Making Black History Month Relevant Part II

black history matters

As Black History Month approaches,we face the typical avalanche of Black firsts, Black trivia facts, and a roll-call of all-too-familiar heroes and sheroes. Based on where you are in knowledge of self, these things have their place. I already wrote one article on the topic of using Black History Month (and all other months) much more fully than we currently do. This article constitutes the second part to that article.

As suggested in my first article,  I hope BHM becomes a time when we do more analysis of our condition and focus on learning and applying those lessons on the ground rather than in strictly theoretical ways. Imagine with me how beneficial it would be if BHM involved:

1. re-examining our understanding of key people like Malcolm X, Dr. King and others whose work and significance are routinely oversimplified and misinterpreted.

2. Discussing the concept of self-determination for Black people and how to implement this concept responsibly. Far too many people (including those of color) STILL insist on telling us what  issues to address, how to address them, and how to be more inclusive, without doing that same work in their own communities.

3. Exploring historical attempts to protect Black life (beyond proclamations that our lives matter)  from state-sponsored AND self-inflicted brutality.

4. Developing our people’s capacity to identify and prioritize issues, articulate them effectively, and engage in effective activism, organizing and INSTITUTION–BUILDING (the work of SNCC and Ella Baker are good models). This would include offering valid critiques of traditional organization and activism models and possibly creating alternatives or modifications to already existing models.

5. Studying government efforts to disrupt, spy on and destroy our organizations/movements and developing ways to neutralize these efforts

6. Finding ways to involve class and gender along with racial analysis in ways that make our political ideology/organizing more accurate, effective, and inclusive.

7. Determining how, when, and with whom to form alliances and to do so in ways that don’t compromise or dismiss our own needs/interests as we strive to accommodate others.

8. Identifying and studying unsung and obscured Black people, plans, experiences and organizations that might offer direction and remedies to problems we face today

9. Exploring ways to develop non-exploiting financial literacy and wealth-generating institutions to empower our communities to be more self-sufficient

10. Creating curricula in conjunction with a network of schools and extracurricular programs that make our children culturally, academically, financially, politically and spiritually literate and competent

11. Deconstructing and expanding our view of “activism” in addition to our understanding of who our “enemies” are. While others dominate and exploit us in every way imaginable, some of us hold on to outdated and rigid ideas of what “real activism” is. Technology and emerging issues and new forms of domination require expanded and more diverse views of organizing and activism. We also cannot afford to see our enemies as simply “the white man,” as corporate power and repressive policies/actions transcend simplified notions of racial affiliation. Nor can we fool ourselves into thinking that activism only consists of the “boots-on-the-ground” variety.

In addition, our concept of booking speakers must radically change. Churches, community centers and colleges have meager funds in these days of austerity. In light of this, speakers must make their fees more reasonable. Groups should not exhaust all or the majority of their budget to hire one speaker.

Not just the fee, but the content of speeches must change as well. Students, activists and members of the larger community need specific information and skills more than ever. The old Black History Month speech template included references to our ancient greatness, calls for Black unity and activism, bold statements against the U.S. government, references to great ( and often male) Black leaders, and a focus on attacking white society while inspiring Black folks.

This template and formula are not sufficient today. Today’s speakers must help audiences understand how oppression works, provide specific tools/information in a relevant area of expertise, and provide materials we can reference once they depart for their next speech. Speakers should consult with the group hiring them to determine their specific needs, so they can provide relevant and useful information rather than generic, one-size-fits-all presentations. We must move forward, refine, and progress as a people, constantly working on improving and becoming more effective.

___________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Why The Negroes Suffer

black fist

This blog does not contain much writing. Today I’m using poetry to get points across. Some of you may know I’ve been an educator, author and activist, but many don’t know that I grew up in Harlem as an aspiring Hip Hop emcee. I wrote rhymes, practiced all the time, and really took it seriously. Most of my high school buddies thought I would eventually become a famous rap artist. In fact, two of my high school classmates and friends did become well-known artists. You know them as “Fatman Scoop” and “Diamond D.” But as I became older and more disenchanted with the violent and minstrel-like direction of Hip Hop, I moved away from being an emcee and evolved into more of a spoken word poet.

Please watch the video below to hear me perform my poem entitled, “This is My Thesis” or “Why the Negroes Suffer.” It provides a summarized and abbreviated sense of my political views. It is more dynamic of course, when I perform in before a crowd either at a poetry open-mic night or as an opening to a speech. Therefore, this rendition is not as dynamic or energetic, but content wise, it stills gets the points across.

In a larger sense, the poem provides a simplified but (in my opinion) valid critique of white supremacy while offering a sociological analysis of why and how Black people are oppressed, in addition to how we Black people unfortunately internal the negative messages about ourselves and contribute to our own victimization.

There are some minor uses of profanity, and I sometimes use the N word to convey meaning. Please be mindful of this if viewing at work, in a formal environment, and around young people.

I encourage you to share this on your social media networks, classroom discussions and sessions designed to develop political consciousness among young people. I also encourage you to post responses to the poem whatever they are as long as you do so respectfully, and to click the “like” button if you are so inclined. Black Consciousness and Black Power! Enjoy….

____________________

 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote “The Blueprint: A Black Student Union Handbook.” In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Why Political Correctness Must Die!

head up your assThe news of NBA team-owner Donald Sterling’s racist and bigoted comments concerning Black people, had citizens (especially Black citizens) of the United States in an uproar.

Liberal and progressive-minded Black folk voiced righteous indignation upon learning how the 80 year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Online petitions emerged. Facebook discussion groups debated whether Black athletes on the team should boycott, or if Black Clippers’ fans should take the lead in protest.

