Respect the Troops: Stop Whitewashing Our US Military Veterans

I’ve read numerous posts or comments over the last few days that say. Not all quite as strongly but something similar to this one … “Nike spit in the face of every active duty military personnel, retired or disabled vet. Also on every grave marker in every Military Cemetery all over the world.”

You may have missed this in history class, but did you know that Black Americans have served in every American War?

History records the first American to die in the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks. He was part Black part Native which means he had absolutely nothing to gain in this war. Yet he is regarded by historians to be the first American ever to die for this country.

Black Americans who fought in the Civil War saw the end of slavery, only for white supremacy to live on and adapt consequently rendering the 14th and 15th Amendments ineffective.

Black Americans who fought in WWI returned home to a separate but not equal society based on skin color, and the threat of lynching if they forgot their place.
Many of the Black Americans who fought in WWII stayed in Europe and took up residence because of the overt racism and often violent resistance to the growing Civil Rights Movement that was happening back home. They had it better in places like France than they did in the US.

Many of the Black Americans who fought in the Civil War and both World Wars were became targets of racial violence, because of their service to the nations military and how their service was a threat to white supremacist ideology.

Black Americans who fought in the Korean War returned home to be discriminated against in their access to the GI Bill. They watched their white brothers be given a chance to start a life via the GI Bill, while they were denied because of the color of their skin. And even if they were approved for access to the GI Bill their options of where they could buy a home, go to school, start a business were severely limited due to continued resistance to social integration and equality.

Black Americans who fought in the Vietnam War returned home to a virutal war on black neighborhoods via the War on Crime and War on Drugs.

Today many Black Americans whose military duties took them to Iraq and Afghanistan return home to fear for the lives of their children in encounters with police, and to listen to people like you talk as if their service doesn’t even exist and never happened. They continue to serve this country in the midst of a resurgence of White Nationalism. They serve this country and make sacrifices for the freedoms of US citizens including those who look at them, not as a veteran deserving of gratitude and honor, but just another N****r. They protected the freedoms of the white men who marched through Charlottesville last year with tiki torches proclaiming, “You will not replace us”.

You don’t have to think much of Colin Kaepernick or any of the NFL players who kneel in protest of the persistence of racism in US policing and the criminal justice system.

You can be so upset with Nike for making him the face of their new ad campaign and never buy another pair of their shoes again.

But please… stop talking as though no one who ever fought, served and sacrificed in our nation’s military was black. Their contributions to our nation is not Black History. It’s American history. A history that is often forgotten, ignored, or over looked.

Black Americans defended and continue to defend the very institutions and people that treat them not as veterans deserving respect and honor, but rather as a menace to society deserving of suspicion for doing average everyday things while black.

What Does the Flag Symbolize?: Thoughts on the NFL National Anthem Controversy and Policy

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting leave and getting away with murder.”

That is the explanation that Colin Kapernick gave to reporters after the third preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers in late August 2016. Fast forward twenty one months later after two full NFL seasons embroiled in a national anthem controversy, the owners have unanimously approved a NFL National Anthem Policy. I’ve read the statement that was given in accordance with the introduction of this new policy. I do appreciate that they acknowledged how unfortunate it was that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousand of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.” That being said that false perception was held and often driven by a number of NFL owners themselves.

At the end of the day the NFL owners ultimately care about the bottom line. I do not believe they really get it, and honestly I’m not convinced they really care. After the mid season closed door meetings with some of the players who had become the leaders of this movement within the NFL they concluded that they would support the foundations and charities the players were involved in within their respective communities. That solution falls short of actually addressing the actual concerns of the wider movement the players are lending their voices to within the United States of America as a whole demanding better policing in communities of color and accountability for officers who are wrongfully kill unarmed citizens. They do not care about there being a universal standard of policing and police protocol. They do not care about police officers whose recklessness and clear disregard for their training in deescalation tactics lead to unnecessary and unjust deaths. These are issues that can’t be resolved by getting behind the local Boys & Girls Club.

But ultimately this isn’t simply about the NFL not getting it or not caring. It’s about a large swath of America not getting it, or simply not caring. They do not care about the inequitable policing of black and brown bodies that can get Tamir Rice shot and killed in two seconds flat, but still armed white mass shooters can be taken into custody without incident hours after they’ve gone on a shooting rampage. They have been drip fed the lie of black inferiority, of inherent black savagery all their lives. These lies date back to the foundations of this country when Columbus discovered a resource far more valuable than the gold he was in search of. He found brown bodies, and with the authority bestowed on him by the crown and the church he sought to own them and make them work for him. If they did not comply they were killed. Thus as far as they are concerned the high profile incidences involving people of color who have been killed by police officers in recent years are just another black or brown body in a heap of millions that has been collecting for five hundred years that should have just done what their master told them to do.

