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.

 

 

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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“What’s In Your Panties?” Examining Vaginal Freshness, Baby Powder and Ovarian Cancer Risk

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Try watching television for any length of time without seeing a commercial for scented or odor masking feminine hygiene products. Viewers young and old are exposed to advertising that references “fresh” and “not so fresh” feelings, urging women to be proactive; to sanitize, clean and essentially fumigate their vaginas–or else.

From douches and powders to suppositories and deodorant sprays, women use a variety of chemical-based products that upset the vagina’s PH balance, creating a breeding-ground for the very odoriferous bacteria no one wants growing down below. Certainly this news has made its rounds. Although many women cling to douches and feminine washes for lack of a better alternative, the most knowledgeable and health-savvy women seek natural alternatives to maintain a comfortable level of cleanliness, health and comfort without using the chemicals that defeat the purpose.

 

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“It can’t hurt to sprinkle a little baby powder…” Baby powder in your panties can lead to ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society provides statistical data about the chances of developing cancer if baby powder travels into the vagina and enters the cervix, uterus, and/or fallopian tubes. And according to Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Daniel Cramer, talc has been causing ovarian cancer for years! Pharmaceutical commercials can be comical with their mile-long lists of possible side-effects, which often include worse symptoms than the initial illness–and can sometimes be fatal! But there’s nothing funny about baby powder. People use it on babies. How many parents ignorantly and innocently dust their little ones’ bottoms with good old Johnson’s baby powder?

Taking responsibility for personal hygiene and freshness is great. But the only responsible way to maintain an organ as intricate as a vagina is to investigate the best possible natural methods you can use to keep yourself fresh without dying an early death because of perineal perfumes. It’s true that the vagina is “self-cleansing” as naturalists assert. However, proper research can lead you to an appropriate routine to guarantee that you feel, smell and even taste 100% fresh at all times.

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Rather than following the prompts of a television commercial or a magazine ad, conduct your own vaginal anatomy and pysiology RESEARCH to discover the best products to use. Never use powders and creams to mask an odor. An odor indicates a problem, and a problem shouldn’t be masked; it should be solved. Contrary to advertisements, it’s possible to avoid yeast infections, vaginosis and foul odors altogether. In your research, don’t stop at perfume products. Investigate the tampons, pads, condoms or lubricants that enter or make contact with your vaginal area.

Diet, exercise, water intake and overall health play important roles in vaginal cleanliness, as do sexual activities, soaps, fabrics, and hygiene habits. If a universal solution exists for vaginal freshness, it’s probably found in nature and not advertised on television. Find out what works for others and then develop a routine that works for you. And never put powder in your panties.

“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!

Winter Storm Leon: Preparing for Events that Never Happen

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Two inches of snow fell in parts of the south, and as a result, many of residents of the southern United States endured the worst weather-related catastrophe they had ever witnessed.

Icy, slippery roads made driving dangerous; cars slid into ditches, guardrails and other cars. Vehicles fish-tailed, swerved, glided and careened; some flew and crashed. Bumpers were put to good use as cars pushed each other into intersections after failing to stop.

Hills; often taken for granted in normal conditions, became icy mountains: Impossible to climb in a 2-wheel drive car, and very tricky by foot (unless a motorist had packed his or her snow boots in the trunk).

Mayors, Governors and other officials apologized and explained; they had failed to plan. School busses couldn’t drive safely, so hundreds of children were stranded at school. Workers left early; all the workers, so rush hour commenced early, but not early enough for motorists to avoid the ice.

Northeastern and Midwesterners scoffed. How could a mere two inches of snow and a few frozen highways bring an entire region to its knees? Where were the salt trucks? Where were the snow plows?

Expecting snow in the South is similar to expecting to see the real Santa Claus on Christmas Eve: You’ve heard it could happen, but you’re pretty sure it won’t; and if you do see him, you’ll always wonder if it was really him.

Southern people who speak of snow are often told, “That wasn’t real snow.” Another version of this idea is, “It was just a few flurries.” Yet another snow-denial phrase: “It didn’t even stick.” Some Southern environments are close to being tropical. Winter Storm Leon proves that even Hawaii needs salt trucks at the ready. Why? Because even though it rarely snows in Hawaii, it’s still wise to make sure Hawaii is prepared for snow. It’s always wise to prepare for things that might never happen!

It seems the mayors and governors rolled the dice, betting against Mother Nature. Can we blame them? Of course we can, and we did. They should have known Winter Storm Leon would be The One. They should have dropped salt on the roads before ever seeing a snowflake. Why? Because anything’s possible.

So the next time we all hear about salt trucks preparing Atlanta or Birmingham’s highways for flurries, a light dusting, or a snow that won’t even stick, let’s all be glad. Because even the highly unlikely is still possible. Be prepared.

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