Social Media, Kaepernick, and You

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kapMillions of people are talking about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem. But what exactly does his protest prove?

On social media, two basic opinions abound. One opinion is that Kaepernick’s actions are justified; that his protest somehow helps people who are oppressed by systemic, institutional racism and white supremacy. The other dominant opinion is that it’s ridiculous for a professional athlete and millionaire to identify with either the actual or perceived oppression of blacks in America.

Regardless of your opinion, once you log off social media and return to actuality, (if you ever do) you’re left with yourself alone. And what does Kaepernick have to do with YOU?

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who follow sports religiously, you might feel justified in being outraged and  outspoken against the athlete. Whether you believe Kaepernick’s protest is outrageous or outstanding, you have something in common with the opposing side in this debate: You’re discussing the NFL.

You might say, “I’m discussing racism” or “entitlement”–not football. But a discussion about Kaepernick is a discussion about celebrity, wealth, popularity, and yes, football.

How many times, in your ACTUAL LIFE,  have you glanced around the room during the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance to see how many dissenters were present? And when you caught someone “protesting,” did you take a stand and publicly denounce his or her actions? Did you applaud the person and stand in unity and defiance against the corruption that is “AmeriKKKa”? Furthermore, when was the last time you saw or heard racism in an offline environment? Were you the victim or the perpetrator? A bystander? What did you do? Oh. That’s right: You vented about it on social media.

The average reader will be tempted to turn the discussion back to Kaepernick, but let’s focus on YOU for a moment. Do you use racial slurs in private? Do you secretly hate America for its history of colonialism? Do you wish black people would shut up about being “oppressed?” Do you wish white people would shut up about black people needing to shut up about being “oppressed?”

As people engage in virtual arguments about whether racism exists or not, the greater argument is internal and secretive: “Am I a racist? Am I a victim of racism? Am I both? Will racism ever end? Do I care? Should I care?”

Whether you believe Kaepernick’s protest is appropriate or ignorant, arguing with your friends and associates is “taking the easy way out.” (Posting memes supporting either opinion qualifies as arguing.) Very few people acknowledge that the most important argument is against the self: “Am I oppressed? Am I an oppressor? Am I good? Am I bad? Who am I?”

The nationwide outcry about Kaepernick’s protest proves that sports matter. Football matters. Celebrities matter. Whether or not black lives, blue lives, white lives, or “all” lives matter–and to what degree, and in what order, has yet to be determined. In the meantime, football continues to trend.

 

 

 

Ferguson, Mike Brown and the Fear of Angry Blacks

Tensions surrounding the officer-involved shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have caused racial issues to come to the forefront of collective thought and discussion. Red and yellow, black and white; all types of Americans are discussing multiple topics from civil liberties to racism in response to the August 9 killing of unarmed, 18-year-old Mike Brown.

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Who’s afraid of angry blacks? (Instagram photo)

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Do you feel threatened by this peaceful demonstrator? (Instagram photo)

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This peaceful protestor enjoyed a bag of chips (left hand) while returning tear-gas to a group of state troopers in fatigues with automatic weapons and (gasp) dogs. (Instagram photo)

Immediately following the killing, the world’s attention was diverted to Saint Louis County’s militarized police force as they employed armored tanks, threw tear gas and instructed snipers to take aim at peaceful protestors; local government officials, Ferguson residents, activists, concerned citizens and journalists. Clearly there is an undiscussed fear of black unrest; hence the shoot-first antics of police officers in urban communities nationwide and the over zealous show of force as a preventative measure against mounting anger.

What aren’t we saying about Ferguson? Following State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson’s show of good-will; his appointment as safety-chief for the duration of the protests, and the peaceful atmosphere that persisted after he marched among demonstrators; passing out hugs and handshakes while promising to protect the people, the infamous robbery video emerged and seemingly undid the peaceful progress in an instant. In the aftermath of viewing Mike’s alleged shoplifting shenanigans, what have we subconsciously learned?

What does the video prove? Although the alleged theft is not a justification for the shooting officer’s actions, the video proves that Mike Brown was big, strong and scary. Stereotypes or facts?

Black people, both male and female, are often characterized as being aggressive, volatile and downright dangerous. Is this a true assessment of oppressed, frustrated black America? Could it be true that black people are angry? Could it be more than a stereotype that black people are violent? Call it a stereotype, or call it a justifiable attitude in the face of generational racist trauma; but call it something. Until we do, it is an elephant in the room.

Obviously it was wrong to execute Mike Brown in the middle of the street on a Saturday afternoon; regardless of what he stole. But will the shooting officer admit to being afraid of rebellious and volatile black teens and young adults? Will he admit that he was frightened because a large and aggressive black man did not immediately cower at the sight of his police cruiser?