It is not NFL owners who sat on the juries or grand juries who either choose to acquit or not indict Officer Yanez, Officer Wilson, Officer Pantaleo, George Zimmerman, or Officer Loehmann. It was our fellow citizens many of whom are likely NFL Fans, play fantasy football, or have a favorite local team. They are Vikings fans. They were Rams fans. They are Giants or Jets fans. They are Browns fans. Jurors decided and much of America approved.

Lost in all the anthem controversy of the past two years is the actual symbolic meaning of the stars and stripes. The American flag itself has been distorted to mean something else, something that was not originally intended. America has either forgotten or simply does not want to be beholden to the great ideals that America aspires to be and thus what the flag represents. When the colonists first marched into the battles of the Revolutionary War with the flag it was not in honor of the troops who were fighting against the crown of Great Britain whom they believed was a tyrant. They carried the flag to remind them what they were fighting for. The ideal they aspired towards as expressed in The Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It represents what we aspire to be but have never fully been. The pageantry that was developed around supporting troops during war time dating back the World War II has caused us to forget what the flag was meant to signify. It was quite a convenient revision for a nation that fought a war against fascism whilst rounding up Asian Americans into internment camps and sending black men who were legally discriminated against at home across the ocean to fight for the freedom of white foreigners

Truth be told America has had a very slow and contentious march towards fulfilling that ideal for all of it’s history into the present day. By 1776 it had been nearly 130 years since the courts in Virginia ruled that John Punch “being a negro… shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere”. That of course after the Dutchman and the Scotsman who had fled with John Punch got four additional years added to their servitude. In the sixty years after the Joe Punch Decision Virginia codified a series of court decisions that created a radicalized system of slavery with the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. It effectively embedded white supremacy into law, and the other colonies quickly followed suit. Thus the Declaration of Independence was conceived under the clear auspices of white supremacy. White Supremacy in America has never fully been addressed and dismantled. Thus today we have glaring issues of racial inequality not least of which is the criminal justice system.

If there was ever a time for NFL owners to see the urgency and seriousness of what the players were kneeling for it was during the first weekend of preseason games in early August 2017. Out spoken white supremacists marched through Charlottesville Virginia and protested the removal of statues depicting rebels and traitors of America. Statues of men who believed it was their divine right to rule over men and women of color. Not on their knees, but with torches. Not with silence but with shouts that they will not be replaced. Not in their uniforms of white hoods masking their faces, but in their street clothes and their pale faces in the open. Not with a posture of submission but with gestures of assault and violent confrontation armed with anything that could be used as a weapon.Yet in the midst of weekly news stories of black people having the police called on them for doing everyday ordinary things, and bigots no longer holding their tongue, they’ve made it clear what matters most.. their bottom line of corporate sponsors and white fans who just want their football without the distractions and for the players to simply comply and give them a good game.

Nikolas Cruz Was the Bully: Why #Walkup is the Right Thing at the Wrong Time

The WalkUp idea started with Ryan Petty a father of one of Cruz’s victims. At a press conference he encouraged students to walk up to 14 students and 3 adults and say something nice, and get to know them, instead of walking out of school for seventeen minutes. During that Press conference he also implored state legislators to do three, things all of which echoed the sentiments of the WalkOut protestors. Enhance safety and security of schools. Second, keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk to themselves or others. Finally state leaders must improve mental health resources for at risk youth. These are the very things that many students wrote a letter to congressmen requesting during the seventeen minutes they walked out of their school in solidarity with their peers across the country.

Take the time to read up on the accounts of Nikolas Cruz. This isn’t a story of a bullied kid handing out unmitigated retribution on his tormentors and the silent bystanders. This was a kid described as having developmental issues, and impulse control issues. Students who had tried to strike up conversations reported that he only talked about guns knives and hunting. He was known for posting videos and pictures on social media of him killing animals. The behavioral issues that led to his expulsion included threatening other students and a teacher. Not a teacher who was disciplining him but trying to help him. There was such a concern about his mental state and the threat he posed that he wasn’t even allowed to bring a backpack to school.

He wasn’t a loner because he was weird or different. He was a loner because he was dangerous. Even the most accepting of us would think twice about engaging someone like that. So why are telling kids the best response to this latest school shooting is to #walkup? Even still, at his request, Nikolas and his brother moved in with a friend’s family back in November. Clearly this was a kid who was no stranger to the kindness and generosity of others. Another student interviewed after the shooting said they had been close friends until Nikolas started going after and threatening another of his friends. WalkUp has all the feels of being an anti-bully movement, which has tremendous merit when it’s not being used to redirect civil protest and become little more than victim blaming. Under these circumstances it neglects to see that Nikolas Cruz appears to be the bully long before he became a mass murderer.

