Message to Black Lives Matters Critics … who happen to be Black

Black folk are not monolithic.   I know that there are some in America who believe we are.  But we didn’t all agree in Africa before we were sold into slavery.  We didn’t all agree while in the state of slavery.  We didn’t all agree upon emancipation.  We didn’t all agree during Jim Crow, during the civil rights movement, even about having civil rights.  Like any other group of humans, our views differ from liberal, conservative, ambivalent, apathetic.  We are engaged, passionate and absent.  And just as we don’t agree about who is the best MC, the best basketball player of all time, or whether peanut butter is better than chocolate, we don’t all view the Black Lives Matter movement as it relates to police brutality, systematic racism and so called Black on Black crime within our neighborhoods.

Locally speaking, since Michael Brown, many of my friends have been on the forefront of protest, civil disobedience or spreading the word via social media regarding police brutality as it relates to the St. Louis Metropolitan area.  They have fought hard through the midst of resistance from many of their White counterparts, White police unions, and administrations resistant to give up the power of their privilege.  Equally true is that St. Louis is enduring a sickening amount of shootings and murders this year.  There are many reasoning and debates for the escalations of violent crimes, from lack of policing in certain North Side areas, to a mindset among Black youth that they just don’t give a damn about taking a life.  As mentioned in the first sentence, we don’t share all of the same views, therefore we don’t share the same passions.  But unfortunately, instead of respecting one another’s passions for a common goal of bettering the community as best as we can, some of us are at odds in direct conflict against the other.  Specifically, some who are righteously frustrated with the crime being committed against one another, are upset at protesters of police brutality and Black Lives Matter.  The video below from Ferguson resident Peggy Hubbard is an example.

Hubbard isn’t the only one who has expressed these sentiments.  Many of my African-American friends on social media have asked after a murder, “Where are all the protesters now? Why aren’t they protesting or holding a rally for this?”  These are similar to some of my White counterparts who refuse to acknowledge or even justify their lack of interest and subsequent support of police brutality because there are Black criminals; as if there aren’t criminals within their own group.  The difference is that White folk generally aren’t shot, chocked, tased, or mysteriously found dead while in police custody.  I’ve had those conversations with my White friends.  I’ve explained to them, that there are differences in community concern about criminal behavior vs state sponsored oppression and brutality.  My neighbor is a citizen, my police, prosecutors and judges are compensated with tax dollars that I participate in contributing towards.  These have taken an oath to protect and serve righteously for all of it’s citizens.  Contrary to popular belief, we can actually care about both equally.  Not to mention if there is a murder or a robbery in my neighborhood, more times than not we are looking to those same police to solve those crimes and remove those criminals from among us.  Some of us believe these crimes aren’t as vigorously investigated in our neighborhoods as they would in a White neighborhood; thus the cycle continues.

What is missed however, is that there are and have been activities standing up for victims of violent crimes.  They may not be as prevalent or publicly covered as those against police brutality.   But they are there.

http://http://http://www.wsiltv.com/home/top-story/Hundreds-March-to-Stop-the-Violence-in-St-Louis-321964351.html

http://http://fox2now.com/2014/06/01/prayer-vigil-held-to-stop-the-violence-in-st-louis/

http://http://fox2now.com/2015/07/29/funeral-directors-and-morticians-to-hold-stop-the-violence-rally-this-sunday/

Thus my message isn’t to my White counterparts who are anti-Black Lives Matter or anti-police brutality against people of color; though they can get some too if they like.  But specifically to those who like Ms. Hubbard, single mother with a son who is incarcerated, to my Black friends who poo poo the folk fighting the system of government oppression because they think these protesters should protest all things Black struggle, is get off your asses and do it yourself!  If there aren’t enough black protest and rallies against crime in your view, then dammit start one.  Gather like minded individuals, organize and get your asses out in these streets.  Why  be in conflict with your brothers and sisters who are fighting for your right to be equally valued lawfully in the system in which we all rely to a certain extent.  If I am in danger and I can’t solve the issue, I’m calling the police.  I have police who are good friends of mine.  But that prevent me from having a passion against police who are out to kill me.  There is no conflict for me to love my police friends while jamming Fuck The Police in my ride simultaneously.  It seems to me that the folk who DO have the problem are sitting at their computers or making videos or posting empty challenges to folk who are doing something, because they aren’t doing a damn thing.

