Monday, July 29, 2013


The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is because of the disintegration of the African-American family.  – Bill O’Reilly

STFU Bill – The vast majority of black people in America

Recently CNN’s Don Lemon proposed some solutions to deal with alleged persistent problems in the African American community (see video above).  He suggested 5 things that he feels would be effective: hiking up pants, finishing school, restraint from N-word usage, taking better care of own communities, and not having so many babies out of wedlock.  Lemon caught a considerable amount of flack (i.e. people lost their minds) for expressing these opinions.  I should add that he prefaced his suggestions by agreeing with criticism of African Americans that came from the obnoxious mouth of Bill O’Reilly.  Not only did he agree with it, but he said Bill didn’t go far enough.  Not that Bill is the first white person or Don Lemon the first black person to propose racial self criticism rather than only directing critique outward towards “the oppressor”.  I should also add that the genesis of this topic was the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal after belated arrest of George Zimmerman.  At this particular moment in history as we cry #JusticeForTrayvon and aim to counter the unfair verdict with decisive action, self criticism is the last thing many black people want to hear.  When connecting such (well meaning?) (condescending?) advice to the killing of Trayvon Martin, it sounds like one is agreeing with the prosecutor’s POV (which the jury went along with) that Trayvon brought about his own death, rather than seeing the fault as lying primarily/exclusively with his killer.  Don Lemon wasn’t actually talking about Zimmerman’s acquittal when giving his self-help proposals.  I also suspect Bill O’Reilly (whom I dislike and won’t be coy about it) was not talking specifically about the disintegration of Trayvon Martin’s family as the cause of his death. Nevertheless, Bill’s judgment and Don’s suggestions and mass furor over Zimmerman’s acquittal have become intertwined.  This led to Don Lemon (no point in yelling at O’Reilly, he’d just revel in it) getting an earful of pissed off responses.  “How dare you give the African American community advice?  To hell with you for insinuating that we need help, that we have problems in need of fixing.  If you must criticize, can’t you at least be original rather than repeating Bill Cosby’s material?  And shame on you for suggesting that Bill O’Reilly has ever been right about anything.

My own response to Mr. Lemon is considerably less heated, which isn’t to say that I’m in full agreement with him.  I certainly don’t think it was smart of him to co-sign as divisive a figure as O’Reilly or any of his conservative ilk that pollute the airwaves (primarily on Fox).  And Don should have known his timing was very poor.  Perhaps he knew and doesn’t care.  He seems like an intelligent man so he probably anticipated backlash.  To get discussion started it is often necessary to ruffle feathers and Don Lemon certainly accomplished that.  Pointing out white privilege will get you nods and high fives of agreement every time.  Pointing out black responsibility for projecting a negative image (have you listened to the lyrics of those rap songs; have you seen those gold teeth; why is gang culture exalted rather than condemned?) usually results in jeers and sarcastic hashtags on Twitter.  Why should we follow Lemon's non-militant advice?  After all, if his suggestions were followed to the letter there would still be racism against black people across America.  There’s just no getting around that.  If every black person walked around in tuxedos and evening gowns, showing off their PhD credentials, never saying a single word beginning with the letter N, carrying brooms at all times to keep their neighborhoods litter free, and pulled off having every child born into a nuclear family – there would still be a bunch of bigots who hate and/or disrespect black people.  Disdain of white privilege would remain the go to response.  In other words, if Don Lemon was Emperor of the Universe and could make his suggestions reality with a wave of his magic wand, post racial America would be about the same distance away as it is now.  Black people don’t need to prove to whites that they’re worthy to be treated as equals in every regard.  This just needs to happen beginning yesterday.

On the other hand, if you were one of the squeaky wheels demanding oil after Don Lemon’s proclamations, what exactly did he suggest that you find problematic?  This is what I think:

1) Pants sagging below one’s ass is an idiotic look, there’s just no getting around it.  If homeless people look at you and shake their heads at your fashion style, you’ve made a wrong turn.  Yet a fairly significant number of black people for reasons that escape me are walking around like this, and it’s been going on for quite a few years now.  I don’t care if the look was inspired by prison culture or an episode of Gilligan’s Island or whatever.  I just know that it isn’t worth defending and we might want to move on to something ever so slightly less ludicrous, such as the bolo tie.  Purchasing belts/suspenders won’t create wealth (unless it gets you the job you applied for) or eradicate racism, but it will restore a measure of dignity to those who elected to abandon it.

2) Take school seriously, not that there aren't other alternatives to success but they have a lower percentage.  Pursue higher education for it has been proven to lead to higher income which leads to overall better quality of life.  There is nothing wrong with supporting this idea or with finding an anti-education/anti-grammar/anti-upward mobility mindset to be self destructive.

