Monday, April 29, 2013

Lessons from riding the bus

My travels on the bus are becoming more depressing with the passage of each day.  More and more, I’m discovering a vast gap between those who use public transportation and those with the power to rule public policy.

More and more, it’s becoming clear that the people making decisions have no clue.  They care.  They want to make a difference.  They simply lack insight regarding how their votes often make things worse.

Yes, I continue to ride the bus.  My journey to and from home leaves me aching at the increasing disconnect between those functioning with privilege and those who keep trying to find their way.
It’s depressing to listen to their struggles.

I’ve been careful to hide my own privilege.  My attire has been selected to conceal the distance between me and those who ride the bus.   I’ve done my best to spend more time in listening than speaking.  My hope has been to fit in, like an anthropologist hoping to uncover the culture of those on the bus. I’ve discovered that learning requires a willingness to forfeit the comforts that come with being set apart.
Those trips have changed me.

The troubling truth is I’m not so different than those living in poverty.  Each day, I’m becoming more like them, and less like those who make assumptions about those who ride the bus.  I’ve listened to their disappointments.  I’ve heard countless stories from black men who are looking for work.  Any work. 

“I can’t work at that restaurant because the last bus leaves at 10:00 pm and I can’t get home after they close,” I overheard a man share with a former co-worker.
“What you need to do is call all the churches and ask for money to pay your rent,” I listened as a woman shared with another as she cried because eviction was coming soon.

I’ve listened to men talk about paying child support.  One was struggling with making the $50 payment each month.  Another man talked about the pain related to paying child support only to discover the child was not his.

I’ve listened to men talk about getting out of prison and doing their best to change their lives.
“Man, I’m not hanging out over there anymore,” I heard a man say. “I’m trying to live God’s way now.”

The long ride from being picked up on the side of the street to the downtown terminal exposes a lot of pain.  It’s pain so deep that those living with it are unable to recognize the pain.  They’ve learned to live with the burden of surviving with never enough.

“Hey man, you want to buy some food stamps,” a man asked after explaining he needed the money to pay his utility bill.

Judgment made me wonder if the money would be used to buy a hit of crack cocaine.  The look on his face left me troubled that a decision was made between eating and paying a bill.  I wondered if those making decision even considered that possibility.

Do they understand?  I mean, is it possible to understand what you have never seen? 

Then I face the other side of that pain.  I listen. I watch.  I pray. I leave frustrated and confused because I know those in the room have no clue.  I don’t want to judge them, but I listen knowing they lack real insight into the lives of those they seek to help.

I listen to them talk about education.  I listen to them discuss poverty and incarceration.  They hurl statistics aimed at defining the problem, and they formulate strategies to alter what their evidence reveals.  Over the years I have listened.  I have functioned with a high level of respect for those willing to do their best to make a difference.

I’ve watched as they walk into schools to talk to administrators.  I’ve listened as those administrators put a positive spin on what is happening in the schools.  I’ve heard the reports from the Superintendent after conversations with parents and students.  I wonder about the distance between the reality presented by those parents and students and the rhetoric promoted by the big wigs.

I witness the pile of pain on the bus, and then I listen to more coming from those at the county jail.  I hear men talk about the battle to overcome their former ways.  I watch them wait for their day in court.  I’ve seen men walk out of jail with murder charges while others wait for months with far lesser crimes.

I listen as they talk about the injustice of the justice system.  I watch as they contend with racial profiling and unfair assumptions.  I’ve watched as I’ve been watched by those making assumptions about me.

Riding the bus has taught me important lessons.  I’ve discovered that being black and brown is harder than I knew.  Getting out from under the weight of stereotypes is heavy to bear.  I’ve discovered that the burden of race and poverty takes much more than those making decisions will ever understand.

They lack the understanding of their own assumptions.  They make decisions without knowing the rest of the truth.

In my opinion, no one should be allowed to lead until they spend some time on the bus. How can who take the test when they have failed to do the homework?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Committed, winner of NBC's Sing-Off, to perform at Navity School benefit concert

“The biggest surprise is how things changed so fast,” Maurice Staple says. “Overnight we’re meeting with important people in the business.”

That’s what happens when you win a competition with 9 million viewers on national television.  Staple is a member of Committed.  Committed won the second season of NBC’s The Sing-Off, forcing a rapid change in the lives of Dennis “DJ” Baptiste, Tommy Gervais, Geston Pierre, Robert Pressley, Theron “Therry” Thomas and Staple.

