I See You Rekia Boyd…

rekia-boydI’ve just returned from an incredible, celebratory and relaxing time in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  I am not rich and nor do I have a glamorous lifestyle.  I had a little money on a credit card, some dear friends with a little room and a little imagination. And I realized that if I didn’t do something for my 50th birthday, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

But when I returned yesterday, I had a real wake up call.  I was struck by how invisible I felt.  Maybe it was the contrast of having been among such loving friends for a few days, but I could swear that no one met my eyes when I looked at them in San Diego airport; no one smiled back walking down the street in Hillcrest (touristy, white, gay neighborhood where I live); I was invisible.  And it made me feel raw.  It was such a contrast to how I felt in Mexico where people looked at me, spoke to me, smiled and even flirted with me.  I was alive and visible and I mattered.

But I don’t think its just that Mexicans are exceedingly friendly or that as a tourist, I was in high demand.  This is a United States problem.  As a black man, I am completely invisible much of the time, unless I’m perceived as a threat.  My black friends can attest to this. Every time I travel from or return to this country (and that is 5 passports worth), I get that reminder.  In fact, as I left for my weekend, I had my hair (dreadlocks) searched by TSA even though I was surrounded by white women with much more voluminous hair and easy-to-hide-things-in styles.  And when I questioned the agent (who was quite ironically a black man), he was honest and said “they don’t like the [dread]locks….”

And now I see the news of Rekia Boyd. It seems that no one was responsible for killing her.  No one was responsible for acting vigilante style while off duty. No one, mistook a cel phone for a gun; and no one fired that gun into a crowd putting a bullet in the back of her head. No one was reckless and no one was recklessly endangered.  No one did any of that, because no one sees Rekia Boyd. Like too many other black lives, male AND female, she is completely invisible in the eyes of the court, the media, education, health,…until, she is perceived to be a threat or a burden; then for as long as it takes a bullet to travel from the barrel of a gun, she becomes a haphazard target for a testosterone charged index finger that is trained to contract at the sight of black skin.

But you know what?  I see you Rekia Boyd…and God willing, many more of us see you too. And we are fighting to see more of you in headlines that don’t include the words “murder,” “victim” or “rape.”

I See You Rekia Boyd

I see you,
I see you Rekia Boyd
That night, thinking
“I’m alright”
That day, feeling
“I am loved.”

I see you…

I do not need to know you,
To see you,
Because once,
I was also 22
And just like you, I knew I was superhuman;
And funny wasn’t just funny
It was a riot…
And nights didn’t end
They became mornings…
And friends were forever,
And love was a weekend or two,
At least I hope that’s the way it was for you too…

But no worry,
I see you.

I see you,
Good choices and bad.
I see you,
In a crowd.
I see you,
Alone.
You’re alright,
You are loved,
And I pray
That others see you too.

I see you Rekia Boyd.

Gawker Article on Rekia Boyd Verdict

Voting Day

Just a reminder as people go to the polls that #blacklivesmatter…

On voting day,
Thanks to the casual Supreme Court erasure
Of 100 years of struggle for suffrage,
Tangled restrictions and loopholes
Will block the opportunity
For large pockets of American black people
To make their voices heard in a government
That originally wanted only 3/5ths of them anyhow.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On protest day,
In Ferguson, Missouri where a white police officer
Shot and killed a black teenager
And where the officer will probably walk free,
Tension will continue to simmer just below the boiling point
And nothing will be done.
It will not spill over, or truly ignite,
Once again, the intense heat will just burn itself out
From 400 years of battle fatigue.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On sentencing day,
A million black men will look across at each other
From ‘cells’ and ‘pens’
Hating each other hating themselves
For being made into animals by forced desperation.
An entire generation screaming for validation and truth
But they are left mute…their vocal cords cut
By a white system of “justice.”
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On vaccination day,
Liberia, distant and invisible, created from the guilt
Of the slave holding 5th US President Monroe,
Will continue to bleed thousands of black lives
Into fetid, dismal streets, decimated by Ebola.
This horror will miss the news cycle,
While a white nurse defending her “rights”
To ride a bike on a crisp, clean, clear Autumn day,
Is front page news.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

On Thanksgiving Day,
Black people will swarm the commercial circuses known as
Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Nordstrom,
McDonalds, Jack In the Box,
Searching for some way to reflect a true sense of self.
In the end they are forced to buy warped images
From the “anything-but-fun house” mirrors
Put up by a capitalist ring master
Who still only sees a price tag when he sees a black body.
…do #blacklivesmatter?

