Friday, September 26, 2014

A white man's apology and a black man's resignation?

What happens when you take a white man’s apology and cross it with a black man’s resignation?
A heap of speculation.

When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson apologized to Michael Brown’s family for taking four hours to move their son’s dead body from the hot pavement, you could hear a thunderous roar – what took you so long? Why now? What up with that? Keep your apology to yourself, and, while at it, put it where the sun don’t shine.
Did you feel the rage coming? Why did it take you 48 days? Why release it on video? Reach out to the family. Take it like a man and face the expressions on their faces as you feed them that lame “I’m sorry dude”. While at it, there’s a long list of things to apologize.  How about showing regret for tear-gas, rubber bullets and police pointing guns at protestors.

You got some nerve.
As Jackson released his video public relations maneuver, Eric Holder was preparing to resign his post as US Attorney General. It would be presumptuous to suggest a correlation between the two, but Holders resignation felt like one of those kiss my black caboose moments. It felt like that moment when you’re fed up, sick and tired and unwilling to take any more of the mess.  It felt like that second you want to slap the collective face of all who stood in your way by screaming “I’m out!”

We don’t know the reasons behind Holder’s decision.  It could be health related.  I could be he wants to spend more time with family.  As much as inquisitive minds want to know, it’s none of our business.  With that being said, can we blame Holder if he’s fed up with dealing with lunatics incapable of seeing life beyond their hillbilly privilege?
It has to be grim contending with gun pushers after the death of elementary students. Instead of rallying for gun legislation, many sought more gun freedom in response to mass murder. Yes, take this job and shove it.  It doesn’t stop there. Holder was engaged in a battle to overcome mindsets and ways that refuses to concede the implications related to assumptions involving race, racism and privilege.

That stuff shows up in the way the judicial system enforces laws.  It pops up in the way lines are drawn in disparate ways in the handling of crimes.  Holder attempted to attack how race decides punishment. He tried, the best he could, to undo decades of policies that adds to black incarceration and unfair treatment.
The brother could not do it alone. There are layers of abuse that shows up with racial profiling, assumptions of judges, prosecutors who bury evidence, and citizens unwilling to assume innocence until proven guilty.

Could it be Ferguson was the last straw?  Could it be it was enough to convince the nation’s top-cop it’s too much to undo?
To his credit, Holder did his best in keeping it real.  He attempted to tell his personal story in a way that helps people understand the burdens associated with being a black man in America.  Yes, it is common to get stopped for no other reason than walking while black. 

Being real, while serving in high places, isn’t met well by those who prefer it when black folks keep their feelings private, act in a way that reflects appreciation for the hard work white people have done to understand. The proper political position is to talk about Dr. King’s dream versus our nation’s continued nightmare.
Holder showed up in Ferguson, MO to show he understands.  Those who needed his presence felt the force of the White House.  They wanted Obama to show up, but knew it’s hard for a brother due to the constant criticism for talking about being black in America.

Maybe Holder is fed up with pretending?  Maybe he needs space to say what’s really on his mind.  Maybe politics took a massive toil and he’s sick of mending wounds he didn’t create.
Maybe he’s fed up with dealing with police officers killing black men like its hunting season.  Maybe it’s too much pain to carry while knowing there isn’t much one man, especially a black man, can say or do.

That’s a bunch of speculation. We may never know why Holder quit. 
As much as many of us hate it, we understand.  I can’t blame him if he’s sick of carrying the burden of America’s mess.

Many of us feel like quitting. We get it.
So, chill brother.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Confronting corporal punishment in the black community

Photo form
It’s been hard for me to listen to the lunatics who justify the way Adrian Peterson disciplines his children.  It’s a point of contention that has always troubled me.  Spanking children is so engrained within the fabric of black culture that to do otherwise is considered evidence of bad parenting.

The late Bernie Mac joked about beating children to the white meat.  Most people in those rooms have stories about running from a switch, having to get their own switch, hiding from a switch or being beat so hard that it took time to recover.

The truth is most of that is abuse.  As painful as it may be to admit that, what’s behind how black people feel about corporal punishment?

The Bible encourages it

The Bible is used to promote corporal punishment.  My friend Eric Michael Dyson, professor at George Washington University, challenged the literalist interpretation of the Bible in his New York Times op-ed Punishment or Child Abuse?

