Are You A Leopard? Do You Have Spots?

We simply cannot understand the long chain of consequences arising from what we do, or even the origin of our own impulses. Reinhold Niebuhr

Let me start with three points about which I want to be crystal clear.

1. In my opinion, Brett Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court because he will join other conservative-leaning judges who have demonstrated a high level of disregard for human rights, civil rights and environmental rights and responsibilities.
2.. I am not defending Dr. Christine Ford’s allegation nor am I disputing what Judge Bret Kavanaugh believes to be his truth.
3. I am not saying or implying that Dr. Ford or any victim should, as several women asked me,”have kept her mouth shut.” Speaking up and out validates experiences, feelings and effect, increases awareness of and intolerance at work and other places where it is not safe for a woman to be a woman.

Instead, this is just me thinking out loud on paper about beliefs such as, “If you lie, you will steal, and “A leopard cannot change its spots,” the related assumptions and the decisions” and actions that can sprouts from these beliefs.

That elephant that has been sitting, virtually undisturbed, in the middle of the nation’s living room for centuries is sexual harassment in the workplace. It was 2007, when Tarana Burke, an African American activist disturbed it by starting ‘MeToo’, without the hashtag. Burke intended to give voice to “Survivors of sexual assault in underprivileged communities.” But, since the effects of a disturbance, is at best unpredictable, it is not surprising that other women – more prominent women – followed her lead and propelled us, for better and for worse, into a global movement that makes it impossible to pretend not to see that 24,000 pounds in the middle of the room.

But it was President’s Trump’s nominee for the Supreme that compelled another woman to take to the national stage and say “MeToo.” Of what did she accuse this sexual predator? ‘He pushed me into a bedroom, turned up the music, put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming, held me down, laughed drunkenly and attempted to remove my clothing to force himself on me. I thought he was going to rape me. I was afraid he would accidently kill me. I was 15-years old.’ Who was he? A sitting Judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, Bret Kavanaugh. He was 17. The year,1983.

Dr. Ford said, “My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

The now fifty-three (53) year old Bret Kavanaugh’s response to the now fifty-two )52) year old Christine Ford’s allegation: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

And, for the victim, the trauma can show up as a diminishing sense of physical and psychological safety, self-blaming, shame, unworthiness, fear, and/or an uncleanliness that is not easily exfoliated. Thus, the impact on fifteen (15) year old Christine was no less devastating and enduring than for the each of the victims (most of whom was older than she) who came forth in 2017 and 2018.,

On its face, this is not good. The accusations against Judge Bret Kavanaugh had a number of people concerned about his ability and maybe even his willingness to protect Roe v Wade and support other rights of women that would come before the court during his lifetime of service if he was confirmed.

While the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” is not applicable to sexual harassment or sexual assault, should it matter that there are no known allegations of sexual misconduct against Bret Kavanaugh for the last 35 years?

A 2009 Juvenile Justice Bulletin states, sexual offenses against teens by teens “surge” during mid and late teens but 85-95% of sex-offending youth have no arrest or reports for future sex crimes (1999, 2002, 2007). Those who have a future arrest, it is far more likely to be for non-sex crimes such as property and drugs. While this does not mean none of the 100 plus adult sexual predators did not sexually abuse as a teenager, it does seem to indicate that sexual misconduct as a teenager is not a predictor of behavior and attitude toward women as an adult.

In less than 18 months, over one-hundred powerful, high-profile men have been fired, resigned, stepped down, or suspended for workplace sexual harassment and/or assault. The number of victims attributed to each man ranged from several to multiple with over 200 being the highest number reported for one man. Characteristically, these men had:

(1) acquired status in the industry in which they worked for ten (10) years or more (2) connections with key people in related industries (3) personal wealth, (4) power over the careers of women (5) Threatened to or ended the careers of some women(6) a cadre of people who served as gatekeepers and protectors.

Is there an appreciable difference between the 17-year old Bret, referred by some as a rapist, and the one-hundred plus men ranging in age from early thirties to eighties with some engaging in predatory practices that began before the 1970s or 80s and continued until they were #MeToo-ed in 2017 or 1218?

Dr. Ford described 17-year old Bret as a, “stumbling drunk.” The second accuser and some who knew and socialized with him from senior year in high school through his freshman year in college, the time frame of the accusations, shared similar memories of Bret as “belligerent and aggressive when he drank excessively which he often did.”

Judge Kavanaugh, on the other hand, adamantly disagreed and remembers himself, as someone who “liked beer, sometimes had too many but “never drank to the point of passing out or not being able to recall what happened.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Juveniles account for one-third (35.6%) of those known to law enforcement to have committed sexual offenses against other minors. Of those who are identified, 46% of child-on-child sexual abuse occurs between the ages of 15 and 17 at school or an unsupervised activity.

This may be alarming but should not be surprising when coupled with what brain science is telling and teaching us about the not-yet-fully-developed adolescent brain on alcohol. When the teenage brain which generally does not reach maturity until middle twenties (24-25) is saturated with beer and other alcohol, it’s frontal lobes cannot assume full responsibility for self-control. The cerebellum cannot assume full responsibility for eye-hand coordination. The hippocampus cannot assume full responsibility for keeping track of what the drinker does. The hypothalamus cannot assume full responsibility for regulating bodily functions and monitoring heart rate and body temperature.