Do black lives matter?

White people…Do black lives matter?

Black people…Do black lives matter?

America…Do black lives matter?

World…Do black lives matter?

It is voting day,

But it is also judgment day.

#blacklivesmatter.

Black Male Achievement ≠ White Male Failure

Equal UnEqualScenario 1: Hair There and Everywhere

A white woman was shot to death this morning after an altercation with a black man at a lunch counter.  “She kept hitting me with her long hair when she tossed it” the man said as he was led away in handcuffs “They’re always tossing their hair, never minding who it hits and where if flies…and this one had one of those whiny, whiny voices and played with her food like a two year old…it was too much, I just snapped.”

This actually happened inside my head last weekend when I was having lunch in Los Angeles.  Seated at a counter, the woman next to me kept flinging her hair and droning on and on about some nonsense with a boy she was texting, while mashing a piece of pie into a vile baby food like paste; not easy to ignore in the close proximity of counter seating.  But as it was, this is a scene that I’ve been a part of repeatedly through my life, where a white woman with long hair thinks nothing of tossing it in my face, on my body, in my food.  I have learned great patience with this.  But to my knowledge, no one has pulled a gun on someone for this casual, though exceedingly personal rudeness.  It is a cultural behavior with built in assumptions: “all girls do that,” “she didn’t mean any harm,” “gee, its a little sexy”…all in all not considered a life threatening situation, despite being a direct invasion of personal space.  Yet, the state of Florida has once again been through a racially charged trial based on another kind of cultural behavior that somehow, has, once again been treated as a life threatening situation. Rest in Peace Jordan Davis.

Scenario 2: White Male Guilt

“Why does it always have to come back to race?” His face was a perfect picture of genuine frustration and vulnerability. “I mean, every time I hear about the economy from a person of color, I feel like I want to crawl under a rock.  It makes me ashamed of the color of my skin…and it makes me angry that I can’t disagree.  I feel helpless”

I have had several recent interactions like this with white men where they ask or say something to the effect of “can I do anything right?” and “why do I always feel guilty?”  and “why are white guys always wrong these days?”  What is most surprising is that these are the liberals; progressives who are supposedly living lives that are dedicated to social, racial and economic justice.  I read a lot of blogs and online content and often when a piece involves statements about colonialism or inequality and race, there is increasing backlash in the comments from white men who feel vilified and targeted as being the source of all cultural ills.

Scenario 3: A “Black” President

President Obama is poised to launch the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative.  This is not only a first in American history by specifically targeting improvements for men of color from a National perspective, but it is seen as a fitting legacy for the country’s first black president who is uniquely positioned to leverage his own identity to address the United States continuing challenges around men of color.  Praised by most progressives, there is also backlash from predominantly white groups who feel this is too narrow a focus for a US president and also some from women’s activist groups who feel there is already too much focus on outcomes for men.

President Obama has made it clear that one of the legacies he will leave will be to have made a commitment to helping black men counter the institutionalized cultural barriers and hurdles that still linger in our national consciousness.  Although he is mixed race, he identifies as a black man and sees an opportunity to leverage this social location into real and positive change.  But already there are ugly attacks on his Presidency and threats to his and other black men’s personal safety for highlighting this work.  Part of me wonders how is this different than George Bush and his commitment to faith based communities based on his identity as a Christian?

