It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right, or Selective Outrage is Impotent

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. – Frederick Douglass

Just a few thoughts regarding the latest in protest and violence in America post what strongly appears to be unchecked police brutality.

I’ve had conversations with friends, African-American friends in particular who voice either in word, social media and otherwise their frustrations and disdain for looters and folk who are burning buildings in Baltimore.  They’ve praised the mother who went Ronda Rousey on her son for participating in the riots.  They say, “I hate what I’m seeing on TV!  This is NOT the answer!”

What occurred to me was the history of the world, the history of this country.  Change from those in power to benefit those with less has rarely happened without violence and physical struggle.  I think of the Arab Springs in Syria, Egypt and Morocco to name a few over the last several years.  People had decided that they had enough of their oppressive and corrupt governments.  I think of the history of the civil rights movement during segregation and Jim Crow.  Hell, I think of the Boston Tea Party!  That struggle is glorified in history books.  My response to my friends has simply been to ask them, “Well what IS the answer?  What should they do?  Call the police?  (The same police who have one of THE worst documented reports of police brutality?) Write the police commissioner? What should they do to make the difference? None could give me any answers.  I sure as hell don’t have any either.

I saw President Obama this morning demonizing the looters.  But he can ‘miss me’ with that until he also demonizes the police who crushed a man’s spine and voice box while in their custody for simply running away from them.  Freddie Gray wasn’t wanted for any crime.  The knife he had in his pocket was of legal.  His downfall seems to be that he didn’t possess NFL first round wide receiver speed to escape his killers.  The President isn’t the only using all of his vitriol against those in rebellion.  Mass media and the direction or misdirection of narrative shaping is solely focused on the fallout from Gray’s death instead of the original sin of Gray’s death.  The truth of the matter is, I am not willing to listen to anyone who is not nuanced enough to have a real discussion regarding the cause and effect of what’s going on in Baltimore, what happened in New York, Ferguson and Oakland to facilitate community unrest.  I mean, how many times does this have to happen before there is a recognition of human nature; that if you keep putting a boot on people’s necks they are going to rise up?   It’s easy to tell people, “Keep on taking this ass whooping and burying your friends and kin to police brutality.  Organize and wait for the next election.  Have a church services, pray and forgive corrupt cops and the institutions that protect them.”  Historically that is not going to be a unified or sustained response.  Again, just check the history of anywhere in the world!  It ain’t gonna happen!

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Furthermore, I am past the point of apologizing for the looters. Looting is something I have never done nor would I.  I was in Ferguson and it never crossed my mind.  It’s not my thing.  But why should I have to own the onus of those that do when my counterparts don’t own the burden of unarmed black boys and men being murdered by police?  Am I the only one (as an activist) that needs to make concessions here and take ownership?  If they want to isolate and tell me that all the facts aren’t in, then I will say the same thing.  Dammit we don’t know who burned down the buildings.  You got a name?  Have all the facts been gathered yet?  Has there been an investigation of who exactly started the fires?  What accelerant was used? At what point in each building was the fatal match thrown? …and by WHOM exactly?  Sound ridiculous?  I don’t know… Cause sure as hell we had Eric Garner’s death from start to finish on VIDEO and we saw how THAT turned out!  Mr. Scarface said it best, “Black men are being hunted!”

I have always been an ambassador of sorts.  I bridge gaps and intermediate many potentially explosive situations.  I’ve done it all my life.  It’s natural for me.  I love peace.  Thus I am a fan of Dr. King’s non-violent work.  Yet I have always understood the need for an armed movement like The Black Panthers too.  I don’t own a gun.  I don’t desire to own one.  But I do recognize that with non-violence it’s easy for the one oppressing you to get a little too comfortable believing no retribution is possible.  Having the thought that in the back of one’s mind that he can catch some hurt if he stepped to the wrong person or set of people is just smart negotiating.  In other words, Rosa Parks is going to sit on that bus, but Nat Turner may take a shovel to your dome!

Is that not how our own government deal with other countries?  It goes like this: “If you don’t act right, we may use economic sanctions. Or we may bomb the shit outta you!”

