Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What does this teach us about America?

Finally, the election has ended. The outcome startled many political pundits while fueling a chorus of “I told you so” from Trump supporters. Claims regarding a media conspiracy can be heard echoing in homes where Trump is the hope among those sick of Obama.
Many are left pondering what happened. How did America do this? What are they thinking?

The obvious conclusion is America is more divided than those experts speculated. There’s enough rage among voters to circumvent the work of the Obama Administration. Trump supporters will tell you they voted for Trump, but the truth is many cast votes against Obama. This election is a radical nullification of the ambitions set forth by Obama when he took office in 2008.
This election is about returning to post-Obama America.

This is not post-racial America

“We are now in a 21st-century post-partisan, post-racial society,” said Low Dobbs during his radio show in 2009. In was a thought many Americas held after the election of a black President. It was a landmark moment that signaled the end of systemic racism.”

"Chattel slavery and the legacies it left behind continue to shape American society,” wrote Anna Holmes in her New York Times column ‘America’s Post-racial Fantasy’. “Sometimes it seems as if the desire for a ‘post-racial’ America is an attempt by white people to liberate themselves from the burden of having to deal with that legacy.”

This election sends a message about voters impatience related to conversations involving race. They’ve had enough with “Black Lives Matter” and protest during the National Anthem. They’re tired of conversations involving police brutality and the deaths of unarmed black people. Votes don’t want to talk about race. They want to move past discussions involving inequality.

Could it be that this election ends discussions about post-racial America? If so, will there ever be an opportunity to revisit the possibility?

The need for theological reconstruction

This election forced critique involving the meaning of evangelical. More than before, theological suppositions were placed in the national spotlight in a way that undermined the purpose of the Church.

As conservative Christian rallied behind Trump, progressive Christian redefined the meaning of evangelical to foster dialogue involving the social justice agenda of the Church. The divergent views of the Church appeared on the stages of both national conventions.

The aftermath of this election leaves a pile of residue regarding a variety of theological presuppositions. Moving forward, how will churches define their relationships with members of the LGBTQIA community? What statements will be made involving positions on female leadership? What about interfaith dialogue as it relates to mounting Islamophobia? What theological language will be given to address what it means to be a welcoming community within the context of deportation? What about theological reflection that addresses the debilitating impact of poverty stirred by unpaid medical bills? How will churches address ongoing schisms resulting from implicit bias? How about women’s reproductive rights and other public policy issues that have significant theological implications?

Misogyny and Rape Culture

The election of Trump leaves America with a perplexing dilemma – how will we contend with the allegations involving sexual assault? What is the message sent by voters related to misogyny and rape culture?

It can be assumed that voters dismissed the claims of the women who accused Trump of assault. If so, moving forward, what language can be used to protect women from assault while not dismissing the merit of the complaints they make? Are we to assume America is a nation that refuses to honor the voices of women who boldly demand justice?

How do we validate and protect women from the approaches of powerful men after electing Trump? Are we to assume the emergence of new approaches related to sexual assault? If so, look for the characters on television to resemble an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”.

The death of the watchdog

On numerous occasions, Trump condemned the press for what he viewed as intrusion. In doing so, Trump has articulated the desire to alter the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Trumps delicate relationship with the press could significantly undermine the Amendment that prohibits government from enacting laws that abridge the freedom of speech.

What are American voters telling us about their views related to the press? In elevating Trump to the presidency, are we experiencing a splintering of trust between citizens and the press that could significantly alter the role of the press as the watchdog of government?

What does it all mean?

For some, last night was about making America great again. For others, it is the return to the rhetoric of the pre-Obama presidency. This election was a brawl for the soul of America’s conscious. Put another way, this election was about defining what it means to be America. Will we continue the quest for inclusion reflected in an ongoing quest to tackle a broad agenda? Or, will America be defined by an agenda built on the concerns of white, heterosexual, Christian and mostly male Americans?

On last night, diversity and inclusion lost, and America began a quest to be defined by those who controlled public policy before the Obama years.

Welcome back to business as usual.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Will America ever be sane again?

Will America recover after the election? A better question is will America ever be sane again?

That question comes with numerous assumptions. Those who support “The Donald” are hoping to “Make America Great Again”. They crave for the days when black and white television reflected the type of separation that kept people on opposite ends of the tracks. Being great was summed up as keeping black people removed from the American Dream.

Where are black people in “Leave it to Beaver”?

Great meant limiting leadership to white men who assumed credibility based on their ability to define the dream. The attainment of the dream was quantified by the type of country club status that influenced who deserved a seat at the table.

Greatness was life before words like inclusion and diversity established the terms for an equal playing field. It was before policies influenced by affirmative action sought to undo centuries of systemic racism and male domination. Great was about not giving a damn about how people outside white/male command felt about laws used to enforce subjugation.

While some desire to “Make America Great Again,” far too many have been denied the full benefits of greatness. It’s why some refuse to stand during the singing of the National Anthem. It’s why some scream “Black Lives Matter”. It’s why masses of people wanted to “Occupy Wall Street.” It’s also why people in Flint, Michigan demand clean water and women continue to request the right to decide what happens to their bodies.

Greatness is a subjective term. It depends on the background and culture of the person in question. The same applies to sanity. Like greatness, sanity is in the eyes of the beholder.

Will America ever be sane again?

Well, America has never been same. We are a nation defined by a thread of insane actions. Albert Einstein said “insane is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results”. If nothing else, America is a nation defined best by an ability to overcome insane actions.

In America, stupid is what stupid does. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

It’s what we consistently overcome.

This election exposes the vastness of America’s diversity. Diversity is more than a way to describe unlike races, religions, gender identities and cultures. Diversity is about political ideologies and agendas. It’s about moral positions and opinions.

This is Democracy at its best. Democracy is about people yelling at one another because of their passion. It’s about believing in something enough to show up at rallies to endorse a candidate.  It’s about yelling at the top of your voice regarding the lame ways of the people who oppose your views. It’s also about believing the world will come to an end if your candidate loses.  For me, it means checking for discount tickets to get out of the country if Trump defeats Clinton.

It’s the big dint in democracy that makes it hit and miss. When you win, it feels good. When you lose, head for the hills because the Apocalypse is coming soon.

Face it. We are an imperfect nation prone to do stupid things. Insanity is what we do – over and over again. We may never be great in the way some people think, but it is our grappling with imperfection, and plugging holes in the dam, that makes becoming great a possibility.

Will America ever be sane again?

Nope. We have never been sane.

It’s the insanity of our process that makes America great. How else can you explain a system of government that places its trust on a bunch of insane people?

It’s not greatness I seek.

