(photo courtesy of Twitter-@starsinmylocs)
So after the epicness of last night’s ‘The Wiz’ on NBC, I really have to say that I still kind of have a buzz going about the whole thing. The conversations that I’ve had before, during and after the show aired. The jokes and memories expressed on my social media feeds. The shaming of anybody who tried to get in the way of the moment.
And yes, I teared up a bit when Shanice Williams sang ‘Home’. It always gets to me.
But what really reached my heart happened the following morning, when I saw what might be one of my favorite pictures of 2015.
Ironically, I write a whole lot, but I truly believe in the saying that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
The picture credited above comes from a Twitter user who posted an image of her daughter’s naturally curly silhouette in front of the screen, watching Uzo Aduba and Shanice Williams. You can’t see her face, but you can sense that she is entranced–
–because she is having a moment where black women are represented on screen as living, breathing characters in a grand tale, being broadcast directly for little girls like her.
Judging by the ratings and the social media activity spike reported the following day, I am sure that she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the show.
But this is a firm reminder as to why representation of different characters and diversity in programming is so important to the self-esteem of youth that are often underrepresented.
I am reminded of Whoopi Goldberg’s story of watching Star Trek as a child and seeing Lt. Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), over half a decade earlier–and her saying that this let her know that there were no limits to what she could do, even as a young black girl growing up in the midst of Jim Crow-era America.
And now, the little girl in front of her television, gazing at this amazing retelling of this story that was created because blacks weren’t getting roles or chances to tell their story–will be able to tell her story many years from now about the day that she realized that there were no ceilings for her, either, no matter how many limitations society may try to place on her.
As jaded and cynical as we have become over the last few months and years, this photo gives me hope.
It shows me that, even if just for a night, we could all come together, laugh, joke, shed tears of joy and remember those that gave us the original (movie AND play), still enjoy a remake of a classic–and show our children that it is indeed possible to “Believe In Yourself.”
I write this, slightly discouraged and dismayed, but with a sense of purpose.
And normally I would write this post in a fashion where the purpose would be at the end, but since we seem to be running short on time (in a lot of different ways, but more on that later)—I’ll get to the point.
If you have any bit of conscience, keep yourselves away from the stores on Black Friday and in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday.
If you are black (or for that matter, any disenfranchised minority) and have any bit of conscience, you will not give any of these retailers a dime, as it appears that the majority of them will take your money for pies, for example, but will not settle for a life taken in their store at the hands of overzealous police officers.
If you do not fall into the above category or just think “well, this social justice movement doesn’t apply to me” or, better yet, follow the #AllLivesMatter crowd…think of it this way:
If that hashtag were true, there would be no issue with say…JC Penney’s closing its doors on Thursday afternoon instead of opening…at…3pm.
This means that all shapes, sizes and sorts of employees will line up to make a tad above minimum wage and be away from their families on Thanksgiving Day (because you know they’ll have to be there BEFORE 3pm, right?)
I’m straying from the topic, here. What I intended to do tonight was to make an attempt at talking to those who doubt that an economic boycott could actually work, for a bunch of different reasons, because those are the ones that matter, here.
The ones that are going to be absent from the stores, such as myself, do not need any extra convincing. The ones that are going to go regardless cannot be convinced otherwise, as they only see the benefit in meeting their immediate need to purchase items that will be forgotten about in five years or less.
This is strictly for the ones who might go out on Black Friday and the days after. If you absolutely must shop on Black Friday:
- Patronize a black-owned/operated business.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually not as easy for some people as it may seem. There aren’t a lot of brick-and-mortar black-owned businesses outside of our neighborhoods, but this is your chance to find one (or several) and make every effort to keep your dollars circulating in your community while simultaneously giving someone a gift that they will appreciate. In short, do business with people who want you in their store. But if you must shop outside of the community and go into a mainstream/big-box store:
- Find a black or minority employee to assist you.
Working in retail for many years and for different companies, every reward system is different. Most companies (ex: Best Buy, Target, Meijer, Toys ‘R Us) do not necessarily pay their employees commission in monetary form, but some have a reward-based incentive program for employees that perform well and meet certain sales goals. Also notable: the customer service survey that corporate pays more attention to than just about anything. Seek out a minority to help you out and if you must spend in stores like this, give the person credit for bringing that store your business. It will definitely help them out.
