Tag Archives: blm

James Brown was Rich

In 1964 when James Brown went on the T.A.M.I. show, he had already earned more than a million dollars. He was rich. He wasn’t only rich, but he was so universally popular that on that show he shared the stage with the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. A lot of white people loved James Brown- in 1964. That’s kind of a big deal.

The very next year John Lewis’s skull was fractured by a police officer when Lewis attempted to walk across the Edmond Pettus Bridge. The year after that, James Meredith was shot for trying to help black people register to vote. Then, another year later, a song by four black singers, The Four Tops, sat solidly at #2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. By this time Berry Gordy had been rich for a decade.

All of this, the success of black people and the extreme violent oppression of black people, were happening in the same country at the same time. On the grand timeline of history James Brown and James Meredith are on the same dot. This reality is worth some extra consideration, especially considering where we are right now.

Colin Kaepernick made millions of dollars for playing quarterback better than Alex Smith, in the same year that unarmed Chavis Carter allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police car. This is the same year that Wiz Khalifa was featured on a song that hit #4. Same time.

While we are not living in the same America that existed in the 1960’s and plenty of things have changed- some things haven’t.  Human nature doesn’t change. That is why history’s lessons are applicable. It is why, despite retrospect, we sometimes repeat ourselves. We think we do, or have, evolved, but we are really still the same types of people as Nathan Bedford Forest or Frederick Douglass. Or maybe James Brown, James Meredith and Bull Connor.

We cannot simply look in the rear view mirror and assume we are safe from whatever it is that’s back there. It is why when solving the problems of today we must persuade ourselves to do what is right, while simultaneously building protections against those who do, or will, choose otherwise. Because our children will be just like us.

In 2008 people started using the word post-racial to describe a supposed new America. They pointed to the elected leader as proof that the struggles of the 60’s had born good fruit and we were now past the season of labor and into the time of harvest. White America looked around and saw LeBron James or Beyonce just like we might have seen James Brown or Jim Brown, but in 2008 we didn’t see, or we ignored, George Wallace.

Perhaps a part of the reason racism hasn’t been solved, why Dubois’s color line remains, is because we white Americans both forget and deny Bull Connor. Some of us might learn about James Meredith integrating Ol’ Miss, but we don’t linger on the lessons inherent in the fact that it was the local Sheriffs who started the ensuing riot. We just rest on the idea that those who fought Meredith were wrong, but we spend no real time wondering why back then they thought they were right. We could ask Trent Lott, he was there, but instead we march forward with pride believing we are past that and thinking we are now somehow individually better. And we aren’t. And because no humans are magically better than all of the humans that came before we will still fall for the same traps as our predecessors unless we look back and learn. And understand. And own. Then grow. And change. And work. Then teach.

I wonder if Hazel Massery, the white girl seen screaming in that iconic photo of Arkansas school integration, liked James Brown and thought this meant she wasn’t racist. I wonder if the man who shot James Meredith resented Meredith’s college education and saw that as proof that people like Meredith were just snowflake complainers. Maybe most of us don’t wonder this because we have no intentions of shooting anyone. So they are nothing like us now, not really, and I guess there is some truth there. But the people back then, the ones who didn’t shoot anyone, who just went about their lives, but thought it was all a ruse by the commies or who dismissed Martin Luther King as an adulterer, might be just like me. Maybe an unemployed and struggling white man back then, marveled that a bunch of black college kids could find the time and money to spend a summer just riding the Greyhound around starting trouble, and he just knew this meant black life wasn’t so bad. Maybe he thought that their time wasting bus stunt earned them the beatings and burnings they received. Maybe the father who simply loved his children and had never even thought the word n****r, only moved away when the black people arrived because his family’s stability hinged on real estate value. What if the PTA president who watched the Watts riots loved the Four Tops, but simply loved following the law even more?

What if today we are all just like them?

And so the color line remains.

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What the Police Told Me: “they will kill you for being white”

Back in 1995 I lived in an apartment on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta. My roommate and I were the only white people in our complex, on our street, and as far as I could tell, on that whole side of the city. We got a lot of funny looks, were the subjects of quite a lot of loud jokes, but no one ever gave us any real trouble- but then there were the police.

