Really Dude?

In another strange twist in the trial of George Zimmerman Thursday, Zimmerman’s defense attorney tried to paint Trayvon Martin as a racist because he used the term cracker.

Really dude? It’s your client who is on trial. Trayvon, a 17-year-old child who was minding his own business walking home from the store with a bottle of tea and a pack of rainbow Skittles is dead.

We had an interesting panel discussion at work this week based on the Supreme Court’s repeal of a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the continuing conversation about Paul Dean’s use of the n-word.

One member of our panel marveled at the fact that her sons, who are white, listen to music that is filled with a word she finds so offensive. She’d been taught for years not use the word, and now, young people are using it as a term of endearment.

When did the script get flipped on the n-word. Which was used for decades as an attack word. In fact, some who were fond of the word used it as they were murdering and lynching people.

An 81-year-old woman on our panel said something powerful: If you call me the n-word instead of my name, she said. I’m going to have a problem with that. The 18-year-old in our group said his friends use it, and though he doesn’t condone it, he doesn’t mind its use as long as it’s not used to degrade someone.

So, back to Trayvon. Like most young people of his age, they don’t see the term in the same light as those of us who grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s. To us, the n-word was a fighting word. A word that provoked fear and hatred. Trayvon no doubt used the word in conversation with friends. He probably used the word cracker in the same way, when he referred to Zimmerman as the “creepy a.. cracker” who was following him the night he was killed.

Furthermore, even though I don’t condone the use of the word cracker, I don’t recall any white people being killed behind it. It doesn’t carry the same baggage as the n-word carries to people of my generation and older.

For the sake of argument though, what if Trayvon was a racist? Does that mean it was okay for Zimmerman to follow him and shoot him?  That seems to be what Zimmerman’s attorney is saying.

So what if she’s ratchet?

My daughter was furious. “Turn on the television,” she implored.  “The prosecution’s star witness in the George Zimmerman trial just blew the case.”

“She was so ratchet.”

For the uninitiated,  “ratchet” is a slang term used to describe someone who is out of control, ghetto or nasty.

By now, you’ve probably seen excerpts of 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel’s testimony on CNN or some other news show.  A few of the talking heads seemed to enjoy poking fun at her speech (one said they needed subtitles) and her salty attitude. In case you missed it, Jeantel was at times barely audible and at other times hostile when being questioned by Zimmerman’s attorney. When he told her she would need to come back again Thursday for more testimony, she was yelled, “What?”

There are plenty of televised trials these days. What you rarely see is the testimony of unpolished people in court proceedings that get little or no attention.

Jeantel was on the phone with Trayvon as he was being followed by Zimmerman.

“Get off!, Get off!” were her friend’s  last words before the line went dead, she told jurors.

Trayvon told her he was being followed by a “creepy a.. cracker,”  Jeantel said.  Before the phone went dead, she heard what sounded like a struggle in the wet grass.

She testified for two hours Wednesday; and to describe her as a reluctant witness would be a supreme understatement.  Making matters worse, the defense attorney revealed several inconsistencies in her statements. At one point, Trayvon’s father rolled his eyes and shook his head in disgust as she told jurors about her actions after the teenager was killed. When asked why she didn’t come to Trayvon’s funeral, she said she didn’t like seeing dead bodies.

My daughters are convinced she did Trayvon’s family and prosecutors no favors with her testimony.

I’m not so sure I agree. She came across as a confused teenager in need of a major attitude adjustment.  But her statements were in line with those of other people who heard parts of what happened the night of the killing.

At the end of her testimony, jurors will have to assess her believability, not her “ratchet-ness.”  According to my daughters, the two are one in the same.

Ironic, since defense attorneys — in their efforts to convince jurors that Zimmerman acted in self defense — are trying to depict Trayvon in the same manner.

My Trayvon Martin

My Trayvon Martin loves baseball, basketball and his little sister. He loves to dote on her and sees it as his job to protect her.

As I write this, he is feeding her breakfast before he heads out to baseball camp.

My Trayvon Martin will be 8 years old in December. It pains me to think that in a few short years my fun-loving grandson will be public enemy number one to some people.  His parents will have to school him on what not to do if  he is stopped by the police. They will tell him to watch how he behaves in public, how he dresses and how he wears his hair. All these decisions will play a role in whether he is racially profiled.

This is a truth for all parents of young black men. I have four nephews, ranging in age from 13 to 3. What will their futures be? They are bright, the apples of their parents’ eyes and our hope for tomorrow.

This week, the trial of George Zimmerman began in a Florida courtroom. A jury of six women must decide if Zimmerman acted in self-defense, or if he committed second degree manslaughter.  In this case, it is hard to separate  facts from rhetoric. Was Trayvon an innocent teenager walking home from the store with a drink and a pack of Skittles; or did he attack Zimmerman after the neighborhood watch captain began to follow him? Who was practicing self-defense, Zimmerman or Trayvon?