- Make an attempt to spend less than you did last year.
I must stress this because last year marked a 10% drop in Black Friday sales overall. With retailers starting their promotions early and offering unheard of deals to generate more traffic in their stores, they are counting on your dollars to boost them this holiday season. Now, imagine, if you were in the stores last holiday season, leaving with either half as many items and being more focused on what you’re buying—or, better yet, shopping smart and making a point to get your list fulfilled without spending nearly as much as last year. The goal should be to keep as much money in your pocket as possible.
- Document your experiences while shopping.
I recommend this because some people who are participating in this year’s boycott are not necessarily doing so in protest over treatment in this country, but their treatment while shopping last year in certain stores. It may be A Very Amazon Christmas for a lot of people, simply because customer service was lacking in a lot of areas for a good chunk of major retailers last season. So keep a running record of where you are treated like your dollars are valued, and where it seems as if the only way you would get attended to in the store is by slipping on a wet floor.
- Stay away from stores who put profit over their employees.
As I mentioned in the earlier paragraph, stores like JC Penney and others who will be open on Thanksgiving Day definitely do not think enough of their employees to give them one full holiday off (aside from Christmas itself, but if demand increases enough for people to want to shop on Christmas, that will happen too.) Speak with your presence in their store and keep your dollars out of their registers, and I can guarantee that they will start closing their doors on Thanksgiving Day in years to come.
If you have any other suggestions, feel free to make them in the comments below.
What will follow this entry, starting this Friday, will be a feature on black-owned and operated businesses that I personally have either patronized or will be patronizing during this holiday season.
If you have any other ones that aren’t in this link that I should either check into or you just want to give them a plug, also: comments.
I’m a big fan of memes (when done correctly), and there was one a few months back that seems particularly fitting for what I’m about to write.
The story of Peter Pan was in one, with someone’s take on the tale that Pan was, in fact, an angel who escorted the children off to a world beyond this one (Neverland) where they never grew up, because they were already dead. Thus, they were perpetually stuck forever in childhood.
The meme ended with another cartoon with the caption “Boom. Childhood Ruined.”
And it all seems to make so much sense lately.
This post wasn’t meant to be a response to 9-year old Tyshawn Lee’s murder.
Or, a few miles away in the same city, the murder of Kaylyn Miller, a 20-year old aspiring model.
Or Spike Lee’s release of the “Chi-raq” trailer, less than 24 hours after the death of both of the aforementioned, which is garnering more controversy than anything he’s done in quite some time.
No, this wasn’t intended to be a post about anything, because I wasn’t going to write anything.
Please understand, my hands have grown tired of typing blog posts that will be forgotten until the next child is murdered.
My mind is filled with the faces of children who never had the chance to grow up. And although I’m sure my brain can hold more than I can imagine, it sure feels like I’m running out of real estate to house them all.
Worst of all, my soul is becoming more and more numb to these deaths, which is probably all by design.
So forgive me if this isn’t as cohesive as it should be, but I’m…
Tired. Of all of it.
Which leads me back to this:
I was fortunate enough to be in a location at work today where I had my laptop with me, but no wi-fi signal.
I say fortunate, because the discussion I followed on one of my friend’s Facebook feed became so volatile that I was just glad I wasn’t able to view it on a larger screen, lest I be able to see the indifference of some people and the misdirection of others to the suffering of our people in my home city.
Now, this friend of mine I’ve discussed in this blog on several different occasions. If anybody loves and overstands black people and all of the strengths and faults we have as a nation within this nation, it’s her.
And yet, I’ve seen the same numbness and fatigue making its way into her posts lately. I recognize it as my own.
Sometimes it feels like the battle we fight by trying to save those who reflect us is fruitless and bears no real purpose other than to give us something to do.
And then, I see her follow these posts with a proud post of something about how her daughter reflects her, whether it be in fashion or knowledge.
About how her son applies a lesson she instilled in him at some point either long ago or recently in his young life.
About how her kids keep her going.
And then I am reminded of why I hurt when my city hurts:
Because these kids are ours.
These kids are us.
When the community we live in is falling apart and people start typing out solutions that involve bringing in more police, more National Guardsmen, more gun restrictions, more…
I notice that no one ever says, what about more hope for these kids?