The all-male a cappella group will perform at the Carolina Theatre on Thursday, August 25.  The show starts at 8:00 pm, and the proceeds benefit the Durham Nativity School Scholarship Fund.  It’s the fourth annual Nativity School benefit concert, and organizers selected Committed because the group’s story resonates with the students at the Nativity School.

Committed was formed in Huntsville, Alabama in 2003.  Although none of the original members remain, Committed is an example of the benefit of hard work and dedication.

“We are grounded in our faith,” Staple says.  “We work hard to not perform music that goes against what we believe.

The group released their self-titled debut album on August 30th on Epic Records.  The album features a blend of cover songs, including a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Hold My Hand” which is the song that sealed their win on the season finale of The Sing-Off, as well as original songs. Their first single “Break Free” was co-written by group member Therry Thomas.

The group was discovered by NBC after a recommendation from Take 6, the a cappella group with ten GRAMMY Awards.  Like Committed, Take 6 formed in Huntsville, Alabama on the campus of Oakwood College.  Committed played at a party honoring Take 6 and made such a strong impression that members of Take 6 contacted NBC and recommended the group for the second season of Sing-Off

The connection between the two groups, along with the win on Sing-Off, was enough to inspire administrators at the Nativity School to have them perform at this year’s benefit concert.  There’s a lesson about paying it forward.  There’s a lesson about solidarity and lending a hand to those in need of support.

The Nativity School seeks to teach through the example of black male role models.  Most of the students at the Nativity School are black and brown boys.  Durham’s public education is replete of examples of minority boys who fall through the cracks due to a lack of attention.  The Nativity School boasts a myriad of examples of boys who move beyond the middle school years to obtain academic scholarships to attend the best private schools in North Carolina.

Yes, Thursday’s concert is about raising money to pay tuition. It’s also a celebration of six black males who endured a seven year wait to get a break.  It came after the group they admire saw their gift and moved beyond the comforts that come with success.  That group will be in Durham tomorrow.  Six black men who do more than just sing will come to show what faith can produce.

They sing without instruments.  They depend on each other to make great music.  Just like life - six black men trusting the other to keep the beat. 

A group of boys will be watching.  Who knows what watching Committed will do to shape their future. 

The name is a good start.  Committed.  Six black men singing, hoping, praying and trusting.

Thank God for Take 6.  Thank God for Committed. 

Thank God for the Nativity School.

Durham Nativity School presents

4th Annual Scholarship Benefit Concert featuring COMMITTED
For tickets

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It was easy to pass gun laws when the nation had to fight the Black Panther Party

“Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets,” Gabrielle Giffords writes in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times.

“The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.”
Giffords understands that fear.

On January 8, 2011, a week into her third term, Giffords, as a member of the United States House of Representatives, was shot near Tucson, Arizona.  She was shot in the head.  Thirteen people were injured and six were killed.  Among those dead was federal judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christian-Taylor Green.
Now Giffords blames the NRA for manipulating members of the Congress to kill a bill for stiffer background checks.   The NRA successfully used the assumption of Second Amendment protection to destroy a proposal that most Americans desire.

It hasn’t always been this way.
It’s easy to forget the NRA didn’t begin the battle for gun rights.  It was the Black Panther Party who advocated for an individual’s right to bear arms back in the 1970s. 

Those Black Panthers maintained the right to own guns as a way to protect themselves from the police.  They carried their weapons to the California state capitol.  They brought their rifles to the trial of Huey P. Newton. It’s a part of American history that gets lost in the rhetoric related to today’s fight to grant people the right to own guns.
Maybe the resurgence of the Black Panther Party would change that public perception.  I’m not calling for it, but given how racial tension in the 1970s shaped thoughts on gun rights, maybe a few black folks wearing all black with assault weapons will get the attention of Congress.

Gun laws have almost always been about race.  Slaves and freed blacks were forbidden from owning guns due to the fear of an uprising.  The fear was justifiable.  The prevalence of slave revolts is often overlooked in the teaching of American history.
After the Civil War in the South, blacks were prohibited from processing firearms. The law was enforced by members of the Ku Klux Klan, who terrorized black communities to assure no blacks owned guns.

