Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Victory: My Black Skin

I stood there drenched in tears. I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t want to stop them. Each drop baptized a once painful memory, transforming it into a new truth. This is the American Dream. I felt it, for the first time. I understood, for the first time, the pride felt by others when they say those words-“I pledge allegiance to the flag…”, “God bless America…”

I understood what Michelle Obama meant when she said “this is the first time I’ve been proud of my country.” She was attacked for failing to embrace what others took for granted. Yes, she and her husband, Barack, are the beneficiaries of the opportunities offered those who live in this country. Both were able to pull themselves up from their own boot straps and create success from woeful pasts. Sometime was missing. Something so deep that no words could express the angst within her spirit.

She felt the change coming when she made that statement. A whirlwind of emotions stirred within her because of what she saw and felt-people coming together to pave the way for her husband to become President. Hope caught hold and she couldn’t hold it in-yes, I’m proud of my country, and yes, it is the first time I have felt like this.

My friend April Garret called me the day after the election. “Carl you know I love being black. My black skin feels so much better today,” she said. So true. I have always loved my skin, but have walked in fear that others would use it against me. I stood there waiting for something to go wrong. It all seemed too good to be true. Not in America. Not given our history. America isn’t ready for my skin. I trembled with each projection made. He won Virginia, it’s getting closer. He won Ohio. Could it be?

My heart wouldn’t stop beating. So many memories now. I remembered the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As I walked home from school, three white boys grabbed me, threw me into a tree, kicked me and then spat in my face. “Your King is dead Nigger,” I cried there cuddled under the tree. Why me? What had I done? It then came to me-they hated my skin.

Other memories kept coming. Like the day I walked into my high school counselor’s office to talk about my future. I sat in the chair across from him. He never pulled my file. He talked to me about learning a trade. I told him I wanted to go to college and become a writer. He told me I was wasting my time. He never looked at my grades. I wondered why. He hated my black skin.

I reflected on the hostility I carried because of my skin. I remembered how my former in-laws told me to give up on school and take a job washing dishes at the nearby restaurant. “You think you better than everyone else,” one of them told me. I left the room and cried. I cried alone in hope of support from someone, anyone, who would tell me I have more to offer, that I have a talent and that I should pursue my dream. They too hated my black skin.

I watched Jesse Jackson cry. I wondered what he was thinking. Maybe it was King’s dream. Maybe it was his own quest for the White House. Other’s cried too. My tears overwhelmed me. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took a look at my skin, that beautiful black skin, and I loved me in a way that had escaped my grasp. “They love you too Carl,” I released the bitterness of the years. “They love your black skin too.”

I looked deeper, much deeper, and then the words came out. “You can love your skin too.” I looked at my skin. It had been the reason for my hostility and the crutch of my pessimism. “Look at this!” I cried out. “Look at this Fredrick Douglass. Look at what you helped do. Look at this Fannie Lou Hammer, look Marcus Garvery, look at me Emitt Till, look Medger Evers, Abner Luma, look James Byrd, look Shirley Chisholm. Look at this!”

Look at this skin. Look at this freedom. Look at this unity. Look at this America, this new America, and shout with me. Shout as loud as you can. Wave your black fist high and shout with me-God Bless America, land of the free.

This is my country too! Thank you America for giving us what we have needed. It’s more than those 40 acres and mules you promised. You have proven that you trust us. Thank you.

Look at my black skin!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baptist Position on Women Inconsistent

I’m confused by the hypocrisy of some people. I can take people disregarding and disrespecting others because of some difference. Stupidity I can deal with. I’m used to that. What I can’t take is the inconsistency that comes with making a decision to limit a person due to gender, race or sexual orientation.

An example comes from the good ole boys club called the Southern Baptist Convention. These Christians love to hate. Last year it was Mickey Mouse for Disney’s policy to provide benefits to gay and lesbian couples. A few churches got kicked out of the convention for being too loving. Give me a break.

The most recent attack, one mo time, is against women in ministry. It’s an old battle that is one among many issues that led to a split within the convention. Those Southern Baptist Christians get a thrill out of getting their women to submit to their husbands and remaining in their rightful place. Wash them dishes woman and get my food on that table.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the owner of LifeWay Christian stores. The convention decided to pull copies of Gospel Today, a Christian magazine based out of Atlanta, due to its cover story featuring five female pastors. God forbid! How dare that magazine promote the role of women as leaders! How dare they push for the equality of women given the Bibles clear position against women taking a leadership role!

I could engage in a long conversation into how those who take that position don’t know how to read. Please give me a break. Those Southern Baptist are so enamored with maintaining a culture that affirms those with male genitalia that they reject the truth glaring them in the face. I just wish people would learn to read rather than hate.

Local folks are livid because one of our local gems is on that cover. Sheryl Brady, the 48-year-old pastor of the River Church, was featured in that story. It irked me that the focus of the decision is rooted in the gender of the folks on the cover versus the theological basis behind their ministry. I have issues with the women on the cover, but it’s not because of gender. It’s their theology and lack of training that gets under my skin. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Let’s talk about that hypocrisy. Those same Christians, who have the guts to pull a magazine because it promotes the leadership of women, are positioned to vote for a woman to take second seat in leading our nation. Help me understand why that doesn’t sound like someone is hooked on stupid.

Are they saying a woman can lead the nation but not a congregation of 800 people? If a woman is prohibited, by gender, from leading a church, why would they grant a sister a right to lead the nation? If you plan on taking a sexist position please be consistent with your sexism. It’s getting complicated for those who are trying to keep up with your narrow mindedness.

I’m prepared to accept that those Southern Baptist Christians refuse to accept that God loves all people in the same way, and that men don’t get special privileges because they have a penis. No problem. That helps me in deciding where to go to worship. I’d rather not fellowship with people tainted by stupidity and hatred.

I will give them space to hate on their own, but please people, if you are going to disregard women, be consistent. That’s all I’m asking. Just stay on the same page so we can adjust to your foolishness.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Can See Russia From Outside My Door

You can see Russia from outside my front door. She said that! She made a point to remind us that those Russians can easily make their way over to American soil and attack at will! What a desperate attempt to strike fear among all those who remember the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold War years.

Those darn Russians are close, and I, as the Governor of Alaska, serve the role of protecting our American borders. Give me a break Gov! The Cold War ended with the fall of the iron curtain. Russia isn’t what it used to be, and most intelligent American’s aren’t buying into that game anymore. Whoops! Forgive me. Maybe they are. Maybe Americans are dumb enough to feed into the “we better watch our back” game.

The implied statement made during Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson makes it easier to understand how so many Americans think. I have been dumbfounded by how Americans are so easily duped into embracing a we versus them mentality that has the world snubbing us due to our arrogance. I know! I Know! 911 is proof that we should never take national security for granted. Things have changed in the good ole U.S. of A.

But that assertion was way over the top. Implied in her statement was a gross exaggeration of her role as head of the states National Guard. Because of her leadership, we are led to believe; those darn Russians have been kept from coming over here. Look at me. I’m like the head of state, leading our troops into protecting our national interest.

I sure hope Americans are smart enough to read between these lines of Bull fertilizer. But wait. Please wait. There’s more in her statement that Americans need to ponder. If she can see Russia from outside her door, doesn’t that prove how far removed she is from the typical American agenda? She’s a long way from where I live down in Durham, North Carolina. Shucks, I doubt if she has ever encountered some of the issues that are common within my backyard.

4,4875 miles. That’s how far Anchorage, Alaska is from Durham, North Carolina. It takes 75 hours and 13 minutes to drive there. You have to drive through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before you make it to Anchorage. I realize the state has some statistics that resonates with most Americans-number seven in the nation in violent crimes. Number one in the nation, that’s right, numero uno, in reported rapes. The people in Alaska have some of the same problems with crime facing the rest of us, but for different reasons.

Alaska has a thriving economy driven by the oil industry. In 2006, the State Gross Product was 43.6 Billion, the 5th highest in the nation. “Crime is really high there because people have noting to do,” a former resident of Alaska told me. “My father is a judge there, and he’s happy I no longer live there because it is safer in Durham, NC.” What! Are you serious! It’s safer in Durham “shoot em up, gang banga capital of North Carolina?” Has pops seen “Welcome to Durham”, the documentary that portrayed Durham as an unsafe place to live?

So, let me get this right. Crime is higher, much higher in Alaska because people have nothing else to do. It’s high because it’s so dark and people get depressed. They fill voids with alcohol and drugs and do crazy things because they have nowhere to go. That’s life in Alaska. Oh, let’s not forget you can see Russia from your front door.

Life up there is completely different than life down here. You have your social outcasts who live there because they want to remove themselves from life as we know it in the other states. You can’t take a drive to another state. You can go hunt and fish, get a few drinks and turn on the tube and watch “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars”. Sounds like a lot of fun! Life away from the rest of us, and Russia is so very, very close.

