Tag Archives: Black people

“Why does it always have to be about race?”

9267368072_11533350da_zI have been unsettled about the George Zimmerman verdict since it was rendered Saturday night. I’ve bounced back and forth between anger and disappointment. It’s not that a “Not Guilty” verdict was a surprise, it’s that the offense that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is, by nature, hard to prosecute. How do you put a person’s subconscious on trial? How do you prosecute an entire mythology that profiles Black boys as probably dangerous and probably up to no good?

Why does it always have to be about race? Because race is a factor. Race has value attached to it, and ignoring that reality is a privilege. I know some of you will say, what privilege? I’m white and I don’t get anything extra because of it. I disagree. What you get is to belong everywhere. You get to avoid the specter of suspicion brought on by your mere presence in a place. You get to just be.

Why is it always about race?  Because since the beginning, race has informed the structure of our institutions and our policies. But we pretend to be color-blind. This way, we don’t have to wrestle with the disparities that exist between Blacks and whites at almost every level of existence, nor the subliminal messages we receive from media about criminal pathologies to which Black Americans are genetically predisposed, I guess.

Why does it always have to be about race? Because this color-blind society of ours affords some of us a presumption of innocence and paints others with the presumption of guilt. The 1947 doll test and subsequent studies showed that, subconsciously, brown skin is akin to menace. That’s the offense. You could never get the Zimmerman jury to believe that the menace in this situation was George Zimmerman.  He was the creepy one.   Did they ever consider that George Zimmerman was suspicious to Trayvon Martin?  Why was that such a stretch of the imagination that the Prosecution would need to lead them there?  Zimmerman had the arrest record for domestic violence and the loaded gun.  Yet, he gets to be suspicious and the unarmed Black kid gets to be the suspect.  He is wrong, but the law protects his bad inference.  It was lose-lose for Trayvon Martin the moment George Zimmerman encountered him.  There is no justice in that, in life or in death.

So what now?  I’m not here for marches or rallies or riots because, well, I’m over that. I’m also uninterested in wilfully obtuse conversations about reverse racism or the indignity of ‘cracker’ vs. the indignity of ‘nigger’. I am interested in honest discussions about race. Ask me questions, challenge my assumptions, and allow me to do the same. I’m willing to confront race and acknowledge the differences because my Blackness is not incidental for me.  I am not color-blind and I admit that being Black informs my worldview. Similarly, you have to admit that not being Black has informed yours. After watching Juror B37’s interview last night, it is clear that some people have no experience with Black people, save the stereotypes from media or the music they listen to.  We have to change that.  Start by engaging the conversation.  Listen more than you speak.  Understand that you are not representative of the whole.  Understand, too, that you may not be racist, or you just may not know it.

Lastly, two things: First, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal was an anomaly. I’m not sure if Black people thought he was innocent, or if we were just tickled to see the system work in a Black person’s favor, petty as that seems. In contrast, George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a page right out of a Black history book. No Black people on the jury and no acknowledgement of the role of race as an aggravating factor. Only in the absence of context are these two cases similar. Second, miss me with the ‘don’t be mad about Trayvon if you aren’t mad about Black on Black violence’ meme. Jamelle Bouie’s piece, “The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime,” notes that the large majority of crimes are committed by people who know each other or live near to one another. This means that if Black on Black crime is a thing, then so is white on white crime, as 86% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Still, even if the proliferation of Black on Black crime wasn’t a myth, don’t police my emotions. Black people can decry street violence and the targeting of our young men at the same time. And even then, again, only in the absence of context are these two incidences the same.

I said all of this to say: If you find yourself asking why certain conflicts “always have to be about race,” recognize that privilege is not having to know the answer to that question.


A Word About Trayvon Martin

Allow me to present the facts:

Unarmed 17-year-old male walks home from a 7-Eleven in the rain in Sanford, Florida. He carries a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea. He’s wearing jeans and a hoodie.

