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The Black And The Blue: A Peek Into America’s Law Enforcement Culture

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The disproportionate policing of minorities, especially black men in America has been a topic of national debate for some time now. Michelle Alexander captured this evolution poignantly in her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Even so, there is another voice chiming into the larger issue in an effort to add a deeper understanding of policing in America. Matthew Horace, Corporate Security Executive and retired Law Enforcement Executive, co-authoring his latest book; The Black And The Blue, says his new book may shed some light into this social justice issue in America’s law enforcement culture.

Horace, a frequent CNN law enforcement contributor, says his first co-authored book, The CALL, started as a project aimed at mentoring young black men but following his frequent guest appearances on national news programs, he realized he needed to reach a bigger audience and decided to write a second book. “I was being called to go on-air, on national news, to talk about the spate of police shootings of black men and others around the country and it seemed that week after week, month after month, there were more incidents… The Black and The Blue started by examining Coptics. I came up with the term Coptics. And, what Copitcs is, is the optics of policing in the digital age.” Horace says he coined the term Coptics because it became very clear that video was changing the course of the narrative, “and was sort of creating a discourse because now people were seeing what some communities had been talking about for so long.”

Alexander alludes to this troubling realization by saying, “…I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control and functions in a matter strikingly similar to Jim Crow.” There’s no debate that African Americans have disproportionately felt the brunt of American policing. This treatment is not new as Horace and Alexander assert. And, the Walter Scott case is more clear evidence of the Jim Crow style of policing subjected to blacks in America. Horace adds, “Had most people not seen that on video, they may never had believed that a police officer would have shot somebody in the back who was running away, you know, five or six times. So, now this puts the whole world into the living room of what actually happens out here.” He says it is incidents like these that galvanized him to take an analytical view on American style policing.  “Taking a look at the different incidences of what actually happens and what the public thinks. But, also, the idea that the 10-second video clip doesn’t create the entire narrative because it doesn’t capture the whole incident.”

Horace says there are several elements to consider when analyzing the Scott case. “There’s the incident; you know, what actually happened, what is the truth. What was the engagement? Were police right or wrong in their use of force? There’s the crisis management and how the police respond to the community after the incident.” Also, he says the media coverage adds to the overall narrative of an incident. “And, whether the coverage accurately reflects the actual incident,” Horace said. He explains that the Scott case was unique because the video came from a private citizen and not a dash cam or body camera most police officers are required to wear now due to these types of police-involved shootings. “The video came in right away and because the Walter Scott case was after some of the other cases like Michael Brown and others, the government, meaning, the Mayor’s Office and the police, had to respond pretty vigorously, and they did. They fired the police officer ASAP awaiting charges. They came out with very strong communications messages that it was abhorrent, despicable and they were going to get to the bottom of it. They met with the community; they voiced their displeasure with the incident with the community. So, in that case, the government in my view did a really good job of managing the crisis from the community perception stand-point.”

Horace says despite the numerous incidents of police involved shootings, citizens must still give law enforcement officials the benefit of doubt before rushing to conclusions based on a short video that doesn’t tell the entire story. “If we can’t believe broadly that police officers are telling the truth, than we can just turn the lights out and go home because broadly we are dependent upon to tell the truth. Not just about incidents, but in court matters and matters of public records.” He adds that the presumption that an officer’s account is the truthful one has a lot to do with culture, more so than the process. “Culturally, other police officers are definitely going to side often times with police officers before they have all the information. So, you have the presumption of truth and then you have the cultural aspect of, ‘we believe the cop first.’”He says sometimes it’s the right move and sometimes it’s not.

Nonetheless, the contradictions lay at America’s ethnic history that encompasses an ugly truth Alexander brings to the forefront in her book when she talks about our racial caste system that’s still on full display in many of these police and even civilian shootings of unarmed black people. She says racism is highly adaptable, adding, “The rules and reasons the political system employs to enforce status relations of any kind, including racial hierarchy, evolve and change as they are challenged.” Giving law enforcement officials the benefit of doubt would be more widely accepted as a cultural norm if our racial history told a different story of how justice is carried out… still. And, although our justice system is structured to be blind, we see case after case, incident after incident that our unyielding past still rears its unsightly head to muddy the American ideology we are striving towards. It is a common assumption that a black American or another minority will experience a heavier hand of justice compared to white Americans, making institutions like the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and Southern Poverty Law Center, (SPLC) extremely necessary in the pursuit of equality for those unable to escape the stigma of brown skin.

Alexander points out that since the abolishment of slavery and Jim Crow, new rules “in the legal framework of American society” have only morphed with language for a new social consensus that produces the same results. It’s no coincidence that the demographics in American jails show minorities—especially black men—being the majority. For Horace’s Coptics to work as intended, America must continue its trajectory towards racial equality. Reva Siegel, a legal scholar at Yale Law School dubbed this phenomenon, “preservation through transformation.” Alexander quotes her saying it is, “the process through which white privilege is maintained, though the rules and rhetoric change.” She adds, “This process, though difficult to recognize at any given moment, is easier to see in retrospect. Since the nations’ founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time.”

