Is It the Voice or the Volume? (Or Something Else)

Today, I have to ask you a critical question: Are you offended by my voice or my volume? This morning, I had a breakfast meeting with my friend, fraternity brother, and photography client Greg E. Hill. Now, I’ll admit it, Greg’s voice carries. So does mine. So do the voices of a lot of people when they’re discussing things that they are passionate about. Greg and I were talking about goals for 2019 and how we could work together to accomplish something bigger. Toward the end of our breakfast, an older white man stood up, and, as he walked by our table, said “I guess I’ll move to a quieter section.” It was obvious he said it with the intention of being heard by us because he glared at us after he said it. He proceeded to move to a table about 25 feet away, directly beside a fairly loud group of older white women who were laughing about whatever joyous stories they were sharing. Needless to say, he didn’t choose to relocate again.

My question to you is, whenever you choose to boldly stand and relocate, do you do it because of the voice or because of the volume? Do you find offense in the blackness of my voice? Keep this in mind as you move because, if it is the voice that offends you, maybe you should bite your tongue because, if it’s not coming from a place of love and it’s not constructive, you should likely keep it to yourself. But, if the issue is actually volume, which most people can adjust much more ethically than their voices, we’re all adults and it’s very easy to approach someone and say, “I’m trying to enjoy my coffee. Could you speak a bit more quietly?”

Then again, looking at the side of town we were on and the demographic make up of the restaurant, maybe the “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us” patches on my jacket combined with G’s black-on-black attire and natural hairstyle was more problematic than anything we said at any volume.

 

Make taking an honest inventory of your motivation a priority.

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Changing Language

I had a great talk today with a married couple that I’m friends with. They’re black (yes, in this conversation, that matters). Our conversation ran the gamut, from #EatPray10v3 to children and the sleep deprivation that accompanies them. Because of prior commitments and certainly not boredom or anger, our conversation ended on the topic of race in America and specifically the term “White Privilege.” The man in the couple (we’ll call him “Solomon” since he brought Ecclesiastes into the convo) said that the term “white privilege” may be a misnomer at this point and that it has served its purpose. If progress is to be made, we must focus less on the white privilege and more on the economic inequity that plagues the nation. Solomon comes from a less luxurious region of America where opportunities are difficult to find, regardless of race. He, as a professional black man who made it out of that setting, said that the overlooked white people in his hometown would consider it a slap in the face if he, with his “polished shoes and tailored suits went to them talking about their privilege.” The word, though unintentionally, is offensive when we are talking to those whites who have, as far as they can see, experience no semblance of the privilege that the mainstream so often speaks of and shames. Those white families who populate the mining communities of  America’s mountainous regions or the ones who must laboriously provide for their families in less than luxurious settings are not feeling the privilege that many of us speak of. Certainly, the media does not paint them as the faces of philanthropic need and government welfare but they overwhelmingly are and they’re angry. Are they being gunned down by a culture of policing that says “The black man is most likely guilty of something so shoot him”? No and, in that conversation, they do have privilege. But when we’re discussing generational wealth, a strong majority of whites are not much better off than blacks. There are, however, a gross number of white households who are doing as poorly as black households and those households have historically had less access to resources that will provide them with the upward mobility required to transition the next generation of their legacy into the next economic class. In short, there is a plethora of programs that I, as an underrepresented minority, have access to that will allow me to traverse America’s economic landscape (even against the system’s desire for me to). Poor whites don’t have that. So, in my lack of privilege, there is a sliver of privilege.

Don’t get it twisted, I still believe that, in the face of a trigger happy cop, poor and rich white people have a better chance of coming out alive than I do as a black man of any background. But, when we’re talking about having access to resources and education, poor whites don’t fare better than poor blacks (excluding consideration of cultural bias when it comes to names). Therefore, these unwealthy white people are upset because of what they don’t have when it appears that everyone else, including the poor blacks who society tells them that they are supposed to be doing better than, is making forward strides. This leads to things like the election of those who pander to their fears, the clinging to a hateful pride in a treasonous culture, and the dogwhistles that are reaching a low enough frequency for us all to hear.

