Obama, You Are Doomed to Fail, Unless You're Jesus!

Like most black children growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward, I spent most of my life medically uninsured. If you got sick, you stayed home and endured the experimental ministering of your grandmother whose medical knowledge consisted of a spoonful of Castor Oil, two drops of sweet oil in each ear, and effectual prayer to “dah” Lord. To say the least, being sick and uninsured was not fun—and not because Castor Oil tasted like day old paint—but because it leaves you, the infirmed and uninsured, wondering if you’re healed. This is not to say that medical school is the only way you learn how to heal the human body. Clearly, I’m still alive today because of my grandmother’s medicinal concoctions and faith in God. However, having access to medical insurance can make life easier and long-lived.  Just ask the countless numbers of people who discover through a doctor’s visit that they have Cancer or Diabetes and have caught it right in the nick of time.

Yes, having access to a doctor can save your life. It can also reduce the stress of having to lie, steal, kill, and cheat in order to get the medical treatments you need. I can recall the many lies my mother had to fabricate to update my sisters’ and I’s shot records and the unlawful amounts of money clinic’s doctors charged to give my older sister and me annual physicals so that we could play school sports. We could not afford to be sick. Sickness was a privilege of the wealthy (i.e. white people) and a curse for us, the working class, because sickness meant a loss of work hours, possible job termination, increased consumption of alcohol by my father because he could not pay the medical bills, bellies filled to the brim with the quintessential cure-alls—cod liver oil and castor oil—and the possibility of an unknown death. Being sick was a curse.

Because of all of this I am a huge proponent of universal health care. Therefore, I’m very upset with how President Barack Obama is handling the “government run” health care debate. Simply hosting town hall meetings and press conferences do not get at the root of why so many Americans are anti-universal health care or anti-government run health care. This issue is not simply about framing or reframing a message of why people should support government run health care as seen in the Harry and Louise’s commercials. It’s about radically altering people’s ideas about whose deserving and who’s undeserving primarily based upon this allegedly neutral idea of hard work. An idea that says, “Hey, I work hard so I receive health insurance through my job. Okay. Others don’t work hard so they don’t get health insurance and shouldn’t receive it free through the government . . . Shoot, government always trying to spend my hard earned money on lazy ass people.”

Yes, many Americans are sounding like Oscar the Grouch (Please click on the link) when it comes to extending medical coverage to the uninsured because they assume that the reasons why people are not covered is because they are not working hard enough or have made bad choices to make coverage an unlikely possibility. To see evidence of this, just randomly click through news channels reporting on the health care debate. All in all, people don’t want to sign on to Obama’s plan because in their minds they unequivocally believe they are suffering for a few lazy poor decision-making Americans . . . as if 45.7 million uninsured people were a small number of people. And of course, conservatives are profiting from blatantly touting this rhetoric in commercials and in press conferences.

But now that I think about it, perhaps, I am giving conservatives too much credit they are simply harnessing a belief system that has been hanging around since the first enactment of the 18th century Poor Laws which only provided welfare for those who could not work—young children, widows, the disabled, and non able bodied people.

If President Obama hopes to save some semblance of his government-run health care plan, he needs to do something that will literally and figuratively eject people out of their staunch individualistic beliefs. But what would it take to do that? Is it even possible? Is it possible to change people’s beliefs about whose deserving and who is undeserving when people are taught from birth that only people who “work hard” receive help? Of course, this idea of whose deserving is further complicated by the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality where often African Americans and Latino Americans are stereotyped as people who are undeserving because they are caricatured as lazy people who fleece Uncle Sam by collecting numerous welfare checks from having children by different “daddies.”

Given this notion of the deserving public and the undeserving public, it appears as if President Obama’s government run health care plan is doomed to fail.  That is, unless he is able to perform a miracle of changing people’s minds. Unless he is able to show them that using an idea of “hard work” that is framed and defined by the middle and upper class to determine who “deserves” to be healthy is deeply problematic and antithetical to community building. If Obama is unable to change public opinion then he will be as Jesus was healing the uninsured sick, himself.

