Tag Archives: black people

Free At Last

mlk-club-flyer

A club flyer for a MLK weekend party

On this day, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 88 years old. I wrote this piece a few years back, but decided to re-post it, as its relevance still stands. 

On this day (January 15th) in 1929, one of our country’s  (and the world’s) greatest leaders was born. In 1963 at the March on Washington, he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most (if not, THE most) powerful, most eloquent speeches known to man. King went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful efforts against US racism in 1964.

Among his most notable achievements — the things we (hopefully) learn about in schooling and in other outlets — are the turmoil, the setbacks and the degradation King and his contemporaries faced in a nation where their influence, their ideas, their livelihoods and their color were viewed with pure hate. All in the name of equality.

And here we are today — we as black folk can vote, we can use whatever restroom we want, drink from whichever water fountain we want, we can now attend the universities that were built by the blood, sweat and tears of our own enslaved ancestors — the same universities we were institutionally excluded from for much of the 20th century…you get the point. Things aren’t perfect, but we as a people have come a long way — all because of the sacrifices of King and others before us.

And how do we pay them back? Oh, by editing their pictures into club flyers, of course.

You may be thinking — “Lighten up, its not that bad,” or perhaps, “It’s just a joke, its not that serious.” But when we make these flyers, when we share them and use them to promote events — it becomes a little more damaging than a paper and a laugh. “FREE AT LAST,” reads the top of the flyer posted above. But what I’d like to ask everyone reading this is — Who is really free?

During slavery, blacks were degraded to the utmost degree — slaves that were talented were mocked and made to feel less than; slaves that were disadvantaged in some way or couldn’t perform as well as others were humiliated by slave owners as well, often given names of powerful Greek gods and goddesses, as a sarcastic gesture to poke fun at their powerlessness. Slave women were raped on a daily basis, sexually exploited and denied any sexual freedom at the hands of this very nation. Black bodies were deemed worthless and were put on display in slave auctions and other “events,” stripping slaves of their clothes…and their dignities.

I ask you again, WHO is really free?

In this flyer here (and in many, many others), King is “adorned” with a crown, gold chains and gold rings. Are we celebrating an African-American hero? Or are we making a mockery of this civil rights pioneer for our own “gains,” just as the slave owners did back in the day? It would be just like the actions of the slave owners, but in this instance, our own gains (promoting said party while promoting degradation of our men and women) are also our own losses (promoting said party while promoting degradation of our men and women). Damn, at least the slave owners even had enough sense about them to better themselves in the process.

Excuse my language and excuse my disgust. But this is an all time low for us, ya’ll.

I like to party. I like to joke. But I love my dignity 10 fold more than the former. Can we put a crown and some gold rings on that?

Free at last? More like last to be free.

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Black People Don’t Tip (Part 2)

no tip for you Obama

Chicagonow.com

Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story.

That’s how I left things off last time.

I still feel the same over a year since my first post on this “issue.”And today, an extremely rude and biased waiter learned that the number 0 doesn’t lie, either.

I went to eat at a buffet with my mother recently. The only reason we ended up at said buffet in the first place was because the Sunday after-church crowds prevented us from going to our first choice for lunch. We were starving after a lengthy church service — desperate times called for desperate measures.

We went into said buffet. We weren’t greeted but I asked the host about the price. He didn’t answer my question and led us to our table  — from his lack of understanding and his accent, I figured his English wasn’t very good and I let it go, although its an uneasy feeling eating at a restaurant and not having any idea what your bill may look like.

He took our drink orders. We both ordered water. He ended up being our “waiter.” Besides bringing the water that one time and taking our empty plates, we had virtually no service. It was surveillance that we had plenty of. The waiter kept circling around us. We saw him staring at us from other parts of the restaurant. Even when we were up at the buffet, he was right behind us, just lurking.

 Not only were we subject to surveillance, we were also forced to watch him properly serve everyone else around us. “How is everything?” and “Need another Coke?” were the questions coming out of his mouth, addressing all parties….but ours. As we, the only black people in the section and basically in the entire establishment, sat there taking it all in, we realized we were yet again being served the okie doke. The same bull I’ve dealt with at restaurants here and there my entire life.

Then it was time for the tip.

The tip I decided to leave, you ask?

0.

Some people I know tip high regardless of the service, because of the stigma and the stereotype that says black people don’t tip. They’re basically saying that even when we aren’t deemed worthy enough for adequate service, said waiter or waitress should be compensated as if he or she provided good service. To those that say that, I ask this: Why should we internalize their maltreatment? Why should we dehumanize oursevles along with all those racist waiter and waitresses out there who already dehumanize us? People who discriminate against black people in restaurants do it because they feel we don’t deserve to be treated fairly. Giving them a tip that they do not deserve justifies their actions. I don’t know about you, but I was raised to view myself just as deserving of decent treatment as the next person.

