On the Real State of the Union

Let me just put it out there. I am bothered that the President of the United States (et al.) has seemed more preoccupied with the events in the Middle East than he is with the chaos occurring in our own backyard. Black men, just like him, are being forced to live in fear of being terrorized and killed by police officers who walk around with impunity. I understand that the President is not the president of “Black America” and all that jazz, and that is absolutely true. But when your own house is in disarray, there needs to be a renewed focus on what’s going on here. Isn’t this what the Secretary of State is for? Let John Kerry handle ISIS for now. At the moment, the people who pay taxes and seek to live with liberty and for the pursuit of happiness here need their fearless leader. We need the President to set the tone for executive leadership. We need him to be strong and decisive, even in such a tense situation. We need action, not sympathy. Mr. President, this is your house, and those who represent you – cops – are crooked. They are just as bad as ISIS and are a hell of a lot closer. Quit turning the other cheek and fix it.

source: Google Images

Here are two letters I sent, one to the President, and one to Hank Johnson, US Rep for the 4th District of Georgia.

Dear Mr. President,

I have always been your supporter. When America elected you as its leader, I felt the heavens open up. However, the recent events in Missouri have dampened that aura. So, I’m going to lay it down, Morehouse Man to Morehouse Man. I am bothered at the fact that your professional attention has been paid to ISIS and not to the events in your backyard. The police officers of this country operate in corruption, and I know that you aren’t the President of “black America,” but if we ever needed you to speak up, this is the time. I understand Atty Gen Holder has done his best in the matter, but things need to change. YOU are the head of the executive branch. How can you be so concerned about what’s happening across the street when your own house is messed up? Black men in America are being terrorized by those people who have been charged with protecting and serving. Who are we to depend on when we fear walking down the street, shopping in a Wal-Mart, eating Skittles, etc? What shoulder can we cry on? Where are you, Mr. President? What happened to your audacity? We, the black men of this country, need you to set the tone for law enforcement in this country. We need you to set the tone for fatherhood and masculinity. I know that the issue is complicated, but you alone have the capacity to cause change from the top down. It’s not Congress this time that needs to act. It’s you who we look to.

Signed,
Your Faithful Supporter

Dear Rep. Johnson,

I am a new resident here. I just began my tenure as a PhD student at Emory, studying literature. I am also an alumnus of Morehouse College, but am originally from Texas. I am writing to you because I am concerned about the President’s response to the events in Missouri and also what you are doing to address the issue of police brutality and profiling of black men in this country. I am an avid supporter of the President, but I am concerned that the White House is more concerned with events across seas than the chaos in our own home. It bothers me and frightens me, as a black man, that the leader of our country does not offer a shoulder to cry on or a strong arm against such oppression. What are you doing on your end to address the issue in our district here in Georgia? How can you work with state officials and city officials – and the President – to ensure that we can trust our law enforcement officials once again? Are you a human being, or are you just a lazy Congressman, like the rest of the lot we pay?

I’m not afraid to show these letters or to ask critical questions of our elected representatives. We should all communicate with our reps. Not that they’re going to lift a finger to help if it’s not financially fruitful, but hopefully, they at least listen. There is power in numbers.

That’s all.

A Dream Deferred

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked Langston Hughes.

source: Google Images

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus meets a man named Simon Peter – one of my favorite biblical figures. The story that is recounted by all the gospels goes a little something like this: Jesus sees Peter and his brother Andrew out on the water. They are fishers, but aren’t catching any fish. Jesus hops on the boat, tells them to cast out their nets on faith, and by his word, they have more fish than they can handle. Then Jesus pitches his plan for their lives: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

A lot of people talk about chasing dreams and achieving success, realizing what you’ve been working hard toward. That all sounds good, but I had this revelation this morning: Would you give up on your dreams in order to chase what God has called you to do?