The Profiling of a Prolific Pedagogue

It has been nearly two weeks since the arrest of leading black scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a number of articles have been published interrogating police practice as it relates to minority communities, with particular focus on black men. Actors Boris Kodjoe and Jeffrey Wright both contributed commentary detailing their experiences navigating a prejudice white world and abusive law enforcement. President Obama himself made an off-script remark as well about the long embattled relationship between blacks, Latinos, and the police.

In the incident report submitted by Officer James Figueroa, he accuses Gates of screaming, “You don’t know who your [sic] messing with.” While Gates has called the report a fabrication, the implication of the comment is clear in most of the rhetoric swirling since his arrest.  Gates is either too old, too educated, or too well-known to be arrested.  Jelani Cobb, a contributing author to The Root, referred to the arrest as “unfathomable” and Jimi Izrael defined Gates as “mild-mannered” and thought it sad that a “prominent black scholar with reams of scholarship on bookshelves” couldn’t be distinguished from “Cousin Pookie.”  To my surprise, not many people covering the “Gates Incident” have commented on more than his stature, his race, the place of the police, and their pride in Obama addressing an issue so common to the black male species.  Profiling, or to be more specific racial-profiling, is not simply limited to the caustic relationship between black men and police officers.

While racial-profiling has unfortunately become synonymous with contentious relationships between black men and police officers, the term can and should be discussed more broadly.  It should signify the many ways in which, “the summary or analysis of the history, status, etc., of a process of activity, relationship, or set of characteristics” is used to seek out individuals for harassment, unprovoked questioning, prosecution, etc.” contributes to the unfair treatment of all individuals, not simply the black male, not simply the “innocent.”  Unfortunately, Dr. Gates’ arrest has garnered so much attention because he is an elite and because he was found “innocent” of the charge.  Too frequently the catalyst for investigating profiling or pursuing any injustice is the discovery of or the presumption of innocence.  There are countless stories of black men found innocent of rape after serving lengthy sentences, people saved from death row due to faulty testimony and planted evidence, but there is little focus on the ways in which racial-profiling and gender-profiling collide to affect women of color.

What is most clearly missing from this weeks-long debate are the ways in which race, gender, and class collide to create prison systems filled with minorities, in particular women.  To his credit, Michael Eric Dyson’s CNN commentary provided a more nuanced look at race relations in the black community as a whole (class included), but he still manages to miss the gender argument.  Even Melissa Harris-Lacewell who appeared on Rachel Maddow and who wrote commentary on the Nation missed the gender angle.  Is it just not important, or has racial-profiling just become the “black male” problem?  In this instance, it appears to be even less about all black men, and more about specific types–the well-educated types like Colin Powell, Dr. Gates, and President Obama.  The pedagogues, the President’s friend, and the President himself.  The “clean” men.

What I hope will eventually find its way into this discussion before it dies is the way women are profiled by police and a culture that condones unfair prosecution and rule-bending in pursuit of criminals.  Despite statistics, black women are paraded as “welfare queens”, they are more likely to be prosecuted for petty offenses, and are less likely to see justice in the event they are victims of crimes.  Too often, minority women are profiled.  They are, as victims of abusive relationships more likely to end up being drug mules or runners, and therefore are more likely sought out by drug enforcement agents and a result now make up one of the largest growing populations in prison.  “Black women are incarcerated at three times the rate for white women and Latina women at almost 1.6 times the rate for white women.”  More than 80% of women incarcerated for drugs in New York are women of color.  A coincidence?  (Information provided by Women’s Prison Project at the Correctional Association in New York)

When Kimberle Crenshaw explored the idea of intersectionality she did so with an eye towards uncovering the ways in which various aspects of who we are impact the way we see the world, but more importantly, the way in which the world sees us.  Unfortunately, our tendency to get bogged down in value politics, whereby some lives are more important and therefore less dispensible complicates our ability to interrogate the practices that shape our society.  Our tendency to engage in debates about the death of  a “good college kid” versus someone “with a police record” highlights the many opportunities we miss to challenge our systems “flexibility”, way before someone like Dr. Gates gets arrested on his porch, even if it is Cousin Pookie.

Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations: Part 2 Leadership

 

barack-obama

There is a problem with leadership in America, particularly black America. From every angle when we think of our leadership there are three main themes (i.e., the problematic, the self-aggrandizer, and the bad).  Leadership is a tricky thing when you think about it. No one is at birth (here in United States of America) destined to be a leader.  Particularly for African Americans, how do our leaders become  ‘our leaders’ and then how do they become viewed by the larger society as leaders of black America?  How does black America come to find a space in which to critique and offer guidance to ‘our leaders’?

Barack Obama is the perfect example of the problematic leader. The problematic leader is one that gains power and position through his/her work in a particular (often times minority) community without being voted to that position.  As a result, he can never be checked by this community in a formal way (i.e., power of the vote).  Yet and because, he gains access through the formal (i.e., power of the vote) to a majority community (read: often times white) he becomes loyal to not upsetting the apple cart of the community that will use the formal process to remove him.  This is particularly, true in Obama’s case. At every turn he uses his race and the fact that there are no formal processes to check him for any transgressions (read: truth telling) against Black America.  As a result he chastise black America (without fear of retribution) while white America goes unscathed (because of fear of retribution). I first became concerned of this problem in 2008 while he was on his presidential campaign trail.

I remember on June 15, 2008 when he, before being president, made the truthful Father’s Day speech.    He rightful said “…too many fathers are MIA,…they have abandon there responsibilities…and the foundation of our families have suffered… no where is this more true that in the African American community.”  It was the Friar Roast heard round the world, and he was praised for it unlike Bill Cosby’s speech. The Apostolic Church of God’s black people clapped for a national (read: mostly white) prime time audience to view. Moreover, His self-help message knows no bounds as it spread over to Accura, Ghana on July 11, 2009 .  In both of his recent speeches (i.e., at the NAACP centennial celebration and press conferences about Professor Gates), President Obama’s panders (read: caters) to white America’s sensitivities and he blatantly disregards black America’s sensitivities.

A Gay Man's Struggle: "Why DL?"

blog pics #1 why DL?

One of my friends came to me this week and told me one of those stories that make you shake you head in disappointment. My eighteen-year-old male friend (For Blog purposes we will call him Timothy) was approached and asked out on a date by an older man (We will call him Bernis). Bernis was in his mid-thirties and initially seemed to be a nice person. After a couple weeks of interaction between the two of them Timothy realized Bernis was DownLow (which he understood to be problematic but Timothy did not mind dealing with that aspect.) Timothy stopped interacting with Bernis when he saw a picture of him at a Vacation spot with a woman and two kids. When Timothy asked him about the picture, Bernis came clean and told him he had a wife and two kids.  

When situations like this happen, usually both the gay and straight community criticize and judge the DownLow man. In some sense I think those older men should be criticized, but I also think people need to understand why those men have hidden in the closet for so long and why they continue to drown in their infidelity with the same sex.

There are all types of DownLow men. I have talked to men on the DL who were “self-proclaimed” thugs, businessmen, lawyers, drug dealers, educated, non-educated, educators, Black, White, Brown, and everything in between. And I have been DL once upon a time. I tried to hide who I was and pretend to date girls so others would think I was straight. I’m just glad that I was strong and confident enough to break out of my “straight façade.”

So why DL?

blog pics #3 question mark why DL?

It always involves a combination of these three aspects: The American Dream, Religion and/or Homophobia.  

The American Dream is not a reality for many living in impoverished areas across the country. However, there is still a paradigm that consistently leaves remnants of ideas that root from our “countries dream” which causes any young boy (or girl) to not want to be labeled as “deviant.”

Things like growing up and having a wife and kids are programmed into the minds of individuals from the time of their birth. If you are apart of any lifestyle that deviates from what is considered normal, acceptable, or the status quo you will be ostracized and many have even been brutally gay bashed.(Read about Matthew Shepard)blog pics #4 homophob why DL?

People don’t decide to be DL once they reach adulthood. It starts when you’re just a teenager. When I was a young boy in middle school discovering how much discrimination existed towards black people in the past, I did not want to be discriminated against for two things that I could not control—Being Black and Gay. In middle school I decided early that it was best to suppress the thought and feelings I had for other men. And for the next six years of my life (from 12-18) that’s exactly what I did. I lied, had fake relationships, and stressed my masculinity so that I could be considered normal and not have to deal with the ridicule and judgment of society. In the black community, when oppressions develop in society, black people have a history of finding a haven within the church. But with gay oppression, that spiritual haven is non-existent, and the vulnerability of struggling gay men and lesbian women only escalates.

