Black Is Beautiful

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Black is Beautiful

It is 1972. I am 7 years old. My mother who normally wears her hair in a large easy to care for afro has just gotten back from the beauty parlour where she has had her hair whipped up into an impressive multi-tiered array of cornrows (a la Cicely Tyson.) It sits atop her head like a crown and will be the glory of the ensemble that she will wear to emcee a gala fashion show being held in the nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She is dressed to the nines. Her black and gold embroidered gown echoes tudor fashion and quite simply, the entire ensemble makes her look like a queen. It is moments like those that taught me what it meant to say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

imageWhy do I return to that moment now? Because, every day, there is a new video, a new story, a new revelation about how black people are being beaten and victimized by police and society in general. There is another mass shooting by a male white supremacist who can’t stomach anything female or browner than him having any sense of public pride. My Facebook feed is full of cries for help and justice. There are arguments about why “all lives matter” and the importance of animal rights and Iran and nuclear proliferation…and in the midst of it all, I fear sometimes we have lost the point.

My brothers and sisters, we have forgotten the simple fact that:

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

I recall that those three words caused just as much storm back in the day as #BlackLivesMatter does today. White people were not only offended, but downright scared, because just a few years earlier, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers made it clear that they meant business. They were literally prepared to die for Black Power and the idea of BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was deeply linked to that passion.

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1968 Olympics (AP Photo)

But of course there were those who would soft pedal this message. Way back when he was relevant, Bill Cosby, chimed in with a quote that the “all lives…” folks would like:

“It isn’t a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is white is not all that’s beautiful.”

…yeah, Bill, that seems about right coming from you now.

People, I want to take this moment to unabashedly and most selfishly say that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. I say it not to take away the beauty of any other people…with a family that looks like the United Nations, that includes black, white, Asian, Latino and all variations in between, I couldn’t do that. I say it because, I need to be able to look in the mirror today as a 50 year old living through a media hell that feels like a constant throwback to 1964 Alabama and say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Just as I did as a 7 year old in a world where I was frequently surrounded by and asked to live up to whiteness. If you are black, you need this old 1970’s language more than ever to simply get through reading the papers. Say it aloud: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. If you are not black, you might want to take a moment to chime in and support those of us who are seeing nothing but images of ourselves dying and being tortured and an ongoing parade of oppression…try it: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Consider this, because my education has been here in the United States, where we only learn about the dominant culture history (white and male), I’ve had to promote and support and glorify and praise whiteness my entire life.  My college degree is based entirely on how much I know about white history, people and ways of being.  I celebrate national holidays praising white men and barter with paper covered with their image.  I cross bridges, pass monuments and all but the odd MLK or Cesar Chavez boulevard, is named for white people. I’ve been taught more than enough about “white is beautiful.” Having a moment where we all declare that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL is not too much to ask.

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Black Panther Party 1965-1970 (Ilka Hartmann 1970)

No, we should not turn away from the difficult work at hand, police and prison reform, elimination of public firearms, more comprehensive education, etc. And we need to find ways to get past the black white narrative of oppression in the United States.  But in this moment, for me, I have to pace myself through this epic march. I need a cool refreshing, replenishing drink of self love…

#BlackLivesMatter…yes, but let us not forget for one moment that before that, BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

A Rhodes by Any Other Name…

Adam Dyer:

From my other blog All Out Adam….thoughts on the continuing journey of an LGBT man of color.

Originally posted on All Out Adam:

“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence…If there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible…”

– Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902)

I will undoubtedly incur some wrath, disappointment and confusion for this post. It may seem uncharacteristically negative in some ways; please remember that I am too on a journey.

