Thursday, September 30, 2010

Get It Right

"...the odds of a black man becoming a professional athlete is 2.25 times greater than earning a Master’s degree, and 4.5 times greater than earning a PhD..."

That blurb definitely got my attention when a friend sent it to me the other day. Right there in bold print was a factoid that seemed to give lie to all the "stay in school" efforts championed in the black community, and made me reconsider whether I could let my 3-year old son slide on the poor form on his jumper.

"Is that a real stat" I asked, immediately.

I'm no fool, at least not most of the time. I know that random statistics that seem to buck accepted norms should be viewed with a skeptical eye. Yes, sometimes a fresh set of eyes can see the truth, but often, people get outlandish answers because they ask loaded questions. My friend directed me to this link, which brings up an academic study featuring mathematical computations far beyond my limited ability. It purports to provide proof for the quotation I provided above.

It does not.

I don't say that because I have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I have no such interest. I don't say that because I believe that corporate America and expensive secondary degrees are the black man's ticket to prosperity. I don't believe that at all. I say this study is fairly bogus because it makes some pretty obvious mistakes when examining data, and I'm left wondering if the two young men who did it meant this as a prank, or just a scheme to get people talking about careers in a different way.

If I read it correctly, the study compares the performances of black male NCAA athletes to the the performances of black male students as a whole. I may not understand all the formulas used, but I do understand that's not a fair comparison. I'm not shocked that it's more likely that athletes will make the NBA than your average black man will get an MBA.

That doesn't tell me anything profound or shocking and it definitely doesn't tell me its more likely to make the league than get an MBA. The researchers didn't compare the percentage of all black men who make the NBA to the percentage of all black men who get an MBA. They compared a specialized subset to a larger group and that's just bad science.

Sure, this a random study done by random researchers, but given the way information travels in the world today, I would not be surprised to see it picked by websites and news services and become part of urban lore. I wanted to get ahead of the rush because just like the Willie Lynch letter, just like the "stat" about there being fewer black men in college than in jail this study seems destined to be repeated constantly by black folks trying to make a point.

And that is saddening and maddening.

Everybody loves a juicy rumor and crazy anecdote, but we as black folks have to be more careful. Certain "facts" don't merit repeating. Quite often this information is based on half-truths and outright lies, and only serves as grist for the "Why are the niggers so effed up" mill. It's self-defeating to repeat the latest quasi-stats about black pathology, or support the pipe dreams of children with faulty information.

Let's get it right.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Need To Say Something

It's old news now, but I still wanted to share some thoughts about the saga surrounding Atlanta mega-church pastor Eddie Long.

Do y'all mind?

When news broke about Long's alleged misdeeds with young men at his church I could muster no surprise and only a smidgen of outrage. I wonder if that says more about my cynical nature, or the current state of the black church? Unlike many Americans, I had heard of Long before news broke that he might be the new face of the much ballyhooed "down low" movement.

A few years back, I read a story that discussed how Long and other prominent ministers such as Joyce Meyers, Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen were being examined by the federal government for their lavish lifestyles. Apparently, because of a system of "gift-giving" among each other and with their congregations the clergy were acquiring fancy cars, houses and toys without paying a commiserate amount in taxes. I never heard what happened with the investigation, but I remember the list of stuff was quite impressive.

I say all that to note that I already had a certain image of Long in my mind when news of his alleged dalliances broke, and that shaped my reaction. Due to personal experiences, my opinion of most preachers isn't that high, and my feelings have only been validated by the recent prosperity movement and the non-stop rumors of rampant homosexuality in the pulpit. Many ministers are preaching a sort of Christianity-lite that's heavy on blessings and storms, and light on anything that resembles challenging the moral character of their congregations.

What's sad is that Long and his ilk have become the face of black Christianity in America. When people think of black folks and church, they think of ministers in flashy cars with flashy jewels and a harem of pliable church sisters.

It's quite sad, but not inaccurate.

Far too many preachers feel entitled to a certain lifestyle and many of them are infected with the "me too" disease. They are constantly comparing what other preachers have, and scheming on ways to get something similar for themselves. And many of them, like true pimps, love to twist the Truth in order to advance their goals.

I don't know if Long is guilty of cheating his flock, or being a hypocrite, but I do know he's guilty of excess. He's guilty of perverting the purpose of the church and turning what is supposed to be a job of spiritual leadership, into just another corporate gig. In fact, he's even compared his job to being a CEO, as if that is the message Jesus preached when he told the disciples to feed his sheep.

That's what really bothers me about this whole situation. The possible hypocrisy about homosexuality is irritating, but the idea that churches are supposed to be huge and preachers are supposed to be wealthy is the real evil sweeping this nation. These ministers are feeding folks pap, and because it smells good and makes them feel good they swallow it down whole.

I hope they all gag.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Would Work?