Another factor is the amount of alcohol the adolescent brain is forced to tolerate on each drinking occasion. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2014) asked, Why Colleges Haven’t Stopped Binge Drinking: decades of attention with not much difference and a 1983 self-report survey, “The Drinking Patterns and Problems of College Students” which included 6115 college students from every state reported 20.2% were heavy drinkers.” These and others identify
binge drinking as a common practice among college and high school students. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, defines binge drinking as four (4) or more drinks guzzled down in rapid succession. While the survey did not use the term “binge drinking,” the letter written by Bret (1983) to seven classmates attending a party at a rented beachfront property that said, “warn the neighbors that we’re loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific punkers among us,” seems to imply they would be binge drinking.

Also, tolerance for the “immediate negative effects” of binge drinking is higher for the adolescent than for an adult. Therefore, the adolescent brain carries a higher toxic load which may be why this type of drinking causes an “alcoholic blackout” – not the same as passing out. Because the hippocampus is not fully functioning, an adolescent experiencing a blackout is “fully awake” but may have little or no memory of events or behaviors.

This alcohol-induced anemia would not absolve the 17-year old of Bret from the sexual aggression of which he is accused. And since, based on my limited knowledge, neuroscience is not definitive about memory recovery of the 17 to 24-year old binge drinker, 53-year old Bret may well have, as some said, “lied under oath.” That would be troubling but it would also be another story.

Given what we know, on the one hand about teenage brain development and the low rate of recidivism and the need, on the other hand, to continue to, “Grapple with the gravity of harassing behavior,” what moral reasoning goes into determining if a person alleged to have been untrustworthy 35 years ago is still as untrustworthy today?

Peer pressure and peer influence is both positive and negative. But, during early and late teens, children are especially vulnerable to their particular peer group. This, according to social psychologist and others is the reason for the carefully crafted self-presentation that shows itself in behaviors such as clothing and how they are worn, drinking, dancing and interactions between members of the opposite sex. This is driven by an emotionally charged need to belong and the approval that comes with it. This make an additional demand on a brain whose ability to assess risk and potential consequences is developmentally incapable.

If the Bret who was “never a legal drinker in high school because the drinking age was increased to 21 on July 1, 1982” and the writings in his high school year book that prompted “1947 Red Scare” type of questioning, are indications of who he is today, should it not be easy to find examples of his disregard for the law and proof of sexual misconduct that occurred during his eleven years on the Circuit Court of Appeals – 2006-2017?

Albert Ellis, founder/author of Rational Emotive Therapy coined the phrase, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” This is Inductive reasoning that would hold all the time for everyone were it not for the X-Factor, IF. This can only be true all of the time and for everyone if everything remained constant meaning individuals and their environments do not change. This does not, however, mean it is never true. But it is safe to say it is not true more often than it is true as evidenced by us imperfect adults who were to some degree, in our youth, “Marked by rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to access consequences, but came through that phase of life and are now on the other side of it with our secrets in tack.

This is after the fact. Bret Kavanaugh, for better or worse, is a Supreme Court Justice. But this whole process is an opportunity to ask, what does this mean for we will do with what we know in the future? Knowing is not the problem. It is being willing to ask, ourselves and each other what kind of reasoning are we applying to make the “decision about how to proceed?”

The endless work done by Juvenile Justice advocates on behalf of incarcerated young children and early teens found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery with a firearm to determine where they should be tried (Family or Adult court), where they should be imprisoned and for how long they should be punished offers insight into the kind and quality of decisions that are made when the question, “What do we do with what we know,” is asked and answered over and over again.

The 2012 Supreme Court Juvenile Justice decision held that the practice of automatically transferring juveniles 17-years old and younger to adult prison to serve mandatory life sentences is unconstitutional (except in rare cases) and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And, the 2016 expansion of that ruling includes resentencing and/or paroling juveniles, and when warranted, applying parole retroactively. All because “A teen who commits a crime, even a terrible one such as murder, is not forever defined by that one act.”

In her opinion Justice Elena Kegan wrote, “Adolescence is marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.” But she acknowledged, they also have a heightened capacity for change.

This raised questions about the rights of the victim and family members against the right of a guilty-as-charge adolescent. Thompson of the University of Michigan acknowledges the pain and offers the following. “Concentration on the crime. misses the point of the Supreme Court Ruling. Nobody is disputing the heinousness of the crime, no one is disputing what led them there… but based on the science, is it or is it not cruel and unusual punishment to condemn to life someone whose brain is not fully developed?

So, if it is reasonable to consider reducing the life sentence of a 17-year old who is guilty of first degree murder, felony murder and mutilation, thereby, increasing his chances for early release because he is demonstrating the capacity to change from an adolescent “marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences, to a responsible adult, must we ask whether it was reasonable to attempt to keep Bret Kavanaugh off the Supreme court because of the allegations that stems from sexual aggression when he was 17-years old?

Let’s suppose the answer to this question is “Yes.” That only leads to other more pressing questions, at least for me. Does this start us down the “Leopard can’t change its spot,” slippery slope? If so, are we prepared for the slide?

Shamed Anybody Lately?

“There is no job that’s better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.” Geoffrey Owens

While standing in one of several rush-hour lines in my neighborhood grocery store another customer said, loud enough for others, including the cashier to hear the following words dripping in hydrochloric Acid,“Wouldn’t last a split second at my job. You need to hurry up. I don’t have all day…”

This reminded me of what was done to Geoffrey Owens in September 2018 at Trader Jones in Clifton, New Jersey more than 700 miles from Chicago.Customer, Karma Lawrence, uploaded a picture to Celebrity sites on the worldwide web of the former Cosby Show actor cashiering and bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s

Unlike Owens, who described himself as being “initially devastated.” But said because of an outpouring of support, “the shame part didn’t not last very long,”
The world will never hear how the cashier at my local store felt. But, both were shamed. One in person. One online. And, the valuable service those customers received from the cashiers was not acknowledged.