Which brings me to the short, but direct, point: We must change the language. While white people have an indisputable cultural advantage in America (sometimes because of language but more often than not because of a propensity to engage media before we do people), white privilege is not universal in its application. I’m not sure what language we need to use or whether we need to be more specific when we speak of what arenas whites are privileged in, as opposed to using it as the blanket statement we’ve been using it as.

I won’t lie, I grew up around some rich white folks. I mean, RICH! There were Benzes, Porsches and Land Rovers in my high school parking lot. Multiples. In double digits. So I can relate to the concept of white privilege because I perceived white wealth and I came from, at times, a black family wrought with financial instability. But, the older I get and the more I speak with people of varying backgrounds, I see that, in affluent areas like NC’s Research Triangle, you’ll see quite a few well-off white people. These areas fuel the narrative of the rich whites. But, when you look across the nation, economic disparities even out across racial lines. Therefore, in an attempt to break down the barriers that the rich have built to keep the poor fighting one another, we must either be cautious or more specific when we speak of white privilege. We cannot build allies if we do not. How we do that is up for conversation but the fact that it must happen is indisputable.

 

Make using intentional language a priority.

(INSERT YOUR CITY) Tea Party

As I attempt to flush out my feelings, I do so openly for (hopefully) the world to see.

Being a black toddler, boy, teen, or man in America is (and always has been) to overcompensate. We’ve always been required to look as if we are as strong as our skin is. I recall talking to one of the charter members of my chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha on the night that my father passed. I, as the oldest, felt like I had to handle everything “like a man” at that time. Joe told me to be in the moment and to experience it and to allow my emotions to run freely. I couldn’t. I was stoic. I had to be strong for my mom and younger sister and brother. It is what I knew. That was Halloween. I didn’t truly cry until the following New Year’s Eve.

Six years have passed. Now, I am brought to tears much more frequently than I would like to admit, but for good reason. At 2:50 this morning, I saw the dash cam footage of the shooting of Philando Castille. I didn’t believe the brother could have been justly shot but maybe the jury saw something, anything, that justified the shooting of a man in front of his daughter (I actually wish these cops would have a legitimate reason so that I could have some hope). Nope. All I saw was a more painful display than that of the Facebook Live footage; a display that involved two armed officers, a black man who was doing everything in his power to comply with the law while speaking calmly in a situation where he was truly the one who should’ve been fearful and ready to unload seven shots into the chest of his murderer, and, most the troublesome part, a little girl who ran from the car her daddy lay mortally wounded in. While composing this, Microsoft said that I should revise the sentence because it is long but all of this happened within a short amount of time. This is appropriately one extended sentence.

I see these things, after hearing of acquittals, and I must go back to interacting in a system that doesn’t only devalue my life but one that profits from my pain. This happens regularly, be it with an immediate consequence like the lynching of Jeremy Jackson or the hundreds of microaggressions I experience each week from America and Americans. Whether we’re focusing on the food deserts in black communities, which kill us from the inside out, or those politicians who fight to uphold mandatory minimum sentencing, which keeps slavery alive and well, I challenge the school of thought that says it’s better now for black people. No form of oppression is better, it’s just different. Actually, think about it: back in the day, if I wanted to avoid seeing a body swinging from the tree, I’d just avoid that path to work. Now, I am forced to see the image of Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for hours over and over again thanks to the mainstream media.

If that isn’t enough for your mental state of mind, we face a representation of our oppressor every day, unless we work/live in a vacuum of blackness. White people, even those on the right side, sad to say, you are a beneficiary of the system that keeps black people in caskets or chains. It’s like me and meat: I hate the mass production of meat and how inhumanely it is done, but do I hate it enough to really go vegan? Not at this point. But I’m working toward it. Day by day, I’m giving up some of my human privilege. What is white America doing to give up white privilege? Are you becoming more and more knowledgeable on what laws that don’t affect you are being passed? Are you asking, when you buy that swanky new downtown apartment, who used to live in this community and did they choose to move? Are you questioning why your tax dollars aren’t reaching the underperforming schools, where they’re needed the most? And not only asking these questions but are you challenging your friends to do the same? No, because, just like me ordering a Five Guys burger is easier than going finding a vegan recipe on www.ICanYouCanVegan.com, making the choice to remain ignorant is effortless.

