By Patricia Wilson-Smith
I’ve been trying to figure out for days why I am so perturbed by the proliferation of videos across Facebook and the rest of the web showing ordinary and not-so ordinary Black Americans dumping buckets of ice water over their heads as part of an ingenious campaign to bring about awareness of ALS, also commonly known as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’. And good for The ALS Association – they’ve raised millions of dollars as a result that will no doubt be put to great use.
As diseases go, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is pretty insidious. It affects your ability to walk, talk, and slowly stops you from breathing on your own. There is no known cure for the disease, or even a reliable method of diagnosis – most people are diagnosed through the process of elimination for other causes of the symptoms they display. It’s a horrible disease, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s been a horrible disease that we’ve known about for 75 years. So one cannot help but credit the current wave of giving, and public displays of awareness in the form of ice-water dumps to the phenomenon that is social media. And more specifically, our need to feel noticed, to be in the know, to be part of a cool fad, and to feel, well – special.
That African Americans use the Internet and social media more than any other ethnic group explains why this particular fad, great cause though it is, has marched its way through our online culture with a vengeance. But on the two-week milestone of the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a 6-year member of the Ferguson Missouri police department, an event that has sparked one of the most important and enduring discussions we’ve ever had in this country on the value of the black male life, I can’t help but wonder - how much could we change about the experience of young black men in this country if we put as much effort behind challenging each other to get involved with one, as we have recording videos of ourselves dumping water on each other for a cause that’s been around for decades?
Stay with me – because the ‘blacks-and-social-media’ thing bears some additional scrutiny. The facts are startling – 40% of African American internet users aged 18-29 use Twitter compared to 28% of Caucasians of the same age, despite the fact that we still trail whites in access to technology and broadband internet overall. We spend endless hours perusing the Internet looking for funny videos, posting clip art that guilt our friends into typing ‘amen’ into a comment box (another thing I REFUSE to indulge), posting flattering pictures of ourselves (I’m guilty of this one), spreading the latest gossip from the ‘Housewives of Atlanta’, and scrambling to jump on the latest viral bandwagon, but almost none organizing around causes that could help our community, and that desperately need our attention.
At least it’s all equal-opportunity. I’ve seen videos of super-celebrities like Will Smith, assisted by his daughter Willow, braving a large pail of icy water and challenging power couple Jay-Z and Beyonce to do the same. and I’ve seen at least one video of an unnamed black mother from an unnamed inner city neighborhood, having a cooler-full of water dumped on her by her children. And it’s everyone in between – my friends, colleagues, co-workers, family – mindlessly dumping water on themselves, presumably unaware that they’ve just been pulled into what is perhaps the greatest viral social media fundraising campaign of all time. And through it all, I’ve personally not seen a single substantive call-to-action from any of my Facebook friends regarding the events of the past two weeks in Ferguson Missouri. Not one. I know that it should be a comfort that at least this ice water fiasco is for a good cause, but comforting ourselves in this way ignores one important fact – Black America has a myriad of GREAT causes that we simply don’t invest our time or energies into, online or otherwise.
Case in point: President Obama announced the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative six months ago, and in Obama campaign fashion, launched with it a website that allows and encourages ordinary Americans to sign up to mentor young men of color. And by ‘young men of color’ I of course mean that the videos about My Brother’s Keeper that can be found around the web are careful always to include at least one Hispanic boy, but let’s face it - when we talk about the work that needs to be done to turn around the lives of young men of color in this country, we know who we’re talking about – we’re talking about young black men.
Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t minimize the struggles of Latinos in this country, but it should give all African Americans pause to realize that in almost every statistic that matters, we are now being out-paced by them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Latinos graduate from high school on time at a higher rate than blacks, 63.5% versus 61.5% nationally. In the state of Missouri, the state where I was born and raised and the state where both Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell were gunned down this month, the disparity is even worse – 83% of Hispanics are graduating on time, versus 63% of blacks. And it should shock our collective systems much worse than a cold cooler full of ice water that the homicide rate among black youths is nearly 400% higher than the overall youth homicide rate, while the homicide rate among Hispanic youths is similar to the overall rate. Add that to the fact that the homicide rate among white youths is 72% lower than the overall youth homicide rate, and it’s easy to see that homicides of all kinds disproportionately affects black youths. So yes – I’m certain that young Hispanics in this country have their own challenges, but it is young black men who invariably find themselves in poor neighborhoods, unemployed, frustrated, and facing down the barrel of a gun, be it wielded by an over-zealous cop, a retarded neighborhood watchman wanna-be, or another black male.
