What Is Black Enough? Acting White?

What is being “black enough”? Is it based upon complexion?  Is it a question of heredity and genealogy, or culture and experience?  I have been mistaken for being Hispanic, Hawaiian, biracial, and even have been told that I look like an Arab, so I suspect that one”s physical characteristics alone do not make someone black enough.  Moreover, in many respects, it makes me realize how ethnic classifications based on colors are misguided anyway.   Black America, in particular, not only consists of people with many variants of complexions, black American culture consists of people whose racial heritage is a product and blend of the realities of the sexual impropriety by white men and their rape of black women during slavery.  When analyzing these wanton, sexual misdeeds against black women by Euro-centric whites, it is not a stretch to realize that most blacks in America are technically biracial.

So, again, what is “black enough”?  My skin is brown, and this makes me subject to the same racism that any other black person in America has faced.  There are areas where I can”t walk without being stopped by the police.  There are still “sundown towns” that I would be loath to be caught in after dark.  If I were buying property, there are neighborhoods that I would not be shown by realtors because of my skin color.  In New York City, there are still the shops that would deny me entrance and cabbies that would refuse to stop for me because I am black.  There are still the banks that give me higher interest rates on loans than my white counterparts (if they would give me a loan at all) notwithstanding equal credit scores and financial status.  I would be turned down for certain positions at certain corporations just like any other qualified black man!  And the list goes on and on.  Indeed, what is being “black”?  Likewise, what is “acting white”?  There is not a manual that says all black people are supposed to have the same tastes when it comes to clothes, food, music, or anything else.  Am I not black because I can appreciate Vivaldi or Mozart as well as James Brown or Public Enemy?  Does my preference for white zinfandel over a forty ounce malt liquor make me less black?  Does my respect for education, learning and knowledge mean that I am “acting white”?  Do I lose some of my “blackness” because I enjoy listening to some country music and watching a little NASCAR?  Notwithstanding my personal likes and dislikes, I am still black!  Though I can appreciate things about American culture that are deemed to be characteristically white, I also appreciate my black culture, history and heritage, as can be attested by my writings and concerns.  In spite of trying to experience many different things that life has to offer outside of what some may consider African-American cultural constraints, I have been labeled a black radical, militant, and even a racist at different times in my life.  So am I “black enough” for the most part, or “acting white” just a little too much?  This whole notion of trying to define blacks by misguided perceptions and stereotypes, fueled by an uneven media, is ignorant and/or disingenuous.  Black culture, much less American black culture, is not monolithic.  Sure, African-Americans have things in common, like members of any ethnic group.  But African-American culture, like any culture, continues to evolve.

Isn’t it funny how Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson accused Oprah Winfrey of being an Oreo (black on the outside, and white on the inside)?  Everyone has a right to their opinions, but who is 50 Cent to question Oprah’s blackness?  They both came up under difficult circumstances and overcame their troubled childhoods to gain a measure of success.  Of course Oprah was not a crack dealer dealing out death and destruction upon her own black community.  50 Cent starred in Get Rich Or Die Tryin”, a movie that arguably glorified gang life and moral decadence, and Oprah starred in The Color Purple, a portrayal of the strength of black women in the midst of racial and gender inequality.  Like Oprah, 50 Cent has given charity to his black community, but his rap lyrics (like many rap lyrics) arguably have  a profoundly negative impact upon  impressionable young, black minds.  In 50 Cent”s defense, Oprah Winfrey may not have as many black people on her staff at  Harpo Productions as some would think, and the Oprah Winfrey Show may not have depicted the struggles of black folk to the degree and amount that many black people would have liked.  But every once in a while, Oprah had some shows that dealt with social and economic issues that concern the black community.  Oprah’s choice to have many shows dealing with worldwide issues as opposed to just black American issues does not make her any less black.  Oprah Winfrey will go down as one of the greatest black women in history—revered by blacks, whites, and all other peoples of the earth.  Will the same be said of Curtis Jackson?

All in all, “blackness” is undoubtedly in the mind of the beholder.  The question of being “black enough”  is an abstraction—intellectual smoke and mirrors—that can never be answered or refuted.  The next time that you are questioning whether or not someone is “black enough,” consider that they may be asking the same about you.  This is purely hypothetical, but perhaps Malcolm X asked whether Martin Luther King was “black enough” when King was preaching nonviolence.  Maybe W.E.B. Dubois questioned the “blackness” of Booker T. Washington when Washington gave his address at the Atlanta Exposition.  Though these men may have had philosophical differences on how to empower blacks, one thing that they all had in common was appreciation for their heritage, the desire to take part in the ongoing struggle for freedom, respect for hard work and education, and a strong desire to unify and edify the black community”s social and economic status in an unequal America. Their lives epitomize the fact that individuals can succeed at using different methods to help blacks in their struggle for equality, and this truth really makes the question of whether or not someone is “black enough” meaningless.

