Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hairstyles, Tattoos and Piercings

Being discriminated against is an agonizing sensation. The most dreadful aspect of it is when you think it just happened, but you lack clear evidence to verify what’s in your gut.

I’ve learned that it’s best not to assume that you were overlooked because of race, gender or some other external variable. More often than not, you didn’t get the gig because there was a more qualified person who got the nod. It has helped me to process rejection by reflecting on the countless people searching for the same thing as me-a freaking job.

The fact that I have to consider employment is enough to shake the foundation of my existence. I’ve become comfortable with a lifestyle that has afforded me the freedom to write what I want when I want and to support those in need of a person emancipated from the restrictions that come with having a boss. Writing and ministry have been my passion, but I’ve discovered that it’s time to consider employment due to a drop in book sales and folks not being enamored with revolutionary minded ministry.

Walking in that space has been a serious eye opener. I’ve discovered the pain of those who suffer with being unemployed and underemployed. I’ve discovered how it feels to need to go to the doctor but not being able to because you can’t pay the bill. I’ve seen the damage done to the emotions when you fail to receive interview after interview despite the fact that you have experience and education worthy of that position. That’s when the temptation comes to utter-‘they didn’t offer me the job because I’m….

Fill in your own blanks. Because I’m black, because I’m a woman, because I’m too old, because I’m gay, because I’m….each person has their own reason behind the rejection.

Mine are simple. On the one hand, it could be my columns that have attacked virtually everyone in the city. Shucks after writing in Durham, North Carolina for 14 years, there aren’t many that haven’t received the blunt of my criticism. It comes with the territory. It has been my job to press and attack and dig deeper and deeper into the untold side of the story. No apologizes for doing that. Someone has to take hold of being bold enough not to care how their words will impact their life beyond the words.

But, let’s not get it twisted. This is not a sob story about the lack of opportunities for me. It’s more about the reason people use for not being able to climb that wall standing in the way of our dream. My situation has me pondering the stupidity of the human spirit. I wonder, and help me if I’m wrong, if people reject me because of my hair. Could it be that these locs (for the record, I don’t call them dreadlocks because I don’t dread them) are standing in the way of my moving forward?

This possibility was brought to my attention by a close friend. I was told to cut my hair. It’s only hair, I was told. Don’t allow it to prevent you from moving forward. Could that person be right, and, if so, what are the implications to the vast others who are measured by things beyond what is on the resume?

“I was denied a job because of this tattoo,” a 24-year old, white female told me while pointing at a star shaped tattoo the size of a quarter. “They told me it’s a gang symbol.”

Wow! I responded in disbelief. Given the rise of tattoos among youth of this generation, is it possible that they have made a decision that will limit their employability? It’s more than hair that gets in the way. It’s piercings, tattoos, fashion statements and hairstyles that lead to potential rejection.

The conversation about the tattoo left me distraught due to the limits others can’t cut off. There’s so much that offends others that simply can’t be taken away. Leaving that conversation left me baffled beyond a response. It left me angry about the obvious-that it could be my own decision to loc my hair that stands in the way of any progress. If that is true, and I’m not sure if it is, all of my anger should be directed toward my own decision. It also means others have made decisions with their bodies that may hinder the fulfilling of their dreams.

It’s so much easier to blame it on being a black man in America. That excuse is comforting because of the prejudices of those who simply don’t know any better than to limit a person like me. It’s easier to overcome the dismissals when a person can’t look past some preconceived notion related to folks who look like me. I can walk in pride because the bigots aren’t smart enough to see the genius in me.

But dang, what happens when it’s all about the hair, tattoos or piercings? I decided to grow my locs notwithstanding my awareness of how it would draw negative reactions. I knew that black people as well as white folks would regard it as evidence of a dude walking within a counter culture. People want team players, not employees willing to stand out in the crowd as if to say ‘look at me, everybody look at me!’

But wait just a dog gone minute. Isn’t it all the same thing? Is to appropriate to validate the assumptions people make about a person with hair like mine? Is it right to discount the strengths a person’s credentials due to their hair?