Then there’s the history of the NRA in pushing gun restrictions.
During prohibition, the NRA supported gun control measures as a way to combat organized crime.  The National Firearms Act was passed in 1934, and the NRA not only backed it but led the fight for legislation in many states to limit the carrying of concealed weapons.

Karl Frederick, former NRA president, helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a law requiring a police permit to carry a concealed weapon, a registry of all guns purchases, and a two-day waiting period for gun sales.
The NRA fought for gun control after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The NRA promoted restrictions during the turbulent years of racial unrest. Riots sprung up across the nation - Rochester, NY, Newark, New York City, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Patterson, NJ, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Louisville, Pittsburg, Augusta, GA, Jackson, MS, Watts, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul – and the NRA pushed for restrictions to limit guns in the hands of blacks.

There was war in the streets. Can you blame them?
The NRA joined forces with Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, in support of gun control. Reagan wanted to get guns out of the hands of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers had their own law enforcement with armed members who showed up at the scene of arrest with weapons to protect black citizens from police brutality.

On May 2, 1967, The Black Panthers walked into the California State Capitol fully armed to protest a bill to limit gun possession. Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.

Then the Black Panthers Party’s influence weakened.
The NRA shifted their position. Members within the organization began fighting to protect their right to bear arms citing distrust of the government and police. Ronald Reagan, who had signed the law to limit the Black Panther Party, became an advocate for guns as a way to protect people from the state. 

So, it was okay for whites to be protected from the states, but not blacks.
What is the connection between gun laws today versus the mood in the 70s?

Giffords blasting of lawmakers who bowed to the influence of the NRA is instructive to the role race continues to play in the formation of public policy.  It’s a truth that gets lost in the pomposity encompassing Second Amendment Rights.  Although race riots and panic stirred by the Black Panther Party was enough to pass laws limiting gun possession, the death of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was not enough to do the same.
The fear of a black revolution was enough to pass gun laws.  But a long history of gun violence isn’t enough to sway members of Congress to make a difference.

I hate saying it, but does race play a role in all of this?
As for the history of gun violence in the United States since Columbine, check out the list.  After reading it, call somebody and tell them you’re pissed.

December 11, 2012. Tyler Roberts killed 2 people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon.
September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN.  

August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  
July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.  

May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing 5.
April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot 5 black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.

April 2, 2012. A former student, 43-year-old One L. Goh killed 7 people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, CA.  
February 27, 2012. Three students were killed by Thomas “TJ” Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, OH.  

October 14, 2011. Eight people died in a shooting at Salon Meritage hair salon in Seal Beach, CA. 41-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, killed six women and two men dead.
September 6, 2011. Eduardo Sencion entered an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, NV and shot 12 people. Five died.

January 8, 2011. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head when Jared Loughner opened fire on an event she was holding at a Safeway market in Tucson, AZ. Six people died.

 August 3, 2010. Omar S. Thornton shot a Hartford Beer Distributor in Manchester, CT after getting caught stealing beer. Nine were killed, including Thornton, and two were injured.
November 5, 2009. Forty-three people were shot by Nidal Malik Hasan at the Fort Hood army base in Texas. Hasan reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire, killing 13 and wounding 29.

April 3, 2009. Jiverly Wong opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded 4.

March 29, 2009. Eight people died in a shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, NC. Robert Stewart, was targeting his estranged wife who worked at the home and survived.
February 14, 2008. Steven Kazmierczak opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, killing 6 and wounding 21. The gunman shot and killed himself.

February 7, 2008. Six people died and two were injured in a shooting spree at the City Hall in Kirkwood, Missouri. Charles Lee Thornton, opened fire during a public meeting after being denied construction contracts.
December 5, 2007. Robert Hawkins, shot up a department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE. Hawkins killed 9 people and wounded 4 before killing himself.

April 16, 2007. Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in US history when a student, Seung-Hui Choi, gunned down 56 people. Thirty-two people died.
February 12, 2007. In Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square Mall, 5 people were shot to death and 4 others were wounded by Sulejman Talović.

October 2, 2006. An Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA was gunned down by Charles Carl Roberts, Roberts separated the boys from the girls, binding and shooting the girls. 5 young girls died, while 6 were injured.
March 25, 2006. Seven died and 2 were injured by Kyle Aaron Huff in a shooting spree through Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA.

