Sunday, January 22, 2017

Local White Man Touts "Many Black Friends And Family Members" As Definitive Proof That He's Not A Racist

Local Man taking photo while NOT being racist.

fter posting yet another in what has become a disturbing amount of racially insensitive memes on his personal Facebook account, local White man James Hecker was finally called a racist by local Black man Paris Lay. Hoping to quickly dispel any rumors that he is a racist, James took to Facebook again and touted having "many Black friends and family members" thus making the very idea of him being a racist impossible.

While no African-Americans were able to come to his aid, an assortment of White friends of various ages and genders offered support to James' claim of not being a racist. Connor, (White) Sarah (White), Ron (White), William (White) and James O. (White) were among many, many Whites that vehemently disagreed with the charge of racism aimed at James. Sure they're White and would never be targets of James' racially insensitive posts, but that doesn't matter because they "know James." The many Whites noted that perhaps it was Paris who was actually being racist.

Furthering his case that he's "totally not a racist", James was able to produce ticket stubs from several African-American led feature films he's seen such as "Meet the Blacks", "Tyler Perry's Boo A Madea Halloween" and more recently "Hidden Figures." James also noted to never actually saying the n-word while singing along to rap songs. "I mean it's just silly. I'm not a racist," an incredulous James retorted.

When asked about his thoughts on voter ID laws that almost exclusively seem to only effect Black voters, James was quoted as saying, "What's the big deal with getting an ID? I got one." And when asked about African-Americans protesting social injustices be it in the form of marching or simply sitting during the national anthem James said, "Silent prayer and reflection would honestly be the best form of protesting because everything is fine if you ask me. Complaining only makes things uncomfortable for white people."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Our History As Told By Our Museum

During the five plus hour plane ride to Washington, D.C. I passed the time by reading a novel titled “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. The novel tells the story of a runaway slave named Cora as she attempts a daring escape from her hellish life on a Georgia plantation to freedom in Canada. The author does a masterful job transporting the reader back in time by capturing the lives of slaves in extremely graphic details. The book is littered with tales of slave catchers, night riders, public lynchings, savage beatings, and other sordid particulars that I’ll spare you. Those sinister thoughts clouded my mind as I, a mere three generations personally removed from those real-world accounts that influenced Whitehead's fictionalized atrocities, stood in a line waiting to enter the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The museum has only been open for a little over a month and experts had estimated it would garner some 7,500 visitors a day but reports say upwards of 30,000 people a day have attempted to enter it’s halls.

The building ironically stands a mere stone's throw from a towering monument to our nation’s first President, a man who’s vast wealth and position is partly owed to the work of slaves. It was hard not to think about that as scores of people, who's skin color would have relegated them to this man’s property, stood waiting to learn their shared history outside a building that rest in the shadow of the world’s tallest obelisk honoring a slave owner.

It’s that echoed history and a kinship of mutual and understood generational suffering that bonds African-Americans to one another. It’s why we could be total strangers to one another with no blood relation and greet one another as "brother" or "sister." It’s why in a crowd of people, when Black faces are scarcely seen, if we meet one another’s gaze, we exchange a nod. Outside the museum, there was an apprehensive yet truly joyous atmosphere of mostly Black faces swelling with a sense of pride and togetherness unlike anything I've ever personally been apart of. I saw one woman walking with her children, smiling as she said to her older daughter, “I like when I hear people say, it’s our museum. I like that. It IS our museum.” I saw older Black women dressed in their finest Sunday outfits. Older Black men wearing those cheap “Obama ’08” hats you'd find at corner stores throughout America's ghettos as if they were stately garb. Young Black men and Black women with dreadlocks falling down their backs toward the bend in their knees and afros stretching skyward wearing "Black Lives Matter" tees. Different corners of the country house us, age separated us, and contrasting events of life have molded us, but when you stood in that line, if you are an African-American, we all shared the same palpable excitement as each of us was eager to behold the unknown and forgotten history that awaited us.

Auction Block

Once inside the simplest way to describe what I felt initially would be a perplexing mixture of profound sadness and suppressed rage. The permanent exhibit of the museum begins in the early 1400s at the start of slavery and works it’s way forward in time to chronicle life for Africans and their descendants throughout our nation’s complicated history. In the earlier parts of the exhibits, you see people in tears, or people fighting back tears, but you mostly see saddened head shakes and hear the sucking of teeth. It’s not everyday you see pieces of a slave ship and read the firsthand accounts of people ripped from their lives to be herded onto a ship with conditions wholly unfit for brainless livestock let alone men, women, and children. You don’t typically see auction blocks and know that is where hundreds of untold human feet, BLACK feet, stood apprehensively awaiting an uncertain fate. In your daily life you don’t get to read a story sewn onto a bag meant for gathering cotton that a mother once filled with a lock of her hair. The bag and that hair was then given to her child moments after the child was sold because she (the mother) had no other possessions to bequeath to her beloved, whom she knew she'd certainly never see again.