We live in a society where homophobes are displayed on news channels for beating and sometimes killing people for their sexual orientation, where the mentality of a mass amount of people believe it would be best to get married/make 2.5 kids, and where a church says your going to hell if you don’t change your sexual orientation. With all these different aspects going on at once, it would seem smarter and wiser to just stay in the closet for a lifetime in some sense.

The reason we have 35 year old men approaching 19 year olds males after being married with kids, is because we live in a society that ridicules those individuals who are courageous enough to decide to be out and proud. I am not condoning a cheating man’s actions, but I want to explore why a man could live half his life and still be hiding his true self. Bernis is just a product of what society says he should be. We can call him a coward, but the truth still remains, if people come out of the closet, they will have to face more hardships in life.

blog pics #5 comingout why DL?

I decided to come out because I refuse to go through life under the oppression of anyone else’s opinions. I believe for a man (or women) to get to a point where they stop hiding, they have to stop caring what everyone thinks and feels (which is much easier said than done). When I came out, I had to not care what my family thought (the same family who fasted—literally stopped eating—and prayed for me when I told them I was gay), I had to stop caring what my friends thought (some of the same friends who abandoned me once they found out), and I had to re-evaluate my religion (a religion that had been the backbone of my life since I was a three year old in Sunday-school). I cannot blame Bernis for not wanting to deal with the oppression and rejection that gay and lesbian people encounter on a daily basis.

One thing I can take hope in is that things are getting better. The Laws (slowly but surely) are changing to support and protect all people. The first gay minister   blog pics #2 gay minister why DL?was appoint in the last decade, and people are starting to understand you can still achieve success and find acceptance as an out gay man or lesbian women. I suppose it is up to us (Straight and Gay people) to make sure our society stops giving such a negative and unnatural connotation to the word “gay” and everything that comes with it. Maybe then 35-year-old men will finally be able to accept their true identities.

A(nother) Word on Bootstraps

On the day the Senate Judiciary Committee considers her nomination:

I didn’t watch much of the Sotomayor hearings. I found them boring, and frankly, in some weird way they reminded me of my oral exams. And who wants recall that trauma on a weekday afternoon–especially when one is supposed to be writing a dissertation and not watching C-SPAN? Anyway, I caught part of Senator Jon Kyl’s discussion with Sotomayor. I believe this was the first round of questioning on July 14. At some point Kyl, as expected, turns to Sotomayor’s speeches and her “wise Latina” remark. He’s concerned because he thinks judging has (always been) and should (continue to) be neutral, and that Sotomayor might use her sassy Latina-ness to make decisions. Sotomayor says something to the effect of “I didn’t really mean it that way. I was just trying to encourage people who aren’t white, straight, male, privileged, etc.” Of course, I paraphrase. But Kyl likes her response. So he says:

On E. Lynn Harris

Last Friday (July 24), author E. Lynn Harris died. Though his passing is getting some attention, by comparison, the deaths of other, more famous people have peppered the mainstream media at a much higher rate. A lot of folks (still) don’t know who he is. Either way, learning of his death gave me pause. Not because I’m TOTALLY. FREAKED. OUT. by all these famous black people dying, but because I am surrounded by friends–internet and otherwise–who were deeply moved by his work.

The Color of Corruption

For decades Detroit has been the center of the automotive industry in the United States, and was the destination of many black migrants in the early 50’s and 60’s. The factories provided jobs that allowed black men and women with little education to pay for their families in sustainable and even upwardly mobile ways. As late as the mid-nineties, I can remember guys I was growing up with telling me that college was a waste of time because they could make good money working in the factories like their fathers had.

As such, when the economy crashed last year–and took the automotive industry with it–Detroit, and the black people who inhabit the city (Detroit is 81% black), were especially hard hit. With a 22% unemployment rate in the City of Detroit alone (the State of Michigan unemployment rate is 15.2%), the circumstances become more dire daily.