March 21, 2005. Jeffrey Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend before opening fire on Red Lake Senior High School, killing 9 people on campus and injuring 5.
March 12, 2005. A Living Church of God meeting was gunned down by church member Terry Michael Ratzmann at a Sheraton hotel in Brookfield, WI.

July 8, 2003. Doug Williams, a Lockheed Martin employee, shot up his plant in Meridian, MS in a racially-motivated rampage. He shot 14 people, most of them African American, and killed 7.
December 26, 2000. Edgewater Technology employee Michael “Mucko” McDermott shot and killed seven of his coworkers at the office in Wakefield, MA.  

September 15, 1999. Larry Gene Ashbrook opened fire on a Christian rock concert and teen prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. He killed 7 people and wounded 7 others.
July 29, 1999. Mark Orrin Barton killed his wife and two children with a hammer before shooting up two Atlanta day trading firms.  He killed 12 including his family and injured 13 before killing himself.

April 20, 1999. In the deadliest high school shooting in US history, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold shot up Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. They killed 13 people and wounded 21.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ruffin shared his intent to retire in the Hickory Record

On January 6, 2013, Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin wrote an article that states his plans to retire soon.  “Ruffin: Kannapolis pastor retires after 40 years of faith service” appeared in the Hickory Record.

The Rev-elution has reported that multiple sources have shared conversations with Ruffin about his desire to retire in July due to conflicts with members of the current Board of County Commissioners.  Ruffin denied the report through an email sent to Ray Gronberg, a reporter with the Durham Herald-Sun.

“Mike Ruffin is a former Cabarrus County manager who lives in Durham and serves as Durham County manager. He plans to retire in Concord soon,” reads the tagline to the article. (

The tagline references Ruffin’s devotions that appear at, and claims it as one of the more popular websites on the Internet for Christian devotions. It list Ruffin’s email address as

The mention of his pending retirement, and the place he plans to live, raises questions related to Ruffin’s denial of the Rev-elution’s report.  Although the wording of Ruffin’s tagline fails to give a timeline for his retirement, the mention of it coming soon was done in a context outside the community that deserves to know what he means by soon.

When pressed by Gronberg, Ruffin refused to give specifics regarding his planned retirement.  His lack of clarity, given his mention in a newspaper outside of Durham, forces a critical question about why he is so willing to mention retirement on his devotion website and in another newspaper, while failing to do the same with those in Durham.

Ruffin mentions his pending retirement in January.  Soon would imply a decision within a year.  Durham has a right to know what he means by soon. The right to refuse to share those intentions was taken away when he decided to share plans to retire with others.  He has a right to remain silent, but not when he throws the bone to others while refusing to address the same back home.

The Rev-elution expects the Board of County Commissioners to press Ruffin on when he plans to retire.  Given the issues currently on the table, this is a matter that needs to be treated like an open book.  Members of the commission may desire to remain silent, but the truth is they all know the truth.  That truth has been shared.  Their response is dishonest and a serious violation of trust for those who expect them not to lie when asked a direct question.

To say they do not know, and to suggest reports were pulled from the sky, covers more than what Ruffin has shared.  It exposes their rapid willingness to rally in support of one who has already share his intentions.  Ruffin has done so with more than the members of the Board of County Commissioners.  Members of the Board of County Commissioners are functioning under the pretense that Ruffin has limited his plan to retire to those closed door sessions. That is not the case.

How can we trust those who shift the dialogue by working to find a way for Ruffin to leave after July 1?

Ruffin has shared his intentions.  It’s the truth.  Commissioners know it’s the truth.  Ruffin has written that truth in another paper.

So, why not face that truth?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Rev-elution stands by reporting on Mike Ruffin

The Rev-elution has confirmed through multiple sources that Mike Ruffin, Durham’s County Manager, has shared his intent to leave his position before July 1. Ruffin denied previous reports from the Rev-elution during an interview with Ray Gronberg of the Herald-Sun.

Multiple sources, both direct and indirect, have shared conversations with Ruffin related to his intent to leave his position with Durham County due to tension with members of the Board of County Commissioners.  The Rev-elution stands by the reporting on this matter.

“I have no plans to retire in July,” Ruffin informed the Herald-Sun via email. “I’ll be here for a while.”

A shift in plans for sure.