“Like many biblical literalists, lots of black believers are fond of quoting Scriptures to justify corporal punishment, particularly the verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’,” Dyson writes. “But in Hebrew, the word translated as “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them.”

The reading of the Bible from its historical/cultural context, while taking into account the nuances of Hebrew versus other translations, makes it clear that the Bible isn’t justifying corporal punishment of children. Beyond the uncovering of the meaning of the text, one must ponder the ethics of corporal punishment.

This is the point where the WWJD movement becomes a vital instrument.  Can you image Jesus spanking a child, and if so, what would be the context behind him doing so?

It’s a part of black culture

Fifteen years ago, in a column written in the Durham Herald-Sun, I argued that corporal punishment replicates the punishment of slavery.  Michael Eric Dyson offered the same during a recent interview on MSNBC.

“Black people were beat and hit in slavery,” Dyson said. “Some slave parents, especially women, had to beat their kids in front of the slave master to prove that they could go along with the slave master’s intention and keep them from being rebellious spirits. …As a result of that, we began to absorb that practice, collectively speaking, and we’ve reproduced it.”

Embedded in black parenting is the notion of protecting children, especially boys, from the dangers of society.  Beatings are used to teach boundaries.  Boys are reared within a culture of fear, which is, according to Dyson, the reproduction of the pathology of slavery.

I endured it, and I turned out okay

Personal testimony is used to validate the practice.  Education and other measures of success are used to justify the benefits of corporal punishment.  There’s a significant problem with the argument.  The mental health conditions of those offering the testimony suggest a different conclusion.

Is there a correlation between the excessive use of corporal punishment and cases of domestic violence?  How about substance abuse and the massive dysfunction that plagues relationships among black people?  As much as we want to suggest that we turned out alright, the truth is we, black people, are more damaged than we are willing to admit.

I use the pronoun we to claim my own journey to counter a myriad of mental health related issues.  That’s not to suggest it’s all a consequence of corporal punishment, but is stated to accept not being alright after enduring my share of walks to pick out my own switch.

That’s how white people think

This is the part that is most difficult to address.  We carry loads of disdain related to the things lost due to integration.  As much as we celebrate the vast improvements following the Civil Rights movement, there is the suggestion that we lost more than we gained.

A big part of that regards the culture of the community.  It is true that many of us born in the 60’s and 70’s were nurtured by a large village.  We were loved and spanked by community grandparents, aunts and uncles who were granted permission by our parents to whip that ass. We take pride in being loved by our village families. 

Yes, we take great pride in being loved like that.  Those spankings reflect a culture of care.  It’s like that eagle that stirs the next – big mama has an eye on the babies.  This is what it meant to be black before we became rooted into the culture of white privilege. We lost something meaningful when the objective was in replicating the life and ways of white people.

It’s part of the nostalgia of black life before the suburbs and integrated schools.  It’s what makes us different.  Spankings are something we share, and it’s hard to let it go.

Black life in the context of postmodern inclusion

All of this suggests a need for a new model related to parenting.  It requires critical engagement with the Biblical text, deeper reflection involving the pathology of slave culture within our contemporary context, an evaluation of the mental health conditions of black people, and ways to embrace memories that create space for the release of all the pain.

There’s hard work to be done.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case exposes things that should be kept private

“My client, on behalf of herself and their son, wishes to express her extreme outrage at the invasion of their privacy that has occurred through the publication of highly confidential and private data obtained regarding them by the press without their permission or consent,” the statement issued by attorney Kelly C. Dohn stated.  “My client is hurt and outraged that the press would publish throughout the world pictures of their minor son and publish statements allegedly made as part of the private and confidential criminal investigative file.”

The pictures of her 4-year-old son stirred the rage of a mother.  His small body tarnished by a beating should have remained private.  Those pictures became public because of the man accused of child abuse. 

Adrian Peterson, the superhero like running back of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, has been charged with causing injury to a child under the age of 14. Peterson is accused of hitting his son with a wooden spoon.  Numerous media outlets decided to release the photos of the alleged injuries, and the Minnesota Vikings responded, albeit late, by deactivating Peterson while the matter is resolved.

The public outcry, and the response from the NFL and Minnesota Vikings, follows the repercussion of arguably the greatest sports bungle of all-time – the handling of Ray Rice. The NFL’s leniency with Rice was followed by the release of a video that forced the league to alter its position.  The long list of player misconduct has the NFL grappling to repair its reputation as a league sculpted with abusers.