Where This is Heading

I lay out these scenarios because I believe that they are the formula for a perfect storm.  We are facing the very real prospect of a true revolution unlike any we have seen before and one for which, in our techno driven, isolated, “me centered” existences we are ill prepared.  As a nation, we have never before faced a critical mass of empowered people of color and marginalized populations who were not so much asking for change in the cultural narrative about equality as they were making the change.  In California alone, there are community organizations that are pointing toward redefining the place for indigenous sensibilities in the lives of young men of color; organizations that lift up the unique relationship between Latino communities, parents and LGBTQ people; others that are dedicated to new educational models for young people of color or re-imagining how people of color can access healthcare through school communities…the list goes on.  These organizations represent the result of cultural fatigue of asking but never receiving from the dominant hierarchies, from the government systems and agencies.  The result is marginalized people and specifically people of color representing their communities in state and local legislature and making changes that will help the people they come from.  The history of missed opportunities for people of color, is part of the fabric of what this nation comes from and goes right back to the beginning.  The best example is how the founding fathers of the United States had the opportunity in early drafts of the Declaration of Independence  to significantly alter the prevalence and conversation around slavery in the fledgling country (see full text HERE).  However, it was determined that this language would imperil the success of securing independence over all.  Basically, dealing with the injustice of slavery, took a back seat to the priorities of the white landed men who were more concerned about separation from British rule and protecting their own interests.  People are through with waiting.

But there is a bigger lesson here.  The title of this entry is “Black Male Achievement ≠ White Male Failure” (if you are unfamiliar with the “≠” symbol or your computer doesn’t display it properly it stands for “does not equal.”)  In the fight for rights in America, we are at a crucial point.  Those fighting for rights are no longer looking at success as being defined by the standards and approval of the dominating culture (largely white men.)  And as a result,  instead of looking at polarizing in-equalities we have to explore unifying equalities that exist in a broader cultural landscape and increasingly varied social locations.  Where the language was once “level the playing field” and “war on: poverty, sexism, racism, etc.” (language that subtly implies winners and losers) the language must now speak of community, interdependence and universal balance if we are to actually avoid negating (or worse obliterating) one another all together.  The “stone soup” analogy fits here: independently, we will starve; blending our ingredients together, we will all be nourished.  Therefore, the “enemy” (if you subscribe to that language) is not just white and male; the real enemy is anyone who has adopted and perpetuated the attitude from colonial culture that excluding “the other” for more selfish opportunities is a positive thing.  Adopting an attitude of “I’ve got mine” is cultural violence that ultimately will not sustain progress.  Shockingly, the “I’ve got mine” violence usually takes the form of silence.  Yes, the violence is conservative white politicians changing the landscape of voting rights, and the violence is in “Gay Jim Crow” laws in Kansas.  But the violence is also in white LGBTQ silence on issues of race and African American silence on Immigration rights and Asian American silence on issues of financial disparity and minimum wage increase.

So in the end, would I be justified blowing the brains out of a blonde for flinging her hair at me? No.  Is a white man justified for killing a black kid who’s music was too loud. No.  Are white men always wrong. No.  Are black men always right. No.  The only way we can actually know one another is by sharing real relationships with each other without value judgements and comparisons.  My gayness does not diminish your straightness; her Judaism doesn’t diminish your Islam; and indeed, black male achievement does not mean white male failure.  There is plenty of room at the counter and plenty of soup for all of us.

A Lesson in Figure Skating and Black Men

IMG00275-20090703-0856

Squaw Valley…and my off ice spiral.

Dear Robert Samuels of the Washington Post,

Although I appreciate the observations in your recent article “I’m black.  I’m a guy. And I’m obsessed with figure skating” – Washington Post Online, January 30, and I also appreciate how challenging it is to be a man of color working for the Post, your perspective as a black man loving figure skating is neither newsworthy nor unique. You are definitely not the first black man to be a fan of figure skating.  In fact, in addition to other black men being fans, there have been and continue to be black men and women actually in the sport.  But I have to also realize that you, along with many others may not be aware of the depth and breadth of the history of blacks in figure skating in America.  So, with all good intentions, here are a few of my own observations as a fan for over 45 years.

