“You are trapped by your ZIP code”

I grew up in DeKalb County, Georgia most of my life. DeKalb County is home to one of the largest and wealthiest black middle class populations in the country, and has been home to that population for 20+ years. However, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many schools in the southern part of the county became overcrowded and had trailors in the school yard. To respond to this problem, the county created a program called M2M, which stood for Minority 2 Majority. The reason for the name is because the northern part of the county is majority white (and has been for many years), and the schools in that area were underpopulated (smaller classroom sizes), and therefore often better. Keep in mind, this before No Child Left Behind really took effect.

For almost 10 years, through M2M black students were bused to schools in the northern part of the county, and as one of those students, I can say, socially, everyone’s horizons were broadened. Diversity enhances everyone’s education experiences, it’s just true. As a matter of fact, it was the parents who had the problem, not the students. I had friends whose houses I was allowed to go to, but they couldn’t come to mine.

M2M ended in 2003 and became a limited lottery-based system called Optional Transfer, until it was completely dissolved. The reason for the dissolve was that a city on the northern end of the county called Doraville experienced an influx of Latino immigrant students in the early 2000’s. Many were either undocumented or refugees from conflicts in Mexico and Central America. The county shut down the program (in the middle of the school year), basically saying that they did not need M2M anymore, because the schools had been diversified by Latino students.

My family moved to a better school district in a better area when I was 14, so I was largely unaffected by this change. However, for some of the students who were forced to go back to the overcrowded schools in their districts, the consequences were grave. I see some of those people who I knew from that time in my life, and they do not have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree like I do. Some became teen parents, some are working minimum wage jobs. I know that my  life and education would have been different if it were not for that program. However, I would have been protected longer from facing the realities of white privilege and having my blackness questioned, hair touched, qualifications prodded, and generally being scrutinized by people who simply did not understand the constant code switching that I had to (and still have to) do in order to get through the day– I was in middle school.

Even if it’s just background noise, listen to Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life program “The Problem We All Live With.” It talks about a scenario much like the one I just described happening in the year 2014 in Missouri. Here is the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with 

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My thoughts on UO

The University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon video is all over CNN and my timeline on Facebook and Twitter. I have never seen a university react so quickly to anything. Universities are bureaucratic mines where ideas rarely lead to action with any sort of speed. However, I question whether they acted too quickly.

The fraternity members were absolutely wrong and should be ashamed for their words and actions, but hate speech is protected under the first amendment. The psychological damage of hearing the n-word is very real, but does completely suspending the fraternity set a bad precedent for universities being able to suspend students who say something they don’t agree with? There are deep-rooted institutional injustices that students of color face at predominantly white institutions everyday, and many of them chant in protest. Are they now subject to suspension if the administration does not agree? The fraternity has been suspended from campus for at least four years and fraternity members have been kicked off of the football team. This is serious.

I appreciate the message of an intolerance of bigotry that the University of Oklahoma president and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are trying to send by acting in this way, but I’m not sure these actions will yield the results they want. The 2014 movie Dear White People put incidents just like this one on the silver screen to show us who we are and how we react in the face of difference. It also showed us that the change in campus culture has to be within the student body, not the administration. This is not the first time that SAE chanted the n-word on the bus, and they are not the only Greek organization doing it. However, silencing the racists by taking away their frat house does not solve the problem. And condemning teenagers who want to be everything except different does not solve anything either. To what extent do you create a safer campus environment for some students, while silencing another group?

This is a many layered complex issue, and I certainly don’t have the answer to solve the problem. I just returned from Selma, Alabama where I participated in the activities commemorating the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and incidents like this are just another reminder that we have so much work to do. But, I believe we can all start with love. Love is patient and kind. You can never lose anything from showing love.

Race Reads

    • Millennials are less tolerant than you think “The fact of the matter is that millennials who are white — that is, members of the group that has always had the most regressive racial beliefs, and who will constitute a majority of U.S. voters for at least another couple of decades — are, on key questions involving race, no more open-minded than their parents. The only real difference, in fact, is that they think they are.” http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/millennials-are-less-tolerant-than-you-think.html

 

The moments after Darren Wilson was not indicted

On Monday, November 24, right before Thanksgiving, news outlets announced that former Ferguson, Missouri police office Darren Wilson would not be indicted by a grand jury in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. No one was shocked by this news, but many were outraged.

What is diversity and who does it matter to? As I scroll through my Facebook timeline, I see all of my black friends posting about the decision not to indict Darren Wilson. I did not see any of my white friends post. History has shown time and time again that in America white allies are necessary to get anything done. Until white men are willing to stand up for young black men and women, we will not see change.

In the meantime, instead of throwing our energy behind appeals, shooting, looting, and burning down buildings, we need to throw our energy behind repealing voter suppression laws, creating jobs in underserved communities, education reform, gun control, restoring funding to social services, and getting the arts back in schools. If we can make a progress in any of theses areas, we will see a different response in the justice system as it relates violent acts against black and brown bodies. We must work together and strategize. We need objectives and tactics attached to measurable goals. Outrage is expected; grassroots organizing is effective.

I am concerned about the abandonment of communities of color. There are many American cities that never recovered from the fires and looting that took place in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Selma: all were abandoned and left to dissolve into poverty as a result of un-civil disobedience.

Taking to the streets is a first step. Afterall, Malcolm contributed to the change just as much as Martin. However, we need to force this new Congress to act. We pay the taxes, therefore we have the power. Black lives matter, and we cannot go back to the days of lynching and sharecropping. This issue is more complicated than a hashtag. It is time to act.

