Saturday, August 23, 2014

Still A Nigger: A Day in the Life of a Black American Professor

It is always a strange and unfamiliar territory when one is transitioning from one thing to another—be it a relationship, home, city, or job.  And, in my case, the transition from a small HBCU (Historically Black College or University) to a large state university (PWI-predominately white institution) is no different.  It’s strange because I once walked this campus in the pursuit of two degrees and a Literature certification.  I walked this campus racking up numerous graduate hours in Education.  I once walked this campus stockpiling Doctoral hours in English, yet upon my return, it all seemed alien to me.
            Having taught for over half a decade, six years to be exact, at a predominately Black college, and when I say “predominately”, I mean during my tenure there I saw maybe eight or nine white students and never taught any of them, I had resided in a Black vacuum of Negro culture.  Sure, aggressive commentary, behavior, and bodily gestures were oft times prevalent, but what I experienced today on this white campus was different.  It reeked of pale privilege (insert white privilege).  It took me back to my elementary, middle, and high school days.  It transported me at warp speed to the subtle prejudice and racism I endured growing up in a Southern white suburb on the outskirts of the chocolate city of Memphis.
            First of all, I must inform you of my sojourn to campus the day before my paranoia set in.  Yesterday, I came to campus to meet with the Director of Writing just to bounce around some ideas pertaining to the courses I would be teaching.  When I arrived on campus, I parked in the lot reserved for a white fraternity.  The lot was literally their frat house’s lot.  I knew it was forbidden, yet I parked there anyway because on a campus of more than twenty thousand students, parking is always hard to find.  I met with the director for fifteen to twenty minutes, went back to the lot, cranked up my vehicle, and made my exodus.  But, on today, I decided to park in the frat house’s lot again because I knew I’d only be there for ten or fifteen minutes top.  I came to sign some paperwork, submit a voided check to payroll, and pick up my textbooks for instruction. 
Today was different.  I pulled into their lot and parked.  I exited my vehicle, pressed my alarm, and walked across the street.  In mid gait, I heard a voice holler, “Hey! Hey!” I turned around to see a beer-bellied frat boy with his hat turned backwards.  We both displayed orbital recognition, then, he yelled, “You can’t park here!” I immediately turned around and headed back to the lot to move my car and find another place to park.  I watched him as he walked back into the fraternity house and thought no more of it.  Then, a bigger frat member comes out of the frat house.  And by “bigger”, I mean 6’4” and about 240 pounds of the lard that Southern cooking and beer puts on a man—you know, Mike Brown of Ferguson, Missouri big.  He walked toward the parking area and says, “Hey, boss.  You can’t…” and before he could say “park here”, I frowned and said, “I’m not your boss, man.”  I unlocked my car and saw him turn and walk back into the house and hear him murmur, “Boss, you can’t park here.”  I replied in a louder tone, “Don’t do that, dude.  Don’t come at me with that ‘boss’ shit.”  He continued into the house and I turned on my automobile and left—upset.

I left because I felt that Black and white Americans are on edge.  Is it because of the Mike Brown murder/Ferguson uprising?  Is it because of the racial tension that has been boiling and stewing over since 1619?  You make the call.  But, I felt some type of way about my small incident (if it was even an “incident” at all).  I didn’t feel it was necessary to be told twice that I couldn’t park there.  I felt some type of way about the tone in which both of these frat boys spoke to me.  I wasn’t a student.  I wasn’t a passerby.  I may even be their professor come next week.  But, how would they know that?  I wasn’t dressed like a professor. (however a professor dresses.)  I didn’t have a huge medallion hanging from my neck saying “I’M A PROFESSOR”.  But what I did have on was a costume of Blackness that I’ve adorned since March of 1978 when I escaped from my mother’s womb.  What I did have on was a costume of Blackness that seems to garner disrespect, subjugation, subordination, castigation, and condescension in the good ole U.S. of A.  What I did have on was a uniform of Blackness that seems to create fear, trepidation, and wariness from non-Black Americans.  What I did have on was a cloak of Blackness that says “Nigger” (with the –er).  To them, and even to me, I was a nigger.  A nigger who was parking in a place that I wasn’t supposed to park.  To me, and to them, I imagine, I was still a nigger.

