Obligatory ‘You’re Fired’ Themed Headline

It looks like NBC isn’t going to wait until primary season to dump the Trump.  The network announced to day that it would be cutting all ties with the billionaire bombast, including Trumps once-bold-now-old reality show The Apprentice.

The Donald wasted no time before taking to the airwaves and blaming the break on political correctness.  Trump released a statement today on Instagram which said in part “NBC is weak and like everybody else is trying to be politically correct…” showing that he is powerfully incorrect in his understanding of the current state of America.

Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and murders.  That’s not edgy commentary; he is stating this as fact, going so far as to double down in his statement this afternoon.  The fact that NBC is cutting ties with Trump before the GOP which has some heavy lifting to do with Latino voters if they are to have any kind of shot in 2016.

Political correctness is a term so loaded as to lose any real meaning.  Most often it is swung like a bat at women and people of color who asked to be spoken to with dignity and respect.  The always implied idea is that those who want said respect are overreacting, need to get over it, are whining and bitching and basically ruining everyone else’s fun.

But we all pay–in one way or another–for the media messages we consume.  We pay cable bills and cell providers, click ads and pay with our time or attention.  Sometimes we pay with a vote for the messages we want to hear.  Why would any group of people want to be insulted by choice and on their own dime?  Why should any group allow themselves to be unfairly characterized just to bolster someones dogmatic campaign?  You, Trump can say what you like, and the people have the right to tell you to go screw.

Latinos make up 17% of the American population.  Other oft-dissed groups: women make up 50% of the population, African Americans at 12% , Asians at 7%–that all adds up to a lot of people.  People want to see themselves reflected and represented in a way that is respectful.  That’s not to say people can’t disagree, but slandering 55 million people isn’t respect.

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As America grows into a country lush with diversity, our entertainment, political and social dialogue should reflect.  Media celebrities complaining about political correctness are behind the curve. Plenty of smart edgy controversial people talk about identity, but the days of being able to be outright offensive without people calling you on your shit are over.  This isn’t Mad Men, Trump, and you are no Don Draper.  Connecting rape and murder to an entire race of people isn’t politically incorrect, its just incorrect.

Flags of the Fathers, Sins of the Sons

Saturday morning, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol building and took down the confederate flag capping a week of hot debate and fast movement towards removing the symbol of southern aggression from official state buildings.  Sadly, the flag is flying over the capital yet again, reminding us that symbols are only as powerful–or weak–as the acceptance of the ideologies they represent.  Removing the flags that celebrate America’s racist past will not eradicate the racist ideology that radicalized Dylan roof any more than removing a label from a can will vaporize what is inside.

Even as the President eulogizes the most recent victims of racism, the war rages on– arson, death and defense of the killer continue unchecked–and unexamined in the mainstream media.  Instead, the flag has taken center stage in the discussion of the Charleston Massacre.  A quick google trends search shows that the focus is squarely on the flag,  not the victims, nor the ideology that sparked the killing.

Trends Chart

You’ll recall the flag furor kicked up when killer Dylan Roof displayed one on his website.  But while mainstream news has focused on the flag, the actual hate groups that pushed their racist filth on the internet, and whom Roof points to in his own radicalization continue to operate.  The presidential candidates who have taken money from Council of Conservative Citizens and other racist hate groups get an easy pass for their support of the flag’s removal without addressing their own past ties to hate activists.  There was no critical questioning of candidates ties to these group son the Sunday talk circuit, but plenty of flag not-waving.

Assuring us that there’s more than one hateful racist willing to perpetrate violence, six predominately black churches have burned in a string of arson stretching from Macon to Tallahassee.    Ongoing investigations will identify perpetrators where they can, but the echo of the 1960’s replete with racially motivated murders and overt attacks on the black community via the black church sound in ears still ringing with this week’s gun shots.  Mainstream media has all but ignored this string of violence in favor of the simply packaged story of the flag which looks to be moving toward a happy ending–audiences love a happy ending!

Two children lost their lives in the course of a police chase in Detroit–a chase that had been called off by commanders concerned about the danger to the public just moments before the deaths. Gunshots, rough rides and speeding vehicles all resulting in dead black bodies still happen daily, leaving the black community decimated emotionally, socially and politically.  The flags that flies over Ferguson, baltimore and Detroit  are all American, and the struggle for justice continues in all those cities.