I grieve for the obvious brokenness of Nikolas. Surely he was ill-equipped to navigate the loss of both his parents by the age of 18. I simply see no link to justify an anti-bullying be nice movement in response to this because that wasn’t the issue. Especially when so many adults have resorted to bullying tactics in response to the very students who have spoken out after surviving this incident. Students that knew how dangerous he was. Some of whom notified the proper authorities when he posted that he wants to be a “professional school shooter” and nothing was done. I fear WalkUp has become just another example of adults thinking they know best and not listening to young people, particularly those who were there.

Again Cruz found pleasure in torturing and killing animals, which is a clear indicator that his lack of empathy was the issue, not his peers. The same day students were protesting demanding legislative action in the same three areas Mr. Petty spoke of, the WOOFF Act was introduced on the Senate floor in response to a dog dying in an overhead bin of a plane. It was 48 hours after the incident. Next April will be twenty years since Columbine.

I’m all for people loving one another. The core sentiments and principles of “WalkUp” are things I have practiced and preached specifically to youth in seventeen years of student ministry. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why loving one another is linked to the greatest commandment of loving God. However, extending the hand of friendship and gestures of gratitude will not change the fact that the mentally ill and unstable (an individual who is well short of responsible), can #walkup to a gun retailer and #walkout with a gun.

#Walkout Exposes Greatest Threat to the Safety of Students… Adults

Today across the country High School students will be walking out of school for seventeen minutes to honor and memorialize the seventeen people (14 students and 3 adults) killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting massacre. It is their way of showing solidarity with those whose lives were taken exactly one month ago. It is also their way of protesting against the inaction of our nation’s politicians to enact stricter gun regulations.

As often is the case in our country’s history even the most peaceful and civil form of protest is met with fierce objection and opposition. Some school faculty and administration have threatened to take severe disciplinary action against students who participate in the “National School Walkout”. Some teachers have threatened to fail any student who walks out of their class.

Once again, as we have seen all too recently in other cases, many do not grasp one of the primary functions of peaceful protest or act of civil disobedience. One of the primary functions they serve is to expose the core character of those in power in authority. Those in power and authority are given an opportunity to demonstrate whether they will listen or silence, whether they will apprehend or guide, whether they are tyrants or servants.

Disheartening is a good way to describe the response of some adults in the lead up to this day. Disagreeing with the goals of the movement is one thing. Demonizing students who simply do not want to see another mass shooting in any school is vile and abhorrent behavior, but it is not out of the norm. Most days of the year a popular pass time amongst many adults is shaming teenagers for being self-centered, always on their phones and tablets, obsessed with curating their social media image, addicted to video games, and generally lazy and apathetic towards anything that truly matters. Now that they actually want to do something that shows solidarity with others their pawns actors and just plain spoiled uninformed brats.

If nothing else watching the way many adults have responded so toxically to the idea of students participating in a peaceful civil protest has served as a reminder of why I worked with teenagers for (ironically) 17 years.

I have lost count of how many times I was declared a saint for working with teenagers. Most of the time I found it sad in what it said they thought about teenagers. So many people couldn’t imagine spending so much time investing in students. There are a number of reasons I did it and did it for that long. So many adults think so little of them. I wanted them to know they are loved and accepted as they are while facilitating a community of their peers and other adults where they could flourish and grow. It is the same gift I was given by adults who cared for me and my peers when I was a teenager. It is the gift that so many of my peers were not given, and the absence and void it left still shows in many of them as adults.

Don’t let the divisiveness of the gun debate distract you from the point that students just want to feel safe. Right now they don’t feel safe. School shootings is one thing. The steady barrage of insults, shaming, dehumanizing and general apathy they receive from adults, even when the gun debate has simmered down, needs to stop. A gunman can taking their life is one thing. Adults decimating their soul is another.

Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans.

 

12240038_10208400423587504_2136578022119085585_nMuch of the criticism not just of this angry mother, but of those less offended by his behavior, but wishing he conducted himself differently, has centered around the opinion that Cam’s behavior, amongst other things, was lacking in class. I hear this criticism of him and other athletes, typically black athletes (not because they are black and the critic dislikes black people, but because usually black athletes are the ones celebrating by dancing and other demonstrative behavior) all the time. They would prefer, he would just hug and high five his teammates quickly, in an understated fashion, and then unassumingly jog off the field to the sidelines.