Today, in Culver City Californa, an era comes to an end.  On February 2, 2014, Culver City Ice Arena will close.  Along with it, the dreams of many a child who usually wouldn’t have access to even knowing about skating of any kind.  I discovered Culver City Ice when I moved to Los Angeles in 2000.  I had started skating (as an adult) while living in Toronto in 1996 and had managed to keep up the sport.  My first impression of Culver City Ice was that it was run down (the ice had a distinct dip toward one end.) But there was a charm that is summed up by the “Sweetheart of the Ice” sculpture that adorns the roof and by the warmth of the instructors, some who had been teaching there since its opening in 1962.  The other thing that spoke to me were how many kids of color were on the ice.  It was the first time in all of my years of following figure skating that I had seen that many kids of color on the ice.  One of the first people I met was Catherine Machado, US National Bronze medalist (1955, 1956) as well as the first Latina national champion (Junior, 1954.)  She was funny and wry and so unassuming, I didn’t realize her history.  I remember her telling me that one reason she loved this rink was that, although she loved all her students, Culver City attracted the kids who looked and sounded like her and it was important for them to see a role model.  But I digress…

Culver City Ice was not only where I first landed an axel jump (thank you Gary Visconti) but where I met Atoy Wilson, the first African American National Champion (Novice, 1966) and the first African American to skate in the National Championships (1965) and former star of Ice Follies, Holiday on Ice and numerous appearances on television.  He introduced me to a world of black figure skaters who to this day continue to be sidelined by a sport that is plagued by both racism and economic elitism.  Through him, I learned about and was fortunate to meet incredible athletes: Franklyn Singley, Sheliah Crisp, Derrick Delmore, Aaron Parchem, Andrea Gardiner, Rohene Ward, just to name a few…not to mention legendary figures like Debi Thomas, Richard Ewell and  Tai Babilonia. These skaters, represent some of the most phenomenal talent to ever land on the ice.  At a 2002 gala in Cleveland, I saw them perform spins and jumps that don’t even have names in the mainstream sport; I witnessed a level of athleticism and artistry with these skaters that puts anything that most of our national competitors do to a sorry shame; and I encountered a passion for the sport that transcended the cultural barriers that were routinely put in their way by “the establishment.”

The most important introduction, however, that came to me from Culver City Ice Arena was my introduction to Mabel Fairbanks.  Fairbanks was a black skater and coach who came up in a time when it was impossible to be a black woman and be a skater, let alone a black woman from Jacksonville, Florida. Arriving in New York City in the 1930’s, she saw figure skating, most notably the movie “One In a Million” with Sonja Henie, and was hooked.  Although she was most likely in her early 20’s when she started, she found a way to teach herself and wangle lessons with then US Champion Maribel Vinson Owen and eventually create small ice shows around herself in Harlem using all local children as talent.  After some important publicity in New York, the prospect of a movie career called her to Hollywood, but due to racism and questionable management, it was not to be so.  But this didn’t stop Mabel.  She began performing a “tank show” (small patch of portable ice), created an international tour with skaters of color and most importantly started coaching.  She worked with the children of many celebrities through the 1950’s and eventually went on to coach Atoy Wilson who I mentioned above.  She was the reason he broke the color barriers at both the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and US Figure Skating Nationals.  It was around this same time that she looked at a little white boy and a little Filipino/black girl and said something to the effect of “I think they would make a nice pair” and put Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia on the ice together.  Needless to say, the rest is World Champion history.  Due to her failing health at that time, I only had the chance to speak directly to Mabel briefly on the telephone, but I will never forget her delicate and determined voice even in illness saying how important it was to make sure that ALL the skaters get a chance.  She died in 2001.

