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Archive for the category “Commentary”

“That’s why you black and ugly…”

Somebody is saying that to your baby girl at recess today. And, unless you have told her otherwise, she is going to believe it. 

If you are not in the habit of telling your daughter that she is beautiful, valued and worthy of love and respect, today is a good day to start. 

It is not okay to say “You think you cute!” or, whether being serious or playful, calling her ugly or teasing her about her skin color or her hair texture. You think the world beyond your home isn’t already doing that? It is.

If you haven’t been building your little girl up by OPENLY AND VERBALLY expressing and confessing your love to her with compliments and affirming statements, by the time she reaches me to talk about healthy relationships in 8th to 12th grade, it’s tough trying to lay that foundation. 

The single most important relationship your child will have is the one they have with self. But how they love and envision themselves start with you. Your words matter. 

I am not a parent (yet), but I have incredibly loving parents. Together, throughout my life, they have used language like this:

“Nique, you look so pretty!”

“Hi, ‘my African Queen’ or ‘my Black Princess’!” (my dad says this to me regularly)

“Oh honey, you’re so beautiful.” 

“Nique! I love your hair!” 

“Your hair is so beautiful.”

“I love the way you look.”

“I love you, Nique.” 

Feel free to borrow these statements for your daughter. If you are not accustomed to putting such words together and saying them to your child, though, it could feel clumsy to do so at first. But practice. Maybe it’s even helpful to practice the phrases in a mirror to yourself–chances are, you could use some self-love too. 

And this is important because, when you don’t say it, your daughter is grasping for attention elsewhere. All of those explicit and inappropriate comments about her body coming from strangers when she walks down the street feels good when ain’t nobody ever told her she was pretty. Any “compliment” will do. 

We must do better as aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, teachers and other members of the community in building our babies up–our daughters AND sons. But moms, dads: it must start at home, on a daily basis, vocally expressed with and by YOU. 

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The (Re)Birth of a Nation Against Sexual Violence?

The single, most important thing that I am learning with the growth of this Nate Parker/ The Birth of a Nation scandal is that there needs to be more prevention education around consent and sexual assault with school-age youth.

My day job consists of coordinating and teaching these programs in middle and high schools around the Greater St. Louis area. I can assure you that MOST of the young men and women we encounter– from ALL backgrounds, school districts and socioeconomic levels– are somewhere between clueless and foggy when it comes to understanding what consent looks like.

And just to prove my point, DON’T trust me. DON’T be a 30- or 40- something-plus-year-old person challenging this post without first turning to a nearby teenage son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/neighborhood kid to ask them, point blank, “What is consent?”

Ask them what does it look like… When a girl wears a short skirt? When one or both people have been drinking? When someone has done something nice for them? When someone asks over and over and over again? When one or both people are naked?

If the answer isn’t some version of “So. If s/he didn’t give a clear and enthusiastic YES, that is NOT consent”… they are doing it wrong.



CONSENT is Happy Permission. Period.

If you have to beg, plead, manipulate, coerce, extort, shame, connive or wait for someone to be drunk or go to sleep to touch, fondle or have sex with them– you have committed sexual assault or rape.

If you have said YES (or nothing at all) but –with guilt, shame, fear, sadness, confusion, pity, worry, or doubt– had someone touch, fondle or have sex with you under the aforementioned conditions– you have been violated. And it is NOT your fault. You are not alone. And there are ways to get help. Please send me an email if you need resources.

 

This conversation around what Nate Parker did to a woman when he was an 18-year-old college student isn’t the first and last story we will hear about sexual assault. Sadly, we hear about it much too often. Just as sad is the energy and effort people have put into scandalizing this particular story because Parker is a famous actor who is about to debut a popular film that some people would rather not have gain traction.

Image result for birth of a nation

But why isn’t this story more about protecting more women, men and trans-persons who face the threat of street harassment, sexual assault or rape on a daily basis? Why aren’t we talking about the power that we all have to prevent what happened with Nate Parker from happening again? Why can’t we organize to change policies about how we fund prevention and trauma-informed programs instead of organizing to change minds about going to see a damn film.

