September 25, 2014

Beating our black children furthers the legacy of slavery

File photo (Fotolia)

If it can be said that real men don’t hit women, then we should also say real men don’t beat children.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on a felony charge for beating his four-year-old son with a switch — a tree branch — in an act that exceeded “reasonable discipline” according to the Montgomery County, Texas, District Attorney’s office.  The NFL player punished his son for pushing another one of his children off of a motorbike video game, and Peterson said the whooping was not unlike the discipline “heexperienced as a child growing up in East Texas.”
The boy reportedly suffered from numerous injuries, including cuts and wounds to his ankles, legs, hands, back, buttocks and scrotum.  The child also said his father hit him with belts and put leaves in his mouth while he was being hit, pants down, with the switch.
As a black father with a four-year old-son, I cannot imagine ever beating my beautiful child.  I cannot and will not treat my son like a slave.
The switch is a longstanding African-American institution, both feared and revered.  Everyone in the black community either has heard of or experienced firsthand the grandma who ordered the child to go fetch the tree branch, the switch that would be used in his or her own beating.  They said it was necessary to keep children on the straight and narrow, out of trouble and respectful of their elders.
But what if the explanation for the switch is far more troubling?  Sometimes, people act based on what they know.  And in the case of the black community and the black family, we cannot disregard our very real connection to slavery times and the internalizing and perpetuation of our trauma.
We all cringe with horror, perhaps even cry, when we view depictions of brutality in films such as 12 Years a Slave.  It feels far too familiar, too close to home.  If we recoil at the sight of slaves being beaten, then why would we subject our own children to the same treatment? The purpose of whippings, floggings and other forms of abuse under slavery was clear — to subjugate and control black people with arbitrary cruelty, beat them down not just physically but also spiritually and psychically, and reinforce the master’s control over them.
In some cases, enslaved black parents — who really had no rights over their own children, and perhaps had to care for the master’s children at the expense of their own — beat their children to please their owner, or to ward off more severe punishment from the master.
So how can this in any way benefit our children today?
Many parents physically discipline their children, and black folks are no exception.  And corporal punishment is not illegal in most states unless it causes severe harm.  But just because something is legal does not mean it is right.  And if you wonder how far you can go and steer clear of child protective services before crossing the line into criminal child abuse, then you have missed the point.
Study after study has shown that harsh physical punishment can have detrimental effects on children, including changes to the brain — literally ”less grey matter” — slow cognitive development, and increasing odds of depression and addiction, low educational achievement, aggression and criminal behavior.  Spanking during childhood also increases the chances of that child hitting other children and their parents and hitting a spouse or dating partner as an adult.
Moreover, spanking does not work better than any other form of correction; any short-term changes in misbehavior can come at a very high cost.
Let’s not forget verbal abuse, telling children — perhaps peppered with four-letter words — they are forever worthless and useless, and unloved.  This form of abuse is just as harmful to a child’s psyche as a beating is to his or her body and physical and emotional well-being.
Some parents use their kids as a punching bag out of frustration, reflecting the stresses and economic strain of daily life.  And I believe physical force is easier than mind power for many, because they cannot communicate effectively with their children.  I prefer talking to my son, using reason, incentives and other forms of non-physical correction with him.  I am not saying parenthood does not pose its challenges, and kids are smarter than we ever were.  But I want my son to respect me, not fear me.
Further, the idea is not to make Adrian Peterson a whipping boy or a poster child for child abuse.  He is by no means alone, and we know there are multitudes more parents just like him.  In any case, Peterson must come to terms with the horrible things he allegedly did to his son, as the justice system must deal with him, and surely the NFL will.
But in the end, if a criminal prosecution, league sanctions and maybe even an ousted commissioner are the only takeaways from this high profile case of child abuse, then there is a missed opportunity for society, and for black America, to deal with a serious problem.  We must break the cycle of trauma that passes from generation to generation like the DNA and heal both the victim and the victimizer.
We must challenge societal norms concerning definitions of manhood, and black manhood, and the notion that one must use physical violence against others as a means of controlling them.  This includes bastions of testosterone, including the military and law enforcement, where child and spousal abuse are rampant, and professional sports, where the data on domestic violence is nonexistent and arrests are lower than the national average, but most arrests are for domestic violence.