For instance, both customers needed their groceries bagged and most likely expected it to be done by a skilled bagger whose understanding of product placement guaranteed the shell on each of the twelve eggs was intact and every slice of bread was still perfectly shaped when they un-bagged them.

Shame Researcher, Berne Brown says, “Shame is an epidemic.” Its symptoms are a diminished sense of worthiness, belonging and connection and an unwillingness to be vulnerable. As Maslow reminds us, belonging is a basic need. And, through out their book Connect, the authors emphasize the relationship between feeling connected and being able to appropriately regulating one’s behavior.

The few people with whom I spoke seem to agree with Brown. They believe shaming is common and will continue to increase because of intolerance and impatience. It is also, they think, egged on by the entertainment industry and the anonymity offered by the worldwide web.

There is general agreement that shaming is publicly calling out an individual to make others aware of a behavior believed to be inappropriate or unacceptable and maybe typical of the group to which that person belongs.

Someone asked, “Is it ever appropriate to call someone out? This is a reasonable question to which I answered, “Yes; if you are as clear as you can possibly be about your motive.“ Most of the time, “calling out” that is not self-serving is done privately or as quietly and quickly as possible. The person might feel ashamed but will not be shamed.

With the understanding that constructive criticism, feedback that is hard to hear and other technique used by the appropriate person to facilitate growth and positive change is not the same as shaming, I can think of absolutely no reason for a customer to shame an employee.

Robert Fuller, author of Somebodies and Nobodies overcoming the abuse of rank offers a wide-angle lens through which we can look at job shaming. Fuller suggest that shaming will continue as long as rank is used as a weapon. Rank, however is not the problem. Family, the first group in which we participate is hierarchical and therefore rank its members by age, title and sometimes gender. And, like other groups, does so to facilitate its ability to function effectively. It is what an individual does with his or her rank that matters.
Fuller calls this Rankism and says it is “not so much a new kind of discrimination as it is the common denominator of all other underlying forces that give the familiar ones: (age, class, disabilities, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation) their capacity to inflict damage.”

Rankism, which is not a natural outgrowth of rank, is an effective and convenient camouflage for any of the isms. It is intended to diminishes the worth of one person while artificially enhancing the worth of another. It positions the nobody (the person who is ranked) against the somebody (the person who is practicing rankism.)

For instance, the customer at the Chicago store appeared to use classism (dress) and ageism (several decades older than the cashier) to imply (1) You are deficient. (2) I am important. You are not. (3) I am intelligent. You are not.)

Karma Lawrence, the customer in New Jersey ranked Owens by using classism. She “Felt bad for him.” She didn’t understand how he “Ended up a cashier.” Not only was he a cashier, he was “Non-union and wearing a dirty shirt.” Her message to the world, even though she is part of three demographics: African-American, female and same-sex that have experienced untold shaming: He is a use-to-be: a nobody that use to be a somebody. It apparently never occurred to her that Owens, for whatever reason chose to work that job. Therein lies the problem.

Every once in a while, we get an opportunity to ask, “Am I who I think I am?” Lawrence has provided us with the opportunity to answer that question by taking full responsible for the rank we have. After all, it is our attitude and values that determines how we use our rank.

Some of the people who strongly opposed Lawrence’s treatment of Owens used phrases like working a regular job, taking a job beneath him, working a job because of bad life choices, the best he can do, are de-valuing the work and therefore the person doing the work. It also is not unusual to hear comments such as “You’re just a…, Do you know who I am, Let me talk with someone in charge, You sure you know what you’re doing, You don’t look old enough to…. This is how rankism is practiced and perpetuated.

The vast majority of the seven million plus women and men who work in retail cashier-ing and perform other jobs that make life easier for the rest of us, will not, when they are shamed, have the outpouring of support offered to the former actor. So, the only thing to do is be guided by a truth spoken by him: “Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”

Is This Really About Respect?

It goes without saying, Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul earned the right to be celebrated with respect and honor.

 

There are a few things I read and saw in the media that in my opinion, seemed not to be just about honoring and respecting the life of Aretha. But the one thing that has some of my friends, associates and social media agquaintances in the grip of distress is Ariana Grande’s short, over-the-knee-thighs=showing-short dress. 

That dress is causing them to forget the good book says,“A man of wrath stirs up strife,and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (Proverbs 29:22) It is also motivating them to verbally tattoo her with unrighteous labels such as slut and classless, and accuse her of deliberating wearing the dress to “steal attention away from Aretha.”

So, was the dress short?  Yes. Was it appropriate by African-American standard for church or a funeral? No.  Does her dress warrant the wrath of God? Did she disrespect the church? Did she disrespect Aretha Franklin? Absolutely not to all three.

 
There are standards for how to dress when you come to an African American church for a funeral but they frequently get violated and most times by people who grew up in the church. I am not the only African-American woman who has seen African-American women in their 20s wearing short dresses to church and funerals. And as, someone said, the church elders, look at them the way they looked at Ariana, shake their heads and wonder what this world is coming to.   I am not the only African-American woman who have seen African-American women who have not been 25 for a decade or two, have on things that are cut too low and fit too tight by church standards. And, those same church elders look at them and shake their heads and wonder what the world is coming to.