Next came official league sanctions when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling was now banned for life from “any association with the Clippers or the NBA.” Silver explained the ban to mean that Sterling “may not attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers’ facility, may not participate in any business or player/personnel decisions regarding the team, or participate in any other league activity.” In addition, Sterling would have to pay a $2.5 million fine for his actions with the money going to civil rights organizations. Silver also said he would push for Sterling to sell the team. As writer Roger Groves noted in a Forbes article, despite all the statements of outrage by NBA owners, players, and the Commissioner Sterling still owns the Los Angeles Clippers.

I followed these events, in a serious effort to understand why this issue resonated so deeply with Black people, and to grasp what it revealed about the United States and racism. I observed the reactions of angry brothers and sisters on Facebook, Twitter, and street-corner conversations. I concluded that political correctness must die. I posted the following comments on Facebook (I edited the passage):

I believe political correctness dupes us into thinking this nation has changed its fundamental views of race. It fools us into naively thinking that racism is simply the expression of individuals rather than of institutions and systems. So we chastise Don Imus, Paula, or Donald Sterling for their beliefs, accept their bullshit apologies, slap them with a few social sanctions, and subconsciously think we’ve scored points against centuries of entrenched racism in America. Political correctness allows white radio and TV personalities, politicians, and NBA team-owners who also harbor racist assumptions and wield white privilege to get off the hook by simply declaring themselves different from their brethren who were “busted.” Lastly, political correctness and its focus on words diverts our attention and energy toward what people say, rather than public policies, law enforcement brutality, mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, corrupt and dishonest politics, poverty, and a long list of other more insidious offenses to our people. We think in effect, “We still get killed in the streets, locked up, treated like shit, miseducated, and discriminated against, but at least we came together and won THIS issue!” Sigh. As I posted on Facebook today:

When members of society have the authority to punish or ostracize people for making remarks deemed inappropriate, they can also make similar determinations for remarks that are controversial but voice truths or frustrations that need to be heard.

Allowing people the space and freedom to express themselves (even when controversial or inappropriate) might be preferable to creating a situation in which people keep their true views/thoughts hidden for fear of public reprisal, or in which things that need expression are repressed. When beliefs and values are hidden, we cannot engage them. And when we cannot engage them, we cannot resolve them.

So-called “political correctness” also creates the false belief that silencing or censoring people somehow silences or helps remove their oppressive and discriminatory views, as in the case with the Clippers owner. Lastly, as people in power typically are the ultimate definers of “truth,” political correctness can take a right-wing conservative turn in which entirely innocent and important forms of expression are labelled “wrong” “insensitive” or “inappropriate” to keep the masses ignorant of empowering information. Perhaps we should get our heads out of our &%% and really think and sort things out for ourselves…..

_________________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Response to “White Student Union” Activities At Towson University

wsu

According to a Huffington Post article published today, a “White Student Union” (WSU) at Towson University plans to begin escorting white people on campus to protect them from anticipated evening violence.

This campus organization has spouted overtly racist beliefs before, and even this seemingly noble act of campus protection has racist undertones. A recent WSU blog revealed the following:

The frequent robberies, sexual assaults, and acts of vandalism at Towson University are not often reported in the local media. For those who are not Towson students it seems hard to fathom that every single day black predators prey upon the majority white Towson University student body. White Southern men have long been called to defend their communities when law enforcement and the State seem unwilling to protect our people.

Here’s a clip about the organization posted last year:

Below is the response I posted on the Huffington Post page in response to the article:

“White student unions” typically are conservative and racist reactionary groups. BSUs exist to provide advocacy and political consciousness, and to challenge the legacy of white supremacy while fighting to create more opportunities for Black students to adjust and excel on a predominately white campus.

In contrast, WSU’s represent an exercise in redundancy since they operate on eurocentric campuses where whites dominate major power relationships and cater to white ethnic needs, aesthetics and norms.

In truth, most WSUs embody, promote, and advocate blatantly racist beliefs and practices scarcely different from the Klan. They formed in response to the perceived presence of uppity, annoying Black students who presumably made it to campus based on “unfair” Affirmative Action policies that “emasculated” whites. They observed BSUs coordinate events, protest racist policies, and fight for empowerment – financed by university student fees – and sought to create a student-funded platform for the same racist ideas and actions that led Black students to create BSUs back in the 60s and 70s.

If these neo-conservatives-in-training wish to protect white girls from violence on campus, that’s their business. I’m curious to know HOW they intend to provide such protection effectively. Are these “escorts” trained in martial arts or self-defense? Will they provide ARMED protection? Even more curious and revealing is how they attribute campus violence solely to Black people. One wonders how they’ll respond to campus stalkers, rapists, and nasty drunks of their own hue (who incidentally tend to account for most campus violence).”

____________________

I am not in the habit of responding to every ignorant act of racists, as I believe we must be proactive. However the formation of WSUs throughout America signals a wave of racist belief and practice reflective of larger issues in this country. We should acknowledge this dynamic and prepare ourselves to confront it.

___________________

Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

How Racist Propaganda Was Used To Subjugate Black People

 

propaganda

{Note: I released my third book entitled, “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens,” on April 6, 2014. Check it out, and help me spread the word!}

__________________________________

Wikipedia defines “propaganda” as “a form of communication that is aimed towards influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.”

It amazes me how much we tend to underestimate the role white supremacist propaganda plays in creating, justifying and maintaining our oppression. Certainly this phenomenon impacts several groups of people, but my focus in this article is on Black people.

What purposes do white supremacy and racism serve?

All you need do is view Marlon Riggs’ pioneering documentary “Ethnic Notions” to appreciate white America’s long and systemic effort to thoroughly degrade and denigrate the Black image and psyche. But why so much effort toward this sinister goal? At its core, white supremacy postulates the lie that whites are innately superior to and therefore naturally poised to dominate and oppress people of color. The theory of racism falsely justifies this lie by assigning value and ranking to people based on their presumed racial category.

