Monday, October 14, 2019

HBCU Just Give: Love Thy Neighbor

It was Homecoming at the Mecca this weekend, and for half a  minute I considered making an appearance on the Yard...because for the umpteenth time, I probably won't make it down to Atlanta to my own Homecoming festivities in two weeks. When I say that it lasted for about 30 seconds, that is an exaggeration, because that would be 29 seconds too long. But y'all know that I'm kidding because I love all HBCUs.

And that is not an exaggeration. I LOVE ALL HBCUs. So it irritates my SOUL when fellow HBCU alumni post booshay like this on their social media. ➨➨➨

I had a hard time deciding whether a response was even necessary, because there are times when it is best just to let others have at it, but then a few other offensive images/posts popped up on my timeline this weekend so I resolved to use this as an opportunity to put my $18.81 on the table. It also gave me an opening to re-introduce a project that I have been working on since the summer, which is the official re-launch of #HBCUJustGive.

It was just a few weeks ago that a friend sent me a rather upsetting article about his beloved Dear Old Morehouse. Then this local news segment was posted in our FB group, accompanied by various questions and then some earnest discussion about how we, as alumni, can intercede to make a difference. The announcement and celebration of Oprah's $13 million came a week later; yet, there was no announcement regarding a suspension of the furlough. So I'm betting that the cost-saving measures will remain in place because the gift from Oprah is restricted. For anyone who needs some translation, Morehouse still has to do some belt-tightening in order to make it through the 2019-2020 school year. Oprah's gift will benefit the students who are enrolled in the scholarship program that bears her name, but it won't pay salaries or keep the lights on in the dorms.

Allow me to break this down a little more for those who aren't understanding this--even Morehouse has financial woes. I don't know all of the details, but knowing that one of the most recognized HBCUs has to furlough employees means that times are hard for Every Blessed One of our schools. Perhaps then, our energy is better spent on thinking of solutions instead of airing petty grievances.

I have addressed this point in the past, and maybe it's hard to believe coming from a Spelman alumna, but these are the facts: We are not in competition for celebrity donors if there are only a handful who are opening their wallets. We are not in competition for celebrity donors in the age of Operation Varsity Blue when Aunt Becky is bribing the crew coach at USC to save a spot for her insta-famous daughter. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if college-bound athletes don't even bother to visit our campuses. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if we have to accept money from the Koch Foundation. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if we are being encouraged to participate in a PR campaign in order to 'win' a few thousand dollars from Home Depot.

We are in survival mode. Some of us are on life support. And some of us might not make it to the end of the fiscal year.

Just to illustrate this point, take the donations that have been made to HBCUs by none other than Queen Bey herself. She gave $50,000 to be split between Spelman and Howard in 2017, followed by another $100,000 donation in 2018 that got split four ways among Tuskegee (AL), Bethune-Cookman (FL), Wilberforce (OH), and Xavier (LA) Universities. Folks were hyped even though those donations went to scholarships that benefited six students, one at each school for about a semester's worth of support. Mind you, our exuberance was rightfully attached to her highly celebrated Coachella performance, where she paid homage to the HBCU Homecoming experience. Compare those donations to the amount she and Jay might have paid to rent out the Louvre for a music video...

Still hating? Are you mad at those six students, or mad enough at Beyonce not to buy another one of her $200 concert tickets?

And speaking of over-hyped performances, let's discuss Kanye West, who decided to bring his gospel concert pop up to Howard University this weekend. From all accounts, it was well attended and inspiring and uplifting, and as usual, Yeezy courted controversy with a few of his remarks. And it was free, as was the event that was held later in the day at George Washington University across town. I also saw a rumor that West donated $1million to Howard as well, so I shouldn't have a complaint in the world about any of that, right?

Well, except I do. Because operating in survival mode causes us to compromise principles in order to make a few dollars. When we compromise our principles, we accept invitations that we should decline (Talladega at the Inauguration). When we compromise, we extend invitations that are indefensible (Betsey DeVos at Bethune Cookman). When we compromise, we endure unnecessary humiliation (that Howard v. Maryland game). When we compromise, our proud traditions and values become props for someone else's benefit. Of course, Howard's Homecoming might seem like the perfect venue for a sunrise gospel service, and maybe Kanye isn't just a tool of distraction, but as long as he's out here quoting Blexit talking points, that's the headline.

Not that thousands of alumni and their families returned to their alma mater without incident this weekend. Not that Howard just entered into a partnership with Amazon that will provide a pipeline for more opportunities in Hollywood for creative talent. And so far, no confirmation that Kanye gave Howard anything other than a warm up for his show at GW. So instead of pushing Taylor Swift aside, he hijacks Homecoming. But at least his kids were dressed for the occasion.