 

Ariana was invited to “perform” at a home-going not attend a funeral. I looked at what she wore to perform at other venues. Comparatively, it seems she was thoughtful about what to wear: The color, minimum jewelry which was understated, the lace to cover her cleavage and the style of the short dress. The pony tail; she’s stuck with. It’s hers.

 

Ariana Grande is 25.  She is not African-American and probably has limited knowledge of our traditions.  Question:  Why didn’t, as Smokey Robinson said, someone on her team, talk with her?  Equally important, why didn’t at least one of the African-Americans who were organizing this event, check with her team or talk directly with her about what was expected in terms of dress?  If someone had that conversation and she knowingly violated the expectation, that’s a different story. (It still wouldn’t make her a slut).

 

This raises another question for me:  What is this outrage about the short dress really about?  People are ragging on this young woman about her dress with such intensity, and yet some of them – far too many- are making excuses for a 60-year old man who claims not to know the difference between holding a woman around her waist and pressing his finger into her breast.  Now, the Bible says, “Do not Judge.” That means that I need to give Bishop Ellis the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he has some kinesthetic issues. But, is he also visually and emotionally challenged?  The look on her face announced her discomfort. He not only kept his fingers pressed into the side of her breast, he pulled her to him when it was clear she wanted to distance herself.  And He has, I assume, been around for #MeToo.  I’m not judging.  I’m just saying.

 
A partial answer to my question: What is this really about? is stated or at least implied in the following social media comment:

“He apologized over and over. Let’s be done with it. She on the other hand should be apologizing to the Franklin family as well. What she wore was inappropriate for a funeral and especially for the fact she was performing. Her stylist or agent and even Ariana should have known to dress with respect.”

There are others statements.  But this defense of the Bishop’s behavior makes the point. And, will, I hope prompt to you to ask the same question of yourself, your family, your friends.

Haven’t we said, “Let’s be done with it one too many times already?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And For What?

Let’s see. A Black man murders five and injures seven white policemen and two non-police citizen during a peaceful gathering intended to protest  the killing of Black boys and men by white police officers. A Black man murders three police officers – two white, one black and injures two others. A white man murders 49 LBGTQ people socializing at a night club. A white man murdered nine men and women during a prayer service in their church. Dallas Texas. Orlando Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sixty-six more people dead- taken out of the mix – 12 injured. And for what? Because the men who pulled the triggers lost their humanity and their humility.

The two Black men are no different than their White counterparts. They are murderers – plain and simple. They just wanted to kill White police officers just as the White man in Orlando just wanted to kill LBGTQ people and the White man in Charleston just wanted to kill Black people. As I was reminded, one of the police officers killed by the Baton Rouge murderer is Black. That is true. But, maybe in the mind of the murderer the second worse thing you can be is a Black police officer. Or maybe his death is what is meant by the saying, “when you dig one ditch, you better dig two.”

People’s feelings and opinions range from this is wrong to they got what they deserved. Be that as it may, these murders must not be given and does not deserve a speck of credit for increasing awareness of, causing an awakening about or bringing renewed energy to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Black lives did not matter to them. Their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and other family members did not matter to them. They did not care that their families will live with the choice they made the same as one must live with the affects of a painful debilitating disease. They were incapable of considering, how, for generations, their actions will slowly but sturdily suck the nutrients from their family’s tree.

The little Sister of the Dallas murderer, no doubt unduly influenced by her older Brother’s beliefs, said the day before his rampage “These cops need to get a taste of the life we now fear.” Her words would have just been rhetoric had he not killed the very people she thought deserved to die. While I think she is too young to understand the full implications of her words, that does not matter now. Those words, as Faulkner explains in Lights in August, “will just be there inside (of her), lodged between memory and forgetting, musing quiet, steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself alone serene, of itself alone (and) triumphant because nothing is ever escaped.”

These men are not messengers. They are not an inspiration. They are not leaders. We reserve these identities for Black men and women who say, “I am standing in the gap of injustice until it is closed.” And then they stand without that senseless and self-destructive eye-for-an eye mentality. That is what Civil Right Activist Fannie Lou Hammer did after she lost her job and her home simply because she registered to vote. It is what Dr. Martin Luther King did after he’d “been to the mountain top.” It is what Nelson Mandela was doing when he was imprisoned for 27 years and it is what he continued to do after his release. It is what Harriet Tubman was doing when she made “nineteen trips” to the South to free over “three hundred slaves” and what she was doing when she said, “If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”

It is hard to paint a verbal picture of the raw emotions that can get stirred up when an action by the police reminds us that cities across this country have for years treated police brutality as if it is a figment of Black people’s imagination. The conglomerate of inequities in the criminal justice system has caused many of us to ask what will it take? But, most of us are shaken by how this question might be answered at the extreme. And so we, one way or another, let our hearts be guided by questions Dr. King asked in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “will we be extremist for hate or will we be extremist for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or will we be extremist for the cause of justice? The vast majority of us, take a deep breath, count to ten, hug each other, dry our tears and intentionally act out of love and justice. It is not easy but we do it anyway.