Lets also not forget that Dylan Roof is not an old racist–he is a young racist, a millennial–from that generation that is supposed to mark the end of racism.  The flag may be a worn out symbol, one long past its prime.  Bu the perpetrator is merely 21–a man born in the heyday of hip Hop, and only 13 when Obama was elected–so squarely a member of new school racism, a racism proving just as deadly as old school.  Racism won’t just die with the rise of the millennials–education is still key in stopping the spread of racism to yet another American generation.

The flag needs to come down.  Removing this symbol from state grounds is important, yes, and long overdue.  But more important than the flag is the ideology that the flag represents–that was what radicalized terrorist Dylann Roof and emboldened others to burn down churches or commit one of hundreds of thousands of hate crimes that happen each year.

Attacking the overt labels of racism is important.  But we’re going to have to open our can of worms racism and deal with it if we are ever to reach a place free from racism and its violent devotees.   Celebrate the small victories in this week filled with funerals, but stay conscious, stay activated and never settle for taking down the flags of the fathers without addressing the sins of their sons.

No Cape Needed

These days we can use a black superhero.  Just in the knick of time–superheroes’ favorite time to arrive–climbing into the clouds to rescue us from the symbols of racist oppression comes Super-Bree!

Bree Newsome, filmmaker and activist did what people have been talking about doing all week.  She climbed the pole behind the South Carolina State house and took the Confederate flag down.  In a statement Newsome and other concerned citizens said:

Deciding to do what the SC Legislature has thus far neglected to do, the group took down the symbol of white supremacy that inspired the massacre, continued to fly at full mast in defiance of South Carolina’s grief, and flew in defiance of everyone working to actualize a more equitable Carolinian future.

Now that’s how you work a pole!

Why We Must Call The Charleston Shooting Terror

The story that we tell is the life that we live.  Each word is a critical building block in what we come to regard as truth, a truth so massive and all encompassing that we have a hard time imaging the giants hands that build these cities of words.  But we build them.  We tell the story of America every day in a million voices, some soft, passed from mouth to ear while others squawk at us for hours across the airwaves.  The loudest voice tell us what we believe, what we saw.  The tell us what to know–with or without the facts.  So it matters if we call the Charleston Church massacre terrorism–or not.  Here’s why we should.

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What we know is that on the evening of June 17th in one of the most historically significant black churches in Charleston, South Carolina, a room full of people came together in peaceful worship and prayer, welcoming into their midst without a second thought one who would, moments later, shoot nine people in cold blood.  What we know is that the killer intentionally and with great malice and forethought chose to kill those people because they were black.  What we know is he has made this clear with a manifesto of deep racial hate fed by the crop of white supremacy that is marked by segregation, feeds “bad” cops and grows inequality in all of our systems.  Fact: this is an act motivated and expressing hate of black people, intended to inflict fear and terror.

Have no doubt that what happened in Charleston is an act of terrorism.  According to who?  How about the US department of defense:

 The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Or perhaps you prefer the FBI’s definition:

Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Still don’t believe me?  Well neither did the FBI–they have yet to declare the attack terror, though the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into what they term a terror attack.  It’s not just these agencies that disagree.  In fact, there is ample debate in the mainstream media about what to call this act–hate crime?  terrorism?  Rising above the debate and cries of mourning–is the steady drumbeat of apologists:  he was a quite boy.  he was a good boy. this is a lone wolf.   Don’t make this about race.  Define racist.  Define hate.  Define humanity–and then we’ll decide if he violated yours.

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Now it the time to push for crimes against black bodies rooted in racist ideology to be called terrorism.  Far from purely academic, calling the Charleston shooting terrorism recognizes that this attack is one of a larger battle–one we are loathe to admit exists–against the ideology of white supremacy.   A war on terror requires us to root out the very ideology at play–in this case the white supremacy that has been fueling violence across our country since its birth.  Calling it terrorism requires us to use time, and money and human capital to cut off the legs of supremacist groups to stop them from spreading a net of propaganda to lure in the hateful and the violent.

Calling it terror means we won’t stop at prosecuting Roof, but we’ll also go after the organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens who helped radicalize him.  We will be able to use the considerable resources of the FBI and the department of Homeland security to go after white supremacist radicalized hate as stridently as we go after radicalized islamic hate groups.

Calling it terrorism would keep presidential candidates from taking money from hate groups to assure political support free from the eyes of their constituency.  This war on terror could cut off funding streams that fuel hate groups and their supporters. I’m looking at you  Rick, Ted and Rand…and Mitt, in case you return.

Hate group campaign donation recipient Rick Santorum sitting next to activist DeRay McKesson. No,Rick, this does not absolve you.