Have you ever tried to solve a problem, and only after you had gotten knee deep in the situation did you truly grasp the heft of the endeavor?

Like trying to change the oil on your car and realizing that the entire engine is shot? Or repainting the trim on your home, and then realizing you have a serious termite infestation?
I had that feeling recently when considering the plight of black folks in America. Or, as it was once known, "The Negro Problem."

 Like DuBois, I hate that term, but in this case it fits. There remains a problem for black people in this country. We typically go to the worst schools, we live in the worst neighborhoods, we have bleak economic realities, and we have the most negative contact with law enforcement. Unlike some, I don't chalk this up to some innate genetic or cultural failure on the part of black folks. I've always known that we have faced challenges, but it's only recently that I was able to assess the true size of those issues.

Some of you may be tired of hearing about Douglas Blackmon's book "Slavery By Another Name" but honestly, this has been one of the most informative books I've every consumed, and I've read a lot of books over the years. Not only is the information about the de-facto slavery that was prevalent in this country eye-opening, but the details about exactly how the South operated in the period following Reconstruction has revolutionized how I view black folks' and our situation.

Simply put, the world we live in today didn't occur randomly. It wasn't that black folks couldn't or wouldn't put in the extra work to overcome some minor but manageable difficulties. Our oppression wasn't confined to lunch counters and railroad cars. Jim Crow shouldn't be called Jim Crow, it should should be called Jim Blue Freaking Whale!

This country, the South in particular, actively did everything in its power to prevent black folks from catching up with the rest of America following slavery. Laws were created, injustices were ignored and no effort was spared to establish and bolster white hegemony. This wasn't a loose collection of bigots and a large mass of ignorant  folks, this was the very government of the states with the largest concentrations of black citizens doing everything in their power to keep black people in poverty and abject misery.

There were laws preventing black people from changing employers without a white person's approval. There were laws criminalizing loud talk, failing to have a job and haggling over wages. In the land of free enterprise, there was even a law making it illegal for black folks to seek the best price for the cotton they grew on their own land. Enforcing these unjust laws was a collection of corrupt and brutal judges and sheriff's whose only qualification was a deep and abiding hatred of black folks. The "justice" system was so filled with corruption that for years a black man could die in prison simply for the crime of having the wrong color skin.

This was evil.

And I don't say all this to rehash the past, although I want all of you to learn more about this dark period in black life, I say this because until we understand the depths of the evil committed against black folks, we can't hope to figure out solutions. This isn't just about removing unfair obstacles and telling black folks to run their race. No, that is not enough.

Not when you consider the aggressive injustice that defined black life for a century after slavery. The minor fixes that have drawn the ire of so many white folks are not only pointless, but black people should be pissed at the reaction from our white peers.  It's like watching someone offer a cup of water to a man who is engulfed in flames, and then seeing bystanders roasting marshmallows and complaining about the damage to the cup.

Yet, for the life of me, I can't figure out what would work. How do we fix this problem? How do we address and correct the artificially created educational, economic and cultural realities of black life? How do we soothe the accumulated hurts that are completely real and justified? Can this country do enough? Will its people ever truly grasp what happened, and what must be done to make amends?

What do you think?


Monday, September 20, 2010

Who Is Surprised?

Not only is the Tea Party taking America by storm, it seems to be taking a lot of folks by surprise.

Many pundits and regular folks are perplexed by the group's ability to generate and sustain momentum. Lots of folks apparently expected the group's members to flop in their bids for public office once voters got a chance to hear what they were saying, and consider their platforms.

Turns out, most folks who get paid to know what's happening were very, very wrong.

It's not surprising that political analysts miscalculated when examining the Tea Party. Insiders typically underestimate outsiders, and that's particularly true when the two groups disagree. It's easy to downplay arguments and ignore warning signs when the topic under discussion is one that seems so cut-and-dry. Also, most political experts are disconnected from the real world and the thoughts and feelings of real people. They don't understand "the masses" anymore than the politicians they are paid to critique.

Quite simply, the masses are angry, frustrated and looking for someone to blame.

The Tea Party taps into all that, and it doesn't bother with logic or facts when it comes to feeding folks want they so desperately want. People want to be reassured that it's not their fault, that they are still wonderful, that there is a definite and obvious bogeyman to blame. They want to be told they are smart, they are special, and that the world still operates according to the rules it always used.

Only, it doesn't and they're not.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Tea Party has been able to tap into all of these latent phobias so many Americans have about their government and their neighbors. Anybody who has paid any attention to history should know that political movements often have tons of initial success by tapping into one form of paranoia or another. More importantly, it appears many political analysts underestimated just how much appeal naked racism still has to many Americans.

