Tag Archives: white people

My Support for Hyphenated Black People

Let me say up front that Black Americans have no need of my endorsement or recommendations in anything they might think or feel.

That being said, I am in full support of any Black American who prefers the identifier “African-American”, and here is why.

I often field questions, or rather suggestions, from various white people that “we” should all just be American with no hyphens or ethno-racial identifiers. This suggestion is normally given in the spirit, or with an expressed desire, that we should be a united, racist-free, nation. I appreciate this desire, share the hope of a day without racism, but reject the proposal, and here is why.

When the United States first formed as an independent country, those in power decided formally that to be “American”, or a citizen of the United States, a person had to be white. This is why the waves of immigrants over the years were able to shed their hyphens of Irish, English, German or otherwise and melt into that one word, American. Others had a tougher time.

This is why Arizona wasn’t allowed statehood till 1912. It had been “property” of the United States since 1848, with people living there for centuries previous, but the United States had a policy that there needed to be a critical mass of white people living in any given territory before it could be considered a state. The people living in Arizona were brown and it took a series of intentional settlements including land giveaways encouraging white immigration before white people had enough of a majority to be part of America. This critical mass of whiteness was attained around 1910, the application process took a couple years, and thanks to that ball getting started rolling, by 2010 Arizona had become 73% white.

As late as 1927, almost 60 years after the passing of the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court was still settling cases on who got to be considered white, which again, was a synonym for American. Lum v Rice decided that it was up to the individual states to decide who was and was not white (in this case it was a person from China suing to be white), in order to decide who got the full privileges of American citizenship. All because you had to be white to get those official privileges.

Most of us know the story of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s where Black Americans had to not only win legal battles but also take beatings from police officers in order to be allowed the same rights as other Americans, aka white people. Now if we keep in mind that these Black people’s families had been on this continent and participating in the building of this country every bit as long, and even longer, than many Irish, German, Italian, French, or even Iranian- all of whom assimilated by becoming legally white, we should take a closer look at what we suggest anyone do in order to assimilate.

Because back when Irish were shedding their hyphens, Black Americans were not only forbidden from full assimilation but also systematically prevented from pursuing success. So they forged their own ways to prosper.

While Black Americans were raising white children, cleaning white houses and having their labor exploited without constitutional protection, those same Black people were inventing jazz, laying a foundation for the discipline of sociology, reciting poetry over drum machines, fighting in American wars, penning novels, and helping send astronauts into space. All this while not being allowed the title of American, but rather Negro- or other words connoting their color with an added measure of insult. Consequentially Black people have developed a distinct culture that is very much American but distinct from that of those who were accepted as white/American historically. That deserves respect, honor and appreciation.

In the past the “distinctness” brought along by immigrant groups (which is everyone other than indigenous peoples) was absorbed, or allowed, by letting these “others” be swallowed by whiteness. Some groups wanted to be white but still unique, and America said “yes” giving them St. Patrick’s and Columbus days. In response to things like Columbus Day, other white people founded things like the Daughters of The American Revolution, but all of them were united under the banner of American whiteness.

All of that is, quite literally, history. So when do we move past all that?

Fair question.

In 1967 a group of Black Americans attempted to get past it and exercise the 2nd amendment. They formed a militia and bore arms for their own protection. America responded by taking their guns and passing gun control laws. These Black people claimed the guns were to defend themselves, and that they had a right to do so, and America said they did not have that right.

The next year, sans militia, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot for advocating Black citizenship. So we know that the past wasn’t history 50 years ago.

How about 9 years ago?

The election of a bi-racial Black man to the presidency of the United States was heralded by many as the moment when we as a nation were finally over our racist past. How ironic then, that the most prominent and persistent accusation against our Black president, the accusation by which our current president made his political name, was that he was not born in America. He was accused of literally not being an American. Which was very much in line with the messages America has sent Black people all along. The past is obviously not gone yet. Was the 41 years between MLK and Obama enough to have both erased 192 years of racial division and then drive it all the way back into divisiveness due to some Black people preferring a hyphen?

Or maybe the term African-American isn’t exactly the cause, but rather just a hindrance?

Considering the contributions and struggles of Black people in this country, and knowing that all the other assimilated groups very literally shed their hyphenated status in favor of whiteness, makes the request that African-Americans only claim the title American, smack of condescending insult. I do not say this as an accusation that anyone who has forwarded such a suggestion did so from a dark and cruel place- but not all insults are intended.