Often there was a lot of these hushed exchanges as strangers shared unknown details from something they'd previously learned before their visit, adding a layer of nuance to a given story or artifact on the wall. It’s not until you get to around the 1870s do the personal connections start to build with the museum. An older woman told me a story of remembering the nicest clothing her grandfather owned was his Union soldier dress uniform he received for fighting in the Civil War just like the one we stood in front of. Or another elderly woman offered me details from a childhood memory of seeing the scars her great-mother still bore from a beatings that left her back in a similar condition seen in Private Gordon’s famous photo.

Time has removed nearly all of those firsthand accounts from the world, but it’s when you move further into the 20th century that you learn a lot of our history is still living. There were men and women who could recall what they were doing and where they were when key moments of the Civil Rights struggle happened. For example, a woman acknowledged to me that she heard the bomb that killed four little girls in Birmingham because she lived there at the time. Watching older faces come alive as their past once again comes into focus was as much a part of the experiance of the NMAAHC as any of the aged artifacts on its walls. There were all these conversations about feeling a sense of open racism in 2016 not felt since the days of their childhoods. You'd see and hear scores of people truly fearful of what someone as duplicitous as Donald Trump possibly becoming President means for our nation. Especially what that means for us because African-Americans know all to well how easily our nation can bend toward hate and cruelty.

Ultimately it was a truly moving experiance and one I’ll never forget. I’m eager to go again with my children and I would recommend ALL AMERICANS make the journey to our nation's capital to absorb the museum's wonders firsthand. As cliche as this sounds, African-American History and Culture is AMERICAN HISTORY AND AMERICAN CULTURE. It’s a museum that tells the very uncomfortable truth about the horrors this nation has actively inflicted onto millions of people solely because of their skin color. Further more it reminds us of what little our government has done to truly correct that unforgivable sin.

As saturnine as a visit to the NMAAHC can be, there is something greater to be found at the nadir of our suffering; our strength. You can feel our resilience. You see that African-Americans have always found hope, even in the darkest of places and times. You learn that we've always grown loving families even from poisoned soil that was watered with our blood. You see our capability to find a sense of self and community even as those things were actively being stripped from us. Yes, you see our shameful passivity, but you also see our moments of quiet and open rebellion. You learn about our perseverance, witness our will to survive, and in some cases, our ability to triumph in the face of a government philistine not only to our culture, but indifferent to our very lives at times. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture is a living testimony that highlights the unwavering spirit of African-Americans. Despite an alarming deficiency in love, kindness, and basic human dignity from a majority of the people we’ve shared this nation with, for a majority of our time here, African-Americans DID NOT PARISH. That’s what I think that edifice was build upon. Our collective courage that has culminated into now. "Now" is not our journey’s denouement. "Now" is a continued battle for true equality that I’ve personally never been more inspired to fight for.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Republican Party's Great White Problem

The GOP isn't the problem. Uneducated, misinformed, racist White people are.
On the night of November 3rd, 1964, a little under a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson won the Presidential Election over Barry Goldwater. It's been written that President Johnson wasn't in a celebratory mood, and given how he had just won the most lopsided victory ever, in terms of popular vote, you'd think he would have been. Johnson had leveraged the nation's grief over President Kennedy's death to get a hotly contentious civil rights bill passed. While common sense, common decency, and morality were on the side of that decision, a very large section of the Democratic electorate weren't too keen on having a key pillar of white supremacy erased. "We've lost the south for a generation. Probably longer,"  President Johnson famously barked after the bill was passed.

Since the end of the American Civil War up until the early 1960s, progressive Democrats from the North and Northeast looking for national success, much to their consternation, had to spend decades placating to the needs and whims of their largest constituency, white Southern voters. The victors of the Civil War, the Republican Party, enjoyed near universal support from African-Americans. Having literally fought to free Blacks, it wasn't hard to see why, but as America began rapidly changing during the late 1950s and early 1960s, many Democratic leaders were left at odds as to where the party should stand on the issue of civil rights.

Of course, and again, common sense and basic human dignity said this was an easy choice, albeit one that could potentially alienate MILLIONS of voters. The leadership of the Democratic Party was forced to look around them and examine their ranks. While their phalanx made up the voting majority of Americans at the time, the party had long been overrun with harden and uncompromising segregationists and/or violent racists. Thus they stood at a crossroads of losing a majority of their voters by pushing a policy that said voters overwhelmingly opposed or stand squarely with their voters on the wrong side of history. This was the moment Democrats had to choose between repudiating themselves from an identity/legacy of racism and white supremacy or to begrudgingly move forward with those voters and those ideals. Their choice, again while historically laudable, cost them dearly at the time and for a few years to come as well.

Nixon's "Southern Strategy" has turned out to be a
poison pill that wouldn't take effect until decades later.
In 1968, using Richard Nixon's infamous "southern strategy", the Republican Party was all to eager to sign the same faustian bargain the Democrats discarded four years earlier, by appealing to the millions of racist White Americans that felt "betrayed" and were able to shift the entire political landscape of the country. Seemingly overnight, the entire south went from blue to red. The effects were so overwhelming that the Democrats lost five of the next six Presidential elections. It could be argued had Watergate NOT been uncovered, and had Nixon not sullied the Republican Party so prodigiously, Jimmy Carter would have likely lost to a Republican in the 1976 election. Few realized it at the time, as most still don't, Watergate wasn't Nixon's lasting and most ignominious effort. It was the "southern strategy" that was the true poison pill. Not just because Republicans KNOWINGLY TIED THEMSELVES WITH RACISM TO WIN AN ELECTION, but because they hooked themselves to religion as well. Racism and religion. Two things they didn't envision going out of style in America.

