Why We Fail: Forgetting Malcolm and Martin’s Internationalism

Weary Self-Portrait 2

“Weary Self-Portrait 2” (Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

As bad as things are in the USA—in particular, the killing of a young Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—what we Black Americans are enduring is “a cakewalk” by comparison to some of the tragedies that are currently taking place in India, parts of Africa, Iraq, Israel, and so many other places around the world.  Yet, our current Black leadership has been conspicuously silent on so many of these international matters, including the excessive policies of Israel against an already displaced Palestinian people.  Yet, Arab, Jewish, African, and African American women found enough of a unified voice to write a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people.  I wonder why they could do it, but not our elected officials.  These women understand an important component of previous human rights struggles—including the Civil Rights and Freedom struggles that took place during the 1950s well into the 1970s in the United States—the international component.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X always placed Black American freedom struggles in an international context.  If you do not believe me, then read or listen to Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grass Roots” and listen to him rattle off the names of those nations and peoples that too many of us frequently ignore.  Listen to King speak poetically and prophetically against the Vietnam War.  These are only a few examples, often scary examples.  Yet, there are many others.

What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is going to resonate with other people in other parts of the world.  When we lost Trayvon Martin, you found people across the globe putting on “hoodies” in solidarity.  And, if it were not for the women of Nigeria taking full advantage of social media, most of us would never have known anything about the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, who have still not been returned to their families.  Yet, when was the last time you saw a massive movement of Black Americans speaking out against and lending assistance to anyone outside of the USA.  Arguably, there has been no massive international activity on OUR part, at least not since the zenith of an internationally led movement that demanded that colleges and businesses divest from South Africa in protest of the country’s brutal and virulent social system known as apartheid, and that was in the late 1970s into the 1980s.

The question is when are we going to get our international legs back, and stop looking at what and who we are as if we are isolated in one country called the United States.  Does it not matter that two teenage Indian girls were gang-raped, and then lynched just a few months ago in Bengal, India?  Does it not matter that several hundred Nigerian girls were kidnapped and—sorry to say this—will probably never return to their families?  Does it not matter that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stayed on top of the problem in Nigeria and spoken out about this problem of female trafficking in Nigeria and elsewhere, and more often than many Black American politicians and self-appointed pundits?  You are damned right it matters.

I can count on one of my former English professors to regularly post articles and his own occasional eloquent outbursts on his page on Facebook about many of the atrocities that happen to women worldwide and, also what happens to Black Americans—He, however, was born in Pakistan.  The Executive Director of Greenpeace International was born and raised in South Africa, and spent his teenage years in the anti-Apartheid movement.  He regularly articulates how women’s oppression, the problems with the environment and human rights struggles are tied together.  I knew something had become completely out-of-whack when the only men I could count on—with any real regularity—to lend their voices and support against sexism were men of color who were also NON-American.  The difference is, they can and do connect the dots and see environmental problems, discrimination and the persecution of women, and battles to end racism and/or ethnic violence as connected problems in ways that so many Americans simply do not.  Yet, a few Black Americans do connect the dots, but they are not part of what is traditional Black leadership, which is a good thing.

Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis—the Black teenage boy that was killed in Florida when a man shot into his vehicle over a quarrel about loud music—took his complaint about the senseless murders and expendability of young Black men to Geneva, Switzerland at the 85th annual meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The talks in Geneva run from August 11 through August 29, 2014. This was a bold move by Mr. Davis, but proof positive that he was paying attention in the sixties and seventies when international opinion about the United States government’s slow response to discrimination and racial virulence damaged the USA’s image abroad.  Both Mr. Davis and the women of all colors and nations who signed that Solidarity Pledge fully understand what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to teach.  We can hope that some citizens in Ferguson, Missouri are paying attention.