Black people should be able to claim full American status without having to do so in a way that has always been a nod to whiteness. If the only way to do this is to bring back hyphens for everyone- great. Do it. But I will not be the one to tell any Black person that they should reject or ignore the African heritage that my country has so intentionally tried to dishonor all this time. For a Black person to be able to claim both their African descent, their Blackness, and their full American status simultaneously, is in my mind the best American dream. It is long past time that we, as Americans, accept that our country is, has been, and should be, a nation of people from many places, who don’t all look the same, who do not all act the same, and who can claim the fullness of who they are- while being fully American.


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The White Side of Black History: the cow jumped over the moon

Peter Tosh had a song with the lyrics, “We teach the youth to learn in school, that the dish ran away with the spoon. We teach the youth to learn in school, that the cow jump over moon. So you can’t blame the youth (when they don’t learn), you can’t fool the youth.”

It wasn’t exactly a hit single but he was making a point. Our children are not stupid, but we often treat them as if they are, and even worse, sometimes we make them that way. For instance, when my oldest was in 1st grade and just learning about holidays, which were very exciting since they included lots of activities in class, and days off from school, she asked about Martin Luther King Day. Her teacher explained that a long time ago black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. Martin Luther King Jr. thought this was wrong and helped get those laws changed so we could all be together. It was a nice age appropriate story, except is was horribly misguiding.

It was misguided not only in this instance but also in that this foundational error rarely gets corrected throughout the entirety of most American kid’s classroom education.

The soft pedaling of lessons on American racial history is damaging because we do everything we can to remove perpetrators. There are great injustices in history, and those who suffered through them did some amazing things in overcoming thanks to remarkable leaders like Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. But somehow, these injustices just were. No one did them, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the way things were. When contrasted with the Revolution caused by King George and Redcoats, and world War II caused by Hitler and the Japanese, it is silly to think Jim Crow was created by a cow jumping over the moon. Yet that is pretty much how we explain it.

So we can’t blame the youth when they don’t learn.

But kids grow into adults and we often hang on to what we learned when we were little. It is important for people to know, and not just in light of current political atmosphere but because it is the truth, that those laws were made by white people. Those Jim Crow laws were made by white people who at best were trying to protect their own position and possessions with complete disregard for black people, or at worst, with the intention of hurting and repressing black people. The makers of those laws represented and were what made up “America”. That was us.

My eight year old understands this. She is old enough to get it. She is also old enough to understand, but still be shocked by, the knowledge that when Martin Luther King, and a whole lot of other people, started working to change those laws, it was the police who tried to stop them. She got a new respect for MLK once she realized how dangerous it was to stand up for rights. After seeing photos of police dogs and fire hoses my little girl paused for a minute, thinking. She looked sort of sideways at me, her white father, and asked, “was it dangerous for white people too?”

Great question.

I told her about a young white man named Jonathan Daniels who tried to help black people register to vote in Alabama. He was shot by a Sheriff in the middle of the day with witnesses. The Sheriff didn’t get in trouble. We talked about how it was safe for white people if they just left things the way they were, because the police were on the side of the white people, but anyone, no matter their color, were in danger if they tried to change things. I also explained that black people were in danger no matter what they did.

She understood that. She didn’t like it, which is appropriate, but it made sense.

It is important that we as a society understand that problems, and especially laws, are never “just the way things are.” We make things how things are. All the high minded ideals of the American experiment rely upon us as a populace participating. That is what makes our nation remarkable. Despite our flaws and imperfections, we have built in mechanisms that allow change and have held us intact despite violence and horror and centuries if injustices. We actually CAN do something. Of course it might be dangerous- but so is roller skating.

So, on this first day of February, Black History Month, I write about these things, and urge us to learn about these things, not to foster anger or hatred or “dwell on the past”, but to simply understand the truth. We were taught that the dish ran away with the spoon and consequentially we don’t understand how we got to where we are… and we can be better. We need to learn about our history so we can be better.

Happy February.

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Whose Life Matters?

I was mostly offline for more than a week. Then I came home…

A friend of mine posted the question “I see people shutting down traffic on highways to protest the death of black people, why aren’t they stopping traffic for the police who get killed?” I didn’t respond  on Facebook. I normally don’t. Occasionally I will push back against something I see that is blatantly off base, but for the most part, I just post pictures of my family and observe. But I will respond here:IMG_0936

A regular part of life in Philadelphia is to have the freeway blocked for long stretches of time to let a funeral procession that includes hundreds, actual hundreds, of police cruisers, sirens blaring, pass as they escort one of their fallen brothers or sisters. Any time an officer was shot in the line of duty all the porch lights in my neighborhood would install blue bulbs to show their support. Protesters don’t shut down freeway traffic for fallen officers because the freeway already gets shut down for them.