Those are the type of credentials we need in a person who may be called upon to lead our nation. Someone far removed from the rest of us. Who wants a president who has the benefit of the American label but never has to connect to American problems? Who wants a president who has never contended with the demographics the rest of us take for granted?

It’s one thing to deal with a few enraged people struggling to find a way to have fun. It’s a different matter when you have people who are grappling with finding a way to survive after the plant has moved overseas. It’s one thing to refuse to take a job with the petroleum company because it doesn’t fit your free and easy spirit, versus not finding work because work can’t be found.

Oh well. I suppose we have a few things in common. Can’t you see Russia from outside your front door?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's Not Talk About Sex

I’m a bit fed up with all of this talk about sex. Have we become a nation fascinated with knowing who’s doing who and how long they have been doing it? What does it mean when the National Enquirer becomes the model for investigative reporting?

What happened to the days when the Enquirer was a joke, and the only people who read it were those suckered into believing Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee is his second cousin from Mars and Janice is a reincarnated elephant. When John Edward’s got busted by the Enquirer it set journalism back 50 years. Why? Because those representing credible journalism are too scared to talk about sex after coming after John McCain.

You may remember how the New York Times crucified McCain for an alleged affair with a lobbyist. The story painted McCain as a hypocrite for advocating for campaign reform while doing the horizontal hooky poky with a lobbyist. The McCain camp lashed back, and the story didn’t stick. Instead of backing out of his presidential bid, McCain was vindicated for what appeared to be a story printed void of the facts.

It didn’t matter that there was the appearance of numerous conflicts of interest. It didn’t matter that people within the McCain camp had approached him about the rumors that were circulating. It didn’t matter that McCain had been caught crossing the line before, and that he had a previous affair after his wife’s automobile accident. The New York Times was forced to apologize while McCain moved closer to securing the nomination.

The Time couldn’t get it right, but the National Enquired did. The most credible news outlet in the nation was slapped on the hand, while the model for tabloid journalism wins the prize for breaking the biggest story of the election year. Something is wrong folks.

Bob Wilson, my former editor at the Herald-Sun, chided the News & Observer for failing to go after the Edwards story. Many have assumed that members of the press knew enough to investigate Edwards. People were talking, and the Enquire was bold enough to go after the story. Maybe the News & Observer, the New York Times and the other reputable news organizations were too scared to come after Edwards after the Times messed up with McCain.

Which brings me back to my original point-I’m fed up with all of this talk about who’s screwing who. I’m pissed at it all because the jerks that get caught should have enough self-control to keep their private parts in their pants. I understand human weakness. I suspect that it gets hard spending all of those hours on the road, and that you need to release every now and then. I’m no prude. I get it. I really do, but isn’t the job important enough to refrain from doing what you desire in the heat of the moment?

Or, has the game of politics all become a game? I brought into the cheesy story of the Edwards going to Wendy’s to celebrate their freaking wedding anniversary. I heard the violins when Elizabeth stood by her man after being diagnosed with cancer. I looked past the $400 haircuts and the big house outside of Chapel Hill. I even forgave Edwards for giving up his Senate seat after we fought hard to get him in office. I forgave the drive that led him to run for President after one term opening the way for Elizabeth Dole to take his place.

I hate this talk about sex because of the lies that come with it all. Tell us the truth about your marriages. Don’t hide the truth! Trust us with your lives so that we can get back to the business of voting for people based on the issues rather than wasting time in an attempt to read between the lines of bull you feed us. Tell us that you have a woman on the side and two or three more on each coast to fill in the gaps when sweet thang can’t show up.

Get past playing games with our emotions! Go ahead. Trust us with your mess! Tell us you stay with her because she’s the mother of your children but the flame has died out. Tell us you desire a younger woman, you are going through a midlife crisis and you have a sports car tucked away in a remote place. Tell us your marriage is a joke, and you’re too scared to take the risk of leaving because you want the freaking job.

It’s a sad day folks. The National Enquirer broke this story because America is tired of all of this talk about sex. It happens so often that we can’t keep up with all the sex scandals, and The New York Times isn’t willing to take the risk.

It sure would be nice to have a conversation about public policy.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nigger Discussed on the View

Nigger is getting a lot of publicity lately. It all started when Nas threatened to title his new album “Nigger”. Under pressure from community leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he backed off. The cover art depicts Nas stripped to the waist, the letter “N” outlined in ugly scars on his back as if he were the victim of a horse-whipping.

Nigger found its way to my blog, and the comments came rolling like a might cloud of witnesses. I used the occasion to have an open discussion regarding race, censorship and varying opinions related to the way we approach both.

Nigger took center stage again last week after Jesse Jackson used it during his comment about chopping off Barack Obama’s nuts. Jackson proved that even the most staunch critic of the word reserves the right to pull out the Nigger when it’s the best way to describe the deep angst felt in that moment. Nigger is a multidimensional word. It is a term of endearment. It can be used to separate a person from the ideological views of another person. That Nigger is crazy; as it was used by Jackson.

Jackson led the charge in condemning Michael Richards for shouting Nigger at a black patron at the Laugh Factory. Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada joined Jackson in calling for a ban on the word’s use. Now that Jackson has been caught using the word, Masada says he wants Jackson to do what comics do every time they say the word on a Laugh Factory stage-pay a fine.

Nigger became the hot topic on the ‘View’ when co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said she doesn’t like when black people use the word, and cried while trying to explain why. She said no one should be able to say it because “it perpetuates stereotypes and hate.”

“We use it the way we want to use it,” Whoopi Goldberg countered. Goldberg then became upset when Hasselbeck claimed that they both live in the same world, and Goldberg let her know “we do live in different worlds. You don’t understand.”

Barbara Walters also chastised Hasselbeck during the discussion.” You’re not listening, you're just talking," she said.

The conversation came to an end when Hasselbeck burst out in tears asking, "How are we supposed to move forward if we keep using words that bring back that pain?"

Nigger gets so much attention, and it is so misunderstood. White people struggle with discerning how and why black people use it while rebuking them for doing the same. The word is a reminder that we are living in two different worlds, and that these worlds are further complicated by the escalating generation gap in the black community.

Nas said it best during an interview on BET to promote his now untitled album. “The youth think the older generation has let them down,” he said. “They don’t care about how they feel.”

The youth listen to us older folks scold them for using Nigger as a term of endearment. We remind them of the history of the word, and how it stirs up so much that we would rather place in a time capsule never to see again. They tell us they have taken that word and remade it into something useful. The spelling is changed. The meaning is different. If that is true, and I’m not so sure how you can do that without visiting the historical meaning of the word, why is it that they get so upset when white people use it?

They say, those angry young folks, that it is there’s to use in the way they decide. It’s a private word, limited to conversations with other Niggas. If that’s true, and again I’m not sure how you do that, why is it so prevalent in their music? I would be more willing to accept that logic if the primary consumers of Hip-Hop music were black youth. White youth purchase Hip-Hop more than black youth, creating a social and psychological dilemma that will take decades to process.

What happens when you take the terms of your former oppression (and in the minds of some, your current oppressors) and recast them to define yourself? If our identities are structured from the residue of a hideous past, what does that mean related to how we refuse to use new language to communicate who we are?

Nigger brings to the forefront deeper sociological and psychological constructs. It reflects the black communities divide around the ways it views history and the ways it interprets the significance and relevance of that past. If Nas is right, and black youth are angry at older blacks for letting them down, then Nigger stands as a social protest against a generation so enamored with their own quest for the American Dream that they left behind a generation in need of more than they were willing to give.

Elisabeth’s struggle to understand on the ‘View’ reflects black America’s grapple with its own identity. In other words, she is not able to comprehend because black people aren’t able to understand themselves. Black America is left fighting to find meaning within the chaos caused by the burden of history. The youth say take it and remake it. The older say cast it to the pits of Hell, burry it and refuse to revisit those villains from our past.

There’s one problem. When Jesse uses Nigger to communicate his rage, it reminds us that black folks use it behind closed doors, and white folks are confused because of our own bewilderment around the power of our words.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking Down to Black People

When I first heard Jesse Jackson’s rebuke of Barack Obama for “talking down to black people,” I conceded that old dude is jealous and in need of medication for an obvious mental illness. It must be tough to witness the rise of a young, vibrant, intelligent, articulate, spokesperson able to accomplish what he couldn’t.
With that being said, I’m not sure this is all about an old man refusing to take his seat in the rocking chair as the next generation takes control.

I listened in disgust as Jackson whispered his desire to cut Obama’s family jewels, and thought homeboy has taken this thing too far. He needs to check himself, take a nap, and rethink all that hostility. This is a new day, and it’s time out for playa hating on Obama. Those old crabs in the barrow were tugging at the best chance black folks have at the White House, and I fumed at each assertion Jackson made.

For a brief moment, I celebrated Obama for telling the truth. Black people are slack. We don’t take care of our children. We cry the victim game whenever things don’t go our way. Our boys are enamored with the thug culture, and our young girls are mimicking the image of the video vixens on BET. I listened to Obama challenge black people to rise above the lure of the streets. I watched as those gathered at the NAACP annual convention rose to their feet in a resounding Amen.

