Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The deaths of Maya Angelou and Vincent Harding leaves a deep void in the soul of black America

I’m sitting here fighting the paralysis caused by the news of Maya Angelou’s death.  Vincent Harding died last week. It’s too soon.  The feeling of decomposition has occupied a space once vacated by hope.

What will morning bring after midnight comes to blind travellers headed toward a dream?  What do we do after two great prophets take comfort in a place beyond our knowing?

I’m stuck in the silence.

Who will remind us of the lessons from before we were old enough to comprehend?  Who will tell us stories about wadding in water deep enough to drown optimism? Who will be there to calm the weariness stirred by images large enough to conjure fear?

I’m stuck in disappointment.

Who will challenge us not to forget?  Who will mold the minds of the next generation?  Angelou and Harding kept us focused. They kept our eyes glued on the waiting prize.  Who will tell us stories about life before the election of a black president?  Who will remind us of the heaviness of walking on soil tainted by the blood of those slain for refusing to go home?

Harding was a scholar baptized in struggle.  He was a Mennonite who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Harding worked in the campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He drafted many of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches.

Harding wrote books and served as the senior academic consultant for the PBS television series Eyes on the Prize. He made the connection between scholarship and activism that shadowed the work after King’s death.

“There’s a lesson for us: If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King,” Harding said during a lecture at Goshen College in 2005.  “All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places where it’s easy to be Christian. That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist."

Angelou was also active in the Civil Rights movement. She worked with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and was deeply involved with Malcolm after his split from the Nation of Islam. Before becoming a poet, she held jobs as a night-club dancer, fry cook, prostitute and a cast-member of the play Porgy and Bess.  She became a coordinator for SCLC, a journalist in Egypt and Ghana, an actress, producer and director of plays, movies and television programs. 

Angelou is known best for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her autobiography that exposed aspects of her personal life.  She taught us that telling the truth can set you free. 

Mary Lee, her maternal great-grandmother, was emancipated after the Civil War. Lee became pregnant by her former white owner who forced her to sign a false statement accusing another man of being the father of her child.  It was part of a past that many were too ashamed to tell.

Angelou described Lee as "that poor little Black girl, physically and mentally bruised."

Who will tell us it’s empowering not hide from the truth?  Who will be bold enough to encourage others to avoid being delineated by the views of those unwavering in their attempt to curtail faith in more?

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible,” Angelou said.

Who will teach black women not to be coerced into accepting less by men?  Who will massage the conviction of those broken by old decisions?  Who will elevate the cognizance of those fading into a shell of their vast possibility?

Who will speak from a place beyond the narrow analysis of former days? We need men and women who have stood on the banks of promise while the footsteps of hate marched rapidly to prevent the next step.  We need people who were there when courage was found in the middle of enormous distractions.  Those voices will remind us of who we are, and why it’s important never to go back.

Who will stand in the pulpit with Martin and Vincent? Who will write poems brewed in the spirit of Maya?

I’m sitting here begging God to redeem a world bruised by arrogance and apathy.

Listen to the whisper in the wind.

I’m sending you. Stand with the ancestors.  Tell the story of how you have overcome. Tell them, as you travel along the way, a few more footsteps are required before you stand on the other side of the river.

Eyes closed now.

It’s time to read again There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America.  Teach me Dr. Harding.  Teach me in your death.

“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”  I hear you Dr. Angelou.

My tears have been wiped away.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Stephen A. Smith: Mark Cuban is just being honest. Get over it

Mark Cuban said he would cross the street late at night if he saw a “black kid in a hoodie” or a “white guy with a shaved head and lots of tattoos.”

The “hoodie” reference rekindles memories of a hooded black teenager holding a bag of skittles and ice tea, while walking in his father’s gated neighborhood.  He was killed that night. It’s too soon to cite an example connecting hoodies, black youth and fear.

