Dear Rev. Al: The Mad Preacher’s Post-Zimmerman Trial Rant Pt. 1

Dear Al Sharpton,

A few days before the Zimmerman verdict came down, many of my Facebook friends began sharing the statement you made on MSNBC. You urged us to remain peaceful, not resort to violence, not resort to “throwing bricks or bottles”.

So far very few bricks or bottles have been thrown. And a grand majority of marches and demonstrations have been peaceful. And I guess you and Jesse Jackson and others are somewhere patting yourself on your backs because you proved Fox Commentators and Zimmerman defense attorneys wrong. And while I am (in most contexts)a proponent of non-violence, I can’t help but get frustrated with when someone like you, Al “no justice, no peace” Sharpton urge the black community to remain calm in the face of injustice. I get frustrated when we as a black community are asked to remain calm and never be violence in society that has said over and over that there is no consequence for perpetuating violence against our bodies. I’m frustrated that once again the victims of the violence are being held to higher standard than the one creating the violence.

I am not someone who condones violence or destruction. Many times riots end up hurting the black community more than it helps. At the same time, I AM angry, Al! And I want you to affirm that and to affirm the anger of the young men who are as angry as you were when you were their age. I want you to care more about what the still-living “Trayvons” worry about than what the people at Fox news worry about.

Contrary to Mark O’Mara’s implications, I’m not angry because I am a part of a “segment” of society that is just inherently angry. I’m angry because something happened that defies logic. Something happened that only makes sense in the context of white supremacist normativity. I’m angry because we deny that American culture is built on white supremacist normativity, while perpetuating it over and over again in our “justice” system.

I’m not going to riot, Al. I promise. But I’m not mad at those who do. I’m happy that even momentarily, the spirit of apathy that has just washed over my community and many like mine, has gone away. I’m happy that the people who took their anger to the streets are not somewhere in their house shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads saying “that’s just the way it is. Black men get kill. No one goes to jail. I can’t do anything about that.” I think someone like you should be happy too.

Bless you Rev. Al,

Love,

The Mad Preacher.

Unmuting the the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I saw three “capitalism in honor of Martin Luther King Day” commercials this week. Sears, Kmart and some mattress company really wants us to celebrate the life of the martyred Civil Rights champion by spending money we don’t have on crap we don’t need. And you might say… what’s the problem? We celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection by buying and consuming bunnies filled with high fructose corn syrup. Why should Martin expect better treatment? That’s a good point sarcastic voice in my head.

But I guess like Jesus I am worried that what Martin Luther King actually said and did has gotten lost a glaze of rhetoric. And we all laugh and scoff at the corporations who choose to put commercials out there asking to come shop at their “MLK Day Sale.” But I don’t think KMart and friends are the only ones complicit in what Cornell West calls the “Santaclausification” of Martin Luther King.

And while I am happy to spend this whole post complaining about the people selling me mattresses in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I’m going to leave that behind and pick on some people who are closer to my home: the progressive church.

I’ve been on a little bit of a rampage for the past few months. As much as I love the progressive church and the fact that it welcomed me and my call when we were both homeless, I have some challenges for them… us? And my challenge as it pertains to Martin Luther King Jr. is to not ignore race and racism when it comes to celebrating his legacy.

Now, this seems like a really dumb thing to have to say. But unfortunately it is necessary. Yes Dr. King spoke out against Vietnam and yes he was organizing the poor people’s campaign. Yes he saw the connections between many kinds of oppressions and many types of violence. But the root of his ministry and mission was to the freedom and dignity of people of African decent in the the US. His words very distinctly cut to the core of America’s racial history. In very specific terms he named and spoke out against the legalized physical, social, psychological and spiritual violence that was waged against African Americans every day.