Colin Walmsley (who lists himself as “Rhodes Scholar, researcher, writer, explorer”) recently published a blog post on Huffington Post: “The Queers Left Behind: How LGBT Assimilation Is Hurting Our Community’s Most Vulnerable” in which…

View original 1,099 more words

Not Over…

imageWhen Bree Newsome scaled to the top of the flagpole outside of the State Capitol of South Carolina (with the help of James Tyson) she did what many black and white Southerners alike had dreamed about for a long time. She simply and with respect, took down the Confederate battle flag. This particular flag was put in place as a direct protest to the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960’s and there has been a great deal of debate about it ever since. A particularly interesting debate occurred some 3000 miles away last week in my current city of San Diego when Dwayne Crenshaw of RISE San Diego was interviewed by Allen Denton of KUSI about the Confederate flag. I encourage you to watch this entire piece (KUSI Confederate Flag.) Besides the nervous vocal ticks of Allen Denton when he is with Mr. Crenshaw and the interviewer’s not so subtle bias toward the more academic approach of Trevore Humphrey of the San Diego History Center, the most telling moment is when Crenshaw skillfully reminds Denton that yes the Civil War was about economics…the economics of slavery; and yes, the Civil War was about states rights…the right to own slaves. He drives home the central point of everyone who ever objected to the public display of this flag from 1960 to Bree Newsome, to this weekend when the flag finally officially came down: there is no escaping the connection of the “Stars and Bars” with slavery in the United States.

But this leaves us with a very large and challenging vacuum. Suddenly, a symbol that has been adopted by millions of people in the South as a signifier of Southern culture, history, pride, etc., regardless of its direct symbolism of the racial polarization of our nation, has been legally and democratically removed signaling what will probably be a trend of its removal by other governments and agencies. Already retailers have removed it and are refusing to sell it. This is the Paula Deen fiasco on a much larger historical and cultural scale.  The days of the even tenuous political correctness of the Confederate Flag are over.  What is a Southerner to do in its absence?

I don’t have an answer to that. I was recently involved in a brief Facebook exchange with some black colleagues who spoke of something that we almost all share. We have researched our family history using a number of online tools that are available today and everything is fine until we try to go back before 1865. There are no records of our families or our people or our history prior to 1865. Actually, that’s not true, there are records “Negro/Male/24; Negro/Female/7; Negro/Male/ 50…” They are as anonymous as parts of machinery, for that is all they amounted to for the people keeping records of human life in the United States south prior to 1865. My and my friends histories, were ignored and deleted while our ancestors were slaves. I believe that this is part of the reason we have the kinds of struggles of belonging that we have today among many blacks. We can’t point to our people who facilitated the lives and wealth of our “founding fathers.” We can’t name the nursemaid that cared for the slaveholding elite that drove industry in early 19th century America. We have systematically been written out of the history of the United States prior to 1865.

So, I don’t have an answer to how or what form or why Southern pride will be reborn once the Confederate Flag is uniformly relegated to history books and museums. I do, however, know that Southern pride is very real and a valuable part of what makes the United States what it is. My earnest and sincere hope is that the people of the South are able to find the part of Southern heritage that they can celebrate that doesn’t celebrate the denial of my heritage as a black person.

Huffington Post: South Carolina Confederate Flag Comes Down

Hey Dylann,

imageHey Dylann,

Its been a while. Its been a while since we last saw you out in full view. 1968 to be exact. You’ve been kind of hiding in corners and shadows since then…yeah, its been a while.

I wanted to let you know that since you were last here, there’ve been some changes. You see, the last time you stood in full view you really pissed us off and, well, things might play out a little differently than you may be expecting. There are a lot of people who look just like you who are downright sick over being associated with you. They look like the people you go to church with, the people in your family…the people you trust. But they aren’t you. They’ve woken up to the fact that there is no basis for hating because of the color of someone’s skin and at every turn they are determined to change what happens next. Sure, they struggle with hearing about everything you did in the past, genocide, slavery, rape…because like you, that is the history they are associated with. Unlike you, that history causes them agony; unlike you the only way forward they see is to write a new narrative. They are willing to look at all the ugly you represent and say loud and clear, “I am not that! I will not be that!” More importantly, they are willing to act on what they believe and frankly, they want to see you dead.