Now, thinking internationally or being concerned with tragedies or the well-being of people outside of the United States will not stop police officers from killing unarmed Black male teenagers.  My interest and sadness over the senseless gang rape and lynching of two teenage girls in India several months ago will not stop the rape and abuse of women anywhere, neither will my continued anguish over the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria.  Yet, to be a Black woman born and raised in the American South is to understand that racism and sexism come from all quarters of the country of my birth, and indeed all quarters of the world itself.

To fail to see the connections I have with peoples who may or may not speak my language or belong to the same racial and/or ethnic and/or gender group is to forget the real lessons of the Civil Rights Movement—that WE are not alone if WE will simply acknowledge that WE need allies, and international allies at that.  Yet, WE will be alone if WE operate from the position that people in other parts of the world do not have anything to teach us.  WE cannot afford to function from the position that because WE dwell in the United States that no one else’s problems or persecution matters as much as ours matter.  If WE do, WE will have missed Martin and Malcolm’s most important lesson, namely that if WE labor alone, WE, and everybody else, will lose.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

CCThis Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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A Dred Scott Moment About Trayvon Martin

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For even the worst student of American History, the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford remains one of the easiest to remember.  Many historians believe that this legal drama led to the American Civil War in 1860.  In fact, the name “Dred Scott” conjures up that infamous statement by U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “Tawney”)*, who ruled that, Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Anyone can use the name “Dred Scott” as a search term on the Internet and find hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts, including reproductions of the legal documents used in this tragic and pivotal court case.  If you need to read a quick summary of it, click here: Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857).

Visit any online bookstore, public or university library and you will find dozens of books on the subject.  There have even been a few fictionalized accounts of his life.  Yet, in the main, the textbook story about him is largely about the case he and his wife ultimately lost when the United States Supreme Court ruled against them in 1857 after this couple had trudged through eleven long years of litigation.  Yet, in spite of the notoriety of this Supreme Court ruling, information about Dred and Harriet Scott as individuals remains largely and primarily the interest of the serious historian or legal scholar.

Some extensive book accounts about the Scott family note certain characteristics of Dred Scott’s personality and his limitations (e.g. Like most slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, he was illiterate).  The textbook and encyclopedia accounts, however, stick to the main facts in the legal case.  Most people forget (or never knew) that after the Supreme Court ruled against him, Taylor Blow (a member of a family that once owned Scott) purchased him and set him free.  Yet, Scott only lived another year and four months—dead by May of 1858.  Even worse, his grave only received an “official marker” some ninety-nine years later when Blow’s granddaughter purchased one for his grave in 1957.**

I bring up these lesser known facts about Scott to make a point about this issue of “individuals,” and to highlight some real limitations often found in history, social commentary, and performance and visual arts—namely, that the human beings at the center of a storm often become transformed into causes, into ideas, into legends.  As much as we all need causes, great ideas and legends, there is the risk of losing the individual.  This is particularly true of the late Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot and killed in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman who is, at the time of this writing, about to stand trial for his murder.  I need not retell the details about the death of Martin here.  You can read my early commentary about this tragedy by reading the blogs in my Blog Archive.  I only ask you to remember a few things.

For the public, particularly the African-American public, Trayvon Martin is another painful reminder of this nation’s history of judicial and social obstruction and neglect; and a long and painful history of racially motivated violence.  With his face emblazoned on T-Shirts, special photos, and artwork, we do not really know who Trayvon Martin was as an individual save for what he now symbolizes to us in death.  We also do not really know Zimmerman, but he too is also now a symbol—Depending on which side you are on he is either the personification of the horrors that acute racist profiling can produce or he is a symbol of every person who ever shot someone in self-defense who was unjustly accused of murder.  Yet, neither Trayvon Martin (nor Zimmerman, for that matter) exists in their parents, extended family and friends’ memories in this manner.

