Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2 Ferguson: The Product of Deferred Dreams

By: Marvin DeBose

Since last summer, I've begun to realize that American history often repeats itself.

In the past few days since the decision regarding Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson to not be indicted for the death of Mike Brown, I've realized that many of us live in different versions of the United States of America.

More importantly, the past few days have shown me that, its that there are still a lot of us who don't understand that the American experience is very different for different people. And history shows that a great deal of people's experiences in this country are dictated based on race, class and gender.

But depending on which America one lives in, that might not be seen as the truth. So if you've never experienced racism on an institutional level, you might be more inclined to look at a discussion of racism as being excessive or unnecessary.

Or if you've never had to deal with sexism on a structural level, discussions of it may confuse, or even anger you.

The point is, there's still a lot of experiences that Americans live/have lived that we don't learn about. There's a lot of history of which we are unaware. There is a lot of pain and suffering which people have endured, and unless we are willing to listen to the voices of those in pain, their pain will be recurring.

Yet, far too often, we become dismissive of those who seek to connect the present to dark history of the past to the events of the present. We write these people off as being "divisive"or "angry".

Society often paints a picture of them as disingenuous trouble makers without even realizing that they may have just silenced an important conversation which needs to happen more.

Without even realizing it, we've been taught to shun those who talk about harsh realities of this country. Those who speak of things such as racism, sexism, homophobia and classism are sometimes looked at with scorn and contempt. Surprisingly, this scorn and contempt, doesn't always come from hateful people, it often comes from people's discomfort with discussing such things, however, through discomfort there can be growth.

We'll attempt to shut these people up by saying things like, "We're all the human race, end of story." but the truth is, in America, certain members of that human race are still treated in a subhuman manner, and we have a moral obligation, not only as Americans, but as human beings to acknowledge it, address it, or at least be open to learning about it.

It isn't your fault that different forms inequality such as racism, classism and sexism exist in America, you didn't create it, none of us did, but we are all connected to it. It isn't a problem to acknowledge these problems, however, it is a problem to act oblivious to inequality and shut out those voices of pain as if silence will make it disappear.

America doesn't need silence, America needs healing, and I believe that the first step to healing is listening and learning. Many times, when we do decide to talk about these issues, we become too focused on making sure our personal opinions are heard, rather than the people who are dealing with the pain or the people who are upset. Our ego makes us go out of our way to tell others whose experience we have not lived on how they should feel about the pain they have experienced, or how they should react to situations in which they feel that there was an injustice.

We have to understand that situations like the upheaval in Ferguson don't come out of nowhere, they aren't isolated incidents of random anger, they aren't examples of misplaced aggression, they are rooted in a deep, dark history of structural inequality.

The Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes explained it best when he questioned the consequences of "a dream deferred" in his poem Harlem; that dream being equality in the nation which pledges to "liberty and justice of all":

"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load...

...Or does it explode?"

What we're seeing in Ferguson is an explosion of historical frustration, an explosion of pain and second-class citizenship. It's an explosion from a flame that was lit centuries ago.

The question is, what role will you play in this time in history?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

0 "It's Not About Race"

By: Marvin DeBose

For all of the people who are on the whole "it’s not about race" and "Well, looting is wrong too" campaign in regards to the death of Mike Brown, I'm going to challenge you.

I challenge you to look at things from outside of your own perspective. Maybe to you this isn't about race because you've never really HAD to analyze racism... Or maybe you didn't WANT to.

Yet, for Black people in America, especially those from lower-income areas such as Ferguson, Mo. and parts of the St. Louis area, racism is omnipresent. It's in the schools, in the courtrooms, in housing and and even jobs. So when people talk about the role of race in the Mike Brown situation, whether they are right or wrong, they're not "jumping to conclusions", "playing the race card" (Whatever that means) or trying to generalize a whole group of people. They are speaking from AN EXPERIENCE; they are speaking from a history of inequality.

And although some think of racism as something that only exists in extremes (hate groups), or  that "Reverse racism" is the problem, or that it isn't possible for racism to be a big problem in today's America, I'm sad to say that these assumptions are largely incorrect.