A volunteer neighborhood watch captain calls the police, telling the operator that he spied a “real suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about…”

The dispatcher tells Mr. Neighborhood Watch – now in pursuit with a 9mm handgun – not to pursue the guy. They on it; they got it.

But he does. And a squabble ensues. Mr. Neighborhood Watch shoots. Unarmed 17-year-old male is killed. Shooter claims self-defense.

Now let’s color in this outline.

The male’s name is Trayvon Martin, a skinny Black kid weighing 140 pounds. An A-B student. Had no criminal record.

Mr. Neighborhood Watch is George Zimmerman. He is 28, a big guy; he weighs about 250 pounds. Folks say he was pressed to be a police officer. He was a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain. He’d called the police 46 times in the last 15 months. According to the Huffington Post, Zimmerman had been the subject of complaints from his neighbors about his aggressive tactics. His neighbors also claimed that Zimmerman, a white dude, was “fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.” Fixated on crime? “Focused” on young, Black males? This cat didn’t have no authority to do shit. He was “fixated on delusions of grandeur, and focused on being a fucking dick” is how that should have read.

But this isn’t just about George Zimmerman’s inability to deal sufficiently with his dreams deferred, and turning into the over-aggressive community hall monitor as a result. Zimmerman bet on a racist stereotype and came up wrong. Way wrong.

For the moment, I’m not going to play the “if Trayvon was white” game with you. The injustice in this case is that George Zimmerman is protected – by law – for his bet on a racist stereotype. And Trayvon Martin is dead because of it.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” law allows folks to play cops and robbers with real lives and real guns. And sure, you may be able to find a justifiable reason for vigilantism like Carl Lee Hailey did in “A Time to Kill.” But in George Zimmerman’s case, from the very outset, the wrongdoing is his own. He killed a guy who was unarmed because he had this line of reasoning: Black guy –> “just walking around” in my gated community –> suspicious.

*ding* *ding* *ding* There’s your problem. Institutional racism is psychological. It sneaks up on you; it sneaks up in you.

To be sure, one could make the case that the law itself has some issues.  But I’ll be honest with y’all:  if it was Trayvon Martin or Robert Downey, Jr. breaking into my house in the middle of the night, I’ma want “Stand Your Ground” to protect me if some shit pops off. That is if, in fact, Trayvon Martin or Robert Downey, Jr. was breaking into my house. In fact. Not figment of imagination.

Zimmerman’s psychological prejudice against that young man, coupled with his police officer fantasy, allowed him to profile Trayvon Martin without a second thought. These practices, racism and racial profiling, are both lazy and dangerous, as this case so clearly proves.  They rely on presumptions of guilt based in weak, opaque information.

The suspect is or might be a young Black male who is or might look between the ages of 16 and 35, and is possibly wearing a shirt with button on it.* Put out an APB to patrol and tell Zimmerman over in Sanford to be on the lookout.

With a little investigation, “the suspect” may later identify himself (because he’s still alive, you see) as:

Trayvon Martin;

Amadou Diallo;

Oscar Grant; or

Sean Bell**

…for example.

They could clear up the misunderstanding, and force “security” to work smarter at its job. They could force it to rely less on fear, which can be a terribly irrational emotion, as sole judge and jury.

We don’t know exactly what transpired between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in the seconds and minutes between 911 calls. What we do know, thanks in part to the 911 recordings, is that it was Trayvon Martin who attempted to defend his life by howling for help. And it was George Zimmerman who had the criminal record, the gun, the weight advantage, and presumably, the strength advantage. Yet, the boy is dead, and George Zimmerman’s irrational fear, according to Florida law, makes him justified in causing it.

Now I’ll play the “what if Trayvon Martin was white” game with you because Black people’s claims of racism are often met with eye-rolling and irritation. A lot of “here we go again” and “is Rev. Al marching yet?”  First, let me assure you that there is no perverse sense of enjoyment reaped when prejudice is responsible for a death.  We rally and we march, and Al Sharpton shows up because the fact that folks still aint acting right needs some attention.  And because, by and large, Black life isn’t valued in the same way non-Black lives are.  Remember the final court scene in “A Time to Kill,” when Jake Brigance shares the awful details of an assault on a little girl, and his final words are, “now imagine if she were white.”   What’s left unsaid in that moment, but resonates nonetheless is “now do you get it?  Now do you understand the tragedy before us?”