To cut or not to cut, that is the question. Should I give people the power to force me to make that decision, and if I do, have I negated a part of what it means for me to walk in my own skin?

It’s easier to deal with discrimination when it’s something that you can’t get rid of. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the reason Clarence Thomas decided to be a white man. The difference is everyone knows he’s still black.

Sadly, cutting my hair won’t change who I am, even if doing so changes perceptions involving the character of the man beneath the hair. I suppose it’s best to be true to who you are, even if it causes others to see you in a different way.

It’s only hair, but for me it’s a spiritual decision. One more thing. I have a tattoo.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New York Votes for Same-Sex Unions: I Challenge You!

Way to go New York! Lawmakers there voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday despite David Tyree’s warning that the vote will cause anarchy. It’s safe to say that Tyree’s statements leads one to wonder if brain damage was caused when he made that spectacular catch in the Super Bowl with the ball pressed against his head.

Most Americans are fed up with the Bible laced attacks used to limit the rights of those in love with a person of the same sex. The homophobic agenda of the Church played a significant role in stripping Americans of their Constitutional right to live void of the limits of other people’s theological framework. The fight over gay rights has forced Americans to consider how deeply we believe those words written in the Constitution. Are we a nation of diverse theological and ideological perspectives rooted within a context willing to embrace the views on the other side; or, is America a Christian nation given the task of promoting and protecting the claims of a select few?

The discussion related to gay rights is a complex one. On the one hand it is about the integrity involving the way we decode the Constitution. It is also a study concerning the way hatred and ethnocentricity is transferred from one generation to the next. It is about how positions of privilege ultimately minimize the credibility of those on the outside of cultural normality.

As a pastor, theologian, journalist and advocate of the marginalized, I’ve decided to use my voice to attack the countless inaccuracies surrounding the Biblical injunction against homosexuality. As much as I appreciate those who have stood behind the position that the Bible clearly states gay relationships are wrong, I have to give prophetic voice against that presupposition. My reading of the text does not make that claim. My reading of the text, within its proper historical context, supports the conclusion that the Bible makes no reference to relationships between two people engaged in a loving, caring partnership. I interpret the Bible while critiquing a culture where power is used to subvert the weak.

My reading of the text is an injunction against pedophilla, insect and rape. There are those who will vehemently argue against the validity of that interpretation. I accept their right to counter my claims. What I find heartless and objectionable are those who use their theological declarations as fuel for the construction of laws limiting the rights of those on the other side of the argument. Doing that circumvents the authority of our assetion of being a nation of diverse views and identities.

So, some may wonder how a pastor can take on the cause of gay and lesbians without nullifying the supremacy of the Biblical text. That’s easy. I’m not a Biblical literalist. I regard that approach a simple solution to a complex problem. It leads to error due to the assumptions we make when we deny the suggestions of the former culture. It places those of this generation within a context that affirms the marginalization of women and slaves, justifies the murder of women and children regarded as the enemies of faith, deems illness as a curse caused by the sin of the inflicted or a family member, legitimizes the sexual indulgences of men while encouraging the stoning of women for doing the same and upholds a system embedded in a culture that regards women as no more than the property of the men who use them for sex and to deliver their children.

Biblical literalists are incapable of being critical of the narrative due to the assumption that each word was uttered by God. An attack of the text is perceived as a questioning of God’s voice. Each word is true, even when those words contradict the claims we make as the people of God. Thus, literalists are unable to affirm the call of women to ministry, justify the enslavement of others and denies the humanity of people in love with a person of the same sex. This approach creates a paradox of confusion that renders the Church, as I see it, trapped in the hypocrisy of its own claims.

That’s why I do it. Faith is under attack. The attack happens on two fronts: faith in the claims we make as a nation, and faith in the claims we make as the Church universal. The good news is more and more people are beginning to see past the rhetoric that has dominated this discussion for too long. Allowing people to love and marry who they want is a basic human right-even when another person objects to their taking that leap of faith.