Horace also highlights his book as a discussion on the convergence of black and blue. He says blacks and other minorities in blue uniform are also facing down mostly black protesters that typically follow a police shooting of an unarmed black person. “What we are facing in the world right now is a convergence of technology—everyone is armed with an iPhone—we have the use of video technology and then we have this idea that police actions are now being caught live and in living color by ordinary citizens.” He says law enforcement has not adequately kept up with the pace of technology making them more victims of it than partners to it. Despite this observation Horace says it’s actually a good thing for all involved. “And, here’s the reason why; because the video evidence doesn’t lie. There may be ways to interpret the video evidence, there may be ways to evaluate the video evidence but at the end of the day, there is no better evidence than an accurate account of what exactly happened. So, in that light, in defense of policing, often times the video evidence defense the story or narrative that they’re using. And, not just the story for the public but the story for the police reports, which are used in court rooms. And that can go from a local court all the way to the Supreme Court.”

As it pertains to body cameras, Horace says while it’s a crucial tool meant to protect police and civilians, there was resistance from some in law enforcement that had more to do with the culture of policing. There is a great resistance to change he says, adding, “A lot of departments didn’t want to do it at first but most departments now have body cameras.” He says they have come to embrace it as another avenue of documentation of their actions. “Now, it doesn’t help when officers aren’t doing the job the right way, but when they are doing the job the right way, these video depictions of events actually help them. Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion had never changed throughout the years.”

On the other hand, when Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion become a profiling technique to stalk black men and other minorities, law enforcement officials are inevitably causing more harm than good. A form of profiling called Stop-and-Frisk was a major police tactic that blossomed under former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, a Federal District Court in New York ruled that the tactic violated the constitutional rights of minorities. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin who rejected the Stop-and-Frisk tactic concluded in her decision that, “The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of singling out ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.” Despite her decision, Scheindlin says the Stop-and-Frisk program is a useful tool for law enforcement as long as it’s not used to discriminate against minorities.

The Black And The Blue, as explained by Horace, stresses the importance of seeing the full picture of a police incident or policing in general before rushing to judgments. “We want people to remember that there are several different sides to every story. For instance a 10-minute video of a 30-minute incident does not give you an accurate depiction of what actually happened. Also, people should remember that policing is no different than any other profession. I lived and worked in it for 24 and a half years. Yes, there are racist law enforcement officers. Yes, there are sexist law enforcement officers. Yes, there are officers that should not be on the job. And, police departments need to do a better job of hiring, promoting, screening and retaining or terminating those bad officers. But, the overwhelming majority of police officers do the job well and do it for noble causes.” And, he says the public needs to understand that when it comes to the use of force there is a graduated level of force to the process called, The Use of Force Continuum. “Whenever you see things escalate to the point where police officers are using deadly force, there should have been a graduated level of force process.” Horace says often times there is a time for that but sometimes things escalate too quickly for this process to work as intended. “In dire situations a suspect pulls a gun, or a knife or a hatchet, things are evolving very quickly, you may not have the opportunity to go from talking to walking to empty hand control, to physical control to use of deadly force. In those situations things happen so quickly you don’t have the opportunity.”

He adds that the book is also aimed at shedding light on the typical questions that come up following an incident. When the public wants to know why an officer didn’t use a taser instead of a gun, or why did an officer strike a person rather than subdue them or wrestle them to the ground, etc… “These are all questions that people that are not in the profession don’t really understand the answers to no matter if they’re watching the video or not, so we’re trying to shed light on that.” Horace says police officials need to understand the public’s perception of policing from the early 1600s up to now. “Policing was used back during Jim Crow and prior to that to enforce segregation laws. So, a lot of people still view law enforcement as enforcing laws that were discriminatory from the very beginning of time, and the only way to overcome that is through good community policing strategies.”

He says it’s crucial to understand that policing is not a black and white issue. “That’s why there’s no title in the book that says, white and black and blue.” He goes on to give an example of the Department of Justice, (DOJ) finding wrongdoing and violations of citizens rights in Ferguson, MO—a predominantly white police force and governing body—and in Baltimore, MD—a predominantly black police force and governing body, following investigations on the heels of two high profile police incidents, (Michael Brown and Freddie Gray) that caused rioting and major protests. “So, we as a culture should not assume that this only happens in situations where whites are in control of politics and blacks aren’t. It’s happened in departments throughout the United States where there’s been equal representation of blacks and whites, so it’s a problem that we need to come to the table and solve together but we have to do it truthfully and honestly and with a real open eye.”