Third Friday News Wrap-Up

Beginning today and every third Friday to follow, I will blog vignettes of weekly news stories. This type of vignette blogging will allow people to comment on the story or stories that most affect them. So, for a blogger who delights in blogging about current events, race, and gender this has been as the cliché goes “a week for the history [her-story] books.” Early Monday morning, the internet buzzed with disparaging if now downright racist sexist commentary about newly appointed Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. Pundits and conservative talk show radio host lambasted the pending nominee’s credibility as surgeon general because of her weight. Of, course my response to this was since when do we ask white male senators if their whiteness and maleness influences how they legislate so why is it now important to assess Dr. Benjamin’s weight. And Steve Colbert of the Daily Report agrees.

Then on Tuesday, Chris Brown released on the internet an apology for beating Riahanna. Many felt including me that it was not heartfelt or genuine. Furthermore, merely speaking with one’s spiritual counselors does not necessarily get at the complexities of domestic and teen dating violence. He needs to be in continuous therapy. And, perhaps he should read the statement that Females United For Action (FUFA) wrote in response to teen dating violence. Then news broke about how renowned Harvard scholar, Professor Henry Louis Gates, was arrested for entering his own home. Blogsphere went into a delirious tizzy. Commentary ranged from racial color blind(ism), “Well, the officer was just doing his job and if I saw someone entering who looked “mischievous” I would call the police too to racial analysis, “This is purely racial profiling.” My response to this story is mixed I simply wrote on my Facebook status, “I understand the racism of this story. It happens to countless numbers of black and brown people not just men of color, however, the class dynamics of being able to become as Michael Eric Dyson stated “the Rosa Parks of racial profiling” and to have the President of the United States, Barack Obama, make mention of the issue is something to assess when thinking about how class privilege (I am a Harvard Professor) intersects with race.”

Then on Wednesday, Soledad O’Brien, the race crusader herself, (of course I am being sarcastic) presented Black in America 2 as if the prequel actually reflected the complexities of being Black in America. To be honest, I did not watch the show because it was my birthday and I decided to watch Madagascar 2 at least in this TV viewing I expected to see characters displayed as animals. However, many people did watch the show and have strong opinions about it. Finally to end the week, news about how Barack Obama is losing the debate about reorganizing the health care system broke. Like past presidents seeking to shape public opinion, Barack Obama is relying on town hall meetings and news conferences to sale his agenda. However, I believe he and other Democrats must creatively figure out how to counter conservative group’s ads and commercials which display Obama’s agenda as a plot to take from the hardworking and give to non-hardworking. Of course, this is easily said then done given how this American ethos of hard work and due diligence is fed to us from birth, but it must be done if the Democrats expect to extend coverage to those who are currently uninsured.

So, as stated earlier in this piece, this is the Third Friday News Wrap-Up where you are able to comment on the story or stories that most affect you. Should we consider Dr. Benjamin’s weight as a factor for her not to become the new Surgeon General? Should we forgive Chris Brown for his abusive transgressions? Should we empathize with the white officer who arrested Skip Gates? Should we follow conservative rhetoric that the only people who deserve to medically insured are those who can afford it? Also, if you have other news stories that happened this week, please feel free to share.

The Soft bigotry of Low Expectation: Part 1 Violence

VIOLENCE

VIOLENCE

In May 2008, I was in the North Lawndale community on my way home from work when I was attacked. I was attacked by 8-12 black children ranging from ages 10 – 12.  They were throwing rocks, bricks and etc , because I had refused to give the youngest one money. I didn’t fight back.  I just got out of there and went to the police station to file a compliant. I learned that there was a neighborhood search for the leader (aka superman) of this group that had been attacking the elderly and other folks.   This was my second time being attacked on the west-side of Chicago. I remember sharing my story with a friend of mine. I was furious every time I thought of the little marauding group of delinquents. I told her how I wanted them to be put in a juvenile detention center.  She was appalled. She told me that I was exercising my privilege and not being compassionate to young black children and their struggle.  She talked about trying to understand how their community created them to be violent. I asked her if that applied to older “rogues and marauders”  and she said “yes.”  At this point, we had a conversation about self-determination and human agency vs. environment and other external forces that lead to poor decision-making, piss-poor morals, and a lack of humanity.