Another thing that has changed? All those folks who don’t look like you have now put themselves in positions of power so that when you’re looking up at a jury or a judge, there’s a good chance you will be looking in the eyes of someone who looks like the 9 innocent people you killed this week…or the people you set dogs and hoses on in 1965 or the men you lynched and castrated before that or the immigrants you abused to death at the turn of the century or the Native People you burned and raped when you arrived on their land. In fact, the highest attorney in our country is now someone who, 165 years ago, you might have taken to the woods and used. What a shame that you didn’t realize that every time she gave birth to one of your bastard children and every time you excluded those children from your family/club because of a silly “one drop” mentality, they went off and became part of an army of people who now hold your very existence in their hands.

Yes, Dylann, its been a long time since we’ve seen you in plain view. We knew you were there, just as you had been there for all those years before. But you know what, this time, we’re ready for you…we’re all ready for you and that, my friend, means there’s no escape.

– The People

Update: the following is a link to a Huff Post article that claims to have a “manifesto” from Dylann Roof : READ HERE

Praying Aloud

IMG_0262Last night I attended a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and I was reminded of the power in praying aloud.  After passionate testimony from some of the clergy gathered, Rev. Leslie White of Bethel AME Church in San Diego, instructed the crowd of more than 100 to join together in small prayer circles and lift up our voices in prayer.  He indicated that it would be a song of overlapping voices and that it would be beautiful, but I had no idea how right he would be.

There were people gathered there who were of many faiths and many racial backgrounds including many from First UU San Diego; certainly there were poor and well off in the room, those of differing abilities, LGBT folks, people of all ages…it was a moment of solidarity that I have not experienced before.  And we all prayed.  We prayed to Jesus, Allah, spirit of life, merciful God, the heavens, to each other, for the dead…everyone had a unique way of praying.  It was, yes, incredibly beautiful.

But it was a reminder to me of the drastic difference between silent and audible prayer.  Silent prayer is beautiful as well.  It helps us access our inner life and journey and helps us to feel whole and directed.  But praying aloud, particularly with others, is  a public declaration and it is one way that we are able to drown out the sounds of evil in the world.

Sounds like:

“he is suffering from mental illness”

“he has no previous offenses”

“he almost didn’t do it”

“access to guns is to blame”

“the pastor not being armed is the problem”

We are all being called at this moment in time to pray aloud…in whatever way we can.  We must pray so loud that there is no other sound heard but the sound of the overwhelming love into which we are born; a love that will not excuse, tolerate or listen to acts motivated by racial hatred. Pray aloud in the 400 year old face of victimization of black people by whites.  Pray aloud in the face of assumptions about race and racial identity. Pray aloud in the face of coopted, stolen and erased histories.  Pray aloud for those who have died, that they may live in our hearts and travel with us in our actions for justice and peace. Pray so loud that the only sound that can be heard is love.

Have you prayed aloud today?

Stop Resisting*

Warning: The following blog contains video content that is extremely disturbing and is posted for educational purposes only. Please watch at your own discretion.

PBS – Need to Know: Crossing the Line at the Border

I’m posting the link to the PBS documentary on the murder of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the San Diego border because there are two words that haunted me when I read about the recent altercation between police and a black family at a Fairfield, Ohio pool. The words are “Stop Resisting.” It would seem that these are the magic words that police and law enforcement officers utter to magically transform and safeguard their actions into an act of subduing a “violent criminal”…in the case of today’s situation, a 12 year old girl (read about it HERE.) With Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the officers claimed that he became violent and needed to be subdued as they were transporting him back to Mexico…even though, as the video above shows, his feet were bound and ultimately his trousers were nearly torn off.  We hear the officers shouting “stop resisting” while he is repeatedly tazed and crying for his mother. In the end, he can be seen lying unresponsive on the ground (this happened in plain view of many people crossing the border and was captured on a camera phone.) We hear echoes of this command to “stop resisting” when we look at the Eric Garner video and see an unarmed man being choked to death. We hear it when the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice case (also a 12 year old) claims that the “he had no other choice.”