The outcry of the 4-year-old allegedly abused by Peterson reminds us of the ethics that shape the way we report on these types of cases.  Our thirst for more information, and pictures to verify our suppositions, should always be met with hesitancy when the information becomes a violation of privacy. A mother’s plea for silence should never be minimized by the public thirst for more.

A mother has the right to request that pictures of her battered child not be made public.  Raising a child is complicated enough. Doing so when the identity and nature of injuries are made public muddles the work of parenting even more. A child shouldn’t have to witness his pictures circulating through social media.  Parents shouldn’t have to protect a child from viewing their picture on the news.

The nature of abuse should be hidden from public view.  These are private matters that require discretion on the part of those challenged to report the news. 

There are times when ethics forces us to use caution. The common sense call demands that someone in the newsroom yell, “that’s no one’s damn business!”

Be it the video of Janay Rice being slugged in an elevator, or the pictures of a 4-year-olds bruised body, some things should be left for those impacted most to ponder. Both cases present implications beyond the individuals involved, yet both present the victims in ways that make it more difficult for them to overcome.  No woman should be forced to encounter the public clamor related to those images.  No mother and child should be forced to face the pictures of a minor thrust on the scene of public exhibition.

It’s none of your business.

It magnifies the abuse of those abused.

It places a private conversation within the context of public debate.

It makes a private matter about more than the consequences of those involved.  It feeds our urge to conjure societal evils. 

So, as much as we relish connecting the collective dots – the story is not limited to the NFL.  This is a story about the alleged abuse of a 4-year-old who has a mother seeking to protect her child from further abuse.

So, back off.

Let  mama do what mothers do best.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rev. Jerry Young elected president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. despite oppossition to women in ministry

The National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. has morphed into the Southern Baptist Convention.  Sadly, few have noticed.  Even more disheartening is no one seems to care.

When Rev. Jerry Young was elected as president of the National Baptist Convention, no one stopped to question his position on women in ministry.  Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was elected during the 134th annual session of the convention last week in New Orleans.

Young received 3,195 of the 6,400 votes cast. He won on a platform that promises to modify the organizations infrastructure.  Masses of women voted for Young despite his opposition to women in ministry. Men who serve with women on staff voted for young. 

No one seems to care.

Young’s promise for infrastructure modifications was enough to entice members to place the needs of women on the backburner.  Women voted against their own interest, and men made a statement regarding the power and privilege of men within the National Baptist Convention.

The national press failed to cover Young’s election. With more than 7.5 million members, the National Baptist Convention is the largest black denomination in America. At one time, half of America’s black population was a member of the convention.  The lack of national coverage reflects the groups dwindling influence, and the election of Young speaks to the group’s lack of sensitivity related to women in ministry.

No one seems to care that Young has publicly denounced women in ministry.  No one seems to care about the lingering message sent to the more than 10,000 women ordained by churches within the National Baptist Convention. 

How do you preach to women after voting for a man who fails to affirm a woman’s  role in ministry?  What justice is left for the women who endured going to divinity school, and paying the price to serve in leadership, only to be told there is no room at the table for them?  How do you justify voting for a person who refuses to embrace women?  How do you convince women to continue to trust their calling when the president of the convention is on record in opposition to their service?

Where is the justice for women in ministry? Why no outcry?  Why aren’t women fighting?  Has the patriarchy silenced their resistance? Have they been sold a theological perspective that legitimizes their demoralization?

Have they been told it doesn’t matter?  Has the autonomy of the local church been used to rationalize the promotion of a man who opposes women in leadership?  If this is true, why worry about national leadership?  If the president of the National Baptist Convention isn’t elected to promote the common values of local churches, why worry?

What meaning is there beyond the preferment of a national agenda? Shouldn’t the national president present an agenda that reflects the direction of churches across the country?  Wouldn’t it help if the convention presses congregations to affirm women in leadership? What about other issues that impact public space? If not, what’s the role of the National Baptist Convention beyond it being a fellowship designed to promote the personal agendas of the pastors who attend?

There was no mention of Young’s position on women in ministry.  The national press missed it.  No one seems to care. The silence reflects the sad truth about the National Baptist Convention.  Its purpose is in promoting its own agenda.  It has limited voice beyond the purview of the internal matters of the convention.  For many, there is comfort in the limits of the convention.  Others wonder what could be if the convention moved beyond the walls of the institution.

