Month: July 2013

Follow the Leader

This here’s my Stepford Wife pose…please make a note of it…

What I’ve always loved about the news business is the chances that it’s given me to use what I picked up in the Sociology classes that I took both in high school and college.

Now what do I mean by that? I mean that when big, sort of cataclysmic things happen in news, stuff like the Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks, the election of Barack Obama as our nation’s first President of color, the school shootings in places like Columbine and Sandy Hook, and the Boston Marathon bombings, we find out where we are as a society. Not the window dressing that we put on daily just to get around, but the stuff behind the curtain.

In other words, the Wizard of Oz comes out from behind the curtain when we’re hit with a national disturbance or a change that we didn’t see coming.

Last Saturday, we had one of those national disturbance things happen in the form of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

In case you were in a cave somewhere last weekend, and I don’t think that being in a cave could have even kept you from getting this information, Zimmerman was found not guilty on all charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, a unarmed teen whose only crimes as far as I can see were (a) being a Black teen in a neighborhood that wasn’t his own and (b) being a Black teen in a neighborhood that wasn’t his own, wearing a hoodie, and defending himself when some dude with a gun decided to come at him.

As I said at the beginning of this post, stuff like the Zimmerman verdict, stuff that everyone in the country has taken a position of some sort on, tends to show us where we are as a country. Social Media has become the mother of all GPS systems and has really given us a pinpointed location in this regard.

So here’s where the Post-Zimmerman verdict GPS seems to be pointing.

One, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks, most of them White, all of them Conservative, think that Trayvon Martin deserved to get shot.

I have heard from a lot of the Conservatives that I let populate my Social Media life that Trayvon was a thug, he wore a hoodie, he was up to no good, and he sucker punched Zimmerman, so he deserved to be shot.

I surmised that these folks got their butts kicked a lot in high school because the only people who would think that it’s okay to shoot someone because they’re kicking your butt in a fight that YOU started are folks who got their butts kicked a lot in high school.

Under the Stand Your Ground law in Florida it’s perfectly legal to do this. I can’t change that as much as I’d like to. But folks, don’t try and justify it. While it’s legal, it doesn’t make it any less wrong. And it doesn’t make George Zimmerman any less of a punk because he decided to end a fight with a gun that he couldn’t end with his hands.

The GPS has also pointed me to this conclusion: Many of the same folks who think that Trayvon Martin deserved to get shot also believe that African Americans are incapable of something that we’re actually pretty good at.

Multitasking.

They believe that African Americans are not allowed to speak out about the injustice they perceive the Zimmerman verdict to be because they’re not paying enough attention to Black on Black crime.

(*cracking my knuckles because my fingers are gonna need to be really nimble for this*)

Now do I start at the section where this insults the intelligence of an entire race of people or do I go directly to the part where I use the word hypocrite a lot?

I think I’ll start at the insult because the ignorance implied in it burns and I’d like to put it out.

Because I’ve had times where I’ve had to remind certain White folks that I was not only as smart as they were, but in many cases smarter in my sleep, I’m sort of used to having to battle the perception that Blacks don’t know their heads from their asses.

So while having the folks who think that Trayvon Martin Deserved To Get Shot camp tell me that they find it impossible for Blacks to work for justice on both the Trayvon front and, for want of a better way to put it, The Children of the Corn front, is an annoyance, it’s a familiar one.

It was the Black folks, especially the College Educated Black Folks, that I found disappointing. When people of color with college educations start buying into this mess, I feel the Earth vibrating because the Talented Tenth are once again making W.E.B DuBois do double-back somersaults in his grave.

I didn’t see every piece of video in this particular vein, but I did see NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley’s interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. In case you didn’t, here it is:

Now people were more than a little mean to the Round Mound of Rebound on this, and I have a problem with people advocating that someone not be allowed to speak. But while I don’t believe that Black folks are a monolith, that Barkley is going along with something that was disproven in court, namely the whole “Trayvon had none of Zimmerman’s DNA on him, so how could he have hit him?” thing is a little troubling.

