The Beginning

Troubled Waters: Misdirected Energy In Our 21st Century Awakening

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

Are Americans truly free? The simple answer is no because freedom is not free, and oppressors will never be free until all men are free.

The world is changing. George Floyd’s heinous murder was the latest violent incident that forced people from the comforts of their homes to the streets to protest police brutality and an unequal world that is steadily tilting toward normalcy of all kinds of injustices committed against Black people, including harsh economic inequalities that continue to divide us as a nation. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that our president gave a hefty goodie bag to the wealthiest Americans with the Republican crafted Tax Cuts And Jobs Act of 2017, despite the cost—now and in the future—to already struggling Americans. Thanks to him and the elites he serves, poor people and their children for generations to come are saddled with paying the cost of their wealthy lifestyles. They get to keep raking in the dough by paying fewer taxes, while we sink deeper into debt and poverty. The inhumanity staining these political maneuvers helped pave the road to what’s happening all across America today. 

Make no mistake. This is a nation’s awakening. And, it’s about time that Americans agree that despite our cultural differences, the emperor and his rich crew of servants and benefactors of our miseries are behaving like descendants of colonial enslavers. “To be a slave is not to be able to determine your own destiny,” said Historian and Pan-Africanist Dr. John Henrik Clarke in his speech, Freedom’s Not Free. He explains that until we control our communities and our destiny, we don’t have sovereignty and no true freedom. That’s the blaring truth this nation is facing in this awakening.

Health care, low paying jobs, housing, the cost of education, including the steady pollution of our environment, especially our waters, have yet to compel those in positions to make a difference to do so and reverse the trend of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Why is this? Are the numbers not clear enough? Are Americans not poor enough, sick enough? Is the brutality inflicted on Black people since the birth of our nation not been heinous enough? Evidently not, just look at what’s happening in Kentucky today. People are banging on polling station doors to be let in to vote. It’s reminiscent of the days Black people were beaten and terrorized with dogs and fire hoses when they tried to vote.

These are ever changing times Aretha Franklin sang, and man is that evident these days.  Those with disproportionate power, Mitch McConnell and the GOP, are muzzling voters left and right by closing polling stations, rejecting the option for mail-in ballots, and fear mongering to continue their blatant oppression and power grab, despite the need and loud demand for change. McConnell, determined to honor his lineage of oppressors like those with a death grip on the confederate flag, is no different than the terrorists Fannie Lou Hamer faced during the Mississippi voting rights movement. When Hamer testified before a credentials committee about the brutality she faced in August 1962, President Lyndon B. Johnson, determined to silence her, held an impromptu press conference to note the 9 month anniversary of JFK’s assassination and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally at the same time she was testifying, knowing he would command the country’s attention at that pivotal moment. He silenced her then but her powerful words and testimony remain, just like her fighting spirit that lives in so many that have taken to the street in protest. Hamer left us with a powerful legacy and a story that matters today. Stories that will help lead us to the mountain top Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned for all Black, Brown and poor people, unless we lose this powerful momentum with misdirected energy fighting each other. The oppressive tactic President Johnson used to silence Hamer is part of the GOP’s playbook. And it’s still being used today to maintain their choke-hold on true freedom and democracy. 

Let’s talk about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. How is one man able to hold so much power over a nation that prides itself as a beacon of freedom and hope for mankind? How can one man, part of a nation of millions, single-handedly gag debate and votes on crucial legislation aimed at enacting the change the people are demanding? Police brutality is rampant but Congress can’t vote on matters like Qualified Immunity, or The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, The American Dream and Promise Act, The Equality Act and Securing America’s Federal Elections Act because one man, leading the Senate GOP, refuses to allow it. Our living document, the Constitution, meant to guide us into a civilizing nation is being used to preserve a dying breed of white men who never expected their power would be threatened by the people they govern, including their own children. They didn’t foresee this moment of mass unrest, so McConnell and the GOP are choosing to weaponize democracy and use it like the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper against us: We the People. McConnell already showed us how capable he is in blocking crucial legislation during the Obama administration. So, do not be deceived, he will continue to put party over country if Kentuckians don’t show him the door this November. And, how spiritual and healing it would be if he’s replaced by Charles Booker, Kentucky’s youngest Black state lawmaker who’s predicted to face him in November.

These are trying times. Many of those protesting in our streets, taking down monuments and forcing changes we never thought we’d see, didn’t live through the Jim Crow era. And they weren’t alive during the civil rights movement either. But it’s beautifully evident they grew up holding dear to the ideals of American democracy instilled in them. As we acknowledge this new dawning, they’re right to be angry and demand change from the top of our forefathers heads to the bottom of the feet of those who continue to blindly carry out their exclusive will and vision for America.

“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it,” James Baldwin wrote in his book, The Fire Next Time. These words, like howling ghosts, are echoing across the land as these protests continue and statues tumble down. Two years ago cities across the country were tiptoeing on the issue of these confederate statues. Today, they’re working overtime to take them down or face the protesters who will tear them down, burn them and throw them in rivers. In many ways, the elders have taught their children well. Who knew they were listening and willing to battle for our nation’s true freedom.

Unfortunately, and like all Black leaders have warned since the abolitionists movement, we are facing a serious threat in these changing times. And that’s the misdirected energy taking place beneath the surface of this just fight. Black writers, civil rights leaders and other influencers are bickering and openly attacking each other on social media. Civil rights lawyers S. Lee Merritt and Ben Crump have been mercilessly attacked for their White House visit for the signing of an executive order calling for more police training to reduce violent incidents, by the likes of Roland S. Martin and even the NAACP in Georgia who went so far to try to untie our fragile Black bond by saying Merritt, who represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery was an, “out-of-state lawyer who does not have deep relationships with our civil rights community.” How petty. This infighting and airing of dirty laundry is the misdirected energy that will undoubtedly derail this opportunity to enact concrete changes and end long standing injustices and structural racism.

Shaun King, a well-known biracial activist, is also being mocked and attacked by other prominent Black writers and influencers. And, according to his recent article, he’s being targeted for assassination by a group of retired law enforcement officials. Just take a trip on Twitter to see how some Black people are treating each other. Michael Harriot and Yvette Nicole Brown and many others are retweeting, sharing and posting about the measure of King’s blackness. The criticism is not new. King has come under scrutiny before and rightfully so. He should be held accountable for his civil rights work, but there’s a difference here and it’s no longer about accountability. It’s about being deserving of his post and the color of his skin, which makes no sense when other light skin figures like Rock Newman and Tom Joyner are easily accepted as Black people in society. It’s a sensitive issue that has always divided Black people. There’s the paper bag test, the good hair measure, and many more divisors that only serves to misdirect us away from what should be a common goal: economic sovereignty and social freedom.

So, it’s not just apathy we must worry about, but the lack of unity among Black people. And, the gap among poor people and other people of color who suffer trauma from racism and white supremacy should also be closed in an all out effort to finally create a world where we all feel good in, not just white people. It’s time to deliberately work toward our collective humanity and fight to end global white supremacy.

Historians have proven time and time again that history is cyclical. And yet, we still don’t learn. If we want to finally come out of this spinning cylinder of repeated events, we have to change our ways. We have to stop fighting each other because it only serves to detract us. It is misdirected energy that is crucially needed in this fight. These protests are real demands for tangible changes in our nation. Change in how the police operate, how American wealth is distributed, how education is achieved, change in housing, access to health care, equality in the workforce, equal pay for equal work, equality for the LGBTQ community, humane immigration policies, and environmental changes. We cannot afford to be distracted by the nonsense of how black King is or whether or not Merritt and Crump belong in certain parts of our country or deserving of the tragic cases they take on. We can’t afford these distractions!

We are at a critical time in our history and the concept of state vs. nation must be considered. Black people have been living in the concept of a state for far too long, and not as part of a nation. If we were part of this nation we wouldn’t need civil rights to be part of American society. This is also about culture continuity and building our economic base. And for that to happen we have to start trusting each other, as Dr. Clarke advised. He said struggle is the highest form of education. Black, brown and poor people must learn through their common struggle. And in that spirit, it’s time to ask the right question. And that is: where do we go from here?

Protests And Policy Is Key Toward Justice In America

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

George Floyd’s little girl is right, he did change the world.

