Friday, July 25, 2008

Drug Laws: Fair? Maybe... Profitable? Definitely

In terms of material that gets me going to the point that I have to write it out to find some peace of mind, the Black in America series may have me spending more time writing than I spent watching the show. The panel discussion on the second night takes center stage right now. The comment made by Conservative Columnist Tara Wall, that there is no racist intent in the sentencing of minority offenders, prompted me to write her a letter. Since her comments were made publicly, I felt it gave me the responsibility to reply publicly as well, so I’m reprinting the letter here. To be consistent, I’m using my usual blue background with red highlights on my opening middle and closing statements.

Dear Ms. Wall:

I wanted to first thank you for serving as a panelist for the Black in America Series. To be chosen as such, where only a small fraction of our nationally known representatives had an opportunity to participate, was obviously an honor to you, and thus an honor for those of us who were represented by you.

Second, I wanted to share something with you. Watching the young district attorney in the expose’ and hearing how conflicted he was in serving a system that is often “flawed”, my heart went out to him. Anyone that works within “the system” or any system that has unresolved issues of fairness must deal with that conflict at sometime. I have been in that position far too often myself. For the sake of sanity and retaining your self-concept, you eventually have to take a side, and to that end, the more information you have to be comfortable with whatever truth you may accept for yourself, the better. To that end, I share this with you

The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

In terms of the fairness of our legal system, and in particular the legal ramifications of the War on Drugs, our national legislature did what was in their legal remedies to continue our growth as a capitalist nation. You were right on one hand with your assertion that the sentencing of drug related crimes was not done intentionally to be racist. The root of it was economics, but the pathway to get there, its secondary motive, was indeed racist.

Interestingly, the initiation of the war on drugs coincided with the divestment from South Africa by US corporations. The companies that divested from South Africa, in various ways, invested in prisons. New prisons were built in areas where there was not significant crime to fill them, funded by many of these corporations. Immediately afterward, free base cocaine was replaced with crack as the drug of choice for those wanting an intense high on a budget. Then mandatory minimum laws were put in place to crack down on people who were selling the less pure version of an old drug, i.e. 10 year sentences for an ounce of crack, two years for an ounce of coke. This would be the equivalent of a credit card company charging 5% interest for an item bought at Sach’s, and 25 % interest for an item bought at Wal-Mart. It’s not inherently racist; it’s punishing the poor for being poor. But when the dominant numbers of Blacks are poor, and when there is no Sach’s in the Black community to shop at even if they wanted to avoid the higher penalty, it is systematically racist.

From slavery, to Jim Crow/Share Cropping, to Apartheid, to the prison industrial complex (I despise that term, but I’ve had to accept it as it is the commonly accepted terminology), to undocumented workers, our country has always had free or reduced cost labor to allow our capitalist system to thrive. Those who drafted the thirteenth amendment understood this, and they also understood that there was never going to be a better system of free labor than slavery. So rather than abolish slavery, they merely changed the tenets of slavery from race-related to crime-related, and left themselves (Congress) the ability to resurrect it at a later date if it were ever needed. And the ending of Apartheid brought about that need. I do need to emphasize one thing: slavery was never abolished, it was set aside. If more people understood that fact, many of the disagreements about the intent of our legislative and law-enforcement systems would indeed be abolished. Anyway, enterprises within the prison walls include, auto parts production, call center operations, computer hardware production, and other would/could/should be unionized jobs. Economically, non-unionized prison labor hurts more working Americans than undocumented worker labor, but again it goes to the root word of capitalist system being not capital, but capitalize; the only way for me to make more is to take advantage of someone else.

The kids at the youth detention home associated with my job create some of the most beautiful hand-crafted furniture you will ever see. It’s a shame they had to go to jail to learn those skills… no… actually, it’s as criminal as the activities that got them locked up… no… it is constitutionally established, and therefore allowable and acceptable. But it’s not fair, it’s not right, and it is racist. And that’s the truth… at least that’s the truth that I have accepted for myself that allows me to sleep at night. Thank you for allowing me to share my truth with you.

Sincerely and with the utmost respect,

Dwane T.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go Ahead Obama, Take Me For Granted

No one can give you power, you have to take it!!! (Jock Ewing, fictional character on Dallas)

If you let them do this to me and get away with it, then you’re giving them the eternal right to do the same damn thing to anyone of you!! (fictionalized real-life character Bufford Pusser in Walking Tall)

I’m old enough to command a certain amount of respect, and I’m young enough to take the rest! (my older brother Gerald… a real-life character of fictional proportions)

Every news channel has begun to re-examine the theme: Does Obama take Black people for granted? It’s a long way away from, is Obama Black enough to represent African Americans, but it has the same divisive quality when you repeat it enough. On that issue, one hundred-fifty years ago, octoroons (look it up) were still considered Black enough for use as slaves, and Obama is four times blacker than they were (I hate myself for saying blacker, but I had to make a point). But back to the real issue, that being Obama taking Black people for granted. Where Obama is, and what he has to do to be successful for where he is going, 1) it is impossible for him to take Black people for granted, but 2) to whatever extent he can, I believe he should be able to.

