Speak Up

Much of my social media feed consists of kid pics, anniversary celebrations, and fun vacations, as befits the status of my friends and the nature of the platform.  Since I count among my contacts many erudite and "woke" people, I also get a steady stream of social commentary, current events, and urban nerditry, and I enjoy and benefit from that too.

This year I have been surprised but strengthened by the force of emotion in some of my friends' posts.  Whether black friends lashing out at racism, female friends angered by our society's rape culture, or gay friends recounting homophobic behavior past and present, I stand with these sentiments but cannot help but be shook by the dissonance between the seething rage behind them juxtaposed with the mild-mannered tone I am accustomed to from them.

Ultimately, I appreciate and join in the outrage.  Some of us are more wired for loud protest than others.  But all of us must find our voice, to speak up, with emotion, when things are not right, for ourselves and for others. For to stay silent is, at times, unacceptable.


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet L

Here is an excerpt from a book I just read, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," by Manning Marable":

Malcolm may have publicly commanded his followers to obey the law, but this did little to lessen suspicion of the Muslims by law enforcement in major cities. Nowhere did tensions run hotter than in Los Angeles, where Malcolm had established Temple No. 27 in 1957. For most whites who migrated to the city, Los Angeles was the quintessential city of dreams. For black migrants, the city of endless possibilities offered some of the same Jim Crow restrictions they had sought to escape by moving west. As early as 1915, black Los Angeles residents were protesting against racially restrictive housing covenants. such racial covenants as well as blatant discrimination by real estate firms continued to be a problem well into the 1960s. The real growth of the black community in Southern California only began to take place during the two decades after 1945. During this twenty-year period, when the black population of New York City increased by nearly 250 percent, the black population of Los Angeles jumped 800 percent. Blacks were also increasingly important in local trade unions, and in the economy generally. For example, between 1940 and 1960, the percentage of black males in LA working as factory operatives increased from 15 percent to 24 percent; the proportion of African-American men employed in crafts during the same period rose from 7 percent to 14 percent. By 1960, 468,000 blacks resided in Los Angeles County. approximately 20 percent of the county’s population. 

These were some of the reasons that Malcolm had invested so much energy and effort to build the NOI's presence in Southern California, and especially the development of Mosque No. 27. Having recruited the mosque’s leaders, he flew out to settle a local factional dispute in October 1961. Such activities were noticed and monitored by the California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities, which feared that the NOI had “Communist affiliations.” The state committee concluded that there was an “interesting parallel between the Negro Muslim movement and the Communist Party, and that is the advocacy of the overthrow of a hated regime by force, violence or any other means.” On September 2, 1961, several Muslims selling Muhammad Speaks in a South Central Los Angeles grocery store parking lot were harassed by two white store detectives. The detectives later claimed that when they had attempted to stop the Muslims from selling the paper, they were “stomped and beaten.” The version of this incident described in Muhammad Speaks was strikingly different, with the paper claiming that “the two ‘detectives’ produced guns, and attempted to make a ‘citizen’s arrest.’ Grocery packers rushed out to help the detectives . . . and black residents of the area who had gathered also became involved. For 45 minutes bedlam reigned.” About forty Los Angeles Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene to restore order. Five Muslims were arrested. At their subsequent trial, the store’s owner and manager confirmed that the NOI had been given permission to peddle their newspapers in the parking lot. An all-white jury acquitted the Muslims on all charges. 

Following the parking lot mêlée, the LAPD was primed for retaliation against the local NOI. The city’s police commissioner, William H. Parker, had even read Lincoln’s The Black Muslims in America, and viewed the sect as subversive and dangerous, capable of producing widespread unrest. He instructed his officers to closely monitor the mosque’s activities, which is why, just after midnight on April 27, 1962, when two officers observed what looked to them like men taking clothes out of the back of a car outside the mosque, they approached with suspicion. What happened next is a matter of dispute, yet whether the police were jumped, as they claimed, or the Muslim men were shoved and beaten without provocation, as seems likely, the commotion brought a stream of angry Muslims out of the mosque. The police threatened to respond with deadly force, but when one officer attempted to intimidate the growing crowd of bystanders, he was disarmed by the crowd. Somehow one officer's revolver went off, shooting and wounding his partner in the elbow. Backup squad cars soon arrived ferrying more than seventy officers, and a full-scale battle ensued. Within minutes dozens of cops raided the mosque itself, randomly beating NOI members. It took fifteen minutes for the fighting to die down. In the end, seven Muslims were shot, including NOI member William X Rogers, who was shot in the back and paralyzed for life. NOI officer Ronald Stokes, a Korean War veteran, had attempted to surrender to the police by raising his hands over his head. Police responded by shooting him from the rear; a bullet pierced his heart, killing him. A coroner’s inquest determined that Stokes’s death was “justifiable.” A number of Muslims were indicted. 

News of the raid shattered Malcolm; he wept for the reliable and trustworthy Stokes, whom he had known well from his many trips to the West Coast. The desecration of the mosque and the violence brought upon its members pushed Malcolm to a dark place. He was finally ready for the Nation to throw a punch. Malcolm told Mosque No. 7’s Fruit of Islam that the time had come for retribution, an eye for an eye, and he began to recruit members for an assassination team to target LAPD officers. Charles 37X, who attended one of these meetings, recalled him in a rage, shouting to the assembled Fruit, “What are you here for? What the hell are you here for?” As Louis Farrakhan related, “Brother Malcolm had a gangsterlike past. And coming into the Nation, and especially in New York, he had a tremendous sway over men that came out of the street with gangster leanings.” It was especially from these hardened men that Malcolm demanded action, and they rose to his cry. Mosque No. 7 intended to “send somebody to Los Angeles to kill [the police] as sure as God made green apples,” said James 67X. “Brothers volunteered for it.” 