It’s been nearly a week since America started putting out riot fires ignited by an emotional tsunami when Floyd’s callous murder sent shock waves, still rippling, across the globe. The wails of agony and blind rage at the officers responsible, the racism that fueled his death, the oppressive law enforcement system and discriminatory government structure behind it all, is well known by all marginalized people. Especially Black people. And that’s evident in the different responses and reactions to these protests. Some are expressing themselves with violence, while others are taking a more peaceful and measured approach to address the long festering wounds of racism, police brutality, social and economic inequality. The devastating reality of bigotry and discrimination in America has finally come to a head like a boil ready for lancing.

And Floyd’s tragic death is bringing a broad coalition of protesters together to change the state of American society. Unfortunately, there’s no blueprint or manual for a people fed up to adequately respond to a Military obsessed government, putting protesters at risk of losing focus with infighting and disagreements on how to effectively carry out these demonstrations calling for change. Historians, in discussing the leadership styles of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently talk about the lather not having a cohesive strategy to follow through, a collective plan B, if the civil rights marches and protests didn’t prove effective. Gandhi, on the other hand, was effective in uniting Indians on a common course for autonomy from British Rule and were ready to raise the stakes with a plan B, changing their clothes, in other words, using their collective economic powers to fight their oppressor. If Americans want the outcome of these protests to be fruitful beyond the capital B in the new Black, we will need a similar strategy to address institutionalized racism and reform policing.

The momentum created by these protests must energize grassroots campaigns targeting the specific issues highlighted during former President Obama’s town hall meeting on Wednesday. From stopping the practice of choke-holds, deescalation tactics, to implicit bias training. These policies are already in place for law enforcement communities to implement. A recent article in The Atlantic highlights the groups and independent commissions that have provided specific solutions to address police misconduct in America. “Prior tragedies have resulted in a string of independent, blue-ribbon commissions—Wickersham (1929), Kerner (1967), Knapp (1970), Overtown (1980), Christopher (1991), Kolts (1991), Mollen (1992), and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2014)—to make recommendations for meaningful change that could address police misconduct. These groups have developed well-reasoned conclusions and pointed suggestions that are widely discussed and enthusiastically implemented—but only for a time. As public attention shifts, politics moves on and police-reform efforts wane. The cycle continues unbroken.” The solution, like the Ten Commandments has been written, but the resolve of politicians to act is still MIA because they can count on protesters losing their way and their will to keep fighting. It’s become the standard of American uprisings. Or, maybe, the fire next time, as laid out by James Baldwin, is here.

Despite the uniqueness of the global protests sparked by Floyd’s death, the risk of apathy and lack of persistence remains a real threat to real change that’s desperately needed. In addition to police accountability, community action at every level addressing systemic racism, through fostering diverse relationships that lead to creating policies based on real-world experiences is sorely needed. Therefore, change must include a more diverse Congress, as well as state and local leaderships. Marginalized folks, especially Black people, have to run for local offices and community boards, just like Black leaders during the early part of the civil rights movement have urged us to do. Moreover, it’s incumbent on all of us to hold those in power accountable to meet a changing nation’s demand for a better country, because it’s going to take a society-wide approach to address our structural challenges rooted in racism.

“It was absolutely clear that the police would whip you and take you in as long as they could get away with it, and that everyone else—housewives, taxi-drivers, elevator boys, dishwashers, bartenders, lawyers, judges, doctors, and grocers—would never, by the operation of any generous human feeling, cease to use you as an outlet for his frustrations and hostilities. Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough,” wrote James Baldwin in, The Fire Next Time.

(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Black people are the CEO’s of enough is enough dot com. We’ve been in this sunken place for far too long. The difference of this moment in time, is that finally, the housewives, taxi-drivers, elevator boys, dishwashers, bartenders, lawyers, judges, doctors, and grocers have had enough, too. And not just here in the U.S., but across the world. It is our collective belief in American culture and humanity, at least the promise of it, that is forcing this broad coalition of protesters together this time, some with the need to speak with violence. And that is to be expected when our common understanding of right and wrong, our written and unwritten rules of how we treat one another, our human contract, is continuously violated by those with the most power. The 400 year old violation of our humanity has been vicious and egregious, so much so, that our president saw fit to pepper spray his way through peaceful protesters chanting, “Black Lives Matter” to hold up a bible he doesn’t respect for a photo-op he doesn’t need in front of a boarded up church closed to parishioners. Tragic can’t sufficiently capture this posturing.

The only thing that can passably contextualize his strange movements is this passage in The Insane World Of Adolf Hitler by Chandler Brossard, “It is not in the least surprising that Hitler, who, incidentally, had been born a Roman Catholic, had a highly confusing and contradictory relationship with churches and Christian concepts in general. His actions and words denied the existence of a God, yet the fact that he constantly referred to himself as being “guided by Providence,” and “chosen from on high,” indicates that at least in some ritualistic—or opportunistic part of his mind he really did believe in the divinity. Clearly, this motivated his famous assertion, in the late thirties, before a screaming, chanting wild-eyed Munich audience of thousands, “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.” Donald Trump surrounds himself with sleepwalkers, steadily building casual racist pressure under the guise of religion, similar to how Hitler used and abused religion to turn his fellow countrymen against each other, leading to the Jewish Holocaust and WWII. We can’t let that happen again.

Malcolm X said Americans must speak the same language in order for us to understand each other. Thus, it’s time to speak with our protests, money, and our votes, similar to what Gandhi did for Indians and what Rosa Parks did for African Americans with the Montgomery bus boycott. Major companies taking bold actions to fight racism by firing bad employees, ending police contracts with private businesses, firing and charging offending officers, creating opportunities for more minority upward mobility, making strong public statements, and following through with measured transformation, are the changes we need to see. The strong anti-racism reaction from Ben & Jerry’s is the modern leadership this moment needs. Calling for the dismantling of the culture of white supremacy is powerful and refreshingly honest. It recognizes long standing Black pain and suffering. And Citigroup, Netflix and Microsoft making strong statements against racism and discrimination, including the global protests in solidarity against Black oppression in America has been deeply inspiring. A hopeful sign that the winds of change are finally blowing again.

This transformational change will build if marginalized people and their allies continue this fight against a common enemy: racism, police brutality, and growing inequality. Senseless violence doesn’t always discriminate or give rise to passionate protests. Even so, little Black girls like Gianna Floyd are the chief victims left behind when Black fathers are murdered by the police, and Black mothers like Wanda Cooper continue to dominate the fields of grief with the disproportionate loss of their Black boys, like Ahmaud Arbery, to racial violence. Black women like Breonna Taylor still fit perfectly into a certain dimension, an unholy space poignantly expressed by Malcolm X when he said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman, the most neglected person in America is the Black women.” This has to be reversed, too. These sacrifices are changing the world, but it falls on all of us, rooted in a common belief in humanity, to ensure their deaths, and all those who have met similar fates, are not in vain.

And because the media plays a significant role in narrating our human story, a call for sincere adaptable action on their part, must be part of the restructuring of a more balanced and just America. We can start with condemning the Philadelphia Inquirer recent offensive headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.” George Floyd changed the world, his little girl said. Although he didn’t intent to, through these protests and call for racial equality and policy changes, may the goodness and mercy that comes from his tragic death finally make way for all people to dwell in a better world forever.

What Does A Better America Look Like To You?

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

America is under construction. A job mostly taken up by our young people determined to fix an evil system constructed for the set back of an entire group; black folk. We are in the eye of the storm of these protests raging across the country. Unfortunately, the despair of the streets is at risk of turning a just cause—racial justice, social and economic equality, ending police brutality—into a fight for the preservation of white supremacy and the protection of all the worldly possessions of the out of touch elites. Even though economic inequality and racism are the main reasons we’re here.

While our “president” can only call out for more violence against the oppressed from his chicken bunker, rather than lead in a time of crisis, America’s young people are fighting for the world they want to see beyond their phone and television screens and social media. This generation is demanding change rather than accept the obligation to swallow the illusions of America so many of us have for so long. There is no magic cure to end racism. America won’t flip like a pancake. But, these protests and the people showing up for them, is the hope we need to see rise like dough left over night. Because we have bread to break people; with each other. We need a solid strategy and effective policies with T-Rex teeth ready to bite anything that comes between Americans desperate for change and a more just and equal country. And unfortunately, we can’t depend on Donald Trump or his entire losing team to set the table to address the real threat of racism, social and economic inequalities, police brutality and blatant discrimination that has created a zest pool for the drunk rich and ignorant poor that benefit from these societal ills. That includes all the rich and powerful people, CNN’s Don Lemon called out, who can afford to look away as if America isn’t burning in their backyard, too.