I'm not arguing with anybody, I'm not debating anyone. Because honestly, I'm tired of explaining my experiences to people... and frankly, I don't HAVE to, but I do it because it is necessary.

I don't just talk about racism for the sake of debating. I don’t just talk about race because it’s a “hot topic” in the media. I talk about these things because they are a part of my life. When you're a "person of color" in America, you'd BETTER start talking about/understanding how racism works... Because it may save your life.

Even, when I make a post on social media where I jokingly talk about race, there's pain behind that.
So when people are so quick to shout “stop making it about race” or "it's not about race" to people who have repeatedly dealt with racism, it's actually kind of condescending, and pretty insensitive & dismissive of the lived experience of millions of people.

Let's make one thing clear: AMERICA itself is "about race". The social construct of race is one of the things which built this nation. It shaped our history, and influences our present. Racism is so deeply ingrained in our social fabric that to say that something like this "has absolutely NOTHING to do with Race" is almost disingenuous.

The concept of race, despite it being a social construct, has directed influenced the lives that we live today. Period. Everybody knows that... The problem is that not everybody is ready to admit that.

No, I'm not saying "let's blame everything on racism".

I'm just saying let’s not act like the concept of race is so foreign to our problems in America. The situation in Ferguson, Mo. is the product of a racism which America bred. Read about the history of race relations in the St. Louis, Missouri area and tell me otherwise.

So, when you hear people talking about the role of race in a situation and you don't understand why, or you're angered by it, I challenge you to just LISTEN to them.

Don't debate them, don't try to diffuse their anger, don't try to tell them what's racism and what's not.

Just LISTEN to them… You might learn something.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

1 Maya Angelou: The World's Griot

Photo credit:

Maya Angelou 1928-2014
By: Marvin DeBose

In West African culture, the griots, storytellers who often employed the use of poetry and music, have historically been seen as some of the most highly valued members of society. These people were seen as walking history books, full of lessons to impart upon a village. Maya Angelou was a product of this rich tradition.

 For most people, simply hearing that name, “Maya Angelou”, brings words to mind such as, “Wisdom” and “understanding”. Her presence was associated with poise, and grace, and her words were filled with truth and love.

Although many people simply associate her with her countless insightful quotes and thought-provoking poetry, what made Maya Angelou truly remarkable were not just the beautiful, poetic words which she spoke, it was the rich life which she lived.

Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, lived the life of a true renaissance woman.

In her early life, Angelou was widely known for her immense talent in the performing arts. She was renowned calypso performer, which is a form of Afro-Caribbean dance and music and also spent time working as an actress and a playwright, who toured internationally starring in shows such as “Porgy and Bess” and writing plays such as “Georgia, Georgia”.   

Angelou also worked internationally as a human rights activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as with Malcolm X in the Organization of African Unity.
Angelou would also spend years living in Ghana, working as a freelance journalist.

Most notably, Angelou was a world-renowned poet and author. Her thought-provoking writings touched on controversial topics like race and gender, as well as universal themes such as love and parenthood. She is seen as one of the most significant writers in American literature. Her raw, yet profound autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, was ranked by TIME magazine as being one of the top 100 most influential books written in the English language.

Although she has departed from us in the physical form, her words, her wisdom and her spirit live within the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

To many people, for some whom she didn't even know personally, Angelou was a mentor, a mother-figure, and an adviser. Oprah Winfrey commonly cites Angelou as her “mother/sister”. Even comedians such as Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were known to go to her home in North Carolina to seek her advice.

Angelou once even disciplined rapper Tupac Shakur, whom she worked with in the movie “Poetic Justice”. Angelou witnessed Shakur about to get into a fight on the movie set and she pulled him aside and brought him to tears by asking him, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?' Did you know people stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that you could stay alive today?'”

Moments like that are testaments to the fact that Angelou was much more than a few witty quotes online, it shows how she was much more than a poet, actor and a playwright. She was a leader whose example helped to bring out the best in other people.