Martin’s Mom and Dad remember his first baby steps, his first words, and yes, even the first time they scolded him.  They will remember birthdays and Christmases.  They will remember his favorite foods, TV shows, toys and gadgets.  They will recall his smiles and his mischief; and they will inevitably remember the first time he got into some potentially serious trouble—he was, after all, an adolescent at the time of his death.  Anyone with a teenager knows that those years are difficult precisely because the child is making that awkward transition from child into adult.  Martin might symbolize a lot to all of us, but he ultimately belonged to his mother and father.

I will not make any predictions about the trial of George Zimmerman.  I can only say that for Trayvon Martin’s parents in particular, this case is not just about fighting for the noble cause of ending racially motivated violence.  It is also and primarily about finding some sense of justice and closure for the loss of their son.  Yet, we must admit that with the passage of time, how most of us will eventually remember Trayvon Martin could easily mirror the way most of us remember Dred Scott.  Those of us who read about him in history classes know that we studied more about the political and social significance of the court case than we ever studied or knew about Dred Scott as a man, a husband and father.  We know even less about his wife Harriet Scott, an often forgotten and overlooked actor in this pivotal litigation.  Years after Zimmerman’s murder trial is over, no matter the outcome, Trayvon Martin’s parents WILL NOT see him as “that case about the Black boy who was wearing a hoodie, who got killed in Sanford, Florida,” but rather as their son who they lost too soon—It is this fact that we, the public, will too soon forget.  Yet, it is this fact that I hope we will somehow struggle to always remember.

Trayvon Martin’s Father Remembers

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

*          Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 379.

**         New York Times,  “Honor For Dred Scott:  Granddaughter of Man Who Freed Slave Places Marker,” 26 July 1957.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Ralph McGill Would Never Defend “Stand Your Ground”

Photographer: Jon Sullivan.  Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo.

“Scales of Justice” by Jon Sullivan, photographer. Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo. Available from Public-Domain-Image.com

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the late Ralph McGill (1898-1969), he was a White journalist and publisher of the old Atlanta Constitution (now the Atlanta Journal Constitution).  He was also a well-known liberal who wrote about racial discrimination in society at large and within the criminal justice system.  He did this long before the Civil Rights Movement reached its apogee in the 1960s.  Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned McGill in his eloquent “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”  King wrote that McGill and some other White journalists, “have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and understanding terms.”  Indeed, McGill was a man who watched, learned, and evolved into one of the most progressive voices in the American South and the nation when it came to race relations, civil rights, and the penal system.  With that said, it is important for you to understand that I did not learn about Ralph McGill from a newspaper or a book, but rather from my schoolteacher mother.

Mama remembered that he emphasized that when a Black person killed another Black person they typically received very light jail or prison sentences—that is, if they received any jail time at all.  It was just the opposite if they had killed a White person.  He noted that because of this failure to properly punish Black people who killed other Black people, the judicial system literally encouraged those individuals to carry out their anger to its fullest possible extreme.  He accused the judicial system of encouraging Black folks to kill each other.  Mama said that there was an unsettling joke going around in Atlanta during the 1940s that said: if you were a Black man that killed another Black man you would be out of jail in time to go to your victim’s funeral.  Indeed, in his column in the Atlanta Constitution on September 17, 1941, McGill wrote:

“In the first place our courts, to our shame and, although no one seems to see it, to our very great financial cost, never take Negro crime seriously.  A Negro murderer, killing another Negro, rarely receives any severe punishment.  Juries and prosecutors have, for years, viewed them lightly as just another Negro killing, and therefore, of not much importance.”  (Ralph McGill – Crime, Standards, Methods 9-17-1941)

He remained one of a handful of White journalists that understood that any law or process or social practice that devalued Black life also made Black people the more likely targets of violence by killers of all races.  He also noted that many members of Atlanta’s then all-White police department had poor training and were “quick-on-the-trigger.”