Ruffin’s response in the Herald-Sun conflicts with that of sources who shared conversations regarding Ruffin’s plans to leave before July 1.

The report from the Rev-elution led to rapid denial from Ruffin.  Why the shift in what has been reported by the Rev-elution? Why would Ruffin deny what has been confirmed by multiple sources? Why would members of the Board of County Commissioners deny what they know to be true?

There are two issues leading to the back peddling by Ruffin and Commissioners: pressure to locate long term financing for two construction projects (the social services building and the courthouse), and the county’s credit rating.  It is assumed that knowledge of Ruffin’s plan to leave could negatively impact both.  Ruffin does not want to be perceived as a lame duck manager who places the county at risk.

When pressed by Gronberg about a possible departure after July 1, Ruffin was unable to give a definitive answer.  There is suspension that Ruffin may leave after the July date, but there is significant reason to believe he will leave his post before the end of the year.

Members of the board are hush on this matter.  Who can blame them?  They have been advised to keep the matter in house.  The lesson learned relates to Ruffin managing his own secrets.

In Durham, people are listening.  If you wish to keep things quiet, keep it quiet until you’re ready to dance.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Source: Mike Ruffin to step down as Durham County Manager

Multiple sources at Durham County Government have confirmed that County Manager Mike Ruffin has expressed his intent to retire in July. 

Ruffin is serving his second term as County Commissioner. He was first hired in November 2000 to replace former County Manager David Thompson who resigned due to disagreements with commissioners. He was fired during a closed-door session in 2004, after months of conflict with black members of the Board of County Commissioners.  Commissioners Joe Bowser, Philip Cousin, Jr. and Mary Jacobs voted to terminate him.  No reason was given for Ruffin’s dismissal. It was a vote split on racial lines.

Bowser said at the time that Ruffin’s “failure at act upon” allegations of favoritism were a motive for Ruffin’s dismissal. Charlie Hobgood, the internal auditor, alleged 11 instances of favoritism in offering raises and poor record-keeping under former Human Resources Director Jackye Knight.

Shortly after arriving in Durham, Ruffin was attacked for comments he made on the website The website, a part of Pen Holder Ministries, founded by Ruffin in 1996, posted columns written by Ruffin that supported teaching creationism in public schools, disputes that the separation of church and state is a principle found in the Constitution, and that homosexuality is a sin.

Ruffin was reinstated as County Manager in 2005 after Lewis Cheek defeated Joe Bowser as a member of the Board of County Commissioners. Again, the vote was split on racial lines.

The last act of business for Ruffin is the approval of the 2013-14 budget. This year’s budget process could be heated due to a number of issues facing members of the Board of County Commissioners.  The county faces a large deficient due to the new courthouse and human services buildings.  Major cutbacks from the state could force significant reductions in the budget for Durham Public School. Commissioners have to find a way to overcome a $16 million difference between revenue and cost. 

Ruffin had proposed a five cent increase in the county’s property tax rate.  He recently offered a three cent increase for the coming year, with an additional two cent increase in fiscal year 2014-2015.  The debate over the budget could stir serious tiffs between Ruffin and commissioners.  Ruffin and Commissioner Brenda Howerton recently engaged in a quarrel after Howerton suggested Ruffin is a dictator for limiting public input in the budget process.

Ruffin and the commissioners have refrained from raising property taxes in the past, but may be forced to do so to offset the threat of losing the county’s AAA rating.  County taxes haven’t been increased since fiscal year 2010-11.

Sources say Ruffin plans to close Durham’s Youth Detention Center.  The proposal would save the county roughly 500 million, but the plan has been met with strong opposition.  Critics of the plan are concerned that the cost to ship youth from the center to other sites may burden the system more than the savings are worth.

Ruffin hoped to make the announcement after the approval of the 2013-14 budget.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If racism is an accident, what do we do with LL Cool J

What are we going to do with James Todd Smith? Most know him as LL Cool J.  Oh, that means “Ladies Love Cool James”.  Black women are having issues with Cool James right now.  We’ll see what happens when he takes his shirt off.

Cool J, also known as Uncle L, is sitting on the hot seat for his recent collaboration with Brad Paisley.  The song “Accidental Racist” has many asking why the 45 year-old mega-star decided to lend his skills to the song.  