Horace explains that in progressive law enforcement circles there is an honest attempt to get officers to understand how their own implicit biases impact their ability to treat people and the public. “And, that goes for police, fire and everyone.” He says policing is very different than other professions because they have the power to take people’s rights and lives away, and he adds, “Implicit bias plays a very big role in policing, it’s not only direct racism. Part of it is recognizing where your implicit biases lie and then understanding how to manage them so that these behaviors aren’t the norm and may become the exception. Things have to change. We have to get better.” He says biases create an issue for all of us when you paint people and communities with a broad stroke and fashion what he calls, “The Boogie Man Factor.” Fear of black men is not a new phenomenon in American culture and Horace says recognizing that it has been a historic and cultural problem in the U.S. is the first step in enacting wholesale culture change.

The International Chiefs of Police, (IACP), an institution founded to support law enforcement members, also joined nationwide efforts to improve policing and law enforcement culture in America in light of the increasing number of police involved shootings and killings of unarmed black men and other minorities. In an October 2016 statement, the group’s then president, Terry Cunningham said, “There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans. While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational—almost inherited—mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies. Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust. As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities. While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities.”Horace says the statement started an important dialogue within the law enforcement community. “There were a lot of people in the profession that disagreed with him because they felt like he was painting a broad stroke, but he wasn’t. He was just saying, listen, we’d all be fools to sit here and say that law enforcement is not a part of the problem.”

The country is at a crucial point where the expectations of communities all across America are greater than they’ve ever been. This shift has also paved the way for social justice groups like Black Lives Matter, (BLM) to form and vigorously demand change and equality in policing. And, Horace, who believes BLM is an important and vital movement, says if law enforcement refuses to adapt to these changes taking place, “We risk losing confidence and the faith of people that trust us to police.” He says using technology to support the law enforcement narrative will improve relationships with the public. “You have to be a part of what the community values.” Horace says hiring the right people for the job plays a vital role in policing. “We have to continue to bring people in that will help execute the agenda that communities across America, and the government demands and anything less than that is a recipe for failure.” He also asserts that there are internal processes in place to deal with cops who break the law, saying, “They are no different than anyone else who commits crimes, and make it very difficult for the rest of us to maintain credibility.” Horace says in general the public depends on police officers to show up when they dial 9-11 and appreciate the work they do.

Although America is guided by laws, it is not a perfect system. We still have our work cut out for us. Nevertheless, this experiment that is America still reigns supreme when compared to any other society on earth. Nowhere else on earth have so many different people come together to try and form a union based on shared values and a strong belief system. We’ve certainly come a long way but the road to the American ideal is still being paved and we have to keep working together, and hand in hand with law enforcement, to fulfill it.

 

A Glimpse Of The 2017 Solar Eclipse In The East Coast

 

By Jeanette Lenoir

 

The 2017 Solar Eclipse reached its peak at 2:44 p.m. in the eastern part of the United States. If you missed it and can’t make your way to the West coast by 10:20 p.m. when it will be in its peak view, check out this short video to satisfy your curiosity and get a glimpse of it. Also, Time Magazine has a great interactive video showing the times of the Solar Eclipse.

 

 

 

The Charlottesville Monster March Is A Stark Reminder Of America’s Shameful Past And Fragile Future

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Did you think the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., marching for freedom and equality were over? And, when you listen to old civil rights movement stories of Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and even still living civil rights era leaders and social activists like Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., were you relatively comfortable in your existence as an American until the Nazis, the KKK and Alt-Right group took their revolting message to Charlottesville, VA? You’re not alone. And, you should be uncomfortable if you’ve taken comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and Mussolini are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare, or a street packed with walkers from The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s how bad it feels when racism is in full bloom.

Despite several attempts to put out the racial fires taking place across the country, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is playing games with American lives and flushing our common values down the toilet. When nearly every major nightly show host like, Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Myers and even Jimmy Fallon—who decided to play footsie with Trump during his appearance on his show rather than hold him accountable for his boorish actions and behavior—take a stand against the president’s latest attack on basic human decency…one can’t help but surmise that we are a nation at war with ourselves. We are a nation held hostage by a mad man supported by the most hateful Americans among us. If you don’t believe America is in crisis, you’re not paying attention, you’re not invested in our common ideology that all men are created equal, and your silence equates to support or blatant disregard of the Kraken that’s been released by Trump and the people that support his destructive behavior and administration.

When former Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke, who didn’t miss a chance showing his face at the racist rally in Charlottesville, thanks our president for his support by saying the group’s staunch discriminatory stance represents a turning point in the country, adding, “We’re going to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he says he’s going to take our country back and that’s what he’s gotta do.” …it’s as clear as a cloudless sky, that America is suffering some major social indigestion. So, something has to give, or someone has to go.