How about more value on life and those that look like you and yours?
When will we take one of them under our wing and do all we can to keep these kids out of harm’s way?
If there are truly more of us than there are those who have ill intent, shouldn’t this be simple?
Of course it’s never that easy. Nothing worth having and keeping ever is.
But it seems to be all we have.
This isn’t a fairy tale or a movie. There is no perpetual childhood, even, as far as we know, those who catch bullets earlier than our earthly minds can imagine.
What this is should be a call to action for the rest of us left on this coil to do all that we can to turn this fearlessness that we seem to have for each other and direct it towards the system that placed us here to profit from us and discard us after we’re used up.
We are less than a month removed from the “Justice…Or Else” movement that culminated with thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., so here’s what I’m suggesting:
We reach out to these young folks, one at a time, at least, and find out what we can do to help them, individually.
Again, this won’t be easy to do, and I’m open to any positive suggestions as to how.
But I am more than willing to put forth the energy that I have left into this, rather than typing more eulogies for children and young men and women who will never grow old.
Today marks the second annual celebration of Selina Phillips day.
For the uninitiated, this woman is my paternal grandmother and quite possibly one of the kindest, most giving souls I have ever known in my lifetime.
Which makes today, which would have been her 91st birthday, a very bittersweet one for me and my family.
It also makes what I am about to say a little easier to get out, as I wondered what I was going to do to get through the day without succumbing to sadness.
For the past few weeks, I’d tell my wife that I would be about to speak ill of someone, or about to snap on someone at work, or in public, and out of nowhere, I’d hear her voice. Sometimes I could hear her clearly, telling me what to do (or, what not to do).
Other times, however, it would be just sensing that she was watching me and that she wouldn’t be proud of what I was about to do or say.
And both would always be enough to alter my course at that moment.
I’m not going to pretend that I always hear her and that I’ve been perfect. I don’t, and I’m not.
Sometimes I forget what her voice sounded like, and I wish I had recordings of her and my other grandparents.
But after getting The Boy and Wife off to school and work today and going back to bed, I woke back up for work and immediately, a conversation I had with one of my cousins back when we were kids popped into my head.
I can’t remember how it started or who initiated the argument, but somehow in it, I was telling one of them that, well, if Granny said it, it must be right.
Another cousin piped up. “Well, Granny wasn’t always saved! Did you know that? She smoked and drank and cussed just like everybody else!”
And I can’t remember my response to this, but I remember thinking then—and now—that the Granny I’d always known was the Granny I know now.
Selina Phillips found God in some form before I even existed in this world, and made every effort to make sure that I knew that God a) existed and b) that no matter what name you might call Him or Her by, that doing the work of the Lord was the reason that we were put here in the first place.
It is why all of my grandparents prayed over me—even my paternal grandfather, who I never knew as a religious man—when doctors told my parents that if I lived past a few weeks or into adulthood, I would be severely brain damaged or in a vegetative state.
(My mom might debate the finer points of the former with you. But here we are. Lol)
She is why I still believe in angels, in miracles, in good people still existing on this Earth.
She embodied what I think the gospel is supposed to be about, and since I can’t manage to fit 91 random acts of kindness into today, I’ve pledged to fit them into the rest of this year.
I’m sure God’s infinite wisdom saw it fit to position her birthday a few days before the end of October and near the start of the “holiday” season, where gift giving and kindness is normal.
I’m happy to report that I’m off to a pretty good start, Granny. 5 down, 86 to go.
Maybe eventually I’ll be like you and people won’t be able to count them.
But until then, we love and miss you dearly. And I hope you’d be proud of me.
These nightmares are extra real.
Over the past few months, I have had recurring dreams in which I encounter some form of violence directed towards me or a loved one at the hands of someone who wants to hurt us just for being black.
Actually, let me clarify that. It’s not solely JUST for being black. It’s for being black and having a difference of opinion.
Or, being black at work, doing my job & having to hold someone accountable, and them snapping and attempting to kill me or someone I know.
Or, being pulled over and a traffic stop going horribly out of control because an officer is having anything ranging from a bad day to a PTSD flashback to simply just being a full-blown racist who doesn’t think of me or my passengers as a person.
