Archive for the ‘authentically black’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

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Jackson MemorialFor some reason, I feel compelled to write a few words about celebrity and humanity with Michael Jackson’s memorial hanging as the backdrop. It should be said at the outset that I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, though a conflicted one.

If MJ were still alive and had a CD coming out next week, would I buy it? Yes.

If MJ asked if my kids could spend the night at Neverland Ranch? No!

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty, but I also trust the old adage; Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Multiple accusations, an “adult alarm” outside the bedroom, it’s all a little odd. Nevertheless, a family has lost a brother, parents lost their son, and, worst, three children are without a father. And that, almost any way you slice it, is a tragedy.

What struck me as most odd about the Michael Jackson Memorial was the obvious lack of authenticity. Not that the people who participated did not care about Jackson or his death, but rather that the majority of them are routinely compelled to protect their public persona and during this “performance” were, at best, concerned with maintaining that persona. Moments of the memorial seemed, not so much as stagecraft, as it did an opportunity for the advancement of some participant’s personal brand. Today celebrities were asked to do what they are never asked to do, never rewarded for, and what might possibly be the farthest thing from their minds – put someone else first!

The rhetorical low-point had to be Usher. The sunglass donning singer proclaimed, “Michael meant a lot to all of us, especially me.” Did you hear that? “Especially” him! Usher, in one sentence, demonstrates why so many people felt that network and cable news coverage of Jackson’s death was untoward. Most folks feel that celebrity is the ultimate landing ground for self-centered, shallow, silicone living. Celebrities are disconnected from reality and obsessed with all the wrong things. And truthfully, there are enough Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons to prove the case. So when Usher, for whatever reasons, placed his grief over and above that of Jacksons’ parents, siblings and children, everything we suspect about celebrity is proved to be true. Also, Mariah Carey was clothed barely a step up from her normal state of undress, and Berry Gordy’s 2-minute ad for Motown Records didn’t help either. Throughout so much of the memorial, I felt that I was witness to the Grammys or some other such production. Celebs wearing sunglasses in the darkened Staples Centre, Corey Feldman dressed as the King of Pop; at times I thought I was watching Live Aid or a VH1 Special.

Thankfully, Brook Shields and Paris Jackson broke through the pretention and made

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Michael Jackson what he always wanted to be; one of us. Brooke Shields spoke admirably and ably about her and Michael’s shared grief of lost innocence. She talked about his humor and playfulness. When Brooke spoke, Michael was human and he was her friend. Her tears were not of the Made-For-TV variety. She sidestepped Al Sharpton’s tirade against the media – as if something he said could’ve changed anything. And made the opportunist, Sheila Jackson Lee, look foolish, grandstanding with a House Resolution on her hip. And Brooke did it all by expressing what so few people could seem to conjure up today: Humanity! What Sharpton tried to do by shouting and Lee attempted with laws, Brooke Shields did by simply being a friend who cared. In that moment, it wasn’t about celebrity – hers or his – but it was about a friendship and relationship of caring. Don’t believe anyone cares about you, if they can’t tell a story about being with you that demonstrates that care.

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

And of course, there was sweet Paris Jackson simply saying she had the “best daddy in the world.” If your heart didn’t break when you heard this little girl, then you simply don’t have one. This girl, of whom the media has openly and harshly questioned whether or not her dad is her dad, ended the discussion. If you, like me, have little girls, you found that tears easily stream when you hear a little girl missing her daddy. Right there, among all the crudeness, crassness, silliness and shallowness of the celebrity culture, a little girl reminded us that music didn’t lose its greatest performer, the world didn’t lose a generous humanitarian, and concert promoters didn’t lose a meal ticket – three little children lost their daddy.

And they never cared how many CD’s or tickets he sold!

I so wish that some of the people who stood behind microphones today would have set their celebrity and/or political personas aside, been human, and let these kids say goodbye to their daddy. There are three more orphans in the world and not any of them needs someone to moonwalk.

Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson, I suspect you’ll agree with me on one thing: We don’t need any more celebrities, but could use an injection of true humanity.