(Editor’s Note: I know that some of you want me to start calling people Uncle Toms here, but I won’t. If you call a Black person who bashes other Black people an Uncle Tom, you are insulting a noble literary character who allowed himself to be beaten to death rather than sell out his fellow slaves. Maybe we need to put “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe back on scholastic reading lists…many folks need to re-read it…)

I’ll end this section by pointing out that it’s more than a little disingenuous for people who have had no real concern about Black on Black Crime in the past to try and use this case to deflect that lack of concern onto Blacks themselves. Let’s be honest here. Your sudden concern is more about neutralization than anything else. You’re hoping that if you shout “Well, what about Black on Black Crime?!” loud enough that you’ll distract people from working toward the goal of decriminalizing the very existence of Black men.

Because let’s again be honest here: if being a Black man suddenly becomes decriminalized: meaning the ability to wear anything you want to without getting shot; the end of the assumption of criminality because one is Black On Thursday; and the right to self-defense without fear, what will you do with all of that prison space?

First of all, if I had a nickel for every press release, invitation to visit, and request to mentor that I get from groups in the Black community that are working their asses off on less-than-shoestring budgets to try and keep Black children from killing each other, I’d be sitting off the coast of Barcelona in a really nice villa writing books about baseball and coming back to the States during the summer just to catch a few games.

And secondly, let’s get down to the hypocrisy part.

One of my Facebook friends felt the need to post this picture to my timeline a couple of nights ago.

Oooh…It’s Al and Jesse…Let’s use this to try and scare ’em off…!

In case you don’t know who these gentlemen are, they are the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Or as I like to call them, The Straw Men That Folks Pull Out Whenever A Discussion of Racism or Civil Rights Comes Up.

As you can see, it’s a picture with some statistics about Black on Black crime and a demand that either of these gentlemen, or anyone else in the Black community, be able to name a Black person that’s been killed. When this was slapped on my page, it was done so with the belief that it would shame people into no longer talking about Trayvon.

Since I can name a couple of Black folks who were killed by other Blacks since Trayvon Martin’s death, mostly because they were former Children of the Corn, it was all I could do not to break out the bag of hammers.

But instead, my Significant Other The Sportswriter With The African American Studies Degree pointed out something else to me that I hadn’t thought of.

He asked, “When are we gonna start talking about White on White crime?”

Since Feb. 26, 2012, the day that Trayvon Martin was shot, there’s been more than a few mass murders.

Let’s start with the latest one: June 9, 2013: John Zawahri, 23, was shot and killed by police at Santa Monica College, but not before killing his brother and father at home three other people at school, carjacking someone, and shooting at passersby.

But here’s some more thanks to our friends at Mother Jones and USA Today and they all have one thing in common: They were perpetrated by White people:

  • July 20, 2012: James Holmes, a graduate student at a Colorado University, went into the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and started shooting. He killed 12 people and injured 70. He is about to go on trial.   
  • August 2012: White supremacist Wade Michael Page shot and killed six people worshipping in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in what police branded a hate crime. He shot himself after being shot by a police officer responding to the incident.
  • December 2012, Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and gunned down 20 children and six adults.
  • Sept. 2012: Andrew Engeldinger, 36, handled his being fired from his job at a Minneapolis sign company by shooting and killing five people and then killing himself.
  • Later that month, Kurt Myers, 64, of Herkimer, N.Y. shot killed two men and wounded two others at a car wash in the town and held police at bay in a standoff overnight before they eventually killed him.   

I could go on, but I think you get my point. And this is only a partial list…

Now I know that the words “mental health issue” are going to come up, and in the cases of most of these folks, they probably should. Some of the Black on Black crime that folks are suddenly so concerned about should also be looked at from a mental health context, but never is.

But while we’re looking at mental health as a precursor for the crimes I just mentioned, and we should, we should also call them what they are: White on White crimes…

And the first march calling for an end to this is….when?

Finally, I need to explain the caption under the picture of myself I put on the top of this post because, you see, the only way that Blacks could truly be angry about the whole Zimmerman Verdict, at least according to this heading on my sociological GPS, they are instructed to be.

In other words, it’s kind of like my Dad used to say to me when I was doing something that I wanted to do, but that he didn’t want to recognize that I wanted to do like, say, journalism. He used to accuse me of following behind people, when what I was actually doing in some cases was leading.