July 22, 2014

Return to Cleveland spotlights urban problems

The decision by NBA player LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat and return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers is a testament to his character and holds lessons for us all.

Cleveland is not the type of place that people usually return to once they've hit the big time.

In 2010, Cleveland topped Forbes' list of most miserable cities, with high unemployment and a loss of manufacturing jobs, a massive foreclosure problem, abandoned homes, poorly performing schools, crime, and pollution.

"My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," James told Sports Illustrated. "I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

He acknowledged the problems that Cleveland and his hometown of Akron, Ohio, have faced. "Our community," he said, "has struggled so much," and "it needs all the talent it can get."

In so doing, James cast a spotlight on problems that many of our cities face due to deindustrialization, neglect, and cruel policies.

For example, Detroit fell victim to years of population decline, an exodus to the suburbs, and an eroding tax base, culminating in an undemocratic state takeover of the predominantly African American city by Gov. Rick Snyder. Recently, the city government moved to shut water service to thousands of people who could not afford to pay, prompting some Detroit residents to seek help from the United Nations.

Chicago continues to be plagued by gun violence, with at least nine dead and 60 injured over the Fourth of July weekend, and three dead and 28 wounded the following weekend. Chicago also closed 50 of its public schools last year, an unprecedented blow to the predominantly African American and Latino children who depend on them.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia has fallen prey to Tom Corbett, the tea-party governor of Pennsylvania, where debates on public education funding rage while the state builds new prisons and gives large tax breaks to corporations.

By coming back to Cleveland, LeBron James can show the country that there is a more compassionate way to handle our urban problems.

In the last few years, James has shown that he is not afraid to speak out on political issues. He denounced the death of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and he condemned the racist statements made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Some star athletes such as Michael Jordan have embraced product endorsements but have eschewed community involvement and taking a stand, while other players have attracted attention for their personal exploits and foolish financial decisions.

LeBron James harkens back to the days of the socially conscious athletes, before the multimillion-dollar contracts. And he is setting the standard for the role of the athlete today.

"You know, God gave me a gift to do other things besides play the game of basketball," he said.

He has his priorities straight. So should we.

July 8, 2014

Fifty years after Mississippi murders, America retreats on civil rights

Fifty years ago this month, three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss. One was an African-American, and the other two were Jewish-Americans. Their last names — Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner — stand for the martyrdom of that era.
On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were murdered while in Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote during Freedom Summer. The men, all members of the Congress of Racial Equality, were investigating the burning of a black church when they were stopped and jailed by a deputy sheriff who was a member of the Klan. The three were released on bail but later shot to death by a lynch mob of Klan members, who buried them in an earthen dam.
Two days later, federal agents found the activists’ burned station wagon, and on August 4, their bodies were found. Nineteen men were indicted in federal court. After a three-year trial, seven of the defendants were found guilty, nine were acquitted, and the all-white jury deadlocked on the remaining three defendants.
It was the first time anyone was convicted of crimes against civil rights workers. This horrific crime opened America’s eyes to the brutality of racism, and that realization played an important role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Read more here:

Waiting For Environmental Justice to Come

Environmental toxins and pollutants know no class or race, and yet government policies and corporate activities place an undue burden on the health of the poor and communities of color.
Throughout the United States, children of color and poor children are disproportionately exposed to health hazards while attending public school, placing them at high risk. Often, this problem is unaddressed in urban centers. However, one group of New York City parents is bringing attention to polluted schools, holding elected officials accountable, and in the process, becoming a focal point in the environmental justice movement.
Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Public School 163 is a diverse elementary school consisting of children ranging from pre-Kindergarten to third grade. The student body is 46 percent Latino, 27 percent white, 17 percent African-American and 16 percent Asian-American. Over half of these youngsters (52 percent) qualify for free lunch.
The proposal by Jewish Home Lifecare to construct a 20-story nursing home tower next to the three-story P.S. 163 over the next few years raised red flags among parents, who collectively call themselves the Task Force for a Safe School (TFSS). TFSS is concerned the construction will bring toxic fumes, excessive noise and disruptive traffic, and negatively impact the development and learning environment of their children.

