The Importance of Black History

Last month, I was invited to speak at Amherst Regional High School as the keynote speaker for their Black History Month Teach-In, here is the full talk.


Honesty in Rape Culture: #YesAllWomen, and #MostToAllMen

Santa BarbaraWe label them as crazy, but fail to acknowledge why they may be said “crazy.” Elliott Rodgers may have been a victim, but it wasn’t to himself. It was patriarchy, and the false entitlement many men have led themselves to believe comes with it, that killed. And unknowingly, we facilitate such a process everyday.

Over a year ago, I wrote an article on rape culture, and men’s role, after this last month, its clear more needs to be added to the discourse.

Just last week, on my evening commute home from the school I work at, a confrontation erupted between the bus driver, a woman, and a male trying to board the bus. I don’t know the exact details of how it started, but by the time I actually tuned in, the man was contesting his case that he had already paid his fare. Within less than a minute, what was a simple dispute, became a man yelling provocative language and threatening the bus driver, calling her a “b*tch” repeatedly.

The whole time I wanted someone to act. I waited for a coalition to rise up and tell this man that he needed to calm down, or get off, but that never happened. I remember  telling myself that I should intervene, but fear restrained me. Eventually a man siting behind me gave him a dollar, the crazy man’s response: “Thank you, sir. I apologize for this cunt of a bus driver.”

I went home and have never been quite the same since.  I have continually replayed the whole event in my head, and always think of what could I have said. If anything, I should have told him to never refer to a woman with the language he was using. It was that language that made every woman on board the bus feel unsafe. It was as though I just didn’t abandon the women who were on the bus, but also the women who weren’t–my mother, sisters, friends, etc….

I’m telling this story because I know what happened in Santa Barbara has opened my eyes. I feel confident in saying that the fear I sensed on the bus is the same fear that follows women everywhere and everyday; and a small selfish part of me wants to redeem myself for that instance on the bus, when I was a coward.

images Its a type of cowardice that can’t be erased through a single post, or a single person. But these last couple of weeks we have seen the internet explode with meaningful dialogue and personal narratives of sexual violence and gender inequality under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. It’s breathtaking, also unfortunate, but still an inspiration to witness such solidarity from such a moment. Yet,  “not all men,” is the repeated response to such a unified and forward thinking coalition.. “Not all men,” is the response men use to help themselves navigate through a world where sexism and gender still matter, but where we can just so easily put it in the back of our minds. “Not all men,” is just another way we distort the reality. Its true, “not all men” rape women, call them cunts on buses,  or don’t take no for an answer. But every women leaves their home with a level of fear in knowing the unpredictable is never in their favor.

We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t see in Elliot Rogers an adequate representation of our culture. He represents a growing number of men who feel a sense of entitlement. An entitlement that isn’t anything new, but a legacy that this country has intentionally rooted its origins in: Patriarchy. We’d be lying to ourselves if that entitlement was only present in one whack job, and as if if we didn’t see that entitlement everywhere. At every frat party we’ve gone to. When we’re alone with the fellas, and all the horrible connotations they use to describe women, or their views towards them. It’s not a matter of if Elliot Rogers was mentally ill, its the fact that we need to be honest about the culture that molded someone so mentally vulnerable. Elliott Rogers wasn’t the first, and if we don’t start bringing ourselves to account, he won’t be the last. rape culture sign

I’ve spent the last 9 months writing a 70 page thesis on institutional racism, and how it is still very much real. I argue how this country’s origins are planted in the notion of white supremacy. And I still stand behind that. But this country wasn’t just founded on an infallible whiteness, but also an undeniable maleness. That is the legacy young boys pick up. And it creates a false sense of entitlement that becomes almost impossible to debunk. And its everywhere, from when the president openly objectifies another women in power on her looks, when we victimize the rapist, and when we silence the woman through belittling their experiences within an openly sexist culture dominated by males’ false notions of superiority. When we tell a girl not to dress a certain way or she’ll be raped, we are doing anything BUT protecting her, we are creating a space everyday with our words that will make leaving her house, going on the internet, more and more dangerous.

