Beyoncé Did a Thing and White Folks are Pissed About It

This weekend was eventful to say the least. The excitement of the Super Bowl threatened to boil over Sunday morning after having simmered the entirety of the week before. However, while many were pumped to watch NFL veteran Peyton Manning, the oldest quarterback to play in a Super Bowl at age 39, take on Cameron Newton, this season’s Golden Child and bonafide It Man, in one of America’s greatest past times, the scheduled halftime performance for this year’s Super Bowl drew a significant amount of attention on its own. British rockers Coldplay were announced as the headliner in December, but the addition of 21st-Century crooner Bruno Mars and the Creole Goddess that is Beyoncé, two very recent Super Bowl halftime veterans, put a different spin on things, a spin that seemed to only accelerate after Beyoncé released a surprise music video for her new single, “Formation,” on Super Bowl Eve.

Anytime an artist of Beyoncé’s caliber releases new music excitement levels run high. With Beyoncé the excitement easily threatens to slide into hysteria. Men and women alike scatter to secure their edges in order to protect against the inevitable snatching before settling down to take in the new offering. It’s almost ritualistic. Saturday afternoon, however, none of us, fans, casual listeners and haters alike, were prepared to witness Bey’s latest project. From the very beginning “Formation” establishes itself as a no-holds-bar declaration of confidence and pride as a black woman and a celebration of Southern blackness. Beyoncé gives us a class act showcase of her roots. Over the course of almost five minutes weaving in and out of scenes of early 20th-century New Orleans and the city’s present day, Bey unapologetically reminds you why she is a bad ass (as if we needed the reminder) and the rich heritage of her family that helped mold her into the phenomenon that she is. Featuring cameos from New Orleans bounce artists Big Freedia and Messy Mya the song is solid and delivers on all fronts. Check out the video for yourself here.

Overwhelmingly the Beyhive was stoked. With this concept “Formation” was instantly the gift no one asked for, but immediately became what we all needed. What’s even more is for the Super Bowl, while we expected her to perform “Hymn for the Weekend,” a song from Coldplay’s new album on which she is featured, it was “Formation,” that made the cut for part of her contribution to the show. Despite the positive buzz around the new song, however, it was unsurprisingly met with scathing criticism, mostly from white people. The opponents of “Formation” fell into camps bearing one of two ideas: a) the song is garbage and lacked merit and; b) the song is racist.

Left field, right? Well, not exactly. Let me break it down.

The first critique, that the song doesn’t have merit, I completely expected. “Formation” does not sound like “Crazy in Love” or “Single Ladies,” two of the songs that helped propel Beyoncé forward in her whirlwind of a solo career. The contrast between these songs is that the latter two were created to appeal to the masses, an element definitely needed to become the tour-de-force international pop star that Beyoncé is. And that’s fine. “Formation,” on the other hand, is reaaally black. From the intoxicating hardcore trap beat to the minimal white presence of performers in the video (everyone featured in the video was black or some person of color except for the cops), the video and song really drive home Bey’s affinity for and connection to black culture and for the majority of her black fanbase this was very refreshing. For her white fans, however? Eh, not so much. Upon experiencing the song they were quickly faced with a side of Beyoncé that they weren’t used to—the unapologetically black side. This made them uncomfortable. No one is fooled. Beyoncé’s white fans are completely aware that she is black, but up until this point her blackness has always been packaged in such a way that made it more palatable to white audiences. The edge was removed. She’s not been “too ghetto.” She’s not been “too ratchet.” She’s been just the right amount of black to remain hip and cool, but respectable. It was the process that, again, established her as a pop artist rather than solely an R&B artist. “Formation” has changed things a bit. In her 1970 live recording of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (on the Black Gold album) Nina Simone says of the song “it is not addressed primarily to white people, it does not put you down in any way. It simply ignores you.” The same applies to Beyoncé’s offering. Now we find ourselves looking at a multidimensional Beyoncé, heftily seasoned with Lawry’s and Slap Yo Mama and if her white fans can’t relate, or at the very least, just enjoy this display of black culture…well…that’s just unfortunate for them. The rest of us will continue to get our lives.

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Courtesy of TheWrap.com

The second critique of “Formation,” that it is racist propaganda, is again, not wholely unexpected, but completely annoying nonetheless. This claim comes solely from the imagery found in the video which makes a pretty clear statement of Beyoncé’s stance on the current social justice climate regarding race and police brutality. In the video one of the themes within the context of New Orleans is a sort of street standoff between police in riot gear and a young boy making a statement through an elaborate dance sequence, all of this ending with the cops raising their hands in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” fashion and the boy raising his hands in triumph. During this sequence there is a shot of a graffitied wall with the words “Stop Shooting Us” displayed prominently. All in all the sequence takes about 15-20 seconds of total time from the overall video. Another seemingly “problematic” aspect of the video are the multiple shots of Beyoncé standing atop a police car which is almost completely submerged underwater, a clear nod to the botched handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by the New Orleans government.

By far this is the most political message Beyoncé has ever made in her work with the exception of the song and video ***Flawless which established her as a prominent figure within the modern feminist movement. In addition to the aforementioned aspect of not being able to relate to black culture, the video brought out the best of the “All Lives Matters” contingent who relentlessly continues to ignore racialized police violence. How a little boy dancing before a line of armored cops sends the message of black insurgency to these people is completely lost on me. That the words “Stop Shooting Us” would incite rebuke is mindboggling. It apparently didn’t make matters any better that she formidably performed the song on one of the nation’s largest stages. Folks were uuuupset.

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It really just goes to show the lengths that some white people will go to try and prove that “reverse racism” exists and that a “season of white oppression” is at hand. This crippling mindset is telling of a lot of different things, but none more potent than how American education has completely failed to educate its citizens on racism and how it rampantly works as much here in our present as it did in our past. When a black American woman who is perhaps the largest pop icon in the world can’t offer a minute of time to express her concern over injustices that affect her country, and more specifically, her family and community, a re-examination of what it means to be America is sorely needed. To not like the song and video because it’s not your musical forte is one thing. To dislike it because it forces you think outside of your comfort zone is another. It’s childish.

