Saturday, June 27, 2015

0 "... Our Flag Was Still There..."

By: Marvin DeBose

Picture: Twitter @FergusonAction 

Activist Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Flag from outside of the Statehouse in Columbia, Sc.

So when are people going to decide to stop lying to defend the Confederate flag?

Over the past week, amidst the controversy surrounding that flag, what I've realized is that there are mainly three types of people who defend the Confederate flag:

1. The person who doesn't know history...

I know many of these people who have either grown up seeing this flag at grandma's house, or they simply think its just cute flag that represents country/rural pride. They might not mean anything by it. But the issue is that they are oblivious (sometimes, willfully oblivious) to history as well as what that flag symbolizes (I'll elaborate on that in little bit)... But they aren't off the hook either, because ignorant can't always be an excuse.

It's one thing to be ignorant, but its another to be ignorant on purpose, and willful ignorance to injustice is the worst form of cowardice.

2. The person who knows the history behind it and doesn't care.

They'll say: "Get over it, its 2015... People are too obsessed with the past."

Well, seeing how this flag was created in the early 1860s, as a flag for the Confederacy, which lost the war, the fact that people are still passionately defending it shows that the past still matters to a lot of us.

Do people realize how insensitive is it to tell people that they are "obsessed with the past" when people are proudly waving a flag that was used a symbol of terrorism against them for the past 150 years?

This is a part of the problem

They'll say: "People who are angry about this don't know history... Not everything is about race!"

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that they do know their history, that's kind of what this whole controversy is about. If I didn't know history, I'd just think the Confederate flag is just cool-looking flag with an X on it. Obviously, thats not the case.

And anyone who says that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with race clearly fell asleep through 4th grade Social Studies.

Of course, its about race, and racism. This country was built on the concept of race. As I once heard, "Racism isn't a chapter in America's history it's in the whole book." Learn your history.

3. The person playing who is clearly playing dumb about what that flag means.

They'll say: "It's about Southern Pride"

Well when we say "Southern" what "South" are we talking about here?

Are we talking about South Philly? The South Bronx? South Beach?

...Oh, we're talking about the good ol' US South. The Deep South, Dixie. The South which was (and in some ways, still is) home to slavery, segregation, the KKK and many other forms of interpersonal and institutional racism.

... And that's not new information for any of us.

But, what exactly is this "Southern Pride" that this flag represents? Whose "Southern pride" are we talking about? Are we talking about Black people's Southern pride?

I wouldn't think so, seeing how when the flag was created slavery was still legal... and many of the people who waved that flag at the time fought to defend slavery.

And if that flag is all about Southern pride, how come I've seen so many of them in so many Northern States? I've lived in Pennsylvania my whole life, and I've been to the South many of times. Surprisingly enough, the first time I saw a Confederate flag was in northwestern PA hanging from someone's pickup truck in a small town.

Now, I'm no geographer, but I'm pretty sure Pennsylvania isn't considered the "South", so why are we so hung up on this "Southern" pride?

A friend of mine described it that the flag as represents "Ancestral pride".

"Ancestral", huh?

Well "Ancestral" means "ancestors", and if we're talking about "ancestors" in the context of the Confederate Flag... You get where I'm going with this?

Even William T. Thompson, the designer of the modern-day Confederate flag noted what it stood for:

"As a people we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause."William T. Thompson (April 23, 1863), Daily Morning News

So let's be honest with ourselves about what this flag means.

... And don't be fooled when you see those Black people that Fox News finds (or hires) with their Confederate flag hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers and lunchboxes.

Black people too, can sometimes be ignorant of the racist history which that flag symbolizes and are strategically used as media mascots, shown to mask to the true history behind the flag.

Do you know why the Confederate flag is still a part of our culture? It's because the concept of white supremacy is still a part of American culture.

Of course the flag coming down doesn't mean that "racism is over", nor does it mean that the mentality that it was created to represent is gone.

But it's damn sure a step in the right direction.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

0 What Charleston Means

Photograph by Lissa D'Aquisto, courtesy of City of Charleston

(The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC)

By now, many of us have heard of the horrendous acts which occurred in Charleston, SC in which a gunman opened fire in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing 9 people.

Media outlets and pundits have already described this incident as “incomprehensible” and “unbelievable”.

I would’ve agreed with them… that’s if I hadn’t already known what country I was living in.

One survivor of the incident recalled the gunman, a white male saying to the members of the congregation, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country — and you have to go.”

Where does rhetoric like that come from?

I'll tell you: It comes from our schools, it comes from our media, and our politicians. It comes from family members and it comes from our history. This type of deep-rooted hatred doesn’t come out of nowhere. 

This was not an isolated incident.

But we live in a world where we seek the easy way out, where there’s no time for the discussions which force us to look at ourselves as a society in a critical light.