3) Changing “er” at the end of an insult to “a” does not make it poetry.  It just keeps a hateful word alive and promotes hypocrisy.  “I can say it but you can’t because I say so” is a weak argument that should not need to be made over and over and over again.  It's like Italians claiming they're the only ones who have permission to say "spaghetti".  Hell no.

4) Cleanliness is next to Godliness and makes a much better impression than filth.  This was probably Lemon’s weakest point.  Wealthy neighborhoods are in better condition than poor ones because of money.   The haves have, the have-nots don’t so suffer as result.  But it goes without saying that people should take care of their communities as much as they are able.

5) There are many heads of single parent households doing a bang up job.  But would we be better off if fewer teen girls were getting pregnant and if the guys responsible were holding up their end when pregnancies happen?  Of course.  A child born without a proper support network in place will be less likely to excel in school, so addressing Lemon's fifth suggestion should take care of suggestion #2.  Would there also be less people littering while walking around with sagging pants and calling themselves niggas?  Probably.

Don Lemon did not say anything new.  There are some who agree that following up on his suggestions would improve things, others who simply find them insulting.  If you’re one of those who does not believe the advice will do any good, tell me, what harm would it do?  The truth is, I’ve heard far worse recommendations and suspect you have too.

But I don’t believe black people should be singled out by Lemon, O’Reilly or anyone else for their perceived faults.   So to even things out here are 5 unrequested suggestions to all white people.  I’ll provide the same disclaimer that Lemon did.  “If this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you.”

1) Enough with the white flight.  If the demographics of your neighborhood are changing, faces getting browner, embrace the diversity rather than fleeing from it.  We can all learn from one another, enjoy each other’s company, and yes, we can all get along.

2) No more token friends of color to bring up when you’re accused of racism in order to prove you aren’t racist.  They need to be your actual friends that you spend non-required (workplace doesn’t count) time with, have over to your house repeatedly for social interaction, vacation with, consider as godparents for your kids, stuff like that.  If you had authentic friendships with black people you probably wouldn’t have made the comment that somebody found offensive.

3) Hypocritical or not, don’t pretend you don’t realize that your use of the N-word will be deemed an insult.  This is true even if you said it to a guy who just referred to you, himself and his grandmother as N-words.  Yes, I realize how illogical this seems but just roll with me anyway and delete the word from your vocabulary no matter how anybody chooses to spell it.

4) Stop pretending that welfare, food stamps, public assistance of any kind is taking money away from all white people to give to all black people.  There are black ghettoes and there are white ghettoes.  Okay, maybe the white ones call themselves trailer parks rather than ghettoes.  You still get my point that poverty doesn’t have a color, it sucks all around, and everyone mired in it will have a tougher time acquiring bootstraps to pull up than those who never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from.

5) If you insist on being a conservative republican, figure out how to do so employing language that does not insult black people.  This should not be all that difficult as there’s nothing especially bigoted about being Pro Life, or a member of the NRA, or in favor of smaller, less intrusive government.  If you professed those things and managed to piss a black person off in the process, double check how you chose to express it because you may have said a bit more than that.  For example, if based on your preference for less governmental interference in day to day affairs you concluded that President Obama was born in Kenya and has a master plan to convert America 100% to socialism, you went too far.

BONUS SUGGESTION: If someone reports their spouse or kids has been killed and claims "some black guy did it", don't buy into the story at face value and go rounding up random black men. If someone claims he shot a black man for looking/acting suspicious, don't just accept the explanation as gospel, shake the confessed killer's hand and wish him a good day. Don't get played by buying into BS stereotypes. Plenty of times the white person did it and the "ominous" black man was minding his own business or not even present at the scene of the crime. Don't believe the hype.

FYI - The Kindle edition of my novel Patches of Grey is available FOR FREE from now through 7/31.  If your preference is for printed editions, but you're still very much in favor of getting stuff for free, sign up for the chance to win a copy at GoodReads.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