Calling it terror will make clear to all Americans that a black man shot by a white man over ideology will receive the same justice as a white man killed by a muslim over ideology.  Calling the Charleston massacre terror won’t politicize it–it will depoliticize our one-note approach to terror so we can finally begin to attack it.  Assuming that all terror is committed by radicalized muslim extremists ignores that most victims of ideologically motivated hate crimes are victims of racial hate. And Blacks are more likely to be the victims of a hate crime than any other racial group.

Calling it terror requires us to remove the ideological roots of the hate–like  recent calls for removing the rebel battle flag flying by law over the South Carolina state capital and removing it from official government items like the Texas license plate.  Before we celebrate these most recent victories, the SCOTUS decision was 5-4 and the flag will only come down after 9 (more) deaths and (another round of) protest. We’ll have to be vigilant about being honest with the remains of racism that still permeate the symbolic life of America.

Roof’s manifesto–available on the internet in case any investigators had been tracking him–reveals a deep complex narrative of hatred for blacks, not one created by Roof alone, but one that is the heart of white supremacist ideology for hundreds of years.  Have no doubt these statements are weaving the same old story that has sanctioned violence against blacks in this country since the days of the lash–a continuous story that says blacks are not human, that violence is required by those policing whiteness to keep black bodies in check.  Refusing to call the attack terror and searching for mitigating factors to excuse the killer’s evil intent are salt in an already painful open wound.  This resistance to recognizing and acknowledging this incident as terror is an indicator of white supremacy’s chilling effect on racial dialogue.

The fight against terrorism is a multibillion dollar effort in the United States and around the world waged with American tax dollars.   But terror lives among us, too.  If you believe black lives matter, if you want to live in a world where we can all truly be human, then it’s time to strap on your helmet and turn our resources and our minds to the terror at home. To acknowledge the violence perpetrated against a select group of humans doesn’t take away from our humanity–it ensures it.  It ensures that we see where inequality exists so we can cut out the disease and begin to heal.

But Can Your Dads Do This?

In honor of Father’s Day I thought I’d share this endearing little ad from Nikon’s I Am Generation Image campaign starring two Dads, Kodale and Kaleb Lewis, whose story went viral when they posted a picture of them braiding their daughters’ hair.  This short lets us spend a little time with this super cute–and very photogenic family.  

Happy Father’s Day out there to all the dads–cute or not!

Pass To Power: The Truth About “Trans-Racial”

The news cycle giveth–and it taketh away.  After days of international hubbub over fake black “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal claiming that blackness is something one can choose to be, we see the powerful and very real consequences that still lie at the heart of race in America.   In Charleston, South Carolina, 9 people were shot by a lone gunman as they attended a prayer circle. Officials and investigators are labeling it a hate crime.  No one of those eight lost souls had the chance to stop a bullet and say they identified as white.  None of those people had the right to self identify their way out of the hate.

It’s not a weave or a rap or a twerk that makes a person black.  Race operates on multiple levels at the same time.  We each experience race at the individual level: your own racial identity and your way of thinking and understanding race ; at the interpersonal level: in the interactions and relationships we have with others; at the institutional level:  the schools, organizations, and churches we belong to; and at the ideological level: where the ideas that undergird these systems lives.  While Dolezal has gotten us to talk about race at the individual level, what the crazy-talk about trans-racial ignores is the very real way that race operates on those other levels.

Before we get into the trans-racial take down, a word about words.  Transracial is already a word used to describe an adoption process when members of one race adopt a bona fide member of another race, who remain that other race their whole life.   Lots of TRAs are heated about their term being used incorrectly on this rare occasion when it is used in the mainstream media at all.   There are tens of thousands of transracial adoptees in the US, many of us proving Dolezal wrong–you can have a white mother of a black adopted child.  I know: I have one!

Why call Dolezal’s ask for a pass transracial?  She’s trying to skate on the cool response that Caitlyn Jenner got  just a couple weeks ago.   Cue the meme! (BTW, note that they didn’t have to change Caitlyn’s cover to match Rachel’s face!)

It’s not just an image trade. A very real and complex conversation has popped up to answer the question if transgender is a thing, and race and gender are both constructs, then isn’t transracial a thing? My answer is an emphatic no, with a not now coda.

Race is not biologically assigned, true.  Since it’s socially constructed, we could socially reconstruct or deconstruct it.  Of course.  Race hasn’t always been this way, so it can be something completely different at some point in the future. Yup. And if race is made up by people we can all change our mind and then we can be whatever race we want and tomorrow we’ll be post racial hooray!  No, stop right there.

Click to explore!