Finally let me bring this point home.  If something goes down at my house where I need help, I’m calling the police.  I have several friends who are police officers.  One is a high ranking member.  If I see one of those guys driving behind me, it wouldn’t phase me a bit.  As a matter of fact, I may try to flag them down and start a conversation.  Equally true, is that because of my own experiences with bad police, I am scared as hell when one gets behind me who I don’t know.  *Especially if he is white*  I’m on the road almost every day going to someone’s basketball gym, football field or baseball diamond.  Sometimes I am some very remote areas where there are rarely is any folk who look like me.  And the reality is this; On any given day I could be the next Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Eric Garner or Oscar Grant.  That ain’t hyperbole.  That’s real!  Look, I was on a field last week working a baseball game.  I saw two cops approach and started watching the game. I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet I was scared.  I wondered if they were there for me.  At the time there was a baseball game and a track meet going on right next to the diamond.  I didn’t see any faces of color anywhere.  My tensions didn’t subside till the police vacated the property.  And it’s not as if I am afraid of any man in isolation. But I expect danger and conflict from police who I know mostly operate with impunity.  But this is my life.  And the fact of the matter is, if it IS me, if I am the next to be murdered by police many detractors will believe that I somehow provoked it or deserved it.  Yes some of my white friends will say, “Well, he is a fiery guy!  You ever see his Facebook page?  He must have went off or took a swing at them…went for his gun.”  And this is how they will live with the lie that they tell themselves in NOT getting involved or using their own voices to promote an end to this bullshit!   If I’m lucky, others will rally for me as I have rallied for them.  I shouldn’t have to live with this conflict of having a cognitive dissidence of respecting police and their duties and yet fearing the one in the badge that is supposed to represent service and protection from REAL criminals.

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So no I don’t pretend to know what black folk should do in reaction every time this happens to us.  But I do know that when white folk decide that enough is enough, things will change , and change in a hurry.  Folk like Baltimore Oriole’s COO John Angelos who said;

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

Jeering at protesters is low hanging fruit.  Going after bad police, digging into the policies of oppression, mass incarceration and the roots of class warfare and suffering is HONEST!  OWN THAT and then we can talk.  Otherwise… See you after the next police led murder and cover up in a city near you.

 

 

 

 

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A People’s History of Pots, Kettles, Finger Waggers, Bullies, and Accidental Amnesiacs

The wonderful thing about being in America is having the ability to speak one’s mind.  Not only that, there are so many ways an individual can express his/her thoughts these days via social media.  Add to these traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and television, we find ourselves surrounded with 24/7 access to thought and opinions on all subjects political, social, religious and so forth.

What I do find particularly frustrating at times is the simplicity and lack of nuance and imagination within many thoughts and opinions.  With the tools we have to communicate with one another, there is so much opportunity to discuss, debate, and grow as a society.  But what seems to happen on most occasions, is that the simplest, most unsophisticated thoughts are the ones that not only get the headlines, but are also leading the discussions. I plan to follow that thought up with another blog post soon.  But for this thought, I will direct my attention to the trending topic of Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

Personally, I don’t care what people think of Sam in terms of his sexuality.  You can be for it or against it.  In this world, and certainly in this country, people are going to have an opinion on what they think is right or wrong for whatever reason.  As we can see via many comments on Sam kissing his boyfriend on ESPN as he spoke to Rams’ brass,  there is no shortage of opinions on either side.  I’ll address my thoughts on it shortly.

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People who know me understand that I have no sacred cows when it comes to my perspectives.  All of us individually and as a group deserve a basic level of respect. And we all deserve our fair share of criticism. I love being black and I love black people.  That doesn’t mean I vouch for everything black folks say and do.  I am pro equal rights for all, regardless of ethnicity, political, religious preference, sexual orientation and so forth.  Still, I don’t blindly endorse what any political party, Christians, Muslims, atheist, the straight or gay community says and do either. Unfortunately, far too many have a ‘you’re for me or against me’ victimization mentality, when they are called on the carpet for inconsistencies or hypocrisies.

