On Saturday February 20, I will be a panelist discussing the school to prison pipeline, as part of the educational community forum, presented by Power of Self Education. I will offer my expertise on matters of race, education, and societal inequalities. I am excited about this conversation, and how it might challenge the community of Haverhill and those surrounding it to take action against the inequities that places young men of color in prison. See information here.
I think professor Claire Potter knows how much I and the rest of the academic community thinks of her. Right, Claire? What a profound and ubiquitous point by her: “For those of you who seem gobsmacked about what students of color at Yale are complaining about, drawing on my years at Wesleyan, I would say this. Imagine: getting into a great college or university, the college of your dreams, being really excited, being wooed at events where there faculty and students of color have been recruited to woo you. Then you get there and find out, if you are a Black man, that there are fewer than two dozen other black men in your class. Or that the faculty of color are all leaving, or have already left, because they are so frustrated by the lack of support for their work. Or that white students tell you that you got to college by a “special” route, and that the college of your dreams isn’t where you belong. Or that white students and faculty say breathtakingly racist things in class is if you were not even there — except that you are and they know it. Or that you are the first Black/Latino/Asian American person your white roommate has ever met. Or that you go to a party and someone white is dressed as “black.” Because this is the daily condition of being a student of color on an elite campus. It really is. Take my word for it, and then try believing them.”
The situation at the University of Missouri further denotes students as social activist when it comes to race. Hence, forcing out the university president. The football team sit out threat was brilliant. The student athletes had the power of the mighty dollar and used it with appropriate force. They got the support of their head football coach too. There is a circa 1960s feel to this.
During the spring of 1997, I first became aware of Ben Carson. It was also that spring in which I elected to interview and accept a youth ministry position at one of the largest churches of Christ congregations in the nation. While holding office hours on one June day of 1997, I took a trip to the congregation’s library. I checked out Carson’s book, Gifted Hands, and was amazed by him as a black man with such a prolific story. I looked up to Ben; he represented a different narrative to the one I was used to. After listening to an NPR piece on Ben Carson today, I sat back and thought about my initial thoughts of him.
Sure enough, the NPR piece fit my impressions. Here is a man that dealt with some of the things I dealt with at an early age. I got into a number of fights before being allotted an opportunity to attend ACA – a Montgomery independent school. What many do not know about me is that I was admitted on probation. My grades were not great until I got to ACA. It is a good thing I tested well. Before attending ACA, I had been suspended a number of times for fighting. I had serious anger issues and a distrust of others. I watched drug deals and community gun violence toward others. Once at ACA, I divorced myself from a few folks I tended to run the streets with. I had a great girlfriend, teachers, and a head football coach who held me accountable. I took demanding courses and became a great student. My football coach is still one of my heroes. Better yet, without an ACA education I would not be the academic, teacher, nor husband that I am today.
Ben Carson also had poor grades; he got in fights and was suspended from school too. However, according to his story, he did try to kill a person out of anger. I never did that; however, I was in some serious fights. I will admit to always having a bit of fanfare toward Carson. Here is a man that defied the inner city of Detroit. Regardless of his accomplishments, he is still a black man that dealt with all of the realities black men face. He built centers for black kids in hopes of helping them improve in school; he gave money to help inner city black kids afford college. I was in love with this man. Black people in general loved him.
Hence, it is at this point that I am perplexed. Carson has allied himself with a very conservative ideological position that spells anti-black. His voice has become more radical as his disposition toward the black community is a bit distant. I am not sure why this is the case. I know he had no help in his emergence to being a better student. Well, his faith and belief in God offered him salvation. And yes, he has reached a point of being a savior to many. However, I am not sure his approach to being a savior extends fully to black people. I want Carson to know that not all people can emulate his direct path. It is here that I believe his voice needs to be more vocal toward the lack of redistribution of wealth to certain communities. Carson needs to make amend with black folks. Beating up Obama and attacking institutions that empowers black people is not the answer.
As a leftist, I still admire and believe in Ben Carson. Black people spend too much time putting other black people down. I would like to see Carson model this by traveling back to the Ben I first discovered. Black men cannot afford to throw other black men under the bus. I admire his faith and what he has managed to do. So, I will no longer take aim at Ben. However, I will be his champion in hopes that he will grasp the complexities of race and class in the 21st century.