Monday, August 11, 2014

No Flex Zone: Killin’ Season on Black Males and the Psychosis of the Cops Who Are Doing It

While we are mourning and hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! And therefore, I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40!
Regardless of what these two particular young, Black males did or did not do, as well as the unnamed and unknown Black males did or didn’t do, there is no excuse for them being murdered in cold, freezing blood at the hands of U.S. law enforcement.  I am tired of writing pieces that my colleagues within the Academy will deem fitting.  I am frustrated with always adhering to the guidelines of rhetorical composition.  I am sick and tired of trying to copy and paste and research statistics and incidents that back up my “claim.”  This time, I will write my opinions. Opinions null and void of scholarly sustenance.  I wanna write my anger onto this page.  Voice my outrage in this piece.  Be pissed off and say, “Fuck the formal and informal”.  I’m gonna write what hell I wanna write.  Shit, it’s my blog, right?  So, with that being said, where in God’s name is the white American outrage when unarmed Black Americans are being gunned downed like raccoons in the southern woods by “law enforcement”? What laws are they enforcing?  I need to read that damn handbook!!!
            While we are mourning & hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40!  There has been a devaluing of the life of the Negro since 1619.  Why would a being that was brought here as a chained and enslaved individual, here to do the laborious tasks of cultivating land and crops and international revenue, somewhat like a beast of burden, be viewed as anything more as a means to an end?  So, I am no longer surprised when Black males, and even Black females (see Renisha McBride and Marissa Alexander), are either victims of the judicial system or casualties of the police brutality and judicial system.
            I had a conversation over Sunday dinner with my parents and sister, while my 6-year-old son was in the den playing with toys and his imagination and laughing at cartoons, and they both, being that they were raised in the height of the 50’s and 60’s Civil Rights Era, down South, were adamant about how “we” (Black folks) need to teach other Black folk what they need to do when accosted or approached or in the presence of police.  My parents said that we need to “obey their orders” and “do as we are told”.  My reply was, “What if that isn’t enough.  What if they still shoot and kill us?” Silence.  
I began to try to remind my father of a time when I was in high school, my senior year, and I threw a back-to-school swim party at our home in a 99% white suburban subdivision, and he told a white cop who came to our home voicing complaints from the neighbors, “I don’t need the police to police my home.  I can handle this.  I’ve been running my house for 15 years.”  I said, “Daddy, you could’ve been shot and killed for being a Black man who was “non-compliant”.  He stood in silence as he was slicing the pork roast.  My sister and my mother were mute.  I wasn’t.  I knew and know the man that he was and is.  The man that came to my aid when my racist 8th grade English teacher humiliated and subjugated my fellow classmates to ridicule and unjust punishment simply because they were Black students at a predominately and exclusively white suburban middle school.  He came to my aid when she attempted to embarrass and condemn me to punishment.  He was there vouching for me and my record of incidents of racism when she eventually got to me during her path of racist retribution upon Negro minorities.  He was the one who stood up to her and the Black, hand-picked principal who was just glad to have the position.  He was, and is, my hero because of the aforementioned, and with what has happened to the young man in St. Louis and Ohio, he was at a loss of words.  His only reply was, “Negroes gotta just watch what they do around these white police.  I know it sounds harsh, but ain’t nothin’ changed.  Folks gonna have to teach these young Negroes to keep their mouths shut and do what the police say.”  And this, is the problem.
            What exactly can “Negroes” do to avoid presumed police provocation. Not frown, blink or sneeze? Not question officers’ orders? Not sag their pants?  Not listen to Rap music in their vehicles?  Walk with their heads down?  Though the entire story and truth hasn’t come out about either Brown in St. Louis or Crawford in Ohio, any intelligent and modestly objective media voyeur can surmise that something is afoot.  No weapon.  No definitive crime committed—and even if there was a crime committed, that doesn’t give law enforcement officials the right to kill these youngsters.  It seems as though the noose and the Ku Klux Klan has been replaced with bullets, batons and policemen.  I don’t agree with the notion that young Blacks should behave a certain way around cops or give cops a particular level of respect to avoid the loss of their lives.  In my estimation, that defeats the premise of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement.  Equality means, to me, that one shouldn’t have to be of exceptional intelligence, wealth, or behavior in order to be treated in a humane manner.  And for my extreme conservatives, both Black and white, miss me with the idea that we, as Black Americans, are blowing another incident out of proportion by invoking race and racism.  Stop saying we are "playing the Race card"! It ain't a card game when losing means a disparity of pay, inequality, incarceration, or the loss of your life, damned Fool!
While we are mourning & hash-tagging Michael Brown, don't forget John Crawford of Ohio who was killed by police in a Walmart for holding a bee bee gun/rifle in which the chain store sells! Stop putting a name to these unarmed Trayvons. Apparently, they're just "Niggers" or "Coons"! I'm gonna hold my son's hand until he's 40! 