Frankly, I don’t care if you go and see The Birth of a Nation or not. However, I DO CARE about how you will address the importance of consent and ending rape culture with the next generation of impressionable 18-year-olds going to college and beyond. We all should care about that.

The Blacks and Blues

“…we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So…we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” — Jesse Williams

My curiosity made me do it. My head rested on the small of Jermar’s back while I read and circled and scribbled in the margins of a friend’s manuscript, I only half listened to whatever video Jermar watched on social media. But, in the next moments, I fully heard his sigh, felt his body heave and recognized the sorrow in his voice when he said damn, another black man shot by the police…this time is really bad. 

I had to ask him three times, each instance more urgent, before he reluctantly handed me his phone while quietly advising me against watching the video.

I watched the first 30 seconds, un-phased by the imagery as I’d seen it before on the video with the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island concrete; I’d seen it before when Officer Casebolt wrangled baby girl’s bikini-clad body to the ground and sat atop her like she was a rabid Rottweiler; I’d seen it this summer in St. Louis as I slowed my car to watch black boys with tank tops and shoulder length dreadlocks being roughly mishandled for whatever latest sin in addition to their skin they’d committed against society.

In those first 30 seconds I was numb because of Black Lives Matter protests, because of election year rhetoric, because of biased media, because of community violence, rank ass gun laws, local news, family matters, wedding planning, checkbook balancing, what to pack for lunch tomorrow morning…

But somewhere between 31 seconds and the end of the video, Alton Sterling is shot while on the ground beneath two police officers.

A woman in the background– I imagined her initially defiantly videotaping the scene, talking shit as she filmed it–  is now grief stricken, horrified, crying and screaming in angst and disbelief as she has just watched in real time what she’d perhaps previously only seen on tv.

I had to catch my breath along with her. I got out of bed and paced the floor. I felt the water well up in my eyes. I told Jermar he was right. I went to the living room and sat on the couch. I opened my computer and searched online. I saw Alton’s big brown face, his gold teeth, his wife and kids. I read about his criminal history, the testimonies of his friends, an account of the scene from a witness.

I thought about the black men I know, some who peddle goods for a living, others who are coming or have already returned home from prison, their gold teeth and round brown faces. I felt the sadness and frustration rise up within me once again.

Don’t talk to me about justice or peace. Don’t tell me to be “this mad” about the violence that is perpetrated in our community—I am already angry about that. Don’t point your finger at this man, Alton Sterling, and tell me that he didn’t deserve the same chance to live and love and work and care for his children that a gun toting, shit talking, big, ole white man would have had.

White privilege is knowing that for all of the inappropriate, disgusting and downright unlawful shit a man with blonde hair and blue eyes could do without punishment, a black man would get killed for doing half of it.

And this is domestic abuse: to be terrorized, mishandled and murdered in America by the people who are supposed to protect us. There are no other resources, no place to take shelter, no safety plans to put in place for Black people against the police. There is nowhere for us to go. All we can do is stand up and fight.

On Losing That Lovin’ Feelin’

“The call for forgiveness is a painfully familiar refrain when black people suffer. White people embrace narratives about forgiveness so they can pretend the world is a fairer place…Black people forgive because we need to survive. We have to forgive time and time again while racism or white silence in the face of racism continues to thrive.” —“Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof,” –Roxane Gay

Today I considered forgiveness and love and hopefulness.  I figured that the rest of America was already over our grief—ready for us to bury the Charleston nine and all of the emotional baggage that came along with it.  The rest of America is probably hoping that this last racial showdown will finally shut us up, shove us back into submission and help us shelve our discontentment with living our subpar lives.

Since Sunday’s post about why I need the black church more than ever, I’ve considered finding ways to make myself comfortable again– maybe figure out how to return to posting fun, lighthearted stuff on social media these days; perhaps explore new ways to quiet my spirit in spite of the unrest I have been feeling. After all, I had already decided to stop watching the news, limit my internet intake and listen to only gospel tunes about love, mercy, grace and forgiveness so I can, hopefully, feel some of what the Jackson, Lance, Pinckney, Sanders, Hurd, Coleman-Singleton, Doctor, Simmons and Thompson families felt when they, what seemed like, so easily went to forgive the killer of their loved ones only two days after they were murdered.  I had been trying, really hard, to wedge myself back into the “American way” of dealing with a national tragedy that wreaks of racism and deeply affects the Black community.