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They never gave us any real trouble either, but they surely gave us a lot of attention. We used to ride the subway and I could tell every time the transit police changed assignments, because the new officers would without fail, ask us if we missed our stop once we passed the Georgia Dome. They were trying to be helpful, they usually looked concerned. The regular officers knew better, we were easily recognized in that we were Mormon missionaries in white shirts and name tags in addition to our whiteness. There was one instance where a veteran interrupted a new cop mid inquiry, by hitting his shoulder and rolling his eyes, waving the new guy to move on down the train. But always, there was a well-defined line which when the train crossed, the white people needed protection. They never asked the black kids if they missed their stop.13bball

There was that other time when a cop car pulled over to us as we were walking down our block. “Hey! You guys lost?” the officer asked. “No we are fine. Thank you.” Was my reply. “No. I mean what are you doing here?” He followed up. When I explained to him that we live “right over there,” the officer responded by calling me stupid. That is the word he used. I had at this point lived in that apartment for 7 months, and as a 19 year old I probably was in many ways stupid, but I remember clearly what the police officer said, “You are stupid. You shouldn’t live here. These people will kill you just for being white. Don’t call us when you are in trouble for being stupid because we won’t come help you. It is your own fault.” Then he drove away. I never did call the police and no one ever killed me for being white.

Since that time I have heard countless stories from white people, who were at one time in their personal history functioning in a majority black or brown environment (school, work, neighborhood) and were warned, sometimes by school officials, that they would be the target of violence. These stories are almost always told as a means to build the story tellers credibility or first-hand authority in matters of American race relations. There is normally an implied, though sometimes spoken, statement of the teller’s toughness for having endured the dangerous circumstances of being a white minority and the warning of how race really works in the world. These stories happen after a driver takes a wrong turn and finds themselves driving through an area full of brown people, or that time when they were 12 and had to go to a mostly black school and every time the point is that the white person was in real danger.

Yet none of the stories ever include a white person dying. I can recall about three stories (out of 30) where the school kid got in a fight, though none of them required medical attention. The black people on Bankhead never hurt me and none of those I have met who took the dangerous wrong turn, were ever actually assaulted. Where are the dead white bodies? By the persistence of these stories there should be graveyards filled with white victims of racial oppression. I suspect that white people reading this are simultaneously searching their memories to find their examples of actual black on white violence to refute my question. They (we) are looking for their anecdote to support this idea, that a brown or black majority is synonymous with anti-white violence. But it isn’t really necessary because the idea that it could have happened, because it is perceived as a possibility, is always enough to prove the point.

Why?

Is it true that white people in black spaces are in danger, so these stories are simply a practical warning? The data does not bear this out.11church

Does the data not back the lore because the warnings have been heeded? If the white folks had not fled when black people moved into their neighborhoods would there have been great rashes of black on white beatings? Are white people not accosted while driving through “bad”, aka black, neighborhoods at significant numbers only because the white people are listening and driving the long way home? Perhaps the myth is only a myth because it is effectively serving its purpose. Maybe.

I have wondered this quite a bit since 1995 and it led me to do a lot of looking. I have looked all the way back to the 1600’s and I will admit, I found some stories. There was that time in 1675 when a bunch of white people found themselves settling in a brown neighborhood called Plymouth and the brown people started burning villages and killing people for 3 years before they were permanently defeated and almost completely, exterminated. There was that time in 1831 when Nat Turner tried to kill all the white people in his neighborhood, or 1859 when John Brown riled up some black people and they killed 5 white people, injured 9, but were then themselves crushed by Robert E Lee. There was that time after the civil war in 1898 when the whole state of North Carolina, including Wilmington, was a black neighborhood. Violence broke out on voting day- and 100 black people were killed, black homes were burned, yet strangely no white people died.

There have been race riots in Atlanta (1906), St. Louis (1917), Chicago (1919), Tulsa (1921), Harlem (1935), Detroit (1943), Watts (1965), and on and on up till today there has been violence when black and white collide. Yet in every single one of those situations, including the ones back in the beginning, the primary casualty has always been the brown or black people. The white people win every time so why in all the stories people tell me, are the white people the ones in danger?

Maybe the persistence of this story, this trope, grows from the collective suppressed white awareness of how truly mistreated brown people have been, and the logic that says that this violence will inevitably be reciprocated whenever the opportunity is presented. Perhaps that is it, though that would be some seriously collective subconscious logic at work, but I think individuals should spend some time thinking through this logic and all of its implications and lessons.