With this in mind, on the subject of Sam’s PDA with his male partner, I have a message to all parties who care.

The Religious/White Folk: I’ve already spoken to you about this before.  Be anti-gay.  Just don’t talk to me about morality and your kids seeing Sam and his boyfriend kissing on TV.  Fact of the matter is, Ray Rice knocked his fiancee’ the hell out and I don’t see any of you protesting that.  Straight players have publicly cheated on their wives, laid pipe all over the country, objectify women in strip clubs making it rain… and again, you never mentioned that in your pulpits or your social media formats.  What trips me out the most though, is that for every preacher, politician and anti-gay public figure, a certain percentage of them are closet drag queens, or somebody on the down low having sex with men.  Seriously?  

The Religious/Black Folk in General: See message to white folk.  But add to this that as you say things like, “I’m tired of this being thrown in my face; when you say, “Yuck!” or “Gross” or “I don’t want my kids to see this on TV…,” remember that Dorothy Dandridge got in a pool at a hotel, and the same white folks who said they don’t have a problem with black people had that pool drained. Traditionally, racist white folks have always had a use for black folks.  As slaves, mistresses, servants, entertainers, or even as a ‘friend.’  JUST NOT AS EQUALS.  There are layers.  I don’t expect everyone to accept me for who I am.  But not attacking me is not the same as respecting me and protecting my right to exist as an equal!  For a person to say I have gay friends/family,  but I wouldn’t teach my kids that it’s OK, is like saying, I don’t have anything against black people, I just don’t want my kids dating them.  It’s still bigotry.  At least admit that.  That doesn’t make you a criminal, it just means there is some potential for growth.

**Most bigotry is in some form or fashion related to sexual fears and myths.  That’s another story.**

Look, we all have biases to overcome. The first time I saw Omar Little kiss his partner on The Wire, I was like, “Whoa WAIT!  What just happened?  It wasn’t a shock because it was sickening.  It was shocking because I hadn’t seen it before.

Black people especially should be mindful of our own history with biases against us and the imagery that was important towards our own progression as a people. When I was a kid, I remember my parents gathering us around the television to watch The Flip Wilson show because there wasn’t another show like that for black people.  There were hardly NO shows for black people. From ‘Good Times’ to ‘The Jeffersons,’ we were able to receive images on television about our families, our values, often referencing issues that were important to us.  Many times in Southern states, they refused to show black people in a light that was integration friendly.  They lost their minds when Petula Clark touched Harry Belafonte’s arm in 1968.  Can you imagine what it was like when Jim Brown (who was then the personification of black male sexual power and prowess) did a love scene with white sex symbol Rachel Welch in “100 Rifles?”  Talk about an OMG moment!  This struggle has continued despite many strides.  Even when the Cosby show was on, many criticized the show because they felt a black family with a father who was a doctor and a mother who was an attorney was ‘unrealistic.’

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Naturally, the gay and lesbian community is going to support images on television that reflect a celebration of their value and right to exist.  So seeing Sam kiss his boyfriend at the pinnacle point of his life is a big deal.  There is no gay conspiracy to force acceptance upon the straight community.  Will and Grace is for them is what Sanford and Son was for us.

Acknowledging this puts me in the cross hairs of many of my straight friends. Even now, on social media when I defend gays, I am often assumed to be gay. They say things like, “I don’t care about what you do with your life.” When I try to show them the parallel between our plights with bigotry, I’m told, “Be gay and do you!  Enjoy your lifestyle… but don’t force it down my throat!”   Remind me of how many whites were and are called “nigger lovers,’ when they stand up for our rights as a people.

I believe the topics of free thought/free speech is a wonderful thing to discuss.  Donald Sterling’s fiasco as well as Michael Sam’s coverage are just the latest opportunity which brings that subject to bear.  I just hope that we maximize all these thoughts and speeches to do more than hyperbolize.

You know what came to my mind when I first saw the kiss?  I thought, “Look, Michael Sam is just like most other African-American big time athletes.  They get to college and go white!  No different!

See,.. now there is a bias for you!