What if some asshole with an itchy trigger finger hunted down and killed any other teenage boy with the same résumé as Trayvon’s, namely teenage boy walking home in the rain?

Are you outraged yet?  Now do you get it?  Now do you see the tragedy before us?

George Zimmerman should be arrested.  He should have to stand trial for his actions on February 26, 2012.

________

*(yes, racism and prejudice still play a role when the officers or aggressors are Black. See what I said about the normative gaze in my Rihanna and Chris Brown post .)

**That’s really what George Zimmerman said. “….And he’s a Black male, he’s got a button on his shirt


Black History Month

After I came across this pathetic Brigham Young University (BYU) video, I felt compelled to offer, as a Black History Month gift to y’all, a little perspective.

Black history month? Why? What for? There’s no white history month?

I trust that you’re not the one saying this right now. But if this happens to be your first line of reasoning about Black history, then the answer to “why” is “because of people like you.”

***

Why is history ever important? Because we can always do and be better. We acknowledge our shortcomings and learn from our mistakes. If we know history, we can recognize the patterns and adjust the course of action. If we know history, we can create a future that’s better than our past.

Why Black history? In a word, slavery. I don’t think folks really grasp the depth of that damage. It would ensnare generations of Black Americans over hundreds of years in struggle: for identity and dignity, acceptance and inclusion. As a result, the question remains how and where do we fit into American history? And also, how do we cement the idea that Black history is American history?

You ever seen the scramble that precedes Black people singing happy birthday to Black people? The first step usually is to decide which version we gon’ do, Stevie Wonder’s or the old tried and true. This decision, although harmless, represents what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘double consciousness.’ Specifically, DuBois said:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

I mean, if we choose to go the traditional route, nobody’s being “torn asunder” or nothing. It’s just that something so simple also embodies the inherent “two-ness” that is almost impossible to escape.

I consider myself pretty fair-minded when it comes to issues of race in that I don’t run screaming that every juxtaposition of Black and white is innately racist. Rather, I can accept that we’re still figuring each other out. And in that quest, there’s gotta be some room to ask questions without fear of judgment or scorn.

Nonetheless, I’m sensitive about our disconnectedness from Blackness (by using this term, i don’t mean to imply that there exists a universal and comprehensive approach to Black culture. However, for many of us, we can call it when we see or feel it, even if we can’t settle on intellectual definition or description of it.). It simply isn’t enough to pay homage to Black history by using some baritone-voiced brotha to narrate McDonald’s commercials. Or by using PSA-type interludes between shows to proudly announce that NBC or whoever “celebrates Black History Month.” Celebrate how? By saying the words? The major networks don’t even play Roots anymore.

I hate that the cats – Black folks included – at BYU “turn to BET” or watch the commercials to honor Black History Month in January, March, or April “or something like that”. I hate that Martin Luther King, Jr. is oftentimes the only luminary of Black history that ever comes to mind for folks. Malcolm X gets a little play, but he was “like, um, bad.” And that’s about the extent of it. A couple of years ago, I was discussing one of my Black Politics courses with an American immigration attorney who seemed well-versed in matters of European and Latin American history and culture. Met with Black Politics though, she said: “Black Politics? What is that, like, Martin Luther King?”

-___-

I’m offended by the lack of reverence for Black culture – from my own folks, and from others. Even as a Black man (he’s biracial, yes. But judging by his Al Green skills, culturally, he Black) presides over the United States of America, and the free world, folks know little to nothing about Black history and culture. For example, the dude doing the interviewing in the BYU video is doing it in Black face makeup. But more importantly, of all the students he interviewed, only 3 recognized that something wasn’t right about homie’s face. It’s not ok to be this oblivious, but it is possible because the students don’t have to know any better. Not that they don’t know any better; they don’t even have to.