What I realized more blatantly this weekend is that all too often American consumers, the majority of which are white people, still feel entitled to blackness, and as a condition of this, feel entitled to control to which degree that blackness will be felt. This is a major source of our social disharmony. While we are no longer chained by physical manacles and overt Jim Crow laws the tendency of American society is to control, by social influence, how black people behave and present themselves. We as a people still struggle to maintain agency over our bodies, our communities and our culture. This is why the natural hair movement is so important, because it rejects traditional Eurocentric ideals of beauty and thereby liberates black people to unapologetically choose for themselves what is acceptably beautiful to them. This is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so special because it is a modern manifestation of a time when black people sought to reiterate their humanity and demand just and fair treatment by the institutions that govern them. This is why when Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter tells me to get in line because I might be a black Bill Gates in the making, I heed the call without hesitation because I have to. I am compelled to do so as a young black man to reinforce for myself and for those around me in this predominantly white space that I abide, that in my blackness, I am complex, multifaceted. I am woke and I am thinking critically. I am diverse and intersectional. I am the product of generations of hardworking black men and women who would demand for me nothing less than the respect and decency due to us as human beings. If *people have a problem with that, they can fall back. As for me, I can be found in formation, hittin’ the Quan and poised for greatness.

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Courtesy of TheWrap.com

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My New Year Resolutions for America, or “X” Things I’d Like to See Left in 2015 (pt. II)

So last week I talked about two things: leaving the stigma on mental health behind in 2015 and the dangers of social apathy. With special regard to the former I maintained how a lack of interest or concern in America’s sociopolitical issues can lead to further unrest within American society and the continued degradation of our government system. The role of America’s government is to ensure justice and protect the liberty of its citizens, but as we have seen throughout history, this is a delicate undertaking susceptible to many bumps in the road. This is why we should be vigorous in our personal political doings and why another one of the things I’d like to see left behind in the year 2015 is shoddy politics and its most current prime ambassador, Donald Trump. 

2016 is an election year and it will be an exciting one. Or at least it should be. For me it will be my third time partaking in the great American process of voting for, among other elected officials, the nation’s next Commander-and-Chief. We will be coming fresh off the heels of two-terms of a the nation’s first African-American president and one is left to wonder what America will think of next in the name of progress. Sadly this hope for progress is dimmed slightly by the ever degenerating political climate of our country. I would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that the political circus I find myself trapped in as a young voter is heartbreaking. I think what really hurts the most is, as someone who takes this whole process very seriously, I’m having to deal with the reality of the fact that Donald Trump is actually being considered as a legitimate candidate for the presidency of the United States of America. If it wasn’t ludicrous when he initially announced his campaign, and it totally was, at this point it should be clear the enormous threat he poses to the shreds of unity this country possesses and our credibility on the international stage. While he isn’t the only embarrassment to the 2016 it overwhelmingly feels that he is single-handedly making a mockery of the American political system, if not by his “policies” by his actions on the campaign trail alone. On three different occasions people of color (mainly African Americans and brown people of Middle Eastern descent) attending his campaign rallies have, with his approval, been treated in such utterly disgusting ways by his growing supporters. Some might say that the actions of his supporters can’t be a reflection of the man, but that’s exactly what it is. Despite how he packages himself Trump subscribes to a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamaphobic belief system and, unfortunately, I believe this is why he is as popular as he is–because he is a crystal clear reflection of the blackened heart of America and all too many of its citizens.

Yikes.

I don’t want a national leader who doesn’t understand the concept of common decency and dishonors the country by publicly devaluing the lives of millions of already marginalized American citizens and, by extension, the nation as a whole.

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And so I make an appeal here in 2016 to Americans all over, particularly the younger generation, to turn this political ship in a new direction and abstain from supporting, not just Trump, but any individual who does not value the sanctity of man first and foremost, American or foreign. Naturally our values tend to inform our actions and so if you profess to care about people you should: first of all, consider how your vote in the election process affects those around you as well as yourself; and secondly, actually go out and vote.

Despite the criticism from older generations and the adopted cynicism of some of my fellow Millennials, my generation has the vast potential to unlearn a lot of bad habits, beliefs and practices inherited from previous generations and, in doing so, undo past perils committed by previous societies. This is how we forge a better world, which should be our common goal. So from here on out I’m treating Donald Trump as a non-factor. I’m regarding him and his campaign as the cheap meme of yesteryear as it deserves to be…and I hope those reading reading, along with the rest of the country, follows suit because our future desperately counts on it.

And as a side, in preparation for the upcoming election a few housekeeping things to begin getting in order:

Beyond that give me some feedback! Let me know what you think of my thoughts! I love to hear what you all have to say!

Until next time folks!

My New Year Resolutions for America, or “X” Things I’d Like to See Left in 2015

January.

It’s that time again.

More exercise. Less junk food.

More church. Less booze.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Que sera sera and let the good times roll.

The New Year resolution is everyone’s favorite restart button. The allure it wields as a launch pad for our personal goals and achievements is a beacon of hope and promise. It is a mile-marker of progress (or lack there of) made in the past and an opportunity to try again and get it right in the future. Noting this special quality in this particularly significant moment in history (there is sooo much going on) I decided to bottle up this potential and gift it to someone whom I care about very much: America. (You didn’t see that sentiment coming, did ya? HA!)

Last year, I was relatively quiet, withholding a lot of my thoughts based on personal observations and experiences. I resolved to hold on to them in the event they somehow proved useful, and I realized what better way could they serve a good purpose than to inform goals for a better society…and alas…here they are–my resolutions for America and its people.

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You’ll notice the ambiguous “X” in the title. That stems from the fact that when I initially began to write these in October/November there were only four. Then they began to grow in number, some popping up two or three at a time in a day. So uhhh…I don’t really know how many there at the moment, but the following will begin a list that I will gradually share over the course of this month and set the stage for more dialogue throughout the year.