Traditionally, if you're a racist in America, you're more than likely a White Christian. As little back as the 2004 election the percentage of ALL registered voters identifying as "White Christians" was 64%. More than enough to carry the party that most directly appealed to them to a victory in a general election with little to zero support elsewhere in the electorate. In '08, the number dropped to 61%. In '12, it was down to 57%. Now in the '16 election the number of voters identifying as "White Christians" is down to 45%. So not only did Republicans not work on some much needed outreach to other voting blocks, Republicans have literally did more to alienate themselves to everyone else, while enduring themselves to the one voting block that is quickly evaporating. Their strategy over the past few years has been straight out of the "How to Lose National Elections" handbook. Even the one voting block that Republicans have carried in every election since the party's inception, college educated Whites, are starting to exit.

Yes we're more divided and part of that problem is during an age where communication is faster and easier than ever, where most of us hold the full weight of human knowledge at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, somehow, someway, facts have become "debatable". There's no longer partisan agreement on "basic reality." Traditional media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN are forced into an awkward position of trying to be fair and balanced while being beholden to the actual truth. These outlets want and SHOULD give Donald Trump, his supporters, and his surrogates a platform to make the case for him. Rather than using these outlets to have a nuanced discussion about the differences between the candidates or laying out their candidate's vision for America, Trump and/or his surrogates are coming off as "combative" and the media is then seen as "bias" when they're simply forced by reason and logic to debunk blatant falsehoods told by Trump and his lackeys.

Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon has shifted the political landscape
to a place where the right-wing media doesn't let things like
"facts" stand in the way of pushing a narrative they want.

You know, like "President Obama was born in Kenya." Or, President Obama, not even an elected official at the time, led the nation into the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Or President Obama and Hillary Clinton, not nationally elected officials at the time, changed the ROE (rules of engagement) that led to Captain Khan's death in 2004. Or, Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster. It's impossible for any reputable journalist to let patently false statements to go unchallenged. Supporters are left feeling like their candidate is being treated unfairly and are "forced" to venture off to places like Breitbart or Fox News, that will freely incubate all of the aforementioned fringe conspiracies. Leaving these supporters convinced that these easily proven lies are true and further entrenching them on the wrong side of a position.

Sure, senior leadership like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner could have done a far better job at stopping some of the lies, but Republican leadership has to work on acknowledging the real problem with their party; their voters. The Republican party is overrun with homophobic religious zealots. Gun-loving sycophants. Ultra violent Neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klansmen. Lie spreading, paranoid conspiracy theorists. The latter of which has become way louder and far too influential in terms of shifting our national political narrative. 

Much like the Democrats in 1964 with Civil Rights, Republican leadership needs to be willing to take bold policies stances that'll help them shed those same racist voters the Dems abandoned, in order to return to a place where the party can win general elections. Because again, they (uneducated, misinformed, White racists) don't even have the kind of numbers anymore that make it worth appealing directly to them!

Ultimately, I don't want to see the Republican Party fade away. It was founded for the most noble reason any political party ever was; free slaves. The country needs the balance of conservative politics to reign in spending, control overreaching government policies, and to keep the Democrats honest. It's not the party's fault per say. You have to understand that the type of nativism and white populist politics that Donald Trump tapped into will ALWAYS have a place in American society. One, this is a free country and even as pigheaded as those views are, people have the right to have them. Secondly, and unfortunately, because racism still exist. It'll always be there, only now it'll be, loudly I might add, on the edges of our democracy and not at the center as it once was. And that my friends is a good thing. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Never-Ending Hypocrisy of Sports Fans

Can't Beat Em, Join Em'.
About a week ago my brother Zeph and I were discussing our thoughts on the NBA's pending free agency period. During the colorful conversation we mostly lamented the fact that our beloved Lakers didn't have a chance at any marquee superstar on the market. When the discussion shifted to Kevin Durant it was brief. Zeph pointed out something I wholeheartedly agreed with. "What does he do?", I pondered. "He stays. As I see it, he needs to be loved. He doesn't want people to hate him. He's too mentally fragile to handle the criticism of leaving like LeBron. He's never going to leave because he's too weak to leave." His words more or less. I agreed that Durant, from what one could reasonably surmise from such a far distance, DID care about being loved. He seemed overly sensitive.

Some may remember an OKC paper openly and fairly questioning Durant's performance as a clutch player after a horrid playoff game a few years back. Something every paper does in every other major city does to its star player in any sport after they have a bad game But Durant didn't like it. In fact, he was livid. The OKC front office rushed to defend Durant, putting out a statement critical of the article. Teammates lashed out at the reporter during the next media session and even Durant's mother offered a dissenting opinion. The pushback was so great from the team, the fans, and Durant's camp, that the paper actually issued an apology. So yeah. I agreed. Kevin Durant was mentally weak when it came to handling criticism, be it warranted or not.