He did speak about the war and about poverty because he saw the connection between various forms of oppressions. But one did not trump the other. But all these years later, majority white progressive churches, tend to lean heavily on his anti-war and anti-poverty angle while muting the struggle against racial oppression. I really am not sure why this has begun to happen. Is it because we are “post-racial”? Is it because Obama is president? Or is it because it is easier to talk against poverty and war than it is to talk about race? Is it the fact that if we spoke about the work that Martin Luther Kind did to end segregation, we’d have to admit that we didn’t really get finish doing that work in our churches?

I think it’s a kind of fear and guilt based denial that makes us want to make Dr. King into a man whose racial commentary didn’t go beyond speaking in vague terms about people of different “skin colors” getting together and singing a spiritual. It’s scary to think that some of what he actually said about racism in American may still be socially if not legally relevant.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.-Some other words you probably have not heard from the “I Have a Dream Speech”.

The Sign of True Freedom (The Mad Preacher Rants about the Bed Intruder Song and Precious) aka Man in the Mirror aka Stop the Hate

So I tried to write a response to this NPR Article as a comment on someone’s Facebook page. But it got too long. So I will do it here, as I continue to ignore my worship prep work. (I’ll get back to it right after this I promise!)

This article truly makes me sick. Oh wait maybe it’s not the article. I’m doing what I’m about to say black people do all the time, which is blame the media for taking the type of black people who we cannot stand seriously. It’s not the tv station’s fault that Antoine Dodson was was “angry, defiant and flamboyant” as much as it’s not NPR’s fault that 80 years later the “New Negro” is still running around trying to rid the world of the “Old Negro” they don’t want to see. (It’s a Harlem Renaisance reference look it up.)

It’s the Precious debate all over again. Black folks too often blame the media for showing the side of black life that self-hatred and internalized racism tells them shouldn’t be viewed “in public”. “I don’t want to see a black man with a red rag on his head on TV because white people might see him and judge me. And I don’t even wear a rag!” “I don’t want the story of a plus size poor black girl being told because that same white person might judge me.”

I wonder, instead of asking authors and filmmakers and tv stations to censor every black person that doesn’t reach our New Negro standards, if we could begin to say to ourselves all of the people in our community are fully human and fully free and have a right to exist and be seen in spite our our personal (internalized)racist discomfort. I wonder if we could write into stations and not say things like “don’t air Antoine’s story”. I wonder if we could separate our calls for justice from our own internalizes self hatred.

Instead we could write to networks and movie studios and maybe to the NAACP and to ourselves and say something like:

We as African Americans long for true freedom. We long for the freedom that each white citizen has, not to be judged monolithicly (I know it’s not a word but work with me) by the behaviors of any individual white person. We want the freedom that white Americans have to tell their stories and be all of who they are no matter how rich or poor or racist or funny-looking they are, without it reflecting poorly on the whole white race. We as African Americans long for that true freedom. And we think you, tv producer, writer, (blah blah blah) can help by telling all stories from all perspectives for all kinds of black people. In a medium where both Tea Party members and Alex Trebek can exist, I think there is also room for both Antoine Dodson and Dominique Atchison.

Oh and by the way, just in case anyone cares… while we are lost in our embarrassment about Precious’ potential Mammy-dom or Antoine’ red rag… yet another story about a black women being sexually abused and/or assaulted got passed over and ignored… I just thought I’d throw that in there NP(freakin’)R! I know you want to talk about the rag some more… so run and tell that homeboy… homeboy… home homeboy!

Hippy’s not enough…

So the word “Hippie”/Hippy… has been floating around my world a little too much lately. And while I celebrate all that I am, I am a little unsure about that particular title. Yes I am theoretically a pure bread hippy. I was raised by a very poltically conscious mother. I went to Oberlin. I went to Union Seminary. I left the Baptists for the UCC. I love my Birkenstocks! My hair is natural. I like long flowery dresses and skirts. I use the word “vibe” and “energy” to describe spaces and communities. I use the words “space” and “community” a lot. I sometimes like to walk barefoot in grass. I’ve gone hiking a few times. I think sitting next to water and looking at the sky are great spiritual practices. I’ve lived in Park Slope. I live in Ann Arbor.

But there are a few specific things about claiming this term that does not sit well with me.