These men chose to be extremist for hate and to preserve injustice because it is what they believed in. So we have to remember that their acts of violence did not contribute anything to the Black Lives Matter Movement. And, should not take anything from it either. Those who have taken “The movement made them do it’ stance is no different than these men. Those who are blaming the movement are pulling a different kind of trigger hoping to turn others against the movement and therefore against an undeniable truth. All of us need to be in America’s face so American can face its historical shame. But, killing white police officers and blaming Black Lives Matters is not the way.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “It is not surprising that those accused of horrendous deeds and the communities they come from, for whom they believe they are committing these atrocities almost always find ways out of even admitting that they were indeed capable of such deeds. They adopt the denial mode, asserting that such-and-such has not happened, when the evidence is incontrovertible they take refuge in feigned ignorance.”

When it comes to justice for black men, women and children, this is what the criminal justice system is doing. This is what police departments are doing. It is what the Fraternal Order of Police is doing. It is what local politician are doing. It is what some police officers are doing – denying and then feigning ignorance.

In their own way, it is what these men would have us do – deny that they used a legitimate social movement as an excuse to satisfy their personal agenda and then either killed themselves or forced someone to kill them because they did not have the guts to stay here and face the people on whose behalf they claim to have acted. But the majority of us will not let them get away with that. Forgive? Yes. Excuse? No.

We will not excuse their actions because Black lives do matter. We want our children to know why Black lives matter. We want our children to know what we (Black people) do and do not do because black lives matter to us and what other people do and will not dare do when Black lives matter to them. And, equally as important, we want our children to understand, as our ancestors did, “Nothing is ever escaped.”

Whose “Bad” Was It? Whose “Bad” Is It?

And there are people still in darkness, And they just can’t see the light. If you don’t say it’s wrong, then that says its right.
Solomon Burke

1917: The Labor Union in East St. Louis who, after the strike ended, told its white members, ”Drastic action must be taken to retard this growing menace,” (referring to Negro immigrant coming from the south and those who “are already here.”) thus causing 39 blacks to be killed, a two-year old to be shot and thrown into a burning building, 100 plus black people to be shot or maimed and 5000 to be driven from their home, would not have incited the riot if black people who wanted and needed to work had not allowed themselves to be hired into union job. Right?

1920: The racist white mob who carried out the “Black Holocaust, “by burning every home, business and church and murdering children, women and men would not have done so if Black people with an entrepreneurial spirit, had not, through self-determine and faith, responded to segregation by making the Tulsa, Oklahoma Greenwood District so successful it was known “Black Wall Street. Right?

1954: The White people who burned crosses in front of a house, shot through the house ten times with a rifle and finally, because the family refused to accept what they called “reasonable offers to leave”, bombed the house.  But the White people would not have had to do this if the Black family had not moved in the White suburb of Louisville. Right?

1955: Missippissians, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam who gouged out Emmett Till’s left eye, shot him in the head, bashed his face in and threw his body in the Tallahatchie River would not have done so if this 14-year old Black boy had not said, “Bye Baby” to a white girl as he was leaving the store. Right?

1958: The State of Virginia would not have had to sentenced the Lovings, Mildred, a black woman and Richard, a white man to a year in jail for violating its 1924 Racial Integrity Law that prohibited marriage between “people classified as “white and people classed as black” if Mildred and Richard just had not fallen in love. Right?

1963: The Ku Klux Klan would not have bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls if Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other has not campaigned against racial injustice and fought for civil rights. Right?

Keep in mind that these are just six examples of race-related atrocities rooted in America’s “one-drop of blood” rule. This rule ranked Black Americans lower than White American thus giving White Americans permission to enslave, beat, murder, lynch, rape and deny our pursuit of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” without fear of meaningful consequences.

So whose “bad” was it? Ours for having that one drop of blood or the individual whose hand was stained by it or the society that provided the towel to wipe it off?

It saddens me that these  questions have to be asked but when people imply the gunman who killed 45 people and seriously injured 53 more would not have done so if two men had not been seen kissing or if LBGTQ people would simply avoid PDA (public display of affection) or if “those people” would “stop disobeying the Word of God, the questions  must be asked and some attempt made to answer.

Robert W. Fuller, in his book, Somebodies and Nobodies. Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, provide some answers for me. Fuller would, I think, say the gunman “suffered” from Rankism which according to Fuller is a claim to superiority.” It allows us to see our group as somebody and other groups as nobodies. Rankism justifies  “maltreatment, discrimination, disrespect, discourtesy, disdain derision and condescension. It is the “Mother of all isms” because it is the sources from which all forms of discrimination gets its “lifeblood.”

in my opinion, the Orlando terrorist attack is an example of how rankism “Erodes the will to learn, distorts personal relationships, taxes economic productivity, strokes ethnic hatred and why it causes “dysfunction and sometimes even violence, in families, schools and the workplace.”

Given that, I visualize a Sexual Preference Rankism Ladder. Those who identify as heterosexual, rank higher than a homosexual. A heterosexual Christian ranks higher than a heterosexual who is not Christians. A Christian heterosexual who also believe homosexuality is a sin, ranks higher than all the others. And, the highest rank belongs to the Christian heterosexual who believes it is his or her responsibility to assist God in executing “great vengeance” on homosexuals. The gunman and those who, whether they intend to or not, offer justification for his actions are high up on this ladder.

Your rank on this ladder makes you a more deserving “somebody” than those on the rungs below you. This is how you acquire your sense of somebody-ness. Like so many things, once you get it, you want to keep it so you conform to beliefs touted by  the people with whom you are ranked.