In the last two years, I’ve taught several courses at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and my students’ insistence on running as far away from Blackness or Black history never ceases to amaze me. They want desperately to assert their individuality (which is cool), but do so by ignoring and even trivializing their ancestral history. While enrolled Howard University, a premier predominantly Black college, these lil cats wanna convince themselves that living while Black plays little to no significant role in their lives. Ok.

To be sure, one can transcend race. But for how long? And how much of your soul and consciousness must you sign over in order to be post-racial? How much of your history are you willing to forget or let slide? How much shit are you willing to swallow? Let’s go back to this BYU video for a second. The interviewer asks, “would you rather date a Black guy who acts like a white guy? Or a white guy who acts like a Black guy” The question itself is ridiculous, but that’s neither here nor there because the folks answered it. And answered confidently. One girl responds, “white guys that act like Black guys are kinda tools…” But a Black guy that acts a like a white guy? “…is good. Classy.”

Just so we’re clear, guys “acting like Black guys” = bad. Guys “acting like white guys” = “good.” There’s a song by Big Bill Broonzy that goes:

If you is white, you’s alright,
if you’s brown, stick around,
but if you’s black, hmm, hmm, brother,
get back, get back, get back

yeah…

But it’s not just “them” who perpetuate narratives of inferiority as they relate to Black Americans. It’s “us” too; we still celebrate the fortuitousness of being born with lighter skin and “gooder” hair. Appreciating natural hair and dark skin required effort, an almost-movement. And I mean, preference is preference, but Black folks’ complexion obsession (the contemporary manifestation of field- and house-slave tensions) still has the power to divide and devalue. And still does. See the Dark Girls documentary if you think this race stuff remains much ado about nothing.

So what next? What do we do?

Stop revising history. Stop whitewashing it. Stop dismissing it as something old, and therefore irrelevant.

Stop pretending like slavery didn’t institutionalize and inculcate (to a certain extent) racism. Stop pretending that Black Americans with their ancestry firmly rooted in America don’t have some legitimate beefs and a legitimate ax to grind with America. It is a complicated relationship imbued with egregious and protracted acts of disregard and denials of human dignity which were codified by policy.

Policy — what we stand for; what we value; who we value.

It was hard to escape Blackness this weekend, as Whitney Houston’s home going celebration seemed to be broadcast everywhere. As resistant as I am to religion, I can’t escape the enormous gravitational pull of the Black church. That music, that spirit, that connection between the ancestors and the living, and the spirit of God. It penetrates the soul, and soothes it. It is fortifying. It is uniquely ours – Black Americans’, and the world got a glimpse into what is, perhaps, as a culture, our greatest source of strength.

So what now? What next? We must celebrate Black history – and all folks’ histories – by being honest about them, and embracing the entire spectrum; the good, the bad, the ugly, the shameful. Don’t change the narrative to make it more palatable, or to make historical aggressors seem less fucked up. Tell it like it was and let us create the tools to work our way through it.

We have to acknowledge our differences and embrace the role they play, have played, or will play in our lives.

Moreover, the solution lies first in Black folks loving being Black, and all that it implies and encompasses. We have to love the triumphs and trials – Barack Obama and Flavor Flav. And our non-Black brethren gotta know that our group has room for both, and yet, is not solely defined
by either. Just as the best and worst among your group, doesn’t comprehensively tell your story.

In other words, see us like we see you. Acknowledge and respect our culture like we must also do for you.

I LOVE being Black. The history and cultural traditions are so rich, and so empowering. I wouldn’t trade it for all the good credit and enunciated r’s in the world. While I celebrate Blackness at every opportunity, you, technically, only have to do it for a month – and for the shortest month at that. Try this: take Black History Month as an opportunity to get to know us, collectively. If you do and someone ever asks how you celebrated Black History Month, you’ll have more to say than “I have a Black friend; I watched BET; I listened to 50 Cent.”

Ignorance is a disease, friends. Let us arm ourselves accordingly.