Naturally, “white” people and those resembling them are assumed to be superior in almost every form of human expression and activity including but not limited to: beauty, intelligence, ability, leadership, potential, hygiene, health, judgment, ethics, etc.

Racism serves multiple purposes. It provides pseudo empirical evidence to “support” the false claims of innate white superiority and Black inferiority. On one hand, it justifies the negative and discriminatory treatment of original people; it makes the separate and unequal status, opportunities and resources accorded to whites and Blacks seem acceptable and even “natural.”

However, people of color are not the sole victims of racism. Racism encourages white people to feel secure in their whiteness although many of them are as destitute, ignorant and powerless as some of their Black counterparts! This false racial consciousness then prohibits such whites from developing a class consciousness that would lead them to organize with people of color around their common labor exploitation and jointly confront their mutual oppressors…the privileged and elite corporate interests which subjugate poor white AND Black people.

So we see how racism works to divide natural allies, justify brutality and discrimination, and insulate the greedy elite from any real fear of interracial rebellion or revolution.

 Why and how is propaganda used against Black people?

Left to their own devices, humans act in their own best interests. No one desires subjugation! Therefore the only ways whites could get exploit our labor, and generally oppress us was to 1) use coercion/force  and 2) convince us to become parties of our own victimization through brainwashing and social conditioning.

This second and less coercive tactic took more than a century and ample effort on the part of whites, but had the advantage of being extremely effective once completed. Carter G. Woodson in Miseducation of the Negro, described it this way:

If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one and cut one to enter.

Forms of racist propaganda used to subjugate us

10 little niggers

As explained in the film Ethnic Notions, or in Donald Bogle’s remarkable book, ethnic notions“Toms, Coons, Mulattoes,  Mammies and Bucks,” anti-Black propaganda took toms coonsvarious forms including movies, television shows, toys, board games, nursery rhymes, songs, greeting cards, cartoons, jokes, pictures, theatrical productions, and stereotypes. Taken together these various mediums portrayed our people as silly, unintelligent, lazy, unattractive, violent, criminal, etc, We cannot underestimate the extent to which these images and characterizations impact how others see us and how we see ourselves today. This is especially significant when you consider that modified versions of these depictions still exist in popular culture today. Spike Lee explored contemporary anti-Black propaganda in his film “Bamboozled.”

Common Negative thoughts/practices produced by propaganda

Countless times I’ve described this insidious process to friends and co-workers as part of a larger attempt to explain some of our self-defeating attitudes, self-hatred, dysfunction and irritating worship/acceptance of white ideas, symbols and superiority. Not surprisingly, some of us act out the negative scripts written for us by people who despise and seek to control us – and don’t even realize we’re doing so! Nevertheless, we were conditioned to exhibit many of the following counterproductive behaviors and attitudes:

  • Black skin, hair, lips, and body types are ugly or “bad.”
  • Black people can’t organize
  • Jewish lawyers are preferable to those who are Black
  • The tendency to patronize white businesses over our own
  • Our tendency to speak  to one another in the most disrespectful ways but act submissive toward whites
  • A tendency to disrespect and devalue Black authorities
  • A condescending view toward Africa and African people
  • Viewing Black institutions or cultural practices as being inferior to their white counterparts

And the list sadly continues.

Perhaps no one did a more thorough job of explaining and critiquing the dynamic of ranti-Black  propaganda than did brother Malcolm, yet several decades after his murder, and the capable contributions of people like Amos Wilson, Naim Akbar and many others, insecurity, identity issues and self-hatred continue to debilitate our organizations, institutions and communities.

What we can do

I am not naive enough to believe that a condition that took over a century to create will end overnight. There are some practical things we can do immediately to counter anti-Black propaganda

First, we must come to understand how we were/are brainwashed. Second, we can learn the truth about ourselves and our history/contributions.

However, it is not enough to simply produce lists of “Black firsts,” or “Did you know” Black history. Our history must also be analytical. We do ourselves a great disservice when we cite the past without applying thorough analysis. Third, we can teach our children to distinguish between propaganda about us and the truth. Fourth  we should begin to identify, expose and challenge attempts to mischaracterize our people and smear our names. The struggle continues!

Some suggested references:

Films

Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs

Hidden Colors: The Untold History Of People Of Aboriginal, Moor,and African Descent, Tariq Nasheed

Books

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, Tom Burrell

Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery,  Naim Akbar

The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness: Eurocentric History, Psychiatry and the Politics of White Supremacy, Amos Wilson

Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks, Donald Bogle

From Superman to Man, J.A, Rogers

What They Never Told You in History Class, Induskhamit Kush

The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson

African People in World History, John Henrik Clarke

365 Days Of Real Black History: Little Known Facts Of The Global Black Experience From Prehistory To The Present , Supreme Understanding

Internet

The Jim Crow Racist Memorabilia Museum:http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/menu.htm

_______________

Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

The Saga of Christopher Dorner:Bigger Thomas and American Law Enforcement

Dorner

If you are unfamiliar with Christopher Dorner, you are either under the influence of a powerful narcotic, or you live in a cave with no access to television, computer or internet service. In any event, both the corporate propaganda machine (the mainstream media) and corporate security (law enforcement) have every interest in defining this man and his meaning for you.

What we know is that the 33 year-old former LAPD officer and former member of the Navy Reserve recently killed a police officer, the daughter of a former police officer and her fiance . We also know that this armed and dangerous man” has “declared war” on law enforcement officers, and even their family members.

Therefore Mr. Dorner is presented to us as a desperate madman on the run who will inevitably meet a most violent end at the hands of the law enforcement agents chasing him across the “Big Bear” ski resort in southern California.