(Now if I was doing what he wanted, I was leading. I never understood that.)

For being angry over the Zimmerman verdict, Blacks are being equated with robots in some quarters. This rage isn’t independent thought, it’s doing what you’re told by Al, Jesse, or “fill in the blank with whatever civil rights leader you can come up with here”. You shouldn’t do that, the critics say. How can you say that this was about racism? It was a man defending himself from a thug with traces of marijuana in his system.

(Sorry, but I have to cut in here because one of the things that’s bugged me about this case is that it shows there are a lot of people in Sanford, Fla. smoking some weed that they need to leave alone. Actual weed doesn’t make you want to attack anything but a plate of food. That you believe that Trayvon Martin got a hold of some weed that made him want to fight people tells me all that I need to know about the weed in Central Florida. We’ll be leaving that mess alone!)

As I usually do when I hear stuff like this, I call, you guessed it, Shenanigans!

I say this because you can’t get Black folks to agree on what kind of sandwiches to have for lunch, much less come to an across-the-board consensus on any issue. Black folks are also pretty hard to lead. That things like The March on Washington and The Million Man March even happened is more than a little significant if you know anything at all about Black folks.

Thus despite what some may think, the rage over the Zimmerman verdict isn’t about being told what to do as much as it is people combining it with the dismantling of parts of the Voting Rights Act and determining that America is up to some shenanigans when it comes to Black people and their agency again.

The rage is also a lot more multicultural than people want to admit. I’ve had more than a few of my White friends put up profile pics of themselves in hoodies, participate in marches, write their Congressmen, and otherwise say, and this is a direct quote from one of my White friends “That verdict was some bullshit!”

In the world of the People Who Believe That Trayvon Martin Deserved To Get Shot this kind of thinking makes them sheep as well.

But in the world where Justice isn’t just a hollow word, it’s beautiful.

Because of the places my sociological GPS has taken me on this issue, I’m kind of weary right now.

So I’ll leave you with the perspective of a Black Man on this issue. I think he can hit what I missed.


And because I’m feeling the need for some old-school hip-hop, I’ll also leave you with Eric B and Rakim…

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For the Children of the Corn, Part II

“Oh, I’m so happy! I can get my gun back, go back to my house, and look for another Skittle-toting kid in a hoodie to shoot! Yay me!”


I was sitting in a booth at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia when the Associated Press alert on my I-Phone went off, informing me that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had been on trial in Sanford, Fla. for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Briefly, the story goes like this: Zimmerman saw Trayvon as he walked home from a convenience store where he had gone to buy a snack for his little brother. He finds the teen suspicious and calls the cops. Saying, “These assholes always get away..,” Zimmerman decides to pursue Trayvon despite the Sanford Police telling him not to. He shoots the teen in the chest and Trayvon dies. Zimmerman claims self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

(Editor’s note: Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, you’re allowed to shoot someone if you perceive that they’re about to harm you. They don’t have to actually harm you, however. They just have to look like they would.)

The trial had gone on for three weeks and people were sitting anxiously by their computers, television sets and smartphones waiting for the verdict. If the jury of six women, none of whom was Black, believed he was in a fight for his life, Zimmerman would go home, a free man. If not, he was looking at 25 years.

Shortly after 10, the verdict came: Not Guilty. On all counts. The jury believed Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and now he not only gets to go home, he gets the gun he used to shoot Trayvon back. 

Lovely.

What made me feel sort of hopeful was the reaction. I expected my Black friends to be ticked off. But a lot of my White friends were too. Disgusted was the most commonly used word.

Many folks weighed in via Twitter. Ben Jealous of the NAACP said he was “outraged and heartbroken” over the verdict and vowed to get the Department of Justice involved. Diddy took some time out from promoting his vodka brand to Tweet “I’m hurt and mad as hell! My heart goes out to the family.” My friend Albert Butler of WURD 900AM radio here in Philly reminded us to “Set our clocks back 400 years before going to bed…”

But my favorite Tweet came from the gentleman known as The Field Negro, whose blog you should be reading if you’re not. He said “Maybe Paula Deen will cook Sunday dinner for him tomorrow!”