I prefer a life of freedom.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation" reveals the frustration of being stuck in the middle of impending change

There are things I’ve learned to help me maneuver around the myriad of issues and concerns that keep people rift by division.

Top on that list is the awareness that I am a man. My world view is shaped by the massive privilege afforded me due to my gender. Some would argue my maleness is offset by my blackness. In other words, the fact that I face discrimination based on my race offers me points to get me out of the privilege camp.

Sorry, not true. There are certain things that I can’t fully understand. It’s best to shut up, suck it up and listen. Case dismissed.

This has been my position related to Nate Parker, the man behind “Birth of a Nation”.  Arguably the best movie of 2016, the buzz following the Sundance Film Festival was enough to land Parker a record breaking distribution deal. Based on the insurrection led by Nat Turner, the movie tells a story not taught in high school American history. Far too many Americans haven’t heard about Turner, Denmark Vasey and Gabriel Posser.

As a black liberation theologian, I was thrilled when I heard about the movie. I revisited many of the books I’ve read over the years about the radical edge of black religion. My working thesis is black Christianity is the appropriation of white evangelical Christianity. I argue that the normalization of white Christianity in black churches was constructed during the post-reconstruction years. In an effort to affirm and justify the role of blacks in white public space, the nuances of white Christianity became more influential at the end of reconstruction.

The faith of Nat Turner, and other insurrectionist, was influential in crafting a counter religious claim that inspired revolution. Gayrud Wilmore, author of “Black Religion, Black Radicalism”, distinguishes black Christianity inspired by white evangelical thought from black religion which is rooted in the traditions of African religion and a desire for liberation.

When I heard of Parker’s movie, I was excited due to how it can be used to shift conversations related to how we talk about black faith in contemporary context. I’m mindful of the disconnection between the scholarships involving black religion versus how it is appropriated today in most black churches. The break between the historical journey of black religion and the practice of Christianity is noted in Raphael Warnock’s book “The Divided Mind of the Black Church.”

Little has been done to bridge the gap between history and practice. Packed on top of this divide is the population of theologically untrained clergy. Far too many churches are led by Biblical literalists who lack the theological tools, understanding of history and ability to communicate a message of faith not rooted in Eurocentric analysis.

“Birth of a Nation” has the potential of pressing these conversations. As a filmmaker determined to tell the story regarding black, radicalized religion, I’m saddened by what happened to “Birth of a Nation”. I’m hurt that people aren’t watching the movie. I’m disgusted that an opportunity to spread the message has been lost due to accusations from Parker’s past.

As Dante James (“Eye on the Prize”, “Slavery and the Making of America” and “This Far by Faith”) and I press to obtain funding for “God of the Oppressed”, this tragedy stirs inward hostility regarding the difficulties of telling black folk’s truth from a place not compromised by who funds the project.

Keep in mind that “Birth of a Nation” is not history. It’s a heavily fictionalized account of Turner’s revolution. It’s not a perfect movie. Black women didn’t get enough credit for their role in the revolt. There are parts left out, and there are things that should have made the final cut. This is part of the burden of filmmaking.

But, it’s an important message. It’s one that resonates with my work. I’m concerned that “God of the Oppressed” will be hindered by the poor box office numbers. I’m troubled that investors will respond with “I told you so.” You know, after everything said about the Academy Awards selection process, why should white people support black films.

I’m also disgusted, as a filmmaker, that the black community lacks significant funding streams to advance projects like “God of the Oppressed”.

But, again I say but, that’s not the point. The point is I’m not a woman. The point is I can’t feel what women feel. The point is I have no right to challenge women to support a work that stirs emotions that I will never fully understand.

I can talk about the challenges of filmmaking. I can discuss the need to educate people on the history of black faith. I can relate my personal anxiety related to the white washing of the black church. I can do all of that with a level of authority and integrity - but I’m not a woman.

So, here I am betwixt and between conflicting agendas. I listen to women talk about Parker’s lack of sensitivity involving the woman who accused him of rape. I understand their need for an apology to reflect sensitivity after she committed suicide. I’m listening, and God knows I want to understand.

But, once again I say but, I’m a filmmaker and theologian interested in telling that story. I’m caught in the middle, knowing the significance of each, while not dismissing the claims women make. Yes, I’m utterly confused due to my desire to listen. I’m baffled because it’s a story that must be told.

It has to be told.

But - there we go again.

So, I’m stuck in the middle of the need for change.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Durham School of the Art's enforces a ball of confusion

“I can’t talk with you. You’re not the parent,” Michelle Hunt, assistant principal at the Durham School of the Arts said.

“I’m with the parent,” I responded.

“I’m here, I give him permission,” the mother chimed in with the type of disdain that needed a few bad words to accent her feelings.

“I need it in writing,” Hunt said while rushing to avoid the subject.

“I can write it now,” the parent said.

“Talk to our lawyers,” were Hunt’s last words before leaving us in the middle of the hallway to process what had just happened.

The confrontation with Hunt followed an attempt to understand the suspension of a student for sexual harassment. The suspension was the result of a combination of hearsay evidence, loads of implicit bias that assumed the merits of a white, female’s version to a story about youth playing in the back of a bus and kids talking about a black boy and a white girl doing what kids often do.

It was all consensual. It all ended after he reached first base.

The boy in question is an honor student. He has more A’s than B’s and is the type of young man who will soon be courted by schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke and Stanford. His short-term plan is to apply for the North Carolina School of Math and Science. His academic credentials make him a prime candidate for the illustrious school.

This is a kid with professional parents. He’s never been in trouble. He spends his spare time reading books about astronomy and history. The only thing standing in the way of his becoming one of the nation’s who’s who is the time it takes to get from point A to point B.

So, why was he suspended?

That’s one of the questions I wanted to ask Hunt and David Hawks, principal at the School of the Arts before I was given the proverbial speak to the hand. I also wanted detailed information related to the process used to determine the need for a three day suspension.  I was seeking evidence from the system policy manual that justified the decision because I couldn’t find any.

Beyond my need for answers, I had a point to make. It’s a critical point involving the psychological burdens that black boys endure after being suspended. I felt compelled to give a quick lesson on how the decision could potentially damage the student.

What was make clear, based on the actions of Hunt, is a total lack of appreciation for the role advocates and parents play in protecting students from the damage of implicit bias. Her lack of respect for me, as an advocate, combined with a lack of support in meeting the demands of a concerned parent, sent a message that left both of us troubled.

She needed to hear how parents feel when their sons get labeled and harassed by their peers. She needed to consider how a suspension can feel like the beginning of a life deconstructing the positive self-imagery of a black boy. She needed to consider the process used to determine guilt, and how the race of his accuser titled the way she handled the investigation.