IMG_0249These cases all began with assumptions. Assumptions and specific choices by the victims: that they could get away with breaking a minor law (Eric Garner); or escape a traffic violation or child support (Walter Scott); or in the case of Tamir Rice that he could play with a toy gun, or in the case of this week’s 12 year old, that she could go to a pool and swim with someone who had no suit. But it is the assumptions of those doing the policing that are repeatedly turning these stories into funerals. The assumption that a teenager wearing a hoodie is going to rob somebody and doesn’t belong in the neighborhood (Trayvon Martin); the assumption that a large framed teenager walking in the street is an unwelcome and lethal threat (Michael Brown); the assumption that a bikini clad 15 year old is going to cause physical trouble (McKinney, TX); the assumption that a 12 year old girl at a pool is a threat to a fully grown, armed and body armor clad man (Fairfield, OH); and of course the assumption presented in the PBS video above, that a hog tied immigration detainee with a broken ankle is a potentially lethal menace to at least 10 border patrol agents (Hernandez-Rojas.)

“The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.”

If all of this sounds ridiculous it is because, tragically, it is. There is no logic or justification for the psychology that is being exhibited as a standard in the way policing works in the United States. The only thing that is extremely clear is that the behavior being trained into the way people are policed in our country (regardless of the race of the officers…see Freddie Gray) is that if an alleged perpetrator has black or brown skin, regardless of their gender identity or if they have an accent, they are assumed to be older, more devious, more violent and more of a lethal threat to public order than they most likely are.

Our culture is playing with fire. The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.  All of this has the potential to spiral even more out of control than it already has.  As a civil society, we must look at the social construct we call race and actually deal with it. The truth is that we are no where yet near living in a world where it is either useful or welcome for a biologically, genetically and ethnically white woman to choose to be “black” so that she can co-opt her place in “fighting the good fight” ; particularly, when black and brown people who can’t choose to be anything else are being shot, beat up, targeted and abused, not only by deranged white supremacists, but even by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us all. The social construct of race was not created to keep white people in…it was created to keep everyone else out (see: #europeanimperialism & #onedroprule.) Until we deal with that  inequity, there will be no real just and fair inclusion…or policing for any of us.  And until we deal with it, people of color most certainly will not “stop resisting.”

*Please note: this post was written before news of the murders at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina had broken. Out of respect for the grieving families, I will not post commentary until an investigation has begun and the community directly impacted has decided on how they need to be supported. Please hold them in your hearts.

Choices, Choices, Choices…

 

Being born with dark brown skin is not a choice.
Being subject to violence based on the history of dark brown skin is, tragically, not a choice.

Fighting back against a systemic perversion of life based on dark brown skin is a choice.

Being born with light pink skin is not a choice.
Being associated with an embarrassing legacy of oppression created to protect light pink skin is not a choice.

Living each day to actively relieve that oppression connected to light pink skin is a choice.

Being born with a vagina is not a choice.
Being targeted as an object by ignorant people because of that vagina is, horrifically, not a choice.

Destroying restrictive patriarchy and building strong female narratives is a choice.

Being born with a penis is not a choice.
Being perceived to have immense, unwarranted, unjustified privilege because of that penis is not a choice.

Actively disempowering and stepping away from all vestiges of that privilege is a choice.

Being born with one or more sets of sexual anatomy is not a choice.
Being of a different inner life than that anatomy is not a choice.

Living into a healthy expression of the balance between the two is a lifesaving choice…
and is therefore no choice at all.

We do not choose the biology that we are born with.
Nor do we choose the history that goes with that biology.
Whether it is about sex or skin color…
We are all the product of the combination of both…biology and history…and so much more.

And our psyche is one place where the two meet
And we don’t get to choose that.

The spark of life…our spirit…is another
And that spark spirit is what impels us to want peace in our lives
…and we didn’t choose that either.

Being whole will never be just about an appearance,
Living a masquerade of someone else’s history…pain…journey…
Hiding behind makeup or hairstyles is, in the truest sense, a travesty;
Being whole is not.

Being whole begins within…
And being whole is not a choice when the other options are oblivion or death.

What we choose, and what is often truly brave,
Is how we share our wholeness with the world.

Being whole is the only choice.