I have given three examples of people who are making a difference in partaking in efforts that are related to our community, though not the same exact focus.  Hell I’ll throw in a fourth just for good measure.

http://http://fox2now.com/2015/04/29/homicide-in-north-st-louis-highlights-we-must-stop-killing-each-other-campaign/

0b6d3200-0a02-4e37-a20d-247608692ec3-620x372

The point is, even if you are not a good organizer, there are some people doing some things in the area of crime in Black neighborhoods.  Join them.  It’s just plain ignorant and unproductive to ask those who are focused on police brutality to do your damn passion too.  Get off the sidelines, and do something and make us all stronger.  If not, then by all means stay in your lane and STFU!

Advertisements

In Defense of Empire, Black Images and Nuance

Image matters!  I agree!  Race matters!  Absolutely! African-Americans don’t have much power in Hollywood. Check.

The images of black folk in television and film has been both marginalized and groundbreaking.  From Bert Williams, Bill Robinson, George Walker, Hattie McDaniel,  Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, to Ron O’Neal, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Diahanne Carroll, Richard Roundtree, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, our images have fit most every possible dynamic.  I am conscious of the image game.  I care about how black folk are portrayed.  If you can’t read any of the dozens of books available on the subject, Spike Lee’s somewhat satirical film, “Bamboozled,” covers the darker history and current struggles in how black images are portrayed.  It’s important to know this history. It is with this in mind that I approach the subject of critics like Dr. Boyce Watkins.  He’s been going in hard via social media and news shows like CNN to criticize Fox’s smash drama, Empire.  Watkins went as far as describing the performances of stars Terrance Howard and Taraji P Henson as ‘coonery.’  I can’t think of a harsher criticism for an African-American to receive from another.  As a social critic and an avid watcher of Empire,  I find his choice of words reprehensibly irresponsible.

I admit that initially when I first saw previews of Empire before it premiered, I was skeptical.  The heavy rotation of promos weeks ahead focused on the glitz and glamour of the music industry, the debonair persona of Luscious Lyon, (Howard) and the powerful hurricane that is Cookie Lyon, (Henson).  My skepticism had everything to do with the history of the so called, “black drama” on network television and the recent phenomenon of other shows appearing on networks like BET.  I worried that Empire would be Fox”s version of a pseudo Kardashian-like program that focuses on the most simple minded of viewers.  It was the reputations of both Howard and Henson that convinced me to at least view the show before writing it off.  My respect for Henson in particular convinced me that she would not participate in a show that didn’t have substance just for a paycheck.  After a full season culminating in a special 2 hour finale, my gut reasoning was on point.

Surrounded by Henson and Howard, the cast is set around mostly unknown actors and actresses.  Astute viewers noticed how these newcomers’ performances improved as the season progressed under the direction of Lee Daniels.  While it’s premature to project the future for Bryshere Gray, (Hakeem Lyon)  Jussie Smollett (Jamal Lyon) and Trai Byers (Andre Lyon) they’ve blended into a believably legitimate family to surround a television drama.  Adding veterans like Malik Yoba and later Derek Luke added more star power to balance the new talent.  Daniels was careful not to let veteran actors like Luke, outshine the rookies, which is genius.

It’s hard to comment on a man’s agenda, or where his heart is on a matter.  Watkins, the self described ‘people’s scholar‘ has been a cultural critic for years.  He seems to spend half his time attacking racism in mainstream America, and the other time criticizing other black folk and or black culture that he feels falls into dangerous stereotypes.  His visceral zeal against Empire seems to be more personal.  In an article he wrote for allhiphop.com, Watkins rants about Daniels’ homosexuality and Jamal’s homosexual character.