1) My ancestors and other black people. For me my hippie-dom is a representation and celebration of my freedom. And isn’t that what the ancestors were fighting for? The freedom of our people? Sometimes the reactions I get make me wonder. I often think about how Maya Angelou said “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” I sometimes think “yeah Maya so am I…” but other times I wonder if I’m actually the nightmare. Black folks too often act as if physical and legal freedom is the only thing we can hope to get in this world. Emotional, spiritual and social freedom is only for white people. I way too often get punished by black people for being too free…

2)White folk. I sometimes think that if the above list of schools and accomplishments and places of residence and blah blah… were pinned to the chest of a 30 year old white woman named Kate… we’d have a whole ‘nother story. Kate would be ordained a hippy and I guess a minister if she wanted to be and that would be it. She would be married to some progressive man who would have taken her last name. And no one would question why she didn’t just settle for the the dude in front of the Popeye’s on 125th. And Kate would have little cute kids who would wear cute political tee-shirts and go to drumming circles every week. And those kids will never have to chose between being “progressive” and being “white”. Kate would would not constantly be questioned about her loyalty to her denomination (even if she had come from the Baptist church). No one would EVER tell the administrator of the church to not collect offering on the Sunday she supply preached, lest Kate take the offering. Kate would never have been asked 3000 times “how did YOU get into Oberlin?” And even if she were on scholarship… no one would ever point-blank ask her questions about how she afforded her college education.

So the point is as much as freedom has led me to all of the hippy spaces and hippy conclusions… there is a white supremacist (yeah I said it) legacy that keeps me from fully engaging and experiencing true “hippy-dom”.

(Yeah I spelled hippy 2 different ways I don’t know which is right… just leave me alone!)

Preference vs Oppression

It’s funny how so many including John Stossel want to boil racial history down to a matter of preference. And while there are some aspects of racial discrimination that could theoretically be seen as a preference, I don’t think that’s what white supremacy and what someone I was speaking to call “cultural imperialism” has ever been about. We seem to forget that it wasn’t about anything even related to preference that led to slavery, segregation and Jim Crow and desperities in health care and the shooting of Sean Bell or any other racialized moment in American history.

But before I go into more detail with those points, I’d like to say this: If you are a so-called “private business owner” who sit on land within the borders of the United States and receive the benefits of tax revenue paid by EVERY citizen and many non-citizens (including the land itself, paved streets and roads people take to get there, the public transportation people take to get there, street lights, the benefits paid to the employees when they retire or are disabled, police, and even the military if it come to that), YOU should and will be held to the standards of the Constitution and Federal Laws including the Constitution and it’s amendments inclusive of the Civil Rights Act. Therefore while you have a right to be privately racist (I don’t recommend it), a business on US soil by nature is not private. Sorry…

Having said that, I really really want to get at this notion that racism is about preference. So first of all no one is EVER going to tell a blond woman or a white man with a beard that they cannot come into a country club or a privately owned business. So a) stop being ridiculous John Stossel! And b) if some lunatic decides that’s what he wants to do, that action will not be the result of hundreds of years of systematic and violent oppression of men with mustaches or blond women and it does not represent the current and future lack of access to the children of those blond men or women with mustaches (lol).

So for the blond and the mustached the moment of preference begins and ends there. But for people of color in America the moment of oppression has lived throughout history and may very well continue to live into the generations to come. And it has and may continue to have strong emotional and psychological (if not physical) ramifications.

An Affirmative Action Baby’s Reflection on the Birthday of Malcolm X

Today would have been Malcolm X’s 85 birthday. I searched YouTube to find some of my favorite clips of Malcolm in his hay day. And unlike many, my favorite Malcolm moments or quotes are not his speeches or quotes from his autobiography or easily swallowed quotes from his post-Mecca days. My favorite moments were the interviews he did with the white media. It was so very clear in all of those interviews how bias these “unbiased” newsmen were. It was clear how much they wanted Malcolm to be something he wasn’t. It was clear that they wanted Malcolm to be an inarticulate brute filled with contradictions and nonsensical ramblings. But he wasn’t that. He met them toe to toe and articulated his point to them using their language and syntax and cultural mannerisms.