I would say more about the investigation, but, due to my desire to protect both students from further bullying, simply trust me. Oh, yes, this is a case of bullying. This boy has been bullied by both students and members of the staff. What happened was a witch hunt that assumed guilt versus a real conversation about moving forward after students began making fun of her and labeling him.

This is also about her being bullied. After the word spread regarding what happened, both students were bombarded by other students who craved the details on what happened. Sadly, the administration lacks the insight needed to bring healthy closure to this situation.

My research on the Durham School of the Arts has uncovered a sad truth. There is a vast disparity in the suspension of whites versus blacks. It is also clear that David Hawks tends to rule too harsh in the suspension of black boys. Beyond the apparent discrepancy reflected in those numbers, is a lack of passionate customer service. Hunt’s lack of patience in this case exposes a clear case of implicit bias.

I recommend some serious cultural sensitivity training for both Hunt and Hawkins. If not granted, I present to you evidence that suggest the need for rapid changes in leadership at the Durham School of the Arts.


Stay tuned-in for updates.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Plea bargain raises questions regarding justice

The sobs in the room said more than any statement could make. There’s no way to restore faith in a system that offers a maximum sentence of 44 years for the deaths of four young men.

“How do you sleep at night,” Lennis Harris Sr asked Rodrick Vernard Duncan, 36, with deep pauses aimed at fighting back the tears. “I don’t understand how a man can shoot people that they know, that they grew up with, that you laughed and played with as children, how can you lay them down, look them in the eye and shoot them in the head.”

Duncan pleaded guilty to the execution-style shootings of Lennis Harris, Jr.,24, Lajuan Coleman, 27, Jonathan Skinner, 26, and Jamel Holloway, 27. The frustration in the room intensified when the details of the murders were read.

It’s not enough, members of the families moaned after the plea agreement was announced -36-44 years in prison. The deep breaths could be felt when the district attorney said second degree murder. Not first degree, but something that felt like a devaluing of worth.

Was this the justice the family needed to end the torment that began in 2005?
“I don’t know how to sleep at night,” Stacey Harris, Lennis’ sister and Jonathan Skinner’s cousin said. She talked about the challenges of dating with no brother to talk about men.  “It’s hard for me to trust because of what you did.”

It’s been difficult for the family to move on since that day. Lennis Harris Sr told Duncan he would have been the fifth victim if not for the traffic following a fireworks display at Southpoint Mall.
“You missed one,” Harris said. “I wish I had been there so I wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Duncan nodded as he listened to the grief he caused. I strained my eyes in search of tears or a body trembling to denote remorse deep enough to help soothe the families pain.
Is it ever enough?

How much does it take to help ease the pain?

Marsha Harris talked about love and forgiveness. She asked Duncan to become an example in prison. She said God has given her the strength to love Duncan.

“I can’t do that,” Lennis Harris Sr said as his wife Donnamaria robbed his back and I handed him another tissue to wipe the tears. “Not now, I can’t do it now.”

Was this the justice the family prayed for when they marched around the police headquarters? Was this enough to balance the rage stirred by years of waiting? Why did it take so long to arrest the three men who interpreted a video game match to kill sons, nephews and cousins that day? What happened to the others involved?

The left side of the room was stacked with members of the family. A few reporters took notes and recorded imagines for the evening newscast. On the right side of the room, a handful of family friends and legal professionals took up a few seats.

“We are in mourning because our sons black lives did not matter enough for the community to protest, rally, demand justice and give up the killers,” Donnamaria Harris, Lennis Sr’s wife, wrote in a text message sent the next day. “We are mourning because the black community only demands justice when a white officer kills a person of color.”

Harris asked a series of important questions.

Where are the marches and protest when black men kill black men? Why does the community fall silent, deaf and blind when they know the identities of those who kill black men?

“Why can’t black lives matter enough for people to turn in the criminals who live among us,” Harris writes.

We departed the room with an emptiness roused by a plea bargain that cheapened the lives taken. How much is the life of a black man worth? Why did it take so long, and why this conclusion?
Is it ever enough?

How much does it take to make the tears go away – 50 years, 100 years, six life sentences? What does it take to make the nightmare go away?

The walk from the eighth floor courtroom to the parking deck was dreamlike movement that hoped for answers in between each step. Each of us wondered what would come next. The conclusion bonded those confused by the sentence.

The nightmare hasn’t ended. The pain we carried into court will follow us the rest of our lives. There will be no march begging for justice. There will be no speeches about the cruelty of a system that attached 44 years as punishment for the death of four men.

It’s never enough.

It’s never enough because black lives matter.

Lennis Harris Jr., Lajuan Coleman, Jonathan Skinner, Jamel Holloway – say their names.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In search of the North Star: Looking for a place to call home


It may be un-American to consider running in the direction of the North Star to a land on the other side of the border. But, why not? As long as a wall hasn’t been built keeping disgruntled Americans out of Canada, why not consider life on the other side of American white privilege?

Running away from death and an unequal standard of living isn’t new for black people living in America. For as far back as we can trace history away from Africa, black people have grappled to find a safe place to plant seeds for the future. We know the stories of trips along the “Underground Railroad” and the numerous “Slave Rebellions” led by men and women who were sick and tired of lashes on their backs.

Black people ran North before and after two world wars because of the common sight of lynching’s and burning crosses. It happened due to black people fighting for their fair share of that American Dream. Running away from death and subjugation is part of the American saga that adds to the divide between Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream and Malcolm X’s nightmare.

Black people have endured being caught in the middle of being nice and getting killed. For as long as most can remember, learning how to address white people with guns and a badge is added to the curriculum of elementary school education. The lessons of the post-slavery era prepared black people for survival among people fuming because Mr. Lincoln said let those people go.

Contending with the “what if” seemingly never vanishes. “What if” the police stop you in the middle of the night? “What if” you find yourself vulnerable because the person with the gun lacks the patience to hear the rest of your story.

I hear grandma singing “I feel like running my last mile home”.

The worst part of not running are the emotions that come with staying. Those who don’t get “it” assume all is well among those stuck in pondering the “what if”. People not forced to contemplate those questions envision a world filled with the type of “milk and honey” promised long ago to those lingering in the wilderness. Listening to them tell your story leads to the conclusion the Promised Land was entered between 1970 and last week.

That’s hard to accept when running remains a viable option for those tired of listening to commentary regarding how it’s all a figment of the imagination.

I feel like running whenever a person calls me racist for saying “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”. I feel like running whenever a person questions my version of Christianity because I’m sick of black folks having to forgive while white people continue to poke fun at my interpretation of inclusion.  I feel like running whenever I watch a video of a black person taking a bullet. I want to hide and scream after a white person tells me there’s no justifiable reason to prosecute the police officer who pulled the trigger or pushed Freddie in the back of a van.