But whatever the cause or origin of this line of story telling, that white people in brown or black places are in physical danger, what concerns me most, is when this idea is perpetuated or enforced, by those in authority- like cops. Or teachers. This concerns me because I have yet to find any tangible set of facts or events that bear out this widespread idea, in fact I have at least 20 years of first hand experience refuting it, but we as a society are trained to believe and trust police and cops. Or maybe I should just say white people are trained to trust these authorities.

Maybe thinking about this sort of storytelling can help us understand why there is a gap between who trusts the authorities and who does not.

When my white body moved into black Atlanta spaces, the police felt I needed protection. Their actions and inquiries made this obvious. Maybe those officers really did have information I do not, or had direct experience that I did not (surely both are true in many respects), but what was clear in those moments, and in all of those stories, was that the authorities believed that black and brown people posed a physical danger to white people.

That is the whole point of these stories. And it makes me fear for those black and brown people when I consider that people with badges, or run schools, are the ones who believe and tell that tale. In this sort of reality who are the ones being hurt?

It isn’t the white people.

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I Am Not a Protester: I am a parent

I am not a protester. That has never been my “thing”. But that was before a news report made my daughter cry.

I am not opposed to protesting, or protesters per-se, I just generally think my time and skills are better suited elsewhere. I have a fundamental, even primal, understanding of how those who are normally being protested against, react to protests, and it is almost never in a way that moves the observer closer to the ideal the protesters are pushing. Even if message confusion and ideology conflation are set aside, I simply think other tactics are more effective. At least for the goals I would like to see the greater “us” achieve.

But yesterday was different. I didn’t change, but my needs did.

When my 13 year old heard the radio reporting the “unite the right” march in Charlottesville, including one participant driving his car into a crowd of anti-racists, she began to cry. I asked her why and she said it was because she was afraid.

Afraid for her own safety.

Because she is black.

I often complain that everyone in the suburbs, which now includes us, are too afraid of everything. We think anyone and everything is prowling just out of sight ready to rape pillage and plunder us individually. We build walls, fences, gates, and make everything private in the name of safety. “We” advocate concealed carry for our own protection, are willing to cede rights to police for “our” protection, and prioritize national defense over humanitarian aid for “our protection”. And here was my daughter hearing about some events off on the other side of the country and she was crying out of fear that this meant she was not safe. My first instinct was to roll my eyes.

Because I’m white.

I am also a grown man. I am by experience and by design the most inherently safe of all. She is 13 and aware enough to see the world around her and think about what she sees. She is old enough to consider motivations, and power dynamics, and historical context. She is aware enough to know that not everyone is one way or the other, but at 13, the thing she is struggling the hardest to understand, is herself.

I do my best to help her respect Police officers and authority in general, but when shots are fired far too often the character to which she can most closely identify with, is the black person being shot. No matter who it is that shot them. When she hears our president speak out about what is dangerous in the world or wrong with the country, more often than not she identifies with the one being called dangerous and not the man behind the podium. And when she sees and hears about a crowd of white men rallying against black people- where I see the guys who look like me and easily dismiss their absurdity- she sees herself in the woman killed by their car.

Why wouldn’t she be afraid?

Who, or what, or where, is she getting messages to counteract all those others? Every parent knows the danger of their own incessant droning being drowned out or dismissed. She hears us at home, but where else? Who else is saying to a young black girl, “I see you and you are safe.”? I thought about this sincerely and I didn’t like the answer.

So we went to a rally.

We went so my daughters could see other people, friends or strangers, who were willing to publicly say that white supremacy is wrong. We went so my daughters could hear people honk their horns to show support. We went so my daughter could be a little black girl, and people would show out loud, that they see her. I wanted her to be surrounded by these people and feel safe.

So no, I am not a protester. I do not think my presence there changed the mind of anyone in opposition. I do not think the waving flags and catchy signs swayed anyone who previously disagreed. I still think my skills are better suited to something akin to lobbying not rallying, but no matter my skill set or political stance, what I most need to be- is a parent.