At my age, I am not fully out of the woods yet; but as I noted to a colleague, I now face better odds than other young men of color. Back in 1903, W.E.B Du Bois wrote that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”. For young black males today, the 21st century has not been too kind. As of late, it is a rare night when I can go to bed free of feeling stressed for black males these days. There have been nights in which I was so troubled and mad, that I could not sleep. I just do not know what to do. That is my fear. I write this with a heavy heart for young black men here at the dawn of the 21st century.
Happy 4th of July. Because my work requires me to read more on black nationalism of late, I am going to chill today with Ralph Ellison and W.E.B. Du Bois and think about their concept of two-ness, while pondering Frederick Douglass’ “4th of July Speech” by the hotel pool here in Ft. Worth, Texas. There is much to celebrate as more and more Americans have crossed Du Bois’s proverbial color line here in the 21st century. This is reflected by the interracial solidarity following the Charleston massacre. Further, for the first time black Americans can embrace the notion that many of our white brothers and sisters are calling for the Confederate flag to be removed, seeing that flags are the greatest symbol of national identity. There are a few blacks that argue the 4th of July is a day blacks should not embrace since its inception was not about black national identity. I say it is about black identity.
Douglass spoke to enslaved Negros through his “4th of July Speech” about their plight, and questioned American churches, democracy, ideology, and the make up of capitalism as driving forces for stagnation. We have seen today that we have overcome the past complacent narrative and must now use today to think about our future narrative. Du Bois’s double-consciousness describes the two-ness of being African and American. Ellison’s “Invisible Man” ponders identity in thinking about the American journey of race. So, I say let us not party too much. Let us think about Du Bois’s problem of the 20th century, which he saw as the color line. How might we forge past the old calculus and start anew. Let us focus on one national flag: a flag that encompasses the ugliness of slavery, Jim Crow, and poverty; but a flag that is beautiful in its ability to advance multiracial gatherings and celebrations of how far Americans have mended the color line. Let us make the American flag one of love; it can be used to think about poor people, solving problems of homelessness and food insecurity, embracing Christians, Muslims, Jews, and non-believers. The flag is now mended in the equality of love for our LGBTQ neighbors; it offers hope as being a flag not seen by others as a driving machine for imperialism and the evils of capitalism, but one that seeks to advance all other nations.
As I read through a number of sources tonight, I concluded that W.E.B. Du Bois was the father of the 1960s Black Power movement, which shaped a well conceived independent thought of black retaliation. As I record his prophetic spirit, I am forced to marry his sound and profound assessment on race, class, and identity, through the veil of double-conscisnesss. It was this veil Ralph Ellison penned his classic work, “Invisible Man”. Du Bois’s, “A Negro Nation Within A Nation”, states:
“The colored people of America are coming to face the fact quite calmly that most white Americans do not like them, and are planning neither for their survival, nor for their definite future if it involves free, self-assertive modern manhood. This does not mean all Americans. A saving few are worried about the Negro problem; a still larger group are not ill-disposed, but they fear prevailing public opinion. The great mass of Americans are, however, merely representatives of average humanity. They muddle along with their own affairs and scarcely can be expected to take seriously the affairs of strangers or people whom they partly fear and partly despise.
For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders that this attitude was the insensibility of ignorance and inexperience, that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro. Accordingly, for the last two decades, we have striven by book and periodical, by speech and appeal, by various dramatic methods of agitation, to put the essential facts before the American people. Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.”
I found this article to be of interest. It garners a great deal of truth regarding race and society. Here are some noted responses towards people of color for presenting matters of race.
1) “You’re racist for making this an issue of race.”
2) “I don’t see race. I only see the human race.”
3) “Talking about issues in terms of ‘white people’ and ‘white privilege’ is reverse racism.”
4) “You [person of color] clearly don’t know what racism is. According to Webster’s Dictionary…”
5) “You [person of color] said something about white people doing racist things, so I demand you explain this to me right now.”
6) “But my [person of color] friend said it was OK if I did it [racially problematic thing].”
7) “Stop attacking me for having privileges just because I’m white. It’s racist and hurtful.”
8) “I’m sick of pretending that [people of color] need special rights and programs just because they aren’t white. We have problems too, you know.”
9) [Insert tear-filled expression of white privilege guilt or denial here.]