Even though race is socially constructed, it’s not constructed primarily at the individual level (remember those levels).  An individual cannot make the decision alone to change the categories–otherwise the census form would be really really long.  Like we said in part 1, even if we all wake up tomorrow trans-racial, race as a construct would need to be dismantled in our systems and institutions.  We can’t agree on much politically–do you really think a referendum recatagorizing all Americans–including Mexican Americans, I’m looking at you Donald Trump–would stand a chance of passing? Not a Dolezal’s chance in hell.

But is someone feels–I mean really feels–like they are black, then why not?  Hmm, notice there is no one saying that black people also have the right to change it up.  In fact, blacks that were caught passing weren’t given a pass–they lost school and work opportunities , social status and in some cases suffered violence.  If whites can become black and blacks cannot become white, then trans-racial is just the penultimate expression of white privilege–the privilege to choose black, and be rewarded.

Besides, how white do you have to go to be considered white?  Lightened skin, straightened hair and white cultural moves might get you paid, but it doesn’t make you white. The costume of whiteness is all around us–and is a multibillion dollar industry.  From 28 inch silky to skin whitening candy (for real) there are any number of products to kick you down Von Luschen’s chromatic scale, but none will give you entrance to whiteness.

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The borders between black and white in this country are still strictly enforced.  There benefits of whiteness are protected in big and small ways from the ballot box, to massive cultural hegemony in media.  The consequences of blackness are enforced with a heavy hand: uneven sentencing laws, banking practices like redlining, not to mention the raw brutality of police killings of black men and women.

Founders of Black Lives Matter

And now Charleston.  People shot dead because they are black.  Not because of a head of fake dreads or a particular shade. The killer didn’t check their black cards before unloading his weapon.  He just shot them.  Because they are black. And no amount of self-identification will bring them back.  They do not have a choice.  They didn’t have Dolezal’s choice.

To say that race is a choice indicates that people can choose.  And if you are suffering, and you choose not to help yourself, well, then your problems become your fault.  Like slaves that didn’t run away. Like blacks that were in the ‘wrong place’. Like Selma marchers.  If race is a choice, then your oppression becomes your own doing. Entertaining that race–and all the consequences that come with it are a choice is offensive given the blood, sweat and tear-gas tears that  have soaked our cities this year alone.  Race is an actively enforced construct at this time in America, so the mutability of race at the individual level is trumped by strict enforcement in our political, economic and cultural spheres. 

As long as blacks still suffer injustice and cruelty at the hands of white supremacy, transracial will remain an offense to people who care about the struggle to move past systems of oppression.  Someday, will we all be able to trade race like we change hair?  Maybe one day, in a lovely dream of a world.  But the struggle is too real in the streets right now to entertain that.The theoretical conversation about what transracial could mean ignores the lived realities of race.   So no to trans-race.  Maybe not ‘no’ forever-f-or evea evea?–but definitely no for now.

Pass to Power: What is Race and Passing?

Update: I posted this 666 days ago but blue eyed devil Rachael Dolezal is back in the news with her snake oil version of racial identity.  She got a book deal and all I have is this blog so I’m reposting this in hopes someone may share it with her and read educate this white woman-Rachel, please have several seats, and be humble.

Busted: Rachel Dolezal, Howard Graduate, Head of the NAACP in Spokane, and outspoken black community activist is white.  Outed by a local reporter and mercilessly–and hilariously–taken down on twitter Rachel has sparked lots of chatter about what is race and who can be which one.  Passing points to the essential function of race–that it structures power, not color.  People who pass are not trying to look different, they are trying to change their status.

Race is not in our DNA, it’s a social construct.  That means, despite what your eyes see, there are not different races of people.  In fact, there is no gene for race in the human genome.  Biologically, humans are all part of one family.

So, if race isn’t real, then we can just say racism is dead, yell, “Black President!” and get on with it right?  Wrong.  I mean, have you read this blog before?  Since the birth of America, race has been used to structure, economic and political relationships.  Prior to the 1600’s race really wasn’t a thing.  People had and still have different cultures, but not different racial categories.  The first time the word race even appears in the English language is 1508, so the Ancient world did not  have the concept of different races.

With the conquest of the Americas and a fresh addiction to sugar, European conquerers needs many hands to make the hard work of sugar, tobacco and cotton farming light.  But, since the America’s were little more than a handful of rough outposts, they couldn’t attract a voluntary workforce with crazy benefits like being allowed to live free and get paid.  Thus begins the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest events in all of human history.

slave trade map

Race as a social construct was created essentially to protect this labor force.   Many laws–not just one–over hundreds of years were used to keep one class of people–black people–enslaved.  Politicians traded power for allowing the perpetuation of the institution of slavery, even our conflicted founding father Thomas Jefferson.  He wrote all men were created equal, but could not build the country he desired without those free hands to do the work.