My 2016 New Year Resolutions for America are:

1.) To unlearn social apathy

We are in no short supply of problems in America. That’s okay. Facing obstacles helps us grow as a society and as a nation. However, how we approach these issues determines the nature of our growth (or degeneration). There are several ways to seek solutions for America’s problems, but the most obvious is to carefully and thoughtfully consider all aspects of the issues and work together to resolve them. The sad, negative alternative is to ignore the issues all together either out of a sense of apathy or assuming someone else will handle it. If an issue doesn’t appear to directly affect you it’s easy to feel removed from it or think there’s nothing that you could do to help, but let me tell you, this is definitely not the case. This new brand of the “bystander effect” is probably the most crippling opponent in realizing a better world. In her poem Family Pictures (1971) Gwendolyn Brooks wrote “we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” If as real Americans we love our country and as humans we are genuinely concerned about the world becoming a better place for ourselves and generations to come we have to understand our roles in each other’s lives and follow through with the small ways in which we can shape our collective futures. Women’s issues are men’s issues and so men should be listening in on those relevant conversations to become informed agents of progress in support (note, not on the behalf) of women. Problems that plague and oppress communities of color plague and oppress the white American majority, therefore it would behoove white Americans to shrug off an indifference to racial injustice and work with those communities of color to overcome. It’s the only way we can move up from where we are.

 2.) Removing mental health stigmas

Admittedly, things are better than they have ever been. Mental health awareness over the years has certainly gained traction and affected the way we talk about mental health issues, but there still remains a lot of work to be done in this area. Thankfully President Obama feels the same having just yesterday included a provision in his latest “gun control executive order” that requests $500 million from Congress in order to “increase access to mental health care.” From my perspective, mental health issues still tend to bear a stigma that “other” those who suffer from conditions like depression, schizophrenia, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder. I see the need for help all around me. There’s a need in my family and friend circles…definitely within myself, and there’s no question about our country and world. A lot of what I perceive (and granted I’m no professional) is just a need for folk to have safe counseling spaces to come out of their head and verbally let go of the mental toxins that have naturally built up as a result of plain ol’ living. A 2013 Center for Disease Control study found that in that year 41,149 Americans succumbed to suicide, a number, one should note, which doesn’t reflect the even more instances of attempted suicide. In 2015 my alma mater, Auburn University, saw 5 student suicides, an alarming number in any case, but certainly for such a small community like Auburn. Can you see the need for increased transparency, literacy and conversation regarding mental health?

Compared to other health issues, people experiencing symptoms of mental disorders are more likely not to receive proper help and may even be discouraged from seeking help by having those around them trivialize or downplay their experiences. The latter case is even more pressing in the black and religious communities where both groups sometimes dismiss mental illness as a non-factor of the community and something that can be fixed solely by immersing one’s self in religious practice. It is my hope that we can transcend these roadblocks in the new year and continue intensive education of mental health issues in order to connect people with helpful resources in a timely fashion. When we remove the stigma from mental health we allow for a greater flow of understanding to enter our society and healing can establish itself on a more firm plain.

And that’s it for now! I would love to hear your thoughts or questions regarding my resolutions and even your own new resolutions for yourself and the world around you. I’m certain those conversations will be intriguing! Until next time…!

4 Ways to Help Raise Socially Responsible Children

HEY

It’s been a while, but I’m back in the habit!

Well at least for this week. Ha!

This time I’d like to talk about kids. I love kids. I think they’re hilarious. I can’t wait to have my own some day.

While entertaining the thought I can’t escape the temptation of wondering what they will be like, and furthermore what role I will have in forming that being. To most the answer seems pretty straightforward: be a parent. And that’s simple enough…but what does it mean? Aside from providing basic essentials that children need in order to effectively make it to adulthood like food, clothing, education and healthcare…what else needs to be covered? For me, in addition to the basics, it’s very important that my children learn early on that they have a responsibility to not only contribute positively to society, but to also work diligently to foster a social environment of tolerance and acceptance of those who may be different from them, be it their race, religion, sexual orientation, TV show fandom…Beyhive, Monsters or the Navy…(they don’t have to tolerate Iggy Azalea, though…allowances)…whatever. So while considering this I thought of my experience growing up as well as some ideas that I would like to employ and this is what I came up with. Hopefully…you new parents, or parents to be…or heck…veteran parents and extended family will take some of this into consideration as we raise up a generation of kind and tolerant human beings!

1. Educate them.

This sounds pretty obvious, right? Teaching the kids what to do and how to get along? That’s all fine and dandy, but considering the fact that some of the social issues we face today are reminiscent of, or are the exact same issues from our past, modern society is a bit unsettling. All of the educational disciplines are important. It is imperative that future generations know how to calculate, read and the like; however it is just as, if not more so important that they learn and internalize their history. American history courses taught on the primary and secondary level, at least due to my experience (former social science education major) and depending on the enthusiasm of the teacher, are generally lackluster and leave a lot to be desired. “Teaching to the test” and watered down (biased?) curricula present a mamby pamby narrative of what really happened in our past and it’s obvious when young adults enter conversations that require a historical knowledge and they have no idea what’s going on. We can prevent this. Go beyond what your child might receive at school. Share with them age appropriate, yet well written books and films that engage them and help them remember the story of our past as you read and watch with them. Take them to museums, re-enactments (not Civil War ones, because why?) and national parks. Educate them in a way that history comes alive to them. That’s what my parents did…and look at me now. I know everything. I’m kidding. There’s actually a lot that I still don’t know, but there is a hunger that I have for the human story and it was ignited by my parents, aunts, uncles and older cousins at an early age. How do you think I ended up becoming a historian and an activist?

2. Expose them to diversity.

This is super important as it is key in developing interpersonal skills in general, but also with people who are different from us.

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When I arrived at college at a predominately white institution (Auburn University, woo! War Eagle.) I quickly became good friends with two white guys, P and E. One football game day my friends and I were having a conversation and it somehow came out that P, from the midwest, had graduated high school with only one black person in his senior class…and E, also from the midwest (another state, though)? Only four or so black people in a class of almost 2,000. Furthermore neither really knew when Martin Luther King Day was, and they were both unsure of which month was designated as Black History Month.

This is problematic.