Trayvon Martin’s death exposed the power of perception.  Cuban’s honest analysis reminds us of how prejudices lead to dangerous outcomes.  Be it walking across the street, refusing to hire a person, or shooting a person due to fear, first impressions go a long way toward determining what happens next.

Cuban claims bigotry is something we all carry.  He admits it shows up in his life and among people working for him.  Rather than fire them, Cuban sends them off for diversity training.  He gives them a chance to learn from their mistakes.  He says it’s best to teach lesson versus kicking the can down the road.

Cuban’s comments reflect the knotty nature related to dealing with bigotry in the workplace.  Given bigotry is deeply engrained in human nature, what’s the big deal? That’s Cuban’s position.

“I also try not to be a hypocrite. I know I’m prejudiced. I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways,” Cuban said. “I’ve said this before. If I see a black kid in a hoodie at night on the same side of the street, I’m probably going to walk to other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and lots of tattoos, I’m going back to the other side of the street. If I see anybody that looks threatening, and I try not to, but part of me takes into account race and gender and image. I’m prejudiced. Other than for safety issues, I try to always catch my prejudices and be very self-aware.”

Is Cuban correct to assert that we all have prejudices impacting our daily decisions? If so, who is liable for the pigeonholes formed to keep people at a distant? 

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said those criticizing Mark needed to "grow up."

"I took no issue whatsoever with what Mark Cuban said," Smith said on ESPN’s First Take on Thursday. "He happens to be correct."

“I’m sorry, I don’t see a problem with that whatsoever. I don’t think there’s any ethnic group in America that should take issue with it as a personal affront to them as if he was isolating them or talking about them. He was simply being honest, forthcoming and very open about some of the fears and prejudices that he may have.”

Cuban is just being honest.  He helps us by sharing his personal views.  Is it that simple?  Is Smith right in granting Cuban a pass after using hoodie to reference his own bigotry?

What is implied in our granting space for a person to admit they are bigoted in a lot of different ways, and that all of us are confronted with the same?  Should we embrace our bigotry as a reflection of our humanity, and blame others for fueling our bigoted ways.

If I have prejudices against black boys wearing hoodies, it’s up to those boys to stop wearing hoodies.  Is that the answer to all forms of bigotry?  Rather than exposing bigotry for its evil consequences, are we to assume it as normative, and attack those who bring our prejudices to the forefront?

Smith argues a practical approach to confronting bigotry and prejudice.  He wants black boys to pull up their pants and put on a suit and tie.  He embraces Cuban’s position as real talk about how black people need to take responsibility for how they are perceived by others.  Bigotry and prejudice, in the mind of Smith, is the responsibility of the individual to overcome.

There’s truth to Smith’s claim.  It is up to the individual to create distance from those fixated in a culture that correlates dress with behavior.  Smith’s call for personal responsibility challenges youth to dress in a way that helps ease the apprehension of those carrying prejudices?

“It is about how you present yourself,” Smith said on Friday’s broadcast of First Take. I’m trying to educate you on the minefield that you face.”

Smith claims black people are too busy pointing the finger of blame while not taking responsibility for what it takes to be a success. He says Cuban is correct to draw attention to his prejudices and bigotry around black boys wearing hoodies.

Smith’s position may be correct, but it offers space for people to remain comfortable with their bigotry.  If we all have prejudices, and that may be true, it is up to others to make concessions.  Bigotry is not about a system of thought rooted in misconceptions about a group of people.  It’s about the failure of that group to capitulate to the demands of those with the power to open doors to success.

Cuban offers an explanation for the existence of the bigotry of people like Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers.  All of us have issues with bigotry and prejudice.  Sterling is no different than the rest of us.


The conclusion is simple.  Since all of us have issues, deal with your own rather than throwing stones. 

To that Smith offers a recommendation to black youth.  It’s your fault for failing to make the necessary adjustments.

Conclusion: bigotry is your fault.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Cosby Show raised my kids: will Blackish do the same?