Will the cop admit that he’s afraid of aggressive blacks and views them as an unmanageable, irrational and unreasonable bunch who threaten the well-being of communities by virtue of their very existence? Will he admit that he should never have been employed in law enforcement because when it comes to a strong and angry black man, his only defense is a pistol?

Will the officer face the public and admit that he believes the community is better off without men like Mike? Will he admit that saying, “Get the fuck out of the street,” was an assertion of his bravado; that he thought vocal aggression, his cop car and badge were sufficient to intimidate the two youths into submission. Will he admit that he felt helpless after realizing that between himself and the two youths, he was the only one who was afraid?

Will the officer admit that he became enraged and frightened by the audacity of Mike Brown to not back down? Will he admit that he was red-faced and sweaty-palmed with veins enlarged and adrenaline pumping, as he reached for his pistol? Or will he just describe the imminent danger he imagined and predicted for himself and the community; and the imaginary weapon Mike could have had?

What’s the appropriate response when you’ve got an angry black who won’t back down? We don’t know Mike’s state of mind. We don’t know what he said to the officer. However the video footage shows his aggression. It shows his fearlessness. The video shows his towering and bulky physical stature. It shows his lack of regard for the convenience store’s self-appointed loss control agent.

So what’s the procedure when a race of oppressed, yet strong black people decide to say, “Fuck the police,” whether in word or in deed? What’s the procedure when the guns and badges no longer scare young black America? Apparently the procedure is to kill.

My Bicycle Thief

Not all neighborhoods are the same. Rock Island Illinois is not what it seems. Such is life. Deep in the backwoods of rural Georgia as you ride your bike you can smell pine trees; you can smell smoked neckbones and fresh baked pies as you approach your grand-aunt’s house, lug your bicycle up the steps and park it on the back porch.

You can knock, so as not to startle her, and then walk right in and take a seat. Her door is never locked. You can safely bet that both lemonade and sweet tea are on hand. You can fall asleep after “supper” and the cicadas will make sure you awaken just in time to pedal home as darkness settles.

But in the Quad Cities of western Illinois, the cicadas signify a different type of curfew. They start singing when it seems darkness is still hours away. They sing of caution. Looking at the evening landscape, there’s a glorious view of Iowa in the distance. The sun sets slowly and the sky is still bright with a myriad of colors from purple to pink and grey.

You can see increased foot traffic each evening if you watch. At dusk you can smell dog food from Davenport’s Nestle Purina factory. You can hear sirens. You can hear the pop popping of pistols. And each night; whether it’s a domestic dispute, a shooting or a killing, it’s something. Until it’s you.

Your bicycle, parked on your porch just a second ago, is gone. A thief has climbed 13 steep steps, then four more to get to your porch, walked past your unlocked front door, grabbed your bike, lugged it off the porch and back down the first four steps and presumably ridden it down a steep, grassy hill and into the night. The audacity! You grasp your neck and thank God that all he wanted was the bike.

When darkness rises in Rock Island, you had better bring your bike; and more so your children and your self, inside. Although Chicago is a three-hour drive away, the Quad Cities have the same turbulence: The same wind. The gang culture, poverty, drug infestation and violence that typifies Chicago is mirrored here. Killings, shootings, police chases, fights and other violent phenomena persist, a mere five blocks away from police headquarters. It’s as if the neighborhood is an experiment to ascertain the dynamics of poverty and violence; a project made up of roughly five square miles of beautiful architecture interspersed with shacks.

And if you can’t accept the fact that someone robbed you, you can contact the police. You don’t even have to call them because they ride by often enough that you can flag them down. They will give you a report for your records and promise to contact you if someone drops a bike with said serial number in their laps.

Once you check the pawnshops to no avail, you figure the thief still has your bike, so you sit on your porch and wait. You drink your “pop.” You smell the dog food. You watch and listen as kids on your sidewalk talk the grittiest, most gutter talk you’ve ever heard. You are flabbergasted. They don’t care if you hear.

You watch the neighborhood and you can’t understand how so many volatile people happen to live in the same ten-block area. You wonder why they don’t move. You will move, you decide, if you are still alive at the end of your lease.

You sit on the porch and observe. You enjoy the sun and scrutinize every bicycle that comes within a mile of your house. You jump in your car and give chase to get a closer look at bicyclists who seem to be “avoiding” your street. No luck. Then, you search for your missing bicycle on Craigslist because it’s been a week and still; no sign of your bike.

You watch as a speeding car whizzes by, followed by a police cruiser, followed by three detective cars, followed by a K-9 unit–again.