To be honest, I understand–it’s really no fault of their own OR their parents’. These particular regions of the midwest aren’t necessarily large centers of a black population. In fact it’s indicative of an even broader social issue where white people just can’t seem to get out of their own little circles. The Washington Post even wrote about how three quarters of white people don’t have any non-white friends. Don’t believe it? If you’re white, take a moment to look at your social media connections. Peruse your Facebook friends and tell me what you see. Is there any pepper in the salt? Any Milk Duds in the bowl of Mentos? Do you actually KNOW the Milk Duds you do follow? Honestly, it’s understandable especially when you take into account that white people are in the majority in this country…but what do you do to remedy the gap in understanding there? If I were the fairy godfather of my two friends growing up I would have urged them to get out of their comfort zone and engage people that don’t look like them. In fact, I took on this role while in college. I took E to my black Baptist church in my hometown and he joined P and I in watching films like Dreamgirls and The Color Purple on what became known as “Culture Night” at my apartment. (I bet you they know when Black History Month is now. P has even been recommending books on white privilege to ME. HA! Look at God.)

White parents, it’s important to raise modern children in an increasingly globalized civilization to be accustomed to congenially interacting with people of black and brown skin. How do you do this at an early age? Arrange playdates which the black and brown kids at school. Invite them to your house and enthusiastically go to theirs when invited. Take them to cultural events like a Sweet Honey in the Rock show (seriously, click the links). Visit the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church across the street from your Presbyterian church. Show them films that feature people of color in a positive role (if you can find one, because dang). Take them to an Indian or Thai restaurant. Impart on them that it’s important to experience and observe but never exploit what they see. Again this is something that my parents did for me and my siblings and we’re better for it. I’ll never forget my aunt and mother taking me and my sister to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in Mobile at the young age of 7 or 8. I remember the captivating visuals to this day and singing the refrain of “Rocka My Soul” well after the show was over. That moment stuck with me so that now, nearly 20 years later I’ll be seeing Ailey perform this month for the fourth consecutive year. See how that works?

Also this goes for black and brown parents as well. We must avoid isolating our children from an honest understanding of their white peers at an early age. Hiking is not for white people. Country, classical and rock music are not “white music.” There is no such thing as “talking white.” Let’s not shortchange our youth by placing a negative bias and labeling things as “white” just because they are outside our culture. This is basically ideological segregation and there’s no place for that in anyone’s mind, let alone the mind of a child of today or the future. Now go invite little Brad and his parents over for chitlins and cornbread. Careful with the hot sauce. Substitute my chitlins for chicken, though, thanks.

3. Talk to them.

 

“And if old people would talk to
Young people, it would make us all
Better people all around, yes, it would.”

India.Arie, “Better People”

Again, this seems pretty straightforward…but honestly are we having the necessary conversations with youth about our differences as people and how to embrace those differences rather than use them as a means of division? When news of Michael Brown’s murder hit the air how did we talk about it with our children? I know black parents probably repeated the usual speech to their children explaining how racism is a nasty reality and how some things just aren’t fair. As a 24-year-old man-child of black parents I still get this speech to this day. I wonder how many of my white friends received the same speech or one similar to it explaining what’s really happening. I wonder how many white parents are actively chastising their children for saying the n-word…even if their black friend (wrongly) told them they could say it…or because they heard Kanye and JAY Z say it. I believe that it’s important that white parents have these conversations with their children in order to help them empathize with people of color and better understand racial injustices…and avoid making John Mayer and Paula Deen mistakes.

What’s absolutely not okay is reinforcing white privilege by keeping quiet the reality of modern racial injustices and the affirmation of dated, oppressive racist social systems in your homes. In an Illinois town, regarding the Michael Brown case (this is just a coincidence), school officials banned discussion of the issue from taking place in class. I imagine some white parents being relieved with this setting a precedent of silence in the white community (unless calling Michael Brown a thug), but it’s exactly the opposite of what needs to happen. Contrary to popular belief not talking about racism, misogyny and homophobia doesn’t make any of it go away. Address it with your children head on and hold them accountable so they don’t end up transitioning into adolescence and adulthood thinking it’s okay to call people the n-word and doing this (actually happened to me about a week ago).

4. Be an example.

Last, but probably the hardest, is to simply be an example to your children. This, of course, requires vigilant self-reflection and making sure that you yourself, despite how you were raised and your personal experiences, are working to be tolerant and accepting of those people who are different from you. This makes sense, right?…that our children aren’t going to respect a lick of what we tell them or encourage them to do unless we emulate that same behavior? Even then it’s a toss up depending on the child, but at least you can sleep slightly easier at night knowing that by doing this, and all of the other aforementioned suggestions, you’re working to make sure that the next generation has one or two fewer Bull Connor’s, George Wallace’s, Christopher Columbus’s and Adolf Hitler’s.

And I’m out.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts as usual!

IT FEELS GOOD TO BE BACK.

When Tha Block Gets Way Too Hot

I remember growing up as a child and seeing fun illustrations of policemen helping cats out of trees and assisting elderly ladies cross busy streets. I was taught that to be a police officer was to hold a noble position in our society. They were guardians who could do no wrong…

Later in life I woke up.

Lesley McSpadden and Louis Head, mother and stepfather of shooting victim Michael Brown. Photo cred: Huy Mach

The recent killings of young black men at the hands of cops, most recently and notably Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri (I won’t go into detail on how I feel about this obviously deplorable event and the Playskool, slipshod handling of the situation thereafter at this time) have incited rage in the hearts of many Americans. These events are only reaffirming what most African Americans and other American minorities already know and believed: American justice, in general, is a right and privilege all too often preserved, to its full extent, for white people only. However, taking a moment to zoom out from the particular situation in Ferguson (and New York City with Eric Garner, and Ohio with John Crawford III, and Los Angeles with Ezell Ford, and New Orleans with Armand Bennett), one has to ask the bigger question of why are the people who are charged to protect and serve us becoming some of the main people who are abusing and killing us? The list grows ever long…

The abuse has got to come to an end lest we, the people, become unable to distinguish cops from the criminals they are supposed to be protecting us from.

