Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Broken Rose Giving Bloom Through the Cracks in the Concrete

The recent events surrounding the death of another one of youth, this time at the hands of a neighborhood vigilante, has gained national attention and sparked the previously dormant flames of action which, once fanned, have now spread like a California wildfire across all of America. We all see young Trayvon Martin (may God bless his soul and bring comfort to his family) as one of us. Even the President of the United States gave a speech acknowledging, "If I had a son.....he would look like Trayvon Martin." When we see those pictures of this young man, who on his way home from the store to buy Skittles and Iced Tea, was profiled, stalked, approached and eventually murdered by someone who was 'patrolling' the neighborhood and felt the "fucking coons" always seemed to get away, we should see our younger brother, our son, our daughters, our friends......we should see ourselves. Upon recognizing ourselves, we seem to always ask that plain and simple question......"How could something like this happen?!" I plead for you to not stop there however, also ask "What can be done to prevent other innocent young lives from being senselessly loss to the hands of violence and apathy (and in some cases disdain) towards their futures."

Since blacks have been in America, and certainly sense they have been deemed Black Americans, we have had to deal with racial profiling and violence. Because of the color of our skin, we have been considered dirty, immoral, ugly, unworthy of love, malevolent, distrustful and worse. Our women have been considered loose, disinterested in motherhood, slothful, and whorish....and worse. Listen to the propaganda and you'll learn that our children are wayward with a love for violence and carelessness and a profound hatred for education and structure. Personified images of these sentiments were created and spread throughout the US and anywhere else in the world it was assumed would have interaction with the Negro. This caused many people the world over to 'know' this version of the Black person from America. It took a strong sense of self awareness and focus on self empowerment to garner the efforts of all of those who stood strong and shot this message down during the Civil Rights movements of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. Black Americans began to realize the freedoms they had been afforded and wanted to see more for themselves than the poor disenchanted neighborhoods they'd been raised to believe was their pinnacles. We want to be able to live as we decided to live, where we decided to live and without a fear for being attacked because of the unfounded negative preconceived notions constructed by White America to disassociate us from the of Humanity. To a degree it worked. The messages from leaders like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Bobby Seals, Fred Davis, Martin Luther King Jr. and others, bled into every facet of Black American life and created a sense of love and the desire to be empowered. The reflection of this movement was seen in how we entertained ourselves as Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Marvin Gay, Sam Cooke, Gil Scott Heron and others subconsciously (and not so subconsciously) promoted the message that we as people were worthy of love and would begin to uplift one another and show the world our collectiveness. The message Black America sent across was a powerful much so that it gave fear to the structure of America itself and served as the cause of death for virtually every leader named above. Crack was introduced to our neighborhoods, poverty and a sense of helplessness set in, children became orphans and wardens of the state, parents became disinterested in being responsible and accountable for anything and eventually a complete and total fall of our culture ensued.

The only thing we had which shed light into what was happening.....the only "voice" we had throughout the darkness of the 80s and 90s was that of our entertainment. As drugs (which were proven to have been introduced and funneled into the Black American community by our national government) and gang violence ravaged whatever sense of security and peace and love we had, our entertainment.....Hip Hop, continued to tell our story. Our spoken artists continued to be the Voice through which virtually an entire generation of Black Americans gained a sense of self pride, self worth, self awareness, self acceptance and most importantly.....peace. Sure there were negative images in rap music throughout these times, but those images were not something young Black Americans were told to strive for at all costs. Those images were what those of us who grew up in troubled, poverty stricken neighborhoods knew all too well. We were comfortable with what we were hearing because we were seeing this reality every day. Art was imitating life. And while coded and cryptic to some, the messages were still messages of empowerment...."You Gotta Keep Ya Head Up," "Today Was a Good Day," "Never Seen a Man Cry." Many of us were 'raised' from this music. Still till today, when I'm in a complete life rut, I turn on some Pac and "Smile".

In 2012, we can no longer say that the world is being influenced by stereotypical propaganda being handed out by White America.....not exclusively. As a people, Black Americans have lost their way. And it is going to take the collective efforts of us as a People to regain our footing. The hip hop and entertainment which once served as our voice through the wilderness has become but a war cry to all that we dare come into contact with. Where we once strived for excellence and betterment, we now only care to gain wealth so that we can flaunt it in the eyes of those of us who do not have such luxuries. We make promises to the world and anyone in it that we are beasts and murders and drug users who act without thinking and without remorse. This image, now coming from us, is sold worldwide and is being promoted and saluted on television stations and radio stations everywhere. For a few gold coins, we have allowed ourselves to become our own worst enemy. No longer can we blame others for how they view us. The truth is Black Americans are afraid of Black Americans. We don't want to live next to one another. We are afraid of those children that were left behind by their fathers and disregarded by their mothers who have grown up with a perpetual chip on their shoulder and harbor disgust for everyone who ignored their pleas for help. There has been so much pain and anger in their world that many young Black Americans have no fear for death or life. They have no respect for elders and authority. They have no desire to gain an education of any kind that they feel will not elevate them immediately. Rappers (because I refuse to call some of this art) know this and cater to that anger and resentment. Self hate is spewed loudly on microphones and through speakers and into the young minds of our children who are being raised by children. Our lives and our communities are now imitating the so-called art. By choice we have created an environment for ourselves where everyone has a right to be (unfortunately in many cases should be) afraid of our children.