 

September 11th: What we should have learned, but probably didn’t

My heart goes out to everyone who suffered injuries and/or lost friends and family during the tragedies of September 11, 2001. It is pretty much impossible for me to even begin to imagine the type of pain, grief and despair that persons who were directly affected by the heinous acts still suffer to this day.  Although it has been more than a decade since those heinous acts, I still don’t take security from acts of terror in America for granted.  If  September 11th didn’t teach Americans anything else, it should have taught us to remain vigilant in regards to evil men who would kill innocent people in order to further their prejudicial agenda that is often based on race, religion and politics.  Moreover, there is something else that America should have learned, but apparently did not.  After years of reflecting on the events—trying to understand why men would wreak such havoc upon other people—I have come to realize some hard lessons regarding September 11th.

Following the unprecedented massacre of thousands of innocent victims, many white Americans, including leaders, were on television espousing their love for the nation and the importance of uniting against a common enemy during that crisis. It was a little ironic—if not surreal—to tell you the truth. I heard some people ask, “Why do they hate us so much?”  The “funny” thing is that though these citizens may sincerely believe their notions of an America that is the epitome of the great words written by America’s forefathers, they may not meaningfully and actively express the values that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the spirit upon which America’s laws are based. To me, many of those people placed on stage—for the entire world to see—the very facade that has existed for decades within America. It is true that we are a great nation of people that will unite in outrage and resolve against outside enemies who would do us harm, but all is not well within these united states (pun intended).  We are not truly united.  Why espouse seemingly unfettered patriotism in times of crisis when you don’t even give your own compatriots their proper respect in times of “peace”?  I realize that perhaps I am being cynical, but when I saw those few whites declaring their love for America and espousing its unified resolve during the days that followed September 11th, hypocrisy and irony were a few of the first things that came to my mind.

Not only are many whites’ patriotic cries ironic, but I feel that it is also ironic that many members of our federal government who control and/or make policy towards foreign governments and political organizations fail to realize that their actions (or lack thereof) often play an indirect role in the growth of environments that lead to extreme behavior by desperate people.  Perhaps our government should learn to listen not only to the concerns of so-called extremists, but to those whose warnings are usually scoffed at and ignored by Washington.  After hours of intense reflection, I have decided that some organizations resort to violence against their perceived enemies because they feel disenfranchised.  The economically and politically powerful—especially many within the United States—will not sincerely entertain the concerns of people who feel disenfranchised and/or oppressed.

Listen, I am not saying that Americans should deal with people who are unwilling to compromise or are hellbent on our destruction due to religious and political demagoguery.  I actually despise groups that wantonly carry out gratuitous violence against innocent people due to religious and political differences. But for those who respect freedom, tolerance and self-determination,  Americans should at least be willing to listen.  And, after listening, we should be willing to forge ways to common ground and make compromises (if not sacrifices) when it is possible.

Today, more than a decade removed from September 11th, a huge swath of America is still not listening. This part of America—often manipulated by social and political ideologues—refuses to not only hear the cries of oppressed people all over the world, but its own disenfranchised citizens.  America has disenfranchised large segments of its black citizens along with other non-whites (as well as whites who are more racist than smart enough to realize that they are in the same boat as minorities).  Though blacks and other ethnic minorities (e.g. native Americans) have cried out for socioeconomic equality for decades, many politicians and their constituents continue to neglect and/or reject the heartfelt appeals of their compatriots. Fortunately for all of us, most Americans have chosen to use peaceful and civil methods to bring about change, but the time may come when patience and understanding is gradually overcome by violence. For example: Occupy Wall Street, a movement for social, political and economic change has been peaceable for the most part, but there have been some instances of violence.

The desire for justice, as well as social and economic equality is compelling enough unto itself to quickly transform sanity into insanity, but when you throw in even more nuances regarding all kinds of beliefs, the seriousness of the situation becomes even more real.  Misguided Americans who do not believe that the U.S. should be a melting pot of ethnic cultures, religions and ideologies have carried out and/or made veiled threats against our way of life.  Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, exemplifies one of America’s own biting her in the hand. Ironically, I feel that our government’s unwillingness to truly lead the way when it comes to fostering socioeconomic freedom is that which breeds hate, resentment, and a lack of tolerance for other people. Our society’s backlash against altruism, spirituality and basic equality nurtures the atmosphere of misunderstanding, jealousy, hate and spite that drives the diabolical intentions of the Timothy McVeighs and Osama Bin Ladens of the world. Moreover, America’s unwillingness to confront these real social problems have led these misguided persons to applaud each others’ bad behavior, as evidenced by some of the comments on white supremacist web sites following the attacks on September 11.