I wanted to join them. I wanted to participate in this great moment, but something was wrong with the rhetoric of his message. An opportunity was missed. Obama made the same mistake as Bill Cosby. He overstepped in his claim, and, in doing so, participated in the further dissemination of negative information regarding the state of Black America.

There is another side to this story, a piece that we all should cheer. Not all black people are poor, drug addicted and pregnant before the age of 20. Not all black men are absent from the lives of their children, hooked on stupid, treat their women like garden tools or measure their manhood by the bulge in their pants. There is more to black America, much more, and I wanted to hear Obama communicate the good rather than fuel the stereotypes that hinder our ability to see past our assumptions.

By casting that large umbrella over black America, Obama has further victimized black people by reminding us of how the problems of a few can be used to categorize what it means to be a part of the whole. Isn’t it time to rethink what it means to be black in America? Isn’t it time to shed light on the good examples instead of casting a bright light on the few among us used to classify what it means to be black?

My mother and father have been married for over 50 years. My father is my role model. My uncles are like my father-black men who took care of their children. My cousins take care of their children. My father and uncles passed on meaningful lessons that have helped nurture me into the man I am today. This is not an anomaly. It’s what happens with black families across the country.

Instead of feeding the flame of negative sentiments regarding the black man, woman and family, let’s tell the truth. What you see on BET doesn’t define black life. I’m fed up with that assumption, and Barack Obama needs to help others understand the truth.

Yes, there are some knuckleheads out there. Some of them are black. Some are white. Some are Hispanic. Some are bi and tri racial. The bad in America can’t be reduced to the state of black America, and I would love it if our leaders would stop and celebrate the good that is Black America.

Maybe that’s what Jackson meant when he said Obama talks down to black people. I understand the need to challenge us to do better, but it sure would help if he could help America see there is more to black life than all those stereotypes pasted in the minds of most Americans.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jesse Helms: Lessons Learned

My pops voted for George Wallace. I remember the rage I felt back in 1976 when we debated his decision to support the symbol of bigotry during the desegregation period. “All politicians are liars,” he said. “I’d rather vote for one who tells me the truth than to support one who will lie in my face.”

That dinner table discussion has radically impacted the way I reflect on the political process. My father is a rare breed. He possesses the ability to look past the race of a man, and to find those good qualities that we all have locked deep inside. He was able to look past Wallace’s hatred toward African Americans, and supported him for one reason-he was honest.

My father wasn’t able to convince me to vote for Wallace, but he taught me an important lesson regarding how to measure the content of a person’s character. He taught me to admire those who say what they mean and mean what they say. He taught me to look past the cant of slick politicians to discern how they feel when reporters go home.

The words of my father helped me appreciate Jesse Helms. He stood for what he believed in, even when I despised him for taking those positions. When others demonized him, I saw beauty in the man. He fought against the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, funding for the arts and stirred hostility against gays and lesbians.

The dude stood against everything I believe in. He epitomized the Old South mindset that had me concerned when I moved from Missouri to North Carolina. I assumed North Carolinians must all be like Helms. They voted him into office, and I feared rearing my children in an environment hostile to African Americans.

I wanted a diverse community that celebrated the worth of different cultures, not a closed minded community trapped in the days of Dixie. I feared racial slurs and cross burnings. I soon discovered the beauty of living in a community that had struggled to redefine what it means to be community after such a hostile history.

It took extensive dialogue to move communities past many of its assumptions. I soon realized the emotions behind Southern symbols. I listened as old, proud Southerners talked about the Confederate flag. I watched them fight through the assumptions of their upbringing to embrace the worth of those of another race. This took hard work.

I’ve witnessed African Americans hindered by the memory of oppression. As white Southerners fight to overcome old assumptions, many African Americans are unreceptive to the efforts of those who are doing the best they can to embrace the new South. This is hard work that takes time and persistence, but it is work worth engaging.

It is what I love about the South. It is what I celebrate about Jesse Helms. Southerners don’t hide how they feel. They tell you what they think. I love that in your face approach. It is what drives my column writing and the work I do on this blog. Time isn’t wasted on sifting through well chosen words. I’d rather a person tell me how they feel than to waste time in an effort to uncover the truth.

It reminds me of a conversation I had at a local coffee house. An older gentleman was sitting at the counter next to me. “You know, I just don’t like Niggers,” he said. “I’m trying to do better, but I just don’t like them.”

His comments startled me. Not because he said it, but because he said it to me. In that moment I realized that he was working through his issue. He saw in me a person willing to discuss the matter. I was honored that he trusted me. His eyes weren’t filled with hostility toward me, but rather sadness rooted in his upbringing. He feared being too old to change. I could see it in his eyes.

“Come on old man,” I said. “You don’t hate all Niggers. Otherwise you wouldn’t be talking to me.”

He laughed. We talked. I walked away overwhelmed by it all. I refused to allow that word-Nigger-to hinder our conversation. Transformation came in that moment. His truth met my truth, and we were better served due to the conversation.

That’s the South of Jesse Helms. When people speak their truth honestly, change can emerge from the ashes of our past.

Rest in peace Jesse

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And the Grammy Goes to......Purple St. James!!!

Many of you may have missed my column in Saturday’s News & Observer/The Durham News. In it I argued that Durham is in the midst of an amazing creative movement. I call it the Durham Renaissance. The best way to explain what is happening is to evoke the spirit of that notable era in American history-The Harlem Renaissance. There is a assemblage of young, gifted, African American artist that are shifting the way we think about what it means to be African American.

Their music, their art, dance, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression, is way out of the box. In that column I listed a few of them. I am proud to know them, to witness the growth of their craft, and to support them as they speak truth to life through their work. I indicated how they are surviving under the radar. As gifted as they are, we don’t hear about them.

Part of the blame is with the local media. The local outlets have been slow in understanding and promoting our local creative geniuses. For the most part, the Independent Weekly, the paper positioned to help us see the light, has been out of touch and late in reporting on this movement. We can’t blame them for that. They lack the staff that possesses sensitivity for what is happening among the African American creative community.

Cliff Bellamy over at the Herald-Sun does an amazing job of reaching out, staying connected and promoting the work of The Durham Renaissance. He is one person with a limited staff. He would do more if he could, but what’s up with the black press. The Triangle Tribune, Carolina Times and Spectacular have failed to fuel this movement.

One of the biggest stars of the Durham Renaissance is Purple St. James, formerly Yahzarah. She is counted among the elite artist in the nation, yet her music isn’t played in rotation in this market, and she stands as a giant among us void of the celebration she deserves.

Many of my readers may think I’m blowing smoke. Yeah right, that’s a bunch of bull. Thus, I challenge all of you to show up and see for yourselves. Purple St. James has her first official North Carolina EP listening part on Friday, June 27th at The 202 Lounge & Art Gallery, 6905-202 Fayetteville Road in the Renaissance Center at Southpoint above the Bake House Bristo.

The special guest will be another member of the Durham Renaissance crew- 9th Wonder of the hip-hop group Little Brother. The show starts at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

It’s critical that we support the artist who prove great things are happening in Durham. It is the place to be if you’re interested in seeing and hearing the emergence of new creative voices. We have a good thing in Durham, but it feels bad when no one shows up to celebrate what it means to have you in our midst.

See you on Friday.
For more information, or call 919-475-0831

Monday, June 23, 2008

Robert Mugabe: My Big Mistake

I will never forget my encounter with Robert Mugabe. I was part of a delegation of African American journalist sent to study the truth about Zimbabwe. It was, for all intents and purposes, a propaganda trip. Mugabe was bent on assuring that his spin on his controversial policies would be printed back in America.

The delegation spoke to White farmers about Mugabe’s move to take possession of farms owned by whites and transferring ownership to blacks. The justification was simple. The land was taken from them, and it was time to repay for all those years of oppression. It was difficult to dispute Mugabe’s argument. Studying the conflict in the former Rhodesia left me and other members of the delegations overcome with emotions.

It didn’t take much to convince most members of the group. We were told that the white controlled media was fueling the flame of decent by casting Mugabe and his government as a hate crazed band that was destroying the countries economy. We visited farmers, went to a hospital and orphanage. We left contemplating ways to support the people in Zimbabwe. We wanted to make a difference. We saw black men, women and children who were suffering with AIDS. We saw hospitals ill equipped to provide the level of care the people needed. We saw children left with no parents because of AIDS.

We left crying for the people. We left blaming a history of oppression for the plight of Zimbabwe. For this, I must repent. I repent of being blinded by the rhetoric we were being sold. I repent of writing columns that failed to dig deep enough to read past the garbage we were being sold.

I remember the empty cabinet at the hospital. “This is where we place the medication to treat the patients,” a nurse told us. There was nothing there. The ward was filled with babies infected with AIDS. Outside the hospital were mothers and other relatives mourning the death of a child. Across from the hospital was a coffin maker. A simple walk across the street was all it took to prepare for the end of life.