 

ITALY – CIRCA 1941: mail stamp printed in Italy showing Hitler and Mussolini, circa 1941

 

A staunch Republican and frequent vocal critic of the president said it best. Ana Navarro didn’t mince her words when she boldly addressed Trump directly on CNN, saying, “Let me talk to Donald Trump and explain to him that as President of the United States, he represents Blacks and Jewish people and Hispanic people and people of every color and every creed. And, it is his job as President of the United States to stand up for each and every American, to stand up vertically against racism and bigotry. Peddling to racism is just as bad as being a racist. So, Donald Trump is either a racists, or he’s peddling to it. And, both are frankly unacceptable and make him unfit to be President of the United States. If you can’t be President, if you cannot stand up and represent Americans, you should not be President.” She also addressed the few Republicans speaking out against Trump’s latest deplorable conduct by asking, “What the hell took you so long? When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”

And, she’s right. Where are the collective voices of the president’s own party members and leaders? How can they be silent at this crucial moment in our history? How can these so called American patriots remain silent when our president steadily blows his dog whistle, encouraging the spread of the hatefulness we are witnessing in Charlottesville and elsewhere? Trump can’t help but be Trump. He’s an expert at being who he is; a proven and dangerous liar, bigot and sexist individual. This behavior has worked in his favor his entire life and since making his debut on the world’s stage. This is a man who boldly claims that he can commit a heinous crime and still be comfortable on his perch. So, why do we expect him to be anything other than what he’s successfully been? Albert Einstein is credited for the quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s a quote we Americans frequently use to describe something or someone we want to lecture, judge or advice. So, why aren’t we as a nation of decent people taking our own advice? Why are we allowing this sore that is Trump to fester?

When South Koreans demanded change after their president, Park Geun-hye—the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced out of office—was caught embroiled in a cult-like scandal, and accused of abusing her authority, the people took to the streets in massive numbers to demand her ouster. And, it worked. The difference between our two countries lies at the heart of Unity as we know it. We are struggling to remain united, thanks to a single but powerful mad man who refuses to lead our country as a nation of one people beholden to our Constitution and Bill of Rights that has governed and shaped us throughout our relatively young democracy. America is only 241 years old. And, in that time, we have risen from the depths of shame by abolishing Slavery, advancing Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, Voters Rights, and even the LGBTQ movement. We did it together. Hand in hand. We took to the streets and marched on Washington. We crossed the bridge in Selma. We sang songs to stop the lynching of black bodies hanging from poplar trees. We prayed over the bodies of young girls bombed in the most sacred of places; the church. We wept over the sight of Emmett Till. We fought to end segregation. We demanded equality in our schools and elsewhere. We even took our determination to love who we want to love all the way to the Supreme Court in support of Mildred and Richard Love. We hold onto hope for a better tomorrow, singing songs of overcoming…and yet, here we are facing the biggest threat to our precious democracy; President Donald J. Trump, and find ourselves paralyzed.

New York Daily News Columnist and social activist Shaun King didn’t mince his words either when he called upon all Americans united on common goals to take to the streets like the South Koreans did, to oust our destructive and dangerous president. However, it seems that fear of another civil war traps us in our trepidation, like a deer staring blankly into oncoming traffic lights and not moving until it’s too late. If Fox News and the Daily Caller aren’t afraid to post a video basically instructing their followers on how to mow down people that have bravely taken to the streets to fight for our country, we can’t be afraid to meet that message head on. And, even demanding that Laura Ingraham who gave a clear Nazi salute and dog whistle like nod to these bigoted creatures, not be allowed to have her own show on Fox News, as it’s been reported. We have to fight for our beautiful and diverse country. Let’s not get run over. America is our country. America does not belong to Donald Trump, the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, or the Alt-Right Middle Earth-like creatures and haters of humanity. America belongs to all of us that call it home, value who we are and what we stand for and against. The time to stand up for our nobility and virtues is always now. That’s what makes us uniquely Americans. We fight for the rights of all people.

 

Defining American Culture And Identity

By JEANETTE LENOIR

 

America is one of the most diverse countries in the world, making defining American culture a difficult task to undertake. Considering the many traditions Americans from all walks of life adhere to, pass down, recognize and celebrate, one would be hard pressed to capture all that she encompasses and constitutes. Nevertheless, the University of Michigan took on the challenge and came up with 101 characteristics that define American culture.

The “Melting Pot” has been a fitting description for as long as the question of her identity has been pondered, but thanks to the break down, specifics have been added to our cultural description. Since her independence 241 years ago, America has steadily evolved into a more perfect union representative of the many facets of the world.  People from all walks of life can adequately represent what it means to be an American.

As the world turns, including our own democracy, we decided to post this question to various Americans in New York City and other parts of the state: How do you describe American culture? As you’ll see, the question wasn’t easily answered…

 

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Dear Philando: The Senseless Killing Of A Law Abiding American

By JEANETTE LENOIR

 

My heart is heavy. Not from joy but from the pain that overwhelmed me with the senseless killing of Philando Castile. He wasn’t killed once when it was live streamed across Facebook, but twice when a jury of his supposed peers made a conscience choice to not punish the police officer charged with his murder. And, a piece of America was killed too.

Castile was tremendously loved and good. This sentiment came across loud and clear from those who were touched by his love, gentleness and kindness after his life was mercilessly ripped from him. He died a terrible death. What made his killing incredibly painful is that the world watched him slip away grasping for air. Speaking his last words…”I can’t breath.” We all watched in horror as his precious life seeped out of his body like a wilting flower sped up for real time viewing on National Geographic.