I also have a few things to say about Lee Daniels and his admitting that he’d like to use the show to “blow the lid off of homophobia in the black community.” I’m not sure why black people are always the target of this kind of propaganda, especially when there are millions of white conservatives who have their own issues with homosexuality as well.  Not to say that any of us should be forced into a position on gay rights or that we can even agree on what it means to be homophobic, but black people do not have a monopoly on homophobia, however it is defined.

But wait, there’s more…

Basically, “Empire” wasn’t created to entertain black people (although I’m sure it has black viewers).  It is instead selling an image of blackness to a predominantly white audience that has been long fed stereotypical messages about what blackness represents.  These thug-gangster-hoodrat images are the ones that are deeply embedded in the minds of police officers who shoot black men and potential employers who refuse to give black people jobs.  Just like animals in the zoo, the world loves to observe black people at our most ratchet, because ignorant negroes are simply fun to watch.

Empire

I don’t know how to describe this throw up of hyperbole beyond ridiculous.  Perhaps Watkins believes every television show or movie with black people in them should be like NBC’s Cosby show. *Imagine the irony of THAT!  He talks about being fans of Howard’s and Henson’s work previously.  I’m trying to figure out whether he’s referring to when Howard played DJay, a Memphis pimp and aspiring rap star in Hustle and Flow, or Henson’s as one of his whores?  Perhaps it was when she played Yvette, a single mother with a convicted felon for an ex boyfriend in Baby Boy.  Both performances were some of their best work.

Chances are black people we will never have control of Hollywood.  Chris Rock detailed who has the power to ‘green light’ a show.  Still, each show should be judged based it’s content can bear the brunt of it’s own praise or criticism.  Judging a show with a lack of nuance as Watkins does is not only unintelligent, it’s dangerous.  Art, even black art’s purpose is not meant to change social thought and carry cultural burdens to save a people.  Second, police are not shooting unarmed black boys and men because of a television show.  If Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier – two of the most positive and powerful actors in the history of film couldn’t stop lynchings, then how in the hell are Howard and Henson supposed to protect Michael Brown or Eric Garner by not starring in Empire?  Is Watkins that naive?  Or he just an old bitter black man?  Art is being able to enjoy Denzel Washington portraying Silas Tripp in Glory as well as Alonzo Harris in Training Day.

White folks can be as honorable or as ‘ratchet’ as they want to be on television.  They play cops, doctors, gangsters, idiots, bigots, whores and so forth.  No show is indicative of the entire Caucasian, Italian, or Chinese population.  Shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad aren’t apologizing about a damn thing; Nor should they. Equally true, black folk like myself, are nuanced enough to watch both Eyes On The Prize and Empire without expecting one to be the other.

There are shows, movies, and music that deserve our critique because of negativity, or more importantly lack of creativity.  Empire is not one of them.  It’s well written and wildly entertaining.  It doesn’t try to be what it’s not.  Watkins wouldn’t know that as he claims he doesn’t watch the show.  What kind of of ‘scholar’ comments so feverishly on a subject matter he has little knowledge of?

Perhaps the repressed and uptight scholar should eat some “Cookies” so he can smile and lighten up a bit.  Regardless, I can’t wait till next season!

 

 

 

 

A Twist of Process, or Why We Don’t Trust Them

“Mark Geragos (CNN contributor) is going in about the results of this autopsy!  It doesn’t sound good for the cop’s argument!”   That’s what my wife yelled to me as she sat in the living room, and I in the basement.  We were both watching different news stations as they covered the events in Ferguson and the case for Michael Brown vs. Officer Darren Wilson.  I said to her, “Well that may mean something to The Feds.”

“What?,” she questioned.  “Well, (I elaborated), federal officials are the only ones who would seek to use such information as a means of why they should or shouldn’t prosecute.  Certainly The County isn’t.  They aren’t looking to seriously investigate a case that would hurt Wilson regardless of any facts.”   Then it hit her… “Oh yea,” she said.