In The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner, calls this “pooling information. “One person knows only what he knows, but thirty people can draw on the knowledge and experience of thirty, and so when everyone is convinced there are loins in the tall grass it’s reasonable to set aside your doubts and take another route to camp.” The problem comes when all you do is just take another route. There is no attempt to verify the facts – Did you see lions? How many were there? Who did they attack? What happened at the time of the attack? But there is no space in rankism for independent thinking. That is what makes it so easy for ranked people to treat rhetoric that makes no sense as if it is an inarguable fact as plain and simple as one plus one equals two.

Thomas Merton (No Man is An Island), reminds us that “one of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of insufficient answers to a question we are afraid to ask.”

Pooled information breeds empowerment. Armed with information sanctioned by those with whom you are ranked gives you the authority to practice “Rank-based discrimination.” Rank-based discrimination breeds what is thought to be justifiable violence. Its purpose is to remind the lesser somebodies that they are nobody compared to you and those with whom you are ranked. And, what is the point in being on the top rungs of this ladder if you cannot demonstrate to the world your willingness to fulfill your moral obligation to keep the nobodies in their place by any means necessary at any time and any place.

And so on June 17, 2015, 21-year old Dylann Roof, empowered by his rank, walked into a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church. sat for an hour, then shot and killed nine black men and women because, “You rape our women and you are taking our country.” And, consistent with the arrogance rank-based discrimination can breed he “let” a woman live because he wanted her to “tell them what happened.”

So the man who, on June 12, 2016, carried out, as President Obama called it, an “Act of hate” that has altered all of our lives forever, cannot be understood for anything but his hatred. This 29-year old killer and coward who used his pool of contaminated information to spray his hatred in an Orlando night club is no different than the killer and coward who sprayed his hatred in a place of worship in Charleston.

As Fuller points out, we have all been “No-bodied” by somebody and if we are to tell the truth, we have from our perceived rank, “no-bodied somebody else. And most of the time, we can offer an apology and it will be accepted. But when we even think about justifying the actions of a man whose beliefs allowed him to openly identify with a hate group who ranks itself so superior that its members reportedly throw people identified as LGBTQ (self or assumed to be) off a roof, there is no apology long enough or strong enough to undo the destruction to which we are contributing. So If we want to rank ourselves superior to people whose lifestyle and life choices are different than ours, we can do that. We just have to remember, what history has shown us, Rankism, in the final analysis is about power – about lording it over somebody you have convinced yourself is a lesser somebody than you. And, we’ve been living with the results of that for how many year now?

So we can place the burden of the Orlando “Bad” on the shoulders of the LBGTQ community or we can embrace Solomon Burke’s wisdom: “We got try to feel for each other, let our brother’s know that we care. Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.”

Who Is Shaping Our Kids’ Sense of Self?

A child’s self-concept is learned.  He senses, feels, and assigns meaning to external stimuli in his life.       Jawanza Kunjufu

The Whole Brain Child (Daniel Siegel, M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.) talks about the downstairs and upstairs brain.  The basic functions of the downstairs brain are innate reaction and impulses, fight and flight, anger and fear.   The upstairs brain facilitates sound decision making and planning, control over emotions and body, self-understanding, empathy and morality.   At its best, the brain is integrated.  The upstairs monitors the downstairs; the downstairs monitors the body.

Brain integration occurs when children are supported in learning to use their brains just as they are when learning to ride a bike. Even kids growing in the most supportive situations have to develop the skills needed to effectively use the upstairs brain rather than giving in to the reactive downstairs brain; also known as the primitive brain.

So imagine kids, mostly males (ages 7- 20) involved in an activity that requires them to lie, run game, steal, duck and dodge business owners and the police, carry a persona that can be interpreted as aggressive or potentially violent while living with the threat of being arrested.  Then, ask yourself which brain are they learning to rely on?

This writing is about that activity and related behavior that puts kids brains at risk because they’re caught up in a game of hustle and be hustled between guilty White people and African-American adults.  Both are liabilities.  White people because they allow themselves to be hustled.  African-American adults because they are using our kids to play white guilt like it’s a fiddle without regard for how this can shape African-American kids’ sense of self and the impact it can have on how they perceive their place in the world.

Here’s what’s happening.

The young “hustlers-in-training” have flyers asking for money to support sports teams associated with public schools, private schools, churches and community organizations or groups such as the Southern Little Rock Association for the Deaf.   As I understand it, the kids are instructed not to let the hustled take a flyer which might be why the kids extend them the way you would a tissue on which you have blown your nose.  Thus discouraging the hustled from reaching for it, let alone touching it.

(I bought a flyer asking for money to buy uniforms and equipment for “S.O.S.A.D (Save Our Sons and Daughters) Youth” whose “goals and dreams is to play in the ALL AMERICAN YMCA NATIONAL SOFTBALL FINALS.”  The team location: YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island.  I called.  The YM has no such team.   (SOSAD NFP started in Detroit, Michigan in 1987 but show no activity since 2002)

Anyway, kids who don’t have flyers cradle a box of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies – the ones generally purchased in bulk from wholesale grocery houses.  But, from what I observe, the cookies are props, maybe to show the African-American male’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to earn an honest living even if it means publicly laying his dignity prostrate at the feet of the very people who, as one grown hustler said, “Think a black man ain’t shit.”    I refrained from asking the obvious question.

Although young males, up to early teens, also work the streets, their primary assignment seems to be inside of businesses.   Some of the hustlers are young but obviously too old to be in anybody’s elementary or high school.  Then there are older men who claim to be coaches or sponsors.   They work the streets and are almost never seen with the kids on whose behalf they are hustling.