There are many words which can be associated with Maya Angelou's remarkable legacy; however there is only one which suits her best:


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

0 Dick Gregory: A Living Legend

By: Marvin DeBose

Before Dave Chappelle, before Chris Rock, and even before Richard Pryor, there was Dick Gregory.

Comedic legends like Rock, Chappelle and Pryor are well-known for their ability to make audiences laugh while creating a dialogue on sensitive social issues from an honest, African-American perspective. Their ability to combine wit, a humorous sense of irreverence along with storytelling to discuss these issues in front of a mainstream audience is often seen as something fairly new.

Yet Dick Gregory was touching on these issues long before Pryor became a star and before Rock and Chappelle were even born.

Dick Gregory
He was born Richard Claxton Gregory, on October 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Missouri. Born to a family of six children, raised by a single mother, Gregory grew up in poverty for much of his early life and also faced a great deal of discrimination, growing up in Jim Crow-era America.

Yet, his experiences of poverty and racism would develop what he would become as an adult.

Despite the hardships he faced early on, Gregory had a remarkable career as a student-athlete.He excelled at track, to the point where he earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set school records in track and received the school's Outstanding Athlete Award in 1953.

However, Gregory's career as a track star was put on hold when he joined the army in 1954. But it was here where he officially got his start in comedy, performing in, and winning, many Army talent shows.

He returned to college after two years of being in the army, yet dropped out due what he felt as the university's lack of interest in his academic success, and more of an interest in his track career.

So, in the late-1950s, Gregory moved to Chicago to pursue a career in comedy, yet it was no easy feat. So Gregory worked for the U.S Postal Service while performing in various Chicago clubs.

Eventually, Gregory got his big break in comedy when, in 1961, he was hired by Hugh Hefner to perform at his Chicago Playboy Club.

From here, Gregory's career took off. His witty and social conscious sense of humor pertaining to major issues of that time, especially race and class, along with his signature calm, yet charismatic, deadpan delivery made him a hit with American mainstream audiences.

He'd go on perform on major shows of the time, such as The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, a job which, interestingly enough, Gregory initially declined numerous times in his career.

Despite the ability of The Tonight Show to catapult the careers of young comics, Gregory's reasoning behind not performing on the show was based on the fact that Black comics were never allowed to stay as guest on Paar's show after their performances.

It wasn't until Paar personally called Gregory and agreed to change the standards of the show that Gregory decided to perform on the show. Although this performance would boost Gregory career and introduce him to a national audience, he began to put a great deal of focus and energy into another passion which he had which was social activism.

At the same time as Gregory's rise in comedy in the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise in America as well. Gregory, a man who grew up facing racial discrimination and often candidly discussed it in his act, was naturally drawn to the movement.

He spoke at and participated in numerous rallies and protests throughout the South and developed a close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He toured to raised money for activist groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was arrested for his protests numerous times.

Gregory (left of center) marching alongside Dr. King in Mississippi  in 1966.

Gregory would even run for political office. In 1967, he ran for mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley, and, in 1968, he even ran for U.S. President. Although, he lost both races, his activism and civic engagement continued throughout his life.

Gregory at a press conference along with Muhammad Ali
Not only was Gregory an activist and outspoken critic against racism and poverty in America, in the late-60s, he became a vegetarian as well as an advocate for fitness and nutrition. Later in his late he would strongly advocate eating raw fruits and vegetables and he'd become known for participating in fasts as a part of his activism.

Gregory would also go on to write countless books and become an entrepreneur, selling numerous health products, and also serving as a nutritional consultant.

Today, at the age of 81, Gregory continues his activism, his health advocacy and his comedy, all with his signature wit and social-awareness which has stood the test of time.

His commitment and willingness to sacrifice his career for the issues which affect everyday people has set an example for countless entertainers.

Not only is he a pioneer for entertainers, for comedians, or for African-Americans. Dick Gregory is a pioneer for what it means to be a human being who is willing to risk his livelihood, as well his life, for his principles and his commitment to a better life for all people.

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