Sunday, July 25, 2010

Race in America: A Hot Mess

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous calls on the Tea Party to disavow itself of the racist elements within its ranks. Sarah Palin fires back, calling the NAACP a "racist organization." She also creates a new word, "refudiate," which, up until then, had probably never been used in the New York Times. Then someone fires back with video of U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod's speech from an NAACP fundraiser taken out of context. The Secretary of Agriculture overreacts, fires Sherrod, only to find out later that the video had been edited and that Ms. Sherrod's message was not racist, but reconciling. And throughout, Ms. Sherrod maintains her cool, is later offered a better job at the Department of Agriculture, and receives a well-deserved apology from President Obama himself.

Then this morning I listen to Dean Christopher Edley of the Boalt Hall School of Law and John McWhorter of the Manhattan Institute on CNN state that these shenanigans did not involve racism. Race, but not racism.

Indeed.

When it comes to dealing with issues of race, America is, in the oft-used words of Niecy Nash, "a hot mess." We can't seem to have an open and honest dialogue about racism and race without resorting to name-calling and sound bites. I don't think it would even be safe to have a Clinton-esque "Town Hall Meeting on Race" because, give the hodge-podge of concealed weapons laws around the country, you don't know who could be packing heat at one of the meetings. It's that much of a hot-button issue.

As to the Tea Party members, I actually know and like a lot of Tea Partyers. I admire that, unlike most Americans, they feel so strongly about what they believe in that they're willing to coalesce and become a vehicle for political action. That said, I believe Congressman John Lewis when he said he was called the "N-word" by people protesting with the Tea Party against health care reform. I saw the video of Congressman Lewis being spat on as he crossed the street to vote. I also remember watching Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" dismiss those who spewed racial epithets and spit on black members of Congress as being on the fringe without going so far as to condem what they said or were purported to have said.

How hard is it for any organization to condemn racism and the racists hiding behind the umbrella of that organization? Why is that so hard to agree on?

That said, I doubt Shirley Sherrod would have been shown the door so quickly if she had been white and her words had been similarly misconstrued to have been anti-black. I doubt the Japanese American Citizens League would have been called "a racist organization" had it called the Tea Party on racist elements within the Tea Party.

Whenever black people, or black organizations, raise their voices to call out racism, there seems to be this furious backlash as if to say we have no standing to speak of the racism we've heard and seen with our own eyes, as if we are inherently unreliable witnesses when it comes to calling out racism simply because we are black and, in the minds of many, inherently racists ourselves.

For Dean Edley and John McWhorter's edification, the racism in all this was that a conservative edited Ms. Sherrod's speech to make the NAACP look like racial hypocrites and show the NAACP as an inherently unreliable witness when it comes to calling out racism. That's not political; it's racist.

If Ms. Palin is as certain of her accusation as she appears to be, I would hope she'd have the courage to attend an NAACP convention and make that same accusation and back it up with facts.

As for African Americans, my hope is that, as a people, we redouble our efforts to not only stand up and call out racism when we see it, but that we also do what we can to insulate ourselves and our children from it. We need to strengthen our institutions -- organizations, colleges, you name it -- as well as ourselves -- with greater educational achievement, entrepreneurial growth, and economic independence -- so that we're relatively unaffected by the slings and arrows of racists, and racist elements, in positions of power.

A good start might be actually joining the NAACP, and putting Shirley Sherrod in charge of it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Go to Hell, Mel

There he goes again, this time without the excuse of alcohol addiction: Mel Gibson is revealed to be a misogynist and a racist. This time, he warns his “baby mama” Oksana Grigorieva that, given how she’s dressed, she deserves to be raped and risks being raped by a bunch of black men. Well, “black men” is not the term he used, but I won’t dignify what he said by repeating it verbatim.

When, oh when, will America stop making black men into sexually predatory boogeymen who have this uncontrollable desire to rape white women? I thought that was soo last millennium.

I am the aunt and great-aunt to a good number of African American boys. They should not be considered, just by virtue of their existence, to be a threat to the sexual integrity of white women, or any women for that matter. For hundreds of years in this country, black men died at the hands of the “raped white woman” lie. I take it seriously when someone gives life to the lie that black men lie in wait in hopes of raping scantily clad white women who, in Mel Gibson’s book, would probably deserve such treatment. Mind you, Jack Johnson and Eldridge Cleaver did nothing to dispel this myth, but then again, that was last millennium.