This conversation brought to bear the inward struggle that many of us are facing in the midst of this ‘investigation’ and ‘waiting for all of the facts’ to come out from the state.  You see if Michael Brown had shot officer Darren Wilson under any circumstances whatsoever, he would have been arrested at the very least.  He wouldn’t be home receiving a pay check with enough benefit of the doubt  by authorities to keep Al Capone  out of court for tax evasion.  There wouldn’t be cries from authorities telling his family, friends and supporters to calm down, and wait for the investigation; all while strategically releasing information to defame the officer’s name and reputation.  There would not be a militarized police presence in Wilson’s neighborhood telling angry residents to go home, shut up or be pelted with rubber bullets and smothered with tear gas.  There wouldn’t be tanks in Wilson’s neighborhood.  There would be no photos of white friends of Wilson’s holding their hands up in surrender while several officers point automatic rifles at them.  No, in essence what we have if a reversal of fortune, a twisting of the process.  Those who are supposed to advocate for the death of an unarmed man and his family, are in reality doing the total opposite.  They are working 24-7 to convict Brown of being a menace to society;  A worthless thug worthy of at least 6 bullets including two to the dome for simply existing.  They don’t see Michael as a young man with a future ahead of him, on his way to college.  They see him as a wretch to their America; a nuisance to be tolerated only when totally necessary.  After all, they can no longer legally be enslaved and they can’t be made to go back to Africa.  What an inconvenience.

Ferguson

This sobering reality came crushing down to my wife as she pondered the thought.  Not that she didn’t realize it before.  For there is still something inherent in black folk that says, “If the evidence is there ‘they’ will pursue it and “they” will follow it where it leads. They have to!”   That county prosecutor Bob McCullough would actually do the job of pursuing the truth in the shooting of Michael Brown.   Alas it is not to be.  McCullough, the man who publicly scorned Governor Nixon for replacing his merry band of trigger happy police officers, the man in charge of leaking information condemning the 18 year old dead kid, is in charge of the evidence presented to a secret grand jury as opposed to public preliminary hearing.

As we talked more about the predicament we find ourselves in, we discussed our Caucasian friends, some who happen to be conservative and their reactions to what they are witnessing since August 9th.  As events have passed and information has been revealed, they have conferred with us to tap our hearts, to get our perspectives.  They see us as people who lean to what we believe is right regardless of one’s ethnicity.  She explained in this case some of our Caucasian friends seem to vacillate between, ‘Maybe the cop was wrong,’ and ‘Gee he may have been justified.  They are struggling with admitting that a police officer could actually be a sinner and do something sinful while in uniform.  That he could have biases, prejudices, and that he would act them out in the line of duty.  I told her that is absolutely the truth, but equally true is that people who feel this way also have a difficult time believing that the black people who are victims of these cops are legitimate people, citizens who are worthy of such considerations.  The first is easy to get them to admit to, the second, no so much.  But in uplifting the cop’s moral standing in one’s mind, you must downgrade the target of his affliction.  Can’t have one without the other.

Much has been made of the military-like presence with the police.  Some dress in fatigues as if they are in Fallujah and  many have removed their name tags so that they couldn’t be named if they themselves commit crimes against the citizens.  Are they attacked before they shoot, or are they challenging those in the streets protesting peacefully?  Regardless I question the tactics.  Why are they patrolling the streets anyway?  While they were in the streets Sunday night there was looting.  There hasn’t been any fighting in the streets.  The only conflicts have been between people and the police blocking paths and drawing lines in the sands.  If they are concerned about looters, who not stand in front of businesses instead?  I suppose that isn’t as much fun and confrontational.  After all, how often does one get to use the military equipment they got from the Pentagon for the ‘war on drugs?”  How often does one get to scream “Bring it on you fucking animals!” to a crowd of black folks he’s just waiting to sink his teeth of  hate and rage into?