“White people gained the world but lost something. And that’s their ability to love their children,” James Baldwin said. The fire next time is upon us. Just like he said it would be without addressing racial inequality. Many of the young people burning and looting are the children of these white people who chose to gain the world by oppressing black people over loving their children and teaching them to love the world and their fellow man. The price tag for greed is humanity’s highest cost. Nonetheless, change is upon us. And it’s up to each and every one of us to work to push our country toward a better trajectory. And what does that look like? We asked.

What does a better America look like to you? 

In Part 1, we spoke to Nura from Eritrea. During our interview she was accosted by a lone MAGA supported holding a large American flag in front of the White House. The man yelled, “go back to your country!” You can see the exchange in the video below.

Part 2 of the George Floyd protests in DC shows protesters at the White House. Those we spoke to were asked the same question. What does a better America look like to you?

Part 3 starts when an agitator, the man in a grey t-shirt riding away on his bike, after allegedly telling protesters, “go home little girls.” The video shows him clearly making a get-away after spewing his disdain for the marchers. They gave chase but he was able to get away, but not before passing our camera and saying, mischievously, “I don’t know what they’re angry about.” He knew exactly what they were angry about.

Part 4 are the photos taken at the White House protest.

It’s Time To End The Black Holocaust In America

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

The systematic killings of black people in America has turned into a Holocaust. Just count the bodies. All of them. From the start of the African Diaspora, through Emancipation, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. Millions of black people have met brutal ends for no other reason than for being born black. Today, our killings are carried out by racist white supremacists and law enforcement backed by our government. There’s just no other way to describe the ongoing lynching’s and brutality inflicted upon African Americans. Just because we’re not being openly marched to gas chambers or kept in concentration camps doesn’t mean we’re not dying in mass numbers by the hands of police officers emboldened by a government who refuses to recognize our humanity and rightful place in the world, let alone America, which owes its black citizens so much of its glory and might.

Lynchings in America

And Donald Trump and his posse are steadily paving the way for more unjust killings and atrocities only black people seem to know intimately. The “oops, we did it again, wrong house” is played out and starting to look more like a covert strategy to exterminate black people. One by one. Steadily and strategically. I have no more tears  to cry, as I live with pain and grief for the family of the latest victim of police brutality: Breonna Taylor. We are at war with deputized individuals, trained to battle us as if we’re in Fallujah. Taylor was in bed. Never suspecting her brutal demise would be carried out by government officials who took oaths to protect and serve all Americans. Evidently, the three-fifths compromise, the solution to count three out of every five slaves as one person for legislative representation, is still in play when it comes to the number of black people who are killed by the police or vile racists. Today, it could be that killing 3 black people out of 5 that have been victimized amounts to 1 death. Our lives are not valued. This is evident everywhere you look. From small town America to big cities like New York and Las Angeles. While the NYPD is handing out masks to white sunbathers in Central Park during COVID-19, gently warning them to exercise social distancing rules, they’re beating the hell out of black people for the same offense. There truly is no justice. Not yet, at least.

Ahmaud Arbery

Comedian Dave Chappelle discussed the brutal killing of Emmett Till during his show recently. He made some important points about how the tragic event of Till’s death led to the world seeing the brutality inflicted on blacks by whites in America. He said it led to many changes and liberties we as Americans enjoy now, hence his celebrity and packed shows with diverse audiences. He’s right. Times and circumstances have changed. We no longer drink from different water fountains, ride in the back of buses, or hang from poplar trees for no reason other than being black. But Emmett Till had to die a horrible death for some of these changes to happen. Many, many others did too. And, the killings of black people haven’t stopped. Ahmaud Arbery is the latest example of a good ol’ fashion American lynching by some inbred, backwoods hillbillies who hate black people for being…you guessed it, black.

Breonna Taylor

And Breonna Taylor is yet another awful example of our over-militarized law enforcement who kill us like battlefield combatants. If our disproportionate killings are not an active Holocaust, I don’t know what is. According to some historians, the African Diaspora and the subsequent slave trade ended in the deaths of over 30 million black people. Now add all the other bodies onto that pile from Emancipation to today. That’s a lot of black people who have unjustly met tragic ends. The killing methods has changed but not the body count. I understand the point Chappelle was making. But how many more of us need to die to finally bring about lasting change? How many more black bodies does America need to satisfy its thirst for our blood? And racism still shows its ugly head in every sector of our society. Case in point, Senator Mitch McConnell can blatantly lie about the first black president not leaving his successor a pandemic guide and telling him to “shut up” when he’s asked to give his opinion on the Trump administrations’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic without any repercussion or rebuke from his “dear colleagues.”

Lynchings in America

Trayvon Martin

Taylor’s brutal death happened in his state; Kentucky. And McConnell has yet to humanize Taylor because he’s too busy trying to call Barack Obama an “uppity nigg*r” with a dog whistle we all know and understand very well. And yet, despite taking arms to fight countless wars for America, here and abroad, most white people remain idle. Watching. Seeing black people come home from wars to face racist brutality for a country many of them died for, they remain still. Accepting this shameful display of hate and calling themselves Christians. The German people watched and sat idle, too. Today, many just feign shock that in modern society racism still exists. Some take to social media to vent and share their outrage but quickly get back to Netflix and the life they enjoy despite the inequality we all know exists. That police still kill us disproportionately. That we’re still denied jobs, access to adequate healthcare, equal educational standards, curriculum and schools, or even healthy foods and an environment. We continue to bear the brunt of the cost of industrialization when rich corporations are given passage by our government to pollute the areas we live in, allowing companies to burying their toxic and cancer-causing waste in our backyards and pollute our water. Some whites certainly grieve, fight and even die with us for justice and change but clearly, not enough to make a real difference of our unequal American lives. So I have no more tears left to cry for my people, as I continue to bear witness to our systematic killings of which I can only call by its dirty name: a Holocaust.

Emmett Till

George Stinney, Jr.

Rodney King

Lynching in America

Isaac Woodard

Lynchings in America

Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, interviewed Marcus Rediker, author of, The Slave Ship: A Human History, where he discussed, “floating concentration camps and why the black community should never forget.” It’s worth a read. Included in the report was this discussion: “Before he won the Best Picture Academy Award for “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen accused Hollywood of ignoring the subject of slavery. “The Second World War lasted five years, and there are hundreds of films about that and the Holocaust. Slavery lasted 400 years and yet there are less than 20 films about slavery in North America,” McQueen said, in an interview with the British paper The Voice. “We have to open our eyes and look at it and other people have to acknowledge it.” The black community, he added, must remember slavery in the same way the Jews remember the Holocaust. “They believe in the saying ‘Never forget’ when it comes to the Holocaust, and I think we should be the same when it comes to slavery.”

Rediker was also asked if, “Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day could act as a model for remembering slavery in the United States. And he answered, “I think it would be absolutely impossible in this country, because the majority of the white population is utterly opposed to reparations and would not like to remember slavery in any way that might lead to economic and political conclusions. The difference is that the people who want to remember in Israel are in charge in the government. John Conyers has for many years proposed, at the beginning of each Congress, a bill to study the effects of slavery in American history. And every year, it’s voted down.”

Reuben Stacy lynching

Medgar Evers

American lynchings

KKK lynchings

1925 lynching

Comedians Key and Peele joked about Negrotown, once. I laughed and thought nothing else of the “utopia for black people.” Looking back, perhaps that’s the only solution left for us. Maybe we do need a Negrotown, where the duo joyfully sang, “you won’t get followed when you shop, you can wear your hoodie and not get shot, no white folks across the street in fear, no trigger happy cops or scared cashiers. And loan applications can’t get turned down, [because] you’re always approved in Negrotown.” Art imitates life. But the brutality and killings we experience are real. Perhaps to save our lives and finally stop the Holocaust of African Americans, is to find our way to Negrotown. McQueen’s suggestion to adopt the Jews saying, “Never forget” when it comes to slavery is ideal, but we must first break out of our bondage and finally stop the black Holocaust in America.

Northern Yellow Bat Joins Wildlife Venturing Out In DC During Covid-19

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

Don’t worry, it’s not a bat out of hell. It’s just a bat on the hill. Wild animals are coming out of the woods and into our cities and towns as we hunker down for the dreadful Coronavirus to pass us by. Wildlife is making a comeback, no doubt thinking all the pesky critters who call themselves humans have left their beautiful planet. Sike! We’re still here suckers and hopefully staying for a long, long time. All kidding aside, the planet belongs to all of us, including those who don’t take the Metro to work.

As you carefully make your way outside, adhering to Coronavirus safety guidelines, take the time to look around you because you may just run into an unfamiliar visitor who normally inhabits places where they don’t have run-ins with people. Folks in the DMV area have been reporting numerous sightings of all sorts of animals. Foxes, coyotes, otters, beavers, and even bobcats and eagles have been spotted throughout the C & O Canal National Historic Park and other areas.