Of course the media and law enforcement might be correct to describe Dorner as a desperate madman destined for death. The task for we intelligent citizens is to make sense of this bizarre case for ourselves. Among the questions discerning citizens must raise are:
Why would an apparently intelligent and responsible man resort to allegedly murdering innocent people? Dorner posted a 14-page letter online describing the experiences, and revelations that led to his later actions. What do his experiences and actions  reveal about himself, America, and American law enforcement? Why are so many “decent” Americans creating support pages for Dorner and in support of his crusade?

I submit that if Dorner is a desperate madman he certainly was not born that way, but shaped into such by a confluence of racist practices and a racist American system of law enforcement that punishes those with integrity, abuses those it should “protect and serve,” and persecutes those who hold it accountable.

Read Dorner’s letter and you will find a record of racial abuse and injustice dating back to his childhood. He writes of being in an all-white school and receiving racial harassment, of being intelligent, hardworking and integrity-filled, and how the LAPD unfairly harassed and fired him for reporting a fellow officer’s inappropriate use of violence against a civilian.

While the analogy is far from perfect, what we have here is a real-life “Bigger Thomas.” In Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son,” Bigger is the alienated, rage-filled, victim of American poverty, miseducation, self-hatred and racial persecution that becomes a murderous walking time -bomb to white America. Wright wrote this novel to warn White America of the millions of “Biggers” it was creating. Dorner was not raised in dire poverty, nor is there evidence that he hated himself. However, when we read his account, we see a person who has given up on any hope of justice and is now so isolated, so embittered and so desperate to redeem his name that ALL bets are off, in the same way that ALL BETS ARE OFF when police officers kill innocent men, women and children…or like ALL BETS ARE OFF when American military forces kill innocent people in ruthless drone attacks…

Read Dorner’s letter and you will find a record of racial abuse and injustice dating back to his childhood. He writes of being in an all-white school and receiving racial harassment, of being intelligent, hardworking and integrity-filled, and how the LAPD unfairly harassed and fired him for reporting another officer’s excessive use of violence against a civilian.

Read Dorner discuss how his termination (for telling the truth) led him to lose friends, his stint with the Navy and how he became depressed as a result. Am I  suggesting that Dorner’s actions be ignored or excused? No, but I am suggesting that we use our good sense to see that America itself created Dorner and is continuing to mass-produce millions of others through its insensitivity, poverty, greed, injustice, arrogant ignorance, and violence…

__________________

Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

4 Myths about Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King1

Today we observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and reflect upon Dr. King’s message, mission and moral mandate.  Much of what transpires today is predictable: Students have no classes, many workers have the day off, and opportunistic corporations will likely have sales in his “honor.” Churches and community centers will hold large and small commemorations and television networks will air their annual Dr. King movies, interviews, and news specials. Some of us will play audio or video clips of Dr. King’s passionately poetic speeches and marvel at his courage, commitment and vision.

President Obama swears in a private ceremony held at the White House on January 20th. The public ceremony takes place today

President Obama swears in a private ceremony held at the White House on January 20th. The public ceremony takes place today

Of course, the magnitude of this day is not lost on President Barack Obama whose inauguration ceremony coincides with King’s holiday.  According to the Constitution, Presidential inaugurations occur on January 20th. So President Obama was privately sworn in yesterday at noon in the White House. Anytime an inauguration day falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony is pushed back to the following day. This is only the second time since King’s Holiday became official in 1986 that the holiday coincided with the Presidential inauguration. So no, President Obama did not change the day himself to fall on Dr. King’s birthday. In fact, six other U.S. Presidents had their inaugurations on January 21st because the official day fell on a Sunday. Nevertheless we know that the President appreciates this coincidence for all the powerful racial, political and historical meaning it imports. The President announced that he will take his oath using a Bible that once belonged to Dr. King.

Dr. King’s Legacy Still Misunderstood

As is the case with any towering public individual, Dr. King remains a misunderstood figure. With Martin Luther King Jr. the task of accurately perceiving him becomes more complicated given the many dimensions of his life. We can understand him as a man of God, a scholar, an activist/organizer for social justice, an organizational leader, a humanitarian, an orator, a writer, a pacifist, and the list goes on. Moreover, as an important and inspiring Black leader, Dr. King joins a huge pantheon of people whose significance and meaning were deliberately (and unintentionally) distorted by the American elite and by various groups around the world who see in Dr. King a role model and influence for their own particular issues and interests.

In my previous article about Muhammad Ali I made the point that America vilifies our heroes while they’re alive, and honors them in their death. We must NEVER forget that the government wiretapped King’s home and office telephones and hotel rooms across the country. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover – with partial permission from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – compiled a ruthless  record of harassment against King, which included the false accusation of him being a communist,  making audio recordings of his sexual encounters, threatening letters, and ultimately complicity in his assassination in 1968. Then after his death, King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, was voted the number six most important person of the century by Time Magazine (2000), voted the third greatest American by a Discovery Channel poll, awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (2004), had his home and other relevant buildings declared a National Historic Site, and in 2011 was the first non-president honored with a memorial in Washington, D.C. Then on November 2, 1983 following an impressive campaign led by Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder, President Ronald Reagan (of all people) signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday is now observed on the third Monday of January each year. Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

<> on August 22, 2011 in Washington, DC.

The Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, D.C. Dr. King is the first non-president to have such a monument erected in his honor.

A man with over 700 American streets named after him, the first non-President to have a monument in the nation’s capital, and the subject of hundreds of books, movies and documentaries needs no long introduction. Indeed, we can fetch any amount of trivia pertaining to Dr. King from the internet in minutes. The goal of this article is to challenge 4 myths about Dr. King, inaccurate assessments of him that serve to obscure his meaning. My hope is that this will help us to better understand, defend, and implement his ideas.