The true tragedy of Michael Jackson isn’t his truncated childhood, the unproven allegations, the abuse he took at the hands of his father, but that Jackson spent his life groping, blinded by the spotlight, for a genuine human experience, yet even in his death, so many of his “friends” couldn’t give it to him.

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

We’re in a season of celebrating at my house. The reason? Rochelle and I decided a few weeks ago that life was too short not to live with great joy! Plus, we realized that there is much to celebrate in life (and my mom bought me a sweet grill). One of our upcoming celebrations will be Loving Day!

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving began dating when Mildred was just 11 years old and Richard was 17. In the early years of their marriage, Mildred and Richard were arrested several times together. The reason? Mildred was black and Richard was white. And in 1958 it was illegal for them to be married in the state of Virginia. Apparently, Virginia has not always been for lovers.

Threatened with years of imprisonment, the Loving’s changed history when they challenged the Constitutionality of Virginia’s marriage laws and in 1967 won the day when the Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. From that day forward, every state, including those in the south, which had laws forbidding it, were required to recognize interracial marriage.

Mildred lived a quiet life after Richard’s death in a car wreck in 1975. Not one for the spotlight, Mildred said of her life, “I never wanted to be a hero, just a bride. It wasn’t my doing, it was God’s work.”

Each June 12th, couples across America celebrate “Loving Day” which celebrates the legalization of interracial marriage.

So for marriages like mine and kids with mocha colored skin and long, curly hair I say to Mildred and Richard, “Thank you for Loving.”

Well, since we have been surveying African-American literature this week, I thought I would post James Baldwin’s My Dungeon Shook. Baldwin penned this letter to his nephew — also named James — on the occasion of America’s 100th birthday. This piece is beautiful, with some of the most poignant phrases in all of literature. 

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Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!” but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven’t made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me you were a big baby, I was not here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate’ ” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine-but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,

James

I believe deeply in our democratic process and the need we, as Americans, have to participate in our electoral process. I’ve written about this current presidential more than most. This, I think, is the most important election of my relatively brief life (34-years). That’s why I thought what Gen. Colin Powell (Ret.) said Sunday morning on Meet The Press was both beautifully articulate and powerful.  Please note, Gen. Powell is endorsing a candidate, but I am not. What I’m interested in is what he says about the American Experiment. Embedded in his words are the hopes and dreams of our founders. He rejects narrow politics, racism and heralds inclusion and conversation. I continue to find Colin Powell a singular man, worthy of respect from all.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried when I heard Powell tell the story of the young Muslim man who was killed serving this country, my country. It was simply beautiful, stirring in me the deepest aspirations, and love for what we can be as a country. It was clear — in these days of sound-bite politics, robocalls, negative campaigning and slanderous accusations — that Gen. Powell is a focused, thoughtful and deliberate man, whether you like and agree with what he says or not. What he says, and the way he said it, indeed says a lot about him.

Of course, folks like Rush Limbaugh fired off their belief that Powell endorsed Obama merely out of racial considerations. Limbaugh wrote, “Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race. OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I’ll let you know what I come up with.”  With all respect to Mr. Limbaugh, are we really expected to believe that Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is incapable of seeing past his own race? Are we supposed to believe that a man of his stature makes decisions based on one factor? Do you sincerely believe that black people align with other black people simply because of our shared race. If so, you are wrong. And I urge you to spent 5 minutes in your local African-American barbershop. Mr. Limbaugh, you are surely insane. You are insane if for no other reason than if Colin Powell was that desperate to see a black President, then he could have already. It could have been him! Sadly (and I do mean sadly), I’m listening to Pat Buchannon say much of the same things Limbaugh says. Is this what white Americans thinks about black Americans? Race is ALL that we are capable of considering. I fear that is the case. I can’t tell you how many people have assumed that since I’m black I am voting for Obama.  Apparently — to some people — I am little more than a skin color.

To Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Buchannon, I say this: If you think that black people are incapable of voting for a black person for reasons other than race, then that says more about you — and your views about race — than ours.

It’s been a while since I’ve done an “Authentically Black” commentary, but today and this week deserve it. It deserves it because of the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, not the Democratic National Convention.