Howard has been operating in survival mode for some time, selling off external properties such as the divinity school and the hospital. Just this spring, some dude suggested that the university should accommodate his gentrified dog poop or move. But some of y'all would rather be pissed that Howard ended up as the punchline of a Blackish episode. (Yeah, how about you call Kenya Barris out for not mentioning Clark Atlanta University--his own alma mater!)

We've got Black college students at PWIs emulating us to the point that they will claim an HBCU-ish experience, and y'all are mad at them. Instead of engaging in that foolishness, how about we get mad with them about the various microaggressions they endure at those institutions--the very reason why they need to create silly hashtags and why they are posted up at our Homecoming festivities...

As for how this all relates to #HBCUJustGive, my hashtag campaign that encourages All HBCU alumni from Every School to give back to their institutions in Any amount? Well, that's it.

I had grand plans for a splashy big relaunch, but sometimes when things fall apart, it is a sign that you need a plan B. I will spare you the details, but right now I am working through Plan C or D, which will include a new series of articles and profiles that will be released on the blog and social media in the coming weeks. But I am also pleased to see that I am not alone in the effort to increase awareness and support of HBCUs via social media. Great minds think alike, so even if I didn't get to execute my initial idea, it's okay as long as the message is out there. Because we are in survival mode, this isn't about who did what and when and whatnot. Not every blessing comes from a celebrity. Worry about the checks you're writing that keep the lights on at your alma mater. And if you haven't written a check yet...

#HBCUJustGive

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Salty Pretzels: 30 Minutes or Less

A friend texted me to inquire if I planned to watch the latest episode of Mixed-ish, the sitcom prequel that offers a backstory for Rainbow Johnson, the character portrayed by my imaginary twin sister, Tracee Ellis Ross (because we look and act exactly alike). As usual, I had forgotten what day the show aired, so I put the Kid to bed and tuned in. My friend had intended for me to live-tweet about the episode, but I got distracted, so I turned my focus to the much ballyhooed Girlfriends reunion episode of Black-ish.

(Full disclosure: Even if she hadn't texted a reminder, I would have tuned in to watch Mixed-ish because the show-runner is a classmate of mine from middle school, high school, and college. This will be must-see TV for me whenever I remember to tune in, which will probably be hit or miss, so at some point I will need to watch a marathon on demand to stay current.)

Nevertheless, the episode covered a lot of ground in less than 30 minutes considering the fact that Black hair is such a touchy subject. Touchy as in don't-touch-my-hair-unless-I-am-paying-you-to-do-so, but because I wasn't paying close attention, I'm not sure if that is one of the issues that was addressed. I also don't know how the younger brother ended up with beads in his head like Stevie Wonder from the early 80s, so that's something that might make more sense upon a second viewing. However, I do not need to re-watch the exploration of feminism on Black-ish, which for what it's worth is also a rather weighty topic to attempt to address in less than 30 minutes...

When we were younger, family sitcoms were big on very special episodes, and Black-ish has apparently revived that aspect of the genre. Every episode is very special. Every episode provides timely social commentary. Every episode is meant to provoke deep reflection or provide some epiphany, which is why I often find the show very annoying. Especially this tongue-in-cheek musical number and this Good Times-inspired dream sequence...every episode feels like that sociology class in college I was excited to take until halfway through the semester when the weather got nice. Then I lost interest.

Such was the case with the feminism episode--I was excited for the Girlfriends cast reunion, but once we got halfway through and everything went left, the struggle to see it through to the end got real. I've got lots of notes, so let's begin with my frustration that in an episode about feminism, which certainly started off with promise by centering on Rainbow, her daughters, and her friends, the most poignant and crucial moment occurred in the boys night out subplot. But put a pin in that for the moment...

Rainbow and I are the same age, so we were in college in the 90s when this existential conflict of feminism versus Blackness reasserted itself for our generation. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought we settled this by determining that we can be friends, call ourselves allies, but we also know better...I mean isn't that why Alyssa Milano and Bette Midler get dragged on Black Twitter at least once a month? (And we love Charmed and Hocus Pocus, btw.) So I guess I don't understand how Bow suddenly had this confrontation in her 40s. You mean to tell me that she never had a come-to-Jesus moment with a white feminist? In California? Not with some hippie aunt or ex-bff from the commune? Not even at Stanford? Really???