Allow me to offer this critique of the “it lacked class” criticism. This criticism often highlights the cultural differences between black and white Americans. I can hear the retort now, “Yet again! Why do you have to make it about race?” Well if you bear with me I will explain to you why it is about race but not in a “anyone who criticizes Cam is a racist” explanation. This explanation doesn’t require or ask white people to apologize for the past or recognize their “privilege”. It simply asks that people who are criticizing him for a touchdown dance, whether they be white and hearing this reasoning for the first time or black and have forgotten to consider without hearing it as an attack.

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans. Culture is simply what we make of the world, both in a literal sense of making (building and creating) things, and in how we make sense of the world around us. And for black Americans dancing and celebrating is an integral part of our culture. Dancing is how we sought to make sense of the world around us. What did our ancestors make of slavery? Singing, shouting, and dancing. You need look no further than predominantly black churches the world round to see all three of those things remain embedded in our culture. We wouldn’t have survived the horrors of slavery and injustice without dancing. It’s in our blood to dance, when we’re suffering and when we celebrate, to the point that now we the sons and daughters of those people who cultivated that kind of life do it sometimes instinctively without thinking about it, or remembering why we have an urge to respond that way. Dancing and singing and shouting kept many of our ancestors from losing hope that things could get better. And praise God things have gotten better. And still we don’t or at least try not to forget where we come from, even as we try to accommodate the majority culture, thus we keep on dancing.

The late Ralph Wiley, an author, journalist and writer who was a Sports Illustrated staff writer for nine years, described this culture and reasoning better than I in his book Why Black People Tend to Shout (all this discussion about Cam inspired me to go dig the book up).

First of all, black people are too happy just being able to shout not to take advantage of the luxury. When you have to read that bits were put in some of your ancestors’ mouths, you tend to shout. When a sweet grandmotherly sort has to tell you how black people once were chained in iron make in the canebrake, to keep them from eating the cane while they harvested it, and that these masks were like little ovens that cooked the skin off their faces–when you hear that grandmotherly voice and realize she once was a girl who might have been your girl, and someone caused this pain on her lips and nobody did anything about it but keep living–this gives you a tendency to shout,

Black American culture is a byproduct of the great grandchildren of the tribal African culture. A culture that danced to celebrate life, danced boys into manhood, danced the betrothed into matrimony, and danced the fallen into the afterlife.
So now when someone like Cam gets criticized and told “show a little class”, it’s like being told to assimilate. When someone like Cam is told they find his dancing in that moment offensive (all the while half naked cheerleaders are shaking what they mama gave em) it’s like being told, “we find your culture offensive”. And we find it slightly ironic that so much of our shouting singing and dancing, in the form of folk, blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap music, has been copied had a white face slapped on it and sold to the masses for a profit, but it’s somehow offensive when we do it.

When someone like Cam is told to “grow up” in response to him pointing after a first down, it’s like being told to forget where you came from, or to get over it. If you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just said then you’ll know, maybe for the first time, that dancing is how we got over.

When we hear someone say “I miss the old days when guys just played the game the right way without all the theatrics”, we hear you want things to be the way they were before the color barrier, or more accurately put the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” policy, in sports being broken and required a subdued and suppressed black man to break it. Jackie Robinson is an American hero and is the most courageous man that ever competed in modern sports, but he was chosen over the likes of Josh Gibson and Satchel Page because Branch Rickey believed Jackie he could subdue his need to dance and shout. Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest athlete ever by most Black Americans because he dared to dance shout and rap inspiring Black Americans who had despite their assimilating efforts been kept separate and unequal to start dancing again.

When someone like Cam is told “act like you’ve been here before” we know he is doing it because we have been there.

Removing the Flag Is Good But Does Little to Create Real Community

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community” Georges Erasmus

 

I first heard the above quote during a presentation done by Mark Charles at Q Conference in Boston this past April. Mark was making the case that Americans will continue to have racial tension as long as we all continue to operate from a different a memory and different pasts. It’s really sad to think that it required 9 people being murdered by a racist white supremacist for us to finally reach a point where are beginning to take the steps necessary to have a common memory of our history as Americans, black, white, and everything in between.

 

While I fully support the removal of the Confederate/Rebel Flag from the grounds of state capitals, I fear this will cause us to prematurely think our work is done. Those flags will be removed from our public places, but our real problem is not that flag although the debate surrounding it is indicative of our true problem. One symbol stirs feelings of pride from a shared heritage for one group of people stirs feelings of trauma from a shared suffrage for another.