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It was said of Jackie Robinson, “Everyone knew Jackie Robinson could hit, but he could never hit back.” As Robinson integrated baseball, there were certain things he simply was not allowed to do. His wife, even now, speaks about the torment Jackie experienced, feeling that he had to do everything perfectly. As he faced death threats and verbal abuse from the dominant culture, Robinson had to commit himself completely to both excellence on the baseball field and non-violence and graciousness off it, regardless of the abuse he took. When he excelled on the field, people said, “Of course, blacks are stupid, but they can do sports,” but when he did not perform well, they said, “Sorry, nigger.”

This was the case for Jackie Robinson and it remains the case for blacks in America.

As I watched the Democratic National Convention last night, I was amazed — and somewhat sickened — by what I heard. According to the pundits, Michelle Obama’s task Monday night was to humanize herself and tell her narrative about growing up poor. And she did. She spoke about her father’s MS and growing up poor on the south side of Chicago. Apparently, it is a problem for some that she and Barack are Columbia, Princeton and Harvard educated. Elections in America now are like some of my old college conversations were we try to “out-poor” one another.

Are you serious?

I’m not telling anyone who to vote for, but we are a nation deserving of ignorant and under-performing government if we want to punish people for excellence or have a president who we would enjoy having a beer with. (By the way, the president is not having a beer with you!)

My father and mother taught me that success was about playing by the rules, working hard, getting the best education you can, serving your fellow man and giving to others. They also told me that whatever the standard was for others, as a black man, I needed to be twice as good. Apparently, my parents were wrong. When black people do what America ask, when they work hard, get a good education, play by the rules and love their neighbor, they are “elitist” and “arrogant” (which is the new way of saying uppity). I was shocked earlier this year when someone told me that because I was college and post-graduate educated, I was an “elite.”

Like Barack and Michelle, I have been accused of being “too black, not black enough, too smart, and arrogant.” I can think of a number of job opportunities in my life that were refused me because people were concerned about whether I could “relate” or I was “too intellectual.” One church told me, as if it were a bad thing, “Your resume is intimidating!” People ask me why I believe in Affirmative Action and the answer is simple: My career is in a field where Affirmative-Action doesn’t exist and I’ve seen how opportunities for qualified (and over qualified) African-Americans don’t exist when they don’t have to.

Like Jackie Robinson, many African-Americans are trapped in a no-win situation. When you under-perform, people ask why you don’t speak properly or call you lazy. When you excel, you’re arrogant, um, excuse me…you’re uppity!

It all makes me wonder: What does America want from African-Americans? This country certainly doesn’t want us to be a permanent underclass. That co$t too much — which is the ONLY concern in some people’s political equation. But apparently, they don’t want us to be successful either.

You may have noticed in the news today that the U.S. House of Representatives issued an unprecedented apology to black Americans for the wrongs committed against us and our ancestors  who were oppressed and enslaved under slavery and the Jim Crow. Interestingly, the resolution was introduced by Steve Cohen, the only white representative from a predominantly black congressional district.

I have to admit, I think the apology is long overdue, and the House was nicely able to side-step reparations while issuing the apology. To the U.S. House, I say: “Apology accepted!” But the apology should also look forward.

Just today a report entitled, “Left Behind! Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic,” chronicles the fact that while America rightfully provides AIDS  and HIV relief and education around the world, our efforts among blacks in the U.S. falls woefully short. For other countries, the U.S. mandates a national AIDS plan, while America has no such plan. If blacks in the U.S. were their own country, we would rank as the 16th nation in the world concerning the AIDS epidemic. Plus, AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women ages 35-44. I don’t want to say more than I mean, but I wonder if our response — or lack thereof — would be the same if it where another race of young women dying?

We must be honest, AIDS is a behavioral disease (something we can’t do much about). At the same time, though, it is a disease borne of ignorance and lack of both education and opportunity (something we can do something about). But as a person who wants to give his life for the sake of the lives of others. And as someone who desires to serve and forgive those who don’t deserve it as Jesus does, I think it might be within our grasp to care for people suffering people right here at home. And for the times we don’t, I apologize.