I’m very angry and deeply sorry at the same time. These emotions aren’t new anymore. I felt the same anger and helpless feeling when I watched other black men and women brutally killed by those sworn to serve and protect We The People. But with each senseless killing it is becoming painfully clear, We The People is a subjective concept. How can we—black people—be part of the “We” described in the Constitution that upholds our laws and is meant to blanket us as a nation of one people under God when we—black people—are targeted like animals deserving of extinction?

Since the inception of this country, black people have been brutalized, terrorized, marginalized and blatantly mistreated. The Invisibles, a book about the untold stories of African Americans in the White House, written by Jesse Holland, states that the very first African slave to be inducted in this tragic archive of our history was named John Punch. …John Punch. The writings on the wall are revealing. We, as black people have been feeling this theoretical punch since the creation of America. We marched peacefully, protested passionately, sat-in bravely, walked hand-in-hand staunchly, and continue to fight hard for the freedoms those that don’t look like us enjoy in the same country we call home. A country built on the backs of our ancestors. And yet, here we are hundreds of years later still feeling the sting of the master’s whip on our backs. How can this be? Still, after all that’s been done to make this country a better place despite our shameful past.

Dear Philando, your death has broken my heart in so many pieces that I fear I can never pull them back together. Where do we go from here? Who’s next? What else can be done to change the blatant and systemic racism that plagues this land of ours? How many more hymns can one sing? We Shall Overcome has lost its tune as its purpose has fallen on hateful bigoted ears that refuse to see you, me… Us. “Who Is Next?” is a real slogan felt by a people tired of the targets on their backs. This country, built on the backs of slave labor is being choked to death by the good ol’ boys on capitol hill and all those who subscribe to their way of thinking and living. This includes the powerful NRA whose silence is deafening. And, Wall Street doesn’t see us either because to them we represent numbers to be calculated for financial projections and worth. And, what is an American life worth? It depends on what you look like and where you come from despite how the odds have been stacked against you since the beginning of America.

Trevor Noah hit the nail on the head when he called out the NRA for their silence on the killing of an American upholding his Second Amendment right. Using their own rhetoric, this issue lands squarely in their lap of gun toting luxury. They should be up in arms at this senseless killing and see it as an all-out attack against all Americans united against tyranny.

Americans are armed to the teeth. We love our guns and will fight tooth and nail to protect the right to arm and defend ourselves. And, these days, many are so obsessed with the gun rights issue that they’ve carried their automatic weapons to fast food joints and openly carried them in other public places. Some have been bold enough to openly carry their automatic weapons to a police station. Nonetheless, the question remains; where is the NRA? I dare to say, the organizations silence does speak. It says what black people in this country have lived with as a chain around their necks for hundreds of years. Their silence speaks to the blatant racism black Americans still live with. Their silence whispers like a dog whistle in the wind saying black people don’t matter. We don’t exist equally. Black people are only deserving of second class citizenship. The Second Amendment is meant to protect white Americans and the privilege they’ve become accustomed to. Even though that privilege was born on the backs of the black slaves that built this great country.

Black people being terrorized and discriminated against isn’t new. The method in shining a light on these injustices is what’s exposing the underbelly of a humanity I don’t understand or accept. One Nation Under God must mean more than just a sound bite. It must be real if Americans want to avoid an increasingly divided nation edging towards a cliff.

Land of the free, home of the brave? In the words of the great orator and Civil Rights icon James Baldwin: I don’t believe what you say because I see what you do.

Technology is the medium responsible for wiping away the stain that covers this great American motto as it shines a light on the blatant injustices committed against a group of people in their own country. We are simply seeing more of what many black people have become accustomed to. And, it’s going to take all of us that believe in a sense and understanding of humanity to continue to fight to change our racist culture. It’s time to vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Dear Philando, watching your callous murder on video makes it all too clear that the words that describe what it means to be an American is lip service to those not lucky enough to be born white, or have a badge that protects them when they commit crimes against humanity. This, even though myself, like other black people, love all of my blackness, my culture and human design. When I look in the mirror I don’t see what the hateful bigoted among us see. I see life, beauty, culture and all that is good in this world. Why can’t they see what I see in myself and in those that make up my culture and identity? Why didn’t officer Jeronimo Yanez see you…? This is my struggle…as I wait for the next black body to fall.

 

LA’s Gay Men Of Color Are Tackling Discrimination Within The LGBTQ Community

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Anthony Emeka is an accomplished gay man of color who’s had it with the stereotypes, the club scenes, the intolerance, and the preconceived notions of the gay community. And, he’s doing something about it. He says in addition to dealing with societal pressures and the tribulations affecting the gay community, there’s something else that persistently rears its ugly head within the LGBTQ world; bigotry. “There’s a lot of racism within the gay community and we have to create our own space outside of White gay men,” he explains.

