justice

“Stakes Is High”

You ever get a song stuck in your head?

It’s usually because it’s something that you just heard. For example, I had Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” stuck in my head for a solid week. Because of this, I believe that Samsung is the Devil and I will never buy their products. That was torture.

But last Wednesday, “Fancy” was replaced by DeLa Soul’s “Stakes Is High”.

Now I love DeLa Soul and “Stakes Is High” is a ringtone on my phone. But, that’s not why it’s been on a continuous loop in my head since Wednesday.

It’s because I’ve seen pictures of a young, dead Black boy lying in the street after being shot by a cop.

It’s because he was unarmed.

It’s because he was the fourth unarmed Black person this month who came across an armed White person, in all four cases a police officer, and wound up with a tag on his toe at the morgue.

It’s because this incident has caused a suburb of a major American city to blow up and take the First Amendment of the Constitution with it, reminding a lot of people of what was going on the year I was born, 1964.

It’s because if we’ve learned nothing else from everything that’s happened since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday, we should have learned that the stakes are indeed high.

Ferguson residents began mounting protests of Brown’s death on Sunday night. Because protests sometimes attract people who have the wrong idea of what protest is about, windows were broken, looting happened, and fires started, all stuff that can make the police kind of take a dim view of your chosen mode of expression.

But I didn’t know just how dim of a view the police were taking until I saw this on my Twitter feed on the way home from work on Wednesday:

American tank

No, you’re not imagining things. That’s two soldiers. On a tank. Brandishing semi-automatic weapons and combat gear. In a suburb in a major American city.

Not in Afghanistan. Not in Mozul. In a suburb of St. Louis. Home of the Cardinals. Not too far from where St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam hopes to make history as a pro football’s first openly gay player.

Kinda stops your gaze, doesn’t it?

When I came home and started seeing folks getting tear gassed, including an AlJazeera reporter doing a live shot, I kinda knew I wasn’t going to sleep. You don’t want to see peaceful protestors getting hit with tear gas, especially when they’re standing in their own front yards.

In fact, so much tear gas has been flying around Ferguson that residents have been getting advice from Palestinians on Twitter on how to handle being tear gassed.

(Use Coke or milk to clean your face. Water just makes it burn worse….)

But that this was happening is yet another example of just how badly the powers that be in Ferguson have handled this situation from the very beginning.

From not allowing medical professionals to tend to Brown quickly enough to save his life, to leaving his lifeless body to bake in the sun for four hours, to not releasing Wilson’s name or his incident report, to hiring the all-White public relations firm that just made matters worse, this has been the gang that can’t shoot straight.

And they really screwed up when they started arresting reporters. Between last Wednesday night and the time I’m writing this, 15 folks who do my job found themselves hearing the “clink-clink” sound from “Law and Order”…

(Not really…it was more like the “rippp” of a zip tie, but you know what I mean…)

Now I guess I should get to the reason why “Stakes Is High” has been stuck in my head. Why the stakes are high. Why attention must be paid and paid now.

As I mentioned earlier, Michael Brown was the third of four unarmed Black men who came upon an armed White man and ended up dead this month.

This month.

As in August.

And August isn’t over yet.

Last Monday night, Ezell Ford, 24, was shot in the back by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police say that he lunged for an officer’s gun, which kind of makes me scratch my head considering the whole “shot in the back” thing.

John Crawford, of Beavercreek Ohio, was looking at an unloaded BB gun at a WalMart in his town and got shot to death when he didn’t put it down quickly enough. Being shot while looking at a BB gun in a place that sells BB guns usually doesn’t happen, but it happened here.

And yes, I’m including Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York police officer in this. He may have died of a chokehold, but the cop was armed.

But when these things happen, another process inevitably starts, and we’ve seen it too this week:

A young, unarmed, Black man and White armed person get into confrontation.

Unarmed Black person dies.

Blacks get mad and take to the streets.

Authorities, aided by certain media outlets, take apart dead Black person’s life to find whatever can be found to try and paint this person, who is not there to defend his or herself, as a “thug”, and thus deserving of being shot to death.

(In Michael Brown’s case, it’s a combination of stolen cigars and pot in his system. And can someone tell me where folks are getting this weed that makes people violent? Most of the weed heads I know don’t want to attack anything but a cheesesteak when they get high…much less a cop…)

The trial of the person who did the shooting becomes a referendum on the “Innocence” of the person who’s been shot, and that’s only if charges are filed and the person goes to trial at all. Which leads to…

…the person who did the shooting getting off and Black parents left to give their Black male children a list of things they’re not allowed to wear or do in order to keep from being shot by people who are already so terrified by your very existence that you could be walking down the street in a suit carrying a briefcase and you still might catch a bullet.

