What Makes The Fox News Interview A Problem

“You’re a muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

reza-aslan-cropped-proto-custom_24We’ve probably all seen this video, and if you haven’t, then take a look at the bottom. I’ve watched it about 10 times since it went viral a few days ago, and each time I become more angrier than before. Mainly because of the anchor, Lauren Green, questioning why anyone would want to expand their knowledge beyond their immediate circles, but also what makes me upset is that the views of Fox News, however much we all may loath them, doesn’t stem too far off from the way a lot of Americans think.

The opening question of why a Muslim would write about Christianity sums up how knowledge is viewed by too many Americans. It stems from a culture that sees gaining knowledge as something concrete–that what we learn needs to be immediately useful to us, which would explain why so many people are quick to dismiss a liberal arts education. These views are the product of a culture that says confronting one’s ignorance of anyone else’s culture is pointless. So according to Green, and so many other Americans, the only spaces we can expand our knowledge is in the communities we are directly apart of. Mentalities like these leave no room for intercultural dialogues, or a way of not just learning how to get along, but how to coexist with one another and move society forward.

It’s this way of thinking that has filled an American history of being scared of anything different and perpetuating ignorance. It’s this way of thinking that fueled the Red Scare during the Cold War and masked everything different–the Civil Rights Movement, The Women’s Movement, Labor Movements, and anyone else who fought for equality or a different approach to politics–as being Communist, without having a real definition of what that word actually meant. It’s the same way of thinking that deems it okay to suspect all African American men as criminals, and all people of Middle Eastern decent as terrorists.

This interview exposes a culture that has been brewing for far too long now. It’s a culture that that says, “be okay with the ignorant views you hold and don’t aspire  for any knowledge that may change your views of others in a positive way, because that’s not useful to you.” It’s a culture that can barely tolerate–let alone accept–others.

Snowden, And A Legacy Of Whistle-Blowers Exposing Inconvenient Truths We Choose To Avoid

“Is it a surprise to anybody in this room that if you don’t have any money, you won’t get any justice? The only way you’re going to get justice is to turn around and empower yourselves to become lawmakers so you can change the system. and there’s no thought to changing the system today! it’s politics, as usual…”

That was just one true statement of many by Mike Gravel during a presidential debate. In this debate, you hear him making connections to racism and mass incarceration, deteriorating health care systems, the myth of the “War on Drugs,” poor education–and he uses numbers and raw facts to back it up. In a way, it’s funny that we have this presidential candidate who was so blunt and spoke the way we wished our first black president would speak. And there he is, Obama, remaining silent or always beating around the bush when addressing unjust truths of our country. On the other end, it’s sad that we were too def to hear Gravel’s views and acknowledge him as being a worthy presidential candidate.

0613_daniel-ellsbergMike Gravel was a U.S. Senator when the Pentagon Papers–a large document exposing the false pretenses of U.S. wars and the contradictions of four U.S. presidential administrations–were given to him by Daniel Ellsberg. The Pentagon Papers would be presented in front of Congress, as well as being published on the front page of The New York Times and exposed to the nation.

H.R. Haldeman describes the impact of the Pentagon Papers to then-president Richard Nixon, saying, “to the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing…. It shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.”

Ellsberg would be tried but charges would eventually be dropped.

Fast forward to 2010, with Bradley Manning leaking classified military information to WikiLeaks about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was charged with 22 offenses, pleaded guilty, and currently faces up to 20 years imprisonment.

And today, Edward Snowden faces a similar fate with the leaking of information on the U.S. and U.K.’s mass-surveillance programs–a clear abuse of power from governments. Since June 14th, 2013, after public knowledge of the leaked documents and an interview with The Guardian, Snowden faces charges of espionage and theft of government property.