Cut to yesterday and as I see it Durant made the ONE choice, that while it yields the best chance of professional success, it also carries the most criticism. And as I see it was the HARDER of all the choices he could have made. If he stays in OKC, nothing changes. They run it back because after all they were only one win from the Finals. He goes to the Spurs, he's seen as the true heir to Duncan and their final piece. The Celtics, he's seen as the first true transcendent superstar to pick Boston in free agency, teaming with Al Horford as a rival to combat Cleveland's stranglehold on the Eastern conference. Miami, he seen as having been lured by the great Pat Riley as the Heat pulled another horseshoe out of its tanned, sun spotted ass, and Durant offers a true challenge for LeBron in LeBron's old stomping grounds no less. But he picked Golden State.

On the surface the move look like what amounts to the United States increasing its already bloated defense spending. By all estimations the Warriors have amassed the most in their prime top level talent in league history. Four of the league's 12 best players, and all three of its greatest shooters are on ONE TEAM. Fuck! And you know what, I think they're going to be amazing. All those open jumpers Harrison Barnes misses, Durant doesn't. It's a team and culture that truly thrives off of teamwork and ball movement. Which is what made their final possession of the season so maddening. It didn't look anything like Golden State. A hobbled Steph Curry going iso, struggling to try to get past the flat footed Kevin Love to put up a hopeless jumper. Next season they may not win 73, but we would all agree even with 60-65 wins that team will be better than last season.

The New Normal
Yesterday Zeph and I talked. He expressed like many of you disappointment in Durant's decision. Called him and this whole generation of players "weak pussies." To which I say when it's not your team, yes it sucks. The Cavs fans hated LBJ and the Heatles. Not just because James was leaving them. In part it was the idea of three superstars teaming up to achieve the only goal of the sport; win a championship! How dare them! This is pussy shit Cleveland said...Until James went home and used the same formula, two all-stars (James and Love) joining an already entrenched franchise player (Irving) to take the Cavs to two straight Finals and one title. Super teams didn't seem to bother Gilbert and Cavs fans these pass two seasons.

Even Zeph doesn't mind it. He just doesn't remember he doesn't. In 2011 for one day, the Lakers acquired Chris Paul. On the roster they had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. By all accounts they planned on using their remaining first round pick along with Bynum to lure a still very much in his prime Dwight Howard from Orlando. Bryant. CP3. Howard. Pau. Let me day dream a second.... Okay I'm back to the real world which is a hellscape where Paul is on the Clippers, Kobe and Pau are gone, and the Lakers suck.

But that day, I didn't hear any noise from Zeph about players being pussies for teaming up. It felt good to think LA was doing what Miami was doing at the time. Stacking the deck and giving themselves the best chance to win. But when it's LBJ and the Cavs, or the Heat, and now Durant and the Warriors it's unfair. The talk is MJ wouldn't do this. Magic and Bird wouldn't do this. Well they wouldn't because they couldn't move so freely. It's akin to Black people today trying to convince me, or rather themselves, if they were alive in 1820 they wouldn't conform to slavery. We are all nothing but products of our time and the work of the generations before us. Durant has seen players before him slaving away (excuse the term) on shit teams year after year with no title to show for it. He didn't want to be that guy.

73 wins are not, THIS is a better team than the 2016 Warriors.

Zeph said he'll never watch the NBA again. Which knowing him, he actually won't. Zeph's nothing if not a man of his word. But others are saying the same thing, but you will. You'll watch. Because sports is the world's great reality show. Nothing is promised or scripted. If so, the 73 win juggernaut would be the champion. Games still need to be played. And as we've seen, anything is possible.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lessons From Zeph

Three things always populated my mind in regards to my father when I was a young boy. Foremost was his scent. Not surprising, as experts in the matter say smells are key in creating memories.  I spent a lot of time in my younger years in a small rural town called Forest, MS. Most of the men I knew, uncles, older cousins, and gentlemen my mother dated, all had these rougher edges to them. Most wore dirty overalls or oil stained coveralls or blue jeans with tattered work boots. They'd spent time riding horses, hunting animals, fixing cars, tending to farms, working in lumber mills, or chicken plants. All had these hard and callused hands, worn faces and reddened eyes. These men clearly did a lot of hard physical labor in their day-to-day lives. Whenever I'd embrace these men for hugs, they often smelled of sweat, or motor oil, or wood, or animals, or Budweiser. It wasn't sourness from bad body odor, but something different. My father though, he never smelled like this.

My father always smelled like Zest soap and fancy colognes with names I didn't know how to pronounce. He wore shirts with smooth fabric, shoes made of fine and shiny leather, and tasteful gold jewelry. (I assure you, despite how it sounds, my father DID NOT dress like a pimp.)  His hands and skin were smooth and clean, yet his grip was stronger than any man I knew.  My father was a thoughtful dresser, and before I, or even he, realized it, this was the first thing he'd ever teach me. Without knowing or trying, he taught me to care about one's presentation to the world. More importantly, his scent taught me the juxtaposition of men.