I feel like running when being black is justification for murder and the courts don’t care.

It’s mentally draining listening to others define your reality.

Where can you run when stupid shows up everywhere you look? Forest Gump told us “stupid is what stupid does,” and stupid shows up often in America.

Doing stupid isn’t new, but a good part of the recent stupid is targeted at black people. Maybe it’s because Obama is running the show. Maybe it’s because black people refuse to continue to bow to the stupid assumptions white people make. Or, maybe stupid has always been there to keep eyes pointed in the direction of the North Star.

Stupid shows up in a variety of ways and places. Shucks, some claim I’m the ambassador of stupidity due to my analysis of faith in public space. I’ll own that. Maybe it takes stupid to know stupid. If that’s true, most of us are caught in the web of doing stupid things.

We’re trapped with nowhere to go.

How far North can you run before it gets too cold to run anymore?

Canada seems like a logical place to run if Trump wins the election due to the stupid Republicans and Democrats intent on running the show. Between the Republicans who want to make “America Great Again” and the progressives who refuse to vote for Hilary, we’re just a few steps away from stupid controlling the whole show.

None of this is new to black folks. It is mind-blowing that it follows the election of the first black President. Like the release of the Kracken in the “Clash of the Titans”, electing Obama was the can of whip ass America needed to expose the deep-rooted stupidity they hid during the day.

Between the stupidity of “Bernie or Bust” and the cruelty of “Build the wall, build the wall!” black and brown people are left glaring like the emperor lost his clothes and thinks it’s a fashion statement. Well, stupidity is not fashionable, it’s simply stupid.

Bags packed and ready to go.

Darn it! There’s nowhere to go.

I’m still searching for a nation I can call home.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Stacy Dash lives in a place called "clueless"


Stacy Dash wasn’t among the many who became instant Jesse Williams fans after his speech at the BET Awards.

"That chip on the shoulders of people like you will weigh you down and keep you from flying free," Dash wrote in a blog post. "But true freedom is never free. You have to know how to fly. If anyone is making you feel this way it's you. Living in a psychological prison of your own making. If anyone is GHETTO-IZING anyone, it’s people like you letting the BETs and other media outlets portray us in stereotypes."

It is another example of Dash making comments that match the television show that made her a celebrity. Some say she’s clueless.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: BET is keeping racism and segregation alive and this past Sunday's awards show proves it," the 49 -year-old said of Williams’ speech. "Particularly the speech given by Grey's Anatomy star Jesse Williams, whose tirade after receiving the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award for his black activism was nothing short of an attack on white people."

Dash has a way of standing on the right side of the conservative right. It’s hard to believe Damon Dash’s cousin has resorted to promoting Donald Trump and attacking any black person who screams “Black Lives Matter”. OMG, what about the white people?

This coming from a woman who began her career as the superfine model in Carl Thomas’ and Kayne West’s music videos. Hate saying it, but we liked her better when she showed more and said less. Slap me for the sexist remark, but can someone remind Dash that she personified what objectification looks like?

"You’ve just seen the perfect example of a HOLLYWOOD plantation slave!" Dash continues. "Sorry, Mr. Williams. But the fact that you were standing on that stage at THOSE awards tells people you really don’t know what your [sic] talking about. Just spewing hate and anger."

Insert the image of white people offering a standing ovation. You go girl! Where do we send the check? There’s more. Dash claims Williams is the one getting paid.

"You my man are just like everyone else hustling to get money," Dash writes. "But your cognitive dissidents has you getting it from THAT BYSTANDER whom YOU DON'T NEED. Yes. BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION is WHITE OWNED."

Dash was responding to one of the more powerful lines in Williams’ speech.

"The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That's not our job, all right? Stop with all that," Williams said. "If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest -- if you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down."

That was the moment that shifted the stage into a pulpit and landed everyone in the crowd on their feet. It was that transcendent occurrence that black Americans have been waiting for since BET sold-out to imagines of women showing their goodies to lyrics about their being bitches and a ATM machine.

It was a come to Jesus moment that reminded black people that stuff is happening in places like Ferguson.  It happened after we saw stuff burning on the stage while rappers spitted lyrics that require a few double-takes to understand.

Bump that! Yo, it’s time to get past the cognitive dissonance regarding the deaths of black people. Williams was talking to those in the room. In doing so, he whipped their ass for failing to move beyond the conflicting messages reflected in some of their music. He challenged them to consider the madness caused by the disparity many of them represent.

Yo, what you gonna do with your success? What does it mean for you to show up, get your 40 acres and two mules while black folks are getting shot down like it’s target practice at the OK Chorale? Excuse the grammar lapse, because that ain’t OK.

Williams was making a statement about the music we make and the distance created by those who refuse to show up when the body count rises. He was reminding us of the radicalism that took place back in the day when people, with all shades of black, were denied what they deserved to be paid. He was reminding all of us that we have a right not to be killed.

There’s nothing to debate when it comes to what Williams said. Right?

Surprise, surprise. Leave it up to confused black people to find a reason to dispute a common sense moment. Let’s make a list.

Williams is not black enough. I mean, look at his mama. Oh, why does it take a light skinned, almost white negro to get folks to listen? You know, he has to be light-skinned to assert credibility. It’s the old argument regarding shades of credibility, or this black person means more than the other.

Bruh, this ain’t Sesame Street. When it comes to racism, all of these things belong with the other. Proving blackness based on the concentration of melanin a person carries fails to acknowledge a simple truth. Racist don’t apply the brown bag test. It only takes one drop of black blood to end up on the wrong side of privilege.

Maybe Dash failed to get the memo. You know, the one signed by all the people who said “Nigger” behind her back. That memo that list all the times doors were locked when she showed up in search of an opportunity.  Or, maybe her curves and good looks were enough, in the minds of some, to create space for her to walk in places denied the women who didn’t fit he G-string.

OMG, stop talking about white people! Really. I mean, really though!  

There must be a special place reserved for black people who condemn other blacks for doing the heavy lifting.

I call it clueless.

Friday, May 27, 2016

When the watchdog becomes a pussycat


Journalism isn’t what it used to be. Some will argue the press has always been rife with a one-sided approach to the news. It’s hard to argue against the contention.

I was taught as a journalism student we are the watch dogs of government.  We are to remain outside the lure of the powerful. We are to escape the temptation of allowing our personal agendas to rise to the surface in a way that questions the integrity of what we report.

Over the years, I’ve been driven to protect John Stuart Mills views related to the “market place of ideas”. In “On Liberty”, Mills challenged people to think about protecting the rights of others to speak as a way to enhance the way we all think. His views are reflected in our nation’s Constitution. We all have the freedom to speak. The press is free to use that speech to protect democracy.