Peter (and Andrew) had a dream of being a fisher, but not just any fisher. Peter wanted, all his life, to be the best fisher the world had ever seen or would ever know. He wanted to be the model fisher for all other aspirant fishers to follow. Peter wanted to grow old and wealthy, passing down his trade to his descendants. He wanted to re-write the handbook on fishing based on his own hard work and experiences in the field. One could say that Peter was on his way to a self-help industry conglomerate – how to catch fish the right way. Peter had his ups and down. He had won his competitions and lost his share. But Peter had never achieved his dreams, his goals. But he wasn’t done yet.

When Jesus finds Peter, Peter has not given up on his dreams. This is important. Sometimes, we tend to believe that God calls us when we are down and out, when our back are up against the walls, when we’ve exhausted all the other options. But look closely and you’ll see that Peter is still out on the water, chasing his dreams. But God.

Jesus shows up and shows him another path and places a calling over his life that he can take or leave. Jesus tells him that he’ll make him “fishers of men” which, of course, is a metaphor for what Peter will become later. But he’s speaking to Peter (and Andrew) in a language they can understand. He tells Peter that he’ll have everything he’s ever wanted, IF he would just follow him. Jesus tells Peter that the calling that God is placing over his life is more important that the dream Peter set out to achieve for himself. The calling will reap greater rewards than Peter’s dream ever could.

Often we have big plans for ourselves and often these goals are molded by what we expose ourselves to in this world. Your dream might be to own your own business. That’s awesome. But guess what, if that’s not what God has called you to do, then you’re going to fail. Peter wasn’t catching any fish. He had been working toward his goal, his dreams, for years and still nothing. He’d been to fishing school. He’d read all the fishing books. He’d done this and done that. He might as well have had a PhD in the psycho-economics of fishing.

We have to be conscious that our goals and God’s plans are aligned. We must keep praying that what we do is in accordance to His Will and for His glory. When we set out to achieve anything, we should first pray that it is in God’s will that it be done, and if we don’t get that confirmation from the Holy Spirit, then maybe it’s not for you to have. Not yet anyway.

You see, Peter got the confirmation when Jesus stepped aboard his boat and told him that he’d become a fisher of men, if he chose to follow. Peter wanted to be a fisher, Jesus said, “I’ll make you a fisher…” just a new and improved kind – one that you may not be used to, that may ruffle your feathers a bit, that may cause you to think outside your comfort zone, that may tempt you to doubt and deny Christ, but one that will connect you to the promises, protection, riches and glory of the kingdom of God.

Here’s another question: When you set out to chase your dreams, are you doing it for God’s glory or for your own? When you reach that level of success toward which you strive, will you be satisfied with sacrificing it all for God?

That’s why I asked the initial question. If you are out there grinding trying to shine, make sure that you’re in prayer about it. And if God tells you to stop, do something else, then you’ve got to switch gears. Trust him.

Peter trusted Jesus and all he had was his word. He saw Christ work wonders, and he believed in Him to guide him in the right direction. Did Peter understand what he was getting into? No. Did Peter understand who this man was who climbed into his boat and made them catch a bunch of fish? No. Could Peter see the future? No. When God placed a calling in Peter’s life, Peter jumped up and changed his course instantly. No hesitation. On Faith. On Trust.

When God calls you to do something, will you drop everything you’ve worked all your life to achieve, your dreams, your goals? Will you forsake your degrees and your money? Will you leave behind your biological family to join in the fellowship of Christ? When Christ climbs aboard your vessel, will you accept his call to follow him? Will you trust him enough, if only on a word, to defer your dream and make you a fisher of men?

How to Handle the Police When You’re Black

In light of recent events across this country – and the ongoing  terrorism of black bodies by law enforcement and the criminal justice system – I have found it necessary to consider what to do when you are confronted by an officer of the unjust law. I am no lawyer, so please don’t regard this as legal advice. I am simply a man with some formal education, a good head, sound mind, well-raised, and – in the eyes of many whites – unfortunately black.