I remember in the 10th grade opening up a copy of Fahrenheit 451, and in the front pages read a quote by Ben Franklin saying, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” And that’s exactly what I did. I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, I enlightened myself on a country whose history was filled with a down-up struggle that rooted itself in the premise of always questioning those who are in power. I began accepting that leaders are never always right and, sometimes, they do bad things on purpose; and that it is our job to speak truth to power.

hong_kong_snowden_170783892_36399027There is a reason why people like Snowden, Manning, and Ellsberg are crucified when attempting to put those who are in power in check; there is a reason why Howard Zinn, after being dead for two years, is having opposition and people attempting to remove his work from universities. The reason is that all of these people spoke truth and broke down all of our prior conceptions of what we believed to be true and right. These brave heroes attempted to wake the masses’ consciousness and threatened the position and integrity of those who are were, as well as still are, in power.

Through instances like Snowden, Manning, and Ellsberg, we see a government that doesn’t want to acknowledge an inconvenient truth–a truth that exposes our leaders can be wrong, as well irresponsible and abusive when given too much power. But it also exposes how we, as contributors to democracy, play a role and allow this all to continue to happen. It was us who, as Mike Gravel shouted the truth on national television, did not elect him to office. Instead, we elected a man who beats around the bush, who somehow denies the role of racism in a country that unjustly incarcerates millions of African-Americans, and whose words and deeds constantly contradict one another.

It is us who remain uniformed of the Pentagon Papers, Snowden, Manning, and Aaron Swartz. And when we are aware, we don’t play an integral part in spreading the word. More often than not, we hear about these instances, and then dismiss them.  It’s important to realize that not only those who are in power don’t want to face the truth, but we–the ordinary people–don’t want to believe it, as well.

We accept that any information we give to companies and websites will be sent to third parties and used in whatever ways they see useful. We know the system is unjust, that those who are in power are corrupt, and we watch as selfless individuals risk everything in the name of democracy and morality, but we still remain complicit because we don’t speak out on the level we should.

Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Brazil are all rising up because they refuse to accept the current reality. Yet America remains complicit towards a growing injustice. Even as awareness continues to expand, we just continue to remain immobile.

Every time I hear Snowden being mentioned, I become upset, because it’s common knowledge he did the right thing, yet people still accept his fate and remain silent when the lines of good and bad are unambiguously drawn.

After Trayvon: Where Do We Go From Here?

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards…Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”

pic_giant_071913_SM_Eric-Holder-Racism-Our-Nation-of-Cowards (1)Four years ago, Eric Holder made these remarks only a month after his appointment as the first black Attorney General. I don’t agree with his delivery, because creating a real dialogue on race involves humility and not blame, but his words ring true and his assessment isn’t too far off. For as long as I can remember, a meaningful discussion on race has rarely ever happened, and when it does, it usually doesn’t wield fruitful results. I think most of this has to do with the fact that either many people are tired of talking about race, or they–both black and white–have forced themselves to believe that racism and its effects aren’t present today, in 2013.

But with the murder of Travyon Martin in 2012, a deeper dialogue on race began to take root when Barack Obama, the first black President, addressed race head-on by saying “If i had a son, he’d look like Travon.” With very little ambiguity, Obama attached himself to the issue of racism in America. And then again, in 2013, after the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, Obama reiterated that statement a year-and-a-half prior, saying “When Travyon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying this is that Travon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Obama made it clear that not only is racism still as prevalent today as when he was a youth, but he continued to show how commonly it is manifested in the lives of African-Americans:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away. There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are probably very few African-American men who have not had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me – at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often.”

1373984549000-trayvon071513-006-1307161023_4_3And it wasn’t just Obama who made the connection to race behind the Zimmerman trial. Through my Twitter and Facebook news-feeds, I saw people being able to realize that racism still existed and persisted in many people’s’ lives. I saw some of my prior posts on the trial being positively received by others. I saw people actively expressing their sorrow with the verdict, and posting other racial injustices that had occurred in the wake of the trial. What I was witnessing was the “cowardice” that Eric Holder mentioned begin to be wiped away as Americans–of all racial backgrounds–started to open their thoughts to some real truths this country had so long avoided acknowledging. I saw a collective consciousness growing. 