If you are a member of a church that decides to endorse a homophobic agenda-have fun with that. If you refuse to concede the merits of people of the same sex getting married-that’s fine with me. What irks me are those who use the Bible, the Constitution, notions of the sanctity of marriage, or, in the case of David Tyree, the view that society, as we know It, will come to an end, as veils that hide their prejudices toward those they fear.

Today, I celebrate with those who seek a same-sex marriage in New York. My prayer is that the same will happen in North Carolina and across the country. I’m thankful that our President is supporting this action, and that numerous allies are voicing their solidarity.

They are coming out of the closet one by one. Republicans who vote with their hearts rather than the fear of their constituents are standing despite the ramifications of that vote. Pro athletes like Steve Nash, Michael Strahan and Charles Barkley have supported same-sex marriages. Their endorsements go a long way toward undoing the deep-seeded hatred gays and lesbians have felt.

This is my challenge. Stand up pastors! Stand up and denounce the claims that limit those who seek a place to be loved and affirmed. Stop hiding behind the dogma of faith and be a prophetic voice. Yes, that applies to my African American clergy. Put an end to the venom laced words that fuel hatred among those you lead. Stand above the fear of their attacks. Stand above what you fear they may say about you. Stand above the fear of enduring a vote to end your work of faith!

I challenge you to stand and be a prophetic voice. More than that, I challenge you to be a Christian and to act like Jesus.

Any takers?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Soul Food and Snicthing

I sat in the chair as my barber placed a cold towel on my face. The chill followed the warmth of the hot towel that helped close the pours opened after my shave. I took a deep breath in celebration of my pampering session. I did my best to block the chatter in the room. Too much had happened over the previous weeks. I was gasping for air after reflecting on the murder of three girls followed by a suicide, the death of a friend’s sister after falling through a hotel window in Atlanta, tornadoes, floods, and more that kept me on my knees in prayer.

The towel blocked the faces of those in the room. I listened as they discussed encounters with the police. They talked about snitching-a term used to discount those who informed the police about the misdeeds of a person of color. “I would tell in a heartbeat,” I murmured to myself as they continued to minimize those who talk to the police.

“I have to get out of here,” my barber uttered as he took the towel from my face. “Things are different over here.

So true. Things had changed since my barber moved to another location where the customers echoed life in the fast lane. I then noticed the man in the chair next to mine. His arm was wrapped in bandage due to a recent chase for his life. The night before my shave two vehicles, a dark blue Charger and a white or gray Acura, pulled up next to him as he drove on the Durham Freeway. Men in those cars took shots forcing him to flee from the car and run for his life.

That incident followed the death of Michael Orlando Hunter on Saturday. Motorist in another car pulled next to his BMW 323 and sprayed bullets into the car. He died after crashing into a tree near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Something didn’t feel right. God knows I hate making assumptions, but why all that talk about snitching? It left me wondering about how much is known that no one has the guts to tell. I left feeling the pulse of life in a warzone.

Something didn’t feel right. I remembered the last time I felt that way. I was walking across the street on Garfield Avenue in St. Louis with my sister. A car pulled up, a man jumped out and started shooting in the direction of me and my sister. The bullets fell near our feet. We both remained frozen. What just happened, I thought at the time. What just happened, I thought as I left the barbershop.

It was time to get something to eat. I drove South on Fayetteville Road as I considered my options. I stopped at the Chicken Hut and ordered baked chicken, mashed potatoes and lima beans and corn. I needed something to erase the memories, the fears and the uneasiness that was tormenting me. What is that feeling, I thought as I took my seat.

Another deep breath to settle my heart beat. “Looks like we have another DC sniper,” a woman at the table next to mine alleged. “Those two shooting had too much alike.”

The man and the woman sharing the table agreed with her conclusion. “You know the police don’t want to tell us the truth,” the man said.

“I think the two are connected in some way,” I said. They listened and nodded. The words brought to the surface what I was feeling. I had no evidence to support my assumption. All I had was a gut seeking resolution after receiving the comfort of a shave.