I am the parent of three amazing children.  I know, all parents make that claim.  Parents are quick to boast about their babies even when one is enduring a long term stay at a prison far away.  We love them, for better and for perceived worst, and will fight other parents to prove who did the best to raise their progenies.

With that being said, I will put King (your royal highness), Lenise (sweet baby) and Krista (sugar baby) in the ring with anybody’s kids.  I know, it sounds pathetic to assert that raising children is a competition.  Well, it is in the mind of many.  If you don’t believe me, spend some time watching parents lose their minds while their children participate in the game of your choice.

Lord Jesus.

My reveling in the virtues of my above average children comes with an admission. I didn’t parent them on my own.  Before slapping me with the proverbial dah (there was a mama helping you with that) it’s critical that I give credit for the couple that co-parented my kids.  I’m not alone.  A bunch of us received significant help from the parents who came into our homes once a week.

So, I’m thanking publicly, for the first time, Claire and Heathcliff Huxtable for teaching lessons that made it easier for me to parent.  Many joke that “Cliff” and Claire were their TV parents.  It’s true.  The Cosby Show helped us raise a generation of children who would have been clueless devoid of their guidance. 

Something has been missing since the Cosby Show left that once a week spot on NBC from September 20, 1984 until April 30, 1992.  Today’s parents don’t have that type of help to tell it like it tis. 

Things have become more complicated since 1992.  Black life in America is more convoluted than before.  Cliff and Claire were concerned with life among middle and upper middle class Americans.  The American Dream seemed accessible to all Americans, and the Huxtable’s helped transform images of blackness for those fixated on the stereotypes of inner city existence. 

As many complained the show wasn’t keeping it real; black couples showed up to validate the thesis of the show.  Not all black people live in the hood.

Other sitcoms have attempted to replicate The Cosby Show.  Some come close, but the issues are different.

Today’s black parents are concerned about things lost in their quest to obtain the American Dream.  There’s talk about the consequences of abandoning the best of black culture, during the journey to move on up to the East Side.  Weezy and George Jefferson dealt with that from 1975-1982. 

Black life in America began to mimic the images on television.  Thank God for that.

What follows Weezy, George, Cliff and Claire exhibiting the better side of black life in America? What happens to the generation raised in the finery of things on the other side of the tracks?

They become spoiled, indifferent, pampered brats.  Is that the lesson for this generation of parents?

That’s the context of a Blackish, a new sitcom airing on ABC this fall.  Anthony Anderson, Andre, is the patriarch of the Johnson family.   His wife Rainbow is played by Tracee Ellis Ross, formerly of Girlfriends. Lawrence Fishburne, who produces the show with Anderson, is Pops (Andre’s father).

It’s a cast of seasoned pros with four kids.  The trailer presents a sitcom with the potential of bringing more laughs than Modern Family.  More than the giggles, ROFL and LMFAO, the show raises an issue encountered by black parents who move their children to affluent, mostly-white neighborhoods.  Assimilation comes with a price.

How do you remain rooted in black culture?

Black parents understand the struggle.  In the South, black parents push their children to enroll in a Historically College or Universities (HBCU) to get a feel for the wonders of black culture.  Yes, something is lost when all things white take precedent over the pros of black culture. 

What happens when your kids fail to learn about the wonderful contributions of black people?  Is it possible that they will grow up celebrating all things white while vilifying all things black?

Say it can’t be so, but the danger of assimilation is the forfeiture of a wonderful culture.

I’m not saying Backish is this generations Cosby Show.  Correction. I’m saying it has the potential of teaching similar lessons related to black life in America. It may help pave the way for a broader conversation regarding the burden of assimilation. 

I’m looking forward to ROFL.  Even more, I’m excited about the conversations on Facebook after each broadcast.

Did I mention that my children assimilated while embracing the best of black culture?  I told you they’re the best.

Thanks Uncle Bill and Aunt Claire.