And in a white dominated (supremacist if you will) world, there is nothing more frightening than a person of color that make sense, who cannot be dismissed. There’s nothing more frightening than a person of color who has seen the inside of the white world and knows how to communicate in that context and uses that context to communicate dissatisfaction with that world. And for white America that’s what Malcolm was. He was part white, in a way that was visible (light skin, red hair, freckles). He grew up in predominately white schools. Like Obama he knew how to switch out of that “negro dialect”. Yet he was not a “happy negro”.

As a black woman who, with the exception of two years, was educated in majority white prep schools, I resonate with this side of Malcolm. I’ve been thinking about the fact that many of your more “angry” black radicals and radicals of color spent a whole lot of time, specifically their formative years, in a very white cultural context. I often think about the beginning of Soul of Black Folks where WEB DuBois describes his early years as a child in an all white school in New England. This in turn makes me think about the justified anger of those of us who some fool at a conference I went to referred to dismissively as “Affirmative Action Babies”.

I feel that there is a whole generation of us who were the “only-onlies” in our all white schools who have similar radical anger. Yet in this generation we have found no real cultural space in black society and no political place in white society. So we sort of live in the liminal space between the two world communing with each other. We are activist and artist and preachers, who struggle to find space. In a world of the post-Civil Rights, “Dangerous Minds” and “Finding Forester” paradigm of educating children of color, there is no room for anger against the society that “allowed” you to get “out of the streets” and “be somebody”. But we are angry. We feel more isolated and alone than we actually are.

But this is why I, the one that some (maybe even Malcolm) might call a sell out, hold on to that side of Malcolm for hope that there is some truth in my anger and that there is some redemption to be found in this tight-rope walking double conscious journey.

O-nauguration in the Racial Nation (Pt1): The First Biracial President

obamasmother_2These are the people who raised our current president… Madelyn, Ann and Stan Dunham. Imagine if an Angel of the Lord came down then and told them… “Behold I give you great tidings of comfort and joy. You will bring forth the first Black president of the United States of America”… Crazy right!

The day after the inauguration I went to visit my good friend Michelle and her 15 month old daughter, Gabryel, who is also my goddaughter. Gabryel is the child of a white man of Eastern European heritage and Michelle, a Canadian born, black woman of Trinidadian heritage. As I sat on the floor with Gabryel, she began singing something. I discovered, at the third or forth round that she was chanting, “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” And later I asked her, “Are you going to be the next bi-racial president of the United States?” “Yeah…” she replied in a very nonchalant way.

I sit here now, watching two very light-skinned black women talk about our new president. They are opposed to the notion that Barack Obama would be considered the first bi-racial president. They said that this valued a certain type of “pigmentocray” (valuing lighter skinned African Americans over daker skinned ones). They made the point that most African Americans were of mixed heritage and the historical boundaries of race in the US would have legally pushed Obama into a “black” identity.

While historically this is very true, racial politics have shifted greatly since the days of legal definitions of race. This is by no means an attempt to ignore the legacy of things like the one drop rule, the 3/5 clause, Jim Crow laws and many other laws of the sort. It is more to say that we live in a racial climate where children of parents from two or more racial backgrounds can more openly identify with all of who they are. We live in an era when I, child of 2 black parents and Gabryel, a child of mixed heritage can celebrate all of who we are and Obama together. If a person is raised by one black and one white parent they can have love and respect for both. We no longer live in the era of Imitation of Life. Bi-racial people no longer have to chose between their black or white parent, between oppression and passing.

Again that doesn’t exempt bi-racial people from the oppressive and often (emotionally and physically) violent legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. But this legacy shouldn’t make people born of two black parents stingy. We should share in the joy of this new president. We should share this victory with the bi-racial, the people born to immigrant parents, the kids of color raised by white parents and so on… it’s not just our victory black folk!