I understand that crime exists and that not all cops are bad and those who do their job correctly and effectively, free of prejudice and ill intentions, are assets to society; but whenever there is a gross breach of protocol such as the use of violent force by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo against Eric Garner resulting in his death, there needs to be a mass outcry of dissent resulting in the evaluation of whether American police forces are appropriately handling non-violent situations. There is a difference between “just doing your job” and outright abuse of power and authority. If the antagonizing police (military?) response to the overwhelmingly peaceful protests in Ferguson thus far don’t illustrate the display of bullying disguised as policing, I’m not sure how else to spell it out. How much more will it take before we are all collectively fed up? How much humanity has to be abused to incite rage that is socially productive? How many more lives must be needlessly taken and the only repercussions those responsible face are paid administrative leave? The only people who should be afraid of law enforcement are those breaking the law, not decent citizens minding their business or exercising their constitutional rights.

Photo Cred: CBS News

What can we do to combat these gross injustices, most of which are leveled against American minorities, especially African Americans? One way is to push thorough method of keeping track of police brutality and effectively disciplining cops that step out of line. Indeed, as suggested by this opinion article, should anyone seek out statistics regarding how many people are wounded or killed by cops in the apprehending process, justified or not, they would be hard pressed to find much of anything. In my own personal search, apart from a list on Wikipedia, the only material that I really found was this report compiled by the CATO institute, and while they give an idea, neither source seems to tell the whole story, at least not to me (I require an even harder, detailed breakdown of the statistics). This article published at the beginning of the year spells out how in one instance in New Jersey 99-percent of all complaints of police brutality in central New Jersey go on ignored, not investigated. How telling is it that where there is a lack of expectation of repercussions rogue cops across the country, given the opportunity, treat their charges any ol’ way, often without common decency. If those who are paid with our tax dollars won’t protect us, even from themselves, who will? This kind of thing should be addressed by our government. It’s sad to say, but it’s only befitting what with more and more instances of police brutality coming to light (due in large part to personal video recordings on cell phones and what not, cool!). If you agree that the matter should be addressed by higher ups feel free to join the push to hold police officers more accountable by signing this petition started in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy. You may also consider organizing coalitions to reach out to your representatives on all government levels. It’s about time they start earning their keep.

Another way to help is personal advocacy. I’ve been watching things unfold in Ferguson feeling helpless in not being able to offer my help there on the ground. That’s when I was reminded about the bigger picture of worldwide police brutality, and furthermore, how racial profiling sometimes fuels the acting out of police officers. As suggested above it happens more often than we know, but if there isn’t a cell phone camera ready and rolling at the right moment there’s no way to spread the word. So I figured I would facilitate a way for people to share their personal experiences. Enter the ‘Wake Up, Listen’ Campaign. If you or someone you know has had a run in with law enforcement that you feel was unjust, feel free to share your story with me at ymvomd@gmail.com or submit your story directly to this special tumblr blog where I will share these stories in the hopes of spreading awareness of police brutality and racial profiling in law enforcement. An example would be this story shared by one of my favorite tumblr users from New York City on his personal blog. There is no standard in submitting. You may submit your story in writing or through video or audio file. In submitting feel absolutely no obligation to include your name (make something up using the tumblr submission), though I strongly encourage you to share at the least your race, gender, age at the time of the incident and where the incident took place so I may be able to identify any patterns.

Photo from kushiteprince.wordpress.com

Though I hesitate to say I look forward to hearing your stories, I AM looking forward to effecting change.

Let’s do this, y’all.

“Live Like You’re Dying”: Health & Fitness

Hellooooooooo everybody! My, has it been a long time since I’ve posted! Do know that my absence has not been without just cause. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This blog is (for now) the primary operation of a larger project that I have been frantically working on for the past couple months. You see “Young Man Visions, Old Man Dreams” is actually a larger advocacy brand that seeks social justice in many forms (official website coming soon, but in the meantime check me out on Facebook at facebook.com/ymvomd). While I will always speak out against things like hatred and discrimination in search of unity and equality, I also seek to improve the lives of those around me in other aspects of life. This time around it is through health and fitness. The fact of the matter is that a lot of us lead unhealthy lifestyles and for a variety of reasons. Healthy foods and gym memberships are unavailable or ridiculously expensive. Time is scarce and we’re all so busy. But there is a way and it’s not as difficult as it may seem! Now, I’m no paragon of perfect health (I’m stuffing my mouth with sea salt and vinegar POP chips as I type…what? They’re good for you! Kind of…), but I do have a somewhat health conscious mind and I can definitely contribute a good deal of that to the influence of one of my good friends, Angel Callens. Angel (@chanicenykole on social media) has been all about health and fitness since the day I met her in the Auburn University Gospel Choir about four or five years ago (man, it seems like it’s been longer) and I can honestly say that I truly respect and admire her for being committed to healthy living. Recently Angel has taken her health and fitness game up a notch by expanding her already wide knowledge on shedding unwanted weight and getting fit while sharing it with those of us who also aspire to lead healthy lifestyles. This week I approached Angel about her healthy grind to find out more about the rhyme and reason behind the 75 pounds she’s shed so far this year:

YMVOMD: When did you start your weight loss journey?

Angel: I officially began my journey in January of 2013.

YMVOMD: What inspired you to start this journey?

Angel: My inspiration came from a place of determination. I was determined to do something about my weight. No matter how long it took I was going to get it off. It was weighing me down physically and emotionally. I was unhappy and food was my friend. I was in a state of depression for 9 months, and during that time I would go through phases of days without food followed by days of binging. I couldn’t continue to live that way, so I made the decision to do something about it.

YMVOMD: What do you in terms of working out? What is your regimen in that department?

Angel: I try my best to do a workout that incorporates both cardio and toning. Cardio alone is great for weight loss, but building muscle by toning will help you lose even more weight. I find HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and Tabata workout videos on YouTube. There is a brief warmup and then I workout as hard as I can for about an hour and a half.

YMVOMD: And what about food–what has your diet been like?

Angel: For most of my weight loss journey I have kept carbs at bay. Cutting out carbs worked wonders, though it is not a long-term solution. Protein is what I try to eat plenty of every day: eggs, lean meats, Greek yogurt. Of course I always include fruits and vegetables.

