Covid, Cuba, and Human Rights

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

As we approach what many people hope is the end of the COVID-19, or I should say the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, let us consider a few things that we need to think about. First, while it is imperative that everyone be vaccinated, we still do not have a vaccination against this virus for children. Second, coronaviruses mutate. There are over 200 head cold viruses and most of them are coronaviruses. So, SARS-CoV-2 is probably endemic, meaning that we will have to contend with it in some form in perpetuity. Remember the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed roughly 50,000,000 million people worldwide. Yet, we no longer fear the flu because the flu is easily diagnosed and treatable. So, here’s the skinny: We need a couple of highly successful treatments for SARS-CoV-2; and we also need a test that can be administered where any healthcare professional can tell you whether you tested positive or negative in a matter of minutes. We’re not quite there yet, so be careful. This brings me to the crisis unfolding in Cuba.

As a Black American historian with some Afro-Cuban roots, the island nation has always been of interest to me personally. As I type this, however, the romanticized idea of Cuba that so many of us Black Americans hold—myself included—is dissolving before our eyes as Cubans, and particularly Afro-Cubans, have taken to the streets in protest against the harsh abuses they experience courtesy of state-sponsored police. The pandemic has exacerbated an old problem. While it would be easy to blame the USA for its decades-long (and unnecessarily punitive) embargo against Cuba, I am learning from Afro-Cubans on the ground that the USA’s embargo is not the primary cause of their hardships and grievances.

Many Black Americans are all too familiar with the late Fidel Castro’s visit to the USA where he deliberately stayed in Harlem with us. I remember the late Kwame Ture (né Stokely Carmichael) received medical care on the island. Then there is Black activist and fugitive Assata Shakur who received asylum on the island and has lived there for decades. Therefore, we Black Americans were not prepared to hear or fully accept what we were seeing on the ground in Cuba, namely young Cubans throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, marching in the streets, denouncing Castro, and telling Black American pundits to hush up because none of us have a clue what these young folks have been dealing with. And I have to agree; it is time for us Black Americans to stand down, shut up, and listen without the American-centricity we all carry but often fail to acknowledge.

I wrote back in January of this year that I wanted President Joe Biden to return to Obama-era normalization with Cuba. I still stand by that wish because as the government of Cuba has exported its best doctors to other countries to pay the island’s bills, it has also done so at the expense of the health and well-being of Cubans on the island. The medical miracle that Cuban medicine has been (a vaccination for meningitis, successfully preventing an HIV-positive mother from transmitting the virus to her unborn child, and fighting Ebola) is threatened by a more systemic problem that we do not want to face—plain, old-fashioned racism that Cuba claimed was finished decades ago, and a government that silences anyone that disagrees with its policies, which has apparently been in place for decades.

Right now the American Embassy in Cuba warns Americans not to visit Cuba due to potential violence and the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2. Biden unfortunately intends to sanction individual members of Cuban government. Sanctions have not worked, ever. As material shortages have always been a problem on the island for at least 5 decades, the pandemic has pushed everyone to their limits. Many Cuban protestors have stated that the folks in the government are eating and living just fine. Yet, the masses of Cubans now face severe food and medical shortages, and incarceration and/or death for daring to speak out about the abuses they suffer. Even worse, many Afro-Cubans complain that we don’t listen to what they are truly trying to tell us.

I still believe that the coordinated efforts of Cuban doctors, American doctors, and scientists from around the world can help us stem the tide of this pandemic, where, at minimum this disease only remains as a treatable and preventable disease. Yet, I also know that history tells us that any revolution that goes on too long eventually imitates the regime it was trying to replace. We must also be prepared to acknowledge and work toward a future where we Black Americans listen first to our kith and kin Afro-Cubans to stem the tide of state-sponsored racism, murder, and deprivation that they face—And those diseases are far more difficult to treat than any virus.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