All of this is great, but just talking about racism isn’t going to be enough to end it. In the blog, “A Change Is Gonna Come“, Phillipe Copeland discusses what’s needed for an effective race dialogue:

“Simply the fact that we are talking about race does not mean that we are talking about it in a meaningful way. This is why I believe many of us leave such conversations with an intuitive sense that something was missing. Just like social workers and other helping professionals, we are all vulnerable to the delusion that talk alone is evidence of work getting done.”

Just recently, someone shared their reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. “The Trayvon Martin case,” she said, “was the first time that the racism of the people around me was so vividly obvious to me. That and it highlighted just the nature of racism and hatred that people ignore or deny. It mobilized–and inspired–me to make the elimination of racism not just something I believe in, but something I want to actively be a part of.”

We’re not going to find answers today on how to end racism, but the mindset this woman holds needs to be the mindset we all have–that what we need to take from this case isn’t just an acceptance of racism being present, but also an attitude that becomes determined to eradicate it.

Tommie Butler, Sharon JasperSo, the Zimmerman case may be over, but where do we go from here? We had our week of angry posts and tweets, but now is the time to breathe calmly and think clearly on what we all can do–regardless of our race–in creating a future where boys like Trayvon won’t be senselessly murdered, and where men like Zimmerman would have to pay for the crimes they commit.

Justice According To “The Chappelle Show”

“Look, we talkin’ about a justice system that has five-hundred people whose cases were overturned by DNA evidence. I’ve seen a tape where five cops beat up a nigga, and that they said they had a reasonable doubt, and I got my reasonable doubts, too, aight?!?! How come they never found Biggie and Tupacs’ murderer but they arrest OJ the next day? Nicole Simpson can’t rap! I want Justice! This whole court is out-of-order!”

dave chappelleThe quality of this video may be poor, but the content is rich and just as prevalent now as when it came out 10 years ago. I remember when I first saw this skit from “The Chappelle Show”. At the time, I agreed 100% with what this video is saying–that we expect justice from a system that doesn’t act in just ways. Now, after the Zimmerman verdict, this video takes on a whole new meaning to me.

We can get mad at the jury, and we can get mad at a whole fraction of this country that stands behind Zimmerman, but then we wouldn’t get anywhere or accomplish anything productive. What makes the case of Zimmerman so tragic was that the defense worked within the law. It wasn’t as clean-cut as Emmett Till–when it was clear the law had been ignored and rules had been openly broken. The law was on Zimmerman’s side. The defense didn’t break the rules, they just knew what the rules were. And in Florida, the rules state that Zimmerman had every right to follow and kill Trayvon Martin under the guise of “stand your ground.”

I’m starting to realize the reality was we were putting too much of our trust–and looking for morality–in a system that built its very foundation on injustice and immoral practices.

The truth: if the laws that govern us were truly just, maybe we wouldn’t need lawyers and high-profile Hollywood cases to manipulate them, because right and wrong would be clearly defined.

Tell Me, What Does It Feel Like To [Not] Be A Problem?

TreyvonEarlier this week I posted my thoughts on the results of the Zimmerman Trial, I suggest if you haven’t already, check it out. Since then, I’ve received a  range of responses–either via blog, Facebook, twitter, or even face to face–of people questioning how useful it is to even have a dialogue on the injustices that occurred. With all the other conflicts going on–The Arab Spring, the Newtown Shooting, and the Boston Bombings–it becomes clear that, according to some, the Zimmerman Trial, in its singular moment, may not hold as much urgency as a mass revolution against dictatorial rule, civil wars, or genocides. Yes, to an extent that is true, but that does not mean the events leading up to and after this trial do not hold as much significance or that they don’t produce any dangerous outcomes.

To those who do not see this case as one of significance: Perhaps you forgot it took one court case to reinforce the racialization of American slavery, to establish Jim Crow, and to turn the other cheek on mass incarceration. Each of these injustices took only one case, one case each to establish racial dominance.