We left. As we both started to walk to the car, the waiter runs out the restaurant, following us. We were startled and a little taken back. He stopped us in the middle of the street. A walker-by in the distance stopped in his tracks to make sure we were okay. “You didn’t leave service pay! I need my service pay!” he exclaimed, directing his anger toward me. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe this classless act. To have the gumption to follow someone out of a restaurant for a tip? In a brief exchange, we told him our grievances. No refills. No service. Friendly engagement with all other tables except ours. “The nerve of you to follow us outside in the street and force us to tip you,” my mother remarked. He walked away, throwing his hands up in the air.

We were stunned.

We should have called the police. If we had men with us, it would have never happened. No more eating out. This happens a lot in this area. What a low life restaurant to condone chasing customers in the street. We should have. We could have.

These were some of the thoughts after the incident. I even thought back to when I paid for our meal. I realized I could have paid up front but he insisted on taking my money from the table. I guess he didn’t trust black money.

Out of such an unfortunate incident, I tapped into something very important: pride. Believe it or not, I was proud that I left no tip. I know they say black people never tip —  well, this was the very first time this black person didn’t tip. It was exhilarating, if I’m completely honest. It felt so good because I’ve been the type of person I called out earlier in this piece. The type to leave a tip in exchange for lousy service. This time, I stood my ground and valued myself over trying to debunk a stupid stereotype.

This whole tipping thing is a complicated schema. Its far from black and white, literally. The waiter in this instance was a non-black person of color. So were most of the patrons of the restaurant. Its impossible and extremely ignorant to think you can label an entire race or an entire culture. Also, we have to consider the plight of the waiter or waitress. We know they’ve dealt with ignorance from patrons of all colors, creeds and cultures. They may be defensive from prior experiences. And when it comes to buffet-style eating, tipping is tricky, as you do much of your own service.

Zero is a number, but does it tell the whole story?

Zero is the tip many believe all black people leave to their waiter or waitress. Zero is the quality of service we often get, simply because of how we look. Yes, this black person left zero tip, and she is prouder than ever for it. She has 0 regret. Maybe that sleazy waiter learned a thing or two from his zero service.

Why, yes, BLACK PEOPLE DON’T TIP WHEN THEY AREN’T SERVED.

I guess sometimes, numbers do tell the whole story.

Cultural Appropriation and the N-Word

n word pic EDIT

Source: Flickr Creative Commons

“If the rappers can say it, I don’t understand why we can’t say it,” says a WASP man in the comments section of an online news article.

Cultural appropriation (when facets of an oppressed group’s culture are adapted by the dominant culture, and are essentially stolen from the oppressed group) is nothing new. Recently, Bantu Knots, an African hairstyle popular in the motherland and here in the diaspora, was featured on models in a Marc Jacobs fashion show. Afterwards, not only was he given credit for the centuries-old hairstyle, but they were magically renamed “mini buns.” And in cities everywhere, high-end restaurants on the “urban renewal” bus have taken slavery-era black/ modern-day soul food staples like chitlins, collard greens and other dishes as their own. Not only have these luxury eateries detached these foods from their cultural significance (slaves eating these foods because they were easy to access, simply because they were the scraps “massa” didn’t want – and turning them into delicious, filling meals for their families), but they have also attached a heavy price tag to them, claiming another culture’s food as their own and making a profit. Native American headdresses stripped of their meanings for fashion, large numbers of awards in rap and hip-hop (two music genres rooted in African story-telling and the African-American experience)  being given to people who don’t represent its cultural context and Halloween costumes trivializing cultural-historical figures (Middle Eastern princesses, East Asian warriors, etc.) are some other examples of cultural appropriation.

Clothes, fashion, food and music come to mind pretty quickly when thinking of examples of cultural appropriation, but what about words?

Like the N-word.

“If the rappers can say it, I don’t understand why we can’t say it.”

When a friend directed me to the comment thread, I knew what to expect, but I didn’t expect to see an adult ask such a question so honestly, so matter-of-factly. When I saw it, my stomach felt kind of weird – kind of like that feeling I had when I was younger (I was the only person of color in many of my classes) when a fellow classmate would comment on something (most of the time falsely) of African-American culture and add at the end “well my best friend is black” – as if that gives one a stake to some sort of claim…to an entire culture.

The N-word has an interesting history. I’m no historian, but in a nutshell, we can say that the N-word started as a means of oppression toward African slaves in America during the slavery-era. The use of this word, institutional degradation and involuntary servitude were all synonymous. This word was also the powerhouse behind the forced rape of enslaved African women including Mother Africa herself, the senseless killings of enslaved African men, women and children and in general, the dehumanization of all people and things of African descent. Some decades passed and the vile power behind the N-Word remained relatively the same, especially in the Jim Crow South.