The only way to fix these concerns is through love. We must recommit ourselves to ourselves. We must regain control of our own communities and become more open to our young people who are looking to their elders for guidance. Hell, it’s time for many of us who haven't, to recognize ourselves as elders. Love is the only thing that can overcome hate. Nothing else is strong enough. Loving our enemy has proven to fail us time and time again. That should not be our first priority.

We must learn to love ourselves:

I stand with us all as we demand justice for the family of Trayvon Martin. I also stand in love and support for every young life that is lost. I stand against injustice and indiscriminate behavior against all Black American youth, no matter who sits at the hands of. I stand against the promotion of the so called thugs who are making it harder for our innocent children to be viewed as such. I stand against the rampant misogyny and ultra sexuality that has taken hold to and distorted the minds of our young people. I stand against the deadbeat dads who walk away from their children and leave them wondering their entire lives who they are and how well they stack up to the rest of the world. I stand against gang activity and the foolish interpretation of 'no-snitching' that says we cannot speak up against anything we see out of fear of being attacked ourselves. The energy we are now exuding for justice must not die with the arrest and charging of George Zimmerman. That's too easy. Let's stand strong and demand the betterment for our people across the board. Let's hold one another accountable for the lives we create, take or influence. Let us again fall into love with ourselves and one another.

I too, am Trayvon Martin. And I stand for him as I stand with you:

"Father forgive us for living
While all my homies stuck in prison
Barely breathing believing that the world is a prison
It’s like a ghetto we can never leave
A broken rose giving bloom through the cracks of the concrete
So many other things for us to see.
Things to be our history so full of tragedy and misery
To all my homies never made home
The dead peers I shed tattooed tears for when I'm alone.
Picture us inside a ghetto heaven
A place to rest
Finding peace in this land of stress
In my chest I feel pain come in sudden storms
Life full of rain in this game watch for land thorns
Our unborn never got to grow never got to see what’s next
In this world full of countless threats
I beg God
To make a way for our ghetto kids to breath
Show a sign
Make us all believe....." (Tupac Amaru Shakur)

-Mustafa Shakur

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Lamb That Was Slain: The Killing of Trayvon Martin


In ancient Jewish tradition, an animal sacrifice-- most often a lamb-- was used as an offering, a tithe if you will, for God to illustrate man’s appreciation for the blessings they received from the omnipotent and beneficent Creator, or even a ‘Forgive Me’ card for immoral behavior, sins, and human transgressions. (Hosea 14:3 is referential evidence that Ancient Jews eventually ceased killing innocent beasts for sacrificial offerings—“ Take with you words, and turn to the Lord. Say to him, forgive all iniquity and receive us graciously, so we will offer the words of our lips instead of calves.”) Though other animals were used for sacrifices, such as goats and calves, the lamb has become a metaphorical symbol in popular culture and modern History more than likely because of its attributes of docility and timidity that evoke emotions of sympathy and empathy when one identifies another as being a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ Some cultures, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, even went as far as to not only sacrifice beasts, but also humans to their ‘Gods’ as a means of offering recompense for sins or gifts that would satisfy the Gods and keep them safe from impending danger. On the evening of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a ‘Captain’ of a neighborhood watch program in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community twenty minutes north of Orlando, Florida, located in Sanford, Florida, murdered, or sacrificed, a 17-year-old Black American teen at the altar of U.S. prejudice and racism.

From Numbers 7:57 to Revelations 5:13, one can find numerous references of a ‘lamb’ and the slaughter thereof, yet Revelations Chapter 5, verse 13, really symbolizes the death of young Trayvon. The text states, “In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” And this is what Black Americans, and even non-Black Americans, will exclaim when remembering the legacy of the young Trayvon Martin. We will exalt him because his bravery in the face of a murderer with premeditated intentions. We will uphold him and place him in the clouds with Emmett Till, who was also killed by racist monsters with malevolent intentions. We will contrast his willingness to verbally question the paranoia of Mr. Zimmerman by rebelling against authority just as the Christ rebelled against the Roman Empire and the tradition of Jewish exclusionary practices that exhibited prejudice towards Gentiles.