Bringing the socio-economic challenges of Blacks into a discussion of the recent killings in Missouri, though uncomfortable, is unavoidable; the reaction of the protestors, looters, and rioters who blanketed the small city of Ferguson after Michael Brown’s murder shines a bright light on the continuing plight of African Americans in some pockets of the country, generations of the descendants of slaves who find themselves caught in the trick-bag trifecta of poor schools, neighborhoods that are in rapid decay, and non-existent career opportunities. It is not to say that I don’t flinch at the site of hordes of young black men and women rushing into a building to take armfuls of what doesn’t belong to them, I do. But rather than curse their ignorance or bad judgement, it seems to me that what we have is a great opportunity to truly understand the plight of those who are systematically locked out of opportunities in this country and how it got this way. It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves why, and begin moving in the direction of doing something about it. What should really make us uncomfortable? African Americans over the past few weeks, clicking our tongues at the desperation and destruction that has ensued in Ferguson, liberally slinging about the ‘N’ word in reference to the young people acting out there. Then heading back over to Facebook to post a video of the ALS ice bucket challenge. Or yet another wise-cracking meme of Kermit the Frog sipping tea.
It’s no longer enough for us to voice our frustrations among ourselves, hiding behind our keyboards and computer screens, resigned to the idea that someone else will find a way to solve the problems in the Black community. Our boys are in deep trouble, they are hunting each other and being hunted, and we have to do what we can to keep the discussion of their value in the collective consciousness of the country, we have to. Ferguson has shown us is that there is a very real problem with the value white America assigns to a black life; South Chicago has shown us that there is an even bigger problem with the value our young black men place on their own lives. Ferguson has shown us that good people, when wronged, will act on their simmering frustrations over the many inequities that plague them; South Chicago has shown us that allowing those inequities to go unchecked for too long can have deadly consequences. I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea that there was a website that is seeking to organize volunteers for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, but now that I know, I’m committed to spreading the word using social media. Because that’s where those of us who could potentially make a profound difference in the lives of young black boys can be found, currently busy making videos dumping water over our heads.
Some of the root causes of the current state of young black men have been thoroughly documented. In his recent article entitled “The Case for Reparations”, Ta’Nehisi Coates paints a vivid picture of how many African Americans in this country have been summarily cheated out of opportunity and prosperity in the worst way. It’s a long read, but I highly recommend finding the time to get through it. His article in part, describes how over the years local municipalities in the Midwest created an impossibly constrained economic environment for blacks to try and buy homes, build families or save money in. Indeed, the practices he describes of ‘red-lining’, or purposely keeping blacks out of decent housing, and saddling them with the equivalent of sub-prime, inflated mortgages more than explains why in areas of the country like Ferguson Missouri, generations of African Americans live in poverty, with no hope of taking part in what’s left of the American Dream. It illustrates clearly why African Americans continue to struggle to get a financial foot-hold, or to amass any wealth whatsoever to pass on to their children. And it most certainly explains why after generations of trying to make their way under such circumstances, an event like the murder of Michael Brown in their town would make the people of Ferguson go a little crazy, even in a way that it is ultimately detrimental to them.
To the droves of Black celebrities and ordinary folks who have stepped up to the ALS ice bucket challenge I say – we’re literally in danger of losing multiple generations of black men to crime, poverty, lack of opportunity, and yes, a justice system that is unfair to them, and a a whole list of other societal ills with its roots in the ravages of slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison industrial complex. It would be a sad shame and a pity if we have to lose another young black life because we just can’t seem to get our collective eyes on the ball and keep it there. Despite the condition of so many in our community, as African Americans we do have more political and financial might than at anytime in history, so it’s incumbent upon us to focus like a laser on the issues that plague us. And we have to do it soon – if the events of the last few years have taught us nothing, it should have taught us that without action on someone’s part, our black boys are in danger of continuing to fall between the cracks at best, and becoming nearly extinct at worst.