I could go on, but there is a more important element to this story.  I started by saying that with Culver City Ice closing, so are the hopes and dreams of many skaters who won’t have access to the sport of skating whether that be figure skating or hockey.  Most of those kids are of color…and most of them don’t know the depth of the history of skaters of color outside of those of Japanese, Korean and Chinese decent (all of whom are phenomenally talented and deserve all the praise they get…Mirai Nagasu!)  Culver City Ice is on the border of several poor communities where one of the only low cost fun family, teen activities is ice skating.  What a loss.  I remember being a child in New York City after seeing Peggy Fleming skate at the Olympics and wanting more than anything to “do that.” My parents indulged me briefly by taking me to the Sky Rink once, but it was too far away and too costly. The message was clear.  Little boys…particularly little black boys, don’t figure skate.  How lucky the kids of Culver City have been, to skate in the home of the All Year Figure Skating Club in a place that was easy to get to on a bike or by bus.  There might have been some little black boy skating there thinking “I’m going to be the one to stand on the top of the Olympic podium.” Now we will never know.

With Peggy Fleming in 2011

With Peggy Fleming in 2011

While I was at Culver City, not only did I have the chance to skate with National Champion, Gary Visconti and Olympic Champion Bob Paul, but I had the chance as a former Broadway dancer to share my love and knowledge of dance with a few young skaters of color.  I am insanely proud that I had the chance to work with the young Tetona Jackson who later went on to be the first to portray Disney’s first black princess, Tiana, in Disney on Ice.  The legacy of black and brown skaters continues even today despite the barriers that remain both through finance and through the limited vision of many judges and coaches in the sport.

So, Mr. Samuels, again, I support you as being passionate about the sport of figure skating.  So am I.  So are all the people I mentioned above.  So are many, many other people, men and women, boys and girls, all of them people of color in this country and abroad…and all of us are considered outsiders.  Our voices have been crying into the wind and being unheard for years.  They de-fund our learn to skate programs, they keep us off the podium (or at the very least off the top spot…hello Surya Bonaly!) and they close our rinks.  The real story here is not about a black guy who likes to watch figure skating.  The real story is about all of the black guys who have been shut out of being on the podium or even in the competition throughout the history of the sport.  Let’s hear about that huh?

Pundit

It must be nice up there.  It must be nice to be able to look wryly at our cultural missteps and loosely identified foibles and chuckle.  It must be nice to say (from afar) “gosh, that one sure got the short end of the stick…ah, ah, ah, ah, ah…”

Yes, lawdy, it must be nice to sit up there with your degree and your opportunity and maybe even your own story of overcoming adversity and poke fun at po’ l’il Mississippi.  The only problem is that there is nothing nice about this:

Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity at 35.3% of total population … and ranks last in the most number of categories. These include highest rate of child poverty at 31.9%, highest rate of infant mortality at 10.3% lowest median household income at $35,078, highest teen birth rate at 71.9 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 and highest overall rate of STDs. Phew. (Policymic/ What’s the Most Screwed Up Thing…/ Chris Miles/ http://www.policymic.com/articles/64665/what-is-the-most-screwed-up-thing-about-your-state-check-this-chart)

When it is so closely tied to this:

Mississippi’s Black population was 1,111,856 in 2011 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The actual percentage of African Americans in Mississippi was 37% which makes it the largest percent of African Americans of any state in the country.(Blackdemographics.com/ http://blackdemographics.com/states/mississippi/)

What’s a pundit to do? For one thing a pundit could acknowledge that taking pot shots at serious failings in our culture is a dicey business.

It is clear from Chris Miles’ piece, “What’s the Most Screwed Up Thing About Your State” that we spend too much time with our tongues in our cheeks.  It is impossible to speak clearly and you will surely bite your tongue.  I think it is unfortunate that he didn’t include that Mississippi often ranks lowest or next to the lowest in education (Huffington Post/ 2011.) But maybe that would be just putting insult to injury.

I am not saying that its not okay to be funny; that is what social commentators do sometimes.  But this might just be a bit like making that tired joke about Asian drivers without being Asian.  Humor is something that is born out of some degree of truth; the best comics in the world will tell you that the biggest laugh is when you are genuine and authentic with your material and with your delivery.  But there is something brittle and a bit haughty about this piece.  I imagine people who work in cubicles reading this over their first morning coffee and having a laugh because they come from Ohio or Utah…or they had a significantly longer commute getting to Manhattan than 30 minutes.  However, I was once told by a comic that the best barometer of humor is whether or not you could tell the joke to the person who is the butt of that joke and they would still laugh.  Somehow, I don’t think Mississippi would be laughing at this at all.