But then I read the piece, “Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves,” by Creative Nonfiction author, Kiese Laymon, which was published online yesterday by The Guardian.  Laymon shares a conversation that he had with his grandmother after the Charleston nine’s family members’ apologies were publicly made and praised. Laymon carefully transcribes the stories of his grandmother, an apparent God-fearing woman who loves a good curse word every now and then, living in the state where my grandmother was born and raised.

My grandma, today an 87-year-old elder from Jonestown, Mississippi. When I visited my grandma’s hometown as a child there were barely-paved streets and shanty-roof homes in neighborhoods full of working-poor black folks who hadn’t moved North during our country’s Great Migration from the South.  My grandma, who moved to St. Louis before my mom was born and some years after she finished school after third grade, came and worked from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s doing one of the only few trades Black women learned down south—she cleaned homes for white people.

My grandmother, an 87-year-old Christian woman, who painstakingly gets dressed for church on Sunday mornings– and any other time if she could get a ride to a service— was probably not too much unlike Mother Susie Jackson who, also at 87 years old, likely went through the same strains to get to a sparsely attended Wednesday night Bible study in an old A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Thoughts of Mother Susie Jackson’s death among the other eight who were slain now paired with these stories from Kiese Laymon’s grandmother keep setting me back on my attempts to embrace the love and kindness and extensions of sympathy from white people across the country who would like us to grieve as quietly and as peacefully as possible. The white Christians who sang hymns and lit candles and knit shawls and wrote condolences in exchange for no riots, no uncomfortable conversations about race and a prompt return to business-as-usual in the U.S. by this Thursday, a full-week after the domestic terrorist attack.

But, in spite of myself and my heartbreak for my people, my community; regardless of my disenchantment with ideals around the words “equality” and “reconciliation;” despite this ball of pessimism towards phrases like “Love Wins” or “Love Conquers All,” I intend to find the strength to conjure up some warm fuzzies for the white people who befriend me on Facebook and are looking for me to return to my jolly-ole, social media self.  I’m going to get some willpower to applaud Christians, both Black and white, who earnestly believe that their familiar fear and damning discomfort, respectively, could be dispelled if we only seek God for guidance and resort to prayer as the sole action against injustice.  I am about to work on stretching myself even thinner, pushing my pride aside a little further, and opening my mind a little broader and see if that will do me some good. In the meantime, I hope the world will be patient with me.

Why, This Sunday, I Need the Black Church More Than Ever

Justice requires those who suffer the least to speak up the most. –Steve L. Robbins

In mere hours, people across the country will be sitting in pews. I’ve been debating if I will also attend church today– wake up as the sun warms my room, find a nice Sunday dress and go to a service to hear something that will comfort my soul.

If I had to go, I’d likely go out and find a church full of folks who look like me to worship with. Because it is at another A.M.E. church, or among some COGIC congregants or maybe some Southern Black Baptist folk that I would find some healing for my heartache after this week’s tragic events.  I don’t think there will be a Black clergyperson in America who won’t enter her/his church without pangs in their chests, lumps in their throats and a weight on their shoulders.  I believe that, this morning, all sermons that will be preached from pastors of those aforementioned pulpits will be anguish-laden battle-cries in sanctuaries full of folks who are already just as weary and fed up with fighting as they are.  And, in the end, the solution will be—as it always is—to watch and to pray.

And as much as I believe that racial reconciliation should begin among the righteous first; that the integration of our churches would be a real testament to moving towards a post-racial society; that conversations about racism, inequity and injustice should start with people of faith—I, frankly, don’t believe that there will be enough non-Black church leaders who will properly address what happened at a Bible study in an A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday night. Sure, there will be moments of silence.  Of course folks are going to offer up some prayers for the families of the nine innocent lives that were slain. Yes, they will utter petitions for God to heal our land and our hearts.