The Other DMX Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Let me first extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of DMX (né Earl Simmons). Full disclosure: I am a Traditional Jazz, Bebop, CuBop, Afro-Latin Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Soul/R&B, Johnny Mathis music fan. Aside from a couple of Rap tunes, I am not much of a Rap/Hip Hop fan. My former students keep me up-to-date on the genre. So, this blog is not going to be filled with memories about when I first heard this very talented man who died too soon. I do hope, however, that DMX’s passing does more than have us publicly bemoan the perils of substance abuse, but rather, we Black folks start thinking seriously about mental health. I have no way of knowing if DMX had any form of mental disease, but a lot of drug users do…

Way back in the day, a friend as close as a brother, had a pattern of woofing down about FOUR 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Beers, coupled with about a fifth of Vodka, in one sitting over a couple of hours. Yet, I never saw him drunk. He would sleep 8 hours, then get up fresh as a daisy and go to work the next day. This was his daily ritual. He never had a hangover, if you can believe that. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Later, he was diagnosed with “Mania,” often an early symptom of Bipolar Disorder. The excessive booze was his way of self-medicating, of literally slowing down his brain that was constantly racing on all cylinders. The excessive alcohol made it possible for him to function, even if it was an unhealthy way to get some relief.

Now, drug abuse can cause mania, but drug use can also be a response to the mania itself. When I learned that DMX—a long term, off-and-on-again substance abuser—had a massive heart attack that put him in a coma with little brain function, I wondered if the source of his inability to permanently kick his drug habit was rooted in an undiagnosed mental illness. I don’t know. We may never know, but it is certainly a possibility.

We, in the Black community, have a serious mental health crisis precisely because, en masse, we don’t take mental illness seriously enough. Mental illness is not prayed away; it has to be treated. We casually and often humorously say that people have “lost their minds,” but sometimes they have actually done just that—lost their minds. A failure to seek treatment or to encourage someone to seek treatment means the disease gets worse. Sometimes, as in the case with my old friend, using both legal and illegal substances are signs of a larger problem that, if identified, can be successfully treated.

As of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether DMX’s heart attack, subsequent coma and death were the results of an overdose on opioids or some other drug. Even though the majority of opioid addicts are white, we have too often dismissed opioid addiction as strictly a “white” phenomenon, forgetting that there were/are glaring racial disparities in opioid addiction diagnosis and in addiction treatment. We can’t even afford to recall, with nostalgia, those days back in the mid-20th century, when there were virtually no statistics on “Black Suicide” because back then, for the most part, Black folks rarely, if ever, committed suicide. That day is dead and gone too.

Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. Let me repeat that: Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. And now it is estimated that Black children are more likely to commit suicide than white kids. When you have time, just read the data: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.

No matter what mental or physical problems led to DMX’s erratic drug habits and premature death, it was fairly obvious that he was an immensely talented man. We will read one tribute after another in his honor. Inevitably, people will mention how he “battled his demons.” They will easily recall when they heard DMX say something profound, something that changed their lives. What too many of them will not say is when they noticed a change in his behavior or habits or health or moods, and then tried to do something about it. And that’s not just a problem, it’s a shame.

Let’s do something more palpable than wring our hands and hang our heads in prayer. Say something to friends and family members when you witness erratic behavior and/or substance abuse. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Pay attention to your children’s mental and physical health. Call a psychiatrist, a physician whenever you believe it necessary. Ignore people who tell you that you are over-reacting. Help stop the trend of us losing too many of our people much too soon. Àṣẹ.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Biden, Harris and Cuba

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

It has been over a year since I posted a blog about what Joe Biden needed to do to win the Democratic nomination and the election; and HE DID IT.  He appropriately rewarded the many young women, and many young Black women, who helped get him elected.  He made the woman who shellacked him in the first Democratic debate, Kamala Harris his Vice-President.  He’s smarter than a lot of men I know.  For a change, we Black women do not feel so utterly unacknowledged and unappreciated.  Thanks President Biden for listening to young people, young women, young Black women, and for taking a different path than the typical time-worn, racist and sexist “Good Ol’ Boys” route to victory.  This blog is written, however, in the age of COVID19 and here is some quick information for you to think about in 2021.