Now, by no means am I positing Trayvon Martin as a Christ-Like figure who has died for the sins of mankind in order to save them from the fiery lakes of Hell, but we can juxtapose his significance in the continual struggle for African American equality in the United States to the efforts of Jesus Christ to free man from his sinful ways and lead him down the path of human, if not Godly, righteousness. Jesus Christ was tried and convicted for claiming to be the Son of God, while Trayvon was murdered, gunned down in the cloak of night by a vigilante night watchman for essentially claiming his innocence of being a criminal; “Why are you following me?” which an anonymous girl who was on the phone with Travyon at the time, to me, is similar to Christ’s assertion that he was the ‘Son of God’ and had done nothing to deserve being accosted by Pontious Pilate’s Court just as Martin had done nothing to be relegated to the status of ‘criminal’ by Mr. Zimmerman.

While there may never be any concrete answers as to why this happened to Trayvon, I do believe the masses of Black Americans who have been unjustly profiled as delinquents, thieves, thugs, criminals, and ne’er- do- wells know why Zimmerman did this to Travyon— it was the direct correlation to the creation and perpetuation of the derogatory stereotype of the African American in America. For centuries, this has been the root cause of instances of mistreatment, and, in this case, unjustified killing of individuals of the darker hue. Many people only see the stereotype of the Negro, rather than the character of the human being, thus the stereotypes that have permeated the psyche of Americans, both Black and White, Asian and Hispanic, cause individuals to prejudge the Black American and label them as the aforementioned culprits of skullduggery and mischief that I mentioned in the lines above.

Hopefully, and from the attention this tragedy is receiving from national media outlets, both visual and print, as well as social networking sites, Trayvon’s death will serve as another turning point, just as the ghastly lynching of Emmett Till provided a launching pad for the success of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and prove to be an intricate piece of evidence that proves that the Black American still has miles to go before we sleep in the bed of equality, societal acceptance, and civil rights. We must remember that Trayvon Martin, and all of the unnamed Blacks who have died behind racist intentions, did not die in vain. He died, involuntarily, for the ‘cause.’ His blood will scream out from that Floridian soil and protest against the demonic spirit of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Though I am saddened at the death of this young man, who could be my son in 14 years, I have peace within my soul because I know that there is “wondrous working power…in the precious blood of the Lamb.”

-Gee Joyner

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Faith Without Works?

I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. We hear these “so called” declarations of faith from one end of America life to another. Our political candidates “declare” their belief in God while using it to pass legislation that fits with their beliefs system despite the First Amendment’s ban on congress making laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. However, we see a form of Christianity in this country that has nothing to do with the actual teachings and actions of Jesus, but more of a public display that put the idea of being a Christian in the same league as joining a fraternity, sorority or other social clubs. Then, there is the selling aspect of it all. We have to buy bumper stickers, bracelets and t-shirts to” share our faith” with the lost world that is in desperate need of the gospel.

Celebrities and even sports stars “declare” their faith and two particular athletes have really given the Christians base a big push over the last year. Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin, whose public confessions of faith have energized our Christian base from the religious right to evangelicals. Jeremy Lin now wears bracelets made by Active Faith, an apparel company started by former basketball player Lanny Smith and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver. Both are members of the Lakewood Church, the mega-church pastored by Joel Osteen, which draws almost 50,000 attendees per week. The website opens with a verse from 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by FAITH, not by sight. A pretty catchy way to lead to their mission statement which says they provide fashionable and functional sportswear the active athlete as well as any person wanting to wear and share their faith. Again, “share” their faith, what does this really mean? I can share my faith by buying a pair of $30 yoga tights or a $45 hoodie? Or, maybe one of those wonderful wristbands that Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin wears during his games now that he starts for the New York Knicks.

On a slightly different note, Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback has made his faith public by kneeling in prayer at games and even post Bible verses under his eye. Tebow, like Lin, have seen a ground swell of support from those on the Christian Right who believe that Tebow, in his public displays of faith (now known as Tebowing), is somehow “standing up for Jesus”. Tebow has made his rounds on Fox news and has been interviewed about his faith by several including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee where he discuss the reasons for his faith and even talked about his mother and father’s decision not to terminate him in the womb when there were potential complications. Tebow, like Lin really believe in doing humanitarian work, however, this work is usually overshadowed by the PDF’s (public displays of faith). Even those on the Christian right seem to ignore the works that Tebow and Lin are doing to make the world a little bit better by only discussing the public displays. Why are Tebow and Lin paraded around like poster boys for Jesus? It gives the Christian Club, as I call it, a chance to thumb their noses to a society that they claim is so against them and their beliefs. Evangelicals will often say that they are persecuted because of what they stand for when they are the ones that prove to be intolerant of beliefs that different from theirs.

If you look at the society as a whole, Christianity is very dominating in this society and most of the world. For nearly four years we have been forced to hear argrements over the religion of President Barak Obama, and our negative perception of Muslims has increased greatly. I don’t chanellged the faith of this men, I do challenge what Christianity has become in this country. Jesus was a revolutionary but he is seldom described as such. He spoke to the power structures both political and religious and demanded justice for all oppressed people. However, he is always described as meek and humbled.