In the days to come, the media will seek to humanize the gunman, and almost instinctively, people will seek to paint him in a sympathetic light with comments such as, “he’s still a human being” or “he was a good kid who a bad decision”.

We’ll see the same empty, surface-level talk about gun control, mental health and how we all “need to pray together”.

People will shout, “Let’s let all of the facts come out” and “It’s not about race!” And ultimately, the conversation will go back to the victim-blaming, diversionary rhetoric of “Where’s the outrage about Black-on-Black crime?”

However while when unarmed black men are victims of state-sanctioned violence, the conversation changes, it becomes more interrogative, you’ll hear, “Well, he wasn’t an angel” or more commonly, "He was a thug!"

This is a society in which a 21-year-old white male can kill 9 people and be captured alive, but a 43-year old black man accused of selling cigarettes can get choked to death.

This is a society in which people are vocal to criticize protests and riots based on racial violence, but are quiet about racism itself.

We live in a society in which you are more demonized for talking about racism, than you are for practicing it.

This is a part of the problem.

A culture of racism creates racial terrorism… And until we can be honest with ourselves about that, we’re just talking in circles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

0 Seinfeld & The Culture of Political Correctness


By: Marvin DeBose

“So what's the deal with all this political correctness?”

That's a question that actor/comedian Jerry Seinfeld may have been asking after a recent interview in which he discussed the difficulty of performing as a comedian on college campuses due to what he believes to be a culture of political correctness.

In an interview with ESPN radio, Seinfeld stated, "I don't play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, 'Don't go near colleges. They're so [politically correct].'... They just want to use these words: 'That’s racist'; 'That’s sexist'; 'That’s prejudice.' They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

This statement was interesting to me for numerous reasons, for one, I’m a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld's sharp, observational humor and ability to find the absurdity within our everyday lives is a talent which few comics have been able to pull off successfully, and for so long.

But an even bigger reason that these comments stood out to me was because Seinfeld typically steers clear of controversial issues in his comedy. That’s when I asked myself, "How well does Seinfeld really know what's 'racist' or 'sexist'?"

Then I thought back to his response last year when an interviewer pointed out the fact that most of the comics which appeared on his web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, were white males:

“This really pisses me off... Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that... It’s more about PC nonsense.”

Seinfeld seems to mean well... but the issue is that he fails to realize is that his perception and worldview is largely based on his experience, which happens to be the experience of privilege
Now when I say "privilege", I don't necessarily mean "rich" or "wealthy". I’m talking about the institutional, systemic advantages which come from being a member of the group which has power in our society.

More specifically, Seinfeld is a 61-year-old white guy who grew up in the suburbs, and privilege as it pertains to being a white male in America is more complex than people think.

For example, one of the potential benefits of privilege which Seinfeld grew up with based on being white was the luxury of not having to think too deeply into racial representation in the media. When you grow up in a world where you are surrounded by people who look like you, you don’t really pay too much attention when other groups of people aren’t present because, in your mind, that’s the norm.

This is especially true for Seinfeld, who grew up in the 1950s and 60s in Massapequa, NY, a town in Long Island, which is still one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. Even Seinfeld himself recently noted on his web series that he hadn't even met a black person until college.

Ultimately, Jerry Seinfeld’s privilege as a white male in America can be summed in two words which he said: “Who cares?”

When institutional racism is not your experience, you have the option to not care about race. As a male, you have the option to not care about sexism, because sexism is not your experience.
However, if you're a woman, you live with the effects sexism... regardless of if you “care about it” or not. If you're black, it doesn't matter if you care about racism, you live it.

Of course, this isn’t a problem with Jerry Seinfeld specifically; the real issue lies in the fact that often, complaints about “political correctness” come from a place of privilege, and are dismissive and used as a means to criticize people for being offended, rather than examining why they are offended.

Some people may point to the fact that black comics like Chris Rock spoke about political correctness as well:

I stopped playing colleges… they’re way too conservative… Not in their political views… but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault… You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.”
The difference here is that Rock’s critique of political correctness is rooted in what he sees as America’s fear of discussing taboo topics such as race, gender, class and sexuality. Seinfeld’s critique is more about America bringing up those topics too much—Big difference.

But the question remains is there a culture of political correctness in our society?

Yes and no. 

I see more of a growing culture of sensitivity rather than political correctness, but I believe that is just because we a counteracting a deep rooted societal culture of extreme insensitivity. We are fighting against CENTURIES of insensitivity toward people for their race, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality or economic status. Our political correctness is only a byproduct our society’s history of social irresponsibility.

So of course such sensitivity comes as a shock to us… Our society was insensitive since its inception!

However, from the perspective of a comedy fan, I believe that we have to pay attention to the context of what someone says. Words are powerful, but it’s the context behind them which give them power.