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Google images

When walking down the street, or driving a car, or purchasing clothing and toys, you must remain vigilant. You may be harassed by a cop who thinks that you’re up to no good. Who thinks that by stopping you now and putting you down like a dog, they’re paying it forward and doing a service toward the greater good of the dominant society. So beware breathing in public. Beware glancing at a person of another race or walking too closely to someone white. Beware shopping in places where people who look like you may not usually shop due to the history of American wealth being rendered inaccessible to blacks. Beware attending school or church in a place predominantly populated and funded by white people, and if you must, be prepared to be confronted and/or ignored as if your existence does not matter all the while indoctrinated with a racist, reductionist, biased paradigm of the world.

But what about being confronted by the police. Police are here to protect and to serve. But make no mistake; there are a great many cops who pledge to protect the status quo and serve the few. Of course, there are plenty of officers from minority backgrounds who do remember from whence they came and who do care about the majority minority. There are plenty of white officers who sincerely and legitimately care and try to do good for everyone and counter the stains left upon them by their less than savvy counterparts.  But we can’t really distinguish or judge a book by its cover.

There are still a lot of cops out there who will kill you for being black and alive in America, and even more who have considered it yet never have the opportunity to realize their intentions. This is true although cops can’t legally justify killing a civilian unless 1) they feel threatened, and/or 2) a suspect is attempting to flee and evade arrest for a deadly felony. In the first case, which is referred to as “defense of life”, a cop must be using lethal force in order to protect oneself or the life of another innocent party. In the second case, the officer must have probable cause to think that the suspect has indeed committed a serious violent felony. In both cases, you can see how the exceptions can vary and the logic can get sticky.

In the “fleeing a violent felony” situation, it would make sense that the officer would shoot you in the leg or arm in order to disable the suspect’s flight and can then arrest the suspect properly. But racism doesn’t make sense. Listen to me when I tell you that an officer under the influence of racism is equivalent to an armed man/woman who has been under the influence of alcohol and hallucinagins all his/her life and has been given a license to kill. Racism has no logic, no sense, no rationality, no ethics, no morality. Racism makes cops shoot black kids in the street with impunity and choke fathers to death in broad daylight.

Here’s what we can do as citizens of this country to fight criminal police brutality with our dignity and honor intact:

When you are confronted by an officer, be respectful always. Even the most sincere, rational and mature people often have bad days and you don’t want to unnecessarily antagonize any working adult, especially a cop. If possible, try and be calm. Assume the best.

If you feel threatened in any way during a confrontation, call 911 and just leave it on speakerphone.

Also, get into a habit of video and audio recording.  Know the laws about surveillance and recording in your state. If you’re in a public area, then in most states, consent is automatically given by all parties that recording, may take place. Yes, this means that you can record the cops. Even if they snatched your phone or camera, they can’t delete the information on it, but just in case, you should invest in an app that will automatically backup your media. When you record something, your recording and “photojournalism” can’t interfere with the police investigation which means that you probably shouldn’t cross the yellow tape. The site Photography is Not a Crime is a fantastic resource on your rights as a citizen in such cases and even offers tips for such recordings.

Always ask questions. Maintain control of the conversation.  Don’t just answer their questions. They can’t search you or your property unless they have a warrant and/or they’re going to arrest you. Also, if they’re not going to arrest you,  then you really don’t have to answer their questions. Be careful what you say when you do speak. Don’t incriminate yourself without a lawyer present.

Don’t travel alone, if possible. Obviously, a racist officer will not really care, but seeing you with another person could possibly deter their efforts and force then to think twice.

Always carry identification. Carry two forms, just to be safe.

Don’t run from the cops or resist arrest. Understand these words: “lose the battle; win the war.” If you know that they are in the wrong, record it and document it. Show it to a lawyer – before giving it to television and news media or sharing it on YouTube. Let the lawyer consul you to the proper actions so that the tables don’t turn around on you.