Second, I don’t care if a woman, no matter her race, is walking butt-naked in the middle of Times Square: No woman “deserves” to be raped, no matter who she is, no matter what she does, no matter how she dresses. Call me an old school feminist on this one, but I still believe in “’No’ means ‘no’.” Rape has increasingly become not only a tool to suppress and oppress individual women, but a tool of war waged against the women of entire countries. I take it seriously when the words are uttered that a woman “deserved” to be raped.

Finally, with all due respect to my melanin-challenged sisters, white women are not the epitome in beauty and the sexual “brass ring” for all black men. Many men in my family are no more attracted to white women than they are gay. That’s not to say that they find white women physically repulsive by virtue of their race; it just means that they are drawn to women who have the physical attributes and cultural experiences of our shared race. In other words, there aren’t these mythical packs of black men roaming the streets in hopes of raping white women as some sort of "achievement," although insecure white men like Mel Gibson would like you to think there are.

So, on behalf of my male ancestors and relatives, all of the black men falsely accused and lynched for raping white women, and women of the world, I say to Mel Gibson, “Go to hell.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

Let Oakland Move Forward

The trial's over, and Johannes Mehserle, a BART police officer, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Oscar Grant. Whether you agree with the verdict or not, the one thing we should all agree on is this: Give Oakland a break. The citizens of Oakland have a long, sordid history of suffering at the hands of police and of violent protest, and as much as Oakland tries to move forward and forge a new way of dealing with conflict, the press and the public won't let it. It was almost as if people willed there to be violence in Oakland in the aftermath of the verdict. Can't we speak more positive outcomes for Oakland? Why do we continually dump our worst hopes and lowest expectations on Oakland?

I haven't lived in Oakland for more than ten years, but the Oakland I knew and loved was more than police violence and violent protests. The Oakland I knew fiercely loved the arts and its artists. It was a soulful, diversity-embracing place mindful of its history as a game-changer in black political leadership. It was more than riots after police brutality trials. If people took the time to know Oakland rather than accept what they hear from people who don't know Oakland, maybe they would see all the good I saw all those years I lived there.

I pray that peace will reign in Oakland and that Oakland continues to move forward in a positive direction no matter what the people and the press say.

LeBron Is Not A Slave. . . And Neither Am I

I'm totally feeling LeBron James' decision to pack up and go to Miami. First, I adore Miami -- the food, the people, the beaches, and the attitude. Miami is like living in the Caribbean but without the passport and currency hassle.

Reading the negative responses from the Cleveland Cavaliers' owner and from many people in Cleveland -- a city I also like, but not nearly as much as Miami -- all I can say is this: LeBron is not a slave, and Cleveland is not a plantation.

LeBron lived up to the terms of his contract. Cleveland had seven years to put together a team worthy of his talent. The brother wants a ring, and Cleveland can't get him to the championship. His choice was as clear to him as it is to me: Do you want to retire as a Jordan or as a Barkley? Hell, even Kevin Garnet got ghost so he could get a ring. If Cleveland had done its part, maybe LeBron would have stayed. But you can't say he didn't give it his all or that Cleveland gave him what any champion wants -- a championship. To brand him as disloyal and wish him ill, well, that just shows you why Cleveland will always be, well, Cleveland. Even Chris Webber gets much love from Sacramento even after he left the Kings. Cleveland needs to show some class instead of some ass.

And maybe it's because I'm in the funk I'm in that I totally get LeBron's choice. I'm one of the 200,000+ employees that California's spray-tanned dictator, Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger, wants to pay minimum or no wage until there's a state budget. I do my work and expect to be paid. I'm all for pitching in during tough times, but I'm not willing to do more than anyone else -- I'm not willing to take a pay cut when other state employees at the Capitol and some state agencies don't have to. Either we're all in, or I'm out. I want to do the work that I do, and I want to do it in an environment where I am supported, not denigrated. I am not a slave, and the State of California is not a plantation.

Just as LeBron's last disappointment on the way to a championship got him looking around, this latest state fiscal crisis has got me looking around for new employment. I've made it very clear to my boss and anyone else who will listen that if I don't have a paycheck instead of a "budget impasse loan" on August 1, I'm gonna make like a free agent and get ghost. Like LeBron. Because I am not a slave.