(I ain’t mad at Paula Deen, but that shit was funny!)

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, also took to Twitter, thanking everyone for their support.

Not to be outdone, folks who believed that Zimmerman was being railroaded for killing an unarmed kid after being told to let police handle things and not get involved also weighed in. Most notably Ann Coulter, who is someone I can always count on to say the most vile shit on occasions like this. Her Tweet: “Hallelujah!”

(If you ever hear about my going to jail, it is most likely because I have, finally, decided to go to wherever Ann Coulter is, and give her the “People Who Need To Be Punched In The Face Award” for Lifetime Achievement.)

And my Significant Other was so angry that he nearly left the baseball game he was covering because he was to angry to stay. As I have mentioned before, he’s not just a sportswriter. He’s a sportswriter with a masters degree in African American Studies.

Certainly, a lot went on. As I was writing this, a group of African American fraternities and sororities were gathering in front of the White House in protest. Since First Lady Michelle Obama was given honorary membership to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority shortly before her husband assumed the presidency in 2009, she might have decided to join her clan.

But as I looked at my Facebook and Twitter pages, and heard people debate the verdict in the Melrose Diner, I was relieved by one thing.

I wasn’t teaching. I’m not in school. I don’t have to try and make sense of the Zimmerman Verdict  for The Children of the Corn.

Because, frankly, I couldn’t. They’d say I was full of shit. And in this case, I’d have to agree.

I mean, how can I look in the faces of my kids, kids who have already had a few interactions with the Criminal Justice system or have parents who have, and tell them that justice is equal under the law after a verdict like this?

How do I get them to tell the police what’s going on in their neighborhoods and testify in court when they look at how Rachel Jeantel was treated on the witness stand…and on social media? How do I get them to understand that if they pull out the guns that they want to carry that they’ll get 25 to life if they kill someone?

There are conversations that all parents have to have with their kids. There’s the “Don’t violate curfew” conversation. The “Learn how to clean up after yourself” conversation. And the one that occasionally gets passed off to me by friends who don’t want to deal with their kids getting their freak on, the “You can’t trust a big butt and a smile” conversation.

But for young Black men, there’s a few other conversations that are unique to their experience. Conversations like the “Don’t put your hands in your pockets when you’re standing in front of the Police” conversation. The “Make sure you have all of your ID where the officer can see it” conversation. The “Don’t argue with the Police” conversation…

However, the Zimmerman Verdict gives us one more mandatory conversation to have.

The “Your life as a Black man isn’t worth a plug nickel to folks so act accordingly” conversation.

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, he was arrested, tried and convicted for having a dogfighting ring and brutally disposing of the losers. He spent two years in federal prison for his crime.

A woman named Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot_—not hitting him, just firing a warning shot—at her abusive ex-husband. She wasn’t allowed to use Stand Your Ground despite having a credible threat posed to her.

But you can shoot a young, Black man for being “perceived” as a threat to you, and walk out of court a free man.

How do I explain that to a group of people who have already been thrown away at least once? How do my friends who are parents figure that out? And why, for that matter, do we have to?

My friend Tracy sent out a Tweet saying that calling Zimmerman, who copped to no Latino heritage until he shot Trayvon Martin, a Hispanic man and asking when all of the talk about the role race plays in stuff like this was going to stop.

I told her that it would stop when my kids could walk down the street with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their head, and be assumed to be shooting hoops, not guns.

And that day, was not Saturday. July 13.