I thought about Ralph McGill after the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012.  When Jordan Davis of Atlanta, Georgia was killed in Jacksonville, Florida later in November, I again thought about McGill, arguably one of the most vocal writers who paid serious attention to Black-on-Black and White-on-Black violence and the institutionalized racism in the criminal justice systems of Georgia and the nation.  I will not recount how Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin died needless and preventable deaths.  I will leave it to you to read the details of Davis’ death on your own.  (Take a minute and read Madison Gray’s very brief Time Magazine report “With Echoes of Trayvon Martin, Florida Man Claims Self Defense in Shooting Death of Teen.”)  Yet, I wonder what McGill might have said about the horrible killings of these two unarmed Black teenagers by two men—One of Peruvian and Jewish extraction and the other a White man.  I am sure he would have had much to say about the racial dynamics surrounding these two killings and the law known as “Stand Your Ground.”

Nearly half the states in this country have “Stand Your Ground” laws.  At minimum, these laws allow an individual the right to use deadly force if that individual has a reasonable belief that their lives are threatened.  Importantly, the law typically states that it is not necessary for a threatened individual to retreat from the perceived danger.  The jury is still out on whether this kind of law has reduced crime rates anywhere.  It is important to note, however, that there is nothing in these laws that give citizens the right to provoke and/or create a potentially volatile scenario where they place themselves in danger and then use deadly force in response to the dangerous scenario they created.

The fact that George Zimmerman, charged with second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, was told by a 911 operator not to follow Martin, has forced Zimmerman’s attorneys to drop the use of “Stand Your Ground” as a part of his defense is cause for all of us to pause.  The fact that Michael Dunn, charged with the murder of Jordan Davis (and also charged with attempted murder of the other teens in the SUV), told these kids to turn their music down at a gas station is also problematic.  Most people do not stay at a gas station for very long.  Is it safe or even logical to tell total strangers what to do or what not to do while they are seated in their own vehicles at a public place like a gas station at 7:30 in the evening?  Think about it.  Will Florida lawmakers ever understand that the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws are not always working in the best interests of its citizens?  McGill would have recognized the counterproductive and dangerous potential for abuse in “Stand Your Ground” legislation.

When I finally got the opportunity to read some of the newspaper columns written by McGill, I noticed some important qualities:  He spoke his mind about what was going on in the city and the world at that moment.  Yet, he did so with an eye on the future.  Like many of Atlanta’s early boosters, he always prescribed the course of action that he believed was best for the city of Atlanta—the entire city of Atlanta.  He knew that crime, racial discrimination, racial virulence, and the like, were bad for the city.  He was as practical and he was ethical.

I do not know exactly what McGill might have said or asked about the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.  Yet, I have little doubt that he would understand and endorse the necessity of raising the following questions about how citizens interpret their rights as defined in “Stand Your Ground” law:  How does the “Stand Your Ground” law define “feeling threatened”?  If you look menacing or say something that makes me feel afraid, will the law allow me the right to use deadly force against you based solely on my assumption of what I think you might do?  Do citizens need more than the basic right of self-defense?  What might an angry person do if they are armed and know that they might be able to get away with killing someone because, by law, they do not have to retreat from danger?  Much like Atlanta in 1941, does not this law encourage people to choose to kill one another?  Don’t these kind of laws eventually breed a flagrant disregard for the law?  McGill wrote that, “Anything that breeds contempt for the law is costly.”  He was right.

When I asked my Mama why she liked Ralph McGill, she simply said,

“He made sense and he was always, always fair.  He always asked for justice and the fair treatment of all citizens.  Justice and fair treatment were the only things Black people wanted.”

Justice and fair treatment are still all we want.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

9+ Goals for Black Folks for the Next Four Years and Beyond

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

1.  Do not spend one dime at anything owned or managed by Donald Trump.  Trump is within his rights to dislike President Obama; he is within his rights to criticize President Obama’s policies.  He should not be allowed, however, to disrespect the office of the president simply because the person who occupies that office is a person of African descent.  He can call his behavior whatever he wants to call it, but if you are Black, you know exactly what Trump’s problem is.  Do not spend your money with him or with any person or organization that does business with him.  Here’s an extra history lesson on Donald Trump for you:  When Trump filed for bankruptcy over a decade ago because his casinos lost money, he tried to blame federal and state laws that have little control over Native American casinos.  Because Native American Nations are technically sovereign nations within the United States, states and the federal government have not exercised a high degree of regulation on these casinos when they are operated on lands owned by Native American Reservations.  Trump voiced opposition to some states and the federal government’s lack of interference and regulation of Native American casinos because he wanted to monopolize the casino industry.  What kind of a person would deny Native Americans—arguably the most oppressed group in the United States—a means of self-determination?