President Joe Biden has already begun the process of correcting much of the damage done to this nation by his predecessor, but I want him to do at least one more thing.  I want him to re-establish relations with Cuba.  Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, and ’45’s’ administration rolled that process back.  Here’s why Cuba is important:  Cuban medicine focuses on prevention first.  Cuba has a surplus of doctors; more Black doctors than the United States; and over 2,000 doctors treating COVID19 patients in over 20 countries…As of this writing, on February 5, 2021, Cuba has had 225 deaths from COVID19 in a nation of 11 million+ people that have a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than the United States.  During a pandemic, medical knowledge needs to be shared, not politicized.   Pay attention.  Stay safe.  Wear a mask.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

A Word For Democrats About 2020

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I cannot really comment right now about the recent mass shootings because I am soul weary from it. I will write about it another day. I will only say we need to look very carefully at all candidates on this issue of gun control and the banishment of assault rifles. Democrats also better learn to really listen to young people, those Millennials who out-voted Baby Boomers in the 2018 national elections, if they want to win the Whitehouse and put a reasonable dent in the Republican-dominated Senate.

I watched political pundit Thomas Friedman talk about the possibility of Trump winning re-election on MSNBC, right after the publication of his New York Times op-ed “Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?”. It’s a chilling thought. Friedman noted that Democratic candidates for president produced some pretty radical ideas in the first debate: everything from advocating for open borders, to free healthcare for anyone who crossed our borders. He was right when he said most Americans, including many on the Left, are not going for any of this. So, after I listened to Friedman, and watched as much of the two Democratic presidential debates I could stomach, I saw several problems Democrats must overcome in order to win the White House in 2020 and possibly pick up more seats in the Senate.

Democrats must recognize that they are no match for our current president when it comes to spin. The current president is a damned reality TV star. He knows how to spin a story, create a repetitive slogan and throw his base enough raw meat to keep them snapping and cheering. If Trump (who already said as much) murdered a man in broad daylight for no reason, most of his supporters will still support him because they are, after all, frightened white people who are now forced to come to terms with what author James Baldwin tried to tell them a long time ago, mainly, that “the world is not white.” Europeans and White Americans are older than everyone else on the planet save the Japanese. Europe’s average age is 42 years old and that fact is coupled with a low birthrate.  Of course we must also consider that 11 percent of Black American men who voted for the current president too. These are the Black ass, sexist and self-defeating Neanderthals who are scared to death of women being in any kind of control to the point where they would willingly throw their own people (and themselves) under the bus in the antiquated belief that only men, and only white men at that, can get anything done…But I have not the time to digress about the current Massa’s favorite Darkies…let me get back to the demographics that matter.

When you toss in the relative youth of the rest of the world, it gets even scarier for some folks. Across the entire African continent, the average age is around 20 years old. With the continent of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, India and much of Southeast Asia containing young fertile populations, the death knell of worldwide white supremacy is ringing in many white folks’ ears. We already know the kinds of fears our current president stokes among his supporters, but we cannot spend all of our energy responding to his spin and his lies; we have to use them as fuel for some other strategy to beat him because the Democrats are never going to be able to beat him at propaganda, which leads me to something one of my young friends said. His name is John Jordan, Jr. and he’s a Black, 29-year-old entrepreneur and Morehouse College graduate. We trade ideas often.  As Joe Biden seems to be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, John said this:

“I’m a millenial and the one thing I know is the world has changed and will continue to change.  Baby Boomers, especially politicians try to act like they know…Biden’s entire candidacy will rest on his ability to show that as an old, white man he can listen and adapt based on what he is learning.”