Hey Sucka Nigga…

You know Tribe, I love you , but you made matters worse…
The piece of music above is a clip of my least favorite song by one of my favorite hip-hop collectives, A Tribe Called Quest.
It’s called Sucka Nigga and by the end of this post, you’ll understand why I’m leading with it because for the next few minutes, or in my case, the next few paragraphs, we’re gonna talk about words, context, race, music and First Amendment rights.
No word combines all of these issues quite like nigger. 
Now I know that’s a word that’s gotten a few folks in trouble over the last couple of weeks. Paula Deen is real, real out of work because she admitted to using it. There’s a Philly chick that’s a contestant on Fox’s “Master Chef” whom National Basketball Commissioner David Stern would probably like to have a talk with because he doesn’t like it when folks refer to his league as Niggers Bouncing Around. 
Hell, CNN has become the “Let’s Talk About Nigger Network” in light of the Deen incident and the George Zimmerman trial. My personal favorite CNN moment was the discussion that anchor Don Lemon had about it that featured the best imitation of the flash card scene from Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues I’ve ever seen done by a news anchor. They even devoted an hour to a special on the word.
To many folks, it’s just a word. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me and stuff.
And I get that. I believe that the First Amendment came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets, so I respect free speech. I can even respect the premise that since some Blacks see it as a term of endearment (which I still don’t get), that it can’t be that bad, right? I had a former student walk up to me every morning for four months with the same greeting: “Good mornin’…my nigga…”
Okay. Like I said, I get all that. But that said, I’ve also been known to tell people “If you want to call me a nigger, fine. That’s your Constitutional right. I’d never take that away from you. But when I exercise my right to knock the shit out of you for it, you were warned. Fair?
But while some of the stuff mentioned above has been floating around in my head for a bit especially lately, that’s not what’s inspired this post.
What’s inspired this post is: (a) the perception I’m starting to get that there are White folks out there that want to use the word nigger really badly and are angry that they can’t and (b) the fact that these same White folks have decided that I can no longer get mad when it comes flying out of some racist’s mouth because of what I like to call the “Hip-Hop Exemption” or the previously mentioned “term of endearment” thing.
I’m sorry kids, but on that I’ve gotta call Shenanigans!
You see, while I understand that a lot of the White folks that read The Mad (political) Scientist are going to think that I’m being unfair when I say this, the word not only sounds different, but has a different context depending on who says it. I don’t think it’s right under any circumstance, but…
Well, I’m gonna let author, anti-racism activist and Professor Tim Wise explain it because he does a much better job at it than I do…

In other words, while you might think that it’s hip, cool and trendy to be able to throw around any word you want, until you can find a racial slur connected to white folks that has ever been uttered as someone is being dragged through the street, tied to a rope, and hung from the neck until dead, you, my well-meaning White friends, do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to the whole “Hip-Hop Exception” for the word nigger. You just don’t. I don’t care if Kendrick Lamar or Meek Mill or Nas or Jay-Z or even A Tribe Called Quest stand in front of a mic and do nothing but say nigger for 10 minutes on a record, you’re not allowed to use that word. You’re just not.

And I guess I have another question: What is it about the word nigger that is so intriguing, so powerful, so awesome to you that it’s prohibition from your list of words tends to piss you off so much?

Wanna know where I was the first time I was ever called a nigger? Church. Nope, I’m not kidding.

I was in the 7th grade and me and my friends had just finished Sunday School at Calvary Baptist Church in Pemberton where I grew up. We were sitting in a pew waiting for church to begin when a girl named Patty Laine walked up to me and told me to get out of the seat I was sitting in because she wanted to sit there.

I told her that there was no reserved seating and because my friends and I were there first, we were going to stay. There were plenty of other places to sit, so go find one, I said.

Well, I guess a combination of being the daughter of one of the founders of the church and White Privilege hit her because she not only grabbed me, but told me to “get my nigger ass out of her seat.”

I hit her as hard as I could…just as the minister was walking by…so naturally, my Dad had to take me home because Pastor Goodhart couldn’t allow me to stay after trying to bash in the head of a fellow parishioner.

But we talked afterward. And after I told him what she said to me, he let Patty…and the people who taught her to say stuff like that, otherwise known as her parents, know that if anything like that happened again, founders or not, they were out.

Because he understood that while it’s misguided for Blacks to use nigger as a term of endearment, the only way that Whites can possibly use it is as a term of disparagement. Of dehumanization. Of harm.

And that’s why, my White friends, nigger cannot be a part of your list of words. The only way it could be is if you somehow went back more than 400 years, kept the Middle Passage from happening, and disconnected it from its associations.

I’d like to leave you with a classic from the late Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase. This is from the days when Saturday Night Live was actually funny…