If you see something unjust happen to someone else, record it and report it. If you don’t trust the police, like so many of us, give the recording to a lawyer. Don’t try to take justice into your own hands and blackmail someone.  You’ll be stirring up a new pot of mess that takes away from the injustice at hand.

Don’t feel like you have to conform to any public attire standards. As a woman, you should feel comfortable dressing however you please without being victimized and shamed. Men, you shouldn’t have to pull up your pants in order to be taken seriously. The structure of power and perception must change. If a woman is raped or harassed by a cop (or any person), it is not because of how she was dressed or how she swayed her hips. It is because of his own diseased mind and insecurities. If a young man is profiled by as a drug dealer by a cop (or anyone), it is not because of the dreadlocks in his hair and the size of his pants and the fitted on his head. It is because of the irrationality of that officer’s mind. Make no mistake. Even with three degrees, I can still get harassed while wearing a suit coming from a long day of work. So don’t apologize for how you were dressed or behaving. It does not excuse any form of police brutality, profiling, or harassment.

These are just some things on my mind right now. God bless you and the families of those young black men who have lost their lives to the hands of police stupidity. Pray for our criminal justice system, our communities, our children, and our future.

My Right to Exist is the Same as Yours

For some time now, I’ve been aware of the argument – the one that arises whenever a particularly sensitive issue of race and genocide in America erupts – that America is not for black people, that we are strangers in a foreign land, that we don’t belong here and that’s why these things continue to happen.

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That may have worked for my enslaved ancestors, but I do not buy into this narrative. I belong. I am just as much American as anybody born in this country. I was born in a small, working class city in southeast Texas that has been at the center of and gave birth to the American oil and gas industry for over a century. The family around which I grew consists of educators, small store owners, medical professionals, engineers, electrians, coaches, and even war veterans. I don’t have to look far or dig deep to see the impact that my family has had on the socio-economy of this nation.

By claiming that America is not for me and my people is blatant disrespect, but the argument doesn’t come from whites; It comes from black people like me. How can we devalue our place in this country and accept the notion that we don’t belong here? I am not Other. I am not a stranger. I am just as worthy of the air and land and water as anyone else here. I will not reduce my family and my self to the category of outsider and neither should you.

The real problem is that America has been built and continues to operate around a system that devalues the black body. We live in a modern day apartheid. White superiority informs American policy and economics. White privilege infiltrates education and law. It is this complex of privilege and superiority that seeks to tell me that I don’t belong here, that I am a stranger, that my existence in America is unnecessary and unwanted. If my existence here doesn’t matter, then of course I can be unarmed yet still shot down on the street in broad daylight by Ferguson’s finest for no real reason. If my existence in America doesn’t matter, then white cops can kill black boys, choke black fathers, and harass black students with relative impunity (i.e. “administrative leave”). Michael Brown, among others, is dead because to much of white America, his existence does not matter. In the system on which America thrives, Michael Brown is an anomaly, a stranger, a blip, an outlier in the grand American design.

Why, then, am I still alive?

You and me, we are expendable pieces in a puzzle that has already been put together and continues to fashion its own parts to fit while we are to be left inevitably on the margins. That is the reality that so many people in this country have to deal with daily. We are on the outside, constantly fighting for a way in, for recognition, to be heard. All the while, we marginalized folk become guinea pigs and target practice for systems of oppression. That is what [they] say about us. To [them], we are “other” and don’t belong. We should not uplift this mentality. By saying that we ourselves don’t belong is self-devaluation and a form of othering as well.

This mentality is what I argue against. We, blacks in America, should not buy into it. You belong. I belong. We belong, just as much as anybody else. You are not a stranger and this is not a foreign land anymore. Don’t let this system take away your self worth and your inheritance, your right to breath this air and walk on this ground. This country does not belong to any singular “people,” even if a certain group maintains control over its interworkings. We must realize that we are all human. We are all Americans, but in order to achieve this ideal, things as they are must change. There must be a shift in thought.