 

 

 

 

My Evening With the G.O.A.T.

****Re-post in honor of The G.O.A.T / Original January 17 2012****

Upon hearing that today is the 70th Birthday for the (Greatest of All Time) Muhammad Ali, it reminded me of the evening that I was honored to spend with The Champ.  The year was 2005 and the occasion was “The Butterfly Ball” in Atlanta, Georgia.  The event was a fundraiser for The Ali Center, a museum dedicated to the career and humanitarian efforts of Ali that was being constructed in Louisville, KY.

Before I go further you have to understand what Muhammad Ali meant to me growing up in the 70s.  As a child there were two celebrities that I looked up to.  Muhammad Ali and then Sugar Ray Leonard.  At the time I was too young to understand Ali’s political and heroic defiant stand against participating in the Vietnam War, and I wasn’t necessarily a boxing aficionado.  But what I did recognize was Ali’s charm, confidence, star power and unapologetic boldness in public at a time when many black public figures wouldn’t dare.  Inwardly I knew he was making a place for me and his persona gave me a definite sense of pride.  Muhammad Ali to me was so significant that he was almost legend and unreal; An ethereal figure on television that may as well have been from outer space in terms of what I felt was my chance at ever seeing him face to face.  That feeling never left me even as I grew older and cried when he lost in humiliating fashion at the of his career.

Ali and Lewis

(Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Tom Joyner)

The event was star studded and included people like Cornel West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Tom Joyner, and many others including former Heavy Weight Champion Lennox Lewis, who gave $2 million of his own money because of the love he has for The Champ.  Brian McKnight had a trio set for the entertainment.  The week before making the trip to the ATL, I called Ali’s people and asked if there was a chance that I could meet The Champ and get a photo.  The woman on the phone told me that Ali hadn’t been feeling well as of late, but when he is generally he’s very generous of such request.  I hoped for the best.

After dinner and music, several speakers came up to talk about what Muhammad Ali has meant to them.  The most touching was probably Professor West who couldn’t hold back his tears as well as Ali’s daughter Lala who also tearfully recalled so many occasions where ‘daddy’  loved and cherished her and her siblings.  I was about 25 feet from the podium in awe.

Lala Ali

(Lala Ali, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali)

Finally when The Champ got up, he struggled to stand and speak but offered several jokes and took assorted pot shots and the people he loved.  Except for the laughs the room was totally silent as he spoke.  He was a total hoot.  When he finished and after he exited the stage I wanted to get a hand shake and possibly a photo.  The celebrities were getting theirs in and I was sort of intimidated to step in.  But then I thought to myself, “It’s now or never.  To hell with it man get in there!”

So I made my way through the big shots and tried to approach him.  He had a handler with him and I said, “Is it ok if I take a picture with The Champ?”  The handler said, “The Champ is tired and we need to get him out of here so he can rest.”  And this is what I’ll never forget…what gave Ali the beyond the universe status with me.  He heard me and pushed his handler away motioning me to come close to him.  I shook his hand and said my peace in his ear, then needed to get this photo taken quickly.  Over my right shoulder is Mayor Andrew Young.  I said, “Mayor would you mind,” handing him my camera.  He smiled with enthusiasm and said, “Sure.”  And there struggling to stand on his own The Champ made two fist and took that damn picture.

A few seconds later I looked at the camera hoping to God that the mayor didn’t screw up my photo and there it was.  I stared at it.  A photo of me and Muhammad Ali.  I thought back to my childhood and all that he had meant to me and thinking how untouchable I thought he’d be.  It was surreal as if time had stood still.  All I could think to myself was, “That’s freaking Muhammad Ali.  That’s freaking Muhammad Ali!”  Talking about ‘floating like a butterfly….’

If he had went on his way without taking the photo I still would have felt blessed.  It would have been all good and I would have understood.  But the fact that he pressed his way and didn’t “big time” me as just another cat he’s met out of millions, I will NEVER FORGET THAT!

For this reason as well as the many others are why he will always be The G.O.A.T. to me!

Happy Birthday Champ!