So to cope with it, I’ve been immersing myself in the things that I love and that make me happy.
I garden. I read to and play with my son. I hug and kiss my wife every chance I get.
I write more, but lately, I’ve leaned towards more of my novel writing and less on topics focused on race and injustice. I watch much less news and get most of what might be happening in the world from my social media timelines. Which, is probably just as bad, but, I digress.
Until, a few weeks ago, I found myself back at it again, reading every news story having to do with Freddie Gray and the circumstances surrounding his death in Baltimore.
Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in, I thought.
So I’m watching videos about Gray on YouTube and people’s opinions, and I happen to click a suggested video from a young woman who happened to be in Chicago at the moment.
And after watching a couple of Sandra Bland’s videos, I closed the laptop and stored some of the things that she said in my ‘afterthought’ box.
And now, Sandra Bland is dead.
Depending on who you believe, either at the hands of the police or her own.
This is where it gets deep for me.
As someone who suffers from depression and has come closer to suicide than I’d like to admit, I can say this:
Anyone who knows me well knows that not only am I better than I was a few years ago, but that I’d never give someone who I felt oppressed and stripped away my rights unjustly the satisfaction of taking my own life, hundreds of miles from my home, away from my friends and family and the ones that I love, because of an unjust arrest.
Let’s be extremely clear: anyone who is trying to post bail to get out of jail, who openly declares “I can’t wait to go to court!”, who has the spirit to speak up against a person holding a gun in an unfamiliar place who is clearly trying to agitate her into a confrontation—is extremely unlikely to take their own life.
It doesn’t add up, and anyone with common sense can see that.
And I feel the people who know Sandra Bland well are ALL saying the same thing. That wouldn’t have been an option for her. And I believe them.
Before the release of the dashcam video and video from inside the jail, or any other evidence, I’ve shared my theory on social media that she was dead before they “found” her in her cell.
And as I write this, her mugshot has been released and, well, I’m going to leave everything questionable aside from that before I get angry all over again and just write about what I came to write about.
So, here goes:
Black women, you all are expected to be all things to all people when it is convenient for them, and be none of those things when it isn’t. Despite the way the rest of the world might view you, including some that you may consider your “brothers” and “sisters”, some of us truly believe in you and know that the weight that you all bear is immeasurable. Always. Allow me to speak for those who may not have the space or words to express it, but you all are appreciated.
Keep speaking up, when the rest of the world would will you quiet.
Black men, these same sisters that fight for us when we are gunned down in the streets by those who look like us and those who don’t—they NEED US. Now, more than ever. They reflect us and deserve to be protected by us, by any means necessary. Without them, there is no us.
Start speaking up for them, as they do for us. Do not let them stand and fight alone.
Black Greek Letter Organizations, if you can unite to get Sorority Sisters off VH1, you damn sure can get together and get justice for a sister who was making it her mission to eradicate injustice in the South. It is part of what many of us were founded on, and in memory of our founders (and in the case of my fraternity, the seven that are still living)—they would fully expect us to fight for her as we would for anyone else.
Let our individual founding principles speak for us collectively as black people. No matter what they might be, the common bond between us all is that we are for us. Please prove that the National Pan-Hellenic Council isn’t as useless as many (myself included) have considered it to be at times like this.
White people who may read this (there are a few of you all left on my social media pages, and not by accident)—I know some of you who know me get what I’m talking about.
Don’t be afraid to tell others that they’re wrong when it comes to injustices we face out here every day.
So speak. Speak against those who would tell you any variation of “well, if she had just…” or “but what about blacks who” or “why aren’t we talking about”…
Drown them out.
Speak up. Speak loudly. Speak often. Speak truth.
Speak for Sandra and any and everyone like her.
When enough of us speak out against injustices and atrocities, especially by those who took an oath “to serve and protect”, the rest of the world has no choice but to hear.
And right now, the silence of many of us speaks volumes about the kind of people we are and have become.
One of my longtime friends mentioned something earlier on social media about how it was time for a reboot when it came to her life this month.
Since I’ve spent a good part of the last couple years writing in here, it got me to thinking about why I started writing here in the first place, along with some of the things I’ve written about.
And along the way, I came to the conclusion that I’m not tired of writing, but I am tired of writing about the parts of being black in America that make me unhappy and fearful of living and raising a son here.