#Trayvon Martin and George #Zimmerman - The Aftermath

I knew how I felt when the names "Trayvon Martin" and "George Zimmerman" first came to my attention.  Incensed.  Betrayed.  Determined.  I did not know the details of that night with certainty, not with one of the participants dead and the other untrustworthy.  What I knew for sure was that far too much leniency had been shown to George Zimmerman.  How could he not be arrested after admitting he shot and killed an unarmed teen whose path he crossed because he chose to get out of his car and follow Trayvon rather than minding his own damn business?  Being on Neighborhood Watch does not give one the right to harass passersby.  And to do so while carrying a loaded weapon is unconscionable.  It is provoking a fight that you have no chance of losing and the other person has no hope of surviving if you lose your cool.  Lose his cool is precisely what George Zimmerman did.  The legal term for this that ended up getting him acquitted is Self Defense.  Another term brought to our attention over the months following that brutal night was Stand Your Ground.  Why was it George's ground more than it was Trayvon's to protect?  George may have lived in the complex but Trayvon was visiting a resident so belonged there as well.  According to Zimmerman, Trayvon was acting suspiciously.  That's a pretty vague description of one's behavior.  If you suspect someone of being up to no good by a glance at their skin color, grooming, age, fashion sense, they automatically become suspicious by the mere act of existing in your presence.  It isn't a crime to consider somebody a suspect.  But when you act as judge, jury and executioner all in one, that certainly is a crime in my book.  I was under the impression that this constituted a crime in the opinion of our justice system as well.

Like countless others I demanded justice for Trayvon, and by this I specifically meant an arrest of George Zimmerman and a trial where he would be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.  I got what I wanted.  It took considerably more than should have been necessary but George Zimmerman eventually had his day in court.  As for the verdict, that was out of the hands of everyone but six carefully if not wisely selected people.  We got to hear the evidence along with them but only they were permitted to decide on it, to weigh in on George Zimmerman's fate.  They declared him to be Not Guilty.  This isn't the same as Innocent but serves flawlessly as a Get Out of Jail Free card.  Many people, I among them, are greatly dissatisfied with the result.  But I know that the verdict isn't necessarily the final result of this matter.  I'm not referring to the possibility of a civil trial.  I mean that the nation paid far too much attention to this case for it not to have far reaching repercussions.  Change should be brought about.  Good may come out of it in the long run.  Our disappointment, anger and pain was not in vain - or so I hope to be true.

We've learned substantial lessons as result of Trayvon Martin's untimely death.  Brought to mainstream attention was the fact that Stand Your Ground laws are sprinkled about this country, and in general are a bad idea.  Knowing this, we can now get to work on eliminating them.  The folly of our gun regulations and lack thereof was once again highlighted.  A spotlight was shed on racial profiling, even if the phrase did not make it into the courtroom.  People vented about being singled out, communicated in innumerable ways how insulting, demoralizing, and potentially dangerous it can be.  Even if ignored, their voices were heard.  Stop and Frisk is a policy that should end up with considerably less public support/acceptance as result of the killing of Trayvon Martin.  We learned that when seeking justice it is ideal for a jury to be peers of the victim as well as the accused, rather than only one or the other.  When George Zimmerman was not arrested right off the bat, we signed petitions and took to blogs and to Twitter and Facebook and every public venue we could find to express our dismay.  We learned that when we speak as one on a cause that truly matters to us, to the core of our being, we will be heard.  We also learned we have a President that could have stayed neutral and out of it, but instead jumped in and made us proud that he did not step aside from his blackness.

Coverage of the story from a wide variety of perspectives was exhaustive and omnipresent, but does that mean its effects will linger?  Will the killing and subsequent trial and resulting uproar over the verdict be like the Alamo, an event never to be forgotten so the chances of history repeating itself will be minimized?  Or will this all quickly fade when the next Big Thing arrives and snatches our attention spans?  Newtown shooting to Boston Bombing to Snowden the Snitch to Zimmerman trial to catastrophe to be named and hashtagged later.

I'd like to think that if nothing else, the death of Trayvon Martin at the acquitted blood stained hands of George Zimmerman will result in greatly increased incidents of non-instant judgment.  Fewer irreversible opinions formed at a glance would be a wonderful legacy for Trayvon's unfortunate death to stand for.  In a closer to perfect world we will not decide who a person is and what he/she is about based on skin color.  Or race of significant other.  Or accent.  Or attire.  Or hairstyle.  Or zip code.  Or political party.  Or level of education.  Or the name they call God.  Or their particular path taken in pursuit of happiness.

If the following is a cliche, that is only because it is true.  We should judge our fellow man strictly on the content of his character.  This quality is impossible to measure from the presence of a packet of candy, a sugary beverage, or a hoodie worn to keep the rain off but incapable of slowing the deadly path of a bullet.


Trayvon Martin Foundation

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paper is Awesome

This blog post is just a friendly reminder as we wade through the digital revolution that paper did, does and always will ROCK!!! So artists of all kinds, please continue to spill ink upon it. Readers, as always, do what is most pleasing to you. Remember that all good books, from brain candy to high brow-award winning-literary canon material, are pleasure reads.  And as you fuss with your increasingly small gadgets to navigate increasingly high tech social media, don't forget that no form of communication can beat face to face interaction - the human touch.