All Articles Tagged "activism"

My Dad Told Me To Keep My Mouth Shut Because I’m An Opinionated Woman

July 19th, 2016 - By Theresa Ukpo
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Corbis

Corbis

Growing up in a traditional Nigerian home has always been very different for me. Speaking up as a woman is something that a lot of people already have a ton of opinions about. Try to be outspoken in such a way in an African household and you’re on a completely different playing field. I’ve always been the girl who asked questions. I’ve always had a fire in my spirit to speak up for myself and for others, especially in situations where I felt the presence of any kind of injustice. Case in point: When I was in primary school back in Nigeria, I threw away away my teacher’s cane as a form of protest. I felt that this particular teacher was abusive with his cane, as teachers were allowed to discipline us. I decided that I would disarm him after I saw the welts he’d left on a classmate of mine. Let’s just say that my parents, especially my father, were none too pleased with my early acts of activism and I was grounded for quite some time. As I received my punishment, I remember being told that I had to be seen and not heard and to speak only when I was spoken to. I had a really hard time reconciling my need to speak up and stand up for myself (and others) with being told, on the other hand, that in order to be considered a lady, my silence was paramount.

Fast forward to my thirties, and I‘d like to say I’ve thankfully still been able to maintain a good sense of self and responsible ownership of my opinions. I’m fairly active on social media, sharing humorous commentary mixed in with serious discussions among friends and family about life. I should add at this point that my father is my friend on Facebook. And as anyone who has a parent or authoritative relative following them on social media knows, his presence can be quite intrusive.

In light of recent world events, specifically the recent instances of police shootings, I was understandably frustrated. I came across a post on my feed from someone having a “soapbox” moment, but it was less than helpful during these tense times. I feel as though it is disingenuous to mask your empathy with pointed notes on what Black people should or should not do to avoid certain injustices and violations. It strikes me as particularly insensitive. As one with strong opinions of my own to share, I had had enough of the finger-wagging I was witnessing and decided to speak up.

I remember replying to said commentary with very pointed criticisms to the number of statements made. My comments were witty at best, and in no way insulting. I got some responses and engaged in a small discussion about the counterpoints I brought up and I honestly didn’t think much about it all after that. Shortly thereafter, I received a shocking message from my father who, bear in mind, is a whole other continent and time zone away from me in Nigeria. In his message he stated that he was seriously worried about my recent Facebook comments and told me, and I quote, “Please keep your mouth shut, and keep your opinions close to your heart except particularly asked.”

I’m still very taken aback by this, especially because it came from my father. We haven’t had a real conversation since he gave his stern and unwanted advice. It struck me as censorship at its very core and was hurtful because I felt as though I was being treated like that 8-year-old girl back in primary school. I’m a grown woman, making a living, and have a life states away from my home. Am I not allowed to have opinions and express myself on matters that are of importance to me? Am I, because I’m a woman and I’m supposed to protect the image of my family at all times, supposed to be meek and docile? I think not. But in a Nigerian family, somehow, that doesn’t ever seem to matter. I spoke to a sibling about my concerns with my father’s message, and they helplessly dismissed the incident by saying, “Well, what are you going to do? Confront him?” It’s sadly not the first time that this sort of censorship has occurred, and it likely won’t be the last, which is why I feel the need to confront him about it. Eventually. But when your culture advocates for everyone but you, how can one go about being free to be vocal?

Have any of you experienced this sort of policing from your parents? How have you gone about respectfully addressing this?

“It’s Quite Sad” Samaria Rice Responds To LeBron James’ Lack Of Response Over The Death Of Tamir

January 8th, 2016 - By Veronica Wells
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Samaria Rice Responds To LeBron James

Source: AP Images

Just a few weeks ago, while many of us were enjoying the holidays, a hashtag sprang up on Twitter: #NoJusticeNoLebron. It was created in response to the fact that prosecutor Tim McGinty failed to indict the officers for the murder of Tamir Rice, folks wanted LeBron James to sit out a game.

The logic was that since LeBron returned to Cleveland, to play, the same city where Tamir Rice was shot and killed playing with a toy gun, he should take a stand on the issue. Especially, after he wore that “I Can’t Breathe” shirt when we learned that the officers who choked Eric Garner to death would face no criminal charges.

Some thought the request was unreasonable, saying we shouldn’t expect athletes to speak up for us.

Regardless of what side you fell on, people wanted to know what LeBron thought about the notion.

This is what he said:

For me, I’ve always been a guy who’s took pride in knowledge of every situation that I’ve ever spoke on. And to be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue. So it’s hard for me to comment. I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don’t have enough knowledge about it.

I caught a little bit of it from my folks on the side saying that you guys might ask me about it, but I have no knowledge. I’m not much of a social media guy. I’m on it, for sure, but I’m not always looking at what’s going on in it. 

First of all, I think I’ve been very outspoken about what I believe in. What hits home for me, what I am [knowledgeable] about. There’s been so many more issues that’s gone on that I haven’t spoken about.

There’s been the San Bernardino massacre, there’s been guys going in movie theaters, shooting up movie theaters, there’s been other issues. Those are not something that … I don’t have much knowledge of so I don’t speak about it. So for me … if I feel like it’s something that I have a lot of knowledge about [I’ll add my voice to the issue], because I don’t like to speak when I don’t know about it.

But I think the most important thing that we all need to understand, the most important thing, this issue is bigger than LeBron. This issue is bigger than me; it’s about everyone. And gun violence and tragedies and kids losing lives at a young age, some way, somehow we need to understand that that matters more than just an individual.

For us, the response was disappointing to say the least.

