Not Qualified Anyway

Sometime before 1989, I had the opportunity to read Flora Davis’s notable account of the women’s movement in her Moving the Mountain. She traced the origins of the fight for equality among women and then how it splintered (mostly out of necessity) into the flight attendants’ rights, inclusion of men in those ranks, the struggles of the gay (collective) communities, and then into ethnic identities. After a time, each group had to win their individual battles with their own resources and in their own time.

The battles for inclusion and acceptance are yielding ground. It seems the more air time that reaches the public at large regarding the circumstances, the more likely change evolves. It appears the sympathies of even the staunchest of those supporting closed doors are giving way because the myths are being dissolved.

These 12 months have evidenced accounts of many officer involved shootings (OIS) and deaths across the United States. There have been many charges of excessive force and brutality from citizens. There have been demonstrations across the nation in support of the outrage one community has experienced. Cell phone videos have captured incident after incident of senseless shoot first, then ask questions scenarios that are then concluded with no indictment by grand juries.

The names of victims grows on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, the 12-year old boy who had a plastic water gun (Tamir Rice), the unarmed man who was shot over 46 times are all victims of the mentality that if they are Black and male, they are armed and dangerous – even if they are not armed and are screaming that they can’t breathe. Furthermore, their lives have little value, if any, and they as people have little of any quality to offer society. Furthermore, they have little meaningful education and are incapable of strenuous, critical thinking. Therefore, they are not qualified for high ranking positions and commensurable remuneration.

Mind you, women are among those who have been involved in OIS deaths and injuries. However, the incidents aren’t as publicized and appear to not be as frequent. But there are still incidents such as the woman who was used as a punching bag as the officer straddled her on the freeway and the off duty officer who battered the woman in her car.

I sit here in my SOHO in Southern California wanting to believe that this is one of the equality meccas of the United States. Yet the 1991 memory of my law school dean telling me that the school’s special admissions program (minorities, students with various disabilities, older students, women, gays) was a waste of time because the students weren’t qualified in the first place persists. That attitude seems to be growing. And with it, the size of the disenfranchised population also seems to be growing in correlative size. It brings disappointment that so many believe that Blacks are not entitled to as many rights, access to so many services, and be extended courtesies and respect as any other group of people. There’s an assumption that Blacks are not well educated, sloth when it comes to reading, not capable of difficult thought or reasoning, and only deserving of second- or third-hand services. What they have is not deserving of being handled with care lest it be marred or damaged. They are questioned when it’s discovered they have in their possession items of great value and quality. What contributes to that type of psychology?

However, the Freddie Gray death that brought grand jury indictment of all six officers has offered a swell in the view of spokes people we don’t usually expect to see. Now within visibility are Mayors of cities across the nation who are Black women leading with a firm hand and dignity. The spokes person for the Baltimore Attorney General’s office is also a Black woman. In fact, the commander of the city where Tamir Rice was shot is a Black officer. He vehemently defends his officers and points out that they face great odds with regard to their safety in attempting to defend the populations that depend on them for law and order.

This dichotomy of perspectives is so much like America – inexplicably complex. There is a firm rooting in holding onto the standards of pre-1950 yet media portrayal of many ethnicities in responsible positions is helping to break down the barriers that once prevented representation in meaningful ways in many places.

Cell phone videos are helping to change the times and number of incidents. The move to use police body cameras has also helped in quelling the the cries of brutality because the full scenario of what the officer saw and precipitated their actions is captured.

These dynamics lead me to conclude that positive change is happening at a very slow pace. The spread of diversity and the happenstance of inclusion is not an accident. But it will only continue with the same grease that brought us to this point in history.

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A Time of Recognition

march-on-washington January 15 came and went. There were parades and tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr. We talked about having the dream – again. We moved on. I was buried in dealing with the biases of others that were stymieing my ability to realize my dream. So I did not publish a tribute to King. But I made many references to him and his causes in the various Comments posted to the different social media where I’m a member.

Then February and with it Black History Month became the current reality. Again, people talk about movies that deal with recognition of the Black contributions to the foundations and progress of our nation’s maturing into a place of freedom with real and equal civil rights. Throughout the month, there have been conversations in various social media about progress for Blacks, recognition of their struggle, the injustices suffered, the rising from the chains of slavery and injustice. I’ve had thoughts, some of which have been expressed through social media Comments. But as yet, there’s been no dedicated publication of mine that deals with Black History nor the progress of Blacks in the United States of America.

