I can remember watching a video about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina becoming a spectator’s sport of pain via hurricane tours. I didn’t completely understand. Of course, people want to fully assess the damage that happened. I did too. Even though I attended college in New Orleans, the lower 9th (nor the West Bank) wasn’t a location I traveled to often. Almost everything in New Orleans fell between Uptown and the French Quarter, at least for me. Even living through the devastation of a hurricane, I still have never experienced that amount of devastation in my life, personally. So, knowing my curiosity, I didn’t see the big deal of a “hurricane tour.” However, after watching the devastation of Black bodies being destroyed in the streets via cellphone videos, I now understand. It’s one thing to tour the destruction of things – physical homes. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to see the destruction of Black of spiritual homes – Black bodies.Continue reading
In the 90s, something strange was happening in R&B music. A European instrument associated with snootiness and English aristocrats, the harpsichord, all of sudden snuck its way into Black American music. How did this happen?Continue reading
Bessie Regina Norris, utterly known as Betty Wright, is a minister of soul music, and you must take heed to her negro spirituals.
It’s almost blasphemous to call Deaconess Betty Wright a girl. However, that’s literally what she was when she started her career – a girl. One of her first records was “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.” Guess how old Ms. Betty was. FOURTEEN. With her bra strap still in training, here was a Queen that hasn’t yet claimed her thrown, preaching about the double standard of the sexes. And her tone was very matter of fact: “the least little wrong he does, always seems like dirt.” This was the beginning of the Church of Betty Wright.Continue reading
Barack Obama enjoys a plus ninety percent approval rating with Democrats. With such a high approval rating with his base (rivaling Trump’s own approval rating with his own), you would think that Obama’s legacy would be “infallible” or at least critiqued with profound context. Yet, in the race to be the most “woke,” it’s been quite the contraire. Even pundits have questioned why some are running against Obama’s legacy or why Obama’s critique of the twitter “firing squad” is met with a visceral “firing squad,” ironically on twitter. This very loud, but small, reaction makes me question, are these reactions due to broken promises? (Guantanamo Bay anyone?) No. Is it due to a complete change in Obama’s beliefs or “ideology”? No. That never happened. It’s due to a complete misunderstanding of who Obama is and what he is all about. He’s been the same person the ideological Left has refused to officially meet and accept.Continue reading
When pundits wag their fingers about civility in response to boos
Last month, the current occupant of the White House was booed not once – but twice. Then First Lady Melania Trump was booed…at a youth summit…about opioids…in Baltimore. After such “humiliation,” pundits did what they do best – pontificate about civility. Vanilla punditry always wants to appeal to our “greater selves” and a common sense of civility. But what if this is currently our “greatest selves”? What if civility never existed in America? You see, punditry on civility isn’t necessarily about respecting others and ourselves. It’s about the veneer of comfortability, allowing Morning Joe viewers to avoid facing the hard ugly truths about America. Because let’s get real, shit never been civil.Continue reading
This past month I was exposed to two headlines – “Phoenix man feared family was about to be ‘executed’ by police over stolen doll” and “A second chance squandered — cracks in metro Atlanta justice system exposed.” It presents two ways in which we view criminality. We see in one instance, a police officer on the verge of taking justice into his own hands based off of criminal suspicion. On the other hand, we see a Black man who continued to commit criminal activity after being given chance after chance. We are often presented these two dueling narratives in a competitive format to reductively dismiss one action for the other with little room for both to exist. Both can be true and evidence of a failed system that needs reform and, more importantly, room to reform.
From all ideological perspectives, criminal justice reform is taking root in American’s psyche. Those ideological perspectives can range from those who view criminal justice reform from a purely humanitarian perspective to a purely financial perspective. (It’s not cost-effective to lock people up.) And there are those whose perception of criminal justice reform is more complex than what many activist or advocates are aware of. For instance, Black people are more concerned than white people about violent crime (75 percent to 46 percent). Yet, in the same study, 84 percent of Black people surveyed say the police treat them unfairly. Both can be true. You can need policing in your community and be concerned about the negative effects of increased policing in your community.