"Music is about ... connecting different people, and building bridges and breaking the rules. If it's not compelling, and it's not complex and it's not interesting, then what are we doing it for? So I think that's the right move,” He said on Good Morning American.

“I needed to do something that was going to be interesting like that, and shake things up, and jump out of the box. I'm really proud of it, and I hope the world hears it and enjoys it."

And shake things up he did.  Paisley and Cool J expected the song to facilitate a deeper conversation involving the state of race relations in America.  The lyrics have us looking back in a way that makes it difficult to look forward.  The bottom line is a tough pill to swallow.  It’s hard as it is to take the medicine, the debate on the song may require a collective chill moment. 

Yes, chill and take the pill.

Why would I say that?  Certainly it’s legitimate to raise questions about a song that seemingly justifies the racist ways of those living in the South. Certainly there is reason to attack Cool J for pulling lyrics from a bag of black stereotypes.  Certainly, yes, over and over again, both of them should be taken to the wood shed and spanked for lacking the sensitivity to see how their raunchy lyrics would stir a huge pot of discontent.

Yes, they deserve a beating.

But, if we pause long enough we will uncover the true culprit behind the hysteria.  It’s not just the lyrics. It’s much deeper than that.  The reaction to “Accidental Racist” reminds us that we’re still not ready to talk about race.  It’s too painful.  It’s too close.  We haven’t healed yet, and any mention of the life and culture that fed the racist ideology of the South will be met with extreme disdain.

Cool J’s point is a good one.  He simply tried to stir things up. He wanted people to talk about a topic that we wish would go away.  Yes, it’s an atrocious past filled with too many memories to count. The song forces us to accept that it’s not going anywhere until we talk about how we feel about that past.

So, I commend Paisley and Ladies Love Cool James for trying.  It wasn’t a perfect attempt, but at least they tried.  Yes, I deplore the lyrics for washing over the continued implications of that racist past. I get it, but sooner or later we have to share our views on how all of this makes us feel.

So, back to the point, what do we do with James Todd Smith?

For those jumping on the wagon to take Cool J’s black card, hesitate before you take it away.  He’s been accused of being a Republican and invalidated for that reason.  For those who aren’t black, being accused of being a Republican is, in many black circles, equivalent to saying all black women are ugly.  That mess will get you thrown under a bus after they take your black credentials.

The point is Cool J isn’t a Republican.  He did support George Pataki’s bid for a third term as Governor of New York in 2002.  He also supported New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, and is a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama.  Cool J claims to be an Independent. That’s a far cry from being a conservative Republican.

Why does it matter? Glad you asked.  It’s important because the ploy, within the black community, is to discredit Cool J as one with a white agenda.  Take away his black card.  Prove that he is a traitor and lacks real sensitivity for those below his pay level.  Do it based on the evidence – the song proves it, and his Republican leanings seal the deal.

It’s all a bogus effort to limit the form of creative expression that seeks to stir things up.  That’s what all artists should seek to do.  All who write, sing, dance, act and perform poetry are given space within a limited window to make a point.  It’s often an incomplete point.  It often requires a second chapter.  Most of the time it needs three of four before the conclusion.

It’s a tough pill folks.  One that most can’t take.  You can’t handle the truth!

The truth is we can’t talk about race.  We talk at one another.  We make assumptions related to intent, while minimizing the power of creativity.  Sometimes art is used to poke fun.  Sometimes to heads way over the top.  Most of the time it ends with a variety of missing pieces.

That’s art folks.  Oh, by the way, each of us can play a part.  I suggest jump in the middle and play.

Attack the art.  When you get done, make your own.

That’s the beauty of discovery.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Brad Paisley's "Accidental Racist" raises question: Is it possible for racism to be an accident?

It was one of those oh heck moments that transformed my life.  Simply put, you can’t make assumptions based on the appearance of things.

I was standing outside the bank waiting for the person in front of me to finish at the ATM.  A pickup truck pulls up.  It was the type that gets my blood churning.  There was a confederate flag license plate in the front and a gun rack behind the driver. A couple shot guns were hanging to seal the deal.

“Hillbilly Cracker!”

I shamefully whimpered as the driver pulled up wearing a cowboy hat and the rest of the Southern trash get-up I’d grown to loathe.  Then it hit me in the face.  My darn assumptions did exactly what Doris Kenney, that’s my mama, taught me they would.  Yes, they made an ass out of me.