Woman helped it happen.  Men are content with maintaining the status quo.  Lost in the silence is the prophetic voice of the Church.  As the world shifts in the direction of change, the church refuses to engage in real dialogue related to the implications of change. 

The worst part is no one noticed.

When you’re deep into subjugation, you simply take the mistreatment thrust your way.

Let the women of the Church say amen.

1.The National Baptist is NOT the larges AA denomination. The COGIC now has that distinction
2. Women did speak out. I went on twitter and I know Carolyn Knight was on Facebook as were other women.
3. Lorena Parrish, a member of the Women of Color in Ministry Council also blogged about this

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Political cartoon in the Columbia Daily Tribune is an example of lazy journalism

I wasn’t surprised when the Columbia Daily Tribune, my hometown newspaper, printed a political cartoon that many deem cruel and racist. It simply reflects the news culture in Columbia, Missouri, a town only 117 miles from Ferguson, Missouri.

The cartoon portrays protestors in Ferguson holding signs that read “Burn Ferguson”, “No 60” Plasma TV, No Peace”, and “Steal to Honor Michael Brown.” The cartoon appeared during the peak of tension between protestors and law enforcement.  During those stressful days in Ferguson, some looted, and officials reported witnessing protestors throw Molotov cocktails.

The news cycle was replete with tails of violence among protestors, and numerous news sources focused on this aspect of the story. Many wondered why reporters failed to dig deeper into the root causes of rage among protestors, and inquired into why law enforcement employed military tactics to control peaceful protest.

The Columbia Daily Tribunes decision to stress the looting and burning angle represents the type of lazy journalism that has obstructed the reporting of this story.  The cartoon communicates what is felt by many readers – that the protests in Ferguson made looting the primary agenda. This slant is imbedded in the perception of readers already guided by stereotyping that makes it difficult to concede the concerns of those protesting in Ferguson.

This story is, at the core, a reminder of how race and perceptions related to racism can significantly impact judgment.  The editors at the Tribune failed their readers by poking fun at a minor slice within an extraordinarily complex story. The reporting on Ferguson, as with all stories, should be placed within both a historical and contemporary context.  Newspapers are responsible in getting the story right when those witnessing from the outside become engrossed by their assumptions.

I call this form of reporting lazy due to its readiness in declaring the message of the status quo.  Lazy journalism follows the line of what others report.  The national news media was quick to endorse the stance of law enforcement in reporting related to looting and the launching of Molotov cocktails.  Many among the protestors have reported a different story – that water bottles were thrown, that many of the attacks were initiated by law enforcement, and that looters were outsiders who came under attack by peaceful protestors. 

Credible journalism struggles with assumptions, and seeks to get at the why behind the what.  The Columbia Tribune missed the mark by failing to report on the ground.  The paper’s error isn’t as much about printing the cartoon – something papers in other states may have done – but relates more to failing to take the story seriously by having their own reporters present.

As a paper located in Missouri, The Columbia Tribune owns responsibility in reporting on the Ferguson story.  The paper owes the community reporting that places the story within a communal context.  The lazy approach is to pull news from the wire service, seek a few local angles, and feed readers a localized version of what is being reported by national news outlets.

I expect more from my hometown paper.  Sadly, the Columbia Tribune isn’t positioned to engage in a high level of reporting related to questions involving race.  Pondering the implications of race and racism are low on the Columbia Tribune’s agenda, which reflects Missouri’s culture of running and hiding from stories about race.

Jim Robertson, managing editor, and the staff at the Columbia Tribune, had no intention in communicating a racist agenda.  Their lack of sensitivity is not a variable of a mean intended attack on black people.  It does speak to how assumptions of privilege show up when race fails to become a priority in how we report the news.  You can’t blame Robertson for not knowing the cartoon would be read as offensive.  You can blame Robertson, and the Columbia Daily Tribune, for failing to employ people with keen insight into that culture. 

This is what happens when black people are absent.  It’s what happened in Ferguson, Missouri.  Sadly, it’s happening in Columbia, Missouri. We fail to see it due to the way matters related to race is addressed in Missouri. 

You don’t talk about it until it’s too late.

And, that’s just being lazy.