Here’s how it works.

Young kids, mostly males, go in Starbucks, Panera and other eating establishments three or four at a time.  They walk through the way you do when you want to get the lay of the land.  Then they split up and go from table to table asking customers for money.  If a customer’s cell phone is on the table a kid might put the flyer on top of it. When he picks up the flyer, he takes the phone and break for the door.  All of the other kids follow.   I have, on four occasions, seen kids snatch a wallet or purse.  Whatever the thievery, try to imagine the commotion that must be going on in the downstairs brain of these young kids.  The “excitement’ created by this kind of primitive behavior probably cause their bodies to feel like a working garbage truck sounds.

On weekends, some kids come in the same business several times a day.  Sometimes Managers let the kids leave on their own.  Most of the time they ask them to leave.  Some kids just leave.  Some refuse and leave when they get ready.  Others leave a trail of profanity behind them and if the manger is white, they remember to call him a racist.   Managers say they don’t call the police, the kids know they’re not going to call.  “So, one manager asked, “What can we do?”

This is not the behavior of kids who are being developmentally appropriately silly so when you say, “Boy, what is wrong with you? they run and giggle so hard they almost knock each other down and all you can do is shake your head.   These kids are being coached and monitored by what Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed) calls sub-oppressors – people who become oppressors of their own people.   They employ the same tactics as drug dealers:  give the shorty a few dollars to do their dirty work because they probably won’t get stopped.  If they do, they probably won’t get arrested.  If they get arrested, they’ll just go to ju-vey.

An eight-year old who came into Panera verified this.  During our conversation, I asked, “How would you feel if I came into your business bothering your customers? “I’d be mad,” he said.  “What would you do?”  “I’d tell you to get out.   Our conversation ended with me saying, “I want you to go home.”  His response: “I can’t. My Father is outside.”    And, he was with four other children – one girl, all under the age of ten hustling their hearts out while he stood watching like their overseer.   Granted this man may not have been the kid’s father but he was real grown.

So, I asked myself, am I witnessing African-American sub-oppressors making people who are ashamed of their history of oppression pay?   Could be.  What if this is about reparations?

Contributors to Should America Pay?  Slavery and The Raging Debate on Reparations, believe masses of African-Americans are engaged in a reparations movement because, “They have not lost the memory of the historical atrocities inflicted upon them and they will never forget or dismiss the continuation of this mistreatment by this country.”    Molly Secours, also a contributor who identifies herself as a middle-aged White woman, believes reparations are due because of “all of the subtleties that prohibit people of color from walking though the world with the same ease and privilege that most Whites enjoy.”  In a Case for Reparations (Atlantic Monthly, June 2014) Taneshi Coates says America will never be whole until it pays its debt to African-Americans who are systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities.

People are genuinely attempting to work through the complexities associated with America paying this debt but hustling sub-oppressors are not among them.  And neither are guilty White people.

In The Content of Our Character, Shelby Steel says, guilt “makes us afraid for ourselves and so generates as much preoccupation as concern for others.   The nature of this preoccupation is always the redemption of innocence, the reestablishment of good feeling about oneself…. It can lead us to put our own need for innocence above our concern for the problem that makes us feel guilty in the first place.”

Nine and a half times out of ten, our kids are hitting up White people for money.  This gives me some sense of what sub oppressors are filling their heads with.  And, it makes me think Shelby might be on to something.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched kids walk right past me and other African-Americans and take their appeal to the white person.  Now, unless white people suffer from a collective visual impairment, there is no way they don’t see this too.  I have ease-dropped on my share of conversations between the hustler and hustled. The kids approach White people with just the right amount of deference.  The responses that “Make Me Wanna Holla” include –  You’re going to be the next Michael Jordan?  Who is your favorite football player?   I bet this is a big help to your Mother.  It’s nice of you to help your school out.

I know from experience, White people are good at asking questions but I have never heard a hustled White person ask the questions I and other African-Americans asked:  Do you have a school ID?   Does your school have a website?  Why does your coach have you out here collecting money?  Do you have your coach’s phone number?  Can I get a receipt for my donation?  But, I guess one does not ask questions if as Shelby says, “An ill gotten advantage is not hard to bear – it can be a mark of fate – until it touches the human pain it brought into the world.”

Guilt, reparations and hustling.  And our kids are doing the asking and the collecting.  African-American sub-oppressors willing to accept a dime, a quarter, a dollar as payment toward a debt that is bigger than most of us can comprehend is using “make whitey pay” as an excuse to hustle.   And, guilt-ridden White people willing to pay because “Blacks, then, become their redemption and as such, they must be seen as generally less than others with needs that are “special,” “unique,” “different.”  (Shelby)

I’ve talked with a lot of African-Americans about this.  Most are concerned about what it means for our kids.  “What can I do?” they ask.  But, sadly, it’s more a statement of resignation than an action question.  To those who justified this activity by saying, “They’re just trying to make a little money, Yvonne,” I say, “This is not training for budding entrepreneurs.   And, to those who said, White kids “do the same thing.”   I say, “White privilege is not transferrable.  African-American kids, even in 2016, cannot move around in this society with the same fluidity as White kids.  All this does is make them more vulnerable than any kid ought to be.

It is not ok for our kids to be running from a place of business because they have stolen something or to be “evicted” because they are doing something they have no business doing.