In the words of black scholar, W.E.B Du Bois:

“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”

In the scholarly work, The Souls Of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois refers to being black to being a problem. One has to realize the history of the African-American was one where they we’re always acknowledged as an inconvenient truth. Even when it was the African American’s equality being discussed, the name others used to label said discourse was “The Negro Problem.” It wasn’t a problem keeping them as slaves, or separated under Jim Crow; the problem was debating whether or not to free them and give them a sense of person-hood. The Trayvon Martin case was just another reminder that blacks are still seen as “The Problem”, only this time, many have given up and the post-Zimmerman trial responses are proof of this betrayal.

If you feel that people should not bring up the injustices of the Zimmerman verdict, you must not know what it means to be a problem. It must be easy being privileged, to conveniently pick what you choose to advocate and to decide what issues you give more importance to than others. I wish I knew what that felt like–to not be a problem, that is. But actually, I also wish you knew what it felt like–to be the problem.

It’s easy for you to tell African-Americans to remain calm. It is not you whose worth is being constantly redefined through different definitions of worthlessness. It is not you who, from birth, had a greater chance of ending in a prison than a college–all because of a trait you had no control over.

If you only see this case, and not its role in the bigger picture of society, than you haven’t opened your eyes. But it’s not your fault, because it is not you who can be hunted down, who is granted no humanity in the court of law, or who can’t wear a hoodie without being attacked based off the decision of one case. Remember: Black America is allowed to be upset. This bleak reality may not be your future, but it is theirs. So remember your privilege and how that alters your perception of what issues matter and which ones don’t–to you. Remember that you’re watching from the sideline, while others are actively living it.

We don’t choose when to bring up race, it already exists. We can’t choose to avoid reality–because it’s already around us.

Sure, you may be progressive. You may care about the issues occurring around the globe, but with your position, your argument values people of color as being just as worthless as the other side does. You see their struggles as something to wipe under the rug, even though their happening in your backyard.

It’s important to know that when you remain complacent, you’re not remaining on the outside, you are one of the main contributors . Through not standing up to the problem, you become the problem.

Remember that.

Trayvon, And Justice, In Ruins

With the verdict of Zimmerman already made, so are questions and answers. Particularly, the value of a black man in a legal system that hails its origins from a history of devaluing people who are black.

We already knew Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, all evidence pointed to that clear fact, but whether or not he killed him was not the point. The point  was to prove that it was justifiable for Zimmerman to go to such lengths–and according to the jury, it was. According to the jury, Zimmerman could racially profile Trayvon, hunt him down, instigate a fight, and when it didn’t go in Zimmerman’s favor, kill the boy. You don’t have to be intelligent, you don’t have to have a moral compass, and you don’t even have to not be a racist to see the contradictions behind this case. Racism permeated every aspect of it, regardless if the judge allowed race to be acknowledged or not.

It’s now legal to kill an unarmed black teenager in the name of self-defense. America has had a long history of systematically oppressing African-Americans through an unjust legal system, and the court has generally always favored against the interests of African-Americans. With the Dread Scott case, slavery and blackness were clearly defined. With Plessy v. Ferguson, the court ruled in favor of Jim Crow, reinforcing an overtly unequal, oppressive, psychologically damaging racial hierarchy–one which we are still recovering from today and seeing its reminiscence clearly outlined in black existence. Then with McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court reinforced mass incarceration, and we continued to watch millions of blacks being unjustly herded into prisons across the country.

And then, last month, we saw Affirmative Action put on life support, we saw The Voting Rights Act of 1965 slaughtered in front of our faces, and this week we saw a young boy’s legacy put in vain as a senseless murder was supported by the court.