Today, after being saturated with so many perspectives and retrospectives and visions of the future, there are some things I need to say about Black History Month. These thoughts are expressed by necessity.

School Closed

Many dramatic movies were considered for Academy Awards (the Oscar) that tell the story of Black contributions to our country. The Butler tells us of how a pivotal, unsung Black servant brought sanity and distinction to the White House. Fruitvale Station shows us how one young man was wronged and then executed because of the color of his skin. The Long Walk to Freedom tells us of how patience and intelligence, if held for the long run, will eventually lead to redemption and freedom. And 12 Years a Slave shows us not only what travesties befall a person’s dignity through being treated as a non-human but how devastating the status of “slave” can be when it is wrongly saddled on an educated person who is law abiding and landed. It also shows us how the generic “slave” deals with their circumstances in order to survive.

Which of these dramas is deserving of the Oscar for any of the categories for which they’ve been nominated. Taken in totality, they show us that Life as a Black person is not comfortable. Even when there are distinguishable accomplishments, there were herculean endeavors to make those a reality. They might have been even greater had it not been for the many obstacles and setbacks that came along the way. They might have been even greater if the observing public knew of the instances when the Soldier of Black had to deal with being put in their place and forced in various ways to stay in their place.

Many of the Civil Rights Era images have been displayed on social media by those who want to acknowledge those times and, like me, those who lived in those times. Some watched TV news footage in numbed shock and young children and wondered how such things could be perpetrated on other human beings. Some were actually among those who suffered the hostilities in order to pry the Doors of Freedom open for humanity. And the Movement grew. Sit-In1_small

It’s significant that those who are part of this nation either by choice (immigration) or naturally (birth) seem to be denied the blanket of rights for which they strove to win its sovereignty and preserve it. It’s troubling to page through history and see the injustices rained upon the Japanese, the Native Americans, the Chinese, and all other races who deliberately served in the armed services and battle lines of many wars so that they could prove their loyalty because of their citizenship. Yet those pieces of discrimination are part of what made this land. It was only a matter of time before an organization such as the NAACP would spring up in order to address the wrongs. It’s also significant that the founders of the organization were not just Coloreds. So it’s inappropriate to pin the wrongdoings on one race just as it is inappropriate to make any type of generalization. But it still happens.

naacp-founders

There are rare stories of the Oklahoma town referred to as the Black Wall Street. The town’s name was Greenwood. It’s remembered for its affluence and grace as well as what is known in small circles as the Black Holocaust. Andrew Williams tells us that few know about Greenwood (no doubt because of the embarrassment of the matter) by explaining that “The events of the riot were long omitted from local and state histories. ‘The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.'”

It’s refreshing to see that we have achieved a type of self consciousness about recognizing the plight of our downtrodden. In the last five years, increasing numbers of colored faces, particularly those of men, are appearing on news analysis, economic, political, and social programs as spokes persons. They are interviewed on such programs because they are the manager or the Ph.D. on the subject being discussed. They are tacitly held up and held out as knowledgeable in their subject area. And they prove themselves worthy of the distinction through their controlled, clear discussion of the topic with well enunciated words using proper grammar.

Television programs are less inclined these days to gratuitously show the bare chested Black man in order to allure viewers. And roles that depict an integrated couple but feature the Black husband in a cartoonish caricature aren’t enduring the ratings. But that’s also a signal of progress. Where misogyny was at one time against the law, the law is no longer valid and the interracial anything is making its way into being the norm. It’s simply a matter of depicting two people interacting with one another.

Have we made progress? There’s so much to consider; there’s so much more to be said. Perhaps all of us should evaluate and think before we answer that question.

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Revisiting the Dream after 50 Years

It was 50 years ago on August 28, 1963 that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pond between the Lincoln and the Washington memorials was packed with the presence of over 250,000 civil rights supporters of all races and religions.

Yahoo! Voices sent me two invitations to write about that day. They wanted writers to create a recollection of where they were and what they were doing at the time of the speech. It took a bit. Life has put a lot of pebbles into the stream since then and it takes a little doing to clear away the debris to bring back the recollections.