Obama vs. The Ambassadors of Blackness

What's the situation with the professor's teeth though?

I can’t let the bandwagon lambasting of Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley go unchallenged.  Nor can I accept the berating of liberals and progressives who are expressing their disappointment with President Obama.

Firstly, President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress of 2008-2010 shared some great victories.  They passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and raised the minimum wage.  In response to the implosion of the global economy as a result of predatory banking practices, they created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted a series of stiff financial industry reforms and regulations,  and resuscitated an automobile industry that was about 20 minutes from being dead on arrival.  The Democrat-led Congress passed Health Care Reform, which will extend affordable healthcare to millions of Americans.  Health Care Reform also makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny individuals coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  For the record “pre-existing conditions” can be serious illnesses like heart disease or cancer, and they can be as petty as a previous ankle sprain that never quite healed.  So beginning in 2014, if you need medical coverage, you can still be eligible for it instead of restricted from it because you caught some pre-existing bad luck.

The Obama administration also ended the cowardly and immature Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.  And coincidentally, they’ve stated publicly that they will support a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   This means that the federal government will extend to legally married same-sex couples the same benefits and protections provided to heterosexual married couples.  All in all, the President has been highly successful on progressive issues.

But President Obama still is not above constructive criticism.  Much has been made of Tavis Smiley’s and Cornel West’s rebukes of Obama’s policies as they relate to the poor, and specifically, to Black Americans.  When I say “much has been made,” what I mean is much shit has been talked, and much mud has been slung at Smiley and West.  The cynic in us is convinced that these brothers believe they are self-appointed ambassadors of Blackness who can and will criticize the Black president without flinching — but mostly for the purpose of furthering their own interests.

The headline that surfaced on the Huffington Post this week, “Tavis Smiley:  Obama Is the First President Who Hasn’t Invited Me To White House” doesn’t help in putting the Smiley-West Self-Aggrandizement theory to rest.  But perhaps I can get you to see this differently.  I posted an article recently on President Obama’s reluctance to deal directly with the role race plays in American society, and in his Presidency.  I see his resistance (either willful or unintentional) toward Smiley and West as part of his and our discomfort in talking about race.

For all their shortcomings, neither Professor West nor Tavis Smiley has ever minced words in describing the plight of the poor, and exposing the disparities that continue to hold Blacks back.  Now, if in your mind you intend to hit me with a personal accountability/responsibility retort, let me reassure you:  A case can certainly be made asserting that “The Man” has raised his boot up off your neck some.  That notwithstanding, the wealth gap between Blacks and whites continues to grow.  Black unemployment today sits somewhere around 16%, while “general” joblessness hovers at 9%.  Projected figures show Black unemployment soaring to 20% by 2012.  Soooo…yeah…

If I hear another person hop up on their post-racial soapbox to inform me that President Obama is President “of ALL of America and not just Black America,” I’m not sure what heinous act of defiance might package my response.  But it will be heinous, and it will be defiant.  I took my rose-colored glasses back to the unattainable utopia store a couple years ago, and so I am well aware that Obama must govern as a “pragmatist,” and a centrist who pretends to be color-blind.  Thus, holding a fried chicken and watermelon summit with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley talking 20% Black unemployment succeeds in making the color-blind see, and it forces us to delve into the clusterfuck that is American race relations. Because either there is something inherently wrong with people of color that renders them incapable of “succeeding” at the same level as whites, or there is something amiss structurally/institutionally that is worth exploring.

Finally, conventional centrist rhetoric likes to reassure the people that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  In other words, economic policies that benefit the majority of the people also will benefit Black people (and poor people and Latino people, etc.).  I suppose the inverse of that is the proverb, “when America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu.”  I mean, do you treat your cold the same way you treat your flu?  Will some chicken soup and a few “feel betters” soothe your fever and body aches?  Or are you at CVS in your robe and slippers looking for the Thera-flu — the joint that will remedy your shit directly?