The driver pulls up with the window rolled down.  The music was blasting like one of the black dudes driving in the hood.  I expected to hear some of that Hillbilly music followed by a spit of tobacco and the yelp of Hee Haw. In my mind, that’s what Hillbillies do.


He was listening to the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg (He’s Snoop Lion now). The song, Jen and Juice. 

He bopped his head like he knew what he was doing.  The image set me back.  I had to laugh. Both at me and at a dude caught in the middle of conflicting cultures.  Then he took it to another level.

He jumps out of the truck, nods his head in my direction and greets me.

“What’s up brother?”

Okay, I wasn’t ready.  I stood in my puddle of indifference and took my whipping from the Big Lady. Oh, for those who don’t know me, I refer to God as a woman instead of the traditional patriarchal language that leaves people thinking God has a penis.  What’s the lesson for me? I stood in a place thinking I was open and affirming of all God’s children, yet was walking in heaps of hypocrisy.

My hatred for Confederate flags and Country Music was so deep that I placed anyone in love with both in the big box with “racist” on the side.

That’s why I’m digging Brad Paisley’s new song. Accidental Racist, featuring LL Cool J, is getting lots of attention for doing what no one has had the guts to do – state the obvious.  There’s so much drama connected with being Southern that those with good ole boy roots find it virtually impossible to pay homage to their past while not being handed a T-shirt with “Racist” on the front.  The only way to rid oneself of being called a bigot is to throw all that Southern pride in the trash.

As a black man who has endured some of that hillbilly racism, I can honestly say that most of the time, well almost most of the time, there is a correlation between the hanging of the Confederate flag and an ideology that would like to see America go back to the days before the Civil War.  For further proof, see Hank Williams, Jr. signing If the South Had Won. 

The question Paisley raises is a good one.  Is it really possible for a person to grow up not knowing that hanging a Confederate flag anywhere – on a pole, on your chest, on a license plate or at the old State Capitol – is enough to get black folks enraged?  Who in their right mind wouldn’t know that?  It’s easy to conclude that it’s not an accident.  Folks like that don’t care enough to decide not to offend.  I consider that a form of racism.  You know, the stuff people do because they can, no matter who is hurt by those actions.  I call that the first step to blatant bigotry.  It’s not grown up yet, but it’s headed in that direction.

I felt that way when Soul Brother Hillbilly drove up in that pickup truck.  It was a Sesame Street moment.  One of these things doesn’t belong with the others.  It was even worse than that.  None of it made any sense.

Conclusion? Assuming will make an ass out of you and me.
Accidental Racist Lyrics

Brad Paisley, Featuring LL Cool J

 To the man who waited on me

 At the Starbucks down on Main

 I hope you understand

 When I put on that t-shirt

 The only thing I meant to say

 Is I’m a Skynyrd fan

 The red flag on my chest is somehow like the elephant

 In the corner of the South

 And I just walked him right in the room


Just a proud rebel son

 With an old can of worms

 Looking like I’ve got a lot to learn

 But from my point of view


I’m just a white man

 Coming to you from the Southland

 Trying to understand what it’s like not to be

 I’m proud of where I’m from

 But not everything we’ve done

 And it ain’t like you and me to rewrite history

 Our generation didn’t start this nation

 We’re still picking up the pieces

 Walking over eggshells

 Fighting over yesterday

 And caught between southern pride

 And southern blame


They called it Reconstruction

 Fixed the buildings, dried some tears

 We’re still sifting’ through the rubble

 After 150 years

 I’ll try to put myself in your shoes

 And that’s a good place to begin

 It ain’t like I can walk a mile

 In someone else’s skin


‘Cause I’m just a white man

 Living in the Southland

 Just like you, I’m more than what you see

 I’m proud of where I’m from

 And not everything we’ve done

 And it ain’t like you and me to rewrite history

 Our generation didn’t start this nation

 And we’re still paying for the mistakes

 Than a bunch of folks made

 Long before we came

 Caught somewhere between southern pride

 And southern blame


[LL Cool J]

 Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood

 What the world is really like when you’re living in the hood

 Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good

 You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would

 Now my chains are gold, but I’m still misunderstood

 I wasn’t there when Sherman’s March turned the south into firewood

 I want you to get paid, but be a slave I never could

 Feel like a new-fangled Django dogging invisible white hoods

 So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good

 I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover, not the book

 I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air

 But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here


I’m just a white man

 (If you don’t judge my do-rag)