You marvel at the quaint look of the neighborhood. It isn’t an inner-city. It’s a town. And it’s out of control. You look to your left and see a massive church built in 1912. You see the official look of its campus; the lavender and burnt oranges and crimsons in its lush and intricate landscaping, and marvel at its huge, brassy bell tower. It’s gorgeous! Stained glass windows; expensive cars parked in front. What a nice street this is!

You look to the right and see your daughter’s elementary school; built in 1858. It has two stories. It’s a nice school. Then you see teenagers in its parking lot; twerking and consequently drawing a crowd that includes adult males. You decide that your kids should come inside. You hear the cicadas. You turn on your porch light, sit back down in your rocker and resume your watch. You glare at anyone who makes eye contact without speaking. You wonder why everyone looks like a thief, drug addict or some other class of suspect. You wonder where the friendly people are. You are an Englishman in New York. You watch each and every walker and rider until one day, you see a bike in the distance and you get chills. It’s yours.

When you see your bicycle, you approach the subject as stealthily and swiftly as possible, and also as aggressively as you can, and you take it. You say, “Hey! That’s my [insert a comfortable expletive] bike!” And you reach out and grab it by the handlebars. At this point the rider jumps off; knowing he’s been caught. You get on your bike. You ask the subject, “Where the [insert appropriate second expletive] did YOU get MY bike. When he admits someone “gave it to him,” you act as you see fit.

You ride your bike home. You hope the thief is neither willing to kill nor be killed over the whole matter. You don’t park your bike outside again. Not even for a second. You wait for your heart rate to normalize. You hope it’s over. You think of how much you appreciate the good things about the Quad Cities, and you devise a master plan to purchase real estate on “Top of the Hill” where wealthier and wiser Rock Islanders dwell. You wonder if it’s possible to write your way to the top of the hill.

 

 

Use What You Already Have

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As I sit on my front porch watching for the impending downpour, I’m inspired by one of my neighbors. Determined to keep his head dry during the coming storm, he has invented a bicycle tarp, obviously using old items he had on had or could easily procure.

People complain about their lack of resources; time, materials, money, energy, ideas. But if you want something badly enough, you start where you are; with what you have; doing everything you can!

Passion is simply energy and determination. What have you decided to achieve? Get started. Don’t worry about the people who say you can’t. Don’t worry if they laugh at your plan, your materials, or even your finished product! Sure; people are laughing at the man pictured above. He doesn’t care. He’s a successful engineer who’s got a product complete! What have YOU done today?20140622-145059-53459771.jpg

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When Facebook Friends Die

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Everyone with a Facebook account has “friends”. What’s a friend? It’s a classmate from middle-school; when your American family was stationed in Germany back in the eighties. A “FBF” (Facebook friend) is often a real-life BFF (best friend forever), a close acquaintance, a current or former coworker, sometimes a sworn enemy whose status you’d like to observe; an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a college roommate, a cousin, a mother, the majority of your highschool graduating class, or even your child.

Then there are the STRANGERS. Those people who, ironically, are not so strange at all. You discover that you enjoy interacting with a new person; a person that have never seen. For some reason, you find them worthy of interaction with you.

And then something happens in the course of daily living: After posting a witty or inspirational or funny or angry or insightful or raunchy or crude or whatever-particular-style-of-posting-you-have-come-to-expect-from-them “status,” the person dies. WTF and OMG. Let that sink in.

If it’s happened to you, then you’re familiar with the shock and bewilderment that can descend upon you as you scroll down the person’s page to read Rest in Peace postings from their acquaintances. Worse; the final declarations of love and the gut wrenching grief expressed by their closest friends and family members. And you follow suit, posting your virtual goodbye to a person who will never reply.

From YouTube to Twitter and Instagram, there are abundant ways to meet and interact with interesting people who stimulate our minds, teach us things, intrigue and attract us, repulse and disgust us, and etc. People who spend hours on social media each day become accustomed to seeing the same faces. But when one of your favorites actually succumbs to illness or injuries and dies, what are you supposed to do?

1. Identify and accept your feelings.
You can grieve for whomever you please, whether you knew them in actuality or online. When popular vlogger Domineque Banks succumbed to lupus on April 9, 2014, hundreds of thousands of people felt the sting of shock and in their own way, grief. It’s natural to grieve after the death of someone you know; whether in real life or online. Give yourself permission to feel shock, grief and loss. Express these emotions to your close friends and loved ones who will understand.

2. Remember the Good Times
If you feel dismayed at the passing of a beloved FBF, take the time to consciously appreciate the things you liked or remembered most about the person. Treasure the videos, photos, posts and comments; screenshot or print them in remembrance of your FBF.