The new space he’s referring to is called The Baldwin Gentlemen, a social organization exclusively for professional gay men of color, defined as Black, Latino, Asian, South Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern men and also those who racially or ethnically identify as being a man of color. “Essentially, any man who has been on the receiving end of racial discrimination or bigotry within the LGBTQ community,” and who identifies with the prolific author, civil rights icon and powerful orator James Baldwin. Emeka says the aim is not just to host social events but to raise awareness about what gay men of color experience specifically in LA, but also across America within the gay community. “I’m really hoping that not only are we able to educate people and tell them the specifics and anything in between of the professional gay men of color but also to let individuals know that we are far, far from solving the societal situation. We’re dealing with issues like homosexuality and race and we don’t have a handle on either of these issues so we hope to raise awareness while also simultaneously developing and educating people what this community of Baldwin will look like moving forward,” he says.

So, what’s it like being a professional Black gay man in LA, and perhaps all across America, within the LGBTQ community? Emeka compares it to being invisible.  “I’m clearly invisible. I’m not a White male. And that’s what Baldwin is here to address…often times we are not received in the community because we are gay and often times even within the LGBTQ community we aren’t received because we are of color. That’s what we want to address; the intersection of what it means to be a gay male and what it means to be a gay man of color.” He says it means seeing the world and experiencing the world in a unique way because often times it’s lonely, especially when he finds himself being the only Black male in a professional setting or role, but also the only gay Black man in that professional role or setting. “I feel a sense of loneliness; I feel a sense of indirectly being represented negatively of this community that is still so foreign to people. They’re like, ‘oh we know Black people, we don’t know gay Black people’ and so often times I did find myself feeling alone.”

He says there is a lot of emotional trauma that goes along with being gay, whether it’s coming out to your family, or living a life that isn’t necessarily easy to come out, or coming out and being rejected.  “Losing friends, losing family because of coming out.” He says even having to put on a facade when applying for a job, going to school, or simply being in a room full of people can be stressful. “It’s all about how am I going to present myself to not be scary, to not be foreign, to not be other.” Adding to the emotional trauma many Black gay men experience is the conservative stance within the Black community on the subject of homosexuality. “It’s not something we really talk about because it’s not very comfortable. I think as it relates to racial equality and racial equity, that’s something that Black people wanted, but anything outside of that specifically there’s a lot of contentious thinking within the Black community and it stems from the role of Christianity within our community,” he says.

The Baldwin Gentlemen is a member’s only club exclusively for gay men of color and Emeka says it’s specifically designated as such to combat the racism many of them experience within the LGBTQ community. He says, “We talk about gay rights but that doesn’t necessarily include me.” He says even with California’s leading status in the push for gay rights with groups like Log Cabin Republicans the concern was “about these White gay men in San Francisco. They weren’t concerned about Latinos, Asians or Blacks who were also going to benefit from that.” He says even gay women often times don’t feel welcomed in the spaces supposedly designated for the gay community because it’s all about the gay White men. “When we talk about LGBTQ, we’re not talking about anything other than the G.”

A June 2016 article by Queerty aptly titled, “Is This The Brutal Truth White Gay Men Refuse To Hear?” addresses this very issue. The article also highlights a report by Matthew Rodriguez, a gay Latino man who talks about the blatant racism he experiences on dating sites like Grindr. The messages shared on some of these dating sites explicitly express a disdain for mainly Black and Asian men. “Not Into Black or Asian” or “Let’s keep it White or Latin, Thanks,” are just a couple of examples on these dating sites of the blatant rejection Emeka is describing and hoping to combat by creating a space exclusively for those on the outside of the gay community that touts itself as accepting and inclusive of all gay people. It’s one thing to have a certain preference in lovers but it’s another thing all together when these preferences are hurled like Molotov cocktails at people already dealing with a cruel and intolerable world.

“We have to create our own space. We have to tell our own stories. We have to be able to come together as a collective, as a group of people who are outside of the LGBTQ community, which are typically White gay men. And, we have to do things for ourselves and this is what it’s about,” Emeka said. In addition to raising awareness about the plights of gay men of color within the LGBTQ community, the group says the club is also about developing organic relationship that are largely missing from the social media space, the bar and club space and the app hook-up culture. “We’re creating an alternative base for professional gay men of color to get together and be amongst people like themselves.”

There is an annual cost to join The Baldwin Gentlemen including a smaller cost to attend events. The official launch of The Baldwin Gentlemen is taking place on Thursday in LA. The View From Here: Experiences of Gay Men of Color in LA kicks off at 7:00 pm in Santa Monica with a panel discussion with the following prominent and accomplished speakers: Yolo Akili Robinson, Nijeul X. Porter, Dominick Bailey and Thornell Jones, Jr. “The event itself is really just to get the word out about Baldwin; who we are, what we stand for, and how we intent to develop our community,” Emeka says. The event is sponsored by Philosophie, Revry, and Alloy Wine Works. Additional Baldwin groups led by ambassadors will be opening up in Oakland, Montreal and Toronto.