 Coming to you from the southland

 (I won’t judge your red flag)

 Trying to understand what it’s like not to be

 I’m proud of where I’m from

 (If you forget my gold chains)

 But not everything we’ve done

 (I’ll forget the iron chains)

 It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history

 (Can’t rewrite history, baby)

 Oh, Dixieland

 (The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixing’)

 I hope you understand what this is all about

 (Quite frankly, I’m a black Yankee, but I’ve been thinking about this lately)

 I’m a son of the New South

 (The past is the past, you feel me)

 And I just want to make things right

 (Let bygones be bygones)

 Where all that’s left is southern pride

 (RIP Robert E. Lee, but I’ve gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean

Monday, April 8, 2013

Does President Obama's faux pas expose how men fail to understand issues related to women in the work place?

I kept fueling the flame in wait of a man’s response.  It never came.  Not one man had the guts to share thoughts related to President Barack Obama’s major faux pas from last week.

Speaking at a fundraiser in a wealthy San Francisco suburb, President Obama praised the looks of California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” Obama said. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

“It’s true! C’mon,” he added, to laughter from the crowd.
It was an offensive comment that opened old wounds among women who fight to be recognized for more than their looks.  I could hear the collective “no he didn’t” screaming like Big Mama ready to take a chunk out of Baby Boy’s backside. 
Women are hurt by Obama’s insensitivity to the battles they continue to fight on the workplace.

So, I put it to the test.  I wanted to know if men cared enough to respond to comments I made that gave justification for Obama’s wink at Harris.  I was interested to see if they would rally for a man’s right to flirt on the workplace. I was even more interested to see if a man would rally in support of a woman’s right not to be pigeonholed by their looks.
I tested my thesis on Facebook.

“Well, he told the truth, nothing but the truth....He also mentioned her other attributes. My take, there's nothing wrong with complimenting a person.”

Not one man took the bait.  Not one.  The lack of conversation regarding this topic speaks volumes involving the continuing disconnect between women’s rights and the men who are too self-consumed to care enough to engage.  The tough lessons about gender bias are critical for those women who continue to grapple to find place in a world dominated by white men.  Yes, there is still a glass ceiling in corporate America.

The term glass ceiling was first used by two women at Hewlett-Packard in 1979.  Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber used it to describe the point in which women were unable to move beyond in their pursuit of promotion. Obama’s comments were distasteful due to how the underlying assumptions feed into notions of legitimacy regarding women in the workplace. 

I posted comments on Facebook in an effort to force a comprehensive dialogue regarding what made Obama’s comments inappropriate.  I hoped to stir an even deeper discussion in hope that both men and women would gain a better understanding related to what is happening in the sanctioning of worth in the workplace.
The women went at it.  I knew they would.  Some defended Obama.  Most chastised him for mentioning a woman’s looks in a public setting.  I knew they would.

Not a word from the men.

So, what is wrong with what Obama said?
Obama’s comments are wrong due to how they affirm the correlation between attractiveness and merit.  Although he was able to speak to Harris’s credentials, the mention of her looks served to further validate her as a woman befitting of the role she holds as California’s Attorney General.  The mention of looks within a public context upraises already existing assumptions about what it takes to make it in a world dominated by white males.

The mere mention of her looks triggered that age old battle.  For most men, it’s no big deal.  Others are enlightened enough to see how we have been molded to think looks and productivity are one in the same. They aren’t.  It takes tremendous effort to abolish the willingness to overlook highly competent people due to looks.  Looks make a difference in who gets the job, and who doesn’t.  Given men make most decisions, it’s safe to say there are scores of talented women devoid of opportunity because of a man’s definition of beauty.
No men responded. 

I took a few stabs to set the table for a deeper discussion.  What are the lessons?  Maybe its men don’t care enough to discuss how looks determine their decision. Maybe they didn’t get the memo that day. 

Who knows?
One thing is clear.  The battle between the sexes is far from being over.  As a man, forgive me for not listening.  Forgive me for what I fail to understand.

The good news is I care enough to hear your struggles.
You can’t get there if you refuse to listen.

Listen, can you hear the crickets?