This, of course, also leads into the whole “What about Black on Black Crime?” thing. You see, Black folks aren’t allowed to worry about the deaths of four unarmed Black men at the hands of the police and the deaths of young men in their neighborhoods at the same time. Oh, and White on White crime doesn’t exist. Or at least that’s what we get told in so many words.

Now if that’s not enough, here’s some statistics that we need to pay attention to: Ferguson is roughly 60 percent Black. Yet, the Mayor is White, the Police Department is predominately White, and so is City Council. How’s that happen in a place that’s 60 percent Black, you might ask?

Voter turnout in the last election was a lofty 12 percent.

Twelve percent.

Okay…

I wish that I could say that Ferguson’s the exception, but it’s the rule unfortunately. And because of this, Black folks, despite having one of us in the Nation’s Highest Office, are still catching Hell. We have to remember that politicians, like just about anyone else in  customer service, do their best work for the people who support them.

To make sure that you don’t have police departments that do this kind of thing and invent the kinds of cover ups that would make most novelists jealous, you have to make sure that people are accountable to you. The best way to do that is by voting.

That and following up with being a pain in the behind to the people who get elected, whether you vote for them or not.

When people believe that they can do anything they want to you, and that you’ll do nothing because you’re so distracted by reality television, or what’s going on in Jay Z and Beyonce’s marriage that you’re not paying attention, they’re going to take advantage.

And if you’re not careful, that advantage taking is going to occasionally come in the form of people getting hit with tear gas in their front yards in a suburb of a major American city.

The stakes is high folks.

It’s time we acted like we understand that.

I’ll leave you with the video for “Stakes Is High”. You might recognize some folks…

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What Becomes A Feminist Most?

The flexibility of feminism...

The flexibility of feminism…

I’m going to start off by apologizing profusely to those readers of The Mad (political) Scientist that were hoping to see the 2013 People Who Need To Be Punched In The Face Awards as the first official post on our new WordPress.com site. The nominations have been made, the votes have been counted, and the Sluggos are all set…

But as I was getting ready to let you know who you, my readers, picked to get a figurative (not literal) punch in the face, I found myself involved in a discussion of feminism, feminists of color, and who gets to identify themselves as such….

Or at least that’s how it started. By the end of the day, I had read another piece that made me want to tell everyone having this discussion to shut the hell up…especially if you bought a copy of R. Kelly’s new album Black Panties. If that, or anything else from R. Kelly, is in your record collection, you don’t get to call yourself a feminist anymore. Period. I’m gonna need for you to shut your hypocritical pie hole.

(I like pie hole. I think I may use it more often.)

I’ll start from the beginning.

In case you’ve been in a cave in Afghanistan or pay no attention at all to pop culture, Beyonce’ released a new album on I-Tunes on Thursday. The magnum opus is only available on I-Tunes and includes 17 videos to go with 14 songs (!), many of which are apparently autobiographical. She released it without any studio promotion and because it’s on I-Tunes, directly to her fans. You’ll be able to find it at most record stores around the country on Dec. 20.

It’s actually not a bad idea on her part. Beyonce’ has already sold close to 900,000 copies worldwide and will be coming in to the Billboard 200 at Number One when it’s announced. My guess is that her promotional budget isn’t all that large on this and because she shot a lot of the videos while on tour, travel budgets weren’t that rough and tumble either.

While you expect a Beyonce’ album to ignite a lot of conversation, it’s only one type of conversation that’s kind of caught my interest: a conversation on feminism and women of color.

Editor’s note: I have not heard this album in its entirety, nor have I seen any of the videos in full. You can’t buy singles or individual videos from this album until Dec. 20. Since I don’t have the cash to plunk down on an album that will basically be a review copy for me, I’m not going to discuss the album itself at all. I will, however, be looking at the wider discussion of Beyonce’ and feminism that the album has initiated. So Beyhivers, stand down. I’m not in the mood and when we get to the second part of this piece, you’ll see why. 

I was at home watching a segment of the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC when the connection between this album and feminism came up. Harris-Perry and her panelists made the argument that Beyonce’ stands as the entertainer’s “feminist manifesto”. Here’s the segment:

Now the main tune that everyone seems to have focused on in terms of giving Beyonce’ her feminist cred is a  tune that’s been referenced here on the M(p)S before, one we will refer to as The Song Formerly Known As “Bow Down”. For the new collection (I don’t know if I should call it an LP or a CD because you can’t pick it up terrestrially yet…) its been mixed with a speech entitled “Why We Should All Be Feminists” that activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave as part of the TED Talks series and given a new title: “Flawless”.