It all works to advance the will of every citizen. Of course, anyone who has studied history knows the Constitution was designed to protect the rights of white men.

I became a journalist because I believe in the truth. I know there are different version of the truth based on how culture and context mold the interpretation. When writing for the Durham Herald-Sun, the paper gave me the tag “Kenney, the voice of many” as a way to emphasize my propensity to piss everyone off at some point along the way.

It was, and is, my passion for the truth that keeps me off the invite list of those enamored with political games. Put another way, I’m not looking for friends. I want to expose the truth.

This has become my problem with the press. I tend to write columns that display the stories others have failed to address. I’m acutely aware of the bias that often shows up. It’s there due to the minimal voices of people who look and think like me. The media has a way of discounting the angles of those committed to the other side of the marketplace of ideas.

Which leads me to my frustration. Again, journalism ain’t what it used to be. Excuse the bad grammar, but I have to say it like the folks on the other side of the street.

The press isn’t acting like a watch dog. They taking on the behavior of a pussycat.

The truth has long been lost due to the work of people like Hanna Giles, James O’Keefe, Peter Schweizer and David Daleiden. These are yellow journalist who thrive on the stupidity of American readers. They hide behind the façade of journalism to create stories aimed at destroying the reputations of politicians and organizations.

Their victims include Planned Parenthood, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) and Hilary Clinton. These folks don’t quit. They have a mission and that mission is to undermine the advances of the liberal agenda.

Who can forget the video released of ACORN employee’s helping a client engage in underage sex trade and prostitution. James O’Keefe released the video to Fox News in 2009. It happened after ACORN successfully registered more than 100,000 voters and attacked predatory lending. The organization folded after losing their federal funding.

It was later determined the video was heavily edited. The exchange between the client and the ACORN employee was staged for the camera. The organization committed no wrong doing. People lost their jobs and an organization doing great work was forced to disband.

This is the new age of journalism.

A similar strategy was used to destabilize Planned Parenthood. David Daleiden claimed the organization profited from fetal tissue. Again, no wrongdoing was committed. It was later determined the video used as evidence was heavily edited.

By then, the damage was done.

Falsehoods and half-truths are used to mold public opinion. The most popular target is Hilary Clinton. Although Clinton has no halo to signify perfection, most of what the public believes is based on deceptive reporting. Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash” is dedicated to destroying the potential Democratic Party nominee.

The book is crammed with falsehoods and half-truths. Schweizer alleges Clinton used her power to benefit financial donors. The need for reform within the Clinton foundation was used to fuel the opinion now prevalent among many Americans. Although Schweizer admits a lack of evidence to support his claims regarding Clinton, the opinions are part of Clintons’ shameful legacy.

The media has failed to debunk these claims. The lies and half-truths show up in debates and during campaign rallies. All it takes is time to investigate the validity of these accusations. The media has forgotten their role as the watch dog of government. We are obligated to hold people accountable for disseminating information proven wrong after a simple fact-check. 

The same lies and half-truth are recycled like Seinfeld reruns. The “circular reporting” of these lies and half-truths, in time, become the fabric of public opinion.

I’m enraged by this due to the source of most of the reporting. It’s coming from the conservative machinery consumed with destroying the progressive political agenda. Some of it comes from the Koch Brothers. Most of it is coming from companies funded by conservatives.

In America, it doesn’t have to be real because the watch dog has become a pussy.

So, to all my progressive minded friends who promote the anti-Clinton agenda, dig deeper before promoting the views of the conservative fake press. Tell the truth when the facts warrant the criticism. Say what needs to be said when everything checks out as legitimate news.

But, as one committed to the truth, there’s a load of manure packed in the middle of what you think is truth.

Like they said in Dragnet (an old TV show), just the facts ma’am.

You may now return to your lie infested programing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reflections on "You did it my nigga"


No he didn’t!

Larry Wilmore ended his comedy routine with “Barry, you did it my nigga.”

My first reaction may surprise you. I cheered on the inside. You know, I couldn’t be to loud with my shout because I knew the nigga police might be listening.  

They wouldn’t understand my inner praise.

I knew white people would condemn the moment because it’s something they can’t say.  They are fully aware of what happens when they say what black folks nurtured in the culture that affirms “you my nigga” say freely.  They know not to cross that boundary, no matter how much they know about life on the black side.

Dread locs, a T-shit with Malcolm X on the front, and a swag that screams hip-hop, fails to secure permission. Nigga please. Don’t go there and don’t even think about it!

But, disdain for that dreadful word isn’t limited to white people. Those old enough to remember being called that word are quick to remind people what hearing it conjures. Those memories are too deep to use the forbidden word. Nope. Not even when it avows a bond between two brothers who understand each other just because they understand each other.

It’s one of those things that many just can’t understand. It’s code for I got your back my nigga. It’s used to assert a love that’s deeper than everything that stands in the way.

It’s a language built from the context of the black experience. Yes, it comes with a troubling past, but it says something that no other word conveys. It defies logic. We shouldn’t use it. It’s disgusting due to how it is used by white people. It’s a reminder of over yonder in Dixie land when black folks dangled from trees like strange fruit.

There’s so many reason not to say it.

But, my nigga says something deep among those who have endured close to eight years of contempt of our nigga the President. That’s right, he’s legitimate black. Through and through like gold that has traveled through the fire. That word suggests enduring without compromise. Wilmore was saying we see you bruh. We know who you are, and we got you. You one of us, and, yeah, you did it my nigga.

You haven’t been tainted by your Ivy league education. No, we don’t agree with all your policy decisions. We have issues with your inability to impact change for black folks. We wish you would have done more, but we see you bruh. We know you may have wanted to do more, but we understand the pressures that comes with having to satisfy white people who can’t get past the fact that you are one of us.

“You did it my nigga,” wasn’t meant for the white folks in the room angry because of what they can’t say. It wasn’t meant for the people with ears plugged after failing to bury the word for the past 20 years. It wasn’t used to disrespect the office. I heard it as a statement regarding a level of respect that comes with witnessing Obama endure all of it.

Yes, all of it.

Yes, every bit of the attacks that come due to not being able to do enough. You did it my nigga even with a Congress and Senate committed to obstruct your agenda. You did it within a culture were hate is intensifying because of racism. Yes, my nigga, you did it even with vicious attacks from black people who want you to lead a charge promoting a pro-black agenda.

You are not perfect. Many are angry that you placed Sister Assata Shakur on the “Most Wanted List”. We deplore your use of drones to murder men and women around the world. I’m disgusted at how you have censured the press in ways that are the worse we have ever seen in America.  We wanted more to reduce black incarceration.