Wrestlemania Represents A Symbolic Trait Of Many American Men

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Tough, massive, strapping, powerful men, (and some women) ready to rip your head off…that’s essentially what Wrestlemania is in a nut shell. All of these characteristics are wrapped up in the WWE world despite it being a highly choreographed and strategic performance complete with moves like the Pile Driver, The Peoples Elbow, Leg Drops and Rock Bottoms. The wrestlers and the folks running the show already know the outcome before the frenzied fans do. Nonetheless, many people, particularly men, just about foam at the mouth trying to be a part of the action that is Wrestlemania.

American men, and perhaps men around the world who have come to love this unique part of American culture, identify with this symbol of strength and might. The image of the strapping man making his way towards the ring is the epitome of might and American men eat it up like candy because that’s what many of them see themselves as. Nothing else seems to matter except the display of strength and all that is perceived as manliness in the wrestling world. Wrestlemania fulfills the dreams of millions around the world but especially American men whose identity is wrapped up in that symbol of might.

Wrestlemania 33 took place at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida this year with record number crowds, and the wrestlers didn’t disappoint. Even John Cena decided to propose to his long-time girlfriend, one of the Bella twins also of the wrestling world, during the hyped event. Manhattan bar and restaurant Legends is known for hosting monthly viewings of wrestling shows and today’s crowd surpassed the 700 reservations they received. A group called, YEP! I Like Wrestling (YEPILW), are the organizers behind the monthly events. Sir Wilkins is a member of the organization and was in full Randy Savage costume corralling wrestling fans to their seats in the packed establishment. Justifying its significance as part of American culture, he says, “Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of wrestling; it’s pop culture, it’s been around for over 20 years. It’s on ESPN, it’s on MTV, it’s on everything, even sneakers.”

The line outside the establishment was a long one full of cheering men and women ready for the showdown. They chanted and cheered whenever another reveler showed up in a costume or some other artifact of the thing they love the most; wrestling. To many, Wrestlemania is part of what it means to be a tough and strong American man, keeping its popularity high and steadily growing. It was certainly pandemonium across the country as folks ushered in one of America’s favorite pastime. Wrestlemania is here to stay.

 

 

Fashion Lives In A Burning Room

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

For just a moment, I’d like to take you on a journey; a fashion journey in the middle of a burning room. Don’t be frightened. The colors are beautiful. The people are simply magnificent. And, if you disregard the flames around you, you will be captivated by magic, music and the beauty of our world.  Fashion is that one thing that grabs us—even for just a brief moment on a chaotic planet—and allows us to imagine a world we’d all love to live in. Fashion lives, even when the outside world seems to be crumbling at our feet.

The lines, angles, symmetries, the walks—each a unique display of self-worth from the strutter—will embrace you with the possibilities of what the world can be; beautiful like a dancing bird of paradise. Those on the outside looking in walk away with this burning question; what do they know that the rest of us don’t? Nevertheless, the fashion world isn’t untouched by scandals or the perils of the world around it. Photographers are responsible for bringing many aspects of our daily lives to life. They capture tragedies, wars, and sufferings of all kinds, not just beauty, although it serves as a soul nurturing distraction from the “real world” that’s left unchanged and unmoved outside the protected walls of an incredibly influential fashion industry.

Images are powerful. They tell stories of our lives, our hopes, fears and dreams. Fashion is part of who we are and Fashion Week New York never seems to disappoint, despite the glitches and strange designs coming out of this unique world full of beautiful and iconic characters, and creative figures. When the world is quiet—which fashion week seems to grant for just a short window of time—it allows us to feel and look our best, which never goes out of style. Even in a burning room.

Although he’s not a fashion photographer, Steve McCurry, a world-renowned photographer responsible for his iconic photograph, Afghan Girl, said, “Fashion is always a part of culture, whether any part of the world, culture is important. You can live in the most remote parts of Tibet or China, or Russia and fashion is always…we always want to adorn ourselves and look good and have the right hair, or clothes or whatever it happens to be, it’s something I think that, we always want to look our best to present ourselves in the best possible way.”

Art imitates life, and despite some turning their noses at the mere mention of politics or anything other than fashion during Fashion Week, the old adage remains. The incredibly talented and prominent author and public speaker, Fran Lebowitz, a fellow panelist during the FWNY reveal of the 2017 Pirelli Calendar didn’t hold back when asked by moderator Derek Blasberg about President Trump’s impact on the fashion world. “He’s worse than Mussolini,” she quipped.

Peter Lindbergh, one of the most influential contemporary photographers and film director, is responsible for this year’s Pirelli Calendar. He seems to put it all in perspective when he said, “Fashion is foremost, dangerous because it allows people to pretend things that they are not. And, it’s easier for people who have money, than for those who have no money.” Although he goes on to explain that that is not the point of fashion, he seems to honor the fact that fashion is a much needed distraction from the metaphorical flames of this burning room we call; the world.

What does the future look like for the fashion world? According to Lindbergh, “the future is t-shirts and tennis shoes.”

