Category Archives: Race and Civil Rights

Death- defying protests

Image result for rosa parks sitting on the bus“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

| Rosa Parks

“There’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism.”

|Colin Kaepernick

The NBA’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum sent an email on Friday reminding its players that they are required to stand during the national anthem.  But, they weren’t “required” until 2009.  In fact, while we sit down and watch, the NFL is paid to be patriotic.  In 2015, it was reported that the Pentagon had spent $6.8 million dollars for these displays of loyalty during sporting games.

And it is was ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943 that no one could be forced to participate in “patriotic rituals” to include the Pledge of Allegiance.  Arguments have been made about respecting the flag but according to the “Flag Code,” kneeling is not included as a sign of disrespect: “While the Code empowers the President of the United States to alter, modify, repeal or prescribe additional rules regarding the Flag, no federal agency has the authority to issue ‘official’ rulings legally binding on civilians or civilian groups.”  Certainly, it is not within the President’s power to suggest terminating the employment of private citizens who do not participate.

NFL player Delanie Walker talked about his team’s decision to stay in their locker room during the anthem and afterwards, received death threats.  Am I missing something here?  Persons want to kill Mr. Walker and members of his family because of his decision to show solidarity with other team members?  He doesn’t deserve to live believe he decided to use his body to bring attention to cases of police brutality, misconduct and the criminalization of oppressed people groups?

President Donald Trump tweeted, “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race.  It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.  NFL must respect this!”  But, then why did these persons include racial slurs in their threats to Mr. Walker?  I mean, if it is just about a song, a symbol and protesting at the right time, then why the escalation to violence and the choice of words that remind all African Americans of their history of oppression in the United States?  If persons have expressed on countless occasions their respect for the military and their rationale for kneeling, then why can’t persons just agree to disagree?

It seems that we are having two different arguments, talking about two different allegiances, participating in two kinds of protests and one is death- defying.

 

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The Church should take a knee… again

Image result for martin luther king kneelsAt a recent campaign rally in Alabama, the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, called African American football players who kneeled during the national anthem “sons of b—.”  Who he was endorsing and for what position is irrelevant now.  His candidate lost but a kind of radical patriotism has gained newfound momentum and energy.  Political pundits argue that the President is talking to his base, that he is just saying what millions of Americans are thinking: “Shut up and play football.”

While Colin Kaepernick was kneeling to draw attention to the merciless killing of unarmed African American citizens by police officers, the President has polarized the country by suggesting that they were anti- flag and anti- military.  It was no longer about the dead bodies of African American that lay in city streets but the active, reserve, veteran and deceased members of our military.  While countless persons spoke up to correct the narrative, Marvin L. Boatwright, a US Army veteran’s drove the point home loud and clear.  He kneeled in full uniform while holding the American flag as Mr. Trump’s motorcade passed by.

Because it has never been about the American flag, accept to challenge Americans to raise the standard of our existence to the standard it represents.

But, this is not the first time African Americans have protested.  The Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics and Muhammed Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War are not a distant memory.  It is rather that these athletes would protest at all.  Persons have argued that they make millions of dollars to play football, that they have nothing to complain about, that they should be grateful to live in America.  Somehow, money insulates them from social ills or maybe the new silver spoon in their mouths should prevent them from protesting.

Because you can’t be an athlete and an activist at the same time.  Because if persons don’t stand for the American flag and put their hands on their hearts, then they are un- American.  It is again being argued that there is only one way to be American.  If you don’t behave like us and if don’t like our rules, then you can leave our country.

African Americans hear this anytime there is a disagreement on American values and their practice.  There is no mention of kidnapping and enslavement, that the story of African Americans is one of the deepest betrayals of humanity the world has ever known, that the only “native Americans” are those indigenous to it.  It seems that African Americans should be glad to be in the position that we are in, that we are ungrateful, that we owe America some unspoken debt for our freedom.  While we are “free at last” in America, every human being is made free, born free.  We are free at first.

Still, we should be content with the progress we’ve made.  Because at least, we are not slaves, right?  We ought to be grateful for the Emancipation Proclamation.

It sounds like we are Americans by consensus.  By reason of “whiteness,” these persons are more American.  Furthermore, they are judges of who is American and who is not.  Salute the flag or you are out.  Oddly enough, the salute mirrored that of Hitler before 1942.

Rev. Dr. Barber, “architect” of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, called them “sons of justice.”  They protested silently and were met with disapproval from the President of the United States.  Black Lives Matter protested in city streets with a permit and they were considered troublemakers.  Jamele Hill wrote on social media about her disapproval of the President on her personal time and persons asked for her resignation from ESPN.  It seems that it is not a matter of how or where African Americans voice discontent.  It is troubling that they protest at all.

