Black History = American History, But For American Stupidity

February 4, 2014

Pythagorean Theorem (except when it comes to Black history and race), February 4, 2014. (http://ncalculators.com/)

Pythagorean Theorem (except when it comes to Black history and race), February 4, 2014. (http://ncalculators.com/)

It’s Black History Month. It’s a month that often feels more like an obligation to honor the Civil Rights Movement than it does a full month to celebrate and appreciate all African American contributions to the development and success of the United States over the previous four centuries. Yet there are many Whites, Blacks and other people of color who refuse to see this at all. Some argue for a White History Month, some argue that Blacks don’t have a culture or history at all — or at least, one worth celebrating. And some argue that the time and need for a Black History Month has passed.

Some of this ridiculousness I parody here:

No argument is more central to the reason why Black History Month needs to continue than the one I’ve heard from conservatives and former students over the years. That because Black history shines a light on America’s racist, economic loading of the dice in favor of White elites and business interests, I’m being “anti-patriotic” when I talk about or teach on this. Then, of course, I get the “love-America-or-leave-it” response.

People who respond this way are such assholes. Some of your ancestors brought my ancestors here in chains, well before most of these alleged patriots’ ancestors even thought about coming here. My ancestors built plantations, chopped down forests, grew the cash crops that made White men rich and provided the money necessary to make America an industrial capitalistic powerhouse, built the White House and the Capitol, and have fought in every war this country’s been a part of. But I’m unpatriotic when through Black history I can point out America’s flaws and great failings?

The less evolved part of me would say, at least in a street argument, “Kiss my Black ass!” But to be honest, I don’t want these folks to touch me, much less kiss my butt. What I want them to do is read, listen, watch and learn, and not just assume everything they’ve heard from FOX News, their parents and in elementary school social studies is the gospel truth. That way, they would then have the choice between understanding that US history and Black history are one and the same and wallowing in their willful stupidity.


The Hypocrisy of Religion As A Weapon of Fear

May 12, 2012

My Bible (KJV) combined with a French mace (circa 16th century, on display at Morges military museum, August 20, 2010), May 12, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins; Rama via Wikipedia). In public domain.

During my three years as a Hebrew-Israelite (between April ’81 and April ’84), I found more than a few of our ideas and practices confounding. So many issues around issues of blood, kosherizing food, the dangers of using Ivory Soap or saying “Hello” to callers on a telephone. I was in a cult during the most out-of-sorts periods any of us face — middle school and puberty (see my post “Balkis Makeda’s 2nd Coming” from May ’11). Not good, as anyone who knew me during my A.B. Davis Middle School years can attest, for better and worse.

One of the most puzzling practices at 616 and even at the Hebrew-Israelite temple in Mount Vernon was in what my idiot stepfather and the rabbis would have us read. We read more than simply the Torah, the Prophets (or Nevi’im), the Writings (or Ketuvim) or the Talmud. No, on rare occasions, we cracked open the good old King James, and found ourselves in the middle of Matthew or Mark.

The passages that our fearless religious leaders assigned were very specific. They were only assigned for the purposes of showing us what ancient Israelite life had become in the centuries since the fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the enslavement and scattering of the ten Lost Tribes. That was it. No discussion of Jesus’ miracles, his defiant sense of social justice and protest, his life, death and resurrection. The rabbis didn’t even publicly acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, much less the son of God.

I asked, more than once over those three years, “If we are Hebrew-Israelites, then why are we reading the New Testament?” I never got a straight answer. “Oh, Jesus is among the men of Judah, like Moses or Saul or David.” Or “Jesus was like a prophet, in the tradition of Jeremiah or Daniel.” Or “Because I’m the man of this house, and you do what I tell you to do, BOY!,” as  “Judah ben Israel,” my idiot stepfather, would yell.

I knew enough back then to know that the ancient Israelites, ten of those Twelve Tribes, were enslaved and dispersed during the time of the Assyrian Empire, not to mention the Babylonians that conquered the Assyrians. And all between 722 and 586 BCE. By the time the Persians freed the remaining two tribes (Judah and Levi) in 539 BCE, the others were lost to history. So why would Jesus be relevant in a religion based on the history of a group that was scattered centuries before Jesus was born? Why focus on the New Testament in low dosages? Why care about any passages from the gospels at all?

Fast forward twenty-eight years from my Christian conversion to the age of pseudo-Christian evangelical fundamentalism as a proxy for prejudice, hatred and fear. So much of this social issues garbage comes from literal Christian interpretations of the Old Testament. Last I checked, the Old Testament in question here is the Torah, and I haven’t met a whole lot of pastors or priest who are Judaism experts.

The burning of the knight of Hohenberg with his servant before the walls of Zürich, for sodomy, by Diebold Schilling (1482), February 17, 2005. (Lysis via Wikipedia). In public domain.

We’ve been fighting for half a century over abortion — which is essentially addressed for pro-life advocates in Exodus and Leviticus as “Thou shalt not kill.” Lethal levels of disgust and hatred directed at gays and lesbians because of three passages in Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, and one of them over what amounts to attempted gang rape. Really? Our strength as Christians is defined by how well we understand and practice what’s in the Old Testament? Any Christian that believes that this is more important than the Gospels or Jesus’ charge to us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is a really hateful person. Period.