Only two people know what really happened that night and one of them is dead. The other has changed his story multiple times and tried to hide his assets.

One thing is certain, racial profiling is a fact of life for young black men. It colors their every movement. Yes, young black men disproportionally commit more crimes that their counterparts. But that should not mean they should all be viewed as threats.

It happened to the 13-year-old son of my friends Ava and Dale Greenwell, who was stopped  and handcuffed by police in his own suburban Chicago neighborhood. Ava, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote about the incident and has sued the police department  officers who stopped her son because the clothes he was wearing generally matched those of a burglary suspect.

It happened to my colleague Wayne’s son in his own neighborhood. He  too took action against the security guard his gated neighborhood hired to protect its residents. After Wayne demanded an apology, the guard opted to quit his job instead.

All these young men are Trayvon Martin.

My grandson is my pride and joy. So are my nephews. They are my Trayvon Martin.

See Ava Greenwell’s column here:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/21/opinion/greenwell-son-profiling/

Where is your faith?

     Why is it so hard to have faith in times of trouble?
     I’ve asked myself that question many times in the last 14 months.
In May of 2012, my husband had a stroke. A few months later, a gifted heart surgeon opened his chest and rerouted his arteries. Then came the complications — a blood clot and two more surgeries.
     No matter how strong you think you are, when you or someone you love is facing major health issues nothing is easy to process.
     As Christians we are taught to trust God and have faith in what we cannot  see. Yet I found myself mulling over worst case scenarios.  What if he didn’t make it through the surgery? What about his long-term prognosis? How would he handle the emotions of a long-term recovery? How would our lives and the lives of our children be different?  How would our 23-year-old deal with her father’s illness while juggling difficult classes at a university 600 miles away from home?
     I’m sure Joe had these questions times ten, but he didn’t give voice to them and neither did I, except when talking to my parents.
     People say if you pray, why worry and if you worry, why pray?  I prayed anyway — for healing and for peace. I also prayed a selfish prayer — God, how will I do all that I need to do and be a good caregiver to Joe?
     Joe sailed through heart surgery. His surgeon, Dr. Morris Brown, said it couldn’t have gone better. The nurses and support staff at Piedmont were great, as were the home health nurses. Joe’s brother Charles was by his side the entire time — a testament to the love they have for one another.
     As weeks turned to months, and complications with his legs surfaced, my patience grew shorter. I was drifting through work and coming home exhausted. Before his health issues began, we were typical empty nesters. I seldom cooked and put off chores like going to the grocery and doing laundry.
      Meanwhile, close friends were dealing with major illness and death. Our neighbors, the McNairs, have a 23-year-old son who has spent most of the last few years in and out of hospitals battling a chronic illness.
     Our friends Sonya and Curtis were staring leukemia in the face. Sonya and the McNairs held fast to their faith. They didn’t appear to show any signs of weakness. The same was true for my friend and colleague, Shelia, who was slowly losing her beloved father.
     Despite support from family and friends, late in the midnight hour I would awake from a fitful sleep as fear crept into my mind.
     I read scriptures and inspirational verses, prayed for strength and sanity —  and all the while doubted the power of God’s will.
     Juggling work with caregiving exhausted my mind, body and spirit. I found myself sinking into a hole that I couldn’t climb out of by myself.
     I connected with a Christian counselor and described to him my husband’s health situation and all that I was doing — a full-time management job, a book, a leadership position at my church and being a mother, grandmother and friend.   I became a puddle of tears in his office, tears that hadn’t flowed since Joe’s first surgery in August.
     “God is trying to carry you,” he said. “You aren’t letting him.”
That revelation was somehow freeing.  With his help, I’m learning that is okay to show weakness, to say no when I want to say yes to additional commitments.
     God is our refuge in good times and bad. In bad times, it’s easy to drop what Christians call our sword and shield.   In reality, that’s when we need them the most.

“For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.”

Psalm 27:5

“Brown skin…you know I love your Brown skin”

Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin
I can’t tell where yours begins, I can’t tell where mine ends

I will forever love India.Arie for singing these beautiful lyrics.  They tell us to love and embrace who we are.

I’m not sure why, but I thought we were over the dark-skinned/light-skinned; good hair/bad hair era.

Then I watched “Dark Girls” a 2011 documentary that aired Sunday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) .  In it, directors and producers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry explore colorism in America and other countries.

According to the documentary’s web site, the directors “took their cameras into everyday America in search of pointed, unfiltered and penetrating interviews with Black women of the darkest hues for their emotional expose’, “Dark Girls”.

“Dark Girls” pulls back our country’s curtain to reveal that the deep-seated biases and hatreds of racism – within and outside of the Black American culture – remain bitterly entrenched,” the web site goes on to say.

Some of the more riveting interviews come from black men talking about their preferences in women.  Some say they only date light-skinned women with straight hair. Others subscribe to “the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice” theory in their choices.