So when I look back on history, yes, I am not surprised by the verdict, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t be heart-broken. I’m heart-broken because it has been made clear my skin–an attribute I had no more a decision over than the weather–has made me a third class citizen even when we have a black president. I am heart-broken because anyone who looks like me is devalued by the standards of the current criminal justice system. I am heart-broken because I am coming to terms with how evident racism is and that maybe true justice, under the current social structures and institutions, can never adequately exist.

This case is bigger than one individual killing another.  It holds more significance than upholding justice, this case held the value of African-Americans in a country that claims to be past racism. Unfortunately, the tides did not move in the direction we had hoped. Justice did not prevail, because blacks–after 400 years and a black president–still are not in the vision of freedom, or included in “and justice for all.”

I’m not mad at Zimmerman, I’m mad at a society that produced the mindset he holds, I’m mad at organizations and media outlets that chose to support the modern-day lynching, I’m mad at a legal system that chose to back racism, and, most of all, I’m mad at country that has continued to allow all of these injustices to happen.

I, Too, Have Been Trayvon Martin…

Treyvon I’ve been following the George Zimmerman trial pretty heavily and it’s horrifying for all the obvious reasons. Regardless of what the verdict is in this case will turn out to be, though, it has me thinking just one thing: I, too, along with so many other black men, have been Trayvon Martin at one point or another.

Being black, I have a small understanding at what it means to be Trayvon Martin. I have been pulled over for no other reason but for being black–once with my father in our own suburban neighborhood while looking at our neighbors Christmas lights. I have been interrogated by the police more times than I can count for no real justifiable reason. I have seen the fear in people’s eyes as we cross paths alone on a sidewalk late at night, and then watching them cross the street to avoid crossing paths with someone who looks like me. I have become used to speeding up as I walk behind people to get in front of them, a small gesture to show that I won’t rob them and they can have the upper hand knowing my back is turned to them. It sounds silly, but its a reality we don’t like to talk about. It’s the reality many black men have been trained to think, and many others don’t have to, because it’s a world they won’t ever have to know–a black world.

We black men know that the color of our skin transcends our actions, our behavior, educational attainment, and economic class–no matter the situation, we are always black first, and any other title comes second. At any moment we could be pulled over, arrested, beaten and even killed. Our examples of “when-being-black-goes-wrong” are not only Travyon Martin, but Oscar Grant, Rodney King, and so many more who have had the unlucky circumstances of being black at the wrong time and place.

In my own neighborhood, a UMass graduate and black male was maced and arrested.

As I sat in a coffee shop discussing the young black man being maced, a stranger happened to join the conversation. He seemed to be indifferent towards it all, almost siding with the police officer. “We don’t know exactly what he was doing or if he was attempting to attack the officer.”

I looked at him and said, “My man, I’m going to pose a hypothetical situation with you. You’re a cop, you have a gun, you’re alone, its 2am, and a large  male approaches you–he’s black. I don’t want you to tell me what you would do–that’s for you to ponder, but  that’s exactly what you should do–ponder.”

This is the reality that is omnipresent but rarely acknowledged. These other instances that I mentioned may not be as dramatized as what happened to Trayvon, but they expose something that too many people think but are ashamed to admit: their fear towards African-American males, and the violence that it can produce. Trayvon wasn’t the first, neither was Oscar Grant nor Rodney King. They were only an ongoing remembrance to black men on how their skin remains their most dangerous attribute, their worst enemy–their kryptoniteTreyvon 17 unarmed

Whether they are aware of it or not, every black man has been the victim to racial profiling on some level. Trayvon Martin was killed because of the color of his skin, every other detail about him came second. A white man with a red hoodie, bag of skittles, and questionable behavior would have been followed, but not murdered. And had George Zimmerman been black, and Treyvon  white, it would not have taken the law 40 days to arrest him over second-degree murder.

I can’t predict what the outcome of this case will be, but regardless of the verdict, this an opportunity to not just point a finger at Zimmerman and demand justice; it’s a time to look to ourselves, acknowledge the prejudices we hold towards others and how far we are willing to go in the sake of our own ignorance.