Me & The Greatest of All Time

(Me and the G.O.A.T.)

Is Gay The New Black?

LZ Granderson says criticism of President Obama by the gay community has gone too far.

LZ Granderson doesn’t think so. 

(CNN) — Far from flowing rainbow flags, the sound of Lady Gaga and, quite honestly, white people, stands a nightclub just outside of Wicker Park in Chicago, Illinois, by the name of The Prop House.

The line to get in usually stretches down the block, and unlike many of the clubs in Boystown and Andersonville, this one plays hip-hop and caters to men who may or may not openly identify as gay, but without question are black and proud.

And a good number of them are tired of hearing how the gay community is disappointed in President Obama, because they are not.

In recent weeks, one would have thought the nation’s first black president was also the nation’s biggest homophobe. Everyone from Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black and radio personality Rachel Maddow to Joe Solmonese, the president of Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay advocacy group, seem to be blasting Obama for everything from “don’t ask don’t tell” to Adam Lambert not winning American Idol.

In their minds, Obama is not moving fast enough on behalf of the GLBT community. The outcry is not completely without merit — the Justice Department’s unnerving brief on the Defense of Marriage Act immediately comes to mind. I was upset by some of the statements, but not surprised. (After the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, President Ronald Reagan’s initial handling of AIDS and, more recently, Katrina, there is little that surprises me when it comes to the government and the treatment of its people.)

Still, rarely has criticism regarding Obama and the GLBT community come from the kind of person you would find standing in line at a spot like The Prop House, and there’s a reason for that.

Despite the catchiness of the slogan, gay is not the new black.

Black is still black.

And if any group should know this, it’s the gay community.

Bars such as The Prop House, or Bulldogs in Atlanta, Georgia, exist because a large number of gay blacks — particularly those who date other blacks, and live in the black community — do not feel a part of the larger gay movement. There are Gay Pride celebrations, and then there are Black Gay Prides.

There’s a popular bar in the heart of the nation’s capital that might as well rename itself Antebellum, because all of the white patrons tend to stay upstairs and the black patrons are on the first floor. Last year at the annual Human Rights Campaign national fundraiser in Washington, D.C. — an event that lasted more than three hours — the only black person to make it on stage was the entertainment.

When Proposition 8 passed in California, white gays were quick to blame the black community despite blacks making up less than 10 percent of total voters and whites being close to 60 percent. At protest rallies that followed, some gay blacks reported they were even hit with racial epithets by angry white participants. Not to split hairs, but for most blacks, the n-word trumps the f-word.

So while the white mouthpiece of the gay community shakes an angry finger at intolerance and bigotry in their blogs and on television, blacks and other minorities see the dirty laundry. They see the hypocrisy of publicly rallying in the name of unity but then privately living in segregated pockets. And then there is the history.

The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.

While those who were at Stonewall talk about the fear of being arrested by police, 40 years ago, blacks talked about the fear of dying at the hands of police and not having their bodies found or murder investigated. The 13th Amendment was signed in 1865, and it wasn’t until 1948 that President Harry S Truman desegregated the military. That’s more than an 80-year gap.

Not to be flip, but Miley Cyrus is older than Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That doesn’t mean that the safety of gay people should be trivialized or that Obama should not be held accountable for the promises he made on the campaign trail. But to call this month’s first-ever White House reception for GLBT leaders “too little too late” is akin to a petulant child throwing a tantrum because he wants to eat his dessert before dinner. This is one of the main reasons why so many blacks bristle at the comparison of the two movements — everybody wants to sing the blues, nobody wants to live them.

This lack of perspective is only going to alienate a black community that is still very proud of Obama and is hypersensitive about any criticism of him, especially given he’s been in office barely six months.

If blacks are less accepting of gays than other racial groups — and that is certainly debatable — then the parade of gay people calling Obama a “disappointment” on television is counterproductive in gaining acceptance, to say the least. And the fact that the loudest critics are mostly white doesn’t help matters either.

Hearing that race matters in the gay community may not be comforting to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

**** BB&G Notes – Opinions for either argument are welcome.  Please come intelligent regardless.