Review: “Dear White People”

It’s rare that I go to see a movie based on title alone, only having watched the trailer once. It is also rare that I see a movie that portrays my experience in such a way that I feel as if I am watching a documentary, and not a feature film. Dear White People is revolutionary, and even though this is a movie, it drives home the sentiment that the revolution will not be televised.

The premise of the film is that Ivy League Winchester University has recently placed a sanction in order to diversify its residence halls, but this sanction only seems to affect Armstrong/Parker Hall, aka the residence hall where the black people live. One of the Black Student Union’s most vocal students, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), has taken to the airwaves on her campus radio show “Dear White People” to express her opinion about the issue. However, not all of the students– black or white–share her “separate but equal is better” sentiment.

There’s privileged Troy (Brandon P. Bell) who wants to appease his father, who is the Dean of Students; Coco (Teyonah Parris) who wants to be famous, even if it means overdrafting her bank account for a weave; and Lionel (Tyler James Williams) who is searching for his place somewhere between afros, Mumford & Sons, and his Man Crush Monday editor at the student paper.

This is not a movie to expect Tarantino or Scorsese type cinematography, or even Judd Apatow or Diablo Cody’s level of finesse in their wicked, humorous screenwriting. However, Dear White People gets its message across and is entertaining. There is humor coming from Justin Simien’s pulpit, that clearly shows he either lived the events in the film or did a lot of research. I won’t compare him to Spike Lee, as I’m sure many have and will, but he is on to something Spike Lee a la School Daze-ish. He challenges many of the predominant millennial views of racism (we’re post-racial), activism (I’ll tweet using #Ferguson), social change (let’s rally!), sexuality (I just love people; I don’t like labels), and communication (text, sext, whatever).

Where Dear White People is at its best is in its portrayal of intraracial and interracial conflict on predominantly white college campuses. As someone who graduated from a PWI where white sororities and fraternities held “pimps & hoes” and “plantation” parties where they hired local black homeless people to dress up as slaves and pick cotton and serve drinks (for real), the events in Dear White People deeply resonated with me. It also succeeds in portraying the students’ resistance to acknowledge the privilege they inherently have by attending a university, but in doing this it does not take a side. This is not a white people are wrong and everyone else is right, or vice versa, film. It is also not a  movie that makes the college educated seem better than everyone else. This is a thought provoking film that challenges perceptions of what it means to be white or other– and it’s funny as hell.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Dear White People, knowing all of the lyrics to Lil Wayne’s songs doesn’t make you down. It just reminds me of how many times you say the N word when there are no black people around.”

“Did you have the Cosby dream again?”

“I woke up in a really big sweater with straight hair”

“Dear White People, dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism.”

“They want to be like us. I’m not going to go protest over a party.” 

“Can I touch your hair?”

“The only people concerned about racism are Mexicans, maybe.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I saw the film in Atlanta in a theatre filled with all black people. Dear White People is a movie that I fear will be total insider baseball– only seen by those whose experience it depicts, and not by those who need to see it most. I hope that every college and university in this country brings this movie to its campus, and has deep discussions among students and faculty about how we view race in this country, the ways in which people within a race view themselves on an individual level and the ways in which racism is perpetuated on college campuses.

Two things that bothered me today

    1. The NFL has a domestic violence crisis on its hands, and everyone is acting like this is new. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been the world’s view of domestic violence since the beginning of time, but once again the demonization of Black men in America is a perfect news peg to prove a point. The problem, aside from domestic violence, is that all that this news coverage serves to do is distract us. It distracts us from Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Kendrick Johnson, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, and countless others. We view Black people as disposable in this country, and every time we sling mud at the NFL, but not also at “stop & frisk” and “stand your ground” that point is driven further into the American psyche. If we’re going to talk about domestic violence, let’s talk about our ass backwards legal policies for reporting and protecting survivors. Let’s talk about victim blaming. Let’s talk about providing resources for Child Protective Services to actually protect children. #ICan’t.
    2. This blog post: http://elitedaily.com/life/50-things-millennials-make-corporate-america-uncomfortable/758330/. I agree with all 50 of the reasons why Corporate America hates Millennials. What I don’t agree with are the writer’s lack of reasons why this is okay. In defying convention and being creative, at some point responsibility, a need for more than health insurance and social security to secure a future, longing for connection outside of cyber space, and securing your credit in order to acquire shelter, matter. I have shared the writer’s sentiments at points in my life, however, this argument didn’t work for Theo Huxtable and it won’t work for anyone else. He took his ass to NYU and became a teacher.

Food for thought

  • “There is so much emphasis on IQ in organizations, and not enough on leadership. Now we have a bunch of technological geniuses who are socially and emotionally inept.” I wish I could shout this from the rooftops of every building in America. This article on Linked In about micromanagement is amazing.  
  • What was the defining moment that changed your life? I have always thought about writing a book where I interviewed my friends and asked them this very question. I wonder how many people walk around with enough consciousness and wherewithall to be able to identify the moment. Did it happen when you were 7, 17, 27, or 57? Here is a link to the article about one woman’s defining moment. Because of her vulnerability I think I’ll write that book now.
  • “How is it that in a film whose premise rests on the idea of reimagining the past, present and future, we still end up with a blonde white woman with flashing blue eyes as the stand-in for what personifies evolution and supremely fulfilled human potential?” I have not seen Lucy, though I want to, but this was an insightful read.  Lucy: Why I’m tired of seeing white people on the Big Screen 
  • I recently was turned onto a show called Roomieloverfriends, which is created by Black & Sexy TV on YouTube. I appreciate that there are people out there who are using the internet to show different images of people of color. Though they may not have one of the big 5 networks behind them, what they are doing is taking control of their images in a way that resonates with black people (and dare I say millennials). I encourage everyone to look at what they are doing.