Of course we have the right to be offended by a joke, but I think it’s more important to analyze why comics say certain jokes, what experience is behind them, and what makes certain people laugh at them and other not laugh.

As the great comedian Lenny Bruce once said, “The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can't fake it.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

0 McKinney, USA

By: Marvin DeBose
It looked like a scene out of the 90s TV show Walker Texas Ranger; a cop running toward the camera at full speed.
But it wasn't a TV show it was a viral video showing a police officer in a suburban community responding to a reported disturbance in the area. Within the first few seconds of the video, Corporal Eric Caseboldt, a 40-year-old Navy veteran, who had been with McKinney police for 10 years, is seen on the video running at top speed  down chasing an unseen perpetrator.
At first glance, it almost seems as if he might be chasing a suspect who is armed. 
Then the camera pans right, and the officer returns back in view of the camera, and reality sets in, the officer has a hold of the suspects.
Those "suspects” whom Caseboldt was chasing are swimsuit-clad teen African American boys, most of them appearing to be no older than 15.
“Don’t make me fucking run around here with 30 pounds of goddamn gear on in the sun ‘cause you want to screw around out here,” he yells to the young boys, while pushing them onto the ground, forcing them to sit.
In the background, a group of teenage girls are heard yelling, inquiring about why these young boys are being accosted by the police. Caseboldt responds by telling the girls to leave.
As the girls begin to back away from the scene, Caseboldt grabs one 15-year-old girl by the arm and slams her on the ground, pinning her down with a knee in her back and her arms behind her. Two other young teen boys in the area rush over to the girl’s aid, as the officer is becoming increasingly rough with her, and in response, the officer pulls his gun on the boys, and consequently, they back up.
Cpl. Eric Caseboldt grabbing a 15-year-old girl
The sensible person might ask: What type of crime elicits such a brutal response for unarmed civilians – children in swimsuits at that?
Well, that's a question for us all to ask ourselves.
As much as people will try to attribute this incident to “one bad apple” or “the ways of the South”, this problem is much bigger than just this one incident, and much more deep-rooted than Eric Caseboldt, police brutality and even Texas.
This is connected to issues that are deeply embedded in this nation's history and culture of exclusion and racialized fears.
McKinney is a predominately White small town north of the Dallas area and has been growing in the past 30 years, gaining an influx of more Latino and African American families. But these demographic changes aren't necessarily accepted by everyone. 
Texas has a reputation for what are known as sundown towns, which are purposely all-white communities, usually suburbs outside of a metropolitan area, that have been openly hostile to the presence of non-White ethnic groups in their towns throughout history, especially at night.
These areas practiced housing discrimination, passed laws aimed to reduce the presence of “outsiders”, and oftentimes, these towns would commit acts of violence against various ethnic groups within the area. 
Such towns were known have signs near them on major roads with ominous messages to non-White travelers warning them, "Don’t let the sun set on you in this town.”    
How does this tie into McKinney, TX? Well, McKinney is a part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in North Texas, which is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US.
Interestingly enough, North Texas is a region home to many notorious Sundown Towns as well
There is Irving, a town west of Dallas, in which oral histories note that blacks were to be out of the area by nightfall. There is also Sunnyvale, a town 45 minutes south of McKinney, whose residents fought vehemently to prevent “low income housing” from being placed in their town by passing zoning ordinances and a 1971 town council resolution banning apartments from the town.
Such signs were seen on billboards, in newspapers and in many other strategic places as late as the 1980s
There’s also Highland Park, a suburb only a half hour away from McKinney, which, after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, preferred to send its few black students to school in Dallas rather than allow them to attend school in Highland Park. Highland Park is still known for its strict exclusionary rules for "outsiders". 
Although McKinney itself doesn’t have an explicit written history of being a sundown town, the culture of xenophobia and racial exclusionary tactics which contribute to sundown towns are still prevalent there.
In fact, in 2008 the City of McKinney was sued by a housing nonprofit organization for standing in the way of the development of public housing for mostly Black and Latino low-income families on McKinney’s predominately White west side, which is where the pool party incident occurred.
And what sparked this whole pool party incident? It was an altercation that occurred when a white female resident of the area reportedly made racial slurs toward some black teens in the pool area and told them to “go back to their Section 8 housing".
What we have to understand is that issues like this don’t happen as mere isolated incidents, they aren’t simply a result of “a need for police reform”, they aren’t deviations from the norm, because in America, systemic racism is the norm.
The police officer, Eric Caseboldt, knew exactly what he was doing when he chased after those boys and forced that young girl to the ground, he was making an example out of them. Why? Because, to him, they represent a threat. 
And what response did he get from members of the West McKinney community after the incident? He and the police department received a poster saying, "Thank you, for keeping us safe."
"....Keeping us safe?" From teenage kids at a pool party? What does such as response that say about that community? What does that say about us as a society?
These children may have not have been arrested or charged with any crimes, but they have been sentenced to a life of coping with the traumatic experience of being treated like criminals when their only crime was being in a town that never wanted them there in the first place.
Their only crime was their existence. As was Trayvon Martins and countless others.
Whats sad is that many black youth face the same criminalization every day, and some don't get to go home to their parents when its all over. What even more sad is that there were adults members of the community present who stood and approvingly watched the whole thing. 
Some may lazily attribute this incident to being “The way things are in The South." But, as Malcolm X once reminded us, “As long as you are South of the Canadian border, you’re South.”
This country needs to take a serious look at why we treat each other the way that we do. We need to reexamine why we view other taxpaying Americans as "outsiders" in their own country. We need to look at why believe in the concept of inherent criminality for an entire race of people.
Most importantly, we just need to start asking "why?"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