History

First Lady Michelle Obama meets with campaign supporters   - VA

Michelle Obama recently traced her white ancestry…

This post is part of a series this week that will honor the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

– For Kimberlee – 

So the other day, a young black friend of mine posted on her facebook about being African American.  She had been asked “what African?” and of course she doesn’t know what the “African” part was because, as she said, well, she’s African American and we basically don’t have any history of our “African” ancestry.  It got me thinking…it is very, very true.  Many people have been oppressed throughout the history of America (both North and South) and particularly in the history of the United States.  The particular brand of colonialism that gave birth to our nation was pretty much all about standing on the backs of whoever was handy.  But in that history, only Africans were sytematically separated from their history and culture by the oppressing majority.  The Irish immigrants were scoffed at and beaten but were allowed education; the Jews were ghettoized and restricted in their movements but continued to practice their faith; Native Americans were outright slaughtered but they fought to the death maintaining their cultural beliefs and practices.  But Africans were denied their language, their religion, their customs.  In fact Africans were stripped of nearly everything except their usefulness as labor.  Referred to as soulless heathens by white society, the accepted concept of the African slave was that they were brutish blank slates and any “culture” they possessed was worthless.  The result of this is that today, those of us who can identify as “African” American have no idea what that actually means.  We carry the pigment and other physical characteristics, but we are absent of that original culture.

So what does that leave us?

On one level it leaves us with young black people who grew up in this world with no sense of belonging or feeling as if they had something great to aspire to that belongs to them; they’ve assumed that they will always be “the other” and vilified; their only future is in what they “take” from society that is made for and by “the man.”   They live on the margins of society with maybe a glimpse here and there of something called success, only to see it taken away or held just out of reach.

But maybe there’s another way to look at it…

When our “African” history was obscured, and when we were raped and shuffled around and traded like so much grain, true to anything as resilient and old as the human race, we were still fertile…so fertile that even in a place with no soil and no nutrients, we grew.  We grew not just in terms of finding and equaling our education, not just in terms of flourishing creatively, not just in terms of discovering our political and communal strength, not just in terms of evolving spiritually.  We grew as a brand new and unique race with a unique set of potentials that is still waiting for us to acknowledge.  Like jazz music, we were a blend of everything we carried in our genetic code, plus all of the hardship and obstacles put in our way.  Eventually, we had to ignite.  We are not just “African” Americans, we are Native, Irish, German, Spanish, Asian…and we are the only ones who can truly lay claim to being all of those things…the embodiment of the melting pot.  We are the worst nightmare of colonial European cultures that prided themselves on racial “purity”…we are the combination of all of the strongest parts of all of the cultures that have mixed here in the United States; and we are irrepressible.

I had a lovely conversation with a friend recently where we were talking about potential.  We were discussing how some people can look at someone based on one world view and see them as a “waste” of potential.  On the contrary, potential is never wasted.  Potential is a well that is always ready to use.  Each time you access any part of that potential…any time you dip into that unfathomable reservoir of ability, you will pull out something that is far beyond what those with less potential are capable of achieving.  Whether it is Nobel Prize winning diplomacy or cooking dinner.  This is how I view the black American; a people who contain the richness of many cultures, visible in skin and facial features, but also language, faith, creativity, aptitude and a host of unmeasurable gifts.  These aren’t wasted.  They are present and ready to use at any moment in time.  It is simply up to more young black Americans to use them.

The different and distinct cultures that people lift up and identify with so strongly are beautiful and deserve their spectacular place in our modern society; but so does the melting pot “African” American. So to Kimberlee, I say, yes, you may have no idea where your “African” really comes from, but you have something that is completely unique.  Think of yourself as the “Jazz American.”  You can swing and waltz; you can paint and calculate; you are mother and father, child and parent.  You are the dynamic blending of all of cultures that are gathered here as one.  You more than anyone, own this American experience and with it you can change the world.

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

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