Debunking The Myths Surrounding Dr. King

1. King was no threat to the power structure. Some politically conscious people, in an attempt to trivialize King’s impact because they disagree with his nonviolent and “integrationist politics,” suggest that Dr. King posed no real threat to American interests. This myth is easily dismissed. Dr. King confronted the philosophy and practice of racial segregation, particularly the racist assumption that Blacks were inferior to whites and subject to their control. In this sense, he challenged and threatened the philosophical basis of and justification of white supremacy! He helped Blacks gain access to educational, political and economic sites of power. Dr. King challenged the military industrial complex by speaking out against war and American imperialism. According to him, “America should support the shirtless and barefoot people in the Third World rather than suppressing their attempts at revolution.” Dr. King also had a class dimension to his analysis. He decried poverty and once noted “Something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” He planned a “Poor People’s Campaign” which sought to have Congress create an “Economic Bill of Rights,” for all American citizens. And lest we forget, his last political move prior to his assassination was to support the strike of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Therefore contrary to the myth, Dr. King posed serious threats to the concept of White supremacy, to the military industrial complex and American imperialism, and to the selfish and ruthless interests of big business/corporations. On a more basic note, if Dr. King were not a serious threat to the establishment, he would not have been jailed over 30 times, had his house bombed, been under government surveillance, or assassinated! Listen to Dr. King courageously challenge American imperialism:

2.  Dr. King’s nonviolent tactics were weak or cowardly. My own political hero Malcolm X once believed this and later came to change his position. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, we must understand that Dr. King did not simply speak against racism, but organized masses of Black people to challenge hostile southern racists directly. He confronted brutal police chiefs, rapidly racist white citizens right in their backyard! He endured time in some of this nation’s most dangerous jails, willingly put himself in great physical danger to do so, and inspired others to join him. We may disagree with the wisdom or impact of King’s tactics, but we certainly cannot say they were “cowardly.”

3. Dr. King was Color-Blind. This myth usually derives from liberal whites who feel left out of the King discussion or from Negroes whose humanitarian interests lead them to confuse racism with self-determination. Dr. King grew up in the racially segregated south. He experienced the isolation of having to use black bathrooms, water fountains, and dining facilities. And he vowed to change this condition. These race-based conditions are what led him to become a leader for social change in the first place. Read his sermons or speeches and see how many references he makes to the “Negro condition,” “racial superiority or inferiority,” or our “sick white brothers.” Or listen to this interview in which he outlines how he developed racial consciousness as a child.Dr. King clearly saw himself as a Black man confronting white supremacy on behalf of Black people. This was his foundation. He certainly welcomed white support and challenged issues beyond race, but to suggest that he was color-blind is simply inaccurate. We cannot remove people from their geographical, historical or political context. Nor should we impose our own politics on those of Dr. King’s. Listen to King speaking to the issue of Blackness below:

4. Whites Chose and Appointed Dr. King’s Leadership. This is another example of disingenuous claims from segments of the Black community. Dr. King rose to national and later global prominence from his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1953-54, initially called by longtime activist Jo Ann Robinson. The Montgomery Improvement Association, composed entirely of Black clergy and community members (my grandmother included), chose Dr. King and asked him to lead the movement. Several years passed before Dr. King received mass support from liberal elements of the white community, and even then he received criticism from some of those elements – a situation for example that led him to write his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in response to white clergy who thought him too impulsive.

Concluding Thoughts

Why is it necessary for us to debunk myths about Dr. King? So that we are empowered to understand, defend, and implement his ideas. If we truly understand Dr. King’s motives and ideas, we can diligently defend them from those who wish to distort and pervert such ideas. We can use his ideas to challenge politicians and others who claim to support Dr. King, but write legislation and public policy diametrically opposed to his philosophy. We can raise important questions. For example, how does Dr. King’s philosophy speak to the murder of Osama Bin Laden or Muammar Ghaddifi without the benefit of a trial by members of their countries? How do we understand America’s military relationships with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land? What is our moral and political mandate concerning poverty, public education, healthcare, social services and the prison system? Are ultra-conservatives justified in attempting to use Dr. King’s words/ideas to justify their attacks on abortion, gay, and women’s rights? Has America truly become “post-racial,” or does white supremacy and discrimination still dominate the landscape? In closing, I submit the following video clip of Dr. King’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which he elaborated on how he wanted to be remembered, at 3:33 seconds in:

Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

A SANKOFA CALL TO BLACK STUDENT UNIONS

sas-protest2 sas protest1 BSU COLLAGE1 BSU Collage

A Word About Special Interests

Politicians regularly denounce and dismiss what they call “Special Interests” or “Special Interest groups.” Of course, these terms are often (but not always) coded language referring to issues or people that are either non-white, non-male, non-privileged, or by definition, non-important by “mainstream” standards. Typically, Blacks, Latinos, women, the poor, the gay community and many other marginalized people comprise such “special interests.”

Fortunately, organizations comprised of committed people form to protect and advance these varied “special interests.” Unions for example represent the “special interests” of workers and in doing so are responsible for making the workplace more tolerable and empowering for all of us. Tenant associations fight to protect the “special interests” of people that rent apartments in residential buildings. All renters have such groups to thank for the establishment of rent caps, written leases which clearly specify rental terms, tenant and landlord responsibilities, housing courts, and a list of protective regulations with which so-called “landlords” must comply.  In similar fashion Black Student Unions formed in the 60s and 70s to represent the “special interests” of Black students attending thousands of predominately white colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Many Black Student Unions Have Lost Their Way

These initial organizations came into being during the tail end of Civil Rights crusades and the birth of Black Power. It is my opinion that too many Black Student Unions today have abandoned the traditions of education, resistance, and Black empowerment they were created to maintain. Political rallies, demonstrations, protests, political education for high school and college students, support for Black Studies Departments, cultural programming and demands to recruit and retain more Black faculty and students, are now too often replaced with cookouts, fashion shows, parties, Hip Hop concerts and spoken word poetry events.