So here’s a challenge for you – if you’re African American and you’ve dumped water on your head this week in support of ALS, good for you. Now go and use your considerable online might to get behind another cause, a cause that affects more people in this country than ALS ever will. Sign up to mentor a young man of color, and hell, video tape it and post on Facebook if it makes you feel better. But it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that we continue to voice our outrage over the condition and treatment of black men in this country while not doing a single thing to turn it around, even as we flock to dump water on ourselves and give to a cause just because it’s the “in” thing to do.
For more information on “My Brother’s Keeper” and how you can get involved, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper. Then sign up. That’s what I’m going to do.
The American people are TIRED of the inaction of our elected officials, and disheartened by the obvious attempts to derail any of the progress that President Obama has tried to make for this country. Threatening to sue, or impeach him over The Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation that is helping so many Americans, and which has been adjudicated and upheld by the Supreme Court is the last straw!
We not only cannot AFFORD a baseless, purposeless, protracted legal battle at the highest levels of government, WE WON’T STAND FOR IT! Stop threatening to impeach our President and try balancing the budget, or even PASSING a budget; try figuring out a way to get jobs coming back to America, and our citizens back to work. Or how about funding a jobs program that will spur economic growth, and at the same time fix our crumbling, dilapidated infrastructure?
We the American people FORBID you to waste the few scant legislative cycles that our current Congress bothers to show up for with a pointless, meaningless attack on a sitting President, when there is so much more that needs to be done to help this country. This is NOT your country, this is OUR country, and we will not allow you to continue to do NOTHING, while at the same time WASTING our TAX DOLLARS and time on political nonsense!
Impeach President Obama? Oh No You Won’t!
Sign the Petition!
District voters are receiving automated calls from someone asking truly offensive questions regarding the candidates running for the Democratic seat for State House Representative in 105.
The calls are reported to have asked if voters would rather vote for “an Asian businessman”, or “An African American swim team mom”, an obvious attempt to contrast the two candidates in the race, Tim Hur and Renita Hamilton in a way that is incredibly racist, misogynistic and downright demeaning.
Although we cannot confirm the origin of the calls, there is no doubt that this kind of hateful, irresponsible rhetoric is not what we want out of the politicians in this district. Whoever arranged for these calls to be placed seems to be unaware that the most active demographic in both the 2008 and 2012 elections were black women. That hundreds of thousands of black women hold graduate degrees, own businesses, and yes are loving, engaged moms to the children of this district. Whoever arranged for these calls devalue us as black women, and have to be sent a message.
There are those out there who want to believe that as African Americans we are not paying attention to the upcoming primary race, and that we won’t show up to make our voices heard – here’s our chance to prove them wrong. In the face of the kind of racism and sexism being displayed by whoever is responsible for these calls, we have an opportunity to show our support for Renita Hamilton, a businesswoman and community leader who has worked tirelessly to become your representative so that issues important to us – family, education, jobs, the safety of our children – can be front and center in the minds of Georgia legislators.
The Black Women’s Empowerment League, formerly known as Black Women for Obama will be holding a press conference this Thursday, May 1st at Rhodes Jordan Park at noon, and we need your help.
Here’s what we need you to do:
1. Forward this information to everyone you know who will support this fight – it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re from District 105, we need them to show up for the press conference on Thursday.
2. Call everyone you know from District 105 and remind them that early voting is in progress right now, and that we need them to get out and vote.
3. Come to the press conference and show your support for Renita Hamilton and the black women of this district.
Those responsible for the hateful message that went out to District 105 voters are counting on you to do nothing – prove them wrong. Get engaged. For more information on how you can help, go to http://www.blackwomenforobama.com, or call me directly at 770-596-1252.
Black Women’s Empowerment League
Twitter: @patwilsonsmith, @blkwomen4obama
There’s no doubt that emotions are running high this morning now that the not guilty verdict has come down in the case of George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. As they were last night when the verdict was read sometime around 10pm, sending a shock wave of reaction through the Internet, with Martin supporters expressing deep outrage on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, and Zimmerman supporters giving each other virtual high-fives via the same outlets.