As he made plans to bring his killers to Los Angeles, Malcolm sought the approval of Elijah Muhammad, in what he assumed would be a formality. The time had come for action, and surely Muhammad would see the necessity in summoning the Nation’s strength for the battle. But the Messenger denied him. “Brother, you don’t go to war over a provocation,” he told Malcolm. “They could kill a few of my followers, but I’m not going to go out and do something silly.” He ordered the entire FOI to stand down. Malcolm was stunned; he acquiesced, but with bitter disappointment. Farrakhan believes Malcolm concluded  that Muhammad was trying “to protect the wealth that he had acquired, rather than go out with the struggle of our people.”


2016 Election Quiz

Well, we've had quite the doozy of an election season so far, haven't we?  In addition to being the intersection of politics, policies, and personalities, Clinton vs. Trump has served as a sort of Rorschach test on where we stand on issues of class, race, and gender.

Speaking of tests, here are some questions that I throw out, both to hear your answers and to have you critique mine.  And by the way, by "hear" and "critique," I mean less that someone's right and someone's wrong (although that could be the case), and more that one's answers (which represent your own opinion, which you're free to have) are borne of a certain personal bias and therefore reveal that bias to yourself and others.  So I'm curious to know how you feel, how your beliefs consciously or subconsciously influence those feelings, and where my biases affect my answers.

Got it?  So here goes.  Questions first, and then my answers below, in case you want to answer first before viewing mine.



1. Can you despise Donald Trump personally and yet still vote for him?

2. If you knew for certain that "voting your conscience" meant guaranteeing that the greater of two evils would win office, would you still vote for a third party candidate?

3. Is attacking Hillary Clinton necessarily sexist?

4. Does attacking Hillary Clinton necessarily mean you are for Donald Trump?  Does attacking Donald Trump necessarily mean you are for Hillary Clinton?

5. Is the fact that Hillary Clinton would be the first female president of the US a relevant factor in choosing to vote for her?


My Answers

1. Can you despise Donald Trump personally and yet still vote for him?  I think yes.  I personally am not voting for him, but I know people who are because they like him and I also know people who are but can't stand him.  The presidency is so personality-driven and symbolic that it does matter which person inhabits the office, to be sure.  But that office-holder also represents a party, and so if voting Donald Trump makes Republican influence more likely on other important decisions (most notably the selection of a new Supreme Court justice), many Republicans I know are willing to vote for a guy they despise.  At the risk of over-generalizing, voting for party, irrespective of person, appears to be something that is less understood by younger folks and more appreciated by older folks, for reasons I don't quite understand (perhaps it is a split on the importance of loyalty for a platform vs. weighing the merits of individuals).

2. If you knew for certain that "voting your conscience" meant guaranteeing that the greater of two evils would win office, would you still vote for a third party candidate?  This is going to sound awful but I think no.  I am all for breaking up the duopoly and I am all for folks voting for who they like best.  And yet I take this phraseology to mean that if they can't stand either of the top two candidates, they'd rather not vote for either of them and so they don't want to live with the burden of having supported someone who wins and then is a terrible president.  But if one candidate is clearly worse than another, doing something that helps the worser candidate to win would seem to do little to assuage one's conscience.  This all seems so impure, and yet this is what a lot of people have decided about America in the year 2016, is that the system is broken if what it has produces is these last two people standing.

3. Is attacking Hillary Clinton necessarily sexist?  Yes and no.  Obviously, no, an attack on Hillary Clinton's character or policies need not come from a sexist viewpoint.  But let's explore further, because I fear many anti-Hillary folks stop there and don't realize that in fact the words and sentiments they express in their opposition of Hillary Clinton have sexist undertones.  And that is whether that is because we are intentionally being sexist or unintentionally doing so out of ignorance. I can tell you that I have heard some familiar tropes and cringed at them for the ways they tap into old prejudices, and in turn I have thought or said some things myself that I subsequently realized were borne of a sexist point of view and have had to walk back and learn from.

4. Does attacking Hillary Clinton necessarily mean you are for Donald Trump?  Does attacking Donald Trump necessarily mean you are for Hillary Clinton?  No, and this is one that really grinds my gears.  Try as we might, most of the circles we run in are fairly partisan.  It's fun to bash on the other person, I get that.  But it's no fun to raise a legitimate concern about our person and get shouted down as an infidel.  I think everyone would agree that both of our candidates are deeply flawed.  I get that you think one is far worse than the other.  But if your response to attacks on Hillary Clinton is "yes, but what about Donald Trump?" or your response to attacks on Donald Trump" is "yes, but what about Hillary Clinton?" then I'm not sure what to say.  Because one of these candidates is going to become leader of the free world, and it is therefore absolutely fair game to litigate their character, their policies, their decisions, and their ties. 

5. Is the fact that Hillary Clinton would be the first female president of the US a relevant factor in choosing to vote for her?  I think absolutely.  What we love about America is this notion that "anyone can be president."  And yet for the first 232 years of our history, we only elected white men.  The myth of American meritocracy is just that; it's a myth.  We remain the greatest nation in the history of the world, but we are a work in progress.  A particularly important marker of progress is that power and leadership is inclusive of all who can wield it wisely and effectively, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or wealth.  One can oppose Hillary Clinton for whatever reason besides that she is a woman, or vote for her for reasons beyond her sex.  But it is absolutely relevant that her election would mark a significant step in signaling to future generations of girls and boys that indeed "anyone can be president." 


I Too

Earlier this month I wrote about the African-American poetry book I was reading with Asher for bedtime stories.  I could not help but citing another work in this space, which is "I Too" by Langston Hughes. It is able to evoke, somehow, simultaneous feelings of beautiful hopefulness and bitter shame.  Such is a good poem.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.