2.  Boycott Florida.  Keep your Black behinds off its beaches and out of its hotels.  Stay out of Disneyland.  Do not even buy Florida oranges and orange juice.  Here’s another history lesson: In 1990 White Cubans in Miami and other Florida cities designated South African leader Nelson Mandela persona non grata because he dared praise Fidel Castro for supporting him when Mandela was fighting against an apartheid system that demoralized and murdered hundreds of thousands of South African Blacks.  Do not misunderstand—White Cubans have the right to hate Fidel Castro.  He stripped many of them and their ancestors of their property in the early days of the Cuban Revolution.  Other individuals were imprisoned and brutalized.  To diminish or disregard Castro’s persecution of them is not fair.  However, many of these same White Cubans also persecuted and routinely discriminated against Black Cubans.   Moreover, when any group of people suffer persecution—particularly as long and as virulently as Black South Africans—you would think that Mandela, a man wrongly imprisoned for 27 years, would receive some level of understanding and empathy from other persecuted individuals.  Mandela did not receive that kind of consideration in Florida.

Florida has also had a lot of trouble with voting procedures.  Remember the state  needed federal and Supreme Court intervention to settle the 2000 presidential election.  Florida is also the same state that spent much of 2012 trying to disenfranchise voters to the point where it angered so many voters that they came out in record numbers to vote in the presidential election.  That number included entire communities of Latinos, African Americans, Jews, women, and etcetera.  It also took the state three days to finish counting the votes.

This is also the state where in February 2012 Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black boy, was killed walking home from a store, unarmed.  We can grant George Zimmerman, his killer, the right to call the police and say that Martin looked suspicious.  Yet, until he actually saw Martin do something, Zimmerman should have stayed in his car as the 911 Operator told him to do.  Do you need me to keep going?  Do not give Florida your money; and demand this boycott of Florida from all Black organizations, performance artists, politicians, clergy, you name it.  We have earned the right to protect our interests.

3.  Keep your money in your pocket and in your bank account as much as possible.  Many of President Obama’s enemies think that WE Black folks only take handouts from the government rather than earning a combined $836 billion dollars a year working on a variety of jobs and in a variety of professions.  So many of the President’s enemies do not know or believe that WE Black folks place a minimum of over $500 billion dollars (or more) back into the United States economy every year.  Since so many folks assume WE contribute nothing, let us hold on to our money and spend it wisely and only with those businesses, corporations, and individuals that put something tangible back in our communities.  If you want to know where our money goes, visit: Target Market News and read the best consumer and spending reports on Black Americans on the web.

4.  Face the reality that we need to cut federal spending.  Some social programs need a serious overhaul or elimination.  For example, the Housing Voucher Program (formerly called “Section 8 housing”) demands that the people that qualify for such housing must have an income that is at least 50% less than the average income in the neighborhood where the house of their choice is located.  Rental rates are based on the average rental rates in the neighborhood where the houses are located.  Typically Housing voucher renters pay 30 per cent of that average rental rate, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) paying the remaining 70 percent to the owner of the property.  Occasionally renters’ portion of rents are raised should they begin to earn higher salaries.  However, there is no time limit on how long an individual can remain in this kind of housing.  There is no concrete incentive in this program for participants to seek higher-paying jobs and risk disqualification from participation in the program. Even worse, if property values suddenly go up in a neighborhood where some Housing Voucher renters live, these same renters have another risk: they might be priced out of the houses they currently rent and live in.  Why continue to rent to a Housing Voucher Renter if you can acquire another renter that can afford the higher rents without the assistance of HUD?  It is time to set some limits.