Ok, if that's what you expect me to believe, then explain why y'all under-utilized Yara Shahidi in this episode. This would have been perfect fodder for a future episode of Grown-ish since her character is in college and probably definitely would have some serious encounter with this topic on campus. Or is that just my unrealistic hope that Grown-ish will eventually tackle something other than Zoey's chronic self-absorption? I know, this isn't A Different World...

And what's up with hyping us up on a Girlfriends reunion that didn't give us any of the classic interplay we expect from this ensemble? Did they even get new character names? Why was the best moment was when Toni expressed relief that Ruby wasn't her Mama? And y'all just threw William in at the end as a tease!


Look, it wasn't a bad episode. It was timely and poignant and typical of Black-ish, with the only notable exception being that one story arch where Dre and Bow separated (which must have come from real-life). But it frustrated me, much like the HBCU episode did because it tiptoed right up to the line, went left, and then neatly resolved the conflict without any lingering fallout. I cannot be the only person left wondering if Bow will be able to make up with her white activist friend, or if we will be treated to more cameos with her Black friends. And how long is this gap year Junior is taking going to last?

As far as this being a typical sitcom take on feminism, I am dissatisfied. The resolution cannot be that each side gathers up her things and goes home. We cannot make progress if we accept that white feminists shouldn't have to consider race, nor should we advance the narrative that being inclusive towards women of color is some kind of hostile takeover. There is a middle ground that takes work to traverse, and the pay off can benefit us all at the moment of truth.

Unless the real intent of the episode was the subplot I referenced earlier, which was Dre's awakening to the idea that white people tend to regard racism with the same disbelief and indifference that men respond to sexism and misogyny. And if that was the point, then that is also classic Black-ish: Dre, the giant man-baby, is the center of attention even when the show isn't supposed to be about him.

Which of course, is precisely why Black women cannot afford to reject feminism. Call it womanism, being intersectional, solidarity, or woke as fuck, we are already on the third or fourth wave of a struggle that goes back at least as far as Harriet Tubman leaving her husband behind for freedom. He'll either catch up or he won't, so stop tripping, sew a satin lining into that pussy hat (we got edges to protect), and let's get to work.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Grace, Mercy, and (In)justice

Several years ago I took a mediation class, and at some point a woman in the class said something or asked a question that sparked some controversy. Folks were heated and upset, and when she tried to dig herself out of the mess, it only made things more muddled. So the instructor paused and sought to allow everyone in the room a safe space to address what the woman had said in an effort to diffuse the tension of the moment. Three people offered perspectives on the incident that I remember: my own (which was not to offer an opinion for the sake of expediency); the person at the center of the drama (who offered what she perceived was an apology); and another woman whose response was, in today's vernacular, GTFOHWTBS!

Allow me to take a step back to offer a little more context--the women who made the offensive gaffe was white and the woman who responded in ALL CAPS was Black. Those details are significant because whatever the first woman said, it triggered all of the racial alarm bells and whistles that many Black people recognize from an early age. And I shall never forget how this lone Black woman, in a class where she was not a minority, felt compelled to call bullshit on what she felt was the familiar manipulative maneuver of deflection. She was insulted that we had taken class time to resolve something the other woman should have known better than to say, and if I am remembering things correctly, her instincts were proven correct in subsequent dealings with Miss Did-I-Do-That.

For whatever reason, that incident resurfaced for me in the immediate aftermath of the trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who was convicted of killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in another daily episode of Being Black in America. Of course, everyone has an opinion and a perspective on what happened, and I too struggle with finding some resolution. Today, I find myself in the same WTF posture of that sister from that mediation class that I took so many years ago. I am incredulous that this case has become all about the redemption of Amber Guyger at the expense of rendering justice for Botham Jean, the man she killed.


So let me put on my #LawyerLenses and start by addressing anyone who thinks that after all these years of watching Law & Order marathons, you earned some kind of certificate on the criminal justice process. Even with my expensive law degree, I had to pause and wonder aloud about a major element of this case, which is why Guyger was charged with murder, and not manslaughter. Because one of the first things I was taught in law school was the definition of murder. The second concept I learned was how that definition differs from other legal terms that describe the loss of one person's life at the hands of another. If you are so inclined, feel free to peruse Black's Law Dictionary to comprehend those nuances. Then if you have the time, commit a few hours a night to studying the Texas Penal Code and then try working your way through the Texas Constitution to get some insight into Texas Criminal Procedure.

However, let me save you the trouble--Guyger was brought up on charges for causing Jean's death, and there is little dispute that she entered his apartment and shot him. The drama of a public trial was to determine if what she did in killing him warranted some kind of punishment. And after a trial by a duly empaneled jury of her peers, she was found guilty of murder, but given a sentence that was more consistent with a manslaughter conviction.