The second thing I thought about was my father's height. Like every other person in my life, as a young kid I had to physically look up to meet my father's eyes. But even still I knew he had to be considered a tall man in the general sense. Around all my uncles, cousins, and aunts, my father physically towered over them as well. The thing that really made me obsess with my father's height were these delusions that one day I'd be as tall as he was. I knew my father loved basketball, so most of my fantasies involved growing up and being tall enough to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, my father's favorite basketball team. Or at least be as tall as my older brother "Lil Zeph", who seemed, in my mind, to be my father's favorite. Along with the advantage of living in Flint, and seeing our father more often, I assumed being an outstanding basketball player is what cemented Zeph's (my older brother) status as the favorite son. It was because of this I wanted to be tall more than I wanted to be anything else in the world. I'm 5'10"... on a good day. These words can't express the bitterness I felt typing them.

Lastly, I always "missed" my father growing up. That was the thing I thought of the most. How much I missed him. I had barely stepped into consciousness when my mother left my father. I don't say they "split up" because that wouldn't be fair to my mother. She did in fact leave him. Under the ruse of a promised trip to McDonald's was how she got me to be okay with getting in the car. We did go to McDonald's... it just so happened to be all the way in Mississippi. Later my younger brother was born and we'd spend summers in Flint. I remember spending time with my Aunt Estell or with her neighbors a few doors away who were like surrogate parents, Fonzo and Cat, or my father's mother who also lived further down the same street. My father would come and pick us up from one of these places, and I can't recall what we'd always do, but I do remember feeling that however much time it was I'd spend with him, it never felt like it was enough. I spent more time missing my father than time actually spent with my father.

In my father's defense, living almost 1,000 miles apart didn't make it easy on him. That also meant for a long time, I didn't really know my father. A large part of the image of my father was being shaped by my mother who rightly didn't always have the kindest words about him. I also got scattered opinions from aunts, uncles, and cousins. The basic consensus was my father was a "ladies man" and from what I could surmise it was true. I didn't know how babies were made at the time, but I knew you had to make a woman "like you" to get a baby. I knew I had brothers and sisters, via my father from different mothers than my own, so I knew my father didn't have a problem getting women to "like him."

Not hard to see why as youthful photos of my father reveal an almost implausibly handsome young man, almost always with a beautiful woman on his arm. Watching my father interact with people, I learned to understand what women liked about him. He was an incredibly charming man that could talk with anyone. That charm coupled with his good looks probably got my father into a lot more trouble than he bargained for. He's a man and a man will typically be as faithful as the options available to him. "I didn't care what he did, to be honest," my mother once confessed, "I just couldn't get his ass to at least come home." More than anything, she'd always described my father as selfish.

Today, the man my mother lamented isn't the man my father is, or has been for several years. The "Zeph", she fell in love with all those years ago has been replaced with someone far more patient and thoughtful. The jealous, quick tempered, selfish, single-minded "ladies man" that was described to me, isn't the man I know today. The man I know today is a man who's insight and knowledge on all things in life I've learned to lean on. I often joke that my father has lived long enough to see so many things and frankly, make so many mistakes, he has the "cheat codes to life." A lot of the pitfalls I'd surely sink into, were I left to my own devices, he easily helps me navigate.

My father taught me that if shit gets heavy enough, it's okay to cry. "You're a human son, and as such, you have feelings and emotions. Despite what the world will tell you, those things aren't exclusive to women." My father taught me to always be respectful of others. "Trust people and hold them accountable by their actions and their character, be forgiving but don't be stupid." He taught me to be mindful of the fact that every story has two sides, to always listen to both, and to be fair. Even at the risk of not being on my side, my father is always fair. "Son, I'd be doing you a disservice as a father if I didn't tell you the truth", is a line I regularly hear when he's delivering advice opposite of what I was hoping to get. More than anything, he taught me that life isn't about the good times. Primarily life is a test of how we handle the bad times. "Any jackass can sail a ship in calm waters, but I want you to learn how to stay calm and steer your way through storms." 

When I was about 15, I was getting ready for what was going to be my first date-date. I was living with my father at the time, and I came to him seeking advice. He helped me pick out an outfit, let me use some of his cologne and taught where to apply it, (which I forgot and my brother Zeph would later reteach me) give me a few bucks, and give me some "pointers". "Be yourself son. It's enough, trust me." In short, the date was a total disaster. I came home dejected and upset. My father asked how it went and I explained the gory details. My father sighed, shook his head, and agreed that I fucked it up. "Paris, you aren't going to have trouble with women. You're my son and you got "it". Your brother Zeph has "it", you just haven't learned to tap into it yet. And "it" will be helpful with life in general, not just with women. Trust me son, you'll be fine." He was right. 