Professor West and Tavis Smiley acknowledge without apology that cats don’t have the sniffles anymore.  This financial flu is full-blown in Black America and it’s spreading like gossip on my granny’s block.  Obama’s allegiance to the illusion of compromise and political pragmatism essentially has him prescribing Flintstones vitamins — the gummy kind — to cure what ails us.  And that shit’s not good enough.  Obama is brilliant and charming and handsome, and he undoubtedly is the best choice going into Election 2012.  But he deserves this criticism.  And I’m not mad at West and Smiley for giving it.

**For the record, I refuse to speak on Steve Harvey’s contributions to this discussion.  That cat is a coon, and coon opinions don’t count. You don’t see anyone trying to pen down Soulja Boy’s feelings on the subject either, do you?**


A Cognitively Promiscuous Week

There were several happenings last week that stuck.  Imma see if I can wrap ’em up neatly for y’all.

1.  According to a Study by an asshole, Black Women are “Rated Less Attractive” than Other Women 

I often say it’s amazing what people think they can say to you.  In an article for Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa waxes scientific with tables and graphs and “mean physical attractiveness” indices, attempting to obscure the inherent bullshit in his study.  I thought we’d already done and summarily dismissed this kind of racism — using pseudo-science to support the absurd notion that Blacks are inferior in every way not just to whites anymore, but to everybody.  Black women, even the “best” of us, can’t land a man to save our lives.  And we’re perceived as uglier than everyone else to boot.  I won’t dignify the Psychology Today post with a superfluous defense of Black women’s beauty.  I will, however, note how insidious this kind of shit is.  Although Psychology Today hasn’t the reach or credibility of, say, the American Medical Association or the like, the deep-seated othering embedded in Kanazawa’s article was researched, edited, and published.  Folks will read this article, and some will believe it, and the cycle of “black is wack” will continue.

In a bitchass, but also wise move, psychologytoday.com has since removed the original post.  It was bad for business, I suppose.  That it was ever there in the first place though is telling.  This questioning of Black legitimacy is part of the fabric of our great Nation.  It is the part we tend to gloss over in our understanding of who Americans are, what America is, how the America we know came to be.  Initially, we questioned the very person-hood of Blacks.  And when we decided reluctantly that Blacks were in fact “persons,” and indeed deserving of all the rights and privileges the quality of being human accords, we then questioned their ability to intellectually conceive of, well, anything intellectual.  They weren’t smart enough to govern themselves, or anyone else for that matter.  And “science” supported those faulty claims too.

It’s easy for Psychology Today to remove the post from its site, perhaps as a way of punishing the author or as a self-correction for publishing inflammatory garbage in the first place.  What’s more difficult to remove, however, is the hubris –the entitlement– that affords this work the light of day in the 21st century.  What grand sense of enlightenment is bestowed upon the masses when we resolve to research the attractiveness of Black American women?  Who benefits when we learn that, scientifically, Black women are less desirable than all other women?  No one does.  The study is yet another advancement of the narrative we’ve heard and witnessed and attempted for centuries to abate:  that we are less than our worth.  There have been victories in this fight, but the work continues.  The President of the United States may be Black, but even he had to prove, in long form no less, that one could be Black and American and President of America at the same fucking time.

2.  Professor West vs. President Obama

The debate on Black leadership wages on, as does the face of Black leadership apparently.  Last week, Professor West said some pretty fool-hardy shit about President Obama.  In my view, his characterization of the President was incendiary and counter-productive to his cause.  All of this nonsense about Obama not returning West’s calls and failing to get him tickets to the inauguration was petty, and beneath the Professor’s dignified intellectual position.  You’ll get no argument from me there.  West’s point, on the other hand, was spot on.

One of the questions I asked my students on their final exam was: Do you think a minority agenda (racial/cultural/ethnic etc) is helped or hindered by capitalism (or capitalist ideology)? Their answers speak to the legitimacy of West’s policy and ideological criticism of Obama.  Personal affronts aside, I don’t think old school Black leaders (and I don’t mean that disparagingly) were necessarily wrong or myopic to expect a certain pointed focus from Barack Obama to minority communities. We assumed, perhaps immaturely and without regard to realpolitik, that because of his background and his own progressive positions and rhetoric, Obama would be a different type of politician. We assumed that he could in some meaningful way dismantle the power structure that keeps Blacks disproportionately poor and disadvantaged — because it’s about personal accountability and all, but it’s also systemic and institutional.