We loved to proclaim the belief in Christ be we have made it a point to fall short of doing the work. Christians are given a duty and that was to stand for those who have no voices. Instead, Christians hide themselves away in their buildings, selective communities, and only speaking out on “certain” issues. This is not what Jesus taught. What we have instead is a religious system that has married itself to the very oppressive system that it should be standing against. It convinces people to except the world as it is and to worry only about you and yours. We see this throughout the history of America from Spaniards first arrival in the New World, to the present. But, that is fine as long as we can buy our little toys proclaim out faith and not really do anything. That is what it’s all about, right? James 2:14; my brothers, what is the gain if anyone says he has faith, but does not have works? Is the faith able to save him?

Frank Johnson

Poor Lil' Tink-Tink: Being or Looking 'Black' in America

Flying anywhere in the months following 9/11 were to say the least, interesting. I am a 6’3” Indian male. And not the casino Indians, from India Indians. I grew up in the South, I have a Southern drawl, and I drink sweet tea. It all makes sense as far as I’m concerned. But, I got to experience the wonder that was the newly post-9/11 airport security on a December day in North Carolina. I was chosen for three “random” security checks. They eventually put me in a room and went through all my stuff before they were satisfied enough to put me on my flight. Through it all, I was never outraged. Everything the security people were doing is what I would do if I was the government. I’d check the close-enough-to-arab-to-make-me-look-twice looking guy a million times over before I put him on a plane full of innocent, god fearing American citizens. I did however, feel a sense of familiarity, which bothered me. Policy and cultural ideologies seemed to resonate with images from a violent and oppressive past.

Fast forward 11 years, and now I have a wife, twins babies (a boy and girl), a house, a minivan, and a stable job. My wife is Black, which means I have two mixed little babies-- half Black/half Indian. I can see both sides of their genealogical heritage in their eyes, and faces, and even in their little toes. It is truly a wonderful thing to witness. My babies themselves make everything in the world seem brand new. But through all the brand new-ness, I have never been able to shake that sensation of familiarity.

I feel that when my kids get old enough, there will be no Indian in them when perceived by the public. They are half black, and no one will care about the half-indian. When the police roll up, my son and daughter will be regular old Black folk. When they apply for college, they will be normal African-Americans.
There is one very specific time in American life today that definitely is worse for the black guy. It’s when a representative of an armed authoritative force tries to exert said authority, for example, the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. I’m going to assume that everybody knows about this kid, because everyone reading this blog on their ipads knows how to use google. Trayvon was shot by George Zimmerman, the “captain” of a citizen’s watch organization. Zimmerman claims that Trayvon attacked him; therefore Zimmerman used his legally concealed gun and put two unauthorized holes in Trayvon’s chest. It turns out that Trayvon was armed with a bag of skittles and can of thirst quenching southern iced tea. Trayvon was in high school, Zimmerman is a grown man.

Zimmerman has yet to be charged with a crime. Meaning, the police department in Sanford, Florida feels that Zimmerman was well within his legal rights to use deadly force. The Chief of Police feels that race is not an issue in this case because the police do good police work. The police, from what I can tell, have reconstructed the night: 1) Trayvon was walking through the rain in the gated community, 2) Zimmerman saw him and called 911, 3) Zimmerman confronted Trayvon, 4) an altercation ensued, 5) Zimmerman feared for his life, and 6), pulled out his gun and shot the boy dead. If that ain’t self-defense, I don’t know what is.

Trayvon could be my son or daughter. I don’t believe that Mr. Zimmerman would see my children as half-Indian, but only black, and therefore suspicious. My little Amir and Leela could be, in some 15 years, lying in the grass, rain falling on their frozen faces, and a spreading blossom of blood mingling with the dirt. I can’t even imagine what my wife’s face will look like. I imagine that I would be mighty close to committing a cold blooded murder. And that is a feeling that I don’t want to be familiar with.

America has always been unjust with black folk. I know that we live in an era that is supposedly “post-racial,” but I can’t seem to shake that abhorrent sense of familiarity. I don’t want to feel such vulgarity so intimately. More so, I don’t want my kids to know it. But I’ve never been able to find my way out of the labyrinth. I don’t think my Dad, with all his infinite wisdom, has ever found his way out, only a means to survive within. I don’t believe that Amir and Leela will ever find the exit. I should have named them Daedalus and Icarus apparently. Trayvon’s family must wear the scars of Mr. Zimmerman’s actions as a representative of an armed authoritative force. The law is written to favor the actions of Mr. Zimmerman. And once again, it doesn’t work out for the Black guy, and that sounds real familiar.
Anjan Basu