YMVOMD: What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced during your journey?

Angel: Physically, I have faced a few injuries. I had tendonitis in my knee that had me unable to workout for 4 months. I’ve pulled a couple of muscles from yoga that had me unable to workout for about a month. There were times when my budget for food was low, but I did the best I could with what I had. Also I’ve been heavily discouraged by plateaus. It seemed that no matter what I did, the weight would not come off. But I never gave up.

YMVOMD: How do you mentally prepare to take on the task of your working out and dieting?

Angel: In my mind there is a mental picture of my goal. It may be the goal for the day or my long term of what my body will look like when I’ve completed my weight loss journey. I do get on the scale every other day. If I’ve lost weight, then I have a little more room to not be as restrictive with my eating. I usually give myself 3 days to see progress on the scale. 3 days of strictly following my meal plan and working out. If I see progress in 3 days, then I cut myself some slack.

YMVOMD: What are some common mistakes that you see people often make when trying to lose weight? What would your advice to them be?

Angel: The “Diet Mentality” is the BIGGEST mistake people make when trying to lose weight. When you say “I’m on a diet” you automatically think that you have to cut out certain foods forever in order to lose weight…either that, or you think that you have to eat some crazy combination of foods or just one type of food for a long period of time to lose weight, i.e. The Cabbage Soup Diet, The Oatmeal Diet, etc. Sure you may need to cut BACK on some types of foods, but you don’t have to cut them out completely in order to lose weight. Another mistake people make is thinking that there is a Quick Fix for losing weight…diet pills, shakes, and every other diet fad out there. Some of them may work, but what happens when you can’t get long term results? You have to learn how to deal with real food in the real world. Learn how to use food for your benefit and stop being afraid of it.

YMVOMD: What’s one thing you never skip in your workout and why?

Angel: I NEVER skip squats…because I want a big round booty. Who doesn’t? Hahaha!

YMVOMD: Besides the obvious health reasons can you think of any other reason to take on a fitness minded lifestyle?

Angel: You will be happier. It may be because of your great accomplishment of losing weight, or because of the natural great feeling you get from working out. Working out and eating well relieves stress, anxiety and depression. I am living proof of that.

YMVOMD: And now for some “fun” questions…what’s on your workout playlist?

Angel: Trap music and Dubstep. If I had to pick any particular artists, I’d go with Skrillex, David Guetta, Baauer and Major Lazer.

YMVOMD: What’s your favorite healthy recipe?

Angel:First of all ANY kind of smoothie. Just toss in a fruit, yogurt and a big leaf of kale in a blender and go! Besides that my favorite meal is breakfast and nothing says breakfast like a bowl of cheese grits. These aren’t your ordinary grits–these are cauliflower grits!

Cut 1/4 of a cauliflower head. Put in a food processor and process until it is small grain-like pieces. Place in a boiling pot with 1 1/12 cups of water. Boil the cauliflower until all the water is gone. Add 1/4 cup milk, cheddar cheese, salt, pepper and stir. Tastes like the real deal. Creamy and cheesy without all of the carbs.

YMVOMD: What’s your favorite workout/part of your workout?

Angel: I enjoy Zumba and Crunk Fitness…any type of dancing workout (probably because I can’t dance, hahahaha.)

YMVOMD: What is one thing you would tell someone who is on the fence about starting a healthy lifestyle?

Angel: Your life doesn’t have to be the way it is for the rest of your life. It can change. YOU can chance. No matter the obstacle, whether it be physical, financial, or mental. No matter how slow your progress may be. just know that YOU CAN DO IT!

Left: Angel, April 2012 Right: Angel, April 2014

Left: Angel, April 2012, Right: Angel, April 2014

Welp! There you have it folks! That’s my fraaand and doesn’t she look fab?! Make sure you check her out on Twitter and Instagram at the handle @chanicenykole. She and I are both busy working on projects and developing web presence, but her meal plan and fitness coach brand “Change Of Plans” does have a mailing list and you can subscribe by clickinggg here. Seriously if you have any questions feel free to reach out to her through the aforementioned options or email her at angelcnc88@gmail.com. She’s more than willing to help and she’s VERY accountable, Lawd knows she stay on my behind. HA!

I hope guy guys enjoyed! Keep your eyes peeled for more “Live Like You’re Dying” posts that emphasize seeking and living a full and peaceful life in the trying days!

Have a good one, y’all!

“What now?”

SO! The NFL draft happened last week, and I’m not even gonna lie, apart from laughing at tweets about Johnny Manziel’s late picking and Michael Sam’s being drafted I didn’t pay much attention at all, because my loyalties lie almost exclusively with SEC football and that’s just how that cookie crumbles.

But alas, here I am with some thoughts and some feelings on the latter development from the NFL draft: Michael Sam. When he originally came out, I’ll be honest, I was very, very excited about not only what his example would mean for the young and old LGBT community and LGBT people in sports, but also specifically for the black LGBT community which sometimes lacks visibility and leadership due to a heightened strain of homophobia in the black community. However, this time around, while I’m again very excited about his achievements and supportive of his career, what I have to pull back on is the LGBT community’s (and its allies) maybe…overwillingness? to canonize him as some sort of patron saint for the LGBT cause. When ever I heard the news I remember being excited, but at the same time feeling a way about it…something wasn’t quite right. A quick twitter conversation with a friend explained my ambivalence. Michael Sam has become the first openly gay athlete to be drafted into the NFL…but what now? Am I trying to rain on the Michael Sam parade? Not at all. But I’ll never forget what my father told me after I racked up on scholarships for college in high school: to whom much is given, much is required. I think the adage taken from the Bible and quoted by JFK holds true, not only for myself, but for those people put in Michael Sam’s position. Here’s why.