In a nutshell, for the longest while, the N-word and its use left the African-American community powerless. But today, in many respects, that isn’t exactly the case.

Not just in some rap music, but for some African-Americans, the N-word has turned into a positive affirmation. A word used to describe a friend, a brother. For others, it’s still negative, but on their dime, not on the dime of another culture in an oppressive manner. This here is an acquisition of power, a seizing back of control that once wasn’t there. The taking back of a word a group of oppressed people once had no authority over, even though the word directly affected their own livelihoods, their lives and their deaths.

It’s one thing for an oppressed people to take back what’s essentially theirs, but it is a problem when a member of the dominant group – like the man who posted in the comment thread– someone still in this day and age with privilege and power no member of the oppressed group could ever attain (yes, even if he were president of the most powerful country in the world) – wants to snatch control away from the oppressed group just when it manages to muster up a morsel of agency over its enslaved past, fractured present and uncertain future.

It all comes down to power and control and in this country, some people want power and control so bad that they want ownership over words, even the words that don’t come out of their own mouths.

To the man from the comment thread and others like him: Next time you think about stealing ANYTHING from another culture, no matter who you are, what color you are, where you come from, or how much you may think you know, I can only hope you think twice.

Throwback Week: “Talking White” and Other Fallacies

“Talking White” and Other Fallacies

 

As I do a great deal of work with children on self-esteem, a lot of parents have recently contacted me about their concerns for their children at school. Because of fights? No. Because of bad grades? Nope. They’ve been concerned about their children doing WELL at school and because of that, being TEASED for talking “white.” I cringe every time I hear such stories.

Been there, done that.

A few months back, a worried father of a middle school boy shared his story — his kid had been excelling in school over the years up until now. He’s been getting teased and tormented by his fellow classmates, as they constantly put him down for his hard work and achievement. “You’re a nerd, you ain’t really black,” and “You talk white” are among the many negative statements that are dished out to his son on a regular basis. So it all has worn the son down. It’s worn him down so much that he has made the conscious decision to not try as hard in school and talk less proper because he wants to be “down with the black kids.” Ouch.

Since when did “white” signify intelligence? Can black mean intelligent too? I’m afraid it’s too late, as such negative connotations have already been attached to “black,” and for some reason, a lot of black folk (and whites) think that success and intelligence are only for white people. Do we as a community fully realize the monster that has been created? Apparently not.

I’m writing this as a wake-up call. This attitude has to come from somewhere. I realize it’s impossible to trace back exactly who/ where this has come from within a family, but on an institutional level, we can all probably agree that this is an ill effect of “slave mentality.” We don’t have time to dwell on that now, but we do need to correct this. I am far from an expert on parenting (or on anything, at that matter), but I can say I’ve been through a similar struggle, but to a much lesser extent.

Let me share my story with you — I had been told many many many times, and so had my sisters, when they were younger, that I acted/spoke “white.” I was on the yearbook staff — I acted “white.” Was in majority honors classes — I acted “white.” Didn’t speak Ebonics — I talked “white.” I, unlike the boy I mentioned earlier, never backed down to the ignorant remarks. In fact, they made me try harder. I knew better. My folks had instilled black pride in me from day one. At the same time, my mother stressed the importance of education — it was always valued highly in my household. “Education is key,” “books are your friends,” and other similar sayings were not only said, but lived out in my family. I had such a strong grounding — too strong to be knocked down by any ignorance.

And for those of you who still think this isn’t a problem, think again. This issue is so pervasive, it has even made national news. “Ninth-grader says teacher told him to read Langston Hughes poem ‘blacker,’” read a recent MSNBC headline story. As Jordan Shumate, a black ninth-grader from Falls Church, read Ballad of the Landlord, he was suddenly interrupted by his English teacher. She told him “Blacker, Jordan. C’mon, blacker. I thought you were black.” Shumate refused to read it. The teacher grew frustrated, and provided the class with an ebonics-ladden reading of the piece herself. This lady managed to teach an entire classroom-full of students that ALL black people speak broken English; that’s nothing short of a travesty.

So I beg you, ALL of you — children, adults, men, women, students, teachers and everyone else in-between — to stop this “acting white” ignorance in its tracks. When you hear it, please educate those who think education and success are only for white people. Tell them that we can be just as successful and just as smart. We, whatever color we may be, are all people — we have brains, we have mouths, but more importantly, we have minds. If we all use our own minds, this world will be a much smarter place.

WAKE UP!