50 years later, the Civil Rights Act would not pass

On this Independence Day — as we celebrate the struggles that were fought and the sacrifices that were made in the name of freedom — we also commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The landmark legislation was one of the most important laws in this nation’s civil rights history.
And sadly, the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t stand a chance of passing in today’s harsh political climate.

May 7, 2014

On the Need to Validate Young Black Men

In recent weeks there have been a number of news stories about young black men who were accepted to numerous elite colleges, including any and all of the blue chip, Ivy League schools of their choice. All of these positive news stories have provided a welcome respite from the usual fare, the portrayals of black youth as dangerous thugs, uneducated, unproductive, and a criminal element.

To be sure, as perhaps the most vulnerable demographic in America, black men have it hard. We are demonized, scapegoated and vilified, and the prisons are more than ready to accommodate us. And yet, we succeed against all odds. We always have suffered, and we always have demonstrated excellence. But I wonder, just for a second, for all of the black boys who are cultivated and supported, how many more are discouraged from succeeding on purpose?

The acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson never ceases to illuminate and educate whenever he opens his mouth, and remarks he made five years ago about the shortage of women in science are no exception. Answering a question about the predominance of male scientists and whether it is genetically related -- as former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary Larry Summers suggested -- Tyson used the opportunity to speak to the barriers facing African-Americans such as himself when he was growing up.

I've never been female, but I've been black all my life and so let me perhaps offer some insight from that perspective. I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expressions of these ambitions. All I can say that is the fact that I wanted to be a scientist, an astrophysicist was, hands-down, the path of most resistance through the forces of society.

Tyson noted that whenever he expressed this interest in becoming a scientist, teachers steered him towards athletics, throwing curveballs at every turn. And now one of the most prominent scientific minds around, this African-American man had aroused suspicion at the department store.

Now here I am, I think, one of the most visible scientists in the land. And I look behind me and I say, "Where are the others who might have been this?" And they're not there. And I wonder: Where is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not simply because of the forces of society that prevent it at every turn?

The forces of society to which Tyson is referring are engaged in a collective effort. Certainly, individuals such as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and Nevada rancher-turned-conservative folk hero Cliven Bundy do their part with their racist rants and dehumanization of people of color. Surely these men would love to stifle the aspirations of black children if they had half the chance and the power to make it happen. The former profits from the labor of young black men in a black basketball league, yet does not want black folks at his basketball games. And the latter believes the "Negro" was "better under slavery" than "under government subsidy."

Meanwhile, others -- hate groups, militias and the like -- use violence and physical force rather than simply hateful words alone to make their point.

Ultimately, these angry individuals are characterized as a small, isolated group of nut jobs, often dismissed as innocuous when someone is not out there defending them. However, they are emboldened to make such statements and take certain actions because the path has been cleared for them. The national climate is shaped by policy makers who make the laws, and those with the money and power to purchase those laws.

Offended as I am by Donald Sterling's statement, I care more about his long history of discriminating against blacks and Latinos. I am concerned when Rep. Paul Ryan invokes Charles Murray, speaks of a culture in the inner cities where men do not work, and then has the power to legislate his racism. Further, I am outraged when Justices Scalia, Thomas and the rest of the Supreme Court's reactionary bloc uphold affirmative action bans and gut the Voting Rights Act, halting racial justice while declaring that racism is over. Gerrymandering, voter ID and Stand Your Ground are what racially offensive statements look like when codified into law.