Though Vice President Joe Biden forced his hand through his support of gay marriage on NBC’s Meet The Press this past Sunday, President Barack Obama did the right thing on Wednesday by outing his truer pro-gay rights and marriage self. You know, the president’s evolving view that took him right back to where he was in ’96. Still, it was a historic moment to see President Obama with ABC’s Robin Roberts proclaim his personal support for gay and lesbian marriage and LGBT rights in general.

But there are questions beyond the historical significance (see John F. Kennedy’s June 11, ’63 speech in support of Black activism and civil rights — on the eve of Medgar Evers’ assassination — for more) or the politics of making this announcement six months before the ’12 election. Like, why does anyone who isn’t gay care at all? Because a pastor who spends more time dealing in fear and misinterpreting the Old Testament says to care? Because you don’t want your hyper-heterosexual sense of masculinity (Black or otherwise) or femininity questioned? Or because you and other people in your life love using your Neanderthal sense of Christianity and spirituality as a club to bludgeon others, to blame others for your lot in life?

“Enthusiasms” scene screen shot from The Untouchables (1987), March 30, 2012. (http://loonpond.blogspot.com). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws due to picture’s low resolution and cropped nature.

I don’t expect anyone vehemently on the other side of this issue to answer these questions, any more than I ever expected my idiot stepfather to explain why we studied the New Testament as practicing Hebrew-Israelites. I love Jesus and what and who he stood for and I believe would stand for today. But these so-called Torah-practicing Christians are very difficult to love.


Race, Racism and Bigotry

August 5, 2010

Seven and a half years ago, at a retreat for a gathering of social justice fellows in Northern California, a lengthy discussion of -isms occurred. The premise was the fact that every human being has prejudices, biases, can come off as a bigot.

At one point, I made the point that there’s a difference between bigotry and racism. The average bigoted person usually doesn’t have the ability to slander, libel or otherwise act on their bigotry in a way that discriminates against the person or a whole class of people who are the object of this individual’s bigotry. Afterward, a fellow insisted that all bigotry rose to the level of an -ism of some sort, no matter how little the power or influence the person harboring this bigotry possessed.

In recent weeks, between the New Black Panther Party, FOX News, Ben Jealous and the NAACP, Shirley Sherrod, the USDA, the White House, the workplace shooting in Hartford, Connecticut, the radioactive issues around race and racism have reared their ugly heads. For a society forty-five years removed from the end of Jim Crow — and 146 years removed from the end of slavery — we’re still much in need of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on race. But in order to have a real conversation on race, we need to understand that there are differences between race, racism and bigotry, that these words aren’t interchangeable.

Take the term race. As defined by so many other scholars over the past 110 years — it’s a social construction based on skin and hair-deep differences between groups of people from various parts of the world.  Not to mention the legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Saying that there are differences based on race between the incomes of Blacks, Whites, and Latinos, for instance, is merely a statement of fact, and not an implication that any individual or group is practicing racism. Nor does race make sense outside of cultural distinctions. Tens of millions of us are living proof that there’s only one human race, genetically speaking, that is.

The word racism involves much more than mere racial distinctions and history. It involves the embracing

in words and deeds ideas and systems that either deliberately or inadvertently discriminate against other groups based on their race. It’s an expression of bigotry, but not just simply to acknowledge or enlighten oneself or others. Rush Limbaugh’s spit-flying session on President Obama in the weeks before the ’08 Election — “It was all about RACE! It was all about RACE!” — is a good example of this. Limbaugh was arguing that Obama was winning the election because of racism. Specifically, reverse racism among African Americans and White guilt over racism among independents and progressives. Limbaugh all but kissed his microphone while hollering out of a rage that can only be described as racism.

Anyone can express racism or be a racist. But where should we draw the line between bigotry and racism? I’ll use my mother as an example. She’s complained for thirty years how “all the jobs been taken by West Indians and Spanish people” in Mount Vernon and other parts of Westchester County. Well, working-class jobs, anyway. There’s no doubt that this is an expression of bigotry. But does this mean that my mother’s a racist? Hardly. For whatever it’s worth, my mother has worked with, gone to church with, and broken bread with folks regardless of their race or ethnicity, and not begrudgingly. Even with the authority to hire and fire thirty years ago, my mother worked to ensure that all under her supervision weren’t discriminated against.

But while all of us have a smidgen of bigotry in our hearts and minds as occasionally expressed from our mouths, many of us aren’t racists or practicing racism. But a racist is without a doubt a bigot. So experience, intent, position in society, and race (not racism, not bigotry) are all involved in making someone’s words and deeds examples of racism, and that person a racist.

These are subjective definitions, and I could be challenged and wrong. However, they’re based on twenty years of work as a writer, scholar, historian, professor, and forty years living in post-Civil Rights America. We need to start somewhere to have a real and serious discussion of race. Maybe this is it.


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