Although many would ideological identify me as a left-leaning liberal, a progressive (or whatever else self-proclaimed “social justice warriors” call themselves), I’m driven by pragmatism—envisioning an ideal future but balancing it with what is possible now. This means my views on criminal justice reform are more nuanced than #AbolishPrisons. (Yes, break up prisons as much as possible. In addition, let’s reconsider how prisons are built.) Also, I’m no criminal justice reform expert, advocate or activist. Therefore, my perception of reform is completely from the perspective of an everyday citizen. This nuance is often missing from the conversation because of the narratives people (often the Left) buy into, positioning Black people as victims that need saving. (Guess who are the ones that see themselves as captain save a negro?)
But self-righteousness will only move the needle on real criminal justice reform so far. Yes, we have the First Step Act. Yes, a president can pardon federal nonviolent offenders. And yes, we can legalize weed and expunge those records. Yet, none of these things will lead to substantial criminal justice reform. We need to have a conversation about punishment and restoration, which is often missing from the narrative of criminal justice reform. Some things we, including myself, haven’t completely reckoned with. The majority of those incarcerated are violent criminals. Violent Criminals have low recidivism rates and should be eventually released. (Receipt.)
I can remember watching a story on 60 minutes where Oprah interviewed people in solitary confinement. She was asked if she feels sorry for them. “No,” she curtly said. No one should feel sorry (or be forced to feel sorry) for a criminal. Yet, at the same time, one can see how ineffective and inhumane solitary confinement is. I may feel sorry for that the system, society and the people in his or her life have failed them. But that person also failed him- or herself. We have to accept that as true too. And even in my own limited scope of empathy, I know that in a productive society, there must be room for responsibility, restoration and redemption. Within that same scope, I completely understand the power of racism within the system that can cause the police to take the life of an innocent Black man and that can lock-up five innocent Black boys for crimes they did not commit, even when DNA proves so. Both truths can exist.
How we talk about criminal justice is overly simplified. As election season comes around and people start jockeying for support, we’ll start hearing more about candidates’ “Black agenda,” which often begins with criminal justice reform (even though our top polling issues often lead with racism, healthcare, jobs and education.) So, let’s reframe the conversation. Let’s talk about responsibility, restoration and redemption. I too bought into the myth that exonerating victims of the “war on drugs” would reduce mass incarceration. I too thought the federal government had more power to end mass incarceration than local elected officials. Narratives we are all guilty of buying into. But to get real about the issue of criminal justice reform, we must be honest and that honesty entails understanding the full scope and limitations of responsibility, restoration and redemption.
When the subject of a “Black agenda” comes up, it’s often presented as an ask rather than an explicit demand. Asking politicians what’s their agenda for Black America is totally different from proposing an agenda and asking politicians how do they plan to get it done. I recently visited the Museum of Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta, and there was something that stuck out the most. At the March on Washington exhibit, their demands were specific and immediate. Here’s a highlight of them:Continue reading
“…we tend to turn to the publications we trust more when news become more difficult to trust. And if those are the publications that we trust, it should look like the people whose trust we are asking for.” -Tressie McMillan Cottom on the Daily Show
The history of Black media has been rooted in the need for trust between the communicator and the reader. The Freedom’s Journal was a newspaper produced by free Black men, becoming a declaration against slavery. During this period, Black people were not only facing slavery but were also in search of a path forward after freedom. Distrust in the coverage of Black people by white-owned media during this period pushed two free Black men to create their own form of communication. Now, Black people are facing familiar and unique challenges via population shifts, climate change and workforce automation. Simultaneously, Black-owned and operated news platforms are becoming scarce. Where do our stories fit into these changing narratives? And who should we trust to tell these stories?Continue reading
Since the news of Aretha Franklin passing on to Glory, I’ve been listening to a lot of her music. I don’t know what it is about musicians passing away that immediately gets me to listen to their records nonstop, like it’s the last time I’ll ever hear it again. I know it sounds selfish, but it’s probably because I’ll never get a chance to hear that artist’s musical gifts again on a new joint. So, listening to a captured version of that person’s gifts from the past makes me cherish the time I had experiencing their gift.
Democrats are in a pickle, to say the least. It is an election year, and there’s much debate, particularly surrounding red state Democrats. Will they, or won’t they? Will they appeal to their base? Or do they believe their base will be with them no matter what? Should they show some concession to those who are not in their “base”? After all, they represent all of their constituents not just the ones that voted for them. All of this debate centered around the judicial branch of government—the part of the government that should be politically neutral. But we know that these lifetime appointments have a substantial impact, especially for Black people. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall represented that impact.