Oh, we want you to pardon our brother – Mumia Abul-Jamal. Get on that one before you leave office. Come on, keep it real Brother Obama.

Many despise how you attack young people in that paternalistic fashion that millennials can’t stand. These emerging leaders hate it when old folks tell them how to think and act. Your arms too short to box with God. Chill bruh.

You did it my nigga is a collective sigh. This thing is about to come to an end. It’s time to affirm what it all has meant for those who didn’t believe they would live to see a black President. We watched them post memes of you as a monkey. We listened to people compare you to Hitler. We listen as people call you the worse President in the history of the United States.

And, we’ve watched hate fuel the nomination of the man who started the birther movement. Are you kidding?

There’s more.

We read stories with comments attacking your daughters. All of this has happened, and we are sick of it. Brother Barack, we see you. We feel you. More than all of that, we are proud of you for enduring all of it with class.

You a bad man. You and Michelle have made us proud. No one has done it better.

How does one convey how it feels to have witnessed you serve our country? You’ve endured the deaths of Trayvon, Mike, Sandra, Freddie and, and there are too many to name. You had to take all of the corruption in police departments and the anger of white people trapped in the evil world of cognitive dissonance.

We see all of it.

So, how do we say it? How do we say it in a way that goes deeper – deeper than many can understand.

Let me think.

Yeah, you did it my nigga.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why black voters pass on the Bernie-olution


What is it about Bernie Sanders that hasn’t translated into widespread support among black voters?

Bernie supporters contend black voters don’t know enough to make a calculated decision. Bernie blamed it on the extreme conservatism in the deep South. Black enthusiasts of the Bernie-olution say supporters of Hilary have been brainwashed by the Democratic Party. In other words, the house Negroes are unwilling to unite with the Negroes in the field.

The language used to expound on the counter-Bernie-olution is divisive and problematic for reasons beyond the common rhetoric intended to explain black voters lack of passion related to Bernie’s message. There is much more in this pot of gumbo. The fixings in this tub aren’t about black stupidity, Uncle Tom and Aunt Tamisha being brainwashed or black folks dancing to the Clinton bullstank because of some deal made long ago.

Black voters aren’t getting burned by the Bernie juice for reasons that can’t be supplanted by the damage of the 1994 Crime Bill. It doesn’t help when a few black intellectuals and celebrities scream like doomsday is coming if we pull the lever for Hilary. It doesn’t help when Bernie supporters throw Michelle Alexanders book “The New Jim Crow” at black folks like it’s the word of God in flesh.

There’s a condescending pitch that feels like white privilege condemning black people for being too dumb to get it. It’s time out for all of that. Let’s get down with the get down.

Bernie assumed his message was enough

As powerful as the messages of Wall Street greed and corruption, the loss of American jobs after the passage of NAFTA and the need to replace Obamacare with a one payer option may be, policy statements and promises aren’t a replacement for the building of authentic relationships.

Bernie waited too long in building the type of soul ties that inspires black voters.  It’s not enough to talk that talk. It’s hard enough for black voters to trust an old white man from Vermont who promises to elevate America beyond the Obama years. It’s painful when he shows up with a platform that reads like a bad review of the first black President’s administration.

It sounded like a dis that needed to be checked.

But there’s more. There was insignificant relationship building connected to those revolutionary claims. Bernie stepped into the black Kool-Aid with an agenda to change the tune of the inner city blues. That’s business as usual in the hood. White folks are known for walking in black space with a formula for change.

This is when you better ask somebody. Before telling black people what they need, spend some time listening to what black people have to say.

Bernie failed to consider the divide between millennials and old school black activist

So, the response to my previous argument is the Bernie camp listened to the concerns of representatives from “Black Lives Matter”. Yes, Bernie added the groups concerns to his platform statement. Good move, but don’t drink that Kool-Aid.

You need to do some homework before signing on that dotted line. In other words, get in there and ask about the dirty laundry. There are some messy dynamics that require pondering before jumping in like “Black Lives Matter” is reflective of the common voice of black people.

Not so.

The truth is there is major tension between some of the millennials in the ‘Black Lives Matter” movement and old school activist. That tension relates to the perception that millennials refuse to listen to and learn from older activist.  In many cases, older black activists are asked to leave the room.

This isn’t new drama. It’s the same type of generational battle that caused tension between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and members of Black Power movement. Back then, young people felt tremendous disdain for those old school ways. They pressed for a new type of revolution that rejected going to jail without fighting back.

Bernie’s support among black millennials was a critical decision that put him at odds with black leaders who feel rejected and disrespected by young leaders.

Bernie failed to frame economic disparity within the context of slavery

“No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” Sanders responded to a reporter with Nando Vila involving his position on reparations. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.”

Sander’s response raised the ire of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist with the Atlantic, wrote a critical response in “Why precisely is Bernie Sanders against reparations?”

“But judged by his platform, Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy,” Coates writes. “Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty. Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize this?”

Sanders has been unable to communicate the extent of systemic racism beyond its impact on economic disparity

Sanders has a strong message for poor black people. It is true that the economic disparity between blacks and whites leaves one wondering if slavery has returned in America. The low wages some earn, coupled with the free labor of the men and women in prison, is a challenge to understand.

The problem is with the assumptions Bernie makes about race.

“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto and to be poor,” Bernie responded during a debate when asked what he has learned about racism.  “You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or get dragged out of a car. I believe as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear: We will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.”

It was a great answer to a complex question. It was honest, heartfelt and comforting. It also left many black people confronted with other questions. Primary on the list is does Bernie understand the black people who don’t live in the ghetto? Oh, why did he use that word?

What is the message for black people beyond Wall Street reform, socialized healthcare and education? What reforms are proposed for black people who confront racism beyond their pocketbooks and the consequences of mass incarceration.

What is the lesson?

The jury is still out regarding the meaning of it all. What is clear is a real revolution demands significant participation from black people.  A band of disgusted black millennials is not enough to bargain for radical change. As much as young people have reason to be outraged by the world we have created for them, there is a level of brokenness carried by their parents that shows up in places that require a sit down and long talk about what it meant back then.

Those stories may be more than most white people can handle during this season of change. Yes, stuff is unravelling before our eyes.  All it takes is a quick glance at the Trump-olution to feel the rage. One has to ask what’s behind the resistance toward old school politics.

For many black people, it has something to do with the brother in the White House. Is America resisting because there’s too much black to feel comfortable. Or, is it a combination of policies that make it impossible to accept business as usual.

Another thing is clear. It all feels like microaggression when confronted about perceived ignorance related to voting.

“Hey dummy, can’t you see you’re voting against your own interest?”, sounds like “Hey, why don’t you take your black ass back to Africa.”

I’m just saying.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why "Bern or Bust" is hard for black people to concede


I understand the “Bern or Bust” movement.