It was in this context that I stumbled across a Facebook posting from a white acquaintance, that said simply “Yes! Yes! Yes! Not Guilty!”. That one posting erupted into an exchange that’s convinced me more than ever that our problems are much deeper than just a flawed justice system, and states who enact laws that are intended to support the kind of vigilante justice against innocent blacks that this case is so famous for – these are problems, no doubt about it. But our real problems are that there are simply not enough of us, black or white, who are willing to stand up for justice, whatever the racial dynamic, and well, call a spade a spade.
I responded openly and passionately to my white friend’s glee over the verdict, and was immediately excoriated by her Facebook friends as being, “emotional”, which I found strange. One poster even went so far as to remind me that Trayvon Martin, far from innocent child, was nothing more than a “punk, thug, druggie”, suggesting that he’d lived his life in such a way leading up to the events of that fateful night, that he somehow deserved what he got. Astonishing. There is, of course, no evidence of that whatsoever, unless recreational drug use, and being a braggadocios teenager warrants the death penalty. But it was during my exchange with the folks who piled on me as I responded to his remarks with cries of racism, that I realized why those in America – white America, Hispanic America, heck, BLACK America – that run to any extreme in these kinds of issues are actually the larger problem. Let’s face it – our laws can be, and clearly in the case of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, should be changed. But the natural tendency we have to jump to racial extremes, especially in cases like this, are what perpetuate racial division, and more importantly, what make me frightened for my 16-year old son and the millions of young black men like him in America.
The sad fact is that, even before the verdict was read last night, Martin supporters were threatening bodily harm not only to George Zimmerman if he was found not guilty, but to any white person within reach. The same threats were made when it was still a question whether or not Zimmerman would be arrested at all. One racial extreme. By the same token, those who were all too eager to believe my Caucasian Facebook buddy’s description of Trayvon Martin as a “thug druggie”, and people like him have been guilty of ranting on the Internet about buying guns and protecting themselves from the likes of him, and the coming race riots. Another racial extreme. And these people, these idiots all, are the ones the news media love to report on, love to give oxygen to, while those of us with cooler heads and apparently superior intellects go unheard – so let’s just give this horrible tragedy the context that it needs, right here, right now.
Remember the O.J. Simpson trial? Of course you do. Everyone remembers how it gripped the country, and cast us all into a conversation about race and the justice system for so many, many months. Back then, people were quick to run to the same racial extremes, causing noise in a public debate that eventually drowned out any opportunity for us as a nation to learn collectively from what had transpired, and advance our understanding of the flaws in our justice system. No – you had Simpson supporters celebrating, even though there were two dead people whose killer had gone unpunished, and you had Simpson detractors swearing that the jury in the case were idiots and decrying the downfall of the American justice system. Sound familiar?
The fact of the matter is, there’s nothing here to celebrate. Nothing. Even if current Florida law is written in such a way that that jury felt it had no choice but to acquit George Zimmerman, how could the outcome possibly take on a celebratory tone for anyone, even Zimmerman’s family? An innocent kid is dead, and Zimmerman will likely spend the rest of his life under the scrutiny of those who believe he should have been convicted, or worse, that he deserves to be harmed for not being convicted. And there’s a mother, who will never get to steal another hug from her teenage son, or a kiss, who will never hear his voice again, never see him graduate from college, get married, have children, nothing. And the only way we can think to react as Americans is to go “whoo-hoo” on a social network, or threaten to burn down entire neighborhoods in frustration. Something’s got to change.
What needs to be known, is that there are those of us who are the same kind of dumbfounded over this verdict as we were over the OJ Simpson verdict. We did not jump in the air and go “whoo-hoo” when OJ Simpson was acquitted. We didn’t post messages online or anywhere else for that matter about Nicole Brown-Simpson or Ron Goldman being somehow deserving of what they got, we did none of that. We simply shook our heads at how flawed the justice system really is, and yes, marveled over the idea that it could in fact fall down on the side of an African American defendant. But in the eyes of many like me, there absolutely was nothing to celebrate, because to have done so would have been racist, pure and simple, and that’s what I couldn’t get the folks who attacked me on Facebook last night to understand.