5.  For that percentage of Black Americans who have problems with Latinos and other immigrants, remember that a considerable number of Latinos and other immigrants are also people with African ancestry (whether they admit it or not).  While I have certainly met many folks who would rather die than highlight or admit any African ancestry, I have also met many more who freely acknowledge and embrace their Africanity!  Many of them have lived here in this country for a long time and many others who are recent arrivals are here to stay, so you would do well to build or continue building coalitions with them and find ways to work together.

6.  Do not put up with racism, but do not hyperventilate about it either.  Some White folks are not going to change.  Stop wasting your time, efforts and energy trying to change them.  And those White folks that you know that are always so nice to you, but who always try to look the other way when you or someone else brings up a racist incident; and when they can no longer ignore what happened they try to act like that kind of incident is so unusual—Be courteous to them, but keep them at arms length.  No matter how seemingly innocuous and/or well-meaning and/or kind and/or generous they may be, any person or group of people that attempts to deny the obvious are part of the problem.  It is not your job to teach them or fix them.  No one can fix anything if one refuses to look at it for what it is.

7.  Invest in Africa!  Hell, the Chinese are already heavily invested and building in several developing African countries.  You might as well join the effort.

8.  Global Warming is not a joke; and we as a people contribute as much or more to the problem as anyone.  Read everything you can from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  (I have been a member for 15 years).  Study the reports on the household and cosmetic products you use at Environmental Working Group (EWG).  Make sure you read their report Pollution in Minority Newborns,” if you want to know how serious this is.  Check out my old blog “Mercy, Mercy Me: Black, Clean and Green!” plugging a younger and progressive Black man who runs a business that offers products that help clean up the environment and save you money in the process.

9.  Talk to people and listen to people who do some kind of work or express ideas that are different from the work you do and from the ideas you express and believe in.  This is how new ideas are born and it is also the best way to find out what is truly going on with people you may someday have to rely on.  I recently met a group of young academics that only socialized with each other.  These same academics also wrote some of the most useless scholarly work I have ever read.  I also have met many younger performance artists (35 and under) who do the same thing—they only interact with one another and still cannot figure out why no one comes to see the show!  If you do not communicate with folks outside your profession and inadvertently imply that those other folks’ contributions are not as important as your own contributions, then you cannot expect them to follow you or support you.  The current Republican Party and Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign provides a good lesson—They lost the election for a variety of reasons.  Yet, they truly lost the bid for the presidency because they only talked to each other and they believed that their opinions were the only ones that mattered; everybody else had to have been wrong.  Do not stay in the same kind of cocoon, that is unless you want to resemble the current Republican Party.

10. This line is for you to add your own personal goal.  You know what you want to do.  You know what you are capable of doing.  Do it!

Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Much To Do With Manhood

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

“Weary – Self Portrait, ” Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

I strongly urge every one to read “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates in September 2012’s Atlantic Magazine; and “Barack X: Race and the Obama Presidency” by Atlanta’s own Jelani Cobb posted on October 8, 2012 in The New Yorker.  These are two superior essays that deal with the shifting attitudes about race as this nation examines the record of our current President Barack Obama.  While I cannot give you an analysis of everything Coates and Cobb discussed, I can say that these essays are masterpieces by two very thoughtful Black scholars.

It is worth mentioning that Coates noticed a definitive and more negative shift in the manner in which some members of the Right viewed and spoke about Obama once he came out and stated that if he had a son that son would look like Trayvon Martin.  He also stressed that the President did not point accusatory fingers at anyone, but simply asked for a thorough investigation of the killing of the unarmed teenager.  However, Cobb beautifully and uniquely compared Obama to the late Malcolm X.  Once Malcolm X returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and reappraised his approach to dealing with America’s racial problems, he was confronted by many people, Black and White, who were not prepared to accept his evolution into an activist that would and could build multiracial coalitions to fight for racial and economic justice.  Cobb underscored that like Malcolm X, Obama simultaneously represents different things to different sets of people, almost none of who are prepared to grant him much wiggle room to change.