It’s a challenge voting for the other candidate after believing in the revolution.  It’s especially difficult when the other candidate represents everything you fought to defeat. How can you legitimately cast your vote for a person married to Wall Street while willing to bomb a foreign country just to prove who carries the biggest stick?

Those millennials fighting on behalf of change aren’t crazy for refusing to jump on the Hillary bandwagon. They have real concerns that make it difficult to distinguish between Trump and Hilary as the lesser of two evils. They need valid reasons to accept the call for party unity.

Many will refuse to vote. Check your Facebook newsfeed. Articles are circulating that justify handing this election over to the Republicans while building the base for the 2020 election.

That argument works for white voters who don’t carry the legacy of black people who fought for and died for the right to vote.  The willingness to give up is rooted in the type of privilege that fails to concede the hardships taken to get the right to vote.  They don’t have to listen to grandmothers and grandfathers who stood on the other side of police brutality while marching just to obtain the right to vote.

Not voting is a position engrained from a culture shaped in assumptions of power.  Black folks have always compromised when it comes to making these types of decisions. There is something to be said about having the privilege to forfeit an election for the sake of something better in four years. While some millennials are willing to lose to make a point later, black people can’t afford to lose.

Those who fight for “Bern or Bust” fail to consider the loses black people potentially face with each election. There are few safe bets among the people blacks support to become President of the United States.

How can blacks trust the Bern enough to not vote?

The majority of blacks aren’t down with the revolution. Black millennials insist older blacks have failed them, and have sold out to the Democratic Party in a way that jeopardizes the future of the black community.

Those older black voters say they have no reason to trust the Bern. They lack enough evidence to forfeit the election. They ask, what has Bernie done, prior to his bid for President, to give black voters reason to not to vote?

Those older black voters say too much has been invested to justify not voting. Why should black people commit to not voting after the Obama years? What resistance will be established to shield them from the white people fuming after the Obama Administration? The post-Obama years may witness the type of backlash that stirs America back to the days before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

That message has already been spewed. We are witnessing a rise in white hate groups. Some argue that the deaths of unarmed black men, women and children by police, is proof of implicit bias and systemic racism that results in mass incarceration and a disregard of black lives. What will it mean over the next four years to have a president that fails to consider the implications of these matters as it relates to public policy?

Black people have always voted for the lesser of evils. 

There has never been an election, prior to Obama, were blacks felt confident the person chosen understood and honored the concerns of black people. Sadly, many are left troubled by how race and racism impeded Obama’s ability to press forward on an agenda that addressed many of those concerns.

If the first black President wasn’t able to push a national black agenda, why should blacks trust a white President to achieve that goal? Those who feel the Bern believe the difference is Bernie’s socialist perspective. They say his focus on Wall Street, universal healthcare and free college tuition is enough to wait on the revolution.

But, what happens as we wait?

Who gets appointed to the Supreme Court in a Trump administration? What wars will we be left to fight and what will happen to the bond built with Cuba? Will the push to build the wall negatively impact relationships with Mexico and will Trump’s rhetoric regarding the Islamic community impede the way we think about diversity and inclusion?

Will we witness a rise in laws that limit the number of black people who vote? Will a Trump presidency influence advances toward equal pay for women? What happens to reproductive rights and efforts to increase the minimum wage? What can we expect related to protecting the rights of members of the LGBTQ community? What about efforts to grant Christians the right to discriminate against members of other faith traditions?

There’s too much to be lost within the space of four years. This is a point that black voters know by experience. The election isn’t always about supporting the person you believe in the most. It’s often about blocking the person you fear the most.

Black voters know the consequences of electing a President that refuses to acknowledge the power of black voters.

Black people watched Regan kick-off his 1980 presidential campaign in Neshoba, Mississippi, a stone’s throw away from where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Reagan pledged to undermine civil rights. Regan called the Voting Rights Act of 1964 “humiliating to the South” and implied he wouldn’t support it when it came up for renewal in 1982.

Reagan lashed out against affirmative action. He told reporters “I’m old enough to remember when quotas in America existed for the sake of discrimination, and I don’t want to see that again.” He gutted the Civil Rights Commission, slashed federally funded jobs programs and called welfare recipients “queens”

During hearings to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by naming a holiday after him, Reagan said the jury was still out on whether King was a communist sympathizer.

Black people know the damage that can be done in four years. They’ve seen opportunities taken away by legislative action and executive orders. 

Not voting is not an option for black people. The management of black lives doesn’t afford black people the choice of waiting four more years for the revolution to start. Black people have been fighting a revolution since 1619.

People with privilege might be willing to wait for the candidate of the choosing, but black people have been conditioned to select the lesser of evils.

After Obama, it’s back to business as usual.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A black man's confession after watching "Lemonade"

A smart man knows when to keep his mouth shut. When women start talking about their pain, it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself and listen.

It may not be wise for me to step into the conversation involving “Lemonade”, the video album that has people wondering about Becky with the good hair. The album is one of those special contributions that leaves you thinking “well damn”.

Watching it reminded me of how I felt after my first viewing of Ntozake Shange’s “Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf”. It happened in 1977 when I was coming to grips with what it means to walk around with a black man’s body. In that moment, I knew there is a part of me that symbolizes the brokenness of black women.

My very presence conjures an ache that can’t be resolved by the holy dance on Sunday morning. Shange helped me contend with the limits of the faith I preach like a medicine man peddling hope in a bottle.  There’s something black men have done that makes it hard for black women climb up after we beat them down, again, with our words and false assumptions.

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman,” Malcolm X said in Queen B’s video. The images of brokenness are a reminder that I share in the pain they carry. Look at them. Look at them lined up to challenge us to see them for the best they represent. Look at the worst caused by our inability to see beyond our desire to use them more.

Look at their beauty. All of it. More than the brilliance of hue packed on bodies with curvatures envied by others, look at their will to love us. Look at their desire to lift us. And what do we do with it? We abuse the gifts they bring in hope that we will be better because of their yearning to help us see.

I don’t know if Jay-Z cheated. The truth is it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t because of the games black men play with love. The ways we cheat transcend the minor technically of the insertion of a sexual organ. We cheat with our lack of love and support, and do damage to black women by refusing to acknowledge their strength.

I admire the black women who stand in formation with the promise not to take no more. How do they do it? How do they continue to fight for our right to live when we rob them of their will to breathe? Watch them as they hold arms high while screaming “hands up, don’t shoot”. Watch them as they march because another black man dies too soon. How do they do it? Why do they care so much for us when we fail to give back the love they extend like roses seeking the sunlight?