An African-American presidency does not make a post-racial society, but creates a racial backlash. Throw in some micoraggression for good measure. At a time when the country is browning, some people do not like what they see, so they want to take their country back. If you require proof, you need only recall Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's disrespectful finger wagging at President Obama. Or take a look at a recent exchange between Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Black men are the perennial defendants, guilty until proven innocent of no crimes in particular, and everything in general. A jury of their "peers" comes in the form of a stacked deck, or a mob, the all-white or predominantly white jury in which the peers have been removed from the jury and silenced.

I know that as a parent of a black child, it is my responsibility first and foremost to nourish, nurture and validate him. For all of its promise, this nation presents a harsh climate for black boys, and it always did. At the same time, I must hope for an America where the resistance to my son's success is no longer normalized. This is not the 1950s, but sometimes it sure feels like it.

April 24, 2014

'Hurricane' Carter, may you rest in peace

With the death of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, we have lost a great fighter in the ring and a powerful advocate for the wrongfully convicted.  In many ways, he helped open the eyes of many to the injustices of a system that far too often throws innocent people behind bars.
Carter knew firsthand about the plight of the wrongly accused because he had spent 19 years behind bars for crimes he did not commit.  He and co-defendant John Artis were charged with a triple murder at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966.  There was little physical evidence in the case, and the so-called eyewitnesses who testified against them were two convicted felons.  And Carter and Artis maintained their innocence and passed a lie detector test.  However, an all-white jury found them guilty.  Carter was sentenced to three life sentences.
More at theGrio

Is 911 a joke?

Terrible. Just heartbreaking. This is the only way to describe the devastation in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York early Easter morning, when a fire killed two 4-year-old children, Jai’Launi Tinglin and his half sister Ayina, due to smoke inhalation. Jai’Launi’s twin sister and the grandfather and aunt of the victims survived.
Apparently one of the children was playing with a lighter in bed while the grandfather slept.
Firefighters had to take the limp bodies of the two children out of the burning house. And what is truly outrageous is that it took the ambulance 21 minutes after the 911 call was made to arrive at the scene—14 minutes to dispatch the ambulance, and another seven to drive to the home.  The fire started before 11:50 p.m. the night before Easter, and a neighbor called 911 at 11:51 p.m.  Fire trucks arrived on the scene at 11:56 p.m. and called the dispatcher at 11:57 p.m.  And yet, the ambulances were not dispatched until 12:05 am, the first one arriving at 12:12 a.m.
An investigation is underway, with the New York Times pointing to a breakdown in communications between the firefighters and the emergency dispatchers.  How and when the breakdown occurred is unknown, but what is known is that when firefighters arrive at a scene, the ambulance is called and dispatched immediately.  That did not happen, and obviously somebody messed up.  The time lag had deadly consequences.
More at theGrio

February 21, 2014

Huffington Post: A Final Farewell to Greg Wilhoit, Who Survived Oklahoma's Death Row

America's community of death row survivors bids a farewell to another one of its own.  Gregory R. Wilhoit, who had spent five years on Oklahoma's death row after being wrongfully convicted for the brutal murder of his wife, died in his sleep on February 13.


December 11, 2013

Mandela death leads to criticism of Reagan's South Africa policy


From theGrio:

Who would’ve thought that the death of Nelson Mandela would help dig up Reagan’s horrible record on South Africa?  The passing of the African nation’s former president has caused Reagan’s policy of coddling the apartheid regime in the 1980s to be re-examined and amplified.
This renewed criticism of Reagan is resonating with people, and all this unwanted attention is worrying some on the right, as it should, particularly at a time when another country’s first black president—Barack Obama, that is— is experiencing a low point in his popularity.  Presumably, from a strictly Machiavellian realpolitik point of view, the right would want to capitalize on President Obama’s historically low poll numbers, given that attacking the president is what they do best — it’s just about the only thing they do, in the absence of any useful legislative proposals.