Monday, August 29, 2016

What Colin Kaepernick Learned From James Blake and Jesse Williams

I was standing there doing nothing — not running, not resisting, in fact smiling… the officer picked me up and body slammed me and put me on the ground and told me to turn over and shut my mouth, and put the cuffs on me.”
James Blake

When Muhammad Ali died social media was full of sincere thoughts and prayers for his family. Yes, the usual internet trolls called him a coward for his stance on the Vietnam war, but for the most part America pretended like he was a beloved figure. Fast forward a few months and many of those same people are now calling for boycotts and violence against Colin Kaepernick. This duality is a symptom of America’s complex relationship with race, history, and social activism. I know people who hate Kanye West and Cam Newton for the same reasons they love Donald Trump. Being an outspoken Black man is one of the fastest ways to lose friends and influence in America. That’s why I admire what Colin Kaepernick is doing. He saw how Jesse Williams was treated after his passionate speech at the BET awards earlier this summer and wasn’t dissuaded from using his platform to highlight the plight of Black men who aren’t as financially secure as him. Maybe Colin learned the lesson from James Blake’s very public wrongful arrest at the hands of the NYPD almost a year ago: no amount of money or social standing can protect your black body from a society that views Black men as less worthy of life than Harambe the gorilla.

“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t leveed against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.”
Jesse Williams

America has two preferences for Black activism. Activists who don’t disrupt the natural order of things and couch all of their critiques of White supremacy in the context of America being a great nation because we’ve come this far. These activists routinely get invited to sit on panels to explain (or soften) the positions people like Colin Kaepernick and Jesse Williams have taken. It’s too easy to call them Uncle Toms or to say they are cooning. I know some bourgeoisie black folks who sincerely want to make America a more united place, but they put all of the onus on Black people to accept a second class status instead of calling into question an American ideology that continues to place us there. The right-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on these voices; many left leaning and progressive groups are also fond of the kind of non-radical “blacksplanning” they offer. This form of activism can be very profitable. If you are a reliable Black ally doors can open for you. The other preference for a Black activist is dead. If you are dead, we will posthumously resurrect your legacy and make your courage an admirable quality. It doesn’t take a very smart person to see this hypocrisy. Either conduct your protest in a way that is acceptable or become an enemy.

If Colin Kaepernick’s goal was to further expose the hypocrisy of those who criticize movements for equality he couldn’t have done a better job. Many of the same people who have spent the last two years chastising Black Lives Matter for not being more like Dr. King are now condemning Colin Kaepernick for being more like Dr. King. When Blacks were sitting down at lunch counters we were called trouble makers, when we were boycotting businesses that discriminated against us we were called economic terrorists, when we throw bricks through windows were told we should express our anger in a more constructive way, when we write or talk about our plight we are called race hustlers, and when Colin doesn’t pledge his allegiance to a nation that hasn’t pledged its allegiance to him he’s called a nigger and burned in effigy. Any patriotism that calls for blind allegiance isn’t patriotism. If you are more bent out of shape about the way someone salutes (or doesn't) salute a flag than the systemic inequalities in our society, then you are part of the problem. This story, and our collective response to it, is symptomatic of the rampant nationalism and xenophobia pedaled by hate mongers on the right.

I would advise bourgeois Blacks to pay attention to how quickly America can turn on you. A few years ago people in Cleveland were burning LeBron James jerseys, Kevin Durant suffered that same fate a few weeks back when he decided to leave Oklahoma City, and now Colin Kaepernick is America’s newest villain. America’s love for you is conditional. If your desire is to be loved, you better be acceptable and keep your mouth shut about issues related to the Black community. America has very little patience for anyone who criticizes her.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Donald Trump: The King Who Could Be President?

French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan wrote that, “A madman isn't just a beggar who thinks he's a king - he's also a king who thinks he's a king.” His point being that anyone who has bought into our artificially created social structures enough to believe that their birth or social standing makes them a king is living the illusion the beggar is trying to create. We enter into the world blank canvases that society paints on. None of us chose our first language, our parents, the economic circumstances we were born into, or the inherent biases and privileges associated with our gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. We all got here the same way, but societal hierarchies guarantee us different paths to death. Being born to a single mother in the Appalachian Mountains doesn’t necessarily mean one can’t attain a place among the “elite” of society, but that path is markedly different from someone born in Manhattan to a corporate lawyer and an investment banker.

When Jacques Lacan died in 1981 Donald Trump was a 35 years old real-estate developer getting his first taste of fame. 35 years is a long time to experience anything. Someone subjected to verbal and physical abuse daily for 35 years would have a different outlook on life than someone who has spent the last four decades on the VIP list. Donald Trump is a manifestation of the king who believes himself to be a king. He has spent so much time surrounded by people who have a vested interest in making him feel special that he has an altered view of himself and the world around him. When he makes grandiose statements about being the “smartest” or having the “best temperament” he believes it. Being surrounded by “Stans” for so long has convinced him that not only is he qualified to be president, but that he deserves to be the president.

If you look at pictures of the wealthiest Americans some of those faces might be familiar to you because of the media coverage they’ve received over the course of their lives, but there are a lot of faces that won’t be easily recognized by a large portion of our society. These fortunate people still have anonymity. Yes, they get the best tables at the hottest restaurants, but when they go out- more often than not- they are treated like everyone else. They can fully participate in the hospitality industry at all levels, but they have to pay for the VIP experience. This matters because they aren’t fully isolated from the American experience. Michael Jordan is nowhere near the wealthiest American, but he can’t go to the mall without a security detail; whereas, Steve Schwarzman can put on an old ball cap, a Yale sweatshirt, some faded Levi’s and buy the mall without being noticed.

Donald Trump is, in a warped way, a victim of the way our society idolizes wealth and fame; he, like the Affluenza twins Ethan Couch and Brock Turner exist in a society that places a disproportionately high value on their lives. Donald Trump like many advantaged kids of his generation avoided Vietnam because their lives were deemed more valuable. While his strongest base of supporters (white males over 60) were dealing with the existential crisis associated with being drafted or fighting in Vietnam he, George Bush, Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, and a slew of conservative icons were partying in frat houses and “summering” in some of the most exclusive enclaves in the world.  

America is attempting to come to grips with the reality that the entitlement culture we hear conservatives talk about actually works better for those who are connected. This election is taking place at a moment when working class whites, across the political spectrum, are looking for someone to champion their causes. Donald Trump has filled that void for many, but sadly he hasn’t demonstrated the actionable intelligence to understand or remedy what ails them. We live in a country that weaponizes black and brown skin while it ignores white skin attached to poverty. The socioeconomic strife many Americans call home is fertile soil for the rise of a Trump like figure. Donald Trump is the answer (for some) to Black Lives Matter. Bernie Sanders tried to be a voice for the economically disadvantaged, but he lacked the sufficient amount of demonization of the cultural other for his message to resonate with voters who feel their lot in life has been made worse by Blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims.  

Donald Trump is the king who thinks he’s a king, but (at some level) we are guilty of crowning him. America has done a poor job of acknowledging the class structures that allowed an empty suit to get this far saying so little. Donald Trump’s current political standing says more about us than him. Too many Americans are looking for easy answers to complicated questions. This election has been part reality show, part bad joke, and part eye opening experience. This time last year we were all waiting for the serious season to start and guess what: we're still waiting.