Sunday, August 10, 2014

I'm Not Going to Write About Mike Brown

The body of unarmed teenager Mike Brown
 four hours after he was shot 10 times
by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. 

I'm not going to write about the murder of #MikeBrown in #Ferguson Missouri. The truth is: my Facebook "friends" and the people in my community don't care about arbitrary rule of law, police brutality or mass incarceration. A large portion of them will immediately ask: what was he doing? As if shooting an unarmed teenager 10 times could be explained. I live a peaceful life tucked away in a rural suburb away from the "others". An unarmed kid getting shot 10 times by the police is of no consequence to my peer group.

 I hope all of my Christian friends are comfortable today as they give thanks to Jesus for shedding his blood on Calvary. I'm naive enough to believe that blood was the same blood that inspired the 25th chapter of Matthew: 35-46. It's funny: Jesus starts with the least of these, yet we often avoid the very ones he called us to serve. We're passionate about the conflicts in the Middle east, yet ignore the genocide in our streets. This is the point in my rant where people stop reading and classify me as an angry black man. Well for the first time in my life I'm going to embrace that title. I'm mad as hell. I'm tired of watching the news and seeing kids killed by those who swore to protect and serve. This is where someone mentions violence in the inner cities. Well guess what: I hate that too. It's possible to do more than one thing at a time. 

This October there will be hundreds of functions around the country in solidarity with the stop mass incarceration and end police brutality movements. I have donated time and money for this cause, and will wear orange on the 30th as a show of my solidarity with this movement. I'm glad I don't have any children. How could I teach a child to respect and bow down to an authority figure who doesn't even respect their humanity? I know all cops aren't bad; likewise, I  know all black kids aren't angels, but I also know that if black cops were killing white teenagers at the same rate we would have solved that problem a long time ago. Why do you think we don't have an epidemic of black cops killing suburban and rural teens? It's not that black cops are better or more moral, it's because they know it won't be tolerated by greater society. Until we change the system it will stay the same.

Where's our righteous indignation? Jesus flipped out in the temple, that's the kind of Holy anger we should have about injustice in our time. I thank God for Christians like John Brown and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They weren't afraid of cutting against the grain. That blood shed on Calvary meant something to them. This rant is why I have very few friends. I would rather be by myself than buck dance and try to assimilate into a normative gaze that views me as other. I pray for the family of Mike Brown and all of the kids who will lose their lives in similar fashion.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Race Issues Part 3 Undervaluing Black Women

In part two I tried to focus on the psychological war being waged by some in the black community. I avoided discussing black women; the level of disrespect they deal with is of a different nature. I know black men who have never dated a black woman. They love their grandmothers, mothers and sisters, yet (some) show outward animosity if not downright contempt towards black women. If black men don't value black women why should anyone else? There's a small (and relatively voiceless) minority of men and women trying to refute the lies being told about black women, but their voices are muted by comparison.

Claire Huxtable was one of the most beloved characters on television. She was beautiful, professional and hard working. Although she wasn't your typical black mother she was more realistic than the women who dominate television screens today. Claire has been replaced by Real Housewives, Basketball Wives and a slew of lesser known "reality" show divas. Many of these woman have provided the worst images associated with black women in recent years. Blaming these women won't solve the problem. After their fifteen minutes are up a new starlet will fill the void. The entertainment industry (with help from the viewing public) has successfully commodified black female buffoonery.

Black women (like all women) are susceptible to the physical abuse that's prevalent in our patriarchal society, but they also fight negative labels associated exclusively with them: angry, hoochie, welfare queen and hoodrat. The most pervasive stereotypes associated with black femininity are negative. All of these stereotypes and images have worked to reclassify black women as being less desirable and substandard. Realistic images of black women on television have been drowned out by a fame and fortune chasing minority who have proven that fame and fortune are worth their souls.

We have a First Lady who is often described as unpatriotic, angry and a freeloader. The Ivy league graduate who routinely made a six figure salary in the years before she was the First Lady has been reduced to being an angry welfare queen. Black women have struggled to control their image in greater society. No matter how professional and competent they show themselves to be they still find themselves fighting for legitimacy. Every time a black woman does something outrageous in the public sphere countless other black women suffer. 

Many of the black men I know who exclusively date white women say they would date black women if there were more sisters "on their level"; the reality is: black women are more likely to be college educated than black men. Society has put such a premium on Eurocentric standards of beauty (blond hair and blue eyes) that for decades black women have used skin lightening creams and hair products designed to make them look less like themselves. Black men are partly responsible for this. We have believed the hype that we turned white women into a symbol of success akin to a Rolex or a Mercedes.  

If you go to any church in the black community you'll see black women doing much of the work to keep the doors open. Black women disproportionately fund the missionary and teach the bible school and Sunday school lessons. It's black women who raise the children when daddy decides he's had enough, yet with all they do for our community we (collectively) don't value them. There's a reason society won't respect our women and we've given it to them.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Courage to Dream: Why We Should Never Forget April 4th

J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a "notorious liar"; he also labeled him the most dangerous man in America. In his official C.I.A. file Dr. King's code name was Zorro. Every April 4th we observe the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the reality is that he died a hated man. Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders of his day lived with constant death threats and alienation from many of their own people. The revisionist history associated with the civil rights leaders of the 60's is typical of the way we (as a nation) deal with uncomfortable subjects.

After Martin's death James Baldwin left the United States. He said he couldn't take it anymore; Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin were his friends. He felt that he was the last one left. Almost 50 years after his death we have political parties fighting over who is the rightful heir to the King legacy; when in reality, he had sharp criticisms for both parties. His stance on the Vietnam war was seen as treasonous. Now, in our hyper patriotic culture the pastors and spiritual leaders actively support the war efforts as they play golf with the president. We've fallen a long way. Dr. King use to say, "I'm a cross bearer before I'm a flag waver." He felt every flag was subordinate to the cross.

I salute Dr. King for his courage and humility. Dr. King, like Gandhi and Oscar Romero, was a prophetic voice who paid the ultimate price for standing up against the mendacity and evil of the system they lived under. I too have a dream; one day, I will awaken and our spiritual leaders will embrace their inner Moses and push back against Pharaoh. One day our preachers will be more like Jeremiah and less like Peter.

I'll close with my favorite passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.