Yes, not all men rape women, but close to all men were like me last week. Close to all men stand by when another man refers to a girl as bitch for no other reason than just that, and they say nothing. Most to all men allow other men at bars to make passes at women who clearly are not interested, men who refuse to take no for an answer, and we sit by and watch in amusement. Sure, I may not rape women, I may not assault them, I may take no for meaning just that, but I’ve also facilitated patriarchy in more than one instance by maybe not doing the wrong thing, but also not doing the right.


The Grammy’s Gentrified Hip Hop

images (5)That night when Macklemore won 4 Grammy’s and Kendrick came out empty-handed. This is why I stopped taking awards shows seriously. It stopped being about talent a long time ago, and last night it reached new lows when they straight dissed “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Hip Hop just got gentrified.

Once in  a decade–and I mean that–an artist will come along and transform an entire art form. Today, that artist is Kendrick Lamar. He embodies all the things we look for in a hip hop artists: flow, consciousness, genius conceptions, and a gangster complex. Even before “good kid, m.A.A.d city” dropped, I was pushing the K. Dot bandwagon hard. So hard, in fact, by the time the legendary album did come out, most of my friends didn’t want to hear what I had to say, because they already knew the extent to which my man crush could carry in a conversation.

A lot of people want to compare him to the second coming of Nas, and “good kid” to the “Illmatic.” It’s not a bad comparison, and I think it fits. There is a lot weight behind that album, and so many layers that speak to me when I listen to it. The themes of being black, living in a cesspool of violence, and the unpredictable violence that follows is a heavy pill to swallow when you actually listen to it. So often we hear artists acknowledging where they come from, but how they conquered it. Kendrick doesn’t take that route. Rather, he shows that he is, in fact, a good kid in a mad city.

The fact that we would witness a rapper like K. Dot, who represents everything you could ask for in an artist, get dissed that badly proves there is always an agenda behind awards shows like the Grammy’s. And this year it was validating white hip hop–if that’s even a safe word to call it.


The Pupils of the Eye: Before Richard Sherman, A Legacy of Black Athletes That Shed A Little Light On The World

Jack-JohnsonThe year was 1908 when boxer Jack Johnson, the son of former slaves, became the first black heavy-weight champion of the world. His rise to success came when lynching was at its peak, when Jim Crow was law in much of the U.S., and when a black man should know “their place” when in the presence of whites.

But Johnson would never prescribe to being a second class citizen because of his blackness. He would drive expensive cars, wear fancy clothes, he would brutalize his white opponents in the ring, and what drove everyone crazy more than anything else: he dated white women during a moment in history when black men were being lynched every week just by the very thought of interracial sex.

At a time when every other sport was racially segregated, Johnson’s claim to the heavyweight title shocked a white world that viewed blacks as being athletically, as well as mentally, inferior. They went to extreme measures to avenge this, calling Jim Jeffries, “The White Hope”, out of retirement to reclaim the title–not just for him, but for the destiny of the white race. The New York Times wrote, “”If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbours.”

It was clear that the world was against Johnson, but the odds were in his favor, and that was all that mattered. After fifteen rounds, and knocking Jeffries out twice, Johnson held his title, as well as his dominance.

If they couldn’t defeat Johnson in the ring, then they would manipulate law to bring him down. Several years later, Johnson would be arrested and sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for traveling with a white women across state boarders for “immoral reasons,” under the Mann Act. An act designed to attack prostitution, but with such loose language, it could easily be used to attack interracial couples, and would set the tone for future miscegenation laws that would define black-white relations for the next half-century.