Obviously, West loses the credibility of his argument in calling the President “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.”  But President Obama is now part of the American Institution.  He can chip away as best he can at its unsavory aspects. But his job is to see that the Institution perseveres. And given that capitalism is sustained on the backs of most folks, Obama’s pragmatism — his seeming aloofness with regard to the issues of the poor — unfortunately is par for the course. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect that President Obama might be able to fix the deeply, deeply embedded problems Black Americans face in America. However, the President has the biggest bully pulpit we’ve ever seen, giving him the ability to address more directly the issues of the poor and the disenfranchised — of which Blacks make up a solid majority.  I can appreciate Obama’s professorial and diplomatic pragmatism, but West and these old school Black leaders are right in a sense — Obama ought to stiffen his spine.  But he can’t.  To do so is to take a big, black ass bite of the hand that feeds him.  I know our Black bourgeoisie is comprised of post-Civil Rights Movement Blacks, and we think our era is “different.”  But let’s not be so hasty in assailing our rightful disappointment with the powers that be, which now includes black faces.  In short, the system is the system, and Obama is President of the system.  For cats like West who’ve railed against overt and institutionalized racism for years when it wasn’t personally or socially expedient, seeing a Black man at the helm of this same system that still crushes poor, voiceless folks, hurts.  Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade — you don’t gotta call it dirty names.  But you gotta call it like you see it.

3. Beyonce and 21st Century Feminism

Bey’s new single, “Girls Run the World,” doesn’t inspire me to shake a tail feather as much as “Single Ladies” did.  I’m pretty sure I won’t rush the dance-floor for “Girls” like I did for “Upgrade U” and “Get Me Bodied.”  But I also have no problem dissociating myself from the hoes and the bitches and the groupies that most cats rap and sing about on contemporary radio.

Beyonce Knowles is no bell hooks.  Likewise, these little girls aren’t great scholars with any meaningful interest in Audre Lorde’s or Patricia Hill Collins’ powerful feminist musings.  Bey meets girls where they are, and provides them with the armor they need in the 21st century:  Femininity, power, self-respect, and self-determination.  In other words:  if you got a man, great!  Don’t sacrifice your dignity for that cat though.  And if you don’t have a man, great!  You are enough all by yourself.   So don’t sacrifice your dignity to get one.

Bey isn’t going around unshaven and shit to lend credence to her particular brand of girl power.  She asserts in her own way that little girls can be ladies and all that entails, and still be bawse, runnin shit too.

As academics, we see the world normatively — operating from “should be” and “ought to be” perspectives.  Sometimes it is what it is though.  We’d love it if 9 year olds girls would look to Patricia Hill Collins to explain feminist thought and sexuality, but they aint though.  I’m glad Beyonce speaks to them in a language they understand, and I suspect they are stronger with her than they are without her.

4.  The Rapture

A guy — the rapture guy —  in California thought it was laughable that folks were predicting the world would end in 2012.  On his biblical authority, the end of days was slated for May 21st, 2011.  Yes, last Saturday.  I’m assuming I didn’t get in cause I failed to RSVP.  I’m terrible with those things.  I, like you, was “left behind”.

I don’t do religion.  I understand why people do, and I respect those people.  I’ll just practice the golden rule and respond to the spirit that thrives within me, instead of the guy — the rapture guy or any other — who claims to know what the Creator has in store.  On Saturday night, I didn’t fret about the hereafter.  Instead, I toasted a dry martini to the only Rapture I respect — Ms. Anita’s.

And if Saturday night had turned out to be the end of days, I was ok with where me and the good lord stood.  I didn’t need the rapture guy — or any other — to scare me to my knees.


Niggas.