Certainly these events have their place on a college campus, but when such events take place to the exclusion of serious and sustained political activity, by an organization founded specifically to take political positions, we have a serious problem on our hands. Naturally, my critique does not apply to all BSUs; some have valiantly continued and expanded on the work of their predecessors. Unfortunately, in a selfish and apolitical era when we are told how “post-racial” America has become, political and community-oriented BSUs are exceptions, not the rule.

My Personal Experience

takeover1

Me in 1989, leading a protest (as SAS President) to call attention to our African American Studies Department. The University attempted to kick me and other student leaders out of school for our campaign.

My critique of contemporary Black Student Unions is informed from the perspective of a practitioner and scholar. During the late 80s as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, I (then known as “Quentin Stith”) had the honor of being a two-term President of the Student African American Society (SAS). While I was conscious prior to becoming a college student, I came into my own as a leader and organizer because of SAS and its example. Later, as a grad student at Cornell University, where I was President of the Africana Graduate Student Association, I wrote my Master’s thesis about the Black student struggle to create Black Studies Departments during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. As a doctorate student in African American Studies, I have focused my research around Black college student activism during the Black Power Movement. This incredible journey of activism and scholarship began with my experiences as an undergrad at Syracuse University.

Image

Members of SAS at Syracuse University, circa 1989, protesting to rebuild and bring attention to the African American Studies Department.

SAS was our Black Student Union. This organization represented the issues and interests of all Black undergraduates on campus and did so for about 20 years prior to my arrival in 1986. When I note that SAS fundamentally changed the landscape of Syracuse University I do not exaggerate. Besides providing culturally relevant programming for Black students, conducting political education and developing competent Black leadership, SAS created the African American Studies Department (and later fought to maintain and expand it), was instrumental in the fight to secure a Blue-light system on campus (providing protection for students at night), protested CIA recruitment efforts, challenged Apartheid, protested tuition hikes, advocated for Black community members that worked on campus, and held weekly meetings to raise consciousness among our constituents.

We were privileged to receive mentorship from committed Black faculty members like Dr. Janis Mayes, Dr. Randolph Hawkins and Dr. Micere Mugo among others. And I am proud to note that many of the students involved with SAS and its leadership have gone on to do important work in the areas of politics, education, film, philanthropy, community development, religion, music, nonprofits, and countless others. It is important to note that SAS was a protest organization, but we did far more than protest. As I recently posted on Facebook:

Just for the record, the Student African American Society at Syracuse University didn’t spend all of our time engaging in protests and demonstrations. We also developed significant relationships with local Black students, community leaders, and workers, worked with Black high school students, brought powerful speakers to campus, organized educational, cultural, and social events, encouraged and facilitated Black academic/professional excellence, supported local Black business owners, fought for studies abroad in Africa, had the Community Folk Art Gallery expanded, funded, and staffed, and defended the rights of local Black residents that worked in dining halls at the university, in addition to the rights of Black professors. We cannot allow others to revise (rewrite) our history. Were we angry? Yes. Did we protest a lot? Yes. But we did a lot more and got things done for our people and (quiet as kept) several others. Those of us who are now alumni must lend our wisdom and resources to contemporary Black SU students, and teach them the principle of Sankofa; “It is no crime to go back and fetch what you have lost.”

History of Black Student Unions

As indicated earlier, SAS did not begin with my arrival to Syracuse University, but almost 20 years earlier in 1967. Several committed and pioneering Black people grew from these experiences and this period as undergrads at Syracuse University. Among these were St. Clair Bourne, the documentary filmmaker, Vaughn Harper, a university basketball star that later became the famous voice of WBLS’ “Quiet Storm” radio show for 30 years, and Suzanne DePasse, (who among other things helped discover the Jackson Five, produced the Motown 25th Anniversary telecast, along with “The Temptations” and “The Jacksons” miniseries).

Image

Jim Garrett, founder of the first Black Student Union in the country San Francisco State University in 1966.

Image

Before he became an award-winning actor and humanitarian, Danny Glover (pictured here) was an active member of the BSU at San Francisco State University. Here Mr. Glover is pictured during the student strike of 1968-69.

The very first Black Student Union began a year earlier at San Francisco State University, the same campus where a year-long student strike led to the creation of the nation’s first Black Studies Department in 1968. Organized mostly by student and young Civil Rights activist Jim Garrett, the organization essentially placed various Black groups and students under one umbrella (hence “Union”) and set out to advocate for Black liberation, solidarity and increased opportunities for Blacks on campus.

Within a couple of years, BSUs sprang up on white college campuses throughout the country. Along with protesting racial injustice and American militarization and increasing student enrollment and Black faculty, perhaps the greatest institutional legacy of BSUs was their successful fight for Black Studies Departments. Proactive, political minded and committed Black students (along with community activists, intellectuals and artists) are largely responsible for creating a Black student/intellectual presence on white college campuses, and creating numerous employment and political opportunities for Black professors.

A Sankofa Call for Today’s Black Student Unions

bsu blueprint

My book written from my student leadership experience and scholarly studies of student activism.