You don’t have to be up on a story to know that a 12-year-old boy shouldn’t have lost his life at the hands of the police. Particularly when, he committed no crime. He was simply being a little boy, outside playing with a toy gun. LeBron, having been a young, Black boy in Ohio at one point or another, a young boy who likely played outside in the parks, he should have been able to identify. To say he hasn’t kept up with the story, to me, was worse than him remaining completely silent.

Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother, shared the same sentiment.

In an interview with Roland Martin, for News One, Samaria said:

“Well, I think it’s quite sad that LeBron hasn’t spoken out about my son. I’m not asking him to sit out a game. I know his kids have to eat too. But you can at least put a shirt on or something. Some of the other athletes, some of them have been saying something. Some of them haven’t. I think they should just make a statement. I’m not asking anybody to quit their job. But make a statement for us Black people out here. It’s just sad that nobody’s saying anything.”

Facts.

In the day in age, where protests from athletes, particularly the protest from the football players at the University of Missouri, have proven effective, it’s unfortunate that LeBron, someone with increasingly more power and influence than these students, basically said he didn’t care enough about Tamir’s death to read just one news story and find out what happened in his own city.

You can watch Samaria’s full interview with Roland Martin in the video below.

“I’m Happy To Be A Part Of This New Movement” Serena Williams, Sportsperson Of The Year, Talks Black Activism

December 14th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Serena Williams, Sportsperson Of The Year, Talks Black Activism

Source: Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated

 

It’s not everyday that you see athletes, at the top of their game, speak out about issues of racism and injustice in this country. With endorsement deals, the court of public opinion and the threat of being disliked or even banned from certain circles of influence, it can be a risk. But Serena Williams is not your average athlete. Not only is she a champion on the tennis courts, she exercises that same spirit in the personal decisions she makes that just might impact her career.

But Serena Williams has proved a very important point. That speaking up for what you know is right and just, doesn’t have to be detrimental to your career. Not only was Williams a force to be reckoned with on the court, she received $74 million in prize money and another $13 million in endorsements. And today, Sports Illustrated named her Sportsperson of the Year, a very well-deserved title.

The comment section over at Sports Illustrated is already erupting with debate about whether or not the honor should have been bestowed upon Williams but as SI puts it,

“Williams, 34, won three major titles, went 53–3 and provided at least one new measure of her tyrannical three-year reign at No. 1. For six weeks this summer—and for the first time in the 40-year history of the WTA rankings—Williams amassed twice as many ranking points as the world No. 2; at one point that gap grew larger than the one between No. 2 and No. 1,000. Williams’s 21 career Grand Slam singles titles are just one short of Steffi Graf’s Open-era record. Such numbers are reason enough for Sports Illustrated to name Serena Williams its 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.”

But as a Black woman concerned with the lives and plight of Black people in this country and aboard, her accomplishments become even more impressive when you consider Williams’ activism. And yes, speaking out in such a position of power and influence is indeed activism. You may also remember both Williams sisters boycotted the Hilton Head tournament in South Carolina back in 2000, because the state refused to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol building.

Even in the arena of elite athletes, Williams has experienced racism.

At the Indian Wells tour stop, in 2001 when Serena was just 19-years-old, Williams received vicious boos. Her father Richard Williams and sister Venus, claimed they heard racial slurs. SI reports:

“Boos changed to cheers whenever she double-faulted or made an error, but they returned when she beat Clijsters and grew thunderous when she left the court to hug her sister and dad. She would write in her 2009 autobiography, On the Line, that she, too, “heard the word, nigger, a couple times.”

No outside source confirmed hearing such language. Nor did anyone from the tournament make any mollifying announcement. “No one said anything,” Oracene says. “They were just letting it go on, almost like, She deserved this.”

“As a family we were all hurt,” says Isha. “It stayed with us a long time. Our parents have always been very clear about who we are in terms of the country, but to have evidence of that? It was a disillusionment, the end of any innocence that we had about the world we lived in.”

Williams rode the two hours home in tears and she begged her parents not to make her play the Indian Wells tournament again.

But after 13 years and seeing a Nelson Mandela film, Williams was beginning to change her mind. She almost played in 2014 but consulted her family first about a return in 2015. She wrote three drafts of a Time essay. She took one to her father and choked up trying to read it aloud. She just handed it over for him to read.

Though Richard and Venus were not ready to return to Indian Wells, her father told her it would be a mistake not to return.

Her mother, Oracene said, “I wouldn’t have gone back. Not because I didn’t forgive them-because of my own integrity. If they didn’t think I deserve to be there? Then I don’t need to be there.”

As for Serena herself, the decision was spiritual.

“I was brought up to forgive people and I felt that I wasn’t doing what I was taught.”

Her mother, who says she’s seen growth in her daughter, said this was a big step for her.

“To learn to forgive: She has a problem with that. It’s a big step for her. Because she’s the kind of person who would get revenge on you– and it was never going to end.”

Serena Williams, Sportsperson Of The Year, Talks Black Activism

There was also another factor.

On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was shot six times and killed by officer Darren Wilson. Then his body lay in the street for four hours. Then in November of that year, the grand jury voted not to indict Wilson.

Williams tweeted: “Shameful. What will it take???”

Brown’s age meant something to her.

“I had been a teenager at Indian Wells, and that was hard for me to go through—especially when I was thinking, It’s 2001, I [shouldn’t] have to deal with that stuff as much anymore,” she says. “Now fast-forward to 2015, and we still have young black men being killed. Someone needed to do something. And I thought then that there was something greater than me and tennis. I needed to go back there and speak out against racism.”

In her early 20’s she described an incident where a gas station clerk refused to touch her.

“He didn’t want to touch my hand. He told me to put the money down. I found it fascinating that it’s 2000-something and this guy had that attitude toward a black person. I wanted to do things, like, touch this or that, just