But not enough non-Black church leaders will apologize for not promptly talking about why Ferguson, New York and Baltimore went up in smoke after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. Not enough non-Black church leaders will be sorry about not inviting open dialogue about why, for months now, African-Americans have been angrily protesting for all Americans to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter.  Not enough non-Black church leaders will stand in front of their congregation with their heads hanging low, a crackle in their voices and admit that, they too, struggle with racism, white supremacist values  or, perhaps, more simply, just understanding the plight of their darker-skinned brothers and sisters.  Not enough non-Black church leaders will admit that they have a hard time grappling with the idea of “Solidarity” with communities of color around issues that negatively affect our ways of life and/or obstruct our paths to achieving the American dream. Not enough non-Black church leaders will admit that they are in need of God’s love to soften their hearts towards us, their browner counterparts, in order to move past our darkness and into the Light.

In the June 19th Gleanings Section of Christianity Today, the magazine shared some words from Austin Channing Brown’s, “The Only Logical Conclusion” that were especially moving and resonated deeply for me. Here, I have shared what I’ve gleaned from CT’s snippets:

“…The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated…Because when the driving force of such a massacre [sits] in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.

The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words, ‘It’s in my family,’ ‘It’s in my church,’ ‘It’s in my soul.’ ” 

What will you preach about today? How will you challenge/inspire/encourage your church leaders and fellow congregants to really talk about racism in America and the church’s responsibility to address it? How can we seek to reach across the thresholds of our racially homogenous churches and create dialogue and form real relationships with other Christians who look and live differently from us?

Because it is time.

Why We Must Not Go Quietly…

“Yeah, we’re gonna tear it up/ We gonna trash it up/ Gonna round it up/

Gonna shake it up/ Oh no no no, I will not lie down/

Turn this thing around/ I will not go quietly…” –Don Henley

When, Black America, did we go hoarse? When did we become so consumed with Being Mary Jane and rocking 2 Chainz that we could allow our community to be subject to this country’s greatest Scandal? When did we become so afraid of discomfort that we would allow ourselves to be comfortable with injustices that plague our daily lives and our well-being?

And this isn’t just about Michael Brown’s cold blooded murder and Darren Wilson’s exoneration.  This isn’t just about Tamir Rice and our boys’ inability to play cops and robbers with toy guns in a neighborhood park. This isn’t just about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, or the choke hold that killed Eric Garner, or the conviction of Marissa Alexander for telling her abuser to back off with a warning shot.

Oh, it is much bigger than this.

This is about voter ID laws in Southern states– laws that serve to reenact a new Jim Crow era by disproportionately disenfranchising black folks, immigrants and formerly incarcerated men and women from using their voices at the polls. This is about Republican governors’ refusal to expand Medicaid in half of the states across this country, once again disproportionately affecting the accessibility to affordable healthcare in impoverished and underserved communities full of people who are dark like me or who speak languages too foreign for the GOP to care about.  This is about crack carrying heavier charges than cocaine and about what kind of trouble weed in the hood could get you versus pot in the suburbs.  This is about HIV growing fastest among people of color than any other group. This is about an entire nation blatantly disrespecting our President on all fronts because he is a Black man.

And yet, there has never been a time when our people have acted as cowardly as they do today.  Are we so distracted by raunchy rap music and ratchet reality TV that we have forgotten ourselves?  Are we so busy filling the pews of mega-churches that we can no longer preach about our rightful place in this world? Are we so enamored by Facebook posts, Instagram images and Twitter tweets that we do not read in black and white the words of Garvey, Washington, X, Davis, King?—Because they still ring true today.  Oh, yes—their words still ring true today.

And they would not have gone quietly, lying down and allowing the powers that be to walk all over us so we can feel a false sense of peace.  They would not have sat in front of their televisions, lit up with scenes from protests and peace rallies, and pray for it all to blow over soon.  Because it will not blow over soon.