Then there is the history.  If white people honestly think that this case and the anger of Black America is solely about Michael Brown they are deceiving themselves.  This case is on behalf of every black person who has been pulled over, arrested, beaten, or killed for merely being black, and the officers who gets away with it.  Locally speaking, go to any municipality among St. Louis County on traffic court night.  All you will see is black folk standing in a line long enough to wrap the building.  These municipalities get the majority of their revenue by giving out traffic tickets.  Doesn’t matter if it’s Ferguson, Florissant, Dellwood, or Hazelwood.  And don’t talk to me about population, because that would assume that the only drivers in their towns are residents.  And though every police study in these United States show that Whites are more likely to carry contraband, stops by the police don’t reflect the data.

As for this case, so far we know a few important facts.  In the biggest case of St. Louis County Police history, they not only are choosing to use a grand jury (secret) vs a preliminary hearing (public and standard for a felony potential crime) county prosecutor McCullough is assigning his assistant to do the case.  **Now we KNOW McCullough is pulling the strings and making all the decisions on whats presented and how it’s presented.** However, he won’t be the face of it.  In addition, Darren Wilson IS BEING ALLOWED TO TESTIFY TO THE GRAND JURY… (which I repeat is in secret)… (How often does THAT happen)  Consider too that McCullough has been legally challenged for decades regarding the amount of jury strikes he’s used against African-Americans.  What do you think the grand jury will look like? Lastly,  McCullough has said this process will take weeks or months.  Why is that?  This is not a whodunit, but the contrary.  Not to mention, if Michael Brown ‘bumrushed’ Wilson and beat the hell out of him as the county officials are alleging, that should be easily proven with hospital records and photos.   McCullough could end this quickly!  One would think anyway right?  I’m reminded of the Kermit Meme when he sarcastically says, “But that’s none of my business.”

As of Tuesday night supporters of Darren Wilson have collected over $25,000 for him.  The question is why?  He’s on paid leave.  In addition, he won’t be charged with a crime by the county.  In essence Wilson’s defense is already being paid by tax payers.  Seems to me the money is a reward!  A thank you for his part in keeping the tone and precedent alive regarding black male life.  As I told my wife, “This isn’t about Mike Brown to McCullough and county officials;  They do NOT want to send a message that any unjust shootings by a White police officer to a black male/female could be challenged in a court of law.  McCullough has the support of police for a reason.  It’s a long standing relationship.  Question one, and they would have to question every fatal shooting or beating going forward.  They are going to stick together on this one like they have previusly.  This is about precedence and a tone set throughout the area.  He is not going to be ‘that guy’ that prosecutes his own.

Some of our well meaning white friends are having a hard time with resonating with our position.  They love my wife and I.  They think highly of our character.  They feel we are exceptional.  We continue to try to dismiss that myth.  That we are not exceptional and more important, we are not the exception.  We are in the same boat as Michael Brown.  And truth be told, no matter what they think of us, if we were to be confronted and shot dead in the streets by a white police officer, they too along with many other white folks who don’t know us will believe it justified regardless of the circumstances.  What will it take to open their eyes?  A courageous exercise in self awareness and American history.  It’s a challenge for humans to perform.  For in doing so they would have to consider reevaluating so much of what they have inherently believed their entire lives.  Its the same challenges that exist when it comes to opening ones mind about their life long religious beliefs.  And that’s hard.  Especially when our White conservative friends are used to having their interest represented in a court of law.  They haven’t been hurt or labeled in the same vain as their Black counterparts in the justice system.

I mean… just look at this satirical yet truthful summation of events.  If this doesn’t confirm the hypocrisy, I’m not hopeful.  And I can tell you this, when they let Darren Wilson off, preserving the precedence,  history will yet again repeat itself.  Another black youth will be murdered by white police, and the same song and dance will be sung and danced by the same white people who have not confronted their prejudices favoring the cops while cursing the value of Black life.