Due to his EXCELLENT performance in the SEC arena, I don’t think there’s really any doubt that Michael Sam is worthy of his new status as a team member of the St. Louis Rams, but that is strictly based on his athletic talents. To ignore his achievements on the field (which for the most part occurred prior to him publicly coming out) would be straight up foolish. I don’t think those calling the shots in the NFL really even cared that Sam is gay, because his sexuality isn’t going to fill stadium seats. So long as Sam is an able bodied man that can perform up to NFL standards then the NFL will open its arms to him just as they did with African Americans once they figured out how profitable black men could be outside menial labor. The NFL drafting Sam appears to be a show of good faith on THEIR part (that I halfhearted believe, that Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito debacle is still bothering me), but before we can raise Sam as an LGBT sports icon we must first consider what that may require. I can only imagine what the coming out process is like in the world of football. However, exactly how difficult could it be when you’re kicking ass on an SEC football field like it ain’t no thing? I almost feel like his talent overshadows this detail of his life, as it should. Regardless of whether Michael Sam is gay or not (also black or not), he’s going to be respected both in the NFL community and the general public as one dynamic football player. They, players and fans, are going to respect his talent and capital potential more than anything. I think a lot of people are willing to overlook the fact that he’s gay if it’s going to favor their pockets or their sports team and that’s not hot. You see sometimes when a majority group doesn’t want to directly face change or challenge (in this case the social progress of the LGBT community), it’s not uncommon for that group to ignore or overshadow the situation in an attempt to suppress its existence. I’ve already witnessed it on the internet where people are trying to redirect the attention away from his being the first openly gay draft pick back to the fact that he is a great football player. Ultimately, I think what we have here is Sam’s drafting being indicative of tolerance which is absolutely great. However, this is not necessarily showing an increase in total acceptance which is the ideal goal.

Michael Sam hails from the SEC which is easily located in one of the most racist and homophobic regions of the country (Southeastern United States). Having exclusively worked closely with an SEC athletic department and gone to an SEC school myself, I’m no stranger to some of the epithets and slurs that are yelled out in the student sections of arenas and stadiums. I feel that until Sam’s influence can go beyond the “sportsmind” and start actually changing the way people think and feel toward the LGBT community there’s not much to celebrate beyond his coming out. Until people no longer “feel uncomfortable” when Michael Sam kisses his boyfriend on national television in a celebratory moment, a common reaction seen on Twitter and Facebook, I do not think there is much to celebrate. Until people no longer sling bible verses and religious (nay, not Christian) doctrine into Phil Lutzenkirchen’s Twitter mentions for his support of Michael Sam and have accepted that some men love men romantically and some women love women romantically, I cannot find too much to celebrate.

Michael Sam can help make this a reality with his new found celebrity. Emphasis on the “can”, though. I don’t think he has done it yet or that it is necessarily on his agenda. He has shown us that you can be gay and be drafted into the NFL, not that you can be gay and just live a normal life which is much more of a reality and desire for so many more LGBT people. It is his decision and prerogative to go further and progress the LGBT movement and failure to realize this can result in a lot of disappointment if he chooses not to do so. Celebrity can be a fickle thing. I’m reminded of an episode of The Read where Kid Fury and Crissles argued a valid point that celebrities are not in any way obligated to support social causes just because it appears to benefit a community that they belong to or that supports them. As much as I hated to admit it there is unfortunately no real social code (to my knowledge) that requires celebrities play a role in social activism, only our expectations and desires. Look at President Obama. He hasn’t overtly done much of anything to alleviate the plight of black people and other American minorities even though it would certainly benefit his wife’s extended black family. It’s all left up to that person’s personal agenda. This is not to say that Michael Sam won’t be an effective force for the LGBT community. I hope that he will be. It just remains to be seen beyond his coming out.

Keep in mind that the likelihood of there being other (closeted) gay NFL players is very, very strong (just by the sheer math of it) and none of them have felt the urge to come forward and join Sam in the light of being “accepted”. Hopefully this will change soon as Sam’s success thus far begins to lead our society forward to a place of openmindedness and true acceptance.

All in all, I’m a fan. Congrats, Michael and may your continued success on the field and in life also lead to the realization of true equality and acceptance for every man, woman and child regardless of what they believe, how they look and who they love.

from Hollywood Reporter

 

Outrage: Why I Will No Longer Follow Humans of New York

Black Girl Blog

I experienced something incredibly unpleasant today.

The blog Humans of New York, which I have loved ever since I moved to New York City, blocked me from commenting on a post and deleted my comments.

Why?

I told the truth. I feel like Huey Freeman.

I was not hateful, or ignorant, or abusive.

I simply commented on a post about a (white) man, a teacher in the neighborhood of Harlem, that spoke about how difficult it is for the students to extract themselves from poverty because there is not a “culture of expectation” at home.

Nearly all of the comments were patting him on the back as a hero and great guy, but I thought differently. I commented, “A ‘culture of expectation’ is hard when you are in a ‘culture of I work 16 hours a day.’” I also stated that though his heart was in the right place, his…

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When Hit Dogs Holler: White Privilege and the Denial Thereof

And here I am again writing about something which I had no real intention to write about but circumstance seemed to necessitate otherwise.

My original post this week wasn’t going to be about race. I was actually going to address something a bit lighter, but I had a bit of an awakening of late that has led me to understand something:

On the matter of solving modern American racism, a lot of white people would prefer to ignore it away, derail the conversation so that all the two ways white people are at a disadvantage are the center of attention, or only talk about race in a manner that does not make them look or feel bad.

Uhhhhhh…

I mean I wasn’t completely lost on this notion because I wasn’t so naïve to think that my views (established by my lived experiences) were of universal understanding in the white community; but boy I certainly did not expect the manifestation of deep-seeded racism that quietly paints the inside of the minds of some of my white “friends” last week.

It all came to light when I posted this really great article from Thought Catalogue by Macy Sto. Domingo on my personal Facebook wall. I did it absentmindedly without any of my own commentary because I felt it was thorough enough already. My main goal was just to share it with some of my friends who I thought might find it interesting. I did not at all anticipate the 263 comment thread that was to ensue over the next two and a half days, but my did it get nasty. The first comments, from people I don’t even talk to on a regular basis, started it out pretty rough (also note the ‘likes’ on the dissenting statements).

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And then it went downhill from there.