Today, we are more powerful than we have ever been. With social media, cell phones and greater solidarity across color lines than ever before, we have the potential to mobilize, organize and create a force to be reckoned with.  This is not the time to be quiet, to be cowardly, to be fearful.  We must be strong, vigilant, active and brave if we are to pursue fight for justice.  It is time for us to stop living off of yesterday’s legacy and start building up our own.

“We must organize for the absolute purpose of bettering our condition, industrially, commercially, socially, religiously and politically. We must organize, not to hate other men and women, but to lift ourselves, and to demand respect of all humanity. Our goal is not to create offense on the part of other races, but to be heard and to be given the rights to which we are entitled.  We must determine among ourselves that all barriers placed in the way of our progress must be removed, must be cleared away for we desire to see the light of a brighter day.”Marcus Garvey, an excerpt from “The Future as I See It.” (I took liberties and heavily edited, revised and modernized this excerpt– and I take full responsibility for it.)

How to Make Noise? Contact and get involved with these organizations:

POWER

PURP (People Utilizing Real Power)

National Action Network

PICO National Network

NAACP

RAGE AGAINST THE SYSTEM

For the past couple of weeks, I have been deeply affected by the slaying of Michael Brown which happened right in the backyard of my hometown. I have followed and watched the turn of events with my stomach in knots, hoping that the fervor for justice continues in Ferguson, St. Louis and across the nation. Desirous of speaking out about this tragedy and the way Ferguson’s police force, the media and people in the community have responded, I wanted to publish a blog post about what I was feeling.

But then, one day last week, I was granted an opportunity to, once again, lead a creative writing workshop at Philadelphia FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice. For our writing exercise, I asked participants, a group of about thirty people, most of them black men, to respond to the questions raised against police brutality and the argument that we, as a community, should first focus on “black on black” aggression. I gave the writers an option to choose from which angle to write an open letter to the community at large.

The ICJ writing group had plenty to say and I had to encourage them to put all of that excitement on paper.
They did. And then they gave me permission to edit and publish it here on LLFW. I am very excited to share this work and provide a platform for the writers of ICJ.

**Please note that while these pieces are the views of each individual writer of Philadelphia FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice it does not necessarily represent the views of Philadelphia FIGHT, The Institute for Community Justice or the keeper of LLFW.

 

A Letter to My People by Sheewo
My fellow brothers and sisters, we need to wake up and realize that we are under attack. Slavery may be over by law, but it is still alive in the mind and hearts of a lot of those in power around us. Look around you. They don’t want us to succeed; they don’t want us to make it; they don’t want us to grow. They lock us away or outright kill us. They keep their foot on us and we attack each other out of anger and frustration instead of attacking the actual enemy at hand.

My black brothers and sisters, this has to stop!

We have to learn to stick together and keep each other alive. We have to take a stand and let it be known that we are worthy, that we are strong, that we possess the ability to excel past the negative stereotypes that have been stamped on us from birth. It’s time for us to raise up and fight back or they will make sure that we are exterminated. Together we are a superpower and that is why they try to destroy us.

My black brothers and sisters, it may be time for war. Our lives and freedom are still at stake.

dont shoot boys

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“Gun control means using both hands in my land. We as African Americans are being hunted. We are the targets and there has never been justice on these stolen lands.”  –DINK

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THIS IS WAKE UP PEOPLE! –by Pattie P.

What is happening in our world today as a people?
Marvin Gaye would say, “What’s Goin’ On?!”
The police are killing our black people
Our kids for no reason.

Please WAKE UP PEOPLE
If we as a people do not do something soon
Our next generation
Will be extinct.
WAKE UP!

 

So What He Was Unarmed –by Khalil Nurdeen Al’mu’min

I am so, so, so tired of hearing, reading or seeing that another man has been slayed by the city’s biggest and most powerful gang—the police. The crime fighters and community servants have declared an open season on us young black men, Trayvon Martin and now, Michael Brown.

Not to take away from all the other tragedies that have manifested where the genesis of the situation where young black men who engage in conflict end up sparking bullets and putting holes in our young men— black men who are fathers, sons, brothers, future leaders, freedom fighters, writers, artists.