Until our leaders decide to sincerely and systematically lay the foundations to provide equal opportunities for all people regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, finances, etc., there will always be an underlying mistrust, resentment and ignorance within our society.  In other words, if our top officials would make it their personal mission to become role models in the fight to rid our country of racism and discrimination—and all the evils that result from different forms of prejudice—this would become a practical mandate for all Americans to rid their lives of these ills.  If so-called leaders would fight for what is truly right, and not just what appears to be right for their pocket books and the super rich, ignorance and hate would be minimized to a point where true love, caring and concern for our fellow human beings would gradually take their place.

The lives of those lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania should not be remembered as a backdrop for a facade of patriotism. Let their deaths be a reminder that regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, etc., most people just want the opportunity to live productive lives and fulfill their dreams. Let all of us—particularly those in positions of power and influence who sing patriotic songs in front of cameras and quote our constitution—live by the spirit and ideals upon which America was founded.  When America-the-reality learns to embrace America-the-ideal,  then love for America and the principles that all of its citizens thrive by will be that which other nations and people of the world strive for as they learn to respect and champion the rights of others.

The Killing Of Unarmed Black Men By White Police Officers Is Out Of The Box

I am sure that by now we have all heard the story of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and how he was unfortunately gunned down by Darren Wilson, a St. Louis County, Missouri  policeman, under murky circumstances.  As of this writing, there are conflicting reports and several different accounts as to what actually transpired on the afternoon of August 9th, earlier this month.  But regardless of how it all turns out, there are other lesser known stories—and of course the stories that we don’t hear about at all—that cause many red flags within the minds of people all across America, and in particular within the thoughts of black men who have been victimized themselves, or know someone that has suffered what they perceive as unfair treatment by white police officers.

I have heard several good black kids tell me that they hate the police.  Being a mature adult, I admonish them for making blanket statements about officers of the law who have taken the vow to serve and protect people within their communities.  I continue to advise them that not all policemen are bad, and that not all white police (in particular) target them because they are black.  But the fact of the matter is, there has to be some racial profiling going on by many police officers, as well as pandering to racial stereotypes by whites in the general population—even if only on a subconscious level—in certain situations before the police are even involved.  When something happens too many times, you just can’t turn a blind eye and act like it doesn’t exist. And there are plenty of racial undertones when innocent, unarmed blacks are killed by police.

To be honest,  every black man is cognizant of the fact that white cops may disproportionately use excessive force when it comes to any situation where black males and white cops have to deal directly with one another.  Even though black men know intellectually that not all white cops are bad, the killings of unarmed black men by white cops breeds real mistrust and is reminiscent of the days when black men were hunted down and lynched in this country.  These types of situations make seemingly ordinary encounters with white cops all the more stressful, particularly when the cops treat blacks disrespectfully  as in the case of a St. Ann, Missouri officer who pointed a loaded gun and threatened to use deadly force against an innocent protester of the Michael Brown killing.  This is just a truth that all black men must live with, even though we subconsciously attempt to put it at the back of our minds just to feel some sense of normalcy in a somewhat hypocritical society that ironically prides itself as being the most progressive in the world.

My own racial sensitivity antenna started to rise after a 24-year-old black man, Jonathan Ferrell, was killed by a Charlotte, NC policeman after simply trying to get help after being in an auto accident on September 14, 2013.  Granted it was late at night, and I’m sure that the white woman whose door he knocked on was taken aback by seeing a black man when she opened the door.  But, Ferrell had knocked on her door as opposed to breaking in, and he didn’t attempt to barge his way inside when she opened her door, both of which should have been an indication that he didn’t have nefarious intentions.  I guess that it was just too much to ask for a black man to request help at a white woman’s door that time of night…even more so to ask that a white cop assess the entire situation before deciding to use deadly force notwithstanding that at least one other cop was there to back him up.