As my quotes above show, I understand a little about power and respect (I’m still working on the money thing). I could have used Frederick Douglas’ “Power concedes nothing…” quote, because it is definitely the best, but I was in a mass media state of mind. I know that life in general is a struggle to be accepted, respected, protected and empowered. I generally don’t take anyone or anything for granted, and I don’t like folks taking me for granted. But there are exceptions. When my daughter says “Da?!?!” at 2:30 in the morning, she expects me to come. She doesn’t know if the monitor is on in our room, she doesn’t know if I’m sleeping, she doesn’t know what my day was like the day before or what my schedule is the next day. She knows I need to be there because of our relationship. Our lives are intertwined in a way that, regardless of how we may feel about each other at any given time in our lives, we are one. To get her to feel it before she can understand it, I play the You Tube clip of the song “We Are One” from Lion King II for her a few times a week. From now until the day one of us leaves the earth, if I am the father I should be, she should be able to take me for granted in the same way she does now. Having said that, let me get back to my points…

1) It is impossible for Obama to take Black people for granted. The top candidate for president, universally accepted, in the last three elections was Colin Powell. There were very few people who didn’t love and respect him, but his wife knew that a few of the ones who didn’t would try to kill him the first chance they got; so she killed his presidential run before it got started by saying, “no, you ain’t runnin’. Obama undoubtedly had that conversation with his wife before he started this run. They both understand that he can die at any time for no other reason than he is a Black man running for president. He cannot escape the fact. There is nothing in his personality that shows that he is so self/power obsessed that he would risk leaving his daughters fatherless unless he believed in a cause greater than himself. Obama is Black everyday, and he proves it by his willingness to die representing his people everyday. No greater love hath a man that he should lay down his life for his brother… look that up too if you need to.

2) Obama should be able to take Black people for granted. In the same way that he is willing to sacrifice some or all of his life for da brovas and sistas, they should be able to do the same for him. Black people will never be a homogenous group with one set of values and thoughts, and they never should be. But as the radical brothers used to tell us youngbloods back in college, more important than unity is mobility. We can’t always agree on an issue, but we can recognized its significance beyond our philosophical differences and mobilize to do what is best for the greater good. Obama being president is for the greater good. If its not, the alternative would be…. What? I’m not saying that he should completely ignore us. But like I said before, he can’t ignore us, he is actively Black all day, everyday (unlike some other folks who are passively Black). Some folks make the comparison that Bill Clinton actively sought the Black vote. But Clinton could reach out to Black people and still be seen as pro-White. Obama reaching out to Black people will be depicted by many as being anti-White. For those who don’t think that’s true, it may sound crazy and/or offensive, but it was just as crazy and offensive for Obama giving his wife dap to be seen as a terrorist fist bump.. LOL LOL LOL LOL… anyway…

Barack Obama is running for president of the United States, not president of the inner city, selected suburbs, and a few rural pockets. He is running for George Bush’s job, not Rev. Al Sharpton’s. It does not make sense for him to apply for a job that effects 300 million people by focusing on the issues that effect 35 million of them. Do I want him to address police brutality, redistricting, redlining, gang violence, lack of grocery stores and fresh food, and other issues that directly effect me and many other folks I love? Absolutely! But if he addresses jobs lost overseas, a living wage, cutting tax breaks for the rich, equal access to quality education, higher standards for landlords, and other issues that effect 285 million Americans, including me and those folks I love, I would love that too. And if talking about the first set of issues prevents him from getting elected so that he can’t get anything done at all, then Barack he needs to let Rev. Al do his job, and focus on his own. When a general is trying to conquer new territories, he doesn’t need civilians sticking notes in his pocket telling him who shot at them, what he needs to do to protect them and who he should get first. He needs to focus on winning the new land. After that, everyone can assist the general in making the resources of the new land benefit the inhabitants of the old land… get it?