 

 

I Am Not Your Negro Challenges White Americans To Confront An Ugly Truth; Racism

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

James Baldwin spoke from the grave in this searing and poignant piece of storytelling of our American culture and shameful racist history.

This film is not merely an entertainment piece to add to our collection of artful imagery to fill our heads and occupy empty and bored pockets of the mind. No, this piece is to wake our collective conscience that is rooted in a basic understanding of humanity. The difference this time is that the “our” Baldwin and the creators of this powerful piece of historical and cultural storytelling is directly aimed at is white people; American white people to be exact.

I Am Not Your Negro is a soul shaking and profound message. It forces viewers, especially American whites, to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. It forces them to address the largest elephant in the middle of the cultural room we call our United States. Keep in mind, there are other elephants to content with, like immigration, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and indigenous people’s rights; however, the biggest one—institutionalized racism—is threatening to release a level of aggression like Musth across the country. The film’s aim seems to push white Americans, yet again, through more modern and powerful means, to face the truth of life in America for black people, or “Negros” as this film appoints as another searing and thought-provoking label of brown-skinned Americans.

One can’t deny the uncomfortable truth staring, screaming, whaling, hanging, running, begging, pleading, fighting, marching and confronting them…right in front of their eyes. Closing your eyelids, seeking refuge in indifference, won’t change this stark truth. Black people, since the beginning of our country, have suffered tremendously at the hands of white people. Thankfully, not all white people. There are examples in this film of whites entrenched in the struggle for racial justice and equality too. This truth can’t be separated from the black American struggle. Even so, time has yet to heal these wounds as this film so justly brings to the forefront of a national dialogue. The images on the big screen aren’t new. Most of us have seen them before; either in a class room, a movie theater, books, pictures and essentially through all forms of media and communication. Bob Dylan singing of the callous murder of Medgar Evers stings, and moves a compassionate soul to tears. It seems that each new generation requires a different and more impactful way of forcing much needed societal change. That’s what this film represents in many ways too.

I Am Not Your Negro is the incomplete work of the most dynamic, clear, passionate and unapologetic orator of our young culture and democracy; James Baldwin. Baldwin expresses himself in ways that are still stirring in our current society. If America is to sustain its good fortune—if one can call it that—of not having to experience what has been laid out in Baldwin’s other writings in The Fire Next Time, a populous movement coming to a bloody and tragic head, underway even before the days of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which this powerful film draws upon, than the time for real change is upon us. Baldwin lays it at our feet. His words, and those of Samuel L. Jackson further tattoos it on our conscience, reminding us all of our responsibility and role in creating a new nation that honors its people, regardless of creed, color, or sex. What we do with this forewarning depends on each and every American that yearns for all that this country pretends to be. But first, we must face the ugly truth that despite the “perfect” images of American lives that has shaped our thinking and understanding of ourselves and fellow countrymen, the reality on the ground is completely detached from the true lives and experiences of black Americans.

Baldwin expresses this as clearly as any man can or could, especially when he states that the image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures…for white people. Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and despicably demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor. He makes it expressively clear that black people are not the big lipped, lazy sub-human buffoons as consistently portrayed in the old footage shown as a historical reference in I Am Not Your Negro.

This film diverts our attention back to the reality on the ground. And just when you think that the racial narrative of our country placed in front of us in this powerful film is unrepresentative of our current state of being, you’re hit with images of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Terence Crutcher… the list goes on and on, just like the struggle for equality and basic human rights for all Americans…not just for those who have benefited from oppression, slavery and brutality, to grab and maintain a grasp on the heavy crown called Power. Undoubtedly, as it comes across in this film, Power equates to might but real Power embraces the responsibility of humanity.

America, throughout its short history, has failed to reconcile its racist past adequately enough to settle these burning issues that keep us bound in a discombobulated ball of spaghetti. It’s not a coincidence that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture only came to fruition in September of 2016. That was 6-months ago… after years of black civil rights leaders and other activists working to persuade mostly white politicians that it’s the right thing to do. There are numerous examples of unjust treatment of blacks, and stark examples of our evolving police state in this film that has primarily impacted black people in America. For this to change, America must change. Specifically white Americans, according to Baldwin and many others like him who have paid the ultimate price pushing for this change to occur.

Throughout the film, this sentiment is expressed eloquently by Baldwin in this uncomfortable but crucial piece of cultural and racial perspective. Baldwin, from the grave, is targeting our collective conscience as Americans. “We’re in this together,” he seems to shout from an impenetrable divide. America is not a white country. America is a multicultural phenomenon brought about by all who built, fought for and shaped her. Black Americans have an equal stake and root in this land and its identity. If white Americans—especially those in powerful positions to shape and govern us as one nation—accept this unyielding truth, we will come together as one people. In our relatively short history, this has yet to happen, making I Am Not Your Negro a reflective piece of art that imitates our real lives. This film is a must see. But, prepare to be confronted with an uncomfortable truth.