My personal writing has gotten darker (and if you’re even familiar with my personal writing, then y’all know it gets pretty real there)–
–and yet, I’m compelled to keep going.
Just to see how far it goes. How dark it really gets.
On the other side of this coin is knowing I need some balance here, which is why this next move is going to hopefully help out with that.
I wrote a whole other entry on Baltimore yesterday that was going to be posted as soon as I got home.
I walked in the door last night from work, turned on the TV, took my shoes off, and was greeted by scenes of Baltimore on fire on CNN.
But then, I flip open my laptop and on social media, there are images of white folks looting in Baltimore while black people clean up and attempt to restore order in their neighborhoods.
It just further reminded me that we don’t control any of our own narrative through “traditional” media.
And this isn’t by luck or by chance, but I realized a long time ago that if you control the news and information that gets out, you control the presented image of what gets out, and what people hear and see.
Therefore, you control what they believe.
Our perception and what you think about a story has nothing to do with luck. It has to do with the information that is out there, how many people know it, and the sources that are telling the story.
Bringing me to why I’m writing this today.
At the place where I work now, I often find myself with a lot more downtime than I’m used to. Which, after years of having none of that, I cherish it and use it to get a lot done that I normally would have to wait until getting home to do.
Make a grocery list? Sure, why not. Try to get my e-mail inbox back to 0? Let’s do it. Prepare taxes? Okay, I might be stretching it on that one.
I have a lot more free time at work, is the main bullet point to glean from this.
So, naturally, when I run out of things to do, I tumble headfirst into a rabbit hole of news stories, scrolling through them as they appear on my social media or on Yahoo’s homepage.
Last night, my rabbit hole involved stories about Baltimore. About the history of police violence, tactics. About how much of the neighborhoods in the area where Freddie Gray was arrested and murdered have a tradition of things like this happening to people.
And then I stumbled upon a line in one of the stories that specifically said that the family of Gray had asked for no protests on the day of his wake and funeral.
Of course, since he’s dead, we can’t ask him what he wants.
So I see an opportunity here to go ahead and let you guys in on something using this space here, since what his family requested is no longer respected:
I’ve decided to inform my family and friends of my final wishes and preferred plan of action in the apparently steadily increasing chance that I, as a black person living in America, may be seriously injured or killed by police (local, county, or state), undercover cops, off-duty cops, National Guardsman, FBI/CIA agents, neighborhood “watchman”/vigilante, man at gas station if my music is too loud, or random armed person using my blackness as validation to “fear for their lives”.
Surprisingly, this isn’t me being dramatic, either. This is actually something that I thought about way back in the beginning stages of my adolescence as I watched Los Angeles burn.
The press conference with Rodney King and Reginald Denny together and the infamous “can’t we all just get along” sound bite happened, and I remember thinking:
What would I want to happen if I was no longer here?
If I couldn’t go to the press conference and tell my community, protest in peace and wait for justice to take its course, or tear this shit all the way up?
Or any and everything in between these two?
Should this be the start of another hashtag discussion similar to #iftheygunnedmedown? There, you clearly see the glaring differences in the ways that minorities are portrayed in the media when they are the victims of police violence, versus our Caucasian counterparts.
Something a tad less–or–more–dramatic? Jarring?
I think the discussion that #iftheygunnedmedown opened the eyes of more people to how we are perceived in the media—and by default, society, en masse.
But since I’m past attempting trying to fight against why such a clause has to be made by myself and others, and have just come to accept it as a reality, I strongly consider most of yout to do the same, as this seems to be something that doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Since I apparently have a better chance of being killed by police these days than winning the Powerball, make sure that those you love and trust know what YOU want in case something like this happens to you.
Me? In addition to me telling those I consider people who will keep my wishes enforced and will hold those accountable who claim to act on my behalf incorrectly–I’ll also be writing it into my will so there’s no confusion.
Control the narrative and make sure the right people have the information, I–and therefore we–can’t lose. Well, there’s always the possiblilty of being severely injured or killed, but que sera, right?
In the meantime, please pray for Baltimore and think about it, honestly.
What would you want in this case?
For now, I’m off to work.
And maybe to buy some Powerball tickets.