I would not be making this argument if Obama was not qualified to be president. No one wants the first Black president to be an unqualified screw-up that sets Black folks back 100 years. To be able to put together a team of leaders with the skill and vision to develop, implement and maintain a system that changes society is the function of a president, and his successful campaign against all odds has proven Obama has that ability. I believe McCain has those skills as well, just not to the same extent. I also believe that there are at least 500 people in this country who would be more qualified than both of them to be president… but those folks aren’t running. I believe that Obama will be a fair president, which will piss off people of all races because many want to get their share of “fair” off the top, with the rest of “fair” being distributed equally to everyone else. But I also believe the majority of us, from all races and ethnicities, understand what fair is, and will support him being fair… even when we have to give up something for the greater good of the many. I hope Obama does take me being there for him for granted right now, like I will take him being there for me for granted later on, because ultimately we both know this thing is bigger than both of us.

Jesse Got OutFOXed!!!

I am not a fan of FOX television. FOX news, FOX Sports, FX, or plain old FOX, I don’t like them. At best, they are a necessary evil, since NFC football games are shown on FOX (and I have to watch the Giants), the King of the Hill, Simpsons and Family Guy come on Sunday Night. Other than those shows, there isn’t much they offer me. My dislike (disdain) comes in how the separate channels and programming are all tied together. Forgive me if I insult you here, but… FOX makes its money programming for the non-intellectual masses on all of its channels so that it can afford to finance its’ news channel. Fox News then reinforces stereotypical fears among the non-intellectual masses, so that they move our government to protect them from the would be destroyers of their non-intellectual way of life, giving corporations like FOX the power to continue to take money away from the non-intellectual masses.

This is not new information. FOX was built on programming for Black people and dumb people (some would say dumb Black people). Once they made enough money to challenge the big three stations, they threw Black programming to the side… except on FOX news, where you could always find a story about some black thug, baby mama, heartless murderer, etc. And if they couldn’t find a story, they’d spend hours speculating about one. So, with this basic history in mind, I have often wondered… why do Black folks go on FOX News? With the adage, keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer, in mind, I occasionally give myself a 15-20 minute dose of FOX News. I watch them talk down to, cut off, disregard, and blindside their Black guests. And those folks keep coming back… and bringing friends!!!

When gatekeepers masquerade as moderators, talking about having fair discussions with no spin, while having a scroll of the topic being discussed running along the bottom or the side of the screen that contradicts whatever the Black guest is saying, you may want to stay away from that environment… or at least come up with a counter attack. Bill Clinton came with a counter attack last year when Chris Wallace tried to blindside him. Even though Clinton’s defense, in the form of an attack, was portrayed as borderline hysteria by the other news channels, it didn’t change the fact the Clinton tore Wallace a new one. Fox left Bill alone after that one.

Slick Willy knew enough to be on guard at all times, so how did Jesse Jackson get caught out there? As many times as he has been misquoted, misrepresented, and had his statements just twisted into an entirely different point before his eyes, Jesse should have known better than to trust anyone at that network. An intelligent Black person going on FOX news and expecting not to be attacked is like the Crocodile Hunter going into a swamp with the same expectation. They don’t care who you are, you are food to them… and they will feed on you to make their cause stronger. That insanity reminds me of a joke from my childhood watching Hee Haw (yes, Hee Haw… alas, I can’t lie…):

Patient: Doctor, I just broke my leg in three places!
Doctor: Well boy, I suggest you stay out of those places!

Even on Hee Haw, they understood that it didn’t make sense to treat the injury without treating the behavior that brought it on. Brothers and sisters need to stay away from FOX. At least with CNN, you know they are going to going to show everyone in a negative light… because they know that to combine fairness with high ratings, you have to have drama, and nothing brings drama like negativity (the desire to make a joke comparing the FOX and the Wolf [Blitzer of CNN] is strong, but I’ll fight it off). Even Obama knows enough not to go on FOX. They can talk about him all they want to, call him every name in the book, but they can’t use his words against him if they don’t get to talk to him.

I don’t fault Jesse for saying what he said. He has earned a right to feel how he feels, and say what he wants to say. Had he said the same thing at the barbershop, some brothers would have agreed, others would have disagreed, but everyone would have laughed. I do fault him for saying it where he said it. I have never heard a proponent of FOX News say, “boy that Jessie Jackson sure changed my mind on that issue!” On FOX, Jesse could add to the argument, but he cannot win it… and he does not need to be anyone’s additive at this point in his career. Jesse does not need to risk his past accomplishments looking for present relevance. Jesse will always be relevant. I remember sitting 10 feet behind him on the podium as he addressed a crowd in Buffalo, NY, during his 1984 presidential run. The man was larger than life. And when I shook his hand afterward, his hand was larger than life as well. I actually met one of my heroes… not everyone can say they’ve done that. I want to hate Fox News for tarnishing his image, but I can’t. They just did what foxes do… drag their pray back to the den, and bite them on the neck and back until they die.

Get On The Bus, Sit Down, and Shut Up!