Tea Party members hate being branded racist, but it's the obvious truth. A simple analogy would be to consider a city neighborhood. When there are repeated crimes in a neighborhood that neighborhood gets labeled "bad." When a movement is full of racist appeals and rhetoric, the same thing happens. It cannot be avoided, and shouldn't be avoided no matter how often Tea Party supporters whine.

There is a powerful allure to hate regardless of the shape of that hate.The Tea Party has successfully tapped into the hatred many black folks always said was bubbling below the placid surface of American life, and that venom has propelled them into relevance. When things are going bad it is fashionable to hate "others", to blame them for your problems and hurt them whenever possible. That's the American way.

It's surprising that so many people are surprised.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quick Hitter

With elections approaching, President Obama's "otherness" has once again become a topic of discussion.

I can't really generate enough interest to write too much on a topic I've discussed far too many times, but this New York times article gives a breakdown of some of the tactics. If you check out the article, I'm sure this paragraph will jump out at you just like it did for me:

The latest controversy over Mr. Obama’s identity involves — once again — Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who this week accused Mr. Obama, whose father was a Kenyan economist and spoke out against the occupying force in his country, of exhibiting “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

Now, I'm no expert on history, or politics, or pretty much anything. I have a little knowledge, but I wouldn't call myself an expert. That said, when did "anti-colonial behavior" become a negative? Did I miss the memo that said that colonialism was a good thing? Does that mean that the so-called forefathers of America were displaying regrettable "anti-colonial behavior"?

What the hell?

It's like folks are just saying anything these days and hoping something sticks. Reminds me a lot of the actual campaign. Seriously, the day when it becomes cool to colonize countries is the day when it becomes cool to enslave humans, and that's officially the day where this lunatic starts capping back. Because Lord knows that if they try to bring slavery back, they are going for the black folks first.

Seriously though, anti-colonial is bad now? Somebody who agrees with Newt, please explain what he was talking about here.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Know What To Think

Some of you may have heard that it's been revealed that well-known Civil Rights photographer Ernest Withers was an informant for the FBI as he snapped the pictures that would be his legacy. Check out the Memphis Commercial Appeal stories complete with a host of related information.

I must admit, I'm deeply conflicted.

This expose is pretty damning. If you read the Commerical-Appeal's information Withers' had no problem supplying all kinds of information to the FBI and apparently went out of his way to provide as much damning personal information as he could discover. Withers may have been capturing some of the most powerful moments of the movement on film, but he was also capturing many members at their most vulnerable and delivering that information to the FBI. The files are filled not just with details, but also with his own thoughts and speculations on the motivations and character defects of the people he encountered.

First off, I want to acknowledge that I don't have much trust for the FBI today, and I have no trust for the FBI of the past. So, these files could be exagerating what Withers did, and I find it somewhat suspicious that he was "outed" by a former FBI agent. That said, there is no denying that if the FBI is framing Withers, they are doing a bang up job because I don't think I've seen a more troubling collection of information about a prominent black icon. Well, maybe the news released about James Bevel was more disturbing, but only because of the nature of the crimes he was accused of commiting.

My mistrust of the FBI, along with my questions about the motivations of the Commercial Appeal and that paper's own history with the movement, make me unsure about how to view Withers. I find myself wanting to find some sort of information that will exonerate him from these accusations, and in the back of my mind I don't want this to be true. It feels like this sort of betrayal is an indictment of the movement as a whole, and just one more blackmark on what many blacks think of as their shinining accomplishment in this country.

Honestly, that's the real problem. Black folks, through the efforts of the school system and the media, have had our entire contributions to America reduced to slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights. That's how we have been taught to define ourselves, and while the first two items generate an endless reserve of anger, the last one is often a source of pride. This mindset leads us to reject negative information about the movers and shakers of the movement and cling to the most positive of portrayals.

That is a mistake.

Black people have contribued far more to America then any historian has ever been able to catalogue, but we also need to embrace the idea that flawed actors can still be heroes. Human beings can do good even if they themselves aren't admirable people in other ways.

For too long black people have tried to create this mask of perfection to present to the white world because we are afraid that they will judge us too harshly if they see the reality. It's an offshoot of the common belief of the past that black folks had to "earn" their rights as American citizens instead of having them bestowed upon us at our births. It's a stupid, stupid way to live.

Ernest Withers apparently was a snitch. Nobody knows exactly how he started his career as a snitch, or what his motivation was for supplying the FBI with information. We don't know how he felt about his actions and we don't know how he felt about the movement that he spent so much time chronicling. All we have are these FBI files and the amazing and powerful photos he took of those times.

It's up to us to consider every thing before we decide what to think.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Sweep, Sweep, Sweeping

America is a nation of closet cleaners.

One of the abiding cliches found in movies and network television shows is the conniving child who, when ordered to clean up his room, instead comes up with a bright idea. Rather than put things where they belong, the child crams them all into the closet, only to have those same toys and clothes come tumbling out at the most inopportune time. The child is then stuck with an even bigger mess than before, and the added stress of angry parents.