There were accusations of reverse racism…

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…there was the detailing of white plight, flat out white privilege denial and more reverse racism claims…

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…there were attempts to trivialize the experience of the article’s author as a person of color and more white plight and to further diminish the urgency of racism’s affects on modern society (and perhaps justify it) with evangelist doctrine…

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…and the overall policing of potentially productive social justice conversations.

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This is usually my approach to social justice–simply confronting problems we face, such as racial inequality, with straightforward, yet amicable conversation; but I see now that this will be more difficult than I anticipated. Some of the other social justice advocates I follow and interact with had all already arrived at this understanding: when it comes to addressing modern-day American racism, some white Americans, a lot more than I want to admit, cannot function in a conversation about race without attempting to highlight an “equally relevant concern” that somehow their opportunities, rights and freedoms are being infringed upon as more and more people of color strive for true equality in the eyes of the white majority, the federal government and the American justice system. They seem unable to grasp the concept that the elevation of people of color through laws and social programs does not mean their imminent decline in social status in any regard, but remains a (sometimes feeble) attempt to rectify widespread injustices leveled on people of color by an overwhelmingly clueless white majority, all of which is well-documented (and equally ignored or denied) throughout history. We (people of color) didn’t start this fire despite being consumed by it time and time again.

Needless to say the negative attitudes in response to the article, the adamant denial of the privileges white people inherently possess as a condition of their majority status and the history of racism, only proved that white privilege exists and how detrimental it is to our society in regard to achieving social harmony in America and abroad. I understand how members of the young white generation, most of whom may not actively participate in racist activity, see a social justice agenda and catch a feeling…

We get it. You are not your parents or your ancestors’ mistakes and crimes.

You do, however, benefit from the power they usurped from those they exploited early on in the history of world and in some ways continue to do so.

White privilege is a very big part of what enables white people to live in a world where they are largely unaffected by routine, widespread discrimination, institutional or otherwise, the likes of which is faced by people of color everyday around the world. As civil rights activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton wrote in their book Black Power: Politics of Liberation in America  “this is not to say that every single white American consciously oppresses black people. He does not need to. Institutional racism has been maintained deliberated by the power structure and through indifference, inertia and lack of courage on the part of white masses as well as petty officials”. So while racism seems unlikely to be eradicated anytime soon, a huge step in that direction can be taken should white people, not necessarily relinquish any rights or privileges, but begin to see the world through eyes that are alert to the advantages they have in various strata of modern living and choose instead to live in such a way that breeds a more natural equality, that puts us all on the same playing field. I think it’s at least worth a try, but ultimately this decision is not left up to me. That choice, that power is with those white people who are open-minded enough to will racism into nothingness.

Here’s to hoping we can move in this direction and I can begin to write about something less daunting!

“Why won’t they let us be great?!”

I wasn’t going to post this week. Not even after Kid Fury and Crissle brought it up yesterday on their latest episode of The Read. But then this got pushed into my face.

These people are MAD, you hear me? They are stone cold, Grade A, USDA-approved organic, “hold-the-GMOs” HATERS. And while the malcontent of they’re racism is glaring, what they’re really mad about is their belief that Kwasi is being handed a life-enhancing opportunity that they themselves (or apparently someone they know) should be receiving. That’s it. They feel cheated, as if something was stolen from them. The stench of privilege and entitlement incites a revolt in my stomach.

What’s being completely disregarded by these people and the countless other detractors of Kwasi’s achievements, young and old, is that eight of the best universities in the world, THE eight ivy league universities of the United States, aren’t all going to accept someone who hasn’t righteously proven themselves to be worthy of studying in their hallowed halls. Kwasi simply put forth the effort and time needed to excel and his work paid off. Black man can’t have NOTHIN’ nice, can’t even LIVE, in this world without it being scrutinized for foul play or malpractice.

Black man in a nice car looks suspicious…had to steal it.

Black man in nice clothes looks suspect…must’ve bought them with dirty money.

Black man walking down the street MUST be a security threat…he couldn’t possibly be on his way to the market or to his job.

Black man make a grand achievement that deviates from negative stereotypes placed on him…it’s not as important or impressive because he probably had some kind of unfair advantage because he’s black.

Do minorities get “special consideration” for college admission and scholarships?…sure, but that consideration comes at a cost. There simply is no handout. Minorities still have to work twice as hard to get half as much as their white counterparts, all around the world. Chris Rock brilliantly once said that “a black man gotta fly to get somethin’ that a white man can walk to”. The truth hurts and I’m not all that sorry about it. The argument that Kwasi is getting some kind of handout doesn’t apply in this case where he has adequately demonstrated that his qualifications for studying at all eight ivy league schools lie solely in his intellect and not in the color of his skin. Had Kwasi been a white Kaleb there would be no qualms about it. Just another young white man fulfilling his manifest destiny to succeed and the only person that would have been mad was the white person who came in second after him much like Miss Paige Verhoeven from above. This is NOT affirmative action. This is the natural process of academic intake, merit for proving yourself capable of academic achievement, and the people who are mad about it are just going to have to stay pressed.

Speaking of affirmative action…what’s the fuss all about anyway? The measure was put into place in the United States to help level the playing field in socio-economic opportunity so that individuals who have historically and routinely faced discrimination in the various sectors of society can begin to hope for a fair shot at life. It is here to rectify the gross inequalities in employment and benefits that occur along the lines of race and gender. Why would anyone be against that? Has your racism and sexism so clotted your thinking that you cannot see logic and reason? I suppose critics (mostly white people who have to face competent competition) of affirmative action would prefer minorities to remain in disadvantaged socio-economic positions, they would prefer to remain on top, because that is the only thing that can come from the perpetuation of a inherently racist American system that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the upward mobility of an oppressed people.

And not to mention affirmative action doesn’t work for the people it was set out to help. Check out this bit that details how white people actually benefit the most from this measure.

I guess it’s only okay for universities to fight over a young black man if he’s an athletic prospect, huh? Thank you, Kwasi, for helping to obliterate this crippling view, for continuing to prove that we black men are more than a pair of fast legs, height, gait and sickening passing game. The world is not ready for you. Too bad. I see you coming.

Proceed and be bold.

 they-mad