So because I’m a glutton for punishment, and because Melissa Harris-Perry is someone whose opinion I respect a whole lot, I asked the question “Is Beyonce’ a feminist?” on my Facebook page during the latest East Coast Snowmaggedon Saturday night.

I think that the best initial response that I got to this question came from the lovely and talented Kellie C. Murphy, who blogs a lot about stuff like this. She said, and I quote, “Girl, just go stand outside right now with a key attached to a kite. You’ll go much quicker and easier…” She wasn’t totally wrong about that because,  let’s face it, Beyonce’ is the Third Rail of Black Entertainment. If you touch her, you will be electrocuted…

The answers I got were interesting…and also depended on your definition of feminism.

For the people who were in the “Beyonce’ is a feminist” camp, her new music is a feminist manifesto because it shows a woman who is using her ability to make her own choices to be a performer, a wife, a mother, and in the case of the song “Partition”, a woman who is willing to ruin a nice evening gown by letting her man get it a little messy in the back of the limousine. Anyone who doesn’t realize this is taking things a bit too seriously…or maybe academically…

From the Crunk Feminist Collective: 

“We need to stop acting like a radical feminist is the only kind of feminist to be. I mean look, I’m radical and committed to a robust structural critique. But I appreciate the good few liberal feminists in Congress who show up and actually fight for reproductive rights that can be on the books! As Meek Mill says, there’s levels to the shit. But newsflash – everybody didn’t go to college. So when women of color start waxing eloquent about how our grandmothers and mothers were the first feminists we knew and many of them would “never” use the term, I wonder then why we don’t understand Beyonce’s homegrown brand of feminism – one that honors female friendships, one that recognizes and calls out sexism and domination in her industry, one that celebrates the power of women. No, it ain’t well-articulated radical social justice feminism, but if you need a Ph.D. to be a feminist, then we’ve got bigger problems, folks. AND I’ll take a feminist that knows how to treat her homegirls before one who can spit the finer points of a bell hooks to me all day erry-day.”

(Maybe it’s a bias I picked up from spending so much time listening to the music of The Children Of The Corn, but I had a hard time getting past the Meek Mill section of this critique to get to the rest of it. When you shout out one of the Patron Saints of Rap Music Sexism, you kind of make it a slog…)

On the other hand, some feminists of color (and most traditional, read: “white” feminists) felt that calling Beyonce’ a feminist makes as much sense as calling me an astrophysicist. In their eyes, Beyonce’s brand of feminism is a corporate friendly one that advocates for her freedoms…and no one else’s.

Probably the most provocative essay I read on this came from the blog Real Colored Girls and it caught my attention because any essay that uses Pimp Theory as part of a critique on feminism is going to get the attention of a smart ass like me. The argument that the post “The Problem With BeyHive Bottom Bitch Feminism” makes is that…

Well, let’s let them say it…

“As womanists and black feminists, we have a responsibility to bring it with our cultural work which we will infuse, at all times, with an ethic of care and responsibility. The coontocracy of assimilationist corporate negroes is in full effect, riding for patriarchal capitalist agendas and having us believe that somehow Bey’s success is a step toward some dystopic vision of progress for Black women. There may be empowerment for some folks but by and large it is a false hope steeped in capitalism and individualism, supporting the escapist desires of rampant pornographic consumerism.”

(Can I tell you that “coontocracy” is one of my new favorite words now?)

 As I said toward the beginning of this piece, I can’t really talk about the good or bad of Beyonce’ because I haven’t heard all of it.
But I’ve been a feminist of color for a minute…and I’m a little concerned about the group of newly minted Feminist Beyhivers this album has spawned.
My question is, what happens when their new icon is no longer interested in female empowerment? What happens when Beyonce’, Blue Ivy, and Jay Z finally retreat to that private island that some of us wish they’d go to right now?

What I want my young sisters who are finally starting to embrace what women like Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks (didn’t know she was a feminist, did you?) and others have been fighting to get them to understand for years is that feminism is not a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps. It isn’t rolling around in the sand with your baby and your man. It isn’t million selling records. It’s a movement. It has been for a minute. It’s a fight to get poor women equal pay and the contraception they need to be able to choose when they want to have children. It’s making sure that they’re not scapegoated when they ask for help because some in society see their circumstances as problematic. It’s about making sure that they’re protected when they’re being abused and that their abuse is taken seriously.

In other words, It’s a marathon. Not a sprint. And it requires that you fight, really fight, for the sanctity of women and girls.