John, who was mentored by a Black woman, is right. Democrats are going to have to overcome the generational gap and the intra-party gender and racial biases that threaten the best work of our most activist and youngest Congress persons, namely Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Our current president has continued to verbally beat up on these four women, not simply because they are people of color, but also because they are women, and young women at that. Tragically, many men of color and white men will not defend women of color whenever those men fear that such a defense will cost them their own personal connections and favor with powerful white men. Additionally, men of a certain age (along with women who’ve learned to adapt to their habits), even when they respect the abilities of women, still tend to expect to direct women. Many of the men I know well over the age of 50 (and I will exit my 50s at the end of 2020), don’t always know how to not place themselves at the center of attention or how to not always have to direct the proceedings.

In my experiences mentoring and/or doing business with well-educated Black men in their 20s to early 40s, I learned that most of them are not terrified of the word “feminist” and can accept direction from a woman, particularly if they think she has a great idea or a better idea. They do not flinch from matters that concern or affect LGBTQIA communities either, but, more often than not, recognize those concerns as inextricably tied to the fabric of our entire community. They tend to worry a whole, whole, whole lot less than their older counterparts about who is going to get the most credit and the most limelight and the most money.  Importantly, they don’t see women as competition, and are rarely as defensive as some of their older counterparts when a woman offers an honest critique. In fact, they welcome these critiques as a way to brainstorm and look for new and better ideas. While I cannot speak for other people’s experiences, I can say the young, college-educated Black men I’ve been privileged to meet and mentor are a breath of fresh air.

So, when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden got blind-sided by Kamala Harris in the first Democratic debate about the subject of bussing, it was largely due to his underestimating Harris’s abilities at debate, and it was also due to his walking into that debate with a set of assumptions, which are, thank Goddess, becoming obsolete. The second Democratic debate became, unfortunately, one where the candidates spent far too much time critiquing Obama’s policies than expressing in clear language what they would do as president and how they would reverse much of the damage done by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I really do not care much for Democrats savaging each other, but Harris’ one-two punch in the first debate exposed some of Biden’s weaknesses.

Young adults of all genders, women, and Black women in particular, are underestimated by a lot of Baby Boomers and older folks ALL THE TIME. It dawned on me that Biden could easily have his ass handed to him in a debate with the incoming first-year classes of all-women Agnes Scott College or all-women and historically Black Spelman College with ease. Biden wouldn’t fare too well with the students of all-men and historically Black Morehouse College either. If you don’t believe me, go visit those campuses. Go listen to them. Go sit and answer their tough questions. Better yet, go unprepared with the same old weak assumptions about what you think you don’t have to know in order to persuade these brilliant young women and men to vote for you. See what happens to you.

If Biden remains the frontrunner, and eventually the Democratic nominee for president, and the best choice for beating our current president, then there are two things he needs to correct ASAP.  First, he cannot dig in his heels and shrug off complaints about something he said simply because he feels like he didn’t do or say anything wrong or potentially offensive. I understood what Biden meant when he said he worked with segregationists because I was born in 1960 during a period when civil rights legislation was being passed, and there was no choice but to work with those segregationists.  A young man or woman born in the 80s, 90s or early 2000s would not/will not interpret his comments the same way I do.  So, he needs to get over himself enough to listen to and respond effectively to younger voters who he needs to win.

Second, Black women of all ages vote more consistently and solidly Democrat, more often, and in higher numbers than any other voting bloc. In the last election, this group voted 8 percentage points higher than the national average. Black women’s interests cannot be ignored and will be central to most Democratic victories. Black women, along with Millennials helped usher in a massive wave of Democrats in the House of Representatives with over 100 Congresswomen whose ideas and talents have been muted for far too long. Most of these newly-elected women are Millennials, with enough stamina to weather this current hate-filled political climate and most of them, if they wish to do so, will still be here 40 years from now.