Personally, I believe that we need to police the police and crime in our own neighborhoods. We need to take personal responsibility for our own welfare and community. Violence begets violence, and surely that is not the only alternative. I favor a healthy balance of physical might and verbal might.

Still, how does an unarmed young man get slayed by a trained crime-fighting public servant? I thought that the first order of these trained and armed professionals is to protect the public, not rob them, rape them or slay them.

By ANY and ALL Means Necessary –by C. Casey
Why not start telling women who are raped that it’s their fucking faults for wearing such sexy skirts? Why not tell the poor four-year-olds who are being molested that it’s their fucking faults for being so cute? Saying it was Michael Brown’s fault that the police killed him is the equivalent of just that.

Saying that black on black crime is something to look at is a way to divert us as a people from seeing the truth: We are now being exterminated by any means necessary– jail, plain out murder or some sort of biological warfare.

God bless Martin Luther King and what he has done, but I think Malcolm X’s spirit needs to rise again because our children and their children are in danger and we must stop this—by ANY and ALL means necessary!!!

 

I Don’t Trust the Cops –by Mister Man
Cops have been killing blacks for years. This young man, Mr. Brown, had his hands up in the air. Now this young man can’t go to college, can’t raise a family, he can’t wish “happy birthday” to his mom, dad, sister and brother.

We all get looks from cops all the time. They can’t be trusted. I don’t feel safe around cops and there are a lot of people who feel the same way—they don’t trust the cops.

I can’t believe they shot this young man in cold blood with no answers. Did they even apologize? Did they say they were sorry, please forgive me? Did they say, please forgive me God?

Me, myself—I don’t trust cops.

 

Aren’t We Bigger than “Black on Black?” –by Maurice 18
What I think about black on black crime is that it is ridiculous.
I mean everybody coming at the police for killing us—not to say that they are right—but we are killing ourselves. Every day, a black person is killing another black person.

Not to defend the police, but everyone is always coming at the cops, but we are not coming at each other. Black on black crime is the biggest stock in America and it is only going to continue to grow unless we as a people wake up. That is what we must do, “Wake Up!”

We can come together to smoke crack or weed, but we can’t come together as a people and get along with each other. Just a group of us—black people—sitting together, sharing good times without a fight or someone getting shot or stabbed.
I believe we could make that happen if we stop thinking we are better than each other.

Wake up, black people. Wake up.

W.A.R. –by Joel Batchelor

This is a declaration of war.

We are no longer able to function as a society within a society without a life-giving, cathartic battle. Frantz Fanon said that armed rebellion would do more than just free us—it would be the salve that heals the psychological scars that plague us. In other words, to go to war would be “cathartic.”

We—and I mean “Black folks”—are the only animals on this planet that will not fight an enemy that we have clearly identified. No other animal does what we do. No other animal has a known enemy that kills its members’ children and does not retaliate.

We are at war. It is high intensity, brutal and genocidal. What other examples do you need besides America’s own history? What more do you need than manifest destiny?

We are already at war.

Lookin’ Ass Nigga: How Black Entertainment is Selling “Niggas” for Free

There has already been a lot of talk about notorious female rap star, Nicki Minaj’s new single, Lookin’ Ass Nigga, since it dropped a few days ago. And rightfully so: Just in time for Black History Month, the artist and her team thoughtfully selected an image of Malcolm X which has been coined “By Any Means Necessary” and depicts him holding a gun and looking out of a window. There is going to be plenty of dialogue about this in the days to come, I assure you and already, in less than twenty-four hours since the video’s debut, Minaj has issued a lackluster apology to her critics. Of course, I have many issues with all of this, but none of it is what I want to address here.

Instead, I would like to point out the fact that there are too many “niggas” in mainstream rap and hip-hop music.

A day after the song’s debut, TIME Magazine’s Entertainment Section praised Nicki Minaj for getting back to her “rhyme-spitting roots” and referred to the lyrics of the new single as “wickedly spat put-downs and punchlines.”

Really? Because all I heard was “nigga.”

And I’m sure that’s all a lot of listeners will hear, whether they are fans or not, whether they are black or white, whether they live in the city or suburbs—they will hear Nicki Minaj, watch the video of her fishnet covered bubble butt balanced on a chair and, after a couple of views, learn a few lines and sing-along—“niggas” included.