From the hospital to the orphanage. We were greeted by a hoard of children. I held in my arms a little girl less than a year old. I cried as I held her. I wanted to take her away from that dreadful place to provide a home where meals and nurture would not depend on the donations received to promote the work. I didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t hide my tears.

My tears clouded my perspective. My aching heart denied me the advantages of years of training. I saw it there, but my heart wouldn’t allow me to write the truth. What is that truth? Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe. The economy is in ruin, to a large extent, due to his poor leadership.

Back to that meeting with Mugabe. We were told he would meet us at noon. Our day was free to do what time had not allowed, to expand our horizon and talk to people. I had taken advantage of interviewing some of the natives, but the schedule minimized our contact with the real people of Harare. During breakfast we were told the President was ready to meet us. We loaded the bus parked in front of the hotel and took a long trip.

We drove for close to two hours. All around the city. No word as to where we were headed. My frustration mounted as the bus headed back in the direction we had started. We ended up back at the hotel. There we were told to remain on the bus. We stayed there for close to 30 minutes. Then we were told to get off the bus. We walked across the lot to a building. It was the government headquarters. We had driven across the city only to find ourselves back were we had started to enter into a building that was within walking distance of our hotel.

I knew then that Mugabe had orchestrated this move to prevent us from talking to people in the city. Nothing was on the agenda, so we had to be occupied with meaningless activity. I repent for not reporting this sad affair. I repent being so livid over the history of Zimbabwe that I didn’t write about Mugabe’s madness.

That was back in 2001. Now Zimbabwe is locked in a bitter election that has abruptly ended after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the violence filled runoff. He declared the election is no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

Sadly, his announcement cleared the way for Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite condemnation from across the globe .Human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Yes, I repent for failing to write more; for refusing to see past my skin long enough to see the real enemy robbing the people of their promise. I repent of celebrating the work of Mugabe during the freedom movement, and measuring the man based on past victories rather than condemning him for the hypocrisy of his rule.

I learned an important lesson. We speak of being impartial as reporters. The truth is standing outside of certain stories is complicated when the story tugs at your heart strings. In reporting on Zimbabwe, I wanted to believe in Mugabe. I wanted to celebrate the work of this black man. Deep down, I contended that an attack on Mugabe was an attack of black leadership. How sad a claim!

This experience had tremendous bearing on the way I engage as a journalist. We should always dig deeper. We should never assume a position based on some familiar ground. It’s a lesson I took with me in reporting on the Duke Lacrosse rape case. My position there was not to look only at the specifics of the case. My concern was not to assume the guilt or innocence of the players on the team, but my reporting had more to do with the issues that made that story such a big one.

It was the story beneath the story that I wanted to explore. It is a story about race and class. It is about NCCU/Duke relations and town/gown matters. It dealt with mistakes made, and how we view those blunders. It is not about standing with a person due to race, for race, as a variable, can deceive. It can trip you up when you align yourself with a person because they share the common bond of race.

That’s the lesson of Robert Mugabe. I pray that I never make that mistake again. It takes work, but I’m working on the work.

Friday, June 13, 2008


NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER……..That was the response coming from Anonymous to my recent blog post. Mr. or Ms Anonymous took time to write that detestable word well over 1000 times. Anonymous must really love that word. Enjoy using it dude. The venom of its sting was lost long ago.
He must have thought it would trigger some negative reaction. Sorry, it only made me laugh. Truth is it shocked my white friends more than me and the other black folks I had take a look at your deplorable attempt to make a point. It’s sad that in 2008 we still have a person convinced that black people can be scared into running for cover after hearing those words. It simply doesn’t work.
One of my readers took a stab. “Wow, Anonymous. Your vocabulary is so vast! People like you are exactly why we will never move past things like this. You are not interested in dialogue but rather, tearing people down. It is a sad attempt at tearing someone down.......that word doesn't even sting anymore because most black people know who they are.”
Whiteman responded to that post. “Jazzcomic, you got it all wrong about yourself! You see, us white people knows more about black people than black people knows about themselves!” I can only assume that Whiteman is Anonymous. Dude must have decided to take off his white sheet and expose himself as a proud Whiteman.
I hesitated in responding to this racial rhetoric for a number of reasons. First and foremost is my desire to be the source of racial healing rather than the cause of greater division. Those who have read my columns in the Herald-Sun, The Independent Weekly and the Durham News know I have been as critical of black leadership as I have been the source of criticism of white people. Mr. Whiteman, a.k.a. Anonymous, and the others who raise issues related to the assumptions black folks make about whites, failed to do their homework.
Check out the columns dealing with Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Curtis Gatewood, Joe Bowser, Jackie Wagstaff, the critique of the Black Church, the chastisement of absentee sperm donors and my analysis of the achievement gap. Whiteman didn’t know that I have black folks calling for my head on a silver platter for reason similar to the assumptions he and others have made-that I’m nothing more than a radical black man who makes excuses for those, excuse me for using his own words, NIGGERS.
Many black folks accuse me of being the spokesperson for the white agenda. That’s right Whiteman, I’m charged of being an Uncle Tom. Ouch. That hurts much more than that nasty word you have used to describe the type of man I am. As painful as it has been for me to endure the criticism coming from my own peeps, I take it out of a sincere desire to bridge the gap between the races. I’ve stood in the middle of extremism to engage people in a deep, meaningful discussion surrounding the assumptions they make.
The second reason has to do with refusing to promote another persons agenda. Whiteman and his cohorts have attempted to invade my blog with an ideology that is counter to the mission of my work. With that being said, I will not censor Whitman or anyone who has views counter to my own. I believe in freedom of the press and expression. I hold firmly to John Stuart Mills contention that empowerment comes in opening up the marketplace of ideas. Whiteman has the right to use that word, and I have the right to call him crazy.
It doesn’t astound me that a person sill uses that word. I’m not shocked that it would be posted on my blog. There are some narrow minded people who refuse to get past those mean assumptions that rob them of meaningful relationships. It get that. I also understand that not all white people think like Whiteman, and I refuse to make a judgment of a group of people based on the inferences of a few.
So, Mr. Whiteman, I have a few thoughts for you. I don’t eat watermelon and prefer my chicken baked over fried. I don’t eat pork and my parents are still married. They have been for over 50 years. I listen to classical and jazz music, have Picasso and Kadinsky hanging from my walls and I read and write and have numerous degrees. You can call me Dr. Kenney if you wish, but I prefer being called Carl.
You can hate me for my intelligence, detest me for possessing the ability to put more than one sentence together without having to paste NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER over and over again to make a point. You can use those words if you want, Mr. Whiteman, but get this. Listen to me loud and clear. This boy is not your average NIGGER, so bring it if you like, but recognize this, Mr. Whitedude; my readers are smart enough to understand that the Nigger in this conversation is you.
This page is for those who are moving past that history of hatred that you want to stir up. Sorry, I have too much love in my heart to grant you that wish, but you can speak if you wish on my page. Keep reading and write if you desire. In time you may learn a little bit more about me.
One last thing Mr. Whitedude, If you would like to meet this Blackman I’m open! Don’t be scared. I don’t own a gun and many of the members of my posse are white people with master degrees and PhD’s. We prefer using words versus violence to resolve matters. Got some black friends too, and they have loads of credentials that prove my point.
You can’t judge a NIGGER by the cover.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What Dream Team?