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BLM, Police, and Kids These Days

When I was 14 my friend Matt and I were supposed to be sleeping over at Eric’s house, but we all snuck out the window. We didn’t have anywhere to go, or even anyone to meet, but it was summer, we were bored, and we were going to manufacture some adventure in any way we could. In my pocket I had a brick of firecrackers my dad had brought back from Wyoming where they were legal. We headed off for the gully where it was rumored devil worshipers held strange ceremonies involving kidnapped children. Where else would adventure seeking suburbanites go? When we got there we did not find the pagans, but we did find a lone cop, sitting in his squad car with the windows rolled down.usguys1

Eric told me to wait in the bushes and he would be back in a minute. I dumbly complied. About two minutes later a string of firecrackers lit up the inside of the cop car. I could hear the officer shouting in shock even louder than the pop-pop-pop of the Black Cats. Eric came hurdling over the bushes and ran down the street not waiting to see if I was following. I was.IMG_0496

That was more than 20 years ago and I have told that story a million times to thousands of people. Eric is a responsible well employed adult now- no harm no foul. Funny thing is this story gets different reactions depending on who hears it. Most of my white friends laugh in wonder at the foibles of youth. Most black people with whom I tell are at best, annoyed. Some are quite upset.1923755_1165089124994_2895697_n

You see, most of my white friends, more than you might think, counter with their own stories. Thanks to them I have quite the collection of stories about idle vandalism and general teenaged delinquency; enough to re write American Graffiti ten times over. But this would be a very white movie. None of the black people I know have the same sorts of stories. No, that isn’t quite true. They do have those stories but the endings are very different. The black stories I hear trend towards much less actual destruction and much more police involvement. It is possible that the black people I know are just lames. Maybe they were blerds. I of course have not met all black people, nor do I represent all white folks, I am just a middle aged collection of anecdotes. But with that being said, we, my black friends and I, are all Americans but we did not grow up in the same world.

This reality was made even more clear to me, and more alarming, last night.IMG_2749

I attended a local public forum on race and policing. Up on the stage were a row of chiefs. There was the local police, the county sheriff, even the school district pd. The mayor, a black woman, sat there too, joined by another row of pastors and local clergy. Out in the auditorium the public lined up behind two microphones to ask their questions, make their comments, and the chiefs gave their answers. It was a mostly cordial event. I support having more of them. Yet there was a theme coming from that stage that troubles me.

More than one officer, and a couple pastors, even one black officer from the crowd, talked about how the youth are different today. They talked about how the youth of today don’t respect the police. One officer suggested kids are responding to things they see about cops in the media and two pastors said this is all a result of the lack of Bibles in school. There was a common thread that the police wanted to understand, more so to be understood, and that they are constantly frustrated by the public’s lack of cooperation.IMG_0503

The challenge of policing in a violent racialized society is definitely complex and difficult. I get that.

But I also get that American Graffiti was released in 1973. I also know that I knew all the words to that Officer Krumpke song from West Side Story when I was ten.  That movie was released in 1961. I know that all through my youth the cops were the ones who got mad at you for throwing water balloons or eggs, chased you when you hopped the neighbor’s fence, and cops were the ones who stopped your car when they got calls of possible gun shots coming from a black Tercel. The car was blue, not black, and the sound wasn’t gun shots, it was the noise made when a bat hits a mailbox.

We were never respectful, we were too annoyed that our spirits were being oppressed.IMG_2750

But maybe I haven’t spoken to enough young black kids today. Maybe they are the ones who have changed. Maybe it is the black people of my generation who would never have dared to throw a lit firecracker into a cop car or who got arrested for being out too late. Maybe the black kids today would hit the mailbox or would throw the egg.

Does this mean things have gotten worse?meandpetedisco

Maybe bad guys and cops have both been pulling triggers for generations and the only thing different now is cameras. Maybe the black folks who never threw eggs back then are more afraid of bullets and are now willing to throw bricks. I know that plenty of the guys I grew up with, the ones who did the same things as me, have grown up to be cops. These are great guys. I love them.choirhazing2

But did we forget? Where is the empathy? Why has the phrase “kids will be kids” been replaced by the word thug? Is it because these kids today, these thugs, are worse than we were? We, the Dazed and Confused kids were just messing around but these thugs are a real danger? Really?highschoolgroup

I struggle with this. I struggle because in 9th grade I watched my classmates smoke weed and shoplift. In 10th grade I watched a bunch of kids hop out of a car at a strip mall and beat up a stranger for no reason. I saw one kid beat another with a bat behind the movie theater over a girl. Jed got stabbed at school. My good friends did meth, dropped acid, sold coke. Stole a car, drove drunk, walked away. I saw all of that. But we are all older now and we have learned our lessons. We have matured now and we teach our children better. We were kids.highschoolgroup2

Really, the biggest difference I can see between us back then and the kids today, is that for the most part, we were all white.

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