The cows don’t have to knowingly see me every day and know that I am a part of their system of oppression. They don’t know that I ate their cousin while they’re producing my milk. The chickens don’t know that I’m eating their eggs, which they hatched in hopes of giving life. Imagine how angry and/or depressed that cow and chicken would be, knowing that they can take no action against me, as a beneficiary of the system that profits from their pain and death.

But black people are not animals. We are human beings who are aware. Many of us are angry. Some of us are depressed. I am certain that a considerable number are both. And, just as your beloved forefathers eventually stood toe to toe with their British countrymen, eventually, we too must stand against our American oppressors. We are delaying the inevitable but, the beauty of that word is that it can only be delayed. It cannot be stopped. War is not the answer but America doesn’t want to change so the change must be forced. And I’m not necessarily advocating violence because it is not the only option, but it is the final one. I think that there are more effective ways to hurt America. Discipline displayed through strikes, boycotts, and black ownership will accomplish more than our bullets ever will.

Please prove me wrong. I want you to change. Because right now, in interest of my own people, I only see a few options and I’d rather die standing on my own two feet protecting my own than to bleed out in the seat of my car and traumatizing my daughter or to put money into the system that allows it.

And, for those who say you can’t oppose America and be a “good Christian” (because supporting slavery was such a Christ-like thing for the American people to do), I’m going to pray while I withhold my dollars, defend my family, or openly challenge the government. James 2:14-26.

 

Make rebellion a reality.

The Opportunity To Transform

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to transform the lives of a group of young men, a group that I believe will transform the lives of other people, young and old, around the world.

A week ago, a friend of mine, Ms. Shanice Harrington, teacher extraordinaire, texted me and asked me if I had a few minutes to talk. I responded yes. She went on to let me know that she was working with a group of black boys in an after school program who weren’t understanding the importance of their roles as leaders at Seawell Elementary School, which just so happens to have been my elementary school. She wanted me to FaceTime in and chat with them. So that’s exactly what I did. Being that I was working from home that day, I put on a shirt and a tie (while still in my basketball shorts, which I knew wouldn’t be seen) and I called Shanice on FaceTime. At that moment, I stepped into the lives of those five young men. We chatted and connected about everything from my job to their ages to my first (and only) pair of Air Jordans to who my favorite rapper/NBA team/NFL team/college team was.


It was fun, but it wasn’t enough. So, yesterday morning, I texted Shanice and asked her if the boys were meeting again this week. She said yes and gave me the times. I said I’d be there. At 2:45, I was in their classroom and they all re-introduced themselves to me, much like they had the week before. The difference is, this time, I required Joshua, Jabraon, and Amari to shake my hand after their introductions. This time, we felt like friends. They knew me and I knew them. I didn’t talk at them, I talked to them. Ms. Harrington sat and listened, interjecting every so often with points she wanted me to touch on, but, most of all, she let us enjoy one another’s company. At the end of it (which I hope isn’t an end at all but instead another beginning), I felt like I had made a difference in these leaders’ lives.

If you have the opportunity, make a difference. Don’t expect anything from it except that someone somewhere will benefit from it. Tomorrow is not promised so, today, leave a bit of goodness behind for the world to hold on to.

 

Make making the world a better place a priority.

I’m Your Pusher

 

Yes. I admit it. I’m guilty. I am a pusher. Not a pusher of illicit substances but of an unpopular point of view. I am a pusher of black positivity. I believe that, historically, barriers have been set up that force Americans of all races, black and otherwise, to look at people of African descent through less than favorable lenses. Negative or less-than-sophisticated images of black folks are spread across the world, affecting the global views of us. Often, at worst, we are stereotyped as violent, undisciplined deviants. At best, entertainers. Though portrayals have changed thanks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, the black doctor, lawyer, and professional are still viewed as anomalies while the black prisoner or athlete is seen as the status quo.