Making my usual trek around the National Mall, I ran into a strange looking critter napping in broad daylight on Capitol Hill. It was the most beautiful bat I’ve ever seen. As I turned into an irritating paparazzi, the little fellow barely took notice of me or my camera. So, I snapped away from different angles doing my best not to wake it up. I did a little research on bat species in the Washington, DC area and learned that my little sleepy buddy, whom I named Little North Yellow, is a Northern Yellow Bat. Although I’m not a Chiropterologist, it matched the description of this particular bat species.

Additional information on Wikipedia states they are, “primarily found along the coastal regions of the southeastern United States and eastern Texas, Cuba, coastal Mexico, and Central American countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This is the most abundant bat species in some regions of Florida. This species has a few occurrence records from Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.”

Is it the first sighting of this particular bat species in DC? Who knows? Either way, I’m pretty sure he’s not to blame for spreading Coronavirus, despite the nasty rumors. Besides, he’s really cute and a welcome site for lonely eyes stuck in solitude during quarantine.

Feral Rapper Tekashi6ix9ine Is Leading The Coup d’état Of Hip-Hop Culture

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

The spectacle that is Tekashi 6ix9ine can only be described as disturbing. And, like the manifestation of Donald Trump, we have no one else to blame but our American worship culture. Similar to Rock and Roll, Jazz and many other musical inventions, Hip-Hop and rap was birthed by African American culture. The days when we saw black artists express themselves by rapping to tell stories of their experience in a country hostile to their humanity are long gone. From Vanilla Ice, Eminem, Iggy Azalea, Cardi B, Machine Gun Kelly to the grotesque Tekashi69, it’s evident Hip-Hop is forever changed. Today, any knucklehead from the richest neighborhoods, or a strip club dance pole can spray paint themselves with tattoos, don the typical rap gear and spit rhymes about the mean streets they called home, how tough and strong they are, how quickly they’ll shoot you in the face with an AK or Glock, and of course, how many “bitches” or “nigga’s” they got. Oh, and they’re all so incredibly rich that they use stacks of bills to make phone calls nowadays. Even if none of it is true.

What started out as a movement to talk about the struggles of black lives in America following the assassinations of black leaders like Malcolm X and MLK, has turned into what the rainbow pendejo exposed on Instagram Live. The Hip-Hop and rap movement has been derailed and the message hijacked by get rich quick schemes and soft porn stars that even corrupted the ones at the head of it all. Because enough money, sex and notoriety will make you give up just about anything.

As detested as Tekashi is for snitching on his fellow gang members, it didn’t stop millions of people from tuning in to his clown show to brag about his riches, and grossly flaunting the white privilege he’s loaning from the feds for his cooperation. All while boosting about getting away with murder, similar to the Klan in their hay day when they were systematically acquitted for lynching black people, burning their homes and terrorizing them from sea to shiny sea. Time and circumstance are the only difference between the two. Listen closely to the words Tekashi spews while using easy women and cheap sex tricks to gloat about getting away with behaviors no black artist or regular black folks could ever get away with.

Entering his stage with a classic Bob Marley song that turned into the theme song for the TV show Cops, featuring the arrests of mostly black people, Tekashi, flashing his expensive watches and gnashing his horse teeth bedazzled with diamonds and gold yells, “You can never do this! You can neva!” And, he’s absolutely right. Black people in similar positions can never do that. Just ask Meek Mills who learned real quick that his punishment for violating his parole would not only be swift and extreme, but it would be served piping hot by a black judge, the Honorable Genece Brinkley, who clearly had an ax to grind and to prove her loyalty like Stephen in Django Unchained. And, Mills is only one example of a long list of disproportionate punishment doled out by law enforcement.

We, The People, share very different experiences in America. And despite how cringe-worthy that reality is, that’s the harsh truth of the matter when it comes to black people. The callous killing of Ahmaud Arbery—considered a “justifiable homicide” by the local DA—is a prime example of the different lives we still live in a country that owes its glory and might to the black enslaved bodies that planted and picked crops, that help build a nation, including the White House, to amass incredible wealth and privilege only few enjoy.

“You’re a little boy. I’ll kiss you on your forehead. Sit down,” he goes on, waking up the dead with words long gone slaves and oppressed Jim Crow era black people had to bitterly swallow as they watched their country take pride in enacting the 13th amendment, all while leaving them empty-handed, and demanding they compete in an unequal game of life and the pursuit of liberty. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, boy! Sure, but you stole my boots and put thorns on the road you want me to walk on.

Inhumane doesn’t even scratch the surface of this long-standing injustice. And, the term “boy” is a hideous racist stain for black Americans, as its roots are deeply embedded in the unrepentant diminishments of our humanity. Nonetheless, millions, including Hip-Hop celebrities, tuned in to witness Tekashi behave badly. And, he’s worshiped for it, especially by our younger generation, many of whom seemingly only interested in the culture of debauchery. He’s used as a tool to sell our Hip-Hop in a market that devalues our culture and detests our existence. And, we take front row seats in support of it all. Snitches get stitches, they say. Sure, only if you’re black. Tekashi is being protected by the feds like the pope, despite his criminal behavior. And, as a gift for helping ensnare more black men who were being criminals right alongside him. Justice is not blind, it’s stupid and hateful.

That’s the only reason Tekashi can proudly disrespect black music and culture. He’s babysat by a legal system that will pay any price to keep us cemented in our societal place as second-class citizens. If you didn’t feel the sting of Tekashi, you’re not paying attention to the unwavering trajectory of our American culture. A culture that refuses to recognize how our painful history has shaped us, how it continues to inhibit our growth, hear our cries for real freedom, and call to equally benefit from our country’s prosperity.

Let me be clear. I love my country and the ideals good people from all walks of life are steadily working towards. All I’m crowing about is recognition of the ugly truths of our black lives and circumstances, and to demand change. And, that my country love me back. Not through lip service but by way of sincere actions that will ultimately bring about the equality some white people are so deathly afraid of. Paving the way with diamonds and gold for the likes of Tekashi6ix9ine and his middle finger is painfully symbolic of the unwavering disdain for us, our Hip-Hop culture and rightful claim to America.

Nevertheless, and despite all the disrespect we still endure, we must maintain a firm grip to the mighty spirit and words Maya Angelou left us with: “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise. I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise.” Marching on, black people will continue to rise, guided by the lessons of W.E.B. Du Bois to avoid the temptation to hate, despair and doubt, we shall overcome.

An Open Letter To White Jesus And A Call For Amen-Ra’s Return

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

Dear white Jesus,

As a young girl my mother and father baptized me in a Roman Catholic church. My mom always talked about you, consistently reminding all her children of your grace, tolerance and love for the world and all its people. There were many days I called on you for help and mercy. Sometimes for selfish reasons and other times for understanding or on behalf of my fellow man. I never questioned your presence or wisdom. The bible guided my family through many tough times in life. It didn’t take away the severe poverty I grew up with in Suriname but somehow, we made it with help from others. We had land to grow food, chickens to raise, family and community. And, you reaped all the praise for every bit of good that fell on us. “Thank God,” was a common phrase we all used. We accepted our unequal place in the world as our cross to bear. I never questioned it. I simply accepted it like my mother and grandmother did. We are black people. And not just any type of black people. We are tribal black people from the Ashanti and Akan tribes in Africa that have come around to accept our field negro way of life despite our royal beginnings. We thanked you, nonetheless. We praised you in spite of it all.

Hathor, Goddess of Love

The love of two vastly different people led to my being. I was essentially plucked from the fate bestowed on my tribal people by being born to a black Pamaka mother and a white Okie father. I didn’t just look different; I was given a different life than the one many of my people live. I became a house negro. Not by choice, but rather by unjust and brutal circumstances all black people in the world know. Slavery shaped us. Not just culturally but in every human way possible. We fought each other, and we fought hard to right all the wrongs committed against us by Europeans. We struggled and died brutal deaths in mass numbers around the world just to gain a small foothold in the common ideals of humanity. From Africa, the West Indies, South America, to the Caribbean islands and America, we fought hard for our salvation and bits of freedom. And, again, you were given all the glory for the strength to defeat our enemies.