It is not ok for us to be asking the same question store managers are asking.   And, it is not ok for us to leave our children’s understanding of how African-Americans are and will response to racism and racist practices in the hands of the guilty and the hustler.

So what can we do?

For starter, we ought to follow the lead of those African-Americans who don’t give these kids money:  The message – I do not approve of what you are doing.  We can also put voice to this in our homes, churches, community organizations, CAPS programs, youth groups, parent meetings, mentoring groups, schools, theater and other arts.   We can use this as an opportunity to engage in dialogue around a salient point made by Coates: our focus needs to be on systemic racism rather than the individual racist.  If we do this, we make individual white people responsible for their own guilt and the hustler responsible for earning his own living.   We force them to leave our kids out of their self-serving mess.

Most importantly, we need to wrap our kids in the blanket of protective factors we know are required for their brain health.  These include positive socialization, consistent and growth- producing guidance and disciplinary practices and modeling from authentic cultural bearers and community influencers.

By the way, people employed as teachers, coaches, youth development specialist, etc. who are encouraging our kids by making flyers for them ought to be fired.  Trusting the fox to watch the hen house makes no sense.  To paraphrase Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) we don’t need African-Americans who render our kids invisible simply because they refuse to see who they are and what they can become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Whom Does Black Lives Matter?

Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage. Desmond Tutu

Who might they have become? What might they have done? What might we have learned from each of them that none of us will ever know. How might we all, race, ethnicity, class and gender aside, be different had each of them lived?

Who knows? These are questions about which we can speculate but never hope to answer. But, they form the basis of my wondering when I think about African-Americans from utero to 83 years of age who are dead. I am not talking about African-Americans who are dead due to catastrophic illnesses, or horrible accidents or suicide or because they went to sleep and did not wake up. As much as these deaths can leave love one’s swimming in tears with hearts as fragile as egg shells, there is some vestige of rhyme and reason that makes for a kind of healing born out of hope. I am talking about African-American infants, toddlers, young children, adolescents, young adults, middle age and senior citizens who are dead because some other African-Americans (primarily men) decided like so many whites (primarily men) they did not deserve to live. And what for? White men murdered African-American for being in their neighborhood. African-Americans murdered other African-Americans for being in their hood. One group motivated by racism and separatism. The other by drugs and separatism. White men’s greed put African-American families at risk. African-American drug dealers/gangs’ greed puts the African-American families at risk. Both are representative of capitalism at its finest. So, when the torch passed to 2016, several thousand African-American could not join us in singing “Old Lang Syne,” because either the policemen or another African-American murdered them. No matter how you frame it, it is the same thing.

The violence in the African-American community by African-American and the violence against African-American men by policemen is not an iceberg lettuce and hot-house tomato sandwich held together by a slice of white bread on top and a slice of brown bread on the bottom. So we need to deconstruct the arguments used to build the comparative analysis intended to prove who is the worse murderer: African-American “Thugs” or police, specifically the ones who are “white racist.” It is a stupid, self-serving comparison because 11-year old Shamija Adams who was murdered when a stray bullet tore through the wall of the home she was at for a sleep-over has been dead 18 months and is no less dead than 17-year old Justus Howell murdered by police during a confrontation  a few days ago.

For the benefit of my loving friends who will demand to see my long birth certificate to authenticate my blackness, I am not giving credence to the justifications offered by FOX NEWS, Donald Trump and other Insensitives that imply police will stop killing us if we stop killing each other. But I am also not giving it to those who say we will stop killing each other if white people would just give us good jobs, etc.
.
It is true that we, African-American are responsible for the shooting deaths of most African-American. But it is also true that most white, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, etc. kill people in their racial/ethnic groups. But, what is true of other groups put African-Americans on front street because of the indisputable evidence that black lives have not and do not matter in America in the way they ought to matter simple because we are Americans.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is a timely and necessary movement that ought to be unnecessary. But it isn’t. So in-your-face action is the only way to bring attention to the behavior of men and women who have legal, professional and moral obligations to serve and protect but also have the permission of the systems that extended these obligations to murder African-Americans. Not only do they have permission to murder, they can do it knowing they have the guaranteed protection of the blue code of silence. For years, the gate keepers of the code – federal, state, local political leaders and the legal system, have been so efficient, policemen who disregarded their obligations can do, as a police investigator said about an arrested murderer, “Go have a beer and a burger as if nothing had happened.”

A goal of the Black Lives Matter Movement is, I think, to call attention to laws, policies and day-to-day practices that makes this continued blatant disregard for black lives possible not to position the value of black lives against the lives of other groups. This attention, it is hoped, will lead to the kind of systemic change that will make this the last time people will have to ask, “How much do Black lives matter in Chicago? In America?

White American keeps answering this question but only when forced to and in ways comparable to patching the levees but not repairing them so they would not break. But, it is not like white American does not know what to do to make sure everyone is clear about what she or he is suppose to do and not do when a people’s life matters. Its walls are covered with laws, acts, articles, amendments, codes, bills, mandates and other sources of communication to get the word out: White Lives Matter

It is bad enough that white American keeps acting like this question is too complex to understand let alone answer definitively. But why are we, African-Americans even having to ask this question?

What, God forbid, if black lives never matter to white American as much as they ought to? Does this mean our lives will never matter as much to us as they ought to? If this is the case and policemen continue to murder us and we continue to murder us, I and others will, on January 1, 2017, be wondering what thousands of other murdered African-Americans might have become, might have done, might have taught us?

Zora Neale Hurston, stated in Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” What year is 2016 for African-Americans?