The way things change is that the white power structure must understand and acknowledge that we belong and that we are not Other, that we are not strangers, expendable pieces and outliers. Our lives matter just as much as everyone else’s. I am because we are and I reserve the right to exist in this land without terrorism, genocide, and hypersexualization. Read that again. I don’t deserve rights because no man can give to or take from me anything that God has already promised and justified for me. I have rights already. I reserve them. That means you must respect and honor them unconditionally. That means I have an unalienable right to exist and to live in peace here, in this country, and to pursue happiness in liberty without the threat of my life being stripped away – through jail or death – because of the color of my skin. We, blacks, must also continue to value ourselves as equals, never bowing to any man nor allowing any man or woman to bow to us. Respect starts on the inside, with the self.

No one can determine my worth but God almighty. Whether you care to acknowledge it or not, we are all His children. This land is your land; this land is my land. I am an American. I am human. I am a man, and I am here to stay. Recognize.

Mandela, Mike Brown, and Me

 

Google Images

Google Images

By now, you know the name Michael Brown. By now, something should come to mind when you hear the name Ferguson, Missouri. It’s been a sad week in America – sad because we still have to protest, because our rights are still not recognized. It’s sad that a white man can massacre a dozen innocent and unsuspecting people, then walk out alive, be granted a trial, and be declared mentally ill. All the while, white cops go unchecked when they shoot black boys mid day in the middle of the street for possibly fitting a description of someone who may have lifted some cigars from a store. I still struggle with the bleak reality in which we live – 2014 in the United States of America. In order to better cope with such tragedies that happen on a regular basis, I’ve turned to comforting figures and mediums that seek to explain my broken heart, my fear, my anger. The Bible has offered me hope and peace. Langston Hughes has offered me understanding. But now, I look elsewhere, to a man who knew first hand white supremacy and the legalized terrorism of black bodies. His name was Mandela.

I’ve been reading and listening to Nelson Mandela – pre-prison, pre-President, pre-Nobel Prize Mandela – to find solace and empathy, guidance in the midst of civil unrest in Missouri, America and the emotional distress in my own heart and mind as a black man in this country. I came across his 1962 trial statements, and found these words as he defends his own right to a fair and just trial:

 

“[The whites] suppress our aspirations, bar our way to freedom, and deny us opportunities to promote our moral and material progress, to secure ourselves from fear and want. All the good things of life are reserved for the white folk and we blacks are expected to be content to nourish our bodies with such pieces of food as drop from the tables of men with white skins. This is the white man’s standard of justice and fairness. Herein lies his conceptions of ethics. Whatever he himself may say in his defence, the white man’s moral standards in this country must be judged by the extent to which he has condemned the vast majority of its inhabitants to serfdom and inferiority.

 

We, on the other hand, regard the struggle against colour discrimination and for the pursuit of freedom and happiness as the highest aspiration of all men. Through bitter experience, we have learnt to regard the white man as a harsh and merciless type of human being whose contempt for our rights, and whose utter indifference to the promotion of our welfare, makes his assurances to us absolutely meaningless and hypocritical.”

This seems like someone could have said it today, but it was in 1962. Why have things not changed? Yes, Mandela was speaking about apartheid in South Africa, but is the systematic racism and genocide of black people in modern America any different? Every day, the white legal and economic system in America conspires to segregate and repudiate blacks for simply being black and in this country that they want to call their own. It is a country and an American culture that black people built and maintain. But it is the ruling society that tells us we are still strangers in a foreign land and are better dead or in jail than alive. Mandela’s voice rings on and speaks to us, to me, today.

I encourage you to read the entire trial statement as well as many of his other speeches and works. Mandela fought for hope and liberation and would not stand for partial freedom or surface freedom. He understood that things run deeper than that. He understood that when white police officers kill black boys, in the back, for no good reason, there is hate. But he understood that hate is taught, not inherent. Hate is something that can be replaced with love and respect and empathy. That, I believe, is the freedom for which he was prepared to die.