Anubis, God of Death

After 246 years of slave labor in America, that built the most powerful country and democracy the world has ever known, we find ourselves still fighting the same ol’ fight we’ve fought for centuries. I’m exhausted. Having to carry the weight of our ancestors’ struggle, we’re all undoubtedly exhausted. And yet, there’s still no rest for the weary. So, how much longer “God”? How many more of us have to be brutally struck down by hateful racist white people? How many more must be sacrificed to finally bring about the justice and equality any human being deserves? We love our children and want to see them grow. But they can’t because of the indiscriminate hate that comes with the birth of brown babies. We love our mothers but can’t experience their complete love and support as they too are met with violence inflicted on their aging bodies from being mercilessly thrown to the ground by white police officers in Baltimore. We love our fathers, but they can’t protect us from the early graves they meet after being shot in the back when they run from the police in North Carolina. We love our black teachers but can’t gain the wisdom of their teachings or the sweetness of their gentle souls as they are met with hails of bullets while peacefully sitting in their car in Minnesota. We love our black doctors but can’t get their healing as they are brutally detained and mistreated for wanting to help the homeless in Florida. We love our friends but can’t play with them in parks when they meet an officer’s callous bullet for playing with a toy gun in Ohio. We can’t talk on the phone with our young teenagers after their deadly confrontation in their own neighborhood with cowardly bullies aiming guns in Florida. And it’s clear, we can’t run for exercise in Georgia without being lynched by a racist mob who simply traded in their Klan sheets for police uniforms.

Ra, God of the Sun

So, I want to know, dear white Jesus and your father God, how much longer must we fight? How much longer will you allow us to suffer in this world? You see, you can’t be the same God for us, and for those who hate and brutalize us. There’s no way we’re all praying to you. And so, there must be another God that sees us all. I refuse to believe a God that is supposedly all knowing and good, would allow his brown skinned people to suffer so much.

“God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). All are equal before Him. Ephesians 6:9 says, “There is no favoritism with him.” And Colossians 3:25 teaches God’s fairness in judgment, “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.”

I need to know that your teachings are worthy of my following because of the heavy cross black people have had to bear. So, I’m calling your true name. I’m calling you to reveal yourself to the world. Because I demand justice, once and for all. Because enough is enough. I will not take another step blinded by the bible’s myth of your love, mercy and glory. I will not be lulled to remain stupid with songs, dances or hymns calling and praising you. I reject all that you stand for and allow to happen to black people on earth.

And so, in my hour of bitter anger and deep sorrow over the brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by a racist mob that are being protected by the local police and politicians, I am reaching all the way back to the first God. The King of All Gods, Amen-Ra.

Amen-Ra, King of all Gods

I am reaching back to all the ancestors, from Africa to Suriname and everywhere black people have roamed, fought and suffered, to beg for strength, justice and healing in this hour of my pain. It is incredibly hard to watch Ahmaud Arbery’s brutal and senseless killing. But like me, we must all bear witness of his death because it tells the never-ending and tragic story of black lives in America. Arbery’s callous killing must be met with swift justice, not just here on earth but throughout the universal holy spaces where our ancestors rest and watch over us. We need healing King of all Gods. But most importantly, we need justice and finally, peace. Once and for all. In Amen-Ra I pray.

Las Vegas Massacre Is A Wake Up Call For Reasonable Gun Control In America

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If the latest mass shooting in Las Vegas has shaken you to your core, you must have just crawled from under a comfortable rock. Because, mass shootings are becoming as emblematical of America as apple pie, racism, obesity, the glorification of sex and just plain ol’ bad behavior; burying the eloquent hopeful words inscribed in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and even on the Statue of Liberty, meant to capture our ideals as a people.

To understand our culture one simply needs to look at the things we value and worship like the golden statues described in the Bible right before God rains down terror from the sky on the frolicking heathens below. We’re so deeply conflicted as a people; we contradict ourselves every chance we get. We go to war in the name of democracy, while engaging in the same oppressive deeds that we supposedly abhorre. We pretend to value those who fight for our country—even using Veterans, our Military and Law Enforcement as an excuse to attack a peaceful protest by Colin Kaepernick to end police brutality and social injustice in America—but live comfortably knowing that Veterans are suffering a great injustice at the hands of their own government when they return home from war. We claim to have the greatest power on earth but yet are powerless to enact real change in our culture and society. The “big, big ocean water” surrounding Puerto Rico kept our President from acting swiftly to help the devastated island hit by Hurricane Maria, but he threatens to annihilate “Rocket Man” with all our American might. We claim to want to “Safe the Planet” but are one of the worst polluters and violators of Mother Earth. The list of contradictions goes on and on.

We hold a Bible in one hand, an automatic rifle in the other, a bottle of whiskey under one armpit, a naked woman in a headlock in the other, all while standing on a pile of broken black and brown bodies. Oh, and a photo of a sex symbol—naked with exaggerated lips, breasts and butt—on a stained t-shirt with the confederate flag on it. To complete the image of a typical main stream media American today, picture this person wearing short shorts, cowboy boots decorated with the American flag with spikes at the heel. The word; ‘Merica!’ is prominently featured on the back of the confederate flag t-shirt. Of course, there’s more to an American than what I just described. However, this is the demographic making the most noise since the election of former President Obama and now President Trump, as most decent-minded Americans that fit the description of all kinds of people, (the melting pot) are either hiding their head in shame or taking to the streets to protest the confederacy of dunces we are all witnessing.

 

 

We claim to hold the highest ground of morality and the blueprint of democracy despite the reality on the ground even Stevie Wonder can see. And, if one dares to point out the blaring truth that is plain as day, prepare to be met with gnashed teeth, foaming at the mouth, red blooded “real Americans” with tiki torches yelling; “FAKE NEWS! SNOW FLAKE! NOTHING BURGER!” When the president of the United States brags about walking on to NY’s 5th Avenue, shooting someone dead and getting away with it, what do Americans expect from the average Joe or Jane? Many gun lovers and 2nd Amendment fanatics still excuse this comment as political fodder, refusing to see the significance of it as our cultural norm when it comes to our attitudes about guns.

You’ll hear the argument; it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Other than the police, where were the good guys with guns to stop the Las Vegas shooter? Instagram celebrity and gun fanatic Dan Bilzerian was there. He fled. Not to grab his weapons, but to safe his own rear-end. He didn’t live up to his Instagram muscles to stop the shooter with the stockpile of high-powered weapons he loves to show off on social media. What a tough guy, (Insert eye-roll here), until it’s time to actually be that good guy with a gun to stop the bad guy with a gun. On his show on Fox News, Sean Hannity stuck to this strategy too saying, “This guy’s got a machine gun, OK. How are they going to take him on without a weapon? Or, if it’s happening within a crowd, if you’re in San Bernardino, do you want Sean Hannity who’s trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room when they drop the clip, and they start to reload, you got a shot, you got a chance?” Of course, if life was being played out on a Hollywood movie set where we can have multiple takes and do-overs, Hannity and Bilzerian would be heroes! But, this is real life. 59 people were indiscriminately murdered by a madman who purchased his powerful weapons legally. He exercised his rights as an American to arm himself to the teeth. And, as white privilege in America goes, and according to some Fox News talking heads, we can’t hate him, label him a terrorist or talk about gun control.  Not yet, at least.

Unless you’re in an active shooting situation, you can’t know what you’ll do or how you’ll react. So, why not make it harder, and in some cases impossible, for people to get their hands on these high-powered weapons? What’s the real harm in waiting weeks for a full background and mental health check, instead of days, before handing over such lethal power? Who knows, maybe a zombie apocalypse or another revolution is eminent! Many point to mental illness as an excuse for this latest tragedy however, other countries like Australia, Britain and Canada have citizens with mental illness too and these countries were able to reduce gun violence by enacting strict gun laws. Why can’t America follow suit? It’s apparent, we need policy solutions, but unfortunately there is no movement on the federal level to enact tougher gun laws; just the opposite. As a matter of fact, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan was ready to bring a bill up for a vote that would have loosened access to gun silencers. But, in the wake of the massacre, they shelved it; for now.

 

 

And, earlier this year, President Trump reversed an Obama era law that kept the mentally ill from getting guns. H.J. Res 40 passed the House and Senate, and nullifies the, “Implementation of the ‘NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007’ rule finalized by the Social Security Administration on December 19, 2016. The rule implements a plan to provide to the National Instant Criminal History Background Check System the name of an individual who meets certain criteria, including that benefit payments are made through a representative payee because the individual is determined to be mentally incapable of managing them.”