The term “Sankofa” is a Ghanaian concept originating from the Akan people. It means “It is not a crime to go back and fetch what you have lost.” In concluding this blog entry, I issue a Sankofa call to contemporary BSUs who have abandoned serious and sustained political struggle and have become in too many instances, social clubs providing entertainment and opportunities to socialize. Your very presence as Black college students is testimony to the struggle and vision of those who came before you. Let other groups entertain and socialize. Black Student Unions have a mandate to agitate, organize and politicize. This is especially true since white supremacy is still alive and well and hard-fought Black Studies Departments around the country face downsizing and questions of their “relevance” from white university officials. I also issue a Sankofa call to Black professors and BSU advisors. Many of you were part of the first BSUs in this country. As seasoned elders in the struggle, you have an obligation to descend from the ivory tower, mentor Black Student Unions and push them to continue the legacy upon which they were built. If we fail in this responsibility, who will be there to protect and advance our “special interests” on American college campuses?

To facilitate Black Student Unions reclaiming their purpose and activism, I’ve written a book entitled, The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook. It is must reading for Black college students and BSU leaders.

_____________________

Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

Thoughts About Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving now upon us, many will write their annual obligatory comments on Facebook, Twitter, via text messages and so forth.

These messages will run the gamut from simple (“Happy Thanksgiving”), to the spiritual (“Give God glory and thanks on this day for all of His blessings”), to political (“This day commemorates the white man’s betrayal of Native American humility and generosity.”) I too, participated in this ritual of praise and gratitude. This morning I posted the following:

There is no law that says we must mimic others’ cultural practices, or share their identical values or narratives. I have learned to give thanks every day. No words can adequately express how thankful I am for life, family, friends, political comrades, and the ability to earn my living by serving my people. I also thank those of you who take time to read my essays, purchase my books hire me to speak or consult, or tolerate my occasional rants.

Certainly the holiday is not wrapped in religious mythology and materialism like other national holidays. This day is traced to a documented time and place in history, and given its emphasis on gathering, eating, and giving thanks to each other and God, people of all faiths, nationalities and ethnicities can participate without reservation, save indigenous Americans perhaps.

It’s this last realization that gets me. Indulgent as we are in the annual array of food, parades, and football games, we often don’t stop to think about the significance of this holiday to the descendants of those first Native American participants.

Of all people in our national existence, they most likely receive the least of our conscious attention on Thanksgiving or any other day. Usually we think of them as the backdrop to something else: a war chant at a sports event, a logo on a football helmet, a city seal, the villains in cowboy movies, the unfortunate victims of Columbus’ misguided voyages, or name of a highway or city.

Through these limited cultural manifestations they live on in our collective memories.

The sad fact however, is that most of us have never personally met a Native American. Most of us won’t meet one, because the vast majority of them were decimated through years of imperialist conquest and exposure to disease. Those remaining were forced onto reservations, marked by deprivation.

Even now as we lament over the most recent atrocities in Kenya, France, Chicago, and elsewhere, we might forget or ignore this fact:  Native Americans were and remain our national mockery, one of our best examples of genocide, and yet another unresolved U.S. imperialist violation.

Still, we have MUCH to be thankful for materially and spiritually. And yes, we owe much praise to The Creator for the blessings we’ve received. True, it is wholesome and edifying to gather among family and friends to share our food, energy and love.

Nonetheless, my prayer today is that we think about the enormous injustices heaped upon our Native American brethren, that we become more acquainted with their history liberation movements and their issues, and that as we advocate for ourselves, we include them in our agendas and movements.

Have a happy, loving, and reflective Thanksgiving.

Racism – As American as Apple Pie

I am becoming increasingly irritated by comments suggesting that racism no longer exists or thrives in America. I cringe with each “America is post-racial” comment or insinuation. Every “race is simply a by-product of capitalist exploitation: it will fall with capitalism” statement causes my skin to crawl and my stomach to ache. Each “If WE were in power, we’d be just as oppressive,” or “It’s not REALLY about race, but money” line causes my heart to palpitate.

I am not a political hypochondriac; the “pain” I feel and observe among my people is REAL and statements that reflect the sentiments above only mock that pain. I recently appeared on the new Biography Channel series “Gangster: The Most Evil,” which explored the legacy of former Harlem kingpins Azie Faison, Rich Porter, and Alberto “Alpo” Martinez. I was no doubt invited to participate because I co-authored Azie Faison’s memoir, “Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler.” I literally shocked the interviewers by mentioning that the popular “American Gangster” series formerly aired by B.E.T. was wrongly titled. “It should have been named “Black Male Gangsters in America,” I noted. Because while the title of the series referred to American gangsters, the series itself generally chronicled the criminal activities of Black youth in America’s “inner-cities.” The new Biography series is even more guilty of this mischaracterization. It is titled “Gangsters: The Most Evil.” So far episodes have explored a Latina female, Two Black men along with a Latino male, a Chinese man, and the next will look at another Latino male. Again, the entire world watching this series might believe that people of color are the quintessential (even “most evil”) American gangsters! This despite the fact that the most murderous and impacting criminals in the history of America have been white. In fact, far from being decried or critiqued, their legacy of “organized crime” has become the stuff of legend and admiration. Why the differential treatment and depiction of Black and white criminals? Race.

The first and most wicked American gangsters – according to my reading of history – would be those whites that engineered and profited from the Transatlantic slave trade of Africans and the wholesale theft of Native American land leading to their subsequent ghettoization on reservations. Running a close second would be infamous FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover who using the most insidious methods of deception was partially responsible for the arrest and deportation of Marcus Garvey in the 1920s all the way up to the harassment of Black communists in the 1930s-50s and the dismantlement of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the 50s-70s. The man behind communist witch-hunts and the Counterintelligence Program; 50 years of illegal persecution, spying, and outright murder on his hands, but why isn’t he considered a “gangster?” Race. How about President Ronald Reagan who during his administrations invaded Grenada, and killed its popular leader Maurice Bishop? Or the role he played in the Iran-Contra affair, where he signed off on the illegal sale of guns and drugs overseas which eventually manifested itself in high homicide rates and the influx of cocaine and crack in Black neighborhoods during the 80s? Why isn’t HE seen as an “American gangster?” Race. And this does not begin to address similar atrocities whites have committed against other populations of color including Australian Aborigines, and Asians. (Naturally, none of these comments appeared in the documentary).