Besides that "infamous Jones Charm", throughout the years my father passed something more valuable than all the other things he's taught me; the lesson of evolution. Any real and healthy human should evolve into someone better. The man I am at 21, shouldn't be the man I am at 30, and he shouldn't be the man I am at 60. Self-admitted, my father didn't really change for a very long time, but my father's slower evolution came right as I needed it. Since I've been 18, coincidentally when I became a father myself, the counsel and comfort my father has given me has been worth more than anything material he could have given me as a child. If I were to compare my life to the game of basketball, my father wasn't Michael Jordan or LeBron James. For me, Zephniah Jones Jr. has proven to be more like Robert Horry. Someone that may not have been doing much in the first three quarters, but when crunch time comes around, he was always someone you'd want on your team because he's hitting a game winning three pointer. And remember, Robert Horry has more championship rings than Jordan, and in the end, isn't that what matters the most?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Cause and Effect: America's Inevitable Response To Barack Obama and Racial Equality

This night in 2008 sealed America's fate in 2016.
"And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can", Barack Obama exclaimed as a crowd of over 240,000 in Lincoln Park erupted in cheers. When the former Senator and then, President-Elected ended his victory speech after the 2008 Presidential Election my face was wet with tears and a sense of civic pride swelled inside of me, the likes of which I never before and have not sense felt. Four years earlier, when I lived in Chicago, a stone's throw from the same park President Obama would deliver those words, the first vote I would ever cast would be for Obama's senate race versus Alan Keyes. Later to witness that same man soar to such unseen and unprecedented heights was beyond awe inspiring, it was beyond basic comprehension. I'd liken the experience to a blind man being granted sight for the first time, would the comparison not be met with charges of gross hyperbole.

There's a potpourri of subjects in this world I find endlessly fascinating. Sports, politics, film and television, to name a few, but nothing arouses my intellectual senses quite like American History. Look no further than the birth of this nation to find an inconceivable meteoric rise to power that is singularly unrivaled in human history. In only 240 relatively short years, the United States of America clawed it's way from being a handful of backwater rebellious English colonies to becoming the premier place of commerce, technology, medicine, education, and entertainment arts in all of the world. It's history is made even more complicated in that America has had all of those aforementioned triumphs, while simultaneously perpetrating the world's most grotesque form of injustice, slavery, then engaging in over one hundred years of state sponsored overt and latent racial supremacy. I've long held the belief that Thomas Jefferson writing the words, "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" WHILE OWNING SLAVES, is, and will be in perpetuity, the planet's primary example of irony.

We don't live in a world where there's this clear, inconvertible evidence of systemic racism. There's no segregated lunch counters to sit at anymore. No stores or buses to boycott. No more Bull Connors or George Wallaces to point to as clear oppressors. The men and women two generations before my own won those battles and when the battle-lines were THAT clear it's easy to see how once those fights were over, one could assume the war was over. As we as a nation have evolved, so has racism. Where pre-Civil Rights racism was Godzilla; this prodigious force that lumbers toward ALL men, crushing anything in it's wake with such obvious force, that even the blind can't deny it's presence, post-Civil Rights racism is more akin to Predator. An equally duplicitous threat that clandestinely maneuvers through an environment now eradicating ONLY it's intended targets and doing so with staggering efficiency. I apologize in advance for the following tautology, but it has to be said again. No one in a Godzilla film could reasonably say he didn't exist, so the collective fight against Godzilla is a lot easier to mount when you don't have to spend time arguing his existence. By contrast, people in Predator films met their end in part because they're too busy questioning Predator's very presence.
Scenes like this pepper America's past.

I tell you all that not to lecture you on America's sins but to prove that despite these missteps, the spirit of the ideals and principles of this country's founding have endured. America itself has endured because our nation is a nation of fighters. It's in our very nature to fight the powers that govern us, but it's also our inherent righteous nature that pulls us forward. Albeit kicking and screaming sometimes, but forward nevertheless. The bedrock foundation of America's core founding ideals are so unflappable, that if you were only to look at the basic essence of the words of our Constitution, and use them as a guide, you'll always find yourself on the right side of any problem. It's chief message is one that calls for common sense, reason, fairness, and freedom that no rational man can reasonably dispute. The problem is those beautiful yet, quixotic words have to be implemented by men, whom we all know are seldom powered by the virtues of our founding documents. Too often men can be governed by less noble traits like greed, envy, hate, and fear. Even with all its rough edges, I still love and admire this country and its history.

One can not love the history of this nation without a certain "love" for the men that have led it. To love America is ipso facto a love of Presidents. Since this country's founding, these puissant men have guided and shaped, not just this nation's history, but the world's history like few other men can or have. I can name them all in succession, tell you the length of each man's term of office, and even offer up inutile facts about each. Knowing what I've know of our history and that office, I believe that I'd sooner live to see my beloved Chicago Cubs win a World Series before witnessing a Black man hold the Presidency. So I naively thought that just the moment itself, living to see this nation, via the freewill of a majority of it's own free citizens, elect a Black man to it's highest office, would be something worth collectively celebrating.

I already mention that the days of "Godzilla" racism are gone so that meant there aren't too many great moments of racial "firsts" to cross. Almost every major entity in this nation has christened itself with the champagne of racial equality. Sports leagues, schools, judges chambers, every field of employment, art, entertainment, all have had someone break through. Yes, many of our greatest Civil Rights heroes are dead and gone but there are still people in our country who can say they saw many of these moments. I had become reluctantly resigned to the fact that my generation's social defining "where were you when" moment was destined to be September 11th. Needless to say, it wasn't a story I would tell with pride to my as of yet born grandchildren. In my mind, November 5th, 2008 had given us "millennials" the a ultimate reprieve. We are a country fueled by the dream and broken promise of equality but built and run on the actions of racial hierarchy. You, reading this, and I, typing this, got to see our country show itself and the world, unequivocally, that that dream and that promise weren't just words anymore. It was real.