Why stricter gun laws aren’t more tantalizing to leaders at the policy level has to do with fear and money. Fear of not just losing the right to bear arms as stated in the 2nd Amendment, but fear of losing all the money being poured into political campaigns by the powerful National Rifle Association, (NRA). Despite evidence showing stronger reasonable gun policies are warranted, it seems that any kind of gun policy is perceived as an attack on the 2nd Amendment. Most Americans would support reasonable restrictions on guns, especially semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre, but the NRA will say background checks, even for the mentally ill, is one step to taking our guns away. Fear is a clear motivator but so is money and profit. Mass shooting incidents boosts the NRA’s profit margin. Gun sales increase every time there’s a mass shooting incident, (or the election of a black president.) It’s clear that the NRA uses fear, not data, to galvanize its base. And, unfortunately, opinions and fear outweigh the statistics and research on gun control and violence in America. How ironic that the crowd at Route 91 Harvest, a 3-day Country Music Festival, sang America the Beautiful an hour before the shooting.

 

Hugh Hefner; His Impact On American Sex, Beauty And Feminism Ideals

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The standard image of what a sexy, beautiful and “most desirable” American woman looks like can arguably be credited to the late Hugh Hefner.  And that sex symbol looks like a thin, glamorous blond white woman. It’s evident what kind of women Hefner preferred because he married and surrounded himself with this particular white Barbie type his entire life. And, he built an empire based on his perception of sexy and beautiful women coupled with an unapologetic bachelor lifestyle. All at the cost of exploiting women—starting with Marilyn Monroe—normalizing their objectification, and solidifying them to a place of sexual servitude in American society.

Janell Hobson, Associate Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Albany says the commercialization of white women’s sexuality actually came about after the exotification of women of color through the lens of Anthropology. “The nude body was already on display,” she says pointing to National Geographic, “which was used in an interesting way by white men and western men as a kind of early prototype of Playboy except the nude women in those magazines were African women or Asian women, or Pacific Islander women.” She says Playboy made it palatable to show white women in a similar fashion.

Playboy’s Launch is Rooted in the Exploitation of a Star

Granted, Playboy was not the only magazine at the time of its debut in 1953 that was setting a certain standard of beauty in America. Women’s magazine like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Day and Good Housekeeping had their own standards of what was beautiful too. “What Playboy did was introduce female sexuality upfront,” says Hobson, adding that Playboy centerfolds were playing on the kinds of ideals that were white and blond. Hobson says it’s also important to remember how Playboy stepped onto the world stage. “Playboy launched through nude photos of Marilyn Monroe at the time. Photos that she did not consent to, and had to basically reposition herself when Hugh Hefner was able to purchase the rights of the nude photos that she did for a calendar company…Nude photos that she was doing while she was struggling to become a star, and trying to pay rent.” She says Hugh Hefner wanted to capitalize on the fame that she had. “Not only did Playboy launch through this kind of representation of white womanhood but specifically through the star power of a Marilyn Monroe.” Hobson says that’s a history that shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of what it means that he was able to launch Playboy through this kind of exploitation. And, adding insult to injury, in 1992 Hefner purchased the burial vault next to Monroe for $75,000; haunting her in life and now in death.

The Impact and Legacy of Playboy Is a Complicated One

A part from the nude photos, the magazine in its early days was paving new roads during America’s civil rights movement that came to national prominence in the mid 1950s. Hefner published literature and serious journalism work from prominent black figures like James Baldwin who wrote about the Atlanta child murders and Alex Haley who interviewed civil rights leaders of the time for the magazine. “And, writers like Margaret Atwood was able to get her science fiction stories published in it…I mean, there were clear key classic articles that came out of that,” Hobson says. The magazine, despite its exploitation of primarily white women was also being cutting edge, “both in terms of a kind of intellectualism that it was putting forth but at the same time making sure that it was still marketable and saleable through highlighting white women’s nude bodies.”

Another complicated factor is, in time, Playboy also featured black women on its cover. The magazine had a black model on its cover in 1970, (Jean Bell) and in 1971, (Darine Stern) before Vogue did with Beverly Johnson in 1974. Also, in 1974 Playboy had a 4-page pictorial of black Playmate Claudia Lennear in its August issue. “She was a background singer who was rumored to be the inspiration behind Rolling Stones Brown Sugar that they were singing about. Iman had a Playboy spread back in the 1980s that played on this whole wild African Safari [theme]. Those are ways in which I think when you do see women of color and black women in particular; they are made to take on this kind of exoticized representations. So, whether we’re talking about the blond, you know, girl next door or the exotic African woman, they’re definitely ways Playboy was playing with those images,” Hobson says.

Nevertheless, Hefner was not alone in his objective to use women for his own benefit and wealth; many others share in this American heritage that still exists in our modern culture. One significant piece to Hefner’s legacy, according to Hobson, is what he was putting out there, which was far from the norm of that era. “I think he was really just putting out there a kind of hedonistic bachelor lifestyle…you know, you don’t have to get married or settle down and be a family man. You can always have your bachelor pad and if you’ve got enough money, you can get these young beautiful women dressed up in Playboy Bunny suits that cater to your every whim.”

Hugh Hefner and Women’s Sexual Liberation

Considering the era when Playboy made its debut and how it launched using photos of a woman who didn’t consent, or received a dime for the popular first edition, one can easily surmise that Hefner did more for men’s sexual liberation than for women. Hobson explains, “Representing that kind of bachelor pad lifestyle, he was making it acceptable for men to not be ashamed to pursue a life outside of marriage and family. But, for women, they still had to be in these positions of servitude to that, so what might be a kind of sexual liberation for one sex certainly didn’t necessarily translate to the other.”

This appraisal is plainly evident when writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny. Her investigative exposé bluntly revealed this uncomfortable reality. In her report, A Bunny’s Tale, Steinem witnessed firsthand how Hefner ran his operation by luring young women to apply for what was advertised as “the top job in the country for a young girl” only to be faced with catering to men in the most objectifying manner imaginable. From the revealing outfits, the long hours on mandatory 3-inch heels to the manner a Bunny serves cocktails to her clients using the Bunny Stance or Bunny Dip to ensure they don’t break their tight corset costumes; the indignity of it all will undoubtedly be analyzed and critiqued for generations to come. The promise of a glamorous jet setting lifestyle being courted by wealthy powerful men and making between $200 and $300 a week was exposed by Steinem as a sham when she uncovered what actually happened to Playboy Bunnies.

Undoubtedly, Hefner contributed to the larger media narrative of what a desirable American woman looks like however, Hobson says, “I don’t know if he had the main driving force because keep in mind, to be a Playboy centerfold is to not be a woman who is respectable. So, even if he was playing with images of blond innocence and girl next door, they were nude, so they were already seen through the lens of the pornographic.” She says he didn’t necessarily influence what was beautiful but rather what was sexy. Hobson says Miss America, which was at the height of its popularity around the same time as Playboy’s debut, was giving the larger culture ideas of what was considered beautiful. “And, that was respectable.”

 

 

Here Bunny, Bunny, Bunny!

The cost of being a Playboy Bunny was impactful in more ways than one. For example, according to Steinem, Bunnies were required to take “a complete internal physical” to ensure they were free of venereal and other diseases like syphilis. And, although the NYC Board of Health didn’t mandate restaurant servers to take physical exams in order to work, Hefner did. Of course, one can’t help but wonder why the need for these types of tests, when it’s explicitly written in the “Bunny Bible” that Bunnies’ are forbidden from dating club members. Nevertheless, and conveniently left out of the written manual, is the suggestion that Bunnies “are to go out with Number One Key Holders” which are the big shots that included “important members of the press, club executives” and other VIP’s. Number One Key Holders were granted the most access to the Bunnies, even having them take part as “bona fide guests of the club.”

Following the success of Playboy, Hefner was at the top of his game and was highly sought after by the media for interviews. During one such interview he described his vision and the principles behind his club saying, “The club is really an extension of the concept that was developed in the magazine and it’s an attempt as much as possible to kind of bring to life the many of the notions that are popularized in the magazine; The concept of relaxed urban living, good food and drink, pretty girls and good entertainment.” He left out an important part; for men. The Bunnies not dating the customers is one of the things Hefner promoted. He went on to say that the Bunnies are forbidden to date the customers, “To separate business from pleasure,” he asserts, even though the women were found to be pressured to date Number One Key Holders and “make them happy.” Perched on his rotating bed, Hefner adds, “Playboy’s philosophy is a personal expression of my own views, and some of the social and sexual views of our time.”