I’ve lived long enough to become an elder. I relish my conversations with young Black men and women all the time. And as one told me, “We respect you because you respect us.” Whoever is the Democratic nominee for president better understand that the overwhelmingly young, Black and women voters that turned the House of Representatives BLUE in 2018 need to be listened to, not talked at. Democrats will not, cannot win without them.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Of Violence and LO$$

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

As the Trump administration orders and sanctions attacking immigrant women and children with teargas at the US-Mexico border, let’s consider the long term effects, not just in terms of human physical and psychological suffering which will go on for the rest of these women and children’s lives, but what it can cost the United States. I offer you two smaller historic examples: Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

For the record, I am the granddaughter of an Atlanta Race Riot survivor. My maternal grandmother Lorena, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at Clark College when the Atlanta Race Riot broke out over roughly three days in 1906.  Georgia’s candidates for governor claimed that Black people, graduating from our numerous historically Black colleges, were going to take over and rule over White people in the city.  Of course there was also the usual rhetoric about Black men raping White women. So, on September 22, 1906 an angry mob of Whites began to attack Black people and Black businesses in Atlanta’s downtown area.  I won’t bore you with the details except to say that my grandmother and Black scholar, W. E. B. DuBois basically said the same thing: If White folks began the riot against Black people, it was Black people who ended it. Everybody who was Black bought or stole a gun.  By September 24 the riot was over. Black Atlantans did not just fight back, they shot back. My grandmother remembered the sounds of gunfire well into the night. Grandma roomed with a lady and her small daughter on Thirkield Avenue near where the original Clark College campus used to be, long before any colleges and universities in Atlanta had dormitories.  You can read more about the riot here: Atlanta Race Riot of 1906

As Atlanta’s population shrunk, due to deaths as well as from people who fled the city in the aftermath of the the riot, the City Fathers—always, always keeping an eye on business—vowed to never let anything like this happen again.  They weren’t playing.  They created interracial coalitions, successfully defended a Black man charged with the rape of a white woman who misidentified him as her assailant—and he lived to tell about it!  From that point on, measures were taken not to make Black people socially equal, but to insure that the city didn’t descend into violence and chaos…Now, take Birmingham, Alabama.

In a nutshell, when Commissioner Bull Connor ordered Birmingham’s fire department to turn its hoses on innocent Black children and adolescents and ordered the police to unleash dogs against Black protestors, the whole world saw it unfold on television. Whatever steps Birmingham took to alter this image were minimal; and the city went from being the number one industrial city in the South to being abandoned by businesses that would not, could not operate in a city filled with violence and destruction.  Birmingham survived, but it never fully recovered nor regained the title of industrial giant. You can watch a couple of quick videos about this here: Bull Connor used fire hoses, police dogs on protestors (May 3, 1963) (videos)

So, what is my point. Because Trump ordered the US Military and Border Patrol to unleash tear gas on innocent immigrant women and children at the US-Mexico border, the entire nation suffers. In addition to these actions being immoral and inhumane and illegal, it also sets a precedent that will inevitably provide other nations the excuse to mistreat and mishandle US citizens once they set foot on foreign soil. It also tells major corporations that the United States is not safe to do business in.  If Trump supporters—and there are many of them—don’t give a rat’s ass about people of color, that’s their prerogative.  Their hatred is nothing new; and people of color have neither the time to pray for or worry about converting “the unconvertable” to anything resembling people with basic human decency.  These are not and never have been rational people. Yet, in addition to these immigration policies being heartless and cruel, these policies are really, really bad for business.

The white business people who court and bait white racists and xenophobes and sexists and misogynists of all colors and ethnicities, along with the white politicians who tell these white masses that their world is coming to an end—because people of color are ending it—have proven for centuries that Money is their God. In a week where General Motors announced its laying off 15,000 American workers while the company enjoys a Trump tax cut; in a week where Trump is attempting to build a wall at the US-Mexico border and doesn’t have any way of forcing Mexico to pay for it; in a week where Mueller’s Russia investigation seems to have Trump constantly spinning the news and tweeting endlessly, I hope the folks who follow/ed Trump, who are so easily duped every single time, I hope they can learn to live with less money.  They could, very soon, find out the true cost of hate—the only cost any of them ever understands.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.