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’ll say I’m wrong when the shoe fits. Apologies come easy for me. It comes with growing up. We live, we learn, we make mistakes and we grow as a consequence of it all.
On yesterday I got into a heated debate with my good friend Delbert “DJ Kraze” Jarmon regarding Hillary Clinton. Kraze was vehemently opposed to the notion of having a democratic dream team consisting of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I shared the pure logic of it all. I addressed those close to 18 million voters that Clinton reminds us of each opportunity she gets. It all made since. We have two popular politicians that represent different constituencies.
I left thinking I was right and the narrow minded Kraze need to find Jesus, forgive Clinton for her poor judgment and to find it in his heart to hold hands with all of those Clinton supporters as we begin the journey to victory in November. It all made perfect sense to me. That was until Clinton opened her mouth on last night and robbed America of the privilege of celebrating one of the great moments in our national history.
Those in the Clinton camp would have you think that last night was about her need to do things her way. “This is her night,” one political expert said after another in defense of that speech. That speech, with the request for supporters to tell her what they want her to do next, felt like a dagger had pierced my heart.
You must be kidding me Hillary! They say you are an intelligent woman. Didn’t you know history was made last night? For the first time in our history a black person has been nominated as a major party’s Presidential candidate. Can’t you celebrate with the rest of us and find reason to put your agenda on the backburner long enough to allow us to reflect over how far we have come?
Could it be that she is too pissed at the fact that a black man did it before a woman? Maybe that rage prevents her from seeing the significance in that moment? How dare you fail to mention it in your speech? That’s not leadership; it’s a rejection of what America has accomplished. This is, Hillary Clinton, a moment many never thought would happen. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he talked about his dream. This is what thousand upon thousands marched for, and countless went to jail to fight for.
This is what many thought could never happen. Why couldn’t you acknowledge that and celebrate with the people who believed in you. I was one of them. I wanted to vote for you. I was in your corner up until you made comments that forced me to reconsider my position. My love for you has converted to scorn. Couldn’t you humble enough to speak to this moment? No, you didn’t have to concede. Give yourself the time you need to bow out in way that reflects your emotional need.
I get all of that, but this isn’t about you or those who supported you. It is about America and what it means for us to witness a black man winning the nomination. This is about America moving past race. It’s not about you having an election stolen from you, or you’re pushing for all of those people who voted for you. We needed leadership last night. The type that you used in placing this election within an historical context. Remember that? It was that statement about Bobby Kennedy being killed in June.
It was a night for all of us to be proud. Not just black people. Last nights victory belonged to all of us. Get this Hillary. I would have celebrated with you if you had won the nomination. I would have regarded it in the same way. Your victory would have provided the context for a national celebration, and I would hope that Obama would celebrate with you-for all of us.
What does your response prove Hillary? That you are so engrossed in your own need to win that you can’t see the bigger picture. So, I was wrong DK Kraze. She shouldn’t be placed on the democratic ticket. She’s much too selfish to speak on my behalf.
All of that happened in less than 24 hours. Imagine what damage she could do in four years?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Duke/NCCU: Can't We All Just Get Along

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. It’s not because there’s nothing to write about. I’m distressed that the Durham City Manager has recommended a budget that will end funding of the African American Dance Ensemble, cut $78,000 from the Hayti Heritage Center and reduce funding of the Walltown Children’s Theatre. I have some harsh words related to that, but I will pause long enough to get a feel for what the heck is behind the mess.
There’s all this drama related to Hillary and Barack that is worth addressing. I’m still not over Hillary evoking the memory of Bobby Kennedy’s assignation to validate her right to stay in the hunt. Sorry Hillary, the big talk among many black people is the fear that Barack will be killed if he wins the election. How stupid can you get?
I could have written about Rev. Michael Pfleger mocking Hillary Clinton at Obama’s Church. There’s so much to write about, but I stepped back long enough to allow my readers to respond to my last post-an attack of a column written by Kristen Butler in the Chronicle, Duke University’s student newspaper.
I’m amused by the responses to that blog. Before reacting, I wanted to give my critics more time to speak. To give them a chance to let us know how they feel before bringing to their attention that many of the assumptions they made related to what I wrote, or what they felt I wrote, have more to do with their own suppositions and less to do with my own position on the subject.
What this all teaches us, sadly, is that America isn’t ready for a real discussion about race. It’s difficult for white people to hear a person state the obvious-that being white concedes a level of privilege denied those who are black. It is implicit in being white, like it or not, that you are innocent until proven guilty. That you deserve another chance, and that any effort to minimize your right as a white person provides you the right to destroy those who came against you.
Some of my readers don’t get that. Butler’s column was racist at its core. Why? Because Butler made assumptions about an institution that is loving and forgiving enough to give a person like Crystal Mangum a second chance. What Mangum did was wrong. Does that mean that we, as a society, should take from her the right to make amends? Should we punish her for the rest of her life, while rewarding others for their involvement in all that happened?
Mistakes were made by all involved. Mangum made a mistake. Members of the lacrosse team made mistakes as well. My hope is that all of the wrongs be exposed-not just a few. The comments made at the party are offensive. Does it serve us well, as a society, to forget those words? Do you remember them, or have we discounted them completely after proving that the other claims were false.
We can’t do that. Black people are hurt by words like “thank your grandfather for picking the cotton for this shirt.” We can’t forget the email message that was sent out by a member of the team afterwards indicating their desire to hire a black stripper for the purpose of abusing her. We can’t forget the broomstick reference.
What happens in this conversation is the negation of it all based on the severe nature of the lie told by Mangum. There is no doubt that these young men have been hurt. Yes, they deserve an apology, but so do we. Who is we-the black residents of Durham who are hurting as a result of the way Duke students, protectors of the integrity of members of the team, and all the mad people who want heads on silver platters, have failed to consider the deeper issue at hand.
Race is hard to talk about. It is harder when people refuse to understand how their words and actions rekindle old thoughts. Race relations in Durham, NC have taken a major hit over all of this. Butler hasn’t helped by attacking NCCU. Those who have responded to my blog need to step back long enough to see how their words, and their feelings around this issue, is hindering are ability to move forward.
The assumption of privilege is an issue. That’s what Rev. Michael Pfleger meant when he spoke at Barack Obama’s church. Although it may be hard for white people to hear it, it is something assumed by black people. What is difficult for many to contemplate is why we feel this way. The bottom line is you can’t understand how it feels to be black until you have walked in those shoes. The reverse is also true. You can’t understand what it means to be white until you walked in those shoes.
Get this white people. I have been stopped on numerous occasions for driving while black. I have been stopped for walking in my own neighborhood. I have been followed by sales clerks to assure I won’t steal their precious goods. I have been denied work because I’m black. I’ve dealt with being told one thing over the phone and another when I show up due to the assumption made by the person on the other end of the phone-that I must be white. I have received a lower grade than white students despite doing better work. How do I know this? Because they have told me so.
This is the burden we carry as black people. The feeling that whites get more, while we get less, is a load to disprove. My readers say get over it. Many have concluded that blacks are cry babies. We need to pull our heads out of the old rhetoric and accept that all white people love black people, and that America is over its legacy of racism. If that was all true, we would not be having this conversation.
How do we make America a better place? Why not celebrate that Crystal Mangum graduated from NCCU. Shouldn’t we all be happy that she is working to change her life? Why bring up Solomon Burnette’s past troubles with the law? Why not celebrate that he found his way, got a degree and is taking classes at Duke. It’s called being reformed. Why can’t we celebrate that?
Would it be different if Mangum and Burnete had committed crimes were the victims were students at NCCU? Would it be easier for people to celebrate the commitment to change if white people hadn’t been impacted by their former ways? Open your eyes people. Race is at the heart of this discussion, and an apology is in order. For all who have failed to comprehend how the way we respond hinders our progress-shame on you.
With all of that being said, get this. Not all students at Duke are privileged. Not all students are racist. What we have here are groups of hurting people. The problem is no one will pull back from their own pain long enough to listen to those on the other side.
Wake up. We have to learn to love one another.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chronicle Column Damages NCCU/Duke Relations

Its days like this that make me regret having earned a master’s degree at Duke University. It has been hard enough having to explain why I never attended a historical black college or University. Black people in the South take great pride in the HBCU tradition. They should. Those schools enrolled and graduated people like me long before the Duke’s of the world considered the possibility that black people can do more than serve whites folks on campus.
For many, attending Duke is paramount to treason. Names like Uncle Tom, sell out and Oreo are common slurs used to define me for having chosen to get a degree at Duke. I remember the looks on the faces of the locals when I informed them I attended school at Duke. It didn’t take long for me to learn there is a long, not so pleasant history that has crippled race relations in Durham.
Students on Duke’s campus were considered snobbish and the product of white privilege out of control. I did my best to curtail the hatred black residents felt about Duke. They were quick to remind me that “those people” think they are better than us. No, that’s not true, I would argue. Now, after reading Kristin Butler’s column in the Chronicle, I feel like stuffing my head in the sand.
Butler’s column “Summa cum looney” attacked North Carolina Central University for granting degrees to Solomon Burnette and Crystal Mangum. Burnette, the son of a former Durham City Council member, served a 13-month prison sentence for robbing two Duke students in 1997. Butler chided Burnette for writing a nasty column in the NCCU student newspaper that had revolutionary undertones. Go get them Dukies. We certainly can’t have that.
Shame on NCCU for allowing this fool to get a degree, and how dare NCCU allows him to write in the student newspaper. That’s bad enough to cast a few stones over on Fayetteville Street. The coloreds over there lack good judgment, but wait it gets worse. How could they, oh no they didn’t grant Crystal “the lying, stank stripper” a degree.
They should know better than grant her the chance to pull her life together after attacking a few good white boys on the lacrosse team. Can you hear the arrogance in her words, the disdain, and the disgust? Don’t take my word for it, read what she wrote.
“Because of the university's blatant refusal to enforce its own rules, I will never again take an NCCU degree seriously, and neither should any other self-respecting Dukie. NCCU's "seal of approval" no longer guarantees good character, and it's just too hard to tell the thugs and liars (like Burnette and Mangum) apart from the high-performing majority.”
What ever happened to giving a person another chance? Isn’t that what members of the lacrosse team got after violating rules related to off campus drinking on more than one occasion? Should they hold some responsibility for hiring two exotic dancers to shake their groove thang?
The problem with Butler’s column is the double standard lurking in each word. It’s okay to get drunk, use a few racial slurs, urinate in your neighbor’s yard, consistently violate campus policies on off campus drinking and still attend class and get that degree if you attend school at Duke. Why, because we’re Duke dammit.
Black folks need not apply for the same privileges. You have not earned your right to break rules and to be treated as the victim despite your contribution to the mess. Burnette should be punished because HE ROBBED TWO DUKE STUDENTS. The nerve of him to think he can get away with that, and assume a normal life. The administration at NCCU should punish him for making that assumption. Can you hear the underlying white privilege yet?
This is why people worried after the story of an alleged rape hit the airwaves. It’s because of a long history of abuse and neglect coupled with an air of privilege among those kids who go to school at Duke. They think they’re better than the black folks who live in the city. They refuse to accept the thought of a person getting a second chance after a mistake is made.
Get this Ms. Butler. NCCU is a great school. They don’t hand out degrees. People earn them. Both Burnette and Mangum deserve those degrees. The fact that they brought harm to the fine students hiding behind the trees at Duke doesn’t negate their right to make lemonade out of those lemons.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hillary Plays the Race Card