I’m not big on censorship.  I use the word instead of “the N word” because linguistic cowardice gets no play here.  So, get your grown panties on and come on in.  

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Russ Parr Morning Show during a discussion about gentrification.  As always, the topic got reduced to a black and white issue — the former being “the problem,” and white being “what’s right.”  You see, gentrification is defined broadly as a socio-cultural, and economic reconfiguration of sorts.   In DC, it means the streets that were once off limits to the casual pedestrian due to the high likelihood that one might get fucked up in some meaningful way are now inhabited by suburban imports who’s culture is supposed to be markedly different from that which preceded it.  At its most basic level, gentrification in DC is characterized by an increasingly vanilla “chocolate city.”

To that end, the blackness displaced as a result of the influx of white people with superior economic prospects is often too closely associated with “the element”, or the niggas — that woulda got you fucked up in the first place.  Thus, to many, gentrification reads positively as an absorption of yuppie mobility — yoga and condos, dog-walking parks and shit, and exile of niggas and nigga happenings.

Pump your brakes though, kids.  For Lesson1 :  nigga-ness is NOT synonymous with Blackness, or Black people, or Black interests.  And for Lesson 2, lest I leave you confused:  Yes.  Black people use the term indiscriminately in referring to themselves and others.  This is probably because, at the end of every day, “nigga” is merely a word — a word which, like many others, can have multiple meanings.   Cats can safely refer to a nigga as both friend and foe.  Do use context clues to figure out where you stand.  However, if guns and scowls and “mutha fuckas” are used in conjunction with the term, you might betta run, my nigga.

See what I did there?

***

On Russ’s show that day, one of his callers opined that “Black people don’t even like living next to Black people.”  That woman meant well; she was so proud of her lil comment.  But she was wrong in a couple different ways.  Most notably in asserting that even Black people don’t like living among their kind.  Without knowing it, Ms. Ma’am had indirectly indicted other folks f0r not wanting to live next to “us” either.  I suspect what she meant though, was that nobody likes living next to niggas — obviously, in this case, we (she and I) are considering the unsavory nigga.  The nigga that’s definitely not your friend.  Black, blind, rich or poor.  Nobody likes intermingling with cats long bereft of good sense.

And these folks can and are anybody.  They are everybody.  The nigga exists in multiracial neighborhoods, in every income bracket, and in every region of every state.  And although nigganess shows up in different concentrations in different people, the nigga usually is responsible for the shit your elitist ass considers improper, crass, and classless.  They leave their trash in the trash room as opposed to throwing  it down the trash chute.  They smoke cigarettes in elevators, they fit like 12 people into Corollas and drive recklessly as fuck both to and fro.  Their obnoxious vehicle appendage of choice may be a subwoofer, knockin ‘Big Meech’ down your boulevard, or a Flowmaster muffler attached to a Jeep Wrangler, attached to 50 inch wheels, adorned with the muddiest mud flaps money can buy.  Casting done-with Marlborough Lights and Bud Lite cans on dirt roads and shit.

Yes, the nigga most certainly lives among us.  You may move where streets are scenic and tree-lined instead of trash-strewn, but soon enough they’ll find you.  They are a resourceful bunch.  Niggas lurk about, looking for shit to get into, to fuck up.  They have accepted that shit don’t mean shit outside of their purview.  The nigga will fight you because you looked at her when she wasn’t expecting you to.  Additionally, the nigga is usually proud of his ridiculous exploits.  He will steal the rims off your ride with you in it. Trust that the nigga doesn’t give much of a fuck about much.  He will rob you for six bucks and some tic-tacs that fell out of the container, got warm in your pocket, and got lint all on ’em.    They are also a trifling bunch.  Be careful around niggas.

And be careful in assigning blanket identities to the nigga because no place is immune.  He is everywhere, Wall Street too.  The nigga on the “rough” side of the tracks may jack you for your Jordans, but the niggas that run Goldman Sachs, the niggas like Bernie Madoff and them, will jack you for your future — without so much as a stocking cap and a water pistol.