From the 1600s on, race and racism have been not only existed in America, but have been an inextricable thread woven into the American social and political fabric. At a time when the vast majority of the nation were the illiterate and poor victims of capitalist planters and industrialists (which should have led to interracial class warfare) whites satisfied themselves by saying “I may be poor and dumb, but I ain’t no nigger!” Thus, race not only served to make to debilitate and inferiorize Blacks, but provided whites with a grand illusion of superiority which prevented them from challenging their own oppression! From the end of Reconstruction up to WWII as documented in James Anderson’s book The Education of Blacks in the South, the entire debate over the form and content Black education would assume, was dominated by thoughts of racial and class subjugation. Almost the entire country adopted the Hampton-Tuskegee model of industrial education (popularized by Samuel Armstrong and Booker T. Washington) in which reading, writing, research, critical thinking and computation took a back seat to hygiene, submissive racial etiquette and very limited agricultural learning. One’s social mobility and right to education, employment, housing, political power, legal protection and freedom of expression were legally based on race and only ended (arguably) during the 1960s, only 4 decades ago! Racially segregated Black soldiers proudly returning to the the U.S after WWI were hunted down and lynched, many times in their uniforms, and their counterparts in WWII and the Vietnam Wars received massive unemployment and discrimination as rewards for their bravery and sacrifice. Why? Race.

Not only Blacks, but those perceived to be too sensitive to Black issues and interests were persecuted. The worst thing a white person could be called for many years in this country was a “nigger lover.” The two U.S. Presidents perceived to have been too accommodating to Black empowerment – Lincoln and Kennedy – were publicly assassinated! And now, even in our supposedly “post-racial” society, President Barack Obama faces levels of unfair scrutiny, blame and hatred (along with uncritical support) unknown to former presidents. Why? Race.

Some of us with a communist or socialist orientation, might insist that racism is simply a by-product of capitalist exploitation. While it is true that we cannot study America meaningfully without taking class issues into account, this still does not negate the existence and tenacity of race. Study the 50s and 60s. If discrimination stemmed completely from issues of profit, why would white southern business owners refuse service to Black people? Wouldn’t this go against their desire to make money? Sure it did. But their preoccupation with race caused them to dismiss their profit motives didn’t it? When the Supreme Court passed its 1954 Brown v. Board decision prohibiting racial segregation in public schools, and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus used to National Guard to prevent Black students from entering Central High School then later temporarily closed down EVERY public school in the state rather than admit Black students, how did he justify it? Race. When white citizens throughout America quickly fled their neighborhoods and business in the 70s upon witnessing a surge of Blacks in their population, why did they participate in “white flight?” Sure, they believed their property values would decrease, along with their personal safety and the quality of their businesses and schools. Why? Race. More recently, when the white guy in Boston killed his pregnant wife, or the white woman strapped her babies into the car and ran it into the river, who did they both say was responsible for such egregious acts? Black men! Why? Because they knew that in this country, Black men were believed to be innately violent and predatory. They knew the public would believe this lie. Why? Race.

But don’t trust my exhortations or claims. Read Andrew Hacker’s book Two Nations, Black and White, or Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, or any number of books written by Black and white intellectuals which demonstrate how this country still maintains remnants of racial apartheid. Compare median Black and white incomes, infant mortality and incarceration rates, property ownership, school quality, etc. Ask yourselves the rhythmical question, “If police brutality is not about race, how come its victims NEVER have a WHITE face?” Observe which people get followed around the department store by security and “helpful” workers. Take note of the roles we land or how we’re generally depicted in Hollywood. Or the looks of suspicion you receive when riding the elevator or driving your stylish car. Make no mistake, despite progress in ANY and every area, Black and Brown people still operate under unfair scrutiny, discrimination and prejudice due to our presumed race. Despite Barack Obama, Oprah, Magic Johnson, or Jay Z and Beyonce, the insidious whispers of racism still present themselves….”Don’t trust them,” “He’s probably a drug dealer,” “She’s a welfare cheat,” “Why should I respect HER authority on this issue,” “I feel threatened around him,” “Do YOU have insurance,” “Our store doesn’t do lay-away.”

Like the cancer it is, racism does not go away from our failure to acknowledge it, nor does its seeming remission indicate that it’s gone for good. We must take our heads out of the sand of fear and denial and EXPOSE and CHALLENGE it! We owe this to our ancestors, ourselves and our progeny. Even the supposedly self-inflicted harm we witness in our communities (Black violence, competitiveness, and resentment) are manifestations in some way of over four centuries of white supremacist ideology and behavior that we have internalized. As one Black preacher noted, we have been taught that “We are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing,” and many of us therefore see our Black or Brown skin as badges of inferiority, failure and shame. Observe how we depict ourselves in media, or how we refer to each other. Check out the television shows, music, or books that captivate so many of our youth. Notice how after decades of police brutality we still refuse to defend our communities. Ponder how we’ll study our great leaders but fail to implement their blueprints. Examine how we’ll accept white authority but reject and dismiss our own experts and intellectuals working on our behalf. Admit how easy it is for some of us to be absorbed into or brainwashed by so many cults and con artists. Contemplate the ease with which simple disagreements among us brew into full-blown hostility and violence.

So as we identify and challenge racism from whites, we must also rigorously identify and eliminate our own self-hatred. Instead of fixing our mouths to ignore or deny racism’s existence, we must fix ourselves and our communities to challenge it…or the “joke” we think it to be will ultimately be on US….