See where I'm going with this?

When it comes to issues of race, Americans have become so adept at sweeping things under the rug that they've convinced themselves that the floor is actually made with those unsightly lumps.

Take Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who is angling for a presidential nomination in 2012. Barbour recently unveiled a recollection of how the South became majority Republican that was so completely and utterly divorced from reality that I wouldn't have been surprised if he was high on 'shrooms when he said it.

He basically said that the people of his generation--mind you Barbour is 63-- rejected the Democratic party because they just couldn't abide by the enduring racism of southern Democrats, and the Republican party provided a refuge. He downplayed the well-known "Southern Strategy" which entailed Republicans openly playing to the racial bigotry rampant in the South to gain votes. Nope, the move to Republicans was all about embracing equality, not protecting a supremacy built on lies.

Those are some kick ass shrooms, right?

I don't know why Barbour trotted out this alternate version of reality. Maybe, possibly, he did switch from the Democratic party because of concerns about the racism among Southern Dixiecrats, but there is no way he examined history and truly believes that most folks made the switch for the same reason.

All he had to do was consider the rhetoric used by Republicans to draw in supporters to see the truth. But, it's a good bet that Barbour has purposely avoided examining history's ledger and instead decided to draw on his own anecdotes and faulty memory to create his new reality. Life is easier that way, you know?

Many folks don't want to deal with the problems of the past before they march boldly into the future. They'd prefer to just sweep all those ugly details aside and get on to the fun stuff. After all if the room looks clean, why do you need to go looking in every crook and crevice to make sure it actually is clean? That's seems like a lot of work for very little pay off, right?

Wrong. Clean is clean. Shunting problems to the side doesn't solve them, it only delays dealing with them. Refusing to acknowledge the true history of this country, and deal with the effects of that history in modern times, is the reason why only limited progress can be made with regards to racial issues. It's like putting Old Spice on a funky body. You just create a new, more creative brand of funk.

Barbour and his audacious lies or faulty memories is a big part of the problem. It's particularly galling because he's one of those people who loves to propose sweeping policy changes based on his bad information, and that's a danger to me and everybody else. Before he wants to solve the world's problems as president, he needs to figure out how to solve his own problem with discussing the reality of this country's racial history.

Sweep around his own front door, before he sweeps around mine.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

Have you ever learned something that you immediately wished you could forget?

Some tidbit of information that changes your entire view of a situation? My best friend and I often joke that when women meet men they should keep information about their past to themselves no matter how much a man may beg and plead for the dirt. Both of us can remember times when we've developed feelings for a woman only to have her let some nugget about her past drop in casual conversation that causes a terrible sinking feeling in our guts. When this happens it's hard not to wonder if the woman's whole persona, or rather the persona we created for her, is based on a series of lies and fabrications.

You can never unlearn the truth.

I thought about that recently while reading a book by Douglas Blackmon called "Slavery by Another Name" on how de-facto slavery continued in America long after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. I'm just beginning the book, but already I've learned stuff that's made it hard for me to see the world in the same light. How many northern conglomerates, like U.S. Steel, were built on the backs of black men sold into indentured servitude because they happened to be walking down the wrong street on the wrong day? Not only did black folks have to contend with widespread domestic terrorism in the form of the KKK and other groups, but now I learn that they had to deal with the disappearance of loved ones who spent some of their most productive working years slaving in dark coal mines to re-build the Southern economy that was decimated by the war that granted them their freedom.

Can you imagine that existence?

The book's author notes that many black people have contacted him and thanked him for providing them with a reason for the slow march of progress in the black community in the decades following Reconstruction. For them, there was always the hidden fear that all the lies told about black people's inherent inferiority were somehow true, and the proof was in our failure to advance once the slaveowner's manacles were loosed. In his book, Blackmon reveals that those manacles were actually in place up until World War II in a variety of forms.

The thing is, while it's good to learn these types of stories because it fleshes out my understanding of the lives my ancestors lived, it is still jarring. It's tough to know that authorities used crimes like vagrancy, or loud talking, or curfew violations to imprison black people, and then tacked on unfair fines to force them back into slavery. I wasn't ignorant about the venal nature of humans, but I was still shocked that I could live so long in this country and never really understand just how widespread and longstanding this practice once was.

More importantly, it has some uncomfortable similarities to our current prison system. I can't help but notice which crimes black prisoners are overwhelmingly incarcerated for, and how their bodies are used once they are imprisoned. I can't help but see the connection between vagrancy and loud talking and crack possession and three strikes laws.

Sadly, it's obvious that while some of the surface details have changed, the mindset and underlying aims of the power structure has not. I always suspected, but with this new information it's just been confirmed as truth.

And sometimes the truth doesn't set you free, it just weighs you down.


Raving Black Lunatic