What would get good God fearing people to support the systematic violent oppression of their human brothers and sister? A story, a narrative that normalizes terror as truth.  At the center of the narrative was the concept that blacks were not humans, and therefore did not deserve human rights.  While the institution of slavery ended 7 generations ago, America still struggles to shake this narrative.

Racism is supported by personal prejudice.  Individual beliefs about different groups of people perpetuate the kind of thinking that allows police to kill young people unchecked by the electorate.  But even if every person in America woke up tomorrow firmly antiracist in their heart, the laws that structure education, housing, economics, justice and other systems would still have racial bias in them.  Like a zombie–we may be the body, but if the zombie brain of racism lives, terror ensues.

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Over the centuries, hundreds if not thousands of people have tried to game the system by “passing”–taking on the identity of a race other than their own–mostly white.  Whites were able to be free, vote, own land–and slaves–and a host of other privileges that came with whiteness.  These privileges–which still exist in different ways today–helped keep people bought in to systems of oppression.  Black people willing to give up their culture and their ancestry could take on all the benefits of whiteness as long as they stayed hidden.

Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in oredr to attend Vassar in 1897
Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in order to attend Vassar in 1897
Given our history of race and racism, and ignoring the self-hate of abdicating your culture, there were some legal and societal benefits people gained by passing as white–not the least of which was freedom.  But what could Rachel Dolezal possibly gain by passing as black?  Everything.

In a country where whiteness is too often invisible to white people, Rachel wouldn’t be the first white girl to long to have a (different) culture.  No boring suburbia for her, Rachel takes cultural appropriation to a whole new level. No matter how many Mileys and Iggys try to beg ignorance, appropriation is real–and real simple to understand.

iceberg of culture

Imagine culture is an iceberg.  Certain parts of it are visible–food, dance, dress, festivals–while the foundation of what makes a culture are buried deep below the surface–beliefs, values rituals, shared lived realities and ways of being.  Millions of people of African decent, shipped abroad during the slave trade or settled here in America carved out a way of surviving , a way of being in the face of unstoppable cruelty, a way of thriving within a system built to destroy them.  The soul food, and the blues and the style and hip hop are the visible parts of the legacy of this ongoing struggle, but the deeper elements are essential to making sense of those expressions. Cultural appropriation is when you break off the top of the iceberg and wear it around like a costume.  You can dress up, dance, and even bite the rhymes of a culture….

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But when you do, you leave behind the larger, more important part of culture: the deeply help beliefs, shared experiences, values, ancestry and destiny-the truth of what it means to be part of that group.  This part of the iceberg can’t be pulled out of the water and worn to the VMA’s.  They can’t be weaved onto your ends like Hawaiian silky.  They can’t belong to you, Rachel, or you either, Iggy.

All of these women cover themselves in a carcass they call blackness made out of stereotypes, stolen hairstyles and narratives that they’ve nicked to make themselves feel cool, beautiful, feel like they are a part of something. At the same time their white privilege gives them entrance into public spheres often denied actual black women, taking their voice and supplanting it with a white fantasy version.

And Rachel was a teacher, someone paid to tell other people how to think about and construct black femininity.  This is not how you love a culture–this is how you erase it.  Far from helping the community as some–including the NAACP–have suggested, her actions show the worst kind of white privilege–the privilege to define blackness with a white voice.

(Be sure to read upcoming part 2 about the difference between transgender and transracial)

Why So Serious, Jerry?

Jerry Seinfeld let drop in a recent interview that he doesn’t play the college circuit because those meanie students cry racism and sexism too much.

Seinfeld said college students don’t understand racism and sexism. “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t even know what the f—k they’re talking about.”

Well, as a professor, I know that not every student does their homework, but maybe what Seinfeld is seeing is a generation of kids that don’t want to be racist of sexist, so they call out what they see.  Does PC catch some of the wrong fish in its net?  Sometimes.  But to blame the death of comedy on people who don’t think racism and sexism are funny?  Hold on.

Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and Margret Cho are all top billed comedians with long careers who do talk about race and sex without dragging out the PC police every time.  Comedy should talk about our most sticky issues–a little humor makes the hard things easier to say and think about–but it takes a comedian who can write a joke AND understands these issues.   If Seinfeld can’t talk about women or people of color without being offensive, then just stick to what he truly does well–jokes about nothing.  As for college students learning about racism and sexism, leave that work to us in the class.