My 16-year old son, who is about 6 feet, 1 inch tall and 240 pounds is a hugger. He hugs everybody he meets, and loves everyone he encounters, without exception. The problem is, he looks like a linebacker; he’s the quintessential gentle giant, and most frighteningly for me, as naive to the racism that exists in this country as he could possibly be. One night recently, during a sleep over with friends (both of which were white, if you’re curious), he snuck out of the house once I was asleep to “walk around the neighborhood”. When I discovered what he’d done, I exploded, trying to explain to him how dangerous it is for someone who looks like him to walk through neighbors yards at night. I’d seen the emails from my ignorant neighbors, warning fellow association members to “keep our kids off their lawns”, and how they would “shoot first and ask questions later”. And I knew what many others may not know – that the same “Stand Your Ground” law that (introduced as part of his defense or not) may have made Zimmerman’s current freedom possible is also on the books here in Georgia. What happened to Trayvon Martin could just as easily happen to my son. And knowing this sends chills down my spine, and strikes fear in my heart every time he walks out the door.
It’s this Trayvon-as-thug-deserving-to-die idea. If there is anyone out there who honestly believes that if it had been a blonde haired blue-eyed kid that had been cut down in his youth that night that these same folks would be all over the Internet accusing him of being a punk that deserved to die, please identify yourselves. Because if you’re out there, you’re probably standing next to a Unicorn and having dinner with Elvis and Tupac. No matter what your politics, your feeling about race, or your feeling about the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, at the heart of this story, there is a boy, a minor, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time by no fault of his own, who encountered someone who by his own words was eager to declare him a threat, a blight on society that needed to be eradicated. And there’s a mother and father who lost that boy, and so many broken hearts they’re too numerous to count – Trayvon’s friends, family, and all of those mothers like me, who are raising our own Trayvon Martins, and terrified to let them walk the streets. What is there to celebrate about that?
Running to either racial extreme in these kinds of cases only makes matters worse. We have to see our justice system for what it is – the best in the world, but flawed. And we have to work, always work to change the laws that make it possible for the Zimmerman’s of the world to prey on our children. We also have to change those aspects of our system that make it possible for someone with enough money to buy the most clever attorneys that money can buy to get away with murder. But what we must not do, cannot do ever, is celebrate any outcome, no matter who it favors, when a life has been taken.
That’s depraved, inhumane. Is that who we want to be?
Please be advised that we have decided to suspend all BWFO weekly calls until further notice. It was a difficult decision, but in the end, doing so will help us continue to focus on BWEL, and what comes next for the organization.
State Chapter Directors: We encourage you to continue to engage with your members at the state level and stay involved in the upcoming local races and issues that are important to the President, and important to the causes supported by BWFO. Transitioning the organization, especially part-time, is a much more difficult exercise than it may seem, but please know that as soon as possible, we will provide communications to every member about how you can get involved with BWEL, and continue some of the great work we started with Black Women for Obama!
“We are in the midst of historic cultural and demographic changes, and Obama is both the symbol and in some ways the architect of this new America,” Time Editor Rick Stengel told NBC’s “Today” show, where he announced the selection on Wednesday.
The short list for the honor included Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head for advocating for girls’ education, as well as Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Italian physicist Fabiola Giannati.
Obama also received the honor in 2008, when he was President-elect.
In an interview with Time, Obama said his re-election “may have been more satisfying a win than 2008.”
“We’ve gone through a very difficult time,” Obama told the magazine. “The American people have rightly been frustrated at the pace of change, and the economy is still struggling, and this president we elected is imperfect, and yet, despite all that, this is who we want to be. That’s a good thing.”
Last year, Time honored “The Protester,” citing dissent across the Middle East that spread to Europe and the United States, saying the protesters reshaped global politics.
Time’s “Person of the Year” is the person or thing that has most influenced the culture and the news during the past year for good or for ill. In 2010, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg received the honor.
Other previous winners have included Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Bono and President George W. Bush.