the next Dr. Martin Luther King to save our communities when we are capable of doing it ourselves.  Give your leadership to your family.  Give your leadership to your community.  We cannot place the burden of rebuilding and directing our homes and communities to athletes, entertainers, and television evangelicals.  If we relax because Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, or Lebron James posts a message on Instagram, we have already lost our communities.  It isn’t because we don’t need James and Kaepernick to be conscious and vocal, but by virtue of their profession and the constraints on their time, we need people within our neighborhoods and communities to get involved and give of their time, talents, and resources.
All over the Internet people have been posting the famous lines from Kendrick Lamar’s hit song, “Alright“: “we gon be alright.” No disrespect to Kendrick Lamar and I actually like the song, but why do we have to be alright? When I ask someone how they’re doing and they respond, “oh, I’m alright.” I immediately interpret that as “I ain’t dead so I am okay” or I interpret it as “I really don’t want to tell you how I am doing, and this is as much as you get.”  Either interpretation falls short of good news.  I don’t want us to be alright anymore.  I want us to be great.  I want us to be focused.  I want us to be woke.  Alright has got us to this point, but all in will get us to the next level.  Let’s be all in as we navigate this new environment of racism and sexism that is being openly encouraged in our nation.  In spite of what it looks like, we can and we will be successful.
#RiseUp

 

Strange Fruit: The Remix

These police shootings of unarmed black men are modern-day lynchings. Like the brown and black bodies that swung from trees throughout the south, the lifeless, blood-stained, bodies slumped over our state highways and city streets send the same message: “Stay In Your Place.”

This is a very potent message and with each re-playing of the video-killings, the oppressor hopes that fear rather than courage will be the emotion that grips you. They want you consumed with how to keep your daughter, your son, your brother, your husband, your father from becoming a hashtag. They want that fear to consume you until rather than question the system that produces trigger-happy police, you will question the victim.

The media will help you by searching the victim’s past in hopes to find a record of some sort so you can unconsciously begin to distance yourself from the victim because he or she had a prior record or prior mental instability.

If that doesn’t work, you will become consumed with dialogue instructing you how to respond when stopped by the police. It will seem harmless of course and because you are afraid, you won’t notice that the same instructions being given to you to survive are the same instructions given to black people to survive the lynching era: “Do not talk back. Keep your hands where they can see them. Do not become hostile or appear angry. No sudden movements. Say “yes, sir” and “yes mam”.

To top it off, there will be no convictions. The videos will swing from post to post…from tree to tree, but there will be no convictions and the fear will be so palpable by this time that fighting the system will seem futile, hopeless, ridiculous. So rather than fight the system, you fight yourself. You struggle with your blackness and wrestle with your God-given desire to be seen as a fully, free individual. You question your DNA, your ancestry, your upbringing, your community, but you never question the system because FEAR demands your attention and prevents you from seeing the truth. FEAR demands that you criticize the Black Lives Matter movement for having the sheer audacity to fight. FEAR demands that you assimilate to whiteness rather than appreciate your blackness. FEAR demands servitude and you become chained to self-improvement: “If I just get another degree, make more money, live in that neighborhood, marry her skin instead of my skin, articulate instead of ebonicize, post a picture with my white friends underneath the hashtag, #alllivesmatter, maybe, just maybe I will be seen as worthy.”

It’s exhausting fighting FEAR.  Most people succumb to it.  They inhale and exhale it with their words.  They pass it on to their children ensuring the next generation will have to fight the same fight of FEAR rather than success.

Hangings, Videos, Trees, Asphalt, Lynch-mobs, Police, Nooses, Guns, Blood, Tears, Silence.

Don’t let fear win. Fight.

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What I’ve Learned from Prince

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Everyone has a color that makes them shine. Find yours and wear it well.

Get out there and be bold, courageous, proud, and passionate.

Refuse to settle for mediocrity.

Hone your craft.

Practice, perfect, perform.

Take risks.  Better yet, be risky.

Don’t follow the blueprint of mediocrity.

Create your own blueprint.

Dress to impress yourself.

Be generous with your talents.

Guard your privacy.

Recognize the difference in fans and friends.

Love passionately.

Don’t shy away from your faith, even if you’re ostracized for it.

Regardless of your stature, walk tall.

Start.

Fail.

Try again.

Grow.

Evolve.

You can take nothing with you when you leave.

Therefore, die as empty as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If…

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You talked about Charleston with your friends, but won’t talk with a member of another race and listen to their story, you are part of the problem.

If you stayed up late with your child to watch the NBA Finals, but you turn the television off and refuse to discuss Charleston with them, you are part of the problem.

If you felt for the families of the Charleston victims, but felt the officers who gunned down 12-year old Tamir Rice were justified in their actions, you are part of the problem.

If you sent condolences via social media regarding the Charleston massacre, but you continue to send black girls and black boys to the principal’s office 3-5 times more than you do your white students, you are part of the problem.

If you tell your parishioners to pray for Charleston, but refuse to preach on the current racism here in America, you are part of the problem.

If you honor Senator Clementa Pickney in his death, but disrespect President Barack Obama by calling him things like “boy” or “nigger”, you are part of the problem.

If you shake your head in shame at the senselessness in Charleston, but shake your head in agreement with politicians who want to amend the Voting Rights Act, you are part of the problem.

If your heart goes out to the people of Charleston, but you showed no emotions when Eric Garner cried, “I Can’t Breathe,” you are part of the problem.

If the blood in the pews at Emanuel AME bothers you, while the blood of Trayvon Martin on the ground in Florida caused you to lose no sleep, you are part of the problem.

If you quote Dr. King to help shed some light on Charleston, but refuse to fight for justice, you are part of the problem.

If Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons,  and Myra Thompson need to be remembered, but black people need to just get over slavery and move on with their lives, you are part of the problem.

If you love black bodies when they walk onto the football field, the basketball court, and the stage, but fear black bodies when they are walking down the street, you are part of the problem.

If you say Dylan Roof is an isolated incident of a hate crime, but the 245 years of slavery, and another 100 years of federally supported segregation were “just the way things were,” you are part of the problem.

Until we all do our part, we all play in our part in creating an environment in America that continues to breed hatred, continues to breed racism, continues to breed denial. The choice is yours.  Will you continue to be a part of the problem, or will you join all the people trying to be a part of the solution?

It’s your choice.  What’s it gonna be?

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