I twinge at the image of Beyonce’ swinging a bat to acknowledge the rage that can’t take no more. My heart is pounding because she walks alone. No black man there to hold her hand while see seeks answers to the misery that causes her to find a place to beat the angst until there reason to believe again.

Why do we do this to our women?

And, why do they believe in us when we lack the will to say thank you. How can we blame them for how they feel? Why is it so hard for us to part lips while screaming I need you? Why no apologizes after we cheat love with an obsession to fill our voids with something other than what they freely give.

“Lemonade” may not be Beyonce’s personal story. My sense is this is the journey black women take in search for more than the alone that keeps them searching for more. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m in no position to speak to what black women carry.

I am a black man. I do know the pain I carry after watching my Queens suffer because of what we have done to them. I do wish I could help soothe the pain. I can’t. I’m limited by my own need for change coupled with being linked to a long history of bondage.  Some of this is mess rooted in generations of self-hate. Most of it remains due to an unwillingness to tell the truth.

We need change.

So, I’m sorry for what I have created. My prayer is to do better. In doing so, I hope that other black men will understand their place in Beyonce’s story. As much as they don’t want to admit it, we play a role in dismantling the hope of black women.

The good news is they carry a strength like no other. They are bound by the power of sisterhood and a faith grounded in the universe.

I love all of you.

Raising my glass of lemonade to you

Friday, April 8, 2016

The crime bill in historical context


The year, 1995
Hundreds of people marched to the Few Gardens housing complex. The sadness in the crowd felt like we had discovered more than we could bare.

Shaquana Atwater was accidently shot and killed. The bullet was meant for someone else. It was a drive-by shooting and the person who pulled the trigger failed to see the baby playing on the porch.
Pictures of the two-year-old in the newspaper and on television made it hard to fight back the tears. We walked to the place where it happened.

The week prior to the march, members of the community packed the room where the Board of Durham County Commissioners meet to demanded more police presence. They wanted to build a collaborative effort to end the cycle of death in their community.

This is the context of the crime bill.  The push for its approval came from people living in communities like Durham’s North East Central Durham. At the time, I served as pastor of the Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church and helped facilitate the North East Central Durham Partners Against Crime Project.

It helps placing opinions within a historical context. For me it’s the same as reading the Bible. I can go with a literal interpretation, or I can consider the culture and context to gain a better understanding regarding the intent of those behind the construction of the original document.

This is the disconnect created when people evaluate the crime bill. Retrospect helps us understand how and why it shouldn’t have been signed into law.  What people miss is the massive pressure placed on lawmakers during the rise of crack cocaine.

"You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter," Bill Clinton told Black Lives Matter protestors at a rally where he was campaigning for his wife.

Protestors shouted "black youth are not super predators," taking issue with a phrase Hillary Clinton used in a 1996 speech about violent crime committed by young people.

Hilary Clinton’s 1996 speech reflected the pain of many back then. It reflected how those living in and working in those communities felt. It’s the language many used to express their rage after the death of innocent bystanders. It’s how we talked that day when we marched to Few Gardens to draw attention to the need for more police protection.

It’s what I said when I spoke that day. I talked about outsiders coming into the community and creating what felt like a war zone.  I talked about people being afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods because of drugs and violent crime.

Mistakes were made back then.

Members of the community pressured the police to take a more aggressive approach to law enforcement.  They demanded random stop points and increased presence.  Residents of the predominately black North East Central Durham community wanted to arrest and punish the men and women they saw as predators. They used that language to describe their experience back then.

This was the language used to describe youth who embraced gang culture in Durham. The documentary “Welcome to Durham” exposed how gangs were a growing fear. In Durham, people like Otis Lyons, founder of Campaign 4 Change, use their personal stories to help youth avoid gang activity.

“I do it basically, to save lives. You know I was a gang banga too,” Lyons, who goes by the name Vegas Don, told Christopher “Play” Martin of Brand Newz.  “You know I sold drugs, so I know that ain’t the route to go, so I’m just trying to save as many lives as I can.”
Youth crime and gangs play a large role in how we process conversations regarding mass incarceration. It's a reality that can't be dismissed.

There were 35 murders in Durham, NC in 1994. A 2004 study from the Governor's Crime Commission documented more than 8,500 gang members and 387 gangs in North Carolina.

Lawmakers, under pressure from citizens, sought ways to strengthen anti-gang legislation. A bill calling for stiffer penalties enforced under the crime bill did little to curtail increases in youth crime.  
"When your social fabric is one where the community doesn't believe in the school system, doesn't believe in county government, doesn't believe in the things that are important, it opens up the door for persons to look at something else to believe in," said Donnie Phillips, a retired juvenile justice officer in Durham, during a community forum at the Hayti Heritage Center in 2008.

One death followed by another.  One funeral, with people crying because death came too soon, followed by another. The stabbing of Kenan Odom, 22, came just six weeks after his cousin Kordero Odum, 19, was shot dead, amplifying the grief of that family.

Odum had been out on bail on a number of charges, including murder charges for his involvement in two separate shooting deaths in 2005. Xavier Moore, 22 was suspected of killing Odum. He was shot outside a Miami Boulevard Wendy’s restaurant in 2005.

Odum was arrested for being one of the four men present when 18 year-old Sesaley Hunter was shot in the head. In April of that same year, he was charged again with being one of the four present when 17 year-old Kashaun Patterson was shot to death.

I still remember the death of Skye Lee, an 18-year old student at Northern High School, killed while her 10-month old child was nearby. Cory Anthony Jiggets, 19, was charged in connection with the slaying. Jiggets is the father of Skye’s child.

Over the years, I’ve attended close to 100 funerals of young people killed. I waited and prayed with the family after Tia Carraway left for a lunch break and never returned. She was found two days later in a wooded area with a bullet in the back of her head.

What do you call young people who commit murders? What do you say to families after they receive the bad news?

Is Bill Clinton right? Are we defending the people who take the lives of other people when we focus too much on the language of rage outside the context of those old statements? I seriously doubt that he possess the moral compass to help us filter through this issues.

More critical than Bill and Hilary's involvement in passing the crime Bill is the black communities participation in moving the Bill forward. Understanding the context in which the bill was passed aides in understanding the manipulation that assured the bills success. Rather than point fingers at the Clinton administration, it becomes more productive to ask what it takes to prevent bills like this being passed again.

This is the meaning of black empowerment.

I stood before the masses and prayed at Few Gardens. I can’t remember the prayer. I do remember the emotions. There was a bunch of God fix it entangled with please show us the way. We didn’t know what to do other than to collaborate with a community under siege.

In 1994, we began to feel the burden related to the rise of crack cocaine in black communities.  We watched as boys transformed into criminals and took weapons to protect their territory.  Mistakes were made back then. Now we can learn from those mistakes