In both essays Obama appears as much set free by his racial identity as he is boxed-in by it.  Although Coates and Cobb’s commentary was deeply moving, I noticed how their and others’ discussions about President Obama and the death of Trayvon Martin have so rarely focused on gender, on the very idea of manhood and even Black manhood itself.

As a self-designated Black man—and please, let us not discuss the fantasy that Black Americans are racially pure because miscegenation, during and after slavery, ended that purity—President Obama has, according to many pundits, simply not been able to publically show anger because, God-forbid, he might appear to White voters as the stereotypical angry Black man.  Black male aggression (and violence) is fine on a football field or against other Black people or in the movies.  Yet, such imagined or real aggression is not acceptable in the Whitehouse or on a street in a gated suburban enclave: that is, if you believe the late Trayvon Martin was the aggressor against neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman who pulled the trigger on Martin allegedly in self-defense.

For Black men, any demonstration of a more forceful masculinity is fraught with dangers.  If Black men act angry and are loud, they risk stigmatization as “thugs,” or worse they might conjure up that age-old stereotype, the “Black Buck.”  The “Black Buck” was almost always a villainous rapist and/or thief and/or murderer or all of the above.  The stereotype is almost as old as the American slavery that allowed White southern slave holders to manufacture it, in part, to justify Whites’ continued enslavement and persecution of Black people.  Black people en masse, but Black men in particular, Whites reasoned, needed supervision.

President Obama knows this history of Black America.  Was Trayvon Martin familiar with this history?  Does George Zimmerman know anything about this narrative?  We do not know.  We also cannot know if Zimmerman saw (or sees) himself as somehow having transcended that category known as “person of color” due to his having a Jewish father.  The media first described George Zimmerman as, “Hispanic White” or “White Hispanic,” to the surprise and confusion of many enlightened members of an ethnically and racially diverse Hispanic American population, many of who have some African and/or Amerindian ancestry themselves.

When protests over Martin’s death became a national and then an international cause célèbre, the media pivoted and identified Zimmerman as the visibly brown-complexioned man of Peruvian extraction on his mother’s side that most of us already assumed he was.  So, what does all of this mean?  Well, it means that President Obama and George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin have much in common, even if their commonality is not strikingly evident.

Obama, Martin, and Zimmerman are (and were) manipulated and trapped, by real and perceived definitions of masculinity—masculinity viewed through the prism of race and certain inter- and intra-racial expectations.  All three males are confined not only by their own definitions of manhood, but also by classifications that come from others who place certain expectations on them for reasons that have everything to do with their race and gender.

Zimmerman has a police record.—He once fought a police officer that tried to arrest one of his friends.  Such a brawl appears, on the surface, as one example of swaggering male bravado.  If Trayvon Martin did in fact confront Zimmerman—the man who was following him—he probably did so in order not to appear weak or afraid.  Remember, Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend, a young woman who told him to run.  How many boys, to say nothing of men, want to appear weak or afraid in front of women who are important to them?  While we will never have a complete account of that tragic night in February 2012, it is plausible that Martin’s flawed teenage wisdom incorrectly told him to “Stand His Ground,” pardon the pun.  How many fathers and men (and mothers for that matter) have you heard tell sons, nephews, and any male friend or family member to, “Protect yourself; protect your mother, your sisters, your girlfriends, your wives.  Do not start a fight, but do not allow anyone to push you around or run you away.  BE A MAN!”  For most of us, the opposite of being a man is to be a coward.  And then…

There was President Obama’s polished and fact-filled, but rather lackluster, performance in the first Presidential debate of 2012.  Critics rightfully thought he should have hammered away at some of Mitt Romney’s falsehoods.  Instead, Obama seemingly held back, and people on all sides of the political spectrum saw Romney as the winner.  The president appeared to many people as weak.  Was he tired?  Maybe.  Has his notoriety as being cool and level headed, restricted his responses?  Perhaps.  We do not know.  Yet, there is such a thing as being too calm or even too cautious.  I would not wish the balancing act that the President has performed for nearly four years on anyone.  However, there was something about the glee coming from many folks on the Right, that made Romney look like the Great White Hope—all puns intended—a man that had the stamina to beat a Black man.