I took a bite of my chicken. I don’t get to eat down home cooking that often. The best place to get it is at one of those holes in the wall-like the Chicken Hut. You have to find a place in the “hood”-where people function in a counter culture. The food is different there.

It’s also a place where people don’t talk to the police. People know things related to unsolved crimes. They don't talk because you don’t snitch in the “hood”. If I knew I would snitch. I have my gut, but guts can’t testify in the court of law.

Monday, June 20, 2011

F-: The State Legislative Report Card

Can someone help me understand North Carolina’s recent state budget? The budget, combined with a number of hard to understand decisions, makes it virtually impossible to uncover how lawmakers perceive their roles as crafters of public policy.

Thanks to Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly for providing a timely and concise review of what happened during this past legislative session (Truth in Legislative Bill Naming: June 15). After reading her column it seems that the goal of this past legislative session was to undo the hard work that progressive minded folks have fought to secure over the past few decades while shifting the burden of human service delivery to the local level.

As countless citizens of the state continue to endure life void of medical insurance, legislators pushed the Protect Health Care Freedom Act that would force the state to sue the federal government to protect insurance companies from the implications of Romney Care. The notion that health care reform is a bad idea was further enhanced by lobbying in support of Medical Liability Reform which places caps on the damages one can claim from medical malpractice in emergency rooms.

While most North Carolinians celebrate the contributions Latinos add to our state, legislators sought ways to limit their political power by proposing measures comparable to the voting tax and test that disenfranchised African American voters prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. They pushed bills that would require all voting material be in English and Voter Identification at the Polls which would make it difficult to vote if you don’t have a driver’s license. The Safe Students Act requires that parents disclose the immigration status of their children prior to enrolling them in public schools. This legislative session was an attack on Latinos who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

They fought to repeal the Racial Justice Act, passed in 2010 after it was proven that race played a major factor in how the death penalty was handed down. They also passed the NC Firearms Freedom Act which prohibits the federal government from regulating the sale of firearms in the state. It’s the old state versus federal government argument that landed us in the war between the North and the South.

The Consumer Finance Act Amendments allows predatory lenders to increase the size of loans they offer to an amount one is incapable of paying while adding fees and increasing the interest rate to as much as 36 percent. This pro business session left most citizens worse off than before it all got started.

This session was an attack on public education. The cap on charter schools was lifted. Tax credits are now available for parents with incomes less than $100,000. They can receive a tax credit of $2,500 per child if they withdraw them from public schools and enroll them in private schools or homeschool them. The measure paves the way for the private school industry to reap the benefits of those seduced into believing public schools are the highway leading to educational death.

The state budget was cut leaving local governments pressed to find a way to continue the level of service needed to meet the needs of the children in their district. Members of the Durham County Commission will vote on a quarter-cent sales-tax increase for Durham schools. If approved during the June 27th meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, it will be left in the hands of voters in November.

It all comes at a time when the county is considering a half-cent sales tax for public transportation improvements. That increase would support the much anticipated rail system that would connect Durham with Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

Local leaders are forced to go to voters to approve a tax increase while state legislators push to decrease funding for public education. Put another way, voters are receiving less from the state to support the education of their children while having to, potentially, pay more just to keep pace with the local education needs.

It could be argued that both proposed tax increases are regressive taxes-placing a greater burden on the poor. Given that they are proposed increases in sales taxes, we must be careful not to shift the burden on those unable to keep pace with the cost of living.

It is clear that state legislators are decreasing the size of state government at the expense of local municipalities. I’m certain the folks we voted in to serve on the national front would say the same thing-that we need to downsize government. There’s one problem with that notion. The cost to maintain those services we all need is simply passed down to the citizen at the local level. It is up to us to vote for more taxes-either sales or property-to pay for the advancements we need.

So, when we listen to politicians talk about government out of control and the need to reduce taxes to stimulate spending, ask yourself how those reductions impacts those on the local level. What can be done to continue to provide services when those at the state and federal level play politics with our dollars? It only comes back on those at the local level to decide. One way or another, we have to pay for those services.

As for the rest of what was voted on-who profits from those decisions? Someone help me understand.