Even more recent is the choking of 43-year-old Eric Garner who died July 17, at the hands of New York City police officers (and, yes I said, “police officers” because others were holding him down).  To think that a human being died over a situation that ostensibly began over the fact that Garner had a history of illegally selling loose cigarettes.  When viewing the video, an irritated Garner didn’t look to be doing anything illegal to me.  In fact, he had just broken up a fight according to the person who filmed the killing.  The video clearly shows at least five New York City police officers subduing Garner (for really no reason at all in my opinion, but to hassle him), with one of them applying a fatal choke-hold.  Out of all the five,  you would think that one of them would have tried to deescalate the situation, or at the very least advised the officer applying the choke-hold to let up on Garner when the victim advised that he couldn’t breathe.  But, Garner’s death isn’t even the end of recent executions.

On August 5, a  22-years-young black man, John Crawford, was gunned down in Wal-Mart by police in a Dayton, Ohio suburb.  Crawford was apparently walking around with a toy gun that he had picked up in the toy aisle.  As fate would have it, two white customers saw Crawford walking around with a toy gun that they apparently thought was real, so they called the police.  Responding officers in this case rushed to judgement and shot Crawford dead.  The mother of Crawford’s children, LeeCee Johnson, whom Crawford was on the phone with at the time of the shooting is emphatic that the police shot first, then told Crawford to get down.  She says that hopefully video evidence and phone records will corroborate her account of what happened.  In retrospect, I have to ask myself, “Why would a person be walking around Wal-mart minding his business…on a cell phone…with a gun in his hand…if he intended to do someone harm?”

Out of all the stories of police brutality, the Michael Brown story is currently getting the most attention because several witnesses said that Brown was holding his hands up to surrender when the officer repeatedly shot him anyway.  That is very bad indeed, but all of these stories are as equally horrible in my eyes.  And, like I alluded to before, these are some of the situations that we know about,  but these instances don’t necessarily portray the general disrespectful manner in which many white officers treat blacks as a manner of course everyday. It makes me wonder if white law enforcement officers in general are basing their actions out of some latent fear of black males based on stereotypes and preconceived notions.  Events that led up to Jonathan Ferrell and John Crawford being killed included whites calling the cops because they feared that young, black men were up to no good.  Though it is impossible to prove—like nearly always—I bet that just the fact that the men were black played a major part in the whites’ thinking.  Little did they know that their discrimination, race based or otherwise—which ultimately turned out to be an error—would set such terrible events in motion.  White officers of the law, on the other hand, can’t afford to make those types of errors because lives are at stake.  Officers need to be well-schooled in different populations and cultures because they will undoubtedly have encounters with different races during the course of their careers.  Moreover, law enforcement officers at all levels need to obviously receive more training in how to deal with normal and potentially super stressful situations.  And, lastly, to be more blunt: some officers need to look beyond the veil of their own racist notions, see the humanity of black men, and realize that a black person’s life is just as valuable as their own.

Besides training, police officers may get their most important lesson in humanity and racial sensitivity by actually communicating with persons of other races, and particularly the people who live within the communities that they have sworn to protect.

I have worked at the same place for more then five years.  I have seen more cops than I can remember cruise slowly by the storefront, and only once has an officer ever come in and introduced himself (and he was black). One time a white policeman stopped and got out of his car, stepped up on the sidewalk and gazed through the window.  I thought that it was a little odd, but then I realized that he saw me standing and looking out the door.  Even after he realized that I wasn’t a lookout man, he could have at least came on in and introduced himself, waived, nodded his head or something.  I mean we were only separated by a door and two feet at the most.  If he had come and introduced himself when he first started patrolling the area, perhaps he would have known that I had been employed at the same place for at least a couple of years, on the same schedule.  Moreover, I have also lived across from a police substation for nearly three years.  I am sure that some of the officers have seen me sitting on the porch, or taking numerous walks in the neighborhood with my family.  How many times do you think that a cop has ever waived or introduced themselves?  Zero.  Perhaps if officers of the law actually took the time to get to know more than just a few choice residents of their local community (if nothing else but on a superficial level) maybe they would not so be quick to abuse their authority and kill unnecessarily.

I am sure that the Michael Brown incident will become the poster child case for all manners of different agendas,  as there are many different dynamics in play.  But Michael Brown is just one story among many, and when you are truly confronted with various stories about police killings of unarmed black men, it’s not so easy to sweep elements of a racial nature under the rug.  Like the Bible says, what’s done in the darkness will be revealed in the light.  Now that the light is shining on this issue which belies a lack of training, awareness and racial sensitivity, will we try and stuff the ugliness, apathy, or sense of false security back into the odd light of this Pandora’s box—light that is akin to the greenish-yellowish hue that sometimes overtakes the sky before an abnormally violent storm?  Or, will America brightly light the path towards genuine justice and equality for all?