August 28, 1963 was during Summer break and the speech occurred at the height of the day. I sat in my living room watching the events of the march unfold on television. As with each of his speeches, I was moved and inspired by King’s words. We all wanted to believe that his dream wasn’t a mere dream but a vision of an actual future that would unfold in that century.

By virtue of the fact that the March on Washington was multi-racial and the causes of freedom and equality ranged from pay to women’s rights to color to education to opportunity for all to worker rights and more, it was more than about race. It was more about those who were disenfranchised becoming those who fully participate in what was supposed to be the whole American Dream and the guarantees. It was about realizing that Dream contained in our founding documents and the principles upon which this country was founded. We need these types of periodic reminders. After a few decades, our minds put such ideas on the back burner, especially when we’re not living those principles on a daily basis. As months and years passed, the pressures that made the speech compelling at its delivery dissipated. It became inspiring words and concepts. And then it became concepts talked about during Black History Month or on King’s birthday in order to simply bleat the syllables.

The “Why” of It

The March on Washington was essentially a culmination of the events that began in the 1950s. The efforts of the Freedom Riders, the lunch counter sit-ins, the peaceful non-resistance, the assaults with fire hoses and police dogs, the Little Rock Nine being escorted to Central High by National Guard troops, the children killed in the church bombings, not to mention the many civil rights workers martyred for their efforts to create a wholesome place for all to live. Those were the things that needed to be overcome. And those (plus many other individual efforts) formed the fabric of the levers to open the doors of opportunity.

Interruptions and Distractions

Unfortunately, there were intervening circumstances that interfered with achieving the Dream. The war on drugs seemed to focus on Black neighborhoods. That war in turn plunged the residents of those environs into the depths of lack and bleary-eyed hopelessness. Substandard products emerged from those neighborhoods. They brought with them a desire to keep people of color in their places because they were not qualified or else only qualified to serve and not lead. By the time we as a society reached the 1980s, it was difficult to find a Black face as a leader in any place except religion and politics.

The Silence

But there were the quiet numbers who strove to be the exceptions. The silence grew to the point that many forgot about the demonstrations and the non-violent principles of those early days of reaching for recognition and admission – two commodities that were supposed to be available by right. Lack of consistent reinforcement and training on principles of professionalism and leadership were put on an even steeper slope. Those who had those ideals as part of their DNA, moved forward – quietly – and proved their value. They made positive inroads and positive examples of themselves that empowered others to also enter the doors of opportunity. Quietly it has been happening at a very slow pace. It’s been occurring so quietly that barely anyone notices today except when it leaps in front of you during a news maker interview and the subject is a notable scientist or other nontraditional professional.

Old Lessons on the Road

Unfortunately, some of the lessons were forgotten. The old detractors survived the passage of time and became the ones who created new barriers that only the most extremely qualified could pass. Although many White churches talked wonderful principles of acceptance and brotherly love, they were hard pressed to actualize those concepts when put to the test. The result became shunting their Black members and members of color into situations of being passed over for acknowledgement or displaced in activities in deference to another who was not of the same racial makeup.

Lessons in acceptable comportment changed or lost. The hip-hop age, the acid rock, the protest age and rap song protests and statements displaced reasoned speech and debate except during elections. Instead, loud and brash being shouted became the way to do things. Talking and conversation became how well one could drown out the other party or how many times they could be interrupted so as to not get a word in edgewise. Critical thinking skills crumbled. People (of all races) expected to be spoon fed information instead of reasoning out the solution for themselves. One’s GPA became more a testament of how well the student could bully the instructor into giving them an “A” compared with demonstrated more than a 90 percent comprehension of the subject when tested.

Daydreaming

So here we are 50 years later. We want to talk about the major strides that have occurred during this half century of progress. But to do so would only be delusional. While the blatant discrimination and signs of it no longer exist, the stench of Jim Crow still plagues us. It’s infected the waters drunk by our new immigrants so that they replace the hard-core racists of the past. Some of their open statements are so blatantly obnoxious that they cause the listener to gag in shock.