In Philadelphia I never saw a freeway shut down for a murdered black kid.

I see that a number of states and officials are trying to get harming a police officer listed as a hate crime. These states and organizations believe police need extra protection. I do not, nor do I know anyone who does, advocate killing cops. But I do recall watching on the news as a group of officers severely beat a man suspected of shooting a cop. Turns out it was mistaken identity. None of the officers faced any charges in the beating and public sentiment brushed it off. Any time a cop got shot, the public stepped back and let the police handle it any way they saw fit even if it meant beating the wrong person. The cops were allowed to protect themselves.

There were no special light bulbs for any of the black kids who were regularly killed.


I have seen several of my Facebook friends state, or post a link, saying something to the effect of “The biggest danger to black people isn’t the cops, it is other black people. Why don’t #blacklivesmatter spend their time on that instead of those who are trying to help?” Black people have been crying out for help and justice in the inner cities, and everywhere else they live for that matter,  for decades. That is part of the point. The amount of unsolved murders in black neighborhoods is ridiculous and it has nothing to do with black people not caring or making attempts to address it. It has much more to do with poverty and lack of power. This community’s lack of power is part of what makes policing so problematic. There are black people crying out for help and justice, but instead they are disproportionately arrested and injured. When you are law abiding and the system treats you as if you are not, it is hard to have faith in the system.IMG_0937

Quite a number of my friends push #alllivesmatter when confronted with conversation, Facebook posts, and news stories dealing with #blacklivesmatter. These are good people, most of them white, who really want a more racially harmonious society. They don’t hate anyone and are put off by the hatred they see in the world. I also know quite a few people, a lot really, who are active in the #blacklivesmatter movement. Every single one of them-every one- believe that in reality all lives matter, even the blue ones, but the entire point of #blacklivesmatter is that despite all lives mattering, the black people’s lives, are not currently treated as if they matter as much as the lives of others. Hence the need for the hashtag. Everyone in the movement I know gets this. So to my friends who feel that #blacklivesmatter is reverse racism, just know that for that to be true, you would have to argue that racism against black people doesn’t exist in our current system. Are you, those of you who feel #blacklivesmatter is racist, prepared to argue that black people are treated fairly in the American criminal justice system? If so, then let’s have that conversation.copandfire

Being a police officer is one of the most difficult and under-rewarded jobs in America. I respect those who engage in this work. We need cops. We need good cops. We ask too much of them and pay them far too little. But this job, this role in society, is so important that the answer to our undervaluing them cannot be lowering the bar or lowering our base expectations. When we give someone a badge and a gun, with the understanding that they will approach danger on our behalf and indeed protect and serve us, we are placing in them a high level of trust. This level of trust is so high that if that trust is breached, the fall back down to Earth can, and I say should, be somewhat devastating. But I say, seriously, that if that trust is breached, there should in fact be a fall. That is what I am advocating for. This is where I stand. If you want my opinion here it is: There are millions of black people who are law abiding and some who are not. Some law abiders occasionally don’t. Just like all the white people I know. I place a great faith in the police to enforce the laws that exist. I respect them and their work. We should pay them more. I have seen data, and had multiple personal experiences, that have shown me that black people are not policed fairly. White people like me are not policed the same as those who are black. This crushes the spirit of every day black people. This places black people not only in in fear for themselves and their families, but places them in fear of their own governments. Sadly, this fear is repeatedly justified. This is every day folks. People who didn’t sign up for it. People who just want to mind their own business. They aren’t on some payroll for being black, they didn’t go to an academy to get their black skins. It is in large part because of this fact, that the bulk of the responsibility for improvement lies on the shoulders of those who DID apply for the job, for those who ARE on a payroll. Those who are given a gun and a badge are justly given a higher level of responsibility, and should be given, more accountability. That is what I believe.

If you kill someone who posed no threat to you, that is a murder.

If you are overly afraid of your job, don’t do it. Get another job.

Those empowered to enforce the law should never be above it but rather be bound much tighter to it.

I am not a cop. I get that. Do I “get it”? Probably not. I cede that point. But When I, who am neither black nor an officer, stand back and look at who signed up for this and who holds the power it becomes obvious to me who already matters.

So I agree with those who believe that it still needs to be pointed out, that





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