The preparation to become a Playboy Bunny in the 1950s was extensive. Training, which in the beginning lasted three weeks, were unpaid despite the long hours required to do so. Also, Bunnies were charged $2.50 a day for the upkeep of their costume, $8.15 for the eyelashes and blush they had to wear, and $5 for the black nylon tights. They were paid—mandated by state law—$50 a week, however Hefner structured his business to chip away at every available cent the Bunnies earned. From getting demerits and merits that had monetary values attached to them for screw ups and good deeds, to having to split their tips in half with the Playboy Club. Another farce uncovered by Steinem is the difference in Bunny pay. Table Bunnies can keep half their tip in addition to their weekly paycheck minus the charges noted above. Hat Check Bunnies on the other hand, were not allowed to keep their tips. They were paid a flat $12 for 8 hours of work, a significant amount less than what was advertised. Also, these Bunnies were forbidden to tell club members that their tips were going to Hefner. Instead, they were instructed to, “Just smile and accept tips gratefully.”

Hugh Hefner’s Role in America’s Race Relations

The legendary civil rights activist, writer and entertainer, Dick Gregory, who recently passed away, commended Hefner for his work to advance the civil rights movement by opening doors for black comics to work at his clubs, a rarity for many during that time. And, in line with the Playboy culture, Bunnies were instructed to laugh when a comic like Dick Gregory was on stage. “I think that he’s done a lot for men. What has he done for women other than to make more women’s bodies visible in terms of placing their bodies on display, exploiting their beauties, their sexuality, and keeping a Harem of sorts?” Hobson asked rhetorically. Adding, “I’m thinking about a music singer like R. Kelly who has all kinds of young barely legal women in his mansion and the description of it sounds like abuse but it also sounds very much like what Hugh Hefner has been doing throughout his life but yet we would recognize one as being abusive, and the other we want to call hedonistic and libertine. And, I think we need to think about why we are willing to give him that leverage.”

Love him or hate him; Hefner, who studied psychology, was a trend setter who also impacted race relations in the country and that can’t be overlooked or ignored. “He did change things because Playboy came around a time of ultimate and ultra sexual conservatism. He tapped into this opportunity for sexual release as it were. So, because women’s bodies were used to define that kind of sexual release, it gets called liberation,” Hobson says. Hefner made sexual liberation more permissible and accessible through his magazine and that was significant during a time when American culture was more conservative, but like Hobson asserts, we would be remiss to confuse his impact on our society as part of women’s sexual liberation, or a boost for the feminist movement. The fact is, he liberated men and held women captive in sexist stereotypes that are still prevalent today.

Another contributing factor is how black cultural expressions, like the Hip-Hop genre enabled pornographers like Hefner to fetishize black bodies. According to Hobson, “That genre redirected the cultural gaze on the butt, which interestingly Playboy doesn’t really fetishize the butt that much, they usually fetishize the breast. Hip-Hop redirected Playboy’s gaze to the butt, and the butt’s that they focused on were mostly black women, Latino women and eventually included white women like Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Latinos like Jennifer Lopez to the point where in 2014 Vogue had to put out a whole article called, ‘We’re In The Era Of The Big Booty’ so, look how long it took for Vogue to recognize that particular aesthetic.” She says it wasn’t until white and Latino women were part of the big butt obsession that main stream media started to recognize it as part of a women’s appeal despite what Hip-Hop has done to refocus men’s sexual appetite and gaze. Hobson says it shows that as a culture we’re still invested in whiteness as the norm. “The main stream media still wants to keep whiteness at the center,” she says. Essentially, Playboy fetishized women’s boobs and Hip-Hop fetishized women’s butt’s. And what do they have in common? Hobson says, “They’re both driven by men and male sexual desire; even if the race is different.”

Partly due to Hip-Hop culture, Hefner opened up space to think about sexuality differently but, still, only through the realm of exploiting and ogling women’s bodies. It’s apparent Playboy was not opening up opportunities for women to explore their own sexuality. “And, even then I don’t know if we’ve gone far enough in terms of addressing what female sexual empowerment would be or could be,” Hobson says. She notes that when the real women’s sexual revolution happens it will look much different than what we see in Playboy, Hustler, Vogue Magazine, or even in Hip Hop music. She says the next sexual revolution will be more inclusive. “It would look like a diversity of bodies so it’s not just skinny women or white women. It’s big women, all kinds of women, it’s men, it’s transgender, it’s queer, it’s all kinds of stuff.”

Ultimately, Hefner’s legacy is centered on men’s pleasure by way of sacrificing the progress made by the women’s liberation movement. Thanks to Hefner, feminism took a hit on the chin when Playboy launched in 1953, despite the images we see of smiling Bunnies in sexy costumes. Hefner died of natural causes on Wednesday, October 30 at the age of 91. And, in a perverse way; tattooing the notion that it’s still a man’s world even in the afterlife as he takes his place in eternal rest next to Marilyn Monroe.

 

Golden Gloves: HCSD’s First Black Superintendent On His Work And America’s Cultural Divide

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The scenic drive to Hamilton Central School District can be deceiving, but then again so is most of picturesque upstate New York. It’s not a revelation that small town America has secrets; secrets that continue to silhouette a place still unwelcoming to many non-white citizens. Even so, HCSD hired its first black Superintendent in 2015. Some argue it was also a hiring move to be more inclusive and boost diversity.

Superintendent, Dr. Anael Alston, who is also Jewish, took up the challenge as the area’s educational leader two years ago, but not before inquiring about being received by the community at large because of his skin color. He says, “One of the factors I considered in accepting the position was the kind of community that it was. I was frank with the search consultant when I asked; is this community ready for an African American to be the educational leader?” He says the board that hired him thought the community was ready for the change and wanted the best candidate.

Alston says being the first African American in high profile roles is not new for him. “A lot of my career I have been the first in some of my communities but I was also well aware that being the first African American brings certain challenges with it, challenges that no one would necessarily speak of. And, I take that on because I just believe that I’m not going to be limited by other people’s lack of knowledge or world view, or world exposure.” Alston boosts an impressive resume that includes an Ed. D in Curriculum and Teaching from Columbia University, a B.A. in Sociology and spent 10 years as a principle in Long Island before accepting his latest challenge as HCS Superintendent. “The community in large part has been very welcoming, very accepting. There is certainly a faction that really struggles with some of the positive changes that are necessary in order for the organization to be effective and efficient in the long term.”

Some of the challenges, Alston points to concern the district’s spending, finding new revenue sources, updating their technology and taking a look at administrative and staffing efficiency. “Taking a critical look at what we do and how we do it. That has been a challenge to some people,” he says. Alston says the pushback he has received is not uncommon in public education, especially when it challenges the status quo and the district’s culture. He says 70 to 80 percent of the district’s budget deals with staffing. “So, ultimately how you use your staff dictates your budget,” he adds. When asked if the pushback had to do with being a black man at the helm, Alston pauses to consider his answer carefully and points to studies on the subject. “There’s a ton of research on African American and male leaders and how they are perceived by Caucasian cultures, and so you never really know the reason because no one will say it so I will just rely on the research.”

In the midst of this uncomfortable truth, can Dr. Alston still be an effective leader? He says yes. Adding, “I’m choosing to not judge circumstances. It just is and I’m aware of it. And, that I have to choose how I’m going to respond, or not respond. I am aware that in 2017 there are people who are just not open to the world that is changing in front of them. I think that I have to behave in a way that is true to who I am and my position as a global citizen. And quite frankly, for the ignorant people who still harbor bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia in their spirit, I can only model what I believe to be the correct path and hopefully my behavior and interaction has a positive impact.”

 

 

Alston says he tries very hard to not let racism get in the way of his “Why’s”. “Which is to educate, empower and inspire people to live closer to their human potential and using my platform as a public educational leader to do so,” he says. His young daughter who also attends school in the district gets the same message but with an added reminder of her privilege and according to Alston, “Also that life isn’t fair. We are clear on the history of this country and the world and as it relates to politics and power.”

He says his daughter is thriving in her new home and despite some of the challenges of the job the superintendent points to the successes he’s ushered in thus far. “We’ve done well with grants. We’ve done over $200,000 in grant money over the last two years. We’ve been able to lobby with a not-for-profit who gave us about 50 reconditioned laptop computers. We were able to forge a stronger partnership with Colgate who gave us about 27 iMacs. We’ve been able to identify the need to seriously update our technology which was very old and outdated,” he says. Another significant initiative Alston is spearheading is the accreditation for dual enrollment that aims to help students and their parents pay less for college. “The cost of higher education is becoming very difficult for those who are working class poor and even middle class at this point. And, what we’ve done here is we’ve doubled the number of college credits that a student can take while they’re at Hamilton Central School District and walk out of here with up to 30 SUNY college credits.” He says that’s two semesters of college high school students can earn before entering the State University of New York institutions. “That’s something we have accomplished as a school district in the two years I’ve been here.” He calls it a “win-win situation” even though it means more work.