Dr. Cheryl Grills,  president of National Association of Black Psychologists, is featured prominently in the documentary. She talks about the discrimination and dehumanization African-Americans experienced for several centuries and how it often led to self-hatred.

To understand African-Americans’ deep-seated issues with skin color you must first understand how much of it is rooted in the institution of slavery. Even among slaves, who were deprived of their freedom and humanity, there was a pecking order. The lighter skinned slaves, often the children of their slave masters or other white men, were the “house Negroes.”  The darker-skinned slaves were the field hands. They were considered ugly and inferior.

These psychological scars were passed from generation to generation, and sadly,  still exist today in some families.

My parents never dwelled on skin color, but I remember people in our extended family and people in the community making comments about dark and light skin. One of my aunts  calls my niece Megan “Red” short for “Redbone,” one of many terms used to describe light-skinned women and girls.

Dr. Grills says it’s up to all of us to challenge structural racism in media images,  which she says perpetuate colorism.

It’s time to  stop this madness. Children need to be told they are beautiful from birth, no matter their hue. The brown paper bag test — where people whose skin was  darker than a brown paper bag — didn’t make it into certain social organizations or worse, certain jobs, sounds so ridiculous now.

In “Dark Girls,”  actress Viola Davis talks honestly about the pain she felt growing up as a dark-skinned child.  Davis says she has forgiven her parents and finally put the skin color issue to rest in her own mind.

Dr. Grills says near the end of the documentary: “You ultimately are the keeper of your own soul. You are the keeper of the spirit that is you. So if you don’t treat you right, if you don’t love and cherish you;  how do we expect anyone else to do the same?”

Actor and Comedian Michael Colyar says in the film: “Loving yourself is not racism, loving yourself is race pride. And in shows I try to point out that I can love me, without hating you… I don’t have to hate white people to love me….I love me because it’s intrinsic and because we are taught, not from books but by the spirit, that love begins at home.”

“Dark Girls” is a must see for anyone who has children or works with children. Sometimes, we  unknowingly send cues to our children about their worth. Some of that is tied to how they look.

For most of his nearly eight years, I’ve called my grandson my little chocolate drop.  I want him to know that I love his dark skin and that he is sweet to me.   Other people may try to tell him different, but my hope is that he will always know that he is loved and cherished. My newest granddaughter is bi-racial. My daughter’s husband is Korean and people are already asking my daughter, “What is she mixed with.”

If the question is posed to me, my answer will be, “She’s mixed with lots of love.”

To learn more about “Dark Girls”, go to: http://officialdarkgirlsmovie.com/

This one’s for you Patty!

My original post before I took a year off. LOL. I’ll try to post at least a few times a week. I need to do shorter posts, like this one.

LOVE MY PEOPLE

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend told me she enjoyed reading my posts and liked the fact that I was not shy about expressing my faith. She called it living out loud. That gave me life! As I often say, words matter. So take the time to tell people when something they do inspires you. Thanks Patty, for doing that for me. I’m sharing your note below!

Hi Angela,
I was at a networking event last night and had the opportunity to share a little bit of how I’ve grown in my ability and desire to share my faith openly. I told the young woman I was speaking to that some of that change was a result of your influence via Facebook. I figured if you could be open about your faith in front of your colleagues who were friends with you on FB, then so could I. As…

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So Paula Deen used the N-Word

This debate is so tired. Who can and can’t use the n-word? Is it ever appropriate to use?  Why do some black folks get to use it, but white people can’t? And what if you’re Latino or Asian, can you get away with using it?

Paula Deen, the Savannah, GA food maven, is the latest celebrity to find herself in a pot of boiling hot water.

Call it foot in mouth disease.

In a deposition to gather evidence for a lawsuit filed by one of Deen’s  employees, Deen admitted using the N-word way back in the day.

I was 5 when someone first called me the N-word. I was among the first students to attend a Catholic school kindergarten in Winchester, KY. Even the nuns couldn’t protect us from the hate we experienced.

The word would be hurled at me again in my early 20s.  A young man in a truck decided he didn’t like the way I was crossing across a Stein Mart parking lot, so he fired the N-word in my direction. I smiled and kept on walking. My blood was boiling but I knew better than to get into an altercation in a parking lot.

Fast forward 30 years and I no longer feel a certain way about the word.   Books and dissertations have been written on it. Back in the 50s and 60s the N-word was often accompanied by racial violence. Even Jay Z and Oprah have sparred over it.  Jay believes that when blacks use the word its power is diminished. If you listen to Oprah the word should never be used by anyone, under any circumstances. There’s just too much baggage there.

Me, I don’t much care anymore. To be sure, words matter. But deeds matter more.

If people have a problem with Paula Deen using the N-word and treating African-American employees badly, perhaps they should consider boycotting her products and services.  That will surely get the Queen of Butter’s attention.

If she doesn’t have the good sense to protect the empire she’s spent years building, I really don’t care what she says.