I do not know what may happen in the next debate or in November 2012.  Perhaps everything I have written here will become obsolete in just a few days.  Yet, I do know this.  At this late stage of the game, President Obama has little to lose if he shows a flash of righteous anger.  In fact, I believe he is entitled to it.  And here is why: In a gated community in Sanford, Florida, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman might not have followed a Black female for no other reason than her being Black.  It is easy to dismiss a Black female as harmless even when they often are not. Zimmerman did not follow Trayvon Martin because of something Martin did or was doing.  He followed Martin because of what he thought Martin might do.  And Black males always might do something, right?

I do not want to give the impression that we Black females have not been and are not subjected to some of the worst brutalities and indignities.  Yet, Black females, are too often dismissed as non-threatening simply because we are women.  WE Black women fight for our personhood, not our womanhood.  And because we are often dismissed, those of us with brains can use our inconsequentiality to get away with any number of things that Black men might be reprimanded for or killed for attempting to do.  It is no accident that it was Black females who first refused to relinquish their seats to White passengers on those buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 (and there were several who did it before Rosa Parks).   A Black man or boy might simply have been killed.  WE sisters have always known how to use our persecutors’ varied and negative definitions of us against those same persecutors.

Now, too many folks followed President Obama in the mistaken belief that the sheer virility of his Black manhood, with all of its alleged hyper-masculine implications, would cause the earth to spin in a different direction and the “Magic Negro” would appear and solve everyone’s problems.  Throughout history Black folks have often been viewed simultaneously as having some special qualities all the while being villainized, often by the same people.  This is not new.  When folks on the Left and the Right discovered the President to be a mere, albeit talented and highly intelligent, mortal Black man, the disappointment resonated everywhere.  How dare he defy that racialized masculine stereotype of what Black manhood must be, should be.  George Zimmerman bought into the flip side of this fallacy and followed and subsequently shot and killed an unarmed Black teenager in alleged self-defense.  He has arrived at this tragic moment in his life precisely because he mistakenly believed that the boy needed to be followed in the first place.  Yet, Zimmerman himself could not/cannot escape the stigma(s) that follow “men of color” either.  He was first conveniently a “White Hispanic.”  He became a “Brown man” the moment public opinion turned up the heat about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  So here is my message to President Obama:

Your enemies will not acknowledge your triumphs no matter how gracious you are, no matter how genteel you are, no matter how big the victory, no matter how much you love and respect your wife or spend quality time with your daughters.  Some of your allies worry that if you show any anger you will frighten someone–mainly some already nervous White folks.  But here is the dilemma, you already frighten a lot of people for reasons we all understand.  No matter how skinny or seemingly innocuous or peaceful or tempered your demeanor and responses may be, you remain a threat, a Black male threat.  (WE also know that if you had been 17-years-old in Florida and walking back from the store wearing a hoodie, you too probably would have been followed or worse.)  Now, I am not suggesting that you show up at a campaign rally or a staff meeting or a debate and punch somebody’s lights out.  I have no desire for you or any other Black man to be violent, loud or profane.  I expect decorum at all times.  However, since you are already perceived as a threat, you might as well turn up the heat.  History has shown that turning up the heat is all our enemies truly respect.  WE, your sisters, know what real dignified Black manhood looks like. WE have been warmed by it, loved by it, respected by it, protected by it and defended by it; and WE have your back!

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

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