Even if this NEVER happened again, even if President Obama had lost his re-election bid in 2012, or worse, he had been struck down that night in Lincoln Park, WE had lived to see the country actually elect him. In my learnt opinion, there is no more enviable moment of American history to have been alive to witness. And yet, why has this nation not overwhelmingly saw the moment as I had? Does my Democratic political leaning, knowledge of history, or my shared race with our President offer me some idiosyncratic viewpoint other people aren't able to see? Upon further examination, it should have been my comprehensive knowledge of our nation's history that guided me to see the rise of the tyrannical right and Donald Trump. Donald isn't doing anything special. He hasn't tapped into some unseen racism that America was waiting to unleash. He hasn't given voice to some "silent majority". Trump is simply put, America's logical and appropriate response to racial equality.

 I was often confused as to how or why President Obama hasn't enjoyed the long established norms and respects that the office in which he holds typically grants someone in his place. Why he's endured historic levels of Congressional pushback. It's safe to say we're all aware of Newton's third law, which states, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Given that, and the history of America, I should have known that for every moment of cataclysmic racial equality, there has always been equal backlash. For slavery to meet its end, our country would wage its bloodiest war. A war within its own boarders, among its own citizens. A sweeping change in the voting habits for the country's southern population was the casualty for civil rights being embraced by the Democratic party in the 1960s. The end of Jim Crow/segregation saw the drug war and mass incarceration as it's logical response. Only with hindsight, is it easy to see how fool-hearted I'd been in thinking anything than other the complete opposite of everything that is Barack Obama, Donald Trump, would emerge from the crater of Obama's historical Presidency created in this country's psyche.
The face of America's logical reply to an Obama Presidency.
Where President Obama was born and raised in the most modest of means, Donald was born to superfluous wealth and prominence. Where President Obama is a tireless intellect, Donald is a lethargic imbecile. Where President Obama is exceedingly humble, Donald is endlessly egotistical. Where President Obama is consciously articulate, Donald speaks in the rambling self-interrupting cadence of your over inebriated uncle. Where President Obama is measured, reasonable, and Spock-esque in regards to logic, Donald is thoughtless, capricious, and seemingly unhinged from reality at times. Where President Obama's professional achievements reach the heights of Nobel Laureate, one could argue that Donald's professional ascension is WWE Hall of Famer.

I honestly believe if I were bestowed the all-reaching and divine powers of God Himself, I couldn't create a more fitting evil doppelganger for Barack Obama than Donald Trump. It doesn't seem real when I think about it but somehow, it seems so perfect. It's not all consternation in this perceived lost cause.

Last week, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali passed away. From the universal and unanimous outpouring of love and respect Ali garnered you'd think he was always loved by America. I don't think I need to tell you that initially, the braggadocious, loud mouth, draft dodging, handsome, Muslim African-American heavyweight champion of the world didn't go over too well in 1960s America. But history looks kindly at Ali and his stance. Before his death, one could argue that Ali was the world's most beloved sports figure. Only through revisionist history can we all see the just nature of Muhammad Ali's words and actions.

I believe that one day, this inevitable rise of Donald, will become, like slavery and segregation before it, will be but mere battle scars of our country's unique history. That Donald and this shit-show that has become the 2016 election will fade from memory and President Obama will be seen with the rose color glasses history often uses to gaze onto others. Because trust me, one day, and you may not know or believe it yet, I believe near majority of Americans will join me expressing pride to tell the people of tomorrow they lived to see Barack Obama.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Black Swagger Extinguished

When I was a little boy around 10 years old, I remember Mike Tyson knocking out Frank Bruno in the 3rd round of their heavyweight title fight. The pure power on display on March 16th, 1996 seemed to sear the sport into my permanent conscience. I don't remember much about the fight, but I do remember Bruno being totally out matched. My memory seems to tell me that Bruno was beat before the fight even started. (As I got older, I learned that that was what Tyson was best at.) Now at the time, I didn't know much about boxing, but I knew two things about Mike Tyson; I knew he was a boxer, an exceptional one, and I knew, somehow, that Tyson was "tough."

It wasn't because I had this knowledge of the inherent "toughness" that being the world heavyweight champion "magically" endows it's holder with, but in my young mind, the name "Mike Tyson" somehow seemed to be synonymous with something fearful. Something not quite as sinister as hearing the name Lucifer invoked, but I knew "Mike Tyson" meant "rugged" or "hard". I knew rappers would use his name in their lyrics, likening themselves to Tyson's strength and prowess. That night in 1996, I thought I was watching the world's greatest boxer ever by the way my uncles and male older cousins were cheering and hollering. They used colorful language that I wasn't allowed and eagerly exchanged high-fives. I don't quite recall which uncle or older cousin that said it, but something to the effect of, "I'm telling you, Tyson's the baddest motherfucker ever to do it", was yelled out. And almost instantaneously it was rebutted by another family member who exclaimed, "Na, young blood. He good but he ain't Ali." (Later that year, I watched Ali light the Olympic flame in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. This was my first time seeing Ali live on television.)

