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.