Am I the only one who thinks that with the racial integration of hip-hop (so much so that three of the four Grammys won this year by rap/pop music duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, were in rap categories), the n-word is heavily overused and sensationalized by black artists?  And if the defense is going to say that it is a form of expression and that we have a right to give the word its power, am I the only one who thinks that if the word won’t be eradicated then it should be completely desensitized?

I can’t be the only one who thinks that fighting for the sanctity of the n-word while simultaneously recklessly using the word makes us look incredibly incompetent to the rest of the world.  Here it is that one half of us demands reprimands and jobs when white folks—the same people who are now buying and listening to Lookin’ Ass Nigga, Niggas in Paris and every other “Nigga” song out there—utter the word publicly while the other half of our community laces every other line of their chart-topping hits with the n-word.  So are we also supposed to pretend that people don’t sing-along to songs anymore just because they pause at the word when they’re around us? C’mon.

Listen, I am just as uneasy as the rest of us when I hear non-blacks say the word.  It is incredibly uncomfortable.  But as rap music becomes pop music, interracial relationships become more prevalent and America pushes towards a “post-racial society”, I think it’s time we have a real, honest conversation about what we are going to do with this word. We can’t keep pretending that the non-black kids of this new generation aren’t saying/singing it behind our backs, whether endearingly or maliciously. And we can’t just pretend that “You just can’t” is a sufficient enough answer when we confront them and, as a response, they ask why they can’t say it.

Yes, there are much bigger issues, implications and answers.  There is, there is! But we need to start with our music—or maybe the whole entertainment industry.  Can rap music eradicate the word? Can actors stop using it in movies? Comedians in their stand-up performances? Us in our everyday vocabulary? Does this seem like a tall order? Maybe. But presently, black entertainment seems to be selling “niggas” for free and giving away our dignity.

Is it just as hard to desensitize the n-word?  What are we preserving by keeping the word around? What have we accomplished by dropping the –er and adding an –a? What do you think about the n-word and it’s supposed sanctity in the black community? Thoughtful and constructive comments/criticism welcome.

How I Fell in Love with “Shaniqua”: Why African-Americans DON’T Need New Names

I spent my formative years in the small predominately black city of East Saint Louis, Illinois.  I grew up with friends whose names were Shaunta, Kwintessa, LaCreshia, Tameka, Ariana, Tanisha, and Miesha.  The boys who chased us had names like Lamont, Tyrone, Demetrius, Terrell, Malik, Darnell and Jamal. Everything about what we called each other felt right.  These were our names and we carried them with pride, correcting pronunciation when warranted, enunciating each consonant and vowel, spelling it when the listener didn’t return the right phonetic sounds associated with our identity.     

It wasn’t until I moved to the suburbs that I realized the shame that had been misappropriated upon such names.  How both black and white folks with plainer names snickered at those of us who had more intricately “ethnic” names. It was when I shared classrooms with the Sarahs, Emilys, Kates, Connors, Dustins and Lukes that I embraced nicknames—dropping “-nique” and adding an extra “e” to “Ze” or taking on the highly regarded Buddhist term which also happens to be the first syllable of my name. 

As I got older and my social circles continued to diversify, I became more lenient about how others referred to me, readily offering “Zee” as an alternative during quick introductions and in insignificant small-talk interactions. 

Then, last year, these things happened:

  • A reporter dismissed Quvenzhane’ Wallis’ name altogether and wanted to call her by the character she will play in an upcoming movie   
  • Following that debacle, this quote from Somali poet, Warsan Shire surfaced:

“Give your daughters difficult names.

Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue.

My name makes you want to tell me the truth.