After the verdict by an all white jury, Johnson fled the country, continuing his reign as the World Heavy-Weight champion until his loss to Jess Willard in 1915. After the defeat, he returned to the U.S., where he served his jail sentence. His career was never the same, nor was his reputation. On June 10, 1946, with a tendency for reckless driving, Johnson died in a car crash. He was speeding away from a diner after being denied service because of his race. It was racism that made him such a driving force in the boxing world, but it was also racism that would eventually bring him down.

Richard-ShermanThis last week, we saw how polarizing Richard Sherman’s post NFC championship game remarks were as he helped bring his team to the Super Bowl. What’s great is we saw immediately how people rushed to his aid. We’ve seen the racially coded language that puts African-American athletes on the margins. And we’ve seen Sherman be nothing but graceful and intelligent as he navigates through all the controversy.

Almost a complete century after Johnson reign, the legacy remains the same. It was athletes like Johnson who made the way and set an example for players like Sherman to stand up to racism. When you compare the history of sports to the history of racism, it’s impossible to not see how they both  have such a close relationship to one another.

Reflecting upon the Baha’i writings–the religion to which I follow–it refers to people of African decent as “the pupil of the eye.” Baha’u’llah writes, “Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye that is dark in color but is a fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world.”

The Baha’i Faith has many progressive principles explicitly written out, and of those is the elimination of racism. The role of African-Americans, according to the Baha’i writings, is likened to the pupil of the eye. Although black, the pupil is what brings in all the light and makes sight possible. That is the role prescribed to African-Americans–to help society see, and this couldn’t be any more true than in sports.

There has been a black prophetic tradition in sports that has constantly shook the consciousness of not just this country, but the world. It was track legend Jessie Owens who dominated the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, at the height of Nazism, and who debunked the myth that Blacks were inferior to whites athletically. It was Jessie Jackson who challenged baseball, and who continually remained cool, calm, and collective despite the racist backlash from spectators. Then Muhammad Ali, a black Muslim who, on national radio, without any fear or doubt, pointed out the blatant contradiction between the War in Vietnam and American racism.

The role that  black athletes have played in sports wasn’t just to be racial pioneers and break down barriers, but also to show that those barriers existed–not just institutionally, but because people allowed them to be the norm, or the unspoken law. This last week, Sherman did just that. He’s opened the floor for a much-needed debate in one of the most followed sports in this country. He exposed the prejudices some people may not have even known that they had.

Through all this craziest, not only am I rooting for Sherman to triumph over all of this, but I’m rooting for Americans to see the light and stand on the right side of history–for once.

A Tale of Two Drug Wars (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about how the legalization of weed in Colorado doesn’t automatically connect to the War on Drugs–or to the incredible racial bias in a blatantly racist criminal justice system–unless we allow it to.

Today, in 2014, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. When the majority of these people are of color, and who–as studies show–are serving time for an activity they do at similar rates to whites, then we can’t ignore the role policy can make in changing the outcome for the fate of entire group of people.

David Brooks wrote an article in New York times about the use of Marijuana, and how it could have dangerous outcomes if made legal. His argument is valid, and I think everyone should give it a read. And although I understand his views better than many may think, I don’t think Brooks understands–or if he does, then he just chooses to ignore–one important detail: the cost of racism in the lives of African-Americans, and if policy is responsible for it, then we must look to policy to change it.

blog-72The War on Drugs is one of the leading catalyst when you examine urban inequality. It has destroyed black families, communities, and has left a third of African-Americans without an actual political voice. When I think of the legalization of marijuana, I’m not thinking about a drug that people want to use for recreational use, I’m thinking about so many young African-American men who have given up their lives to an unfair justice system, while white men the same age will never have to pay such consequences because the privilege that is hidden beneath their skin.

Brooks’s article boasts of white privilege. It’s convenient for a middle-class, professional, white male to feel comfortable with weed remaining illegal, because that would never impact his own success, or the success of his children. But on the other side, it’s also convenient to expect that legalizing weed won’t be the host of another set of problems.