Just be grateful.  Just do your job.  Just shut up and play football.

Like American nationalism, football is a religion in America.  When the two are combined, a social “rapture” is inevitable.  People take sides and those who don’t agree will be left behind.  The NFL responded in support of its players and many teams stood arm in arm as a show of unity.  But, what about the Church?

Persons say they would have marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if they were alive during the Civil Rights movement.  Well, history is repeating itself.  The Church should take a knee again with Colin Kaepernick and in solidarity with the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

Where are the hands and feet, the knees of Christ now?

A round of applause for police brutality?

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

With the line of what is acceptable being crossed and then pushed back with each outlandish action from the current White House administration and decency being redefined to accommodate the indefensible behavior of President Donald Trump, it is hard not to become disgusted by the hypocrisy.  I am well past feeling disappointed.  What is acceptable, good and right is being changed with each interview, after each commercial break.  This is democracy.  Truth created by the people for the people.

And true to form, Mr. Trump has been consistent in speech and character, each tweet and speech outdoing the other.  Recently, two speeches warranted statements from the groups he was speaking to, here being the Boy Scouts and then to police officers in Long Island, New York.  While both are disgusting, the latter is deeply troubling.  Because the sitting President of the United States endorsed police brutality.  He told police to break the law.  To which he initially received applause.

Applause.  Agreement with violating the rights and personhood of citizens who may or may not be suspects?  See “innocent until proven guilty.”  Applause.  Affirmation of wrong- doing by those who have sworn an oath to uphold the law– not bring it down to their level and prejudices?  Applause.  Appreciation because the President is saying what you want to say or giving voice to what you really want to do, to some people, to those thugs he mentioned?  Applause.   Permission to incite fear in the residents you have agreed to serve and protect?

And these are police in communities– not soldiers at war with an enemy in a foreign land.  Police officers are patrolling America’s city streets and country roads where persons are driving to school and work, persons who want to make it home to family and friends too.  With or without badges, all of us deserve honor.   But, this is not what the current Commander- In- Chief said.

Persons are worried about his access to nuclear codes but I’m concerned about his access to a microphone and a cell phone, for that matter.  Mr. Trump is far from a role model and certainly not a model president.  Still, persons are hanging on his every word and if this kind of speech is mindlessly applauded, then persons could die because of his words.

With communities living in fear, cases pending and families still mourning the deaths of their loved ones, Mr. Trump says, “Please don’t be too nice.”  With body camera and cell phone footage depicting the shooting death of unarmed American citizens, Mr. Trump says, the laws are “horrendously stacked” against police officers.  His words suggest that police officers should not be held to the highest standard of the law and that we should normalize this kind of bad behavior.  Move the line back.

But, police officers are not judge and jury.  There is due process of law.  And no one has the right to change it to accommodate police officers or a president.  Because then, it’s no law at all.  It is but the abuse of power and the passing of social privileges.

Perhaps, this endorsement of meanness is the counter response to political correctness.  I have heard it said that Mr. Trump speaks for many American people, that he says what is on their minds.  Really?  Fellow Americans would agree with the murder of other Americans without due process of law.  They would applaud that?

That’s crossing a line and that’s not democracy.

Lynching, nooses and the violence of silence

Image result for national museum of african american history pictureJames Baldwin looked down at the red clay hills of Georgia and thought “that this earth had acquired its color from the blood that dripped down from the trees.”  That lynching is a part of America’s troubled history cannot be overstated and yet it is not often talked about.  Still, Billie Holiday sang of its Black bodies in the Southern breeze fruit: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ blood on the leaves/ blood at the root/ Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”

It’s unspeakable history was captured in Philip Dray’s At the hands of persons unknown: The Lynching of Black America where he writes:

“Discerning who and what type of person took part in lynchings is made difficult by the fact that those who carried out the extralegal punishments were pointedly anonymous.  This was both practical— it protected lynchers from arrest and prosecution— and symbolic, in that the lynching was seen as a conservative act, a defense of the status quo.  The coroner’s inevitable verdict, ‘Death at the hands of persons unknown,’ affirmed the public’s tacit complicity; no persons had committed a crime, because the lynching had been an expression of the community’s will” (ix).

The community’s will was to terrorize, oppress and punish African Americans without judicial process.  Persons were often kidnapped from their homes or taken from their prison cells in an effort to get justice for the wronged, offended and in some cases, jealous.  For African Americans who would hold their heads high with dignity or pride, they could often be found with their heads in nooses, bodies mutilated, entrails exposed.  They had to be brought low in order to maintain the status quo of white power and privilege.