“The obstacle is the way” Alston explains as he delves into another program that may challenge the secularity of a small town like Hamilton, NY but also take on the district’s financial and declining enrollment problem. The International Student proposal, Alston argues, will not only boost funding for the district, it will increase diversity in CNY, “and, exposing students who would not be able to travel around the world and experience different cultures so I would argue better preparing them.”

The committee studying the proposal has already met with Homeland Security to ensure all legal issues concerning immigration are being followed and properly administered. “In order for us to do it we have to be able to issue I-20’s, which then the student participant can take to the U.S. Embassy and get their paperwork processed.” He says despite the “selective immigration” woes flaring across the country the process for HCSD International Student Proposal would be consistent with the laws and regulations concerning immigration to the U.S. He says there are some downsides to the program, including the political reality, housing and financial needs, the districts liability and the different cultures you bring in to a small town like Hamilton, NY. “And, that is something that people will have to struggle with.” Alston says when it comes to the community’s acceptance of international students it depends on who you ask. “I wouldn’t call it a resistance…I would call it a cautious apprehension. I also think because I’m an outsider there’s even more apprehension. And, I’ve been accused of being a resume builder…like, ‘what does he want to do here’…I understand that. I have strong credentials and some people feel that this is a resume builder for me.” When asked how that makes him feel, Alston says, “It doesn’t make me feel one way or the other; it just is because at the end of the day I’m back to my Why’s.”

What does the future look like for the first African American Superintendent in Hamilton, NY? “I don’t know what the future looks like. I know what today looks like. I plan for tomorrow but there are factors that I ultimately don’t control. But, what I do control is how I behave and how I respond to circumstances and conditions and what I do each day to add value to the organization.” Alston says the progress the district has made under his leadership is not because of him, “but it’s because of We.”

Dr. Alston’s contract is up for renewal in June 2018. And, although it is common practice to bring up the issue of contract renewal before a fast approaching deadline, the new school board has not presented the issue for debate or a vote. In other words, Dr. Alston has a new school board to convince to keep him on and thus far, no decision has been made about his future in the district. Alston says he did not expect to deal with as many issues—some political—so early in his superintendence but he says he strongly believes in his own worth and contributions to the district. “The district is making progress under my leadership,” he says.

Dr. Alston brings more than his Ivy League credentials to his position as Superintendent. He brings a world view to his community despite hailing from the same state. Alston grew up in Brooklyn, NY. “I’m a kid from the ghetto,” he says as he delves in to the cultural divide that’s evident in the two very different parts that make up the great State of New York. “I am representing the hopes and aspirations of a lot of people in multiple ways. I’m from the hood where this kind of success just was not part of the daily grind.” On the other hand, Alston says he also represents the hopes and aspirations of upper middle class families. “I believe God is using me because for a lot of the people I have interacted with, they only know African Americans through rap and some of the foolishness that’s on television. And, I recognize that in Central New York some people, in particularly Long Island, have never had an African American boss or an African American male boss and that kind of change is uncomfortable for some people. That is not their reality. And so I try to inspire people who are willing to show some kind of interest in the journey.”

Alston’s journey hasn’t been a cake walk despite being an overachiever coupled with a determination to live purposely. As if the stresses of our societal struggles with equality, discrimination and lack of access for blacks in America wasn’t a big enough battle to overcome along the way, Alston is also living with the pain of losing two brothers to violence. In 1990 his brother Raphael was murdered. He was only 21 years old. Nearly three years later, he lost another brother to violence. Ariel was 23 years old when he was murdered. Both crimes are still unsolved. “There were 2500 murders the year Raphael got killed,” he said. His brother’s memories are the cornerstones of the “Why’s” Alston relies upon as his life compass. “I am who I am and proud of it whether people get me or not. And my responsibility to give back to this land and this world goes beyond any box that someone would check for me, or that I’d be asked to check.”

Exposure to different cultures and people changes a person’s perception Alston says, adding “That is why I make it a point to engage with people different than me.” He goes on to say, if ones exposure is limited to people of color than they’re going to have whatever narrative they’ve been told or received from the media. Another narrative of Alston’s story is his boxing career that started during his college years as a way to fend off his Freshmen 15 and deal with some difficult times at home. He was trained by his uncle whom he says he desperately needed as a male role model at the time. “Some of the successes that I’ve had in my career are related to my exposure and training in the fight game,” he says. The former champion boxer who earned his golden gloves says on tough days it feels like he left one boxing ring for another. “You always have to do your homework before the lights come on. If you haven’t done your homework and the lights come on, you will be embarrassed. That’s true in this seat also.” Part of his learning he says came from watching the promoters behind the boxers and the business end of the sport. “That was very helpful because I wasn’t a typical boxer.” Nevertheless, similar to his boxing career, Alston says he has great mentors and trainers in education. “There are so many lessons that I’ve applied from being a champion in that ring into this arena. I would like to believe that I build on the parallels.”

 

 

“You have to be double good in order to be an African American,” is a phrase as common as a greeting Alston grew up hearing from his mother and grandmother. “I don’t know if that’s true or not but I can look and see my credentials verses other peoples credentials and accomplishments and worry about that but I don’t because at the end of the day it’s about human potential,” he says. Instead, he credits the educational thought leaders who have guided him throughout his career that in turn have helped him add value to his own work for the communities he has served in public education. “Quite frankly, it wouldn’t make me feel good if I find out what my grandmother use to always say. So I’m going to stay away from that and I’m going to focus on adding value and building myself and my team up.”

Part of reaching back for Alston comes in the form of speaking engagements. He says he enjoys sharing his wisdom with young people and inspiring them to consider career goals that aren’t as glamorous as being a movie star, entertainer, athlete or even a more hazardous route like taking up illegal activities. “I have some of the toys of success and sometimes I’ll let people know I have that stuff and I don’t rap, I’ve never sold drugs and I do travel. And, I can tell you how I did it. And I tell them how much more fun it is. I am not worried about the feds taking my assets. That’s a freedom that hustlers don’t have.” He says there’s a shift in terms of young people choosing to live a “hustle life” however; he wishes the shift would happen faster. “I let them know it’s doable. Once a person can see and touch success than it can become attainable.”

Despite the national noises that threaten to reverse some of the progress made in America, we’ve come a long way as a society. Even so, Alston adds, “To hire the first African American is progress. To hold them to the same standard that you did the people before them would be the next step.”  He goes on to give examples of the criticism former President Barrack Obama received and the benefit of technology that clearly and sadly showed the hypocrisy and blatant double standard he, along with other black people in America have had to endure, and that are culturally rooted in our identity, still. “Either there is one standard or there isn’t, or there’s a person of color standard and the other standard. And, is that equal and if not, why? And, what’s that really about? That’s a conversation that can be uncomfortable,” he says.

In spite of the political nature of the job and the obstacles he’s working to overcome, Dr. Alston, who can easily be described as upstate New York’s very own Cory Booker, wants people to know that he remains optimistic about his future as the educational leader in the district despite the uncertainty that comes with the rapid change in the school board since his arrival. He says, “While I report to a corporate body called the school board, I ultimately answer to a higher authority.” With regard to the recent protests, racial tensions and civil acts of disobedience, Alston says, “In order to be able to be the super power and a nation that is great, we have to really examine our thinking and beliefs. I’m hopeful that people are aware of that giving what is going on in the country now.” He says people have to think before choosing a political camp, “because the talking points are not serving us. The polarization’s are not serving us. We are marred in levels of foolishness as a result of us, as a country, not consciously deciding to be aware.”

Challenges can be opportunities. And, that’s the attitude Alston wears as a merit badge as he makes his way through the school building visiting class rooms, engaging teachers, students and staff alike. “This is not a job for me. It is my mission,” he says, adding that, “when I show up to work in my capacity as Superintendent, I am living my Why and I’m expressing it through my What.” He says part of his Why is to reach those not being served or adequately challenged in the classroom. And, it’s deeply personal as the tragic deaths of his two brothers. “There are people who are brilliant sitting in school who are not connected. My job as educational leader is to tap into their potential.” Alston explains that his work is the mechanism that allows him to live out his personal and professional goals…even if he has to use an “intellectual uppercut” to get the job done. “I believe in the goodness of people, be it the people of Hamilton, the people of NY, the people of this country and the people of this world. After all, it is people who have helped me get this far.”