The problems with so much discourse on the war on drugs is that it ignores key realities: even when drugs are being used at similar rates, when you put drugs in  communities  that are majority of people of color and poor, the outcomes become a lot more dangerous–with or without laws to incriminate.

 The liberal agenda, with all of its pure motives, ignores what drugs represent to many inner city, marginalized communities. You go to any urban metropolitan city with a large black population, and they’ll tell you what drugs represent in their communities. On one end, they will tell you how drugs are the broken dreams and aspirations of forgotten youth, the destruction of families, the last barrier behind the salvation of black America. They’ll tell you that drugs have done more damage than good, and that they want them completely vanished.

And then there becomes another narrative, where in some cities that once were industrious havens like Detroit, they’ll tell you how de-industrialization, globalization, and discrimination kept African-Americans at the margins of an ever-changing and evolving economy. How the shift from industry to service jobs put African-Americans at a disadvantage. In hard times, African-Americans have never benefited, and the only way to survive was through an underground economy. To an African-American, when the country you live in has never played by the rules or treated you fairly, and when you’re looking at a world that will hardly except you, then selling drugs doesn’t look so bad.

Pretending that legalizing marijuana is going to solve all the problems that were perpetuated from the war on drugs is as ridiculous as it sounds, and that very idea underestimates–or maybe just chooses to neglect–how persistent American racism is. Ending a war on drugs means bringing to account the forces that have historically marginalized people of color, and that is something this country has never been good at.

A Tale Of Two Drug Wars, Neither of Which Speak To The Core of The Issue: Race

war on drugs2Crowds lined up throughout Colorado as marijuana dispensaries opened up this week after the state legalized recreational Marijuana use. Other than Colorado to be the first state to make Marijuana a capitalist venture, dozens of others have either legalized the medical use of marijuana or decriminalized it. I don’t want to discuss the science of marijuana to justify it, and I’m also not here advocating for its use–we can have that discussion another time. In my experience, that sort of discourse usually just ends with people either explaining how great it is to be high, or justifying their copious amounts of pot consumption, with little room left to be grounded in actually facts and numbers, –or even sounding remotely educated–and that’s not what this blog is about. What I do want to do, however, is discuss how the legalization of marijuana and ending the war on drugs are two different agendas.

Since last year, when the use of marijuana was put on the ballot in the 2012 elections in many states, the majority of people who were asked advocated for the legalization of weed. It was the mark of the beginning of the end to an almost 40 year war.

But legalizing marijuana isn’t enough, however. we need to see how law and policy impact the drug discourse. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the reexamination of the drug laws that place African American men on the margins of society through an inconsistent set of laws that have been herding black men into the penal system at rates so much higher than any other group.

Then, in December, President Obama pardoned 8 nonviolent drug offenders. And this month, New York Governor Andrew Coumo discussed legalizing the medical use of Marijuana. But still, we aren’t moving fast enough, or in the best direction.

Even with Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book, “The New Jim Crow,” and the documentary “The House I Live In,” where the racial implications behind such a war is clear, the masses remain uneducated as to what we are fighting against when we attempt to eradicate the war on drugs: racism.

war on drugsNo other community has been as negatively impacted by the war on drugs than black and latino communities. With 18:1 harsher sentencing for crack cocaine as opposed to powder, with mandatory minimum sentencing, and harsher sentences for selling and not using, African Americans have been institutionally placed at the margins of society through a manipulation of law that puts them in prisons at rates disproportionately higher than whites. Today, 1 in 106 white males are incarcerated compared to 1 in 15 of black. Black people make up 13% of the population, and despite whites being more likely to use drugs, black men are 10 times as likely to be arrested on drug charges. When you look at those numbers, it becomes clear that the drug laws that exist aren’t an actual reflection of reason or concern over public health. Rather, these laws represent inconsistent reasoning, never in the favor of black males.