Hillary Clinton is far too intelligent to make a comment like that without understanding how it would be perceived. Up until she made that flap that came from the backside, I was willing to concede the possibility that she was the best person to win the democratic nomination. As much as I love Obama, and I do like the dude, I was keeping an open mind. I didn’t get lost in the “he’s a brother” mode that has motivated so many people.
As much as I wanted to see the good ole U.S. of A being led by a brother, I refused to buy into the notion that any person of color would be better than what we’ve had over the past eight years. You must admit, it's hard to figure out what that means other than the privilege of paying close to four bucks a gallon for petro, and fighting a war intended to rid the world of terrorism. Has anyone seen Ben Laden?
This stampede to the White House has proven that America is ready to consider a new form of leadership. Who would have ever thought that we would have a woman and a black man still in the hunt for the democratic nomination? Up until now, the black men I supported had as good a chance of getting the nomination as Charles Mason has getting out of prison and becoming the governor of California. It was all show and little substance. It helped us feel good having Jessie run and Reverend Al show off his perm, but we knew it would never happen.
Then enter, stage right, Obama-a black man with a real chance. At first people thought it was cute to have him run. Oh, look, another black man hoping to be President. He’s so articulate. Isn’t it wonderful how he celebrates being both black and white? Run Obama Run. Whoops, wrong dude. This one came with a little bit more under the hood.
So, when Hillary made that stupid comment, she exposed what may have been locked inside from the beginning. She said what she has been thinking and counted on other like minded white folks to chime in. “There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama’s support among working-hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
No she didn’t! She launched that tricky little race card that has been lurking since Jeremiah Wright damned America and informed us the government created AIDS to destroy black folks. We all knew the media was casting a huge umbrella over the Obama camp in order to prove that all black people think alike, and that if he attended the church he must have been, at some point, brainwashed along with the others to silly not to walk out the door.
I expected redneck Billy and hillbilly Dave to say what others had been thinking. Hard working white folks ain’t ready for no colored boy to run the country. Nope, that boy needs to stay in his place. So, shame on Hillary for aligning herself with those not ready to move past our nation’s history of hatred. Instead of affirming what those hard working white folks are thinking, why not challenge them to think beyond their racist presuppositions.
That’s not to say that some of those hardworking white voters have jumped on the Billary wagon for reasons other than race. It could be her message is more soothing to those hurting after 8 years of Dub. There may be more to this anti-Obama sentiment among those hardworking, white voters. If you think that’s true, help a brother understand what that is all about.
In pulling out that race card to win a state where black voters don’t matter, Hillary has proven to me that she will do anything to win. She has lied about being under enemy fire. Some think she was behind exposing the demonic influence of the Trinity United Church of Christ. What else will she do to win? Excuse me for caring, but I expect more from those who lead me-a black man.
I was willing to support her, but now I’m ready to throw her under the bus and drive the rig until she screams I give.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A New Day

Tuesday is the big day in North Carolina. Democratic voters will decide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Never before has this nation witnessed a primary election filled with so much drama, twist and intrigue. On the surface, the spectacle of these campaigns seems to be about the economy, immigration and foreign policy. There is much more at stake than what many assume.
The grappling over Reverend Jeremiah Wright has more to do with Obama proving to mainstream Americans that he isn’t overly enamored with a black agenda. Many have questioned his spin on the historical position taken by black politicians and their supporters. Obama has maintained distance from those hot button topics like Jena and refused to attend Tavis Smiley’s “State of the Black Union”. As critical as many have been related to this, Obama has to prove that he is willing to serve all of America-not simply a segment of the population.
My own disparaging comments regarding Obama had to do with his unwillingness to embrace a black political agenda that has ruled the day for so long that it is presupposed as normative. The black think tank has established that national black agenda. Tavis Smilley’s “Black Covenant” was designed as the blueprint for Black America, and is understood, by many, to document the common voice of the majority of black people in America. Smiley and others questioned Obama’s willingness to push that strategy.
What many missed, including me, was the paradigm shift unfolding before our eyes. Accountability to America required a separation from all interest groups-including Black America. That’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve taken the old system for granted. Locally, we see the dynamics with the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Black politicians vie for the endorsement of the once powerful political action committee due to the assumption that their backing will assure victory.
What happened over the past week reflected a major shift in the way America, and, specifically, Black America regards the impact and significance of the role of the African American minister, the historical Black power base, and how the quest for unity has supplanted the desire to maintain an afrocentric perceptive. Put another way, black people are more concerned with the larger picture than before. The historical impact of the black political vision has taken a back seat to the desire to become more engaged in the American political dream.
The battle between Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama is reminiscent of the Biblical confrontation between prophets and kings. We are left believing this is about an old man’s ego juxtaposed against the ideas of a popular politician. This perspective leaves us reducing the debate to matters of individual philosophies while failing to see the shifting mindset among African Americans.
In part, this speaks to the tide of black faith. It reflects the dying influence of prophetic witness and the role of the black minister. It also speaks to the weakening influence of those organizations designed to tell Black people how to think and vote. On surface, this can be interpreted as a bad thing. Beyond the grieving that comes after considering the good ole days of black faith, this is a new day. Black people are calling for change, not only in the world of politics, but in the way we communicate what it means to be the people of God.
What does it mean? We are a universal family. It’s time to move past that which has historically divided and press forward with a faith consistent with the words we proclaim. It means this new breed of Black voters no longer accept the notion that everything in America can be reduced to the matter of race. It means that ministers like Jeremiah Wright are stuck in the quicksand of a painful past, while the country is moving forward with a new found hope in what we can be, what we will be, once we put to rest the burden of our memories.
As much as I hate to admit it, Jeremiah Wright wants to keep us looking back while Barack Obama is challenging us to see a new possibility. Black folks have to change the way they think, and black faith has to catch up to what the Spirit is saying in 2008.
Will the Church universal say Amen?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Obama versus Wright

I’m so pissed by the drama involving Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama. I keep pondering why people are so consumed with concerns related to Wright’s sermons while he isn’t running for the oval office. I thought it would all go away after that amazing speech Obama made about standing in between the worlds of black and white America. I thought it would be enough to put to rest the problem that was never a problem.

What disturbs me most is how two prominent black men have been forced to address the nature of their relationship. The media has evaluated each word, blasting Wright for calling Obama a politician while assuming he meant something bad when he made that statement. I didn’t read into Wright’s words what many have. Maybe it’s because I listened to his comment within the context of a question-‘Has Obama ever used your words?”

Oh no, he does what he does and I do what I do. I’m a preacher and he’s a politician. In other words, I’m not his speech writer. My impact on what he does isn’t as prominent as you assume. It could be that my admiration for Wright is tainting my perception, or it could be that people are hearing something coming from Wright based on an opinion they have developed after hearing tidbits of his sermons?

I’ve always believed it is dangerous to assume a person’s intent when they speak. Can we all say, with 100 percent certainty, that Wright was blasting Obama for playing politics, or is it possible that he was attempting to speak to the absurdity that comes with connecting him with Obama beyond what happens during a Sunday morning worship service? He does what he does, and I do what I do. What’s wrong with that?

Of course we can read into those words-politician-something negative if we base that opinion on the notion that he views the title as a negative thing. If that is true, and I’m saddened that we would think it is, we would have to blast a person whenever politician is used to define the work a person does.

The angst I’m feeling goes even deeper than all of this. It all reminds me of the resentment I feel when I see two black men step into a boxing ring. They beat each other to a pulp while a few white promoters sit at ringside counting their money. Two men who have shared stories and faith are forced to address one another. They are forced to define and redefine the nature of their relationship while white America stands on the sideline benefiting from the cruelty of it all.

Many of my readers will blame Wright for all of this. He should have shut his mouth and waited until the end of the election to speak. There may be some truth to all of that, but what has happened in this story is sad, and is, at the very core, a reminder of how difficult it is for a black man to prove to white America that he isn’t too black to serve in leadership.