The savage murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen- year- old from Chicago who was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, drew national attention and energized the Civil Rights Movement.  Accused of whistling at a socially colored white woman, he would be silenced for good.  He would receive a kind of southern justice while his killers would go free.

Lynching, nooses, the silence and secrecy that surrounds this communal violence is not often talked about, at least not cross- culturally.  And yet it is our silence that keeps the cycle going and it is not for the absence of words.  For African Americans, Dayton shares, “Almost every black American family has a story in its history of an ancestor who ‘come up missing,’ who vanished into that empty place— the rural crossroads or rail siding, the bayou or jail cell— where the South at times sought to resolve its most intractable ‘problem.’”  The historical unjust treatment of African and later African American bodies is more American than apple pie and baseball.  The understanding that life for socially colored black bodies will not be easy and the need to temper your children for fear of retaliation from persons in power dates back to the days of slavery.

Watching our mouths, not thinking to highly of ourselves has been handed down as a survival techniques.  Smiling and laughing despite what is being said about us or to us was said to spare the feelings of those socially colored white and the lives of those socially colored black.  It is a delicate balance but forgetting one’s place in the hierarchy of race is dangerous.

The noose is a reminder that the law is not on the side of African Americans but in the hands of the executioner.  It is no wonder then the great distrust that African Americans have of the legal system.  Also, with police officers sometimes doubling as members of the Ku Klux Klan, it is not hard to understand the historical and racialized criminalization of socially colored black bodies.

African Americans cannot afford the luxury of hoping that persons will assume that they are a good person and too often the benefit of the doubt is lost in the first exchange.  The belief in the social construct of race and the threat of socially colored black bodies continues.  Ironically, it is this body that is threatened, singled out and sorted out as the problem.

But, why all of this talk about nooses and lynching?  It is so dark and depressing.  It was so long ago, right?  Well, I had no plans to discuss it.  However, it seems that there are those who it to be a part of our conversation, at least those who visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  A noose was left there today.

And don’t say it is the action of one.  Don’t give them the benefit of anonymity.  “At the hands of persons unknown” will not do.  No, we must seek them out.  Call them out.

Because this is not just some terrible act, some heinous symbol.  But, it is a sign of unbridled terrorism.  And it is a reminder to all those who claim Africa as their home and the source of their heritage that your body is not safe, that your body must bow to white supremacy or it will hang.

A noose in the National Museum of African American History and Culture reminds us that this form of hatred, this kind of unfounded vengeance upon the African American body is still desired by some, that the crowd is only a few steps away.  It is only waiting for people to go silent.

The noose around one American strangles us all.

 

Suggested Readings

Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States 1889-1919, (New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1919).

Ann Alexander, “Like an Evil Wind: The Roanoke Riot of 1893 and the Lynching of Thomas Smith,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 100 (1992): 173-206.

Shawn Leigh Alexander, “Vengeance without Justice, Injustice without Retribution: The Afro-American Council’s Struggle against Racial Violence,” Great Plains Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2007): 117-33.

Sandy Alexandre, The Properties of Violence: Claims to Ownership in Representations of Lynching (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012).

James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Sante Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000).

Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2015).

J. Brown, “Philosophy of Lynching,” The Voice of the Negro 1, no. 11 (1904): 555-59.

John E. Bruce, The Blood Red Record (Albany: Argus Company, 1900).

George W. Chamlee, “Is Lynching Ever Defensible?,” Forum  (1927).

Frederick Douglass, “Lynching Black People Because They Are Black,” Christian Educator 5, no. 3 (1894): 95-108.

Philip Dray, At the hands of persons unknown: The Lynching of Black America, (New York: The Modern Library, 2002).

Jacqueline Denise Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Trudier Harris-Lopez, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1984).

Karlos K. Hill, Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Cultural Memory (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

James H. Madison, A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America, 1st ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2001).

Michael J. Pfeifer, “The Ritual of Lynching: Extralegal Justice in Missouri, 1890-1942,” Gateway Heritage 13 (1993): 22-33.

Mamie Till-Mobley, and Chris Benson, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America, 1st ed. (New York: Random House, 2003).

 

 

 

 

Justice runs out of time for Kalief Browder

 

A deeply troubling and painful story to watch, the short life and unfair death of Kalief Browder is shared with viewers in a new 6- part documentary on Spike. If you believe in justice or if you question its credibility, then you will want to watch.  Arrested at sixteen years old after being accused of stealing a book bag, Browder is sent to Rikers for three years– without a trial.  Unable to make bail, he is caught in the system.

This is a true story.  It is an American story.  He will not “live happily ever after.”

The year was 2010. Yes, his story happened not in a distant and disconnected past. But, Browder was falsely imprisoned 7 years ago.  Click here to watch the trailer and perhaps, you’ll want to hear more.