When someone is incarcerated, they give up their right to vote, to gainful employment, to receiving loans to purchase a home, food stamps, and from receiving welfare. What does this mean? It means that when a person is incarcerated, it becomes legal to disenfranchise them, to discriminate, and then herd them into specific geographical spaces–these are all characteristics of slavery, jim crow, and another form of apartheid.

Right now, at least for myself, the drug war seems to be more confusing than ever. You look at Colorado, where they are legalizing the distribution of pot, and then you juxtapose to New York, where it has the largest number of people incarcerated for non-violent marijuana offenses, along with some of the strictest punishments for drug possession, its hard not to be a little confused. The nation is going in two separate directions when it comes to dealing with drugs, neither which really speak to the core: racism.

It’s one thing to legalize marijuana, but to ignore the racial disparities that exist because of such a war on drugs is not just contradictory, but lunatic. Legalizing marijuana alone is a capitalist venture expected to make a few lucky individuals into billionaires, but it doesn’t speak to the core of people who are already serving time in prison for offenses where, had they been in another state, would have completely different outcomes somewhere else. The current discourse completely ignores a war on drugs that created laws that, if continued, will incarcerate 1 in 3 African Americans within the next 20 years.

Legalizing pot, pardoning 8 non-violent offenders, or even creating better–and more realistic–drug laws won’t fix the damage that has already been done, or even scratch the service of restoring justice to communities that have been destroyed from such a war. The fact that states like Colorado are legalizing marijuana and profiting over its use isn’t a victory. Its rather a failure because at the same time that so many people have given their lives to the penal system for a few dollars,  “banksters” on Wall Street are laughing to the bank for the very same reasons.

Kanye’s Remarks Aside, What I Loved Most About Nelson Mandela

Even if it is a joke, and not real, still, the thought of Kanye West having the audacity to self proclaim himself as “the next Nelson Mandela”, it has me wondering in a time when I should be morning one of the world’s most selfless leaders. It’s not out of the realm of possibility in the world of Ye, because he did compare himself to Jesus. So now I’m thinking that If “Yeezus” actually could think of himself to be the next Mandela, than maybe he, along with so many others of our generation, don’t know Mabiba’s real legacy, or even what exactly makes someone a revolutionary figure to begin with.

If Kanye really wanted to say he has the same amount of influence, if not greater, as Mandela, then he would miss the point: Mandela’s actual influence. Mandela’s influence was one of the strongest our generation will see. It extended beyond reinforcing existing cultural norms, making opened statements that are generally ignorance disguised as art–as has been much of the case with Kanye these last couple years. It was his selflessness and dedication to a real movement that took down an entire social order based on race. Men like Mandela, along with so many other ANC revolutionaries didn’t just reinforce a culture, or just make controversial statements to stir the pot, they created a new standard of living. They shook the very foundations and tore down everything their society was built upon:racism. Men like Mandela should be honored because they didn’t work within the walls of an unjust system, they sought to eradicate it completely and create a new paradigm of thinking that was unimaginable before.

I don’t know much about South African politics, or even Mandela’s legacy while in office, but what I do know is that we never saw him dropping drones on innocent individuals, torturing people in the name of a “War on Terror”, denying his citizens of their civil liberties, spying on the people who elected him, or detaining people in prisons without their basic habeas corpus rights–all things that are so common with our leaders today, including our very own first Black President, Barack Obama.

You can criticize Mandela’s political decisions when he went into office, but he was one of the closest heads of state this world has had to being a Messiah. While we live in a country where our leaders in power would rather shut down the government than ensure every citizen with basic health care, Mandela gave up everything–while serving 27 years in prison–because he loved his people, and could not stand to see them subjected to some of the most inhumane treatment this world has seen from a first-world country.

It’s not a sad day for Madiba, because he lived a good life, and he had been suffering for some time now. But it is a sad day for us. Because Mandela was the last of a dying bread. A bread of leaders that loved unconditionally, and it showed not just in his eyes and smile, but also how he spent his life as a selfless servant for his people.