The standard of living continues to drop because the minimum wage continues to not stay apace with the consumer price index or cost of living index. More neighborhoods become enclaves of ethnic clusters – ghettos – where people strive to find pride in their environs. Unfortunately, if the majority of the population is Black, it is considered a dangerous place. The presumption that gangs and drugs are the mainstay with undisciplined behavior and unbridled lack of self restraint are the basis of the place. Don’t go there late at night.

Although there are many more faces of color, particularly Black of all hues, portrayed as many types of characters on both the small and large screens, and although there is a higher likelihood of finding Black and Brown faces in managerial positions in businesses, there is still an atmosphere of marginal acceptance if you are not an employee but of the same race. While the focus should be on doing the job at hand with professionalism, it’s delivered only to those who appear to be qualified to receive that deference.

Dream or Vision – and When?

It was a noble speech. King inspired us in his Southern Baptist preacher style of speaking. He brought people to their feet and stirred them to follow him to whatever heights he verbally painted for those who listened and were willing to be moved. Again I have to ask, was it a dream he was having, a collection of unconscious delusions with very little based on reality? Or was he actually sharing a prophet’s vision of a Tomorrow that was somewhere on the Horizon of the Future?

If it was actually a prophet’s vision, then it’s time for us to become parents of future generations and resume the training and lessons of what type of work needs be infused into making the vision a reality. There are lessons that are in desperate need of being learned. There are rules of etiquette that need to be re-learned and put to use. And there are lessons in how to be a leader that need to be taught at every juncture of our existence, whether at home, school, vocational training, or work.

We need to stop thinking about how nice it was that King said those words and then put the speech back on the bookshelf to collect more dust. It’s time to put the wheels of progress back into motion so that we resume our forward movement and growth of our rights. But most of all, it’s time to use the greatest tool for making the dream, the vision, a reality. It’s time to develop the right type of communication in order to say, “I am qualified; I belong here,” and then open the door.

Claiming the Freedom

Good. All the noise has settled down. The crowds are gone and the parades have ended. The “I Have a Dream” re-enactments are over and we’re getting back to Life as usual.

Let’s not let it be too much of the usual. Let’s take some time to reflect and then push off into purposeful inroads for making this year one that marks bolder efforts to kill the forces that suppress. Let’s consider two aspects of what became Affirmative Action in the United States. Let us reflect on why Dr. King took some of the steps that he did. It’s important to remember the circumstances of the day that brought a nation into agreement that things must change. Equally important is giving recognition to the major (and even minor) contributions the Black race of America has made throughout the centuries and history of the making of this country.

As a Southern Baptist preacher, King was raised to have the humility typical of the Negro race. But his education showed him another side of life that was different from subservience. His delving into history and culture made him aware of Martin Luther (from whom he and his father were led to change their family name) and adopt the philosophy of peaceful resistance.

Where at first blush, the traditional Negro spirituals conditioned the people to acquiesce to the insults and harm as they passively waited for deliverance to come at someone else’s hands, King began to teach that change would only come by taking the reigns of the Horse of Deliverance. That horse had to be led quietly and determinedly lest the momentum of the effort be suppressed. So King led the peaceful marches. They let no stones, no feral dogs, no fire hose sprays turn them from their mission. They let no one turn them around from their mission to find civil Freedom, Oh, Freedom.

Even at the threat of death and mob riots, teens (surrounded by National Guardsmen) attended school at Little Rock High School and desegregated the halls, classrooms, and campus. We marched to Washington and demanded suffrage and equal civil rights in word and deed, not just on paper. There were sit-ins at diners and coffee counters as the would-be patrons were assaulted with various types of food and beverage poured over their heads and bodies.

These insults were televised on national news coverage and in print. In Southern towns and cities, word spreads quickly. On hearing of the events, others of the community joined in the quest for equal service and it happened. The economic pressures of no revenue while attempting to maintain supplies and stock became the straw that broke the dam.

Like their cousins of another age (Jewish slaves of Egypt), Black Americans strove against the many obstacles to suppress and negate what could have been contributions to the wealth of a nation. In those days, it took a leader with a vision to keep people focused on not only reaching the goal but clinging to the prize lest it be wrested away. By symbolic acts, they were admonished to press on for rights and freedoms by not acquiescing and passively waiting for someone else to carry the banner of agitating for their citizenship rights. Instead, under King’s leadership, they were encouraged to press on and to Keep [their] Eyes on the Prize.