 

We do not have a common memory and we do not share in the same past. For White Americans their collective memory and past is one of conquest, colonization, freedom, and “God’s blessing”. For ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, collective memory and past is one filled with trauma from the struggle to be recognized as human and treated with dignity and equality. Our collective memory is filled with dehumanization, enslavement, mass genocide, demonization and marginalization. For white peoples in this country it has truly been a dream. For black and brown peoples in this country that dream has almost always been a nightmare over the 400 plus years since the early colonies. “Manifest Destiny” destined those deemed savages and beasts to destruction and to the margins of our country.

 

 

As difficult as it might be, white people need to start listening to the memories and the past of the ethnic minorities in America. It won’t be easy. It will be hard to believe for no other reason than so much of it is omitted from the majority of our history books. History has always been written by and representative of those who are one of the majority and elite. If we want real healing then the parallel narrative of the marginalized must be heard. It must be written. It must be taught. It will expose the blind-spots you didn’t know were there in our past as a nation. Black people, Hispanics, and Native-Americans need to remember that white people are hearing these stories, memories and past for the first time. They are being asked to look at parts of our history through our eyes, and if they really see it it will strike at their heart. Hearing about it for the first time will be traumatic for them and we need to extend them grace. We need to assure them of our sincerity in informing them is not to guilt or shame them, not to demand an apology, not to seek reparations. We need to show them the compassion we’ve so desperately needed to heal. In this way we can all heal together, and truly have community without losing ethnic and cultural identities.

 

The debate raging on social media over the Confederate/Rebel Flag and its possible removal caused one of my white friends to do some research into the history of the flag.  She described having a traumatic experience. She grew up in the south with that flag being flown everywhere, and was told the same as so many others of it being a symbol of their heritage as southerners. What she found was a gapping blind spot into the history of how that flag quickly became a symbol of white supremacy and hate as its re-designer William T Thompson intended. Her words to me over the phone illustrate what so many are experiencing, “I have been grieved to my heart since finding out the history around that flag.” If I had responded with a flippant “well duh, where have you been” attitude it wouldn’t have been helpful. No more or less helpful than when I’ve shared more stories and memories of what it’s like to be black in America and it is met with accusations of playing the race card, or attempts to explain it away.

 

The flag should be removed from the grounds of state capitals, and states who integrated it into their state flag need to get it out.  However, if that is all we do then we will fall desperately short of what is necessary for real community to happen that transcends race and ethnicity. We need to teach both narratives in our history books in our schools and places of higher learning. The history of our nation needs to be taught through the eyes of both the elite and the marginalized. I am not suggesting that we throw out one narrative and replace it with the other. Rather they should be part of one comprehensive telling of our history, of our past, and shape a shared memory, so we can move forward into the future not separate but together.

We Can No Longer Be Apathetic Towards Racism

I find it ironic and not at all surprising that many media outlets are pointing to drug reform (which isn’t a bad idea) in the wake of yet another mass shooting murderer who was on some sort of prescription drugs (as well as possibly some illegal ones) in a subtle attempt to make drugs some sort of scapegoat by pointing away from the indoctrinated hate that filled his heart and mind. Ironic and not surprising that when Trayvon Martin’s toxicology report turned up marijuana it wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform, it was to prove he was a bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Ironic and not surprising that in less than 24 hours of his death pictures of Mike Brown playing cards, holding a wad of cash, gun on the table, and smoking marijuana wasn’t to weave a narrative of the need for drug reform. It was to prove he was bad apple and a danger to civilized law abiding citizens. Oh yeah, and it wasn’t even him in the picture it was someone else. When given the same circumstances or worse with white criminals of the most hate filled crimes (see Aurora and Newton) we find a way to somehow paint a picture of them being the victims of mental illness and poor FDA regulations.

You can accuse me of playing the race card. You can tell me you’re tired of all the talk about race its about people (to which I’d tell you to tell Dylann Roof that. Tell his friends who thought all his racial slurs and comments were merely jokes and hyperbole). You can tell me I’m just creating more division (which makes no logical sense because you don’t cause division by pointing to it, you just make people who are comfortable with it uncomfortable). You can tell me that now is the time to mourn for the 9 slain in Charleston, SC. I tell you this is part of the mourning. I mourn that our society and culture continues to weave a racist lite propaganda demonizing black people in the most subtle of ways and then is shocked and surprised when someone actually buys it and walks into a church and before unleashing Hell on earth tells nine people, among them a state Senator four reverends, a barber, a grandmother, “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over OUR country. You have to go.”

We, you and me (that’s right me too) are complicit in keeping racism alive and well as long as we continue to bury our heads in the sand about the evil and decay of even our subtle forms of racism in this country simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We are not uncomfortable enough and our mourning achieves little if we refuse to act.