Over the next twenty years of my life, a sort of obsession with the sport, more so an obsession with one of the sport's chief figures, Muhammad Ali, began. I have always said there is ONE reason, ONLY ONE, someone of my race should want to travel backwards in time. The opportunity, no, the PRIVILEGE of seeing Muhammad Ali fight in his prime. I've soaked up nearly every documentary, watched every dramatic retailing, read books, and articles chronicling the details of Ali's life and career. A few reading this will remember Ali signing a deal with the clothing line FUBU to be the new face of their "Platinum" line, after their "Fat Albert" collection ended. I'd save up from various jobs and use my earnings to buy shirts and jeans embossed with Ali's likeness and memorable quotes. From the moment I was old enough to truly comprehend the breath of his career, Ali has been without question or equal, my favorite athlete of all time. Mind you the man's last athletic endeavor took place over 5 years BEFORE I was ever born. One could reasonably argue that Ali's last great fight took place even earlier, in 1975. Ali's in-ring skill alone could warrant praise, but the fact that a young boy who had never and would never see him perform, could anoint Ali as his favorite athlete speaks to the sheer force of personality that was Muhammad Ali.

It wasn't his footwork, his hand speed, his punching accuracy, or his toughness as a fighter that endured with me. Rather his fearless and uncompromising persona. Ali's gift of tongue inexplicably surpassed even his enviable godlike skills in the ring. It was his confidence. His braggadocious nature during the time in which he spent the prime of his life that I've admired most. Spending time in Mississippi I have always been uniquely aware to this country's history as it relates to racism, so for me, one of the more fascinating aspects of Ali was that he survived. It continues to be bewildering just how the hell he made it out of 1960s America. Martin Luther King Jr didn't. Medgar Evers didn't. Even Ali's former mentor, Malcolm X was met with a violent end before the decade's end, but Ali survived.

In an age where it could literally be in one's best PHYSICAL interest to be quiet, Ali wasn't. Ali never wavered in his faith and his personal convictions. Ali risked prison, sacrificed years of his athletic prime, as well as untold millions, in protest of the Vietnam War. He spoke openly about the hypocrisy of America. While America was championing war abroad to "free" people from the "tyrannical rule of communism", it feverishly worked to deny basic civil rights for millions of African-Americans here at home. Ali's bravery standing up and speaking his mind, despite the personal cost, is only NOW universally admired. For awhile, I always wondered why we hadn't seen a derivative athlete to Ali. Beside Ali's luck of being born during the golden age of the sport and the heavyweight division, and working to become the best of those titans, I've come to understand that it was the unique circumstances of 1960s America itself, more than anything else, that helped cultivate Ali. No athlete is Ali, because no athlete needs to be Ali.

Gone are the overt racist obstacles that Ali had to navigate in his day-to-day life. The blatant systems of control and oppression pressing on the necks of millions of Blacks have long been eradicated. The death of that America meant the death of those athletes. Racism is a much more complex beast in 2016. Equally as adversarial as its predecessor, just more hidden. It couldn't be denied in the 1960s that something was twisted with this country's logic of democracy when it was granting rights to only its white citizens. Even your wealth and status as a rich and famous athlete couldn't shield you from the dangers you faced if your skin were a few shades too dark. In 2016, money can create this fraudulent cocoon of security that most athletes of color lean on. There's no personal stakes for you if you're a rich athlete. To speak out now would be to speak up for people that aren't you or your family. To speak out now would be speaking out against forces that you, yourself don't face. Where Ali faced an almost moral and social responsibility to speak out, it can seem like a bothersome inconvenience or option to do so today.

Ali wasn't perfect. No man is. He wasn't the most faithful husband nor was he winning any awards for his dedication to fatherhood. However to me, his greatest sin was the way he taunted and mocked his rival Joe Frazier. Frazier, rightfully so, was hurt, angered, and confused as to why Ali continuously leveled him with horrendous racial epithets. Often comparing Frazier to a gorilla, questioning Frazier's "Blackness", or worse of all, outright calling Frazier an "Uncle Tom".  That's a charge worthy of coming to physical blows in today's Black America, but in 1960s Black America, it was damn near worth killing it's accuser.
Those indiscretions not withstanding, the man lived an amazing life. The unanimous outpouring of respect and love for Ali goes to show the massive impact his life had not only in this country, but around the world. Ali has been this bright beacon of Black pride and confidence for young Blacks to look upon for over 50 years. While I was never lucky enough to meet him, I was smart enough to learn about him and get to know him as much as one could from a distance. I'm sadden that Parkinson's robbed THAT man of all the wonderful gifts that made him so special. His motor skills, his speech. It almost doesn't seem fair. But yet, I'm thankful that the world had him, because if man were to tell the story of boxing, of sports, of Black America or just America in general, you can't tell it without mentioning Muhammad Ali.