0 "What Would Dr. King Think?"

By: Marvin DeBose

He's our convenient hero. We see him in old grainy footage from the 1960s smiling, marching and giving speeches.

When people yell slurs at him, he is unfazed. When attacked physically, he is calm.

People see him as America's symbol of peace and racial harmony. He's our go-to Black leader for any words of wisdom that address social issues, such as race, but aren't too controversial (Sorry, Malcolm X).

Of course, I'm talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who's seen as our our happy-go-lucky, turning-the-other-cheek, loving-his-enemies, courageous leader.

We typically think of him within the context of the last few minutes of his 1963 "I have a dream speech" where he speaks of being a time where people can be judged by the content of their character rather than their skin color. He talks optimistically speaks of being "free at last"... And usually that's where our memory of Dr. King stops.

But what happened after the "Dream"? What happened up until Martin Luther King's death in 1968?

Photo credit: Uptown Magazine

Truth be told, Dr. King was not as much of the beloved all-American that he is portrayed as being. Throughout much of his life, more so in the last five years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was vilified. He was called a "troublemaker" by some, an "agitator" by others, and "The most notorious liar in the country" by the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Why?

This is because Martin Luther King was a figure who was peaceful, but incredibly defiant to the social order of this country. He was always growing and evolving, and he was even becoming more radicalized in his approach in his later years.

He spoke against U.S. militarism, he advocated for reparations for Black people, he led protests for housing discrimination in the North and South and he worked to organize for poor people calling for a redistribution of wealth.

His optimism toward American racial equality even changed as King, in his later years, would refer to his "dream" of racial equality as "turning into a nightmare" in the US.

In the last speech of his life, King's tone of optimism even seemed change as he spoke of "some difficult days ahead".

Fast forward, to 2015, America has found a purpose for Dr. King now that he's long gone, America's media machine has helped to paint a new picture of King. We've ignored his more controversial quotes and views and created some passive, ever-optimistic, non-threatening figure used mostly a means to chastise, pacify, or even silence Black people who are angry in times of social unrest.

When the uprisings in Ferguson happened, I heard, among many King references, "This isn't Dr. King's dream!"

In the week since the riots in Baltimore have occurred I've seen more Martin Luther King references on social media than EVER.

All of a sudden everyone is a Martin Luther King biographer:

"You know, Martin Luther King wouldn't support this"
"Martin Luther King is probably turning in his grave" 
"What would Dr. King think about this?"

Well, a better question is "What did Dr. King think?"

Let's look at history, because in 1967, Dr. King actually told us what he thinks about riots:

"I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."

As we can see, Dr. King understood the function and meaning behind riots in America. He didn't necessarily condemn or support them, he just understood them for what they were. He didn't go into a long speech on nonviolence, he just told us that riots are rooted in deeper societal issues which we ignore.

Many people who read this may continue to utilize MLK's quotes whenever they feel the need to tell Black people how to feel about social injustice, but must pose the question:

Where are all of these MLK quotes when police kill unarmed people? Usually, I don't see too many people telling police about "Loving your enemies".

Where is that peacefulness when it comes to our view of any person in our prison system, do we "love our enemies" in the penitentiaries?

Where is this MLK-like desire to work toward racial understanding when we ignore the racism which exists around us everyday?

Where are the MLK quotes when we talk about war?

Who are we to we exploit the legacy of Dr. King in order to condescendingly play moral judges to people who have been raised in a society void of a moral conscience.

If we want to promote Dr. King's legacy the right way, maybe we should be less focused on criticizing a riot and more focused of eliminated the social ills which lead to a riot.

Maybe we should be helping to organize people to create more positive forms of political activism.

Maybe we should examine why so many riots occur in poor neighborhoods...

...Or maybe that's too much work.

If we aren't prepared to do the work to understand the real problems, if we don't have a love those people who riot, the same kind of love which we tell them to have, then we have no right to use that Dr. King's words as a tool to shame anyone.

For such use of his words are empty, hollow and meaningless, and serve as a mockery of all for which he lived and died.

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