3. GET CLOSURE
If possible, find the person’s obituary, research the cause of death, express your condolences and attend any memorial or funeral services if it’s practical to do so. You may be surprised at what you learn about the person once you’ve heard his or her eulogy or met their family members. And grieving families might appreciate knowing that their loved one was loved by many more people than they ever knew!

4. Evaluate Life and FOCUS on Important Matters

No one expects to die suddenly; a few hours after Instagramming a picture of their lunch. But in some cases, life is short. Death forces us to remember this fact. What can you learn from the death? What will it take for you to seize the day(s)? How much time do YOU have left. Pose these hard questions to yourself and honestly assess your priorities, timeline and goals.

Grief is never typical; each person’s grief is unique. Likewise, we each grieve differently for celebrities, friends and family, and yes–social media acquaintances. When a social media friend dies, there isn’t any oneway to react or respond. Simply listen to and process your emotions, cultivate gratitude for having known of the person, then ascertain the story of what happened and apply the life experience of your social media friend to that of your own life; helping you begin your personal grief process and continue on without your friend. Because life goes on; regardless of how you feel. Live well.

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“I Would Like to Thank the Academy”: Lupita and Black Self Esteem

In the weeks prior to the 2014 Academy Awards, Lupita Nyong’o floated down red carpets to the absolute delight of fashion designers and critics. Svelte, statuesque and sophisticated; skin the color of black coffee. Lupita enchanted Hollywood with her Afrocentric goddess qualities as black America looked on with awe.

No longer the despised and destitute slave girl she portrayed in Twelve Years a Slave, Lupita emerged into the Hollywood scene as a startlingly gorgeous and unapologetically African beauty; a standard.

Although Lupita’s beauty, talent and achievement inspire legions of fellow humans beyond the community of black women, nowhere else is her reign more celebrated. As she joins the ranks of the six other black women who have won coveted Oscar Awards, she gives billions of Africans, African Americans and dark people permission to be and feel beautiful without the chemicals and artificial enhancements that have caused physical and emotional damage to so many celebrities and pedestrians of color. Bravo!

Hosea Williams Rolls Over in Grave

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That’s Hosea Williams on the left.

The Real Housewives of Atlanta traveled southbound to coastal Georgia, visiting Savannah for another round of the hilarious hijinks that make it Bravo’s top rated show. In spite of the few catty spats, the episode delivers substance; by acknowledging the legendary story of black America’s rise from bondage, and exposing the rampant lack of knowledge thereof. Poor Porsha!

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Porsha Stewart, granddaughter of Civil rights giant Hosea Williams, frequently makes ignorant comments on The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

The Underground Railroad, which, one might believe sounds like…an actual railroad was anything but. It was a series of hiding spots, paths, safe houses and more, by which black Americans eluded capture as they escaped their white captors on foot; not so long ago, when it was legal for white Americans to buy, sell, own, enslave, rape, lynch, breed, beat, mutilate, burn alive, murder and ext., black Americans.

During a touching moment at First African Baptist Church, America’s oldest black church and a safe haven along the Underground Railroad, Porsha says the following: “…Somebody’s driving the train. It’s not electric like what we have now.” Incase you, like Porsha, thought the Underground Railroad was an actual railroad and/or train, it was not.

Routes along the Underground Railroad

Routes along the Underground Railroad

Porsha logically pictured trains, but historically, the Underground Railroad looked more like this.

Porsha pictured trains, but historically, the Underground Railroad looked more like this.

Adding weight to the mistake is the fact that Porsha’s grandfather is the late legendary militant civil rights activist and protestor Hosea Williams, who was so entrenched in the pursuit of liberty for American blacks that he was present with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on the day he died.

Although poor Porsha faces public judgement for her ignorance, her comments indicate a clear necessity; the urgent and fervent re-education of black America.

The late Hosea Williams is known for his courageous protests, for serving on the Georgia Legislature, for being a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Staff, and much, much more.

The late Hosea Williams is known for his courageous protests, for serving on the Georgia Legislature, for being a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Staff, and much, much more.

Loyal RHOA viewers know that passing references to Hosea Williams pepper the show since Porsha’s debut. Yet how many know who Hosea Williams was; and why Dr. King referred to him as “my wild man?” Porsha is likely a reflection of plenty of people’s ignorance.

This isn’t the first time Porsha has made ignorant comments. Viewers may recall Porsha saying “265 days a year” and other phrases that make her look less than brilliant. So after this latest incident, the public wonders how much Porsha really knows. Although Cynthia properly states that Hosea would likely disapprove of his granddaughter’s lack of knowledge, it is also likely that he would enjoy the fact that his name is trending.20131223-020111.jpg