                                                                                                    -Gee Joyner

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Don't Mess With My Messiah: Black Jesus, Blind Faith & Biblical Foolishness

I watched it.  Then I watched it again.  Not necessarily because it was so captivating, but more so because when I watched it the first time I missed the introduction (it felt like trying to read the bible by starting in the book of Matthew or John; at some point you’ll have to begin at Genesis to get a better context).  I watched it a third time because I was impressed by the way the theological themes were being teased out with Christological creativity and satirical sophistication.
It actually affirmed and reminded me why I have spent the last 16 weeks teaching the #SonOfGod: Black Jesus & White Lies – Race in the Black Church series at Abyssinian Baptist Church which was birthed on the back of the constant cinematic revisions of Biblical history which kept perpetuating ancient Hebrews and Egyptians (from Moses, to Mary, to Jesus) as white people.  As an emerging servant-scholar-pastor, public theologian and college professor of religion I’m ever mindful of the truth in Dr. Cornel West’s statement in his latest book Brother West: Living and Loving Outloud, “In America, every card in the deck is a race card.”  Race matters...especially in 21st century religion, contemporary theology and spirituality.  I! Get! It! 
That’s why I was taken aback (sadly) when met with information of the impending protest of Aaron McGruder’s new series Black Jesus.  Have people of faith nothing better to galvanize behind? How about we spend our ecclesiastical energy around instances highlighted by Dr. Leslie D. Callahan in her article, Black Jesus: We Have Other Things to Boycott?  Callahan argues, “...this is not because I am incapable of indignation. I’m just saving my ire for other things, such as, the carnage in Gaza, food insecurity in my city and every city, and even the nonsense folks preach in pulpits depicting Jesus as a money-hungry capitalist, which by the way is at least as blasphemous as portraying him as a cussing, smoking, homeless dude in the hood.”
Why were so many in the black faith community so disturbed? What has McGruder done (this time) that has disrupted so many?  It is, again, abundantly (and sadly) obvious for me.  There continues to exist in the life of those in the 21st century a gap, void, chiasm between the characters and catalogue of the biblical text and the life of black folks in North America.  People are familiar with scripture, salvation and the Lord and Savior but people usually don’t place themselves in close proximity of those who we find in the chronicles of our faith.  We hear about the forerunners of the faith, but few of us simultaneously imagine their bodies being kissed by the sun like ours.  We presume most biblical characters are white.  We think race and racism existed then in the same fashion it exists now.  We think God is white (an old white man with a long gray bear to be exact – google “God” and see what comes up). 
We think the Jesus of the bible and in history, literally looks like the painting authorized by the Vatican of a pale skin, brunette with light brown eyes.  We think that we’re reading and referencing a text that has little or nothing to do with our history, legacy and life with the exception of the connection between the Hebrew slaves and the African-American slaves or maybe some subtlesimilarities in songs sang in the civil rights movement based upon the scriptures.
So when McGruder takes the artistic liberty, theological acuity and satirical courage to depict a “neighborHOOD Jesus”, those who think they have a monopoly on biblical interpretation and a sickening spiritual superiority complex feel compelled to defend the myths – it makes perfect (pathetic) sense.  Fact is,McGruder's Jesus is more contextually/historically accurate than most preachers’ presentations on Sunday's.
In the mainstream Jesus is most often presented as a social-superstar who gives back-stage-passes to prosperity (read: WHITE), instead of a religious revolutionary who is concerned with social-political-religious liberation not simply our "soul's salvation." (read: BLACK) You think I'm upset with McGruder for presenting an alternative "hood" Jesus? "...Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?" PUH-LEEZ.... we're so colonized that we don't even understand when we're defending the elements of our own oppression!!! Therefore, when it comes to those who are so gung ho about using their faith as a means to protest pictorial representations of religious figures on television but silent about abusive priests, manipulative ministers and pimpish politicians, I’ll let them have it.  But be clear, I am NOT impressed with our colonized Christianity and pathetic attempts to perpetuate piety.  And neither is God! 

                                                                       -Rev. Earle J. Fisher