Like it or not, this is an attack on Black faith. The nation has gotten a glimpse at what happens on Sunday morning in pulpits across the country, and they have heard from one of the giants of the Black Church. He has said what others have stated. His attack on America is no different that the one I made after 911. I too said America is to blame for its policies and hatred toward the Muslim world. Attack me for my prophetic witness. Call me unpatriotic. Do that if you wish, but, in doing so, keep in mind the audience I preach to every Sunday, and the historical pain that has many grappling to understand why we fight this war.

Understand that when Wright makes comments about AIDS there is a precedent for his argument. People are still troubled by the Tuskegee experiment. It’s not far fetched to think that it could all happen again. Wright isn’t a conspiracy theorist out of control. He is speaking out on matters that reflect the opinions of many Black people. The problem with this discussion is related to the lack of real conversation between people about what they feel and think.

Two black men are forced to contend with the nature of their relationship. Obama has to distance himself from a man who has inspired him, nurtured his faith and supported his campaign. The problem with Wright is he is too black for America, and Obama has to prove that he isn’t so black that he can’t lead America.

It saddens me that Obama has to reject that black side. It’s too bad that America can’t embrace the power and purpose of black faith. It is the Black Church that teaches love in the face of hatred. There’s nothing wrong with Black faith, and there is nothing wrong with Jeremiah Wright.

It pains me that Obama has to say there is something wrong with Wright to prove to all those critics that he isn’t like that man. He has to stand in the ring, box with him-destroying the credibility of a man who has touched so many lives, including mine, over the years.

It’s a sad day for the Black Church. It’s a sad day for black men. In 2008 we continue to be forced to beat each other down in order to prove we are not like that guy over there. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to do the same with Malcolm X.

Tell me he is bad and I will let you play. The worst part is most people refuse to accept the deep-seeded racism that stirs this pot.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thanks for Helping Skye

On tomorrow, Friday, April 11, 2002, Skye Lee will be put to rest. Skye, an 18-year old student at Northern High School, was killed while her 10-month old child was nearby. Cory Anthony Jiggets, 19, has been charged in connection with the slaying. Jiggets is the father of Skye’s child.
Late last week I sent out a plea for people to donate money to pay for the funeral cost. I was moved after a conversation with Nicole Lee, Skye’s mother. I promised her we would find a way to pay for the funeral. This was an occasion that called for people to support this grieving family.

It helped that Pamela Burthey at Burthey Funeral Services was willing to chip in. She discounted the funeral to make it easier on the family. This was no gimmick. She wanted to do the right thing for all the right reasons. It was up to those with compassion to do more than talk that talk.
As of yesterday, close to $3,000 has been raised above the cost of the funeral. Money keeps coming in, and that money will be used to set up a trust account for Skye’s child. People have been moved by this tragedy. Children have raised money. People have walked in with $5 checks. A convenience store on Old Oxford Highway set out a jar for people to donate their change. The money keeps coming in, and it will all go to a worthy cause.

I’m told that some people aren’t thrilled that the community is pitching in to help a needy family. Sure, there’s the Victim’s Assistance program that helps people in situations such as these. Burthey has received calls from people angry that black folks, once again, are begging for help. I was hoping that a few of the other funeral homes would offer support, but the phone never rang with an offer. This was an opportunity for people to come together to make a statement.

What is that statement? That we, the caring community of Durham, will not allow for families to grieve alone. When one of our young dies we will come together. We did it for Eve over in Chapel Hill, and we will do the same for Skye in Durham.

So, thanks to everyone who responded to my appeal. You can continue to give money for that trust fund. Love has a way of changing things. Something good can come out of something bad.
This is why I love Durham so much.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Fear of Blackness

Let me state up front that I love, respect and admire Jeremiah Wright. Wright, retired pastor of the Trinity United Church in Chicago, is under attack for comments made in sermons that condemned the good ole USA. Barack Obama, a member at Trinity, has distanced himself from the man he says is like an uncle. All of this has me prepared to go to battle for the man who has come to my rescue on more than one occasion.

That disclaimer is necessary because it places my comments within a specific context. I know Wright as a man with a passion for the community he is called to serve. Some may not like to hear it, but he, and most African Americans in ministry, lives with the challenge of finding ways to reaching people stymied by a myriad of human conditions.

Wright is called to uplift black folks. His work is under attack for being too black. How sad it is that America’s black community must face criticism for doing the best it can to survive given the enormous disadvantages it faces. After years of rejecting the worth of their culture, and generations of embracing a version of the gospel that was deeply rooted in a mindset of oppression-Wright is besieged with criticism for providing his people with an alterative to that which has damaged the spiritual self-esteem of a people.

That is difficult to hear in this age of inclusion. America is uncomfortable with continuing to hear message that reminds it of the consequences of all of those years of oppression. Many would rather move on as if none of it ever happened, while pretending that race no longer maters. Wright spoke his truth regarding how public policies continue to hinder African Americans.

The pulpit, in the minds of his critics, is a place to leave us feeling good about each other. The social gospel message should be flushed, in their opinion, while being replaced with the more comfortable message of leaders like T.D. Jakes and Creflo “give me some” Dollars. The prosperity message has taken hold within pulpits across America, but Wright fails to follow suit.

Instead he wears African garments, and promotes an Afro-centric approach to ministry. Some would say his ministry is outdated. Some would argue that his retirement signals the end of a generation of ministers who embraced James Cones “Black Theology” and remember James Forman’s “Black Manifesto. Wright’s message helped soothe the tension among American Americans that grappled with the significance of Christianity. It was viewed as the religion of the slave master. It had been used to subjugate rather than inspire. The blue eyed Jesus glaring at African American parishioners from the walls of their sanctuary helped solidify the notion of inferiority.

Wright gave them reason to believe. He did what was needed in a city that is the national headquarters of the Nation of Islam. There, the people heard the argument on a consistent basis-Christianity is the “white man’s religion.” Wright responded with a powerful ministry that celebrated the universality of the Christian message. This faith is for all people. He has never discounted the right for others to celebrate Christ in a way that spoke to their particularity. He created within his work a way to make the message meaningful for those who are tired of the great contradiction called America.

Why is all of this a problem? Because America is struggling with Obama’s blackness. White America is willing to vote for a black man as long as he isn’t too black. He has to prove that he is more American than black. The radical teaching of his pastor scares America because they refuse to submit to a man willing to celebrate being black. They know he’s black, but they’re not comfortable with his being too black.

I’m offended at the assumption that we, African Americans, need to be stripped again to fit in. Isn’t it enough that the slave trade robbed us of our culture, took us from our families and deprived us of our identity? Isn’t it enough that we have been denied equal opportunity and forced to play by the rules of white America? Isn’t it enough that we have proven our commitment to this country by dying in world wars and conflicts while being denied fair treatment on our own soil?

As much as America refuses to admit it, we still have a long way to go. The race card has been entered into this race due to the insecurities America has when it comes to having a black man in charge that isn’t afraid to be black. It would be easier if he attended a white church. It would be better if his minister refused to embrace “Black Theology” and a social gospel agenda. That would be easier for America to deal with, but at what cost. Would Chicago be a better place without Wright’s voice? I think not.

Obama is who he is today because he has been under the teaching of Jeremiah Wright. America may not like to hear it, but being in love with being black isn’t a bad thing. Being a prophet willing to challenge America to do better isn’t a bad thing. It’s needed in the kingdom. It is what God has called some to do

Wright isn’t the bad guy. He’s a hero. Too bad America is too consumed with its guilt to get to the real message. I’m still waiting to overcome someday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Assumption of Privilege

What is it about Andy Rothschild that grants him special favor with the Durham City Council? From all appearances, dude is running things down at city hall like he’s the mayor. There’s nothing wrong with being a concerned citizen. The problem when it comes to Rothschild, owner of Scientific Properties, is in how his company has been granted unusual consideration that leaves one wondering if he has been bolted to this position due to a special relationship with a member of the city staff.

My eyebrows were first raised when Rothschild was awarded a $14,000 per month contract to rent space to the city. The departments of Economic & Workplace Development and Equal Opportunity and Equity are renting space at Rotschild’s Venable building on Pettigrew Street.

Victoria Peterson, a community activist who is making yet another bid for public office, attacked the city and Rothschild in February for entering into an agreement that was a conflict of interest. Rothschild serves as the chairman of the city’s Workforce Development Board. Peterson was correct to raise question regarding full disclosure. The public has the right to know if a deal was made that came about due to the dealings of the chairman of the board.

The good news for Rothschild is people have a hard time taking Peterson seriously. Yes, she’s the same woman who was kicked out of the Mike Nifong ethics hearing. Yes, she’s the same black woman who made the flip/flop from being a staunch Jessie Helms supporter to a member of the Democratic Party. Her argument fell of deaf ears not because she was wrong, but because she lacked the credibility needed to stir a concern around the issues.