“Free speech is an inalienable right to avoid prosecution for your views, not persecution because of them”. The Mo’ Kelly Report

A few months back, Mo’ Kelly wrote an exceptional blog about Rev. Jeremiah Wright ( I hope he wins the Pulitzer Prize of bloggery (or whatever it’s called) for it. But in reading his defense of Rev. Wright, it brought back to mind his own quote from a different blog, which I quoted above. Everyone is accountable for what they say, not only when they said it, but when others hear it. Of course, no one should be held hostage at age 55 for something they said at 25. But you are still accountable for the good or damage that is done. That is why people go back and thank or curse teachers for things they said years ago.

I am a fan of Barack Obama for a lot of reasons. Being just over six months apart in age, and knowing his story as I do, our milestones toward getting where we are mentally are very similar, even if our paths toward getting here are totally different. Born at the middle of the Civil rights movement, we watched Watts burn by Molotov Cocktail, and Viet-Nam burn by napalm, as children. We listened to former Black Panthers on the Speaker’s Circuit, while in college. We ignored corporate America to work for the uplifting of the people as a first (and second, and third) job. We’ve gone into middle age with one foot in the past and one in the future, holding onto the Black culture we represent with one hand, and the mainstream culture that we hope to influence with the other hand, while keeping our minds on Jesus so we don’t lose this psychological game of twister. Yeah, Obama is my brother.

Just like my brother Obama, I’m also a student of history. I love, admire, and respect those who came before me, and the work and sacrifice on their part that allowed me to be where I am, and who I am. I have a special appreciation for those who know when to pass the torch. I love the scene in The Rundown, when Arnold Schwarzenegger walked by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the beginning of the movie and said, “Have fun”. He openly passed the torch. The Apostle Paul spoke about running his race, and finishing his mission. He knew he had blazed a trail, and that people had trained for such a time to build on his work, and was at peace with that it was that time. Aside from what he represents to everyone else, sisters/brothers who have struggled to build us up to where we are now need to understand that this is Obama’s time.

I was watching the movie, Get on the Bus, last week, and it was the perfect metaphor for this time. There was a passing of a torch, in the form of an African drum, from the oldest brother, to the second youngest brother on the bus. Why the second youngest? Because he was the one that had shown the most interest in carrying on the legacy! There are brothers now that were driving the bus before Obama even knew where the bus stop was. Jesse Jackson, Maxine Watters, Charles Rangel, even Jeremiah Wright, drove the bus that was built from Crispus Attucks and Phylis Wheatley, through Shirley Chisolm, MLK, and Malcolm X. But now it’s time for those folks to get on the bus, take a seat, and see where Obama is going to take them. No one knows exactly where this ride will go, but no one knew when the last wave of drivers took over either.

Anyone who has ever ridden on a bus knows that backseat driving is not accepted. That is why, for the most part, folks have kept their mouths closed. Recent remarks, like Jesse Jackson’s, and previous remarks by Jeremiah Wright, are just unacceptable at this time. I’m not talking about Wright’s sermon; that was in the past, and regardless, he should say whatever he feels God leads him to say in the pulpit since he is directly accountable to God. But his post-media-hype road show was uncalled for, and unproductive. Obama has other things to do with his time than having to make statements distancing himself, or accepting apologies, from folks whom he has admired and aspired to be like. Even his contemporaries like Tavis Smiley, and me, need to recognize that he can take us someplace that no one else can right now. We may not like his driving style, but without him, the bus keeps running it’s same old route. As I find every time I leave a job, and as Tavis is learning from the applicants to his spot on the Tom Joyner show, there is always another talented sister/brother waiting to do what’s already been done. We can ride shotgun on the bus, but there can only be one driver.

Jessie Jackson, Jr. gets it. Any problems he has with Obama will be voiced after he finishes working to get his brother elected, and he will ride shotgun to protect him until then. Junior knows that, whether Obama wins or loses, it will make things easier in the future for brothers like him and Harold Ford. Like other’s times have past, they know their time has not come yet. Until it does, they need to do like the bus driver told them back in grade school: stay in your seat and keep your mouth shut, because any negative thing you say about the driver might get you suspended from school, or whupped by your parents. It’s the same now. Our leaders who are not currently running for president need to watch what they say about the man who is, because they will be held accountable… and it may get them a whuppin’. Another way to think of it is, by choosing not to get on the bus, you may be choosing to get thrown under it. Those folks are still viable, honorable leaders, and have earned their right to, and made their mark by, speaking their piece. But weakness being the absence of power, and meekness being the control of power, can they allow us to inherit the earth by showing they are strong enough to be meek. Can they just sit back and enjoy the ride?