There is nothing wrong with being a rapper, singer, or ball player. Nothing at all. I have respect for anyone who does these things and uses their talent to uplift the community. But there are other options. As a professional, it is sometimes challenging to walk into room after room after room and meeting after meeting after meeting where I don’t see anyone who looks like me. So I have to change the narrative. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community, and my nation to provide true facts of the positive impact that blacks have every day on America, as opposed to the alternative facts that we are all murderers, drug users, and dependents of the welfare system.

Yesterday, I went out of my way to make the point of associating positive image of with the hashtag #OmegaPsiPhi on each of my social media accounts. I didn’t do it because I have great friends that are Ques or because my football coach from high school is a Que or to go viral. I did it because they, like  Alpha Phi Alpha (my fraternity), are focused on doing positive things across this nation, specifically in the black community, and anyone feeding positivity into my life deserves to have me do the same.  Secondly, negativity associated with any historically black fraternity is not good for any of us. Hiring managers probably do not know Alpha Phi Alpha from Omega Psi Phi from Iota Phi Theta. They just know that Steve Stephens was apart of one of those black step groups and his organization got bad publicity as a result.

People of all races, we must change the narratives surrounding non-whites in America. All blacks are not here to either rob or entertain you. All Jewish people aren’t here to be your lawyers or manage your money. All Latinos aren’t here illegally and looking for migrant work. All Middle Easterners aren’t looking for an opportunity to commit acts of violence. This is the point in history where we have the most access to the most information but we are regressing as a society. So, just as all white domestic terrorists are categorized as either mentally unstable or “lone wolves”, let’s start placing the same designation on non-white individuals whose actions are not a depiction of love for all humankind. And, when we see a group being negatively stereotyped, whether members of that group or not, we have a responsibility as good individuals to say “Not all people from group x commit the act of y. John Doe was acting as an individual and not as a representative.”

You have a sphere of influence. Change the narrative.

As a starting point, type #BlackMenSmile in on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As J. Cole said, “There’s beauty in the struggle.”

 

Make peace and love priorities.

The King in You

Today, I write in honor of Rev. Bro. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I ask us all to look introspectively for the King in us. Search for the love, not the hate. Look for the integrity before the opportunity. Believe in the good in your fellow human being as opposed to pointing out the evil.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Do you see the selflessness in that language? He is a human who, like all humans, would love comfortable immortality. But he put himself in a position to sacrifice his own life for the betterment of the oppressed. These words were not just empty rhetoric. The day after Bro. King delivered this speech, his life was taken by an assassin’s bullet. He truly lived (and, as a result, died from) his selflessness. That’s a great way to loose your life isn’t it? In a selfless fashion? For a just cause? What is important enough that you would go to jail, or even die, for? Are you passionate about anything greater than you? I’m not saying you have to go out and get locked up but know there are causes that you should, as a human being, care about. People are being poisoned by the water supply in Flint, MI. Under-trained law enforcement officers are killing innocent people because their fear leads them to make rash decisions. Property tax hikes are forcing people out of the neighborhoods they have lived in their entire lives so that more money can be made. The prison industrial complex is forcing minority and impoverished people back to the slave class every day, many even before they are being convicted. These are issues we don’t have to die for to change. Or maybe we do. The Sioux tribe was ready to die for their water supply at Standing Rock. Those in the Black Lives Matter movement are ready to endure the billy clubs once experienced by our ancestors for equality under the law.

An established system will push back against radical change. Don’t believe me? Look at these recent elections on every level. People don’t like uncondoned, unforeseen change.  In 1998, Tupac Shakur said that “we ain’t ready to see a black president,” but, a decade later, one was elected. Like Martin, Barack received numerous death threats. But, instead of assassinating him, his opposition is looking to undo much of the progress made during his presidency. Either way, Barack believes this nation is important enough to put his life on the line for. Figure out what cause is as important to you and fight for it.

Believe so beautifully in something that you are willing to give up your freedom (or even your life) so the next generation can have it better. That beautiful belief, my friends, is the King in you.

 

Make a love of all humankind a priority.