Rothschild’s special favor has been proven again. This week, he raised concerns over an incentives proposal for Greenfire Development’s $284 million downtown project. The city decided to hold off plans to vote on the package until March 17. Rothschild met with Michael Lemanski, one of Greenfire’s lead partners, to discuss his concerns.

The fact that the city was made aware of Rothschild’s concerns leaves me with serious questions related to his working relationship with the city. It seems odd that a developer would bring concerns involving an incentives package to the attention of the city staff. Those concerns could have been addressed in private. There was no need to make them part of the public dialogue. In doing so, Rothschild has positioned himself as the watch dog for downtown business development, and, by empowering him to do so, the city has granted him special favor that should not be a part of discussions involving the deals made between the city and a competing company.

I have been a supporter of Rothschild’s work. I spoke before the city council in favor of his plan to revive Heritage Square. I still believe in that project. This despite my growing concern about Rothschild’s disconnection from the historical significance of the Hayti community. Scientific Properties is coming into a once vital African American business district. What will emerge will trigger economic development for Hayti and other surrounding communities.

This is great thing for the city of Durham. The problem is Rothschild has failed to convince me that he gets it. He needs to do better in hiring a staff that understands how delicate a move this is for those who still cling to those old days. The past should never limit or quest to move forward; however, it is hard to trust when too few of those on your staff don’t look like the people you ask to trust you.

Rothschild must have special privilege with the city. Otherwise, how can you explain how easy it has been for him to come this far while discounting the obvious-you can’t assume a position of privilege; you have to earn your right to sit at the table. Sooner or later, those favors will come back to bite you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Other Side of Prison

Have we become the Loc Em Up States of America? According to a recent study released by the Pew Center on the States, one in every 100 adults is in jail or prison, making America the world’s No. 1 incarcerator.

The report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008. Locking people up comes with a cost. The 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison cost was six times greater than for higher education spending.

No one should be shocked that the incarceration numbers are worse for people of color. While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine. One in every 355 white women aged 35 to 39 is behind bars, compared with nine of every 100 black women in that same age group.

What is causing this rapid increase? Is this what Bill Clinton had in mind when he pressed the “three-strikes” law that resulted in longer prison stays? With all the talk about getting tough on crime, have we become so consumed with getting the bad guys off the streets that we have created a monster that is controlling us more than we are managing its actions?

It would be easy to blame all of this on something in the air that is making criminals out of Americans. How else can we explain having more people in prison than China, despite their massive population? Sure, go ahead and say it’s the fault of Hip-Hop culture, violence in the media and the evil usage of the N-word. What is it that is driving our nation to violence?

I’m one that believes every reaction is instigated by an action. Otherwise, we’d have to conclude there is something floating in American water that is contaminating the souls of those in the good ole USA. I refuse to accept that the culture of America preconditions people to embrace the life of crime. I reject the notion that we, by virtue of influences within popular culture, have promoted the hard life as a legitimate expression of life in America.

No, it’s not the water, and it’s not our evil music and other cultural variants that have caused this crisis. Rather, it is a series of public policy decisions that have advanced a greater divide between those with the resources and those without. The life of crime, for many, has become more than a chose they make. Sadly, due to the impact of public policy decisions, too many of those behind bars are there because, in their mind, they had no other option.

Many of my readers are prepared to throw stones at me after that line of reasoning. If you don’t believe me, talk to a person weeks after being released from prison. Talk to them about the challenges they face after being released. That felon label sticks with them. America, when it comes to those who have been behind bars, isn’t a forgiving nation. This is especially true when drugs are involved.

A close friend of mine has a son who was released from prison last week. After six long years of serving time for selling drugs, he is back in the real world hoping to pull his life together. Before going to prison, he completed two years of college. Academics were never a problem. Like many who end up in prison, he now has to contend with the variety of assumptions made about those who have served time.

It doesn’t help that he is a black man. He has gone on interviews over the past week. He has a list of certifications to prove his worth: heating and air conditioning and electrician. He has not wasted time while in prison. He wants to go back to college to complete that degree. In the meantime, he just wants a job. Any job to help begin his new life after serving time.

He has the support of a loving family. His mother and sister are in his corner. His brother is there to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Grandmother provides her witty wisdom. This is not a story of a bad dude from an out of control family. Rather, this is a good man who made a mistake, wishes he could change it all and prove his worth to those he has let down.

The excitement he feels is fragile. When on interviews he has noticed a few things. People aren’t concerned when he tells the truth about his criminal record. They’ll say, “You served time? No problem. That is until he says it was drug related. Then they deflate the part of him that has prayed for this day to come. He fights back the rage related to watching those who did worse crimes find work because drugs are not on their rap sheet. The double standard caused by those polices we create make it hard for those who get out to stay out.

How many of those locked up have been there before? Why are they back again? Could it be because we are more enamored with keeping them away from us than we are in helping them, the best we can, to stay out of trouble?

Something is wrong with America. It’s not the water and it’s not because we are preconditioned to be criminals. Our policies are harming the progress of far too many. Each of us can help. This is the first step. Anyone have a job for a young man who is trying to do the right thing? If so, call me at (919) 321-1379. If you know someone else looking for work, call me.

The Rev-elution is committed to making a difference. It takes each of us working together. Hollla at your boy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bowser Runs, Again

With all that drama that comes with the upcoming presidential election, it is easy to forget that residents in Durham County are facing an important local election. The past few years have been drama free due to the leadership on both the School Board and County Commission. The potential is there for a shift back to the crazy days that made Durham the brunt of jokes across the state.

Gone are the days of vicious attacks at school board meetings. The race card hasn’t been played since a few key members were ousted during the last election and replaced with sound minded, consensus builders. The Board of County Commission has been spared of the shoot em up politics of old. The elected officials in Durham County have functioned well of late. This election could move us back to those bad ole days.

Steve Schewel is stepping down as a member of the school board. All seems safe so far with the school board. The same can’t be said of the County Commission. A critic of consensus has risen from the ashes to run again. The last we heard of Joe Bowser he was being chided by the national leadership of the NAACP for inappropriately using his role to endorse a candidate for office.

Joe Bowser is a man with vision. There is no doubting his insight and passion for the poor. He has been a champion for those often left out of the discussion related to human service delivery. The problem with Bowser isn’t his ability to process issues, but his inability to hear criticism and to move forward in a way that best serves the community.

I understand this first hand. Close to two years ago, I wrote a piece in the Independent Weekly that questioned Browser’s judgment. What I did in that instance was no different than what I have done with others in leadership. My role, as a social commentator, is to delve into the political lives of those we elect to office. No one is safe. This is the reason I stray away from endorsing a candidate or an agenda.

I attacked Bowser for what appeared to be a conflict of interest. I questioned his misuse of power as the local head of the NAACP, and how he twisted the arm of the staff of county government while serving on the County Commission. Everything I wrote was documented. Of course, there is always room for discussion, and any good politician will use criticism as a door for understanding rather than a reason for discord.

I received two vicious letters. One was an attack from Bowser, and the other came from his wife. In these letters I was warned never to contact him again. I was told not to approach him in public. I was questioned for my leadership as a pastor, and condemned for being a womanizing, false prophet. He resorted to an attack of me using rumor as the basis for his assault.

His response was sent to others. This followed my attempt to explain the nature of my work. It didn’t matter. I was told that I was wrong, as a black man, for questioning the leadership of another black man. This assail reminded me of the conversation I had with Curtis Gatewood back in the day when Durham was searching for a new Superintendent. The school board was close to promoting Ted Drain, the interim superintendent, to the position. I wrote a column in the Herald-Sun after Gatewood called Drain an “uncle Tom”. We met at Dillards the following week. I was told it is never appropriate to criticize black leadership.

I was startled by that claim. “So, it is okay for you to do it, but not for anyone to do it to you.” Some leaders assume a free pass. I got the same reaction from Lavonia Allison after writing a column that attacked her for being a slumlord. It was shortly after she took the reigns of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. The Housing Committee of the Durham Committee had worked tirelessly to construct a plan to enforce housing codes. Allison’s first order of business was to dismantle the agenda of her predecessor, Ken Spaaulding. She ended conversations with the Friends of Durham to create a “Memorandum of Understanding “ involving race. Then she ended the work of the housing committee. I wasn’t shocked. She’s a slumlord.

Allison came to my office with her pastor, Leonzo Lynch, who had his share of front-page clippings for being a slumlord. I was asked to recant. I was told that I had an obligation not to attack black leadership. It disturbed me that a slumlord brought a slumlord to my office to address an article about slumlords.

Bowser’s attack of me speaks to his leadership style. Implied is the presupposition that he stands above criticism, and, if it comes, the impression that the problem is with the person who bears the news. If I’m wrong, I will recant my claims. If you prove me wrong, I will say so with a spirit of humility, but if I’m told I’m not worth the space that occupies your shadow, there is nothing left for me to do.

If this is how he operates as a member of the County Commission, I grieve for all who walked on eggshells while serving with him.