Now, as I remove my #LawyerLenses and adjust my #ChurchLadyHat atop my head, this is where things begin to look fuzzy. After spending the better part of my life in the church learning the lessons of right and wrong, good and evil, etc., I find that this is one of those situations that isn't as neatly resolved by an Old Testament story or New Testament parable. This is that part of the service when the preacher admonishes us to look inside our hearts to render those virtues of forgiveness and mercy and grace. And while I sit with my eyes closed and my thoughts focused in earnest contemplation, I want a clean heart. So it is natural to empathize and mourn with this family that lost a brother and a son. Therefore, my personal feelings about the brother's decision to offer Guyger some compassion after the verdict are irrelevant. Forgiveness is his prerogative.

At this old school mourners' bench/mercy seat, prayers ain't over until everybody is overcome with emotion, so the preacher digs in and appeals on behalf of the woman who almost got away with killing her neighbor. While I can accept his family's choice to offer public absolution, does that also mean that I must follow the example of my fellow sister in the law Judge Tammy Kemp, by embracing Guyger after the verdict was announced? For all of the Christian sympathy and charity extended to Guyger, should I just forget that she allowed that man to bleed out on his own floor because she was more worried about losing her job? In this instance, am I allowed to be Jacob or must I do what Jesus would do and offer unconditional forgiveness?

Yeah, under the weight of that self-examination, my #ChurchLadyHat has become uncomfortable and heavy. So I take it off and tug at my string of #ClutchedPearls to determine what wisdom, if any, might come. And that's how I was reminded of that incident in my mediation class so many years ago. Knowing what I learned in law school and believing everything I was taught as a Christian, it is entirely appropriate to call cow manure by its rightful name. GTFOHWTBS

Amber Guyger wasn't the victim. She had competent legal representation. She had a fair trial. She was given an acceptable sentence of ten years in prison, which is a lot better than an acquittal or a mistrial. There are no legitimate grounds for appeal. The City of Dallas better be prepared to pay the Jean Family a hefty settlement in the pending civil case. Judge Kemp probably won't lose the endorsement of the police union or the criminal bar association when she runs for re-election. But anyone crazy enough to mount a judicial recall or to support her ouster from the bench over something as benign as a hug better be prepared for the old white dude who will replace her (and trust, he won't be handing out compassion).

For all of the good color-blind white folks who are perplexed about this case (because y'all don't see the racial elements), ask yourselves how much your vision would improve if the roles had been reversed, like it had been in this case from Minnesota. I do not recall that there were any attempts to discredit the innocence of that victim because the very idea of an unarmed white woman being killed by a Black cop is inconceivable in and of itself.

For all of the people who live for the narrative of the healing power in forgiveness, ask why you have yet to call on the Goldman family to extend forgiveness to OJ Simpson. To date, I haven't seen any calls for grace or mercy to be offered to Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Dr. Larry Nassar. Some of y'all are still salty that a Black billionaire has forgiven college loan debts he didn't even incur while simultaneously lamenting the fate of Aunt Becky. American exceptionalism is made possible in part by the narrative of Black Christian redemption, yet this country refuses to offer a genuine apology for slavery.

GTFOHWTBS. In my #LawyerLenses, my #ChurchLadyHat, and a strand of #ClutchedPearls, I exhort you not to take up precious time ruminating on the petty details of Guyger's Court TV makeover or what was inscribed in that Bible Judge Kemp gave her. All of that can be included in the Lifetime Movie starring Lindsay Lohan, along with a gospel choir cast as the Jean Family. 

GTFOH Amber Guyger and every other police officer who only claim "blue lives matter" as an affirmative defense in confrontations with Black and Brown citizens. Nobody doubts that police work is dangerous, but that's why there is formal training. That's why police officers get generous benefits and pensions. Respect for the hard job of law enforcement derives from the oath taken to protect and serve the public and the implicit risk of putting one's life on the line in the pursuit of justice. The oath, the training, and the public trust are what separates the police from security guards, club bouncers, and vigilantes--not the colors of the uniform.

Support the Botham Jean Foundation that was established in his memory which serves the St. Lucian community of Caribbean immigrants to this country, among other social services. Vote in the next local election and answer the jury summons when it arrives in the mail. If there is someone in your family who needs a good job, send him/her over to the police academy instead of the post office. If you live in a jurisdiction where there have been bad community relations with the police, insist on better training to reduce incidences of unnecessary officer-involved shootings. Advocate for reforms to the Castle doctrine so that it cannot be used as an affirmative defense by an intruder in someone else's home. Let's do more than just protest and complain on social media about the unfairness of the system.

GTFOHWTBS