My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”

  • At an event, a stranger scolded me when I allowed a man to automatically shorten my name after I had uttered my full first name to him twice
  • I spent two weeks in Nigeria and attended a workshop in Lagos with Damilola, Okechukwu, Timendu, Kelechi, Arinze, and Uchenna who represented the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa tribes
  • And then I went to Uganda for three months and hung out with Margaret, Ruth, Alice, Ben, Mark, and Alex – my Baganda, Bakiga, and Acholi friends who preferred their “Christian” names versus the names of their ancestors
  • I had a conversation with a close Ugandan friend who gave her daughter an African name after a talk with her husband where he suggested that they give their children African names. She quoted his question, “Why should we take on the names of white people? Would they take on ours?”

Somewhere in the midst of these experiences, I began to see the beauty of African-American names, both subtle and extreme.  Yes, even the stereotypical “black” names that are used in sitcoms and parodies—the Shananaes and Shaniquas and Tyrones; the names we chuckle at when reading it on applications and Facebook profiles; the names we laugh and ask, “Now what were his/her parents thinking about when they named that child that?”

I will tell you what they were probably thinking: They were probably thinking of a unique and royal title for their child—something strong, significant, and complicated, much like our history, our legacy, our obstacles.  They were probably thinking of a name that curls and catches on the tongue with the clicks and slits reminiscent of the languages we lost long ago.  They were probably proud of their blackness, their heritage, their culture and they made the decision NOT to give in to the societal pressures of dumbing down a name to something common and insignificant to appease the naysayers.

Today, I think these names deserve an apology and applause—even if only in our hearts and even if these are names that we wouldn’t choose for our own children. Let us uplift the parents who are brave enough to bestow such a brand of names on their children who, in turn, should be able to bear them proudly.       

White Privilege at UCU

This is an Opinion article (before the published edits) that I recently submitted to Uganda Christian University’s campus paper, The Standard, and was subsequently published this week (21 October 2013).  In 2008, I studied here with BestSemester.com’s Uganda Studies Program (USP) offered through my alma mater, Eastern University and I am currently in Mukono visiting the campus often working on a personal writing project.  I welcome your (constructive) feedback, comments, and questions. 

This may be uncomfortable, but I think it’s time we talk about “white privilege” at UCU.  Although it is rarely addressed publicly, people on campus—Ugandan, white, and other—are not oblivious to it.

I am an “other” though I am often mistaken for a Ugandan.  However, I am a dark-skinned Black-American woman.  My host mom often reminds me that if I stay quiet, I can pass for a Muganda woman and move around like any other Ugandan.  Mostly, I am grateful for this, especially when I am around my fairer friends who lament about being so obviously different and the unwanted attention it regularly attracts.  Alternatively, I have also been engaged in conversations where I have heard white students (and sometimes staff), either proud or embarrassed, talk about the passes they receive or rules they are allowed to break because they are bzungus. 

For example, in a recent conversation, an instructor told me how some of her students privately expressed elation about having a white professor versus a Ugandan one.  In another conversation, where I complained about going to the library because of the mandatory bag and water bottle check, my white friends said that they were rarely stopped and asked to check their items.  And finally, in light of the heightened security checks at the gates of UCU, one USP’er reluctantly confessed that he has frequently been allowed to bypass the line and enter without scrutiny.  Whether all of this happens because of deference or indifference, it seems white visitors are able to move around with a little more freedom and favor than their darker counterparts.

As a USP’er in 2008, such occurrences paired with my own experiences of racial inequity that is ever-present in the U.S. frustrated me and somehow left me struggling with Christianity and the imagery of Jesus Christ as represented across nations.  Is it because white people so closely resemble the image of God that we are compelled to revere them?

With the help of prayer, personal revelations, and the Word of God, I eventually reconciled my issues around Jesus Christ and the color line.  The Bible speaks repeatedly to the uniqueness of us all and, yet, our still undeniable likeness to Him.  From all men and women being created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) which also means that we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), to the New Testament promise that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2) and that Christ’s purpose was “to create in Himself one new man out of the two” (Ephesians 2:15), the Scriptures helped me understand that it is not God’s will for any of us to be treated differently—whether it is for better or for worse.  But rather, especially as Christians, that we strive to treat each other the same—with love, respect, and honor, upholding the same expectations for all peoples.  I hope that at UCU the focus will not be to please those in our world who are lighter, but to always aspire to please the One who is The Light of the world.

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