Some of us do that all the time. There’s an attorney named Gina McCauley who started a blog called “What About Our Daughters?” and has been known to go for the mattresses whenever young Black girls and women are threatened. There’s also folks like Sabrina Lamb, who got the folks at the Oxygen cable network to change their minds about a show called “All My Baby’s Mamas” featuring a rapper named Shawty-Lo and his band of baby mamas, by protesting, getting media attention, and showing the show’s advertisers the error of their ways.

But sometimes, feminists, even feminists of color, drop the ball. When Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to run for president, she was a woman alone. Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose partisans went so far as to say that Black journalists on the campaign trail were so in Barack Obama’s pocket that they received marching orders via telephone every morning when the former Secretary of State  ran for office in 2008, Chisholm was attacked on all sides with no support from the troops. When Michelle Obama was called a “baby mama” on Fox News, “fat” by Rush ‘Why haven’t you gone to Costa Rica yet?’ Limbaugh, and became the subject of a number of gorilla pictures by various right wing groups, the silence from feminists on her behalf was also quite deafening.

But none of that compares to how the group of girls who found themselves victimized by The Chickenhawk That Ate Chicago were treated…

She appears age appropriate at least...

She appears age appropriate at least…

On Monday while everyone was giving far too much thought to Beyonce’, I noticed a story from the Village Voice on my Facebook news feed. The story, done by Jessica Hopper, was an interview with Jim DeRogatis, the reporter that broke the story of what i’ll call R. Kelly’s Young Girl Problem.

While the subject matter caught my attention, I found the 11 times that the story had been shared by my Facebook friends even more interesting. When 11 folks in my circle of friends, a circle that includes journalists, activists, business people and even a few former pro athletes, are sharing the same article, it’s important. The number of share-ers has gone up since then.

And between the story itself, the legal documents, and the Chicago Sun-Times stories that had to be pulled off of Lexis-Nexis because they’re no longer a part of the newspaper’s archives, I made a decision. If you want to call yourself a feminist of any color in my presence, you’d better not be playing music from R. Kelly when you do it. I’d better not see a copy of Black Panties on your I-Tunes playlist.

That’s because we feminists let these girls down. Let them down hard. And I say this because this guy still has a career. If you’re gonna call yourself a feminist around me while dancing to “Step In The Name Of Love”, I’m going to invite you to go to Wrigley Field in Chicago and take as many seats as humanly possible.

The first that we as music listeners heard about Kelly’s proclivities was when Vibe magazine published a copy of the marriage license that he had gotten for himself and the late pop singer Aaliyah. The only problem with that is that at the time, Aaliyah was only 15 and Kelly was 27…

But a fax came to DeRogatis desk at Chicago Sun-Times that said that Kelly had been under investigation by the sex crimes unit of the Chicago Police for two years in connection with allegations that the singer had been going to his former high school and picking up young girls. He’d let them spend time in the studio with him or go to an event with him, and in exchange, he expected sex.

A lot of sex.

Sex in different ways…with different groupings…and with different kinks.

The videotape that featured Kelly relieving himself in a young girl’s mouth was on every bootlegger’s table in 2003. So we all knew about that and I even know a couple of people who’ve seen it.

But apparently that was the tip of the R. Kelly iceberg. There were other tapes. There were other girls.

One of them was forced to have an abortion. Another was so traumatized that she tried to kill herself.

All of them were young, Black girls. Girls who were probably told that if they said anything, they wouldn’t be believed.

The sad thing is, I can’t say that they were wrong to think that.

What’s always disturbed me about this case was the willingness on the part of the Black Community to blame the victims here. These girls were “fast”, as my Mom would put it. They knew what they were doing. They weren’t “really kids”. People need to let R. Kelly alone and let him live his life. They’re just hatin’…

It’s kind of heartbreaking to hear that kind of stuff when it comes to young women of color. But it wasn’t unexpected. My guess is that most of the female Children of the Corn I taught were young girls who got pregnant with the babies they were far too young to raise by someone who should have been told a long time ago that 15 gets you 20…

DeRogatis got that too. “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody,” DeRogatis said. “They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are “bitches, hos, and gold-diggers,” plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point : one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different. No, it was young black girls and all of them settled. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn’t have a chance.”

Now I hope to never have to say this again, but here it is: There is no such thing as a 15-year-old girl who deserves to have her mouth pissed into by a grown assed man. It doesn’t matter what color the girl is. It doesn’t matter how old she looks. She’s still 15. If you’re over 16 and you’re pushing up on a 15-year-old school girl, that is wrong. You are wrong. You shouldn’t be doing concert tours. You should be doing time.

 And yet, R. Kelly walks free. There’s nothing that we can do about that because the legal system of the City of Chicago has spoken. Kelly was tried and found not guilty of 14 counts of Child Pornography in 2008. (He was never tried for the rapes.)

I’m sorry, but that’s just plain unacceptable to me.

So I say to my fellow travelers in the Feminist Tribe, do you think that you can apply the considerable energy you’ve spend discussing whether or not Beyonce’ is a feminist into trying to get some justice for these girls, even if it’s symbolic?

Because you see, we owe them that. And the note has been overdue since 2008…

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.

For The Children Of The Corn…

Can I get a break?

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the trial of George Zimmerman and paying a lot of attention to the woman pictured above, Rachel Jeantel.

Jeantel was the person on the other end of the phone when Trayvon Martin made his last phone call. She was the one he told about the “creepy cracker’ following him as he left the 7-Eleven with the iced tea and Skittles he had just bought for his little brother.

She was the last one to talk to him. And for her trouble, she spent two days getting questioned on the witness stand by a prosecuting attorney who obviously doesn’t know a damned thing about witness prep and a defense attorney who I can’t describe in a family blog.

And unfortunately, she’s also been beaten up a bit, by Black folks, on Social Media.

Why? Because Jeantel speaks quietly. She doesn’t speak really well. English isn’t her first language and she’s never been taught how to write in cursive. She kinda had an attitude on the stand. She didn’t want to be there and didn’t care if you knew it.

So she got savaged. Folks called her Precious, like the character from that really trying movie that I’ve yet to see, made fun of everything from her hair to her skin tone and even said that her testimony would lead to Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Reading some of the comments kind of pissed me off because Jeantel could have been one of my kids.

Those of you who are frequent readers of The Mad (political) Scientist know that when I’m not covering politics, I’m teaching media arts at an alternative high school in Southwest Philadelphia.

Maurice and I at the Prom

To say that my kids, who I affectionately refer to as The Children of the Corn, are a challenge, is an understatement. Most of them have been kicked out of every school they ever went to. Some kicked themselves out. Others became parents and needed a little extra help.
Hanging out at Morgan State

I have girls who swear that they’re boys, kids who have mouths like sailors, and one kid, Rahkeem, who greeted me every morning with “Good Mornin’…my nigga!” despite my telling him every day that I didn’t care for that.

(Did I mention that for my birthday Rahkeem actually came in and had a conversation with me in which he WASN’T high? That was pretty rare for him. He went to everyone he knew and said “Ms. Clay asked me not to get high for her birthday, so I didn’t!”)

They don’t talk good. They don’t like courtrooms because many of them have spent far too much time in them. The idea of having to be in an outfit that didn’t lead to Ms.Clay screaming, “Pull up your friggin’ pants!” isn’t something they’re into.

But at their core, and sometimes I felt like I had to dig like a coal miner to get to that core, they were good people.

They helped me up the stairs when I broke my ankle. (Granted, they also offered me pills from their stash of Percocet, but we won’t talk about that…)

Some of them helped me sell pretzels and water ice to finance their prom.

Others made sure that I was okay when I lost my brother Donnie to a heart attack. 

And when many of them graduated from the program earlier this month, I got more than one thank you….and the occasional bear hug…

I don’t get paid a lot of money to hang out with the Children of the Corn. In fact, I sometimes spent more time helping them get through school than I got paid for. But the only thing that kept me from being them was being born to a set of parents who put a premium on education and nurtured me.

In other words, i got real lucky. Considering that many of my kids don’t have the greatest of relationships with their parents, that’s significant.

So my karmic debt gets paid by teaching kids about media, why it’s important, and how media portrayals determine how you’re treated.

What are you looking at from a karmic standpoint?

Well, to me, if you’re ridiculing a kid, and at 19, Jeantel is a kid to me, your karma is taking a beating. If you’re looking down your nose at that kid when you could be helping her do better, your karma is at  a deficit. If you’re ready to make her the scapegoat for a family that might be denied justice for a murdered son, I don’t want to be around you if a piano is hovering overhead…

So as the late John Lennon said “Instant Karma’s gonna get ya…”

Plus, you should know better. Especially when you’re part of a race of people who are always being doubted…

So when you see the Rachel Jeantels of the world, don’t look down on them. 

Especially if they’re a Performance Learning Center graduate.

Because, while I can call them the Children of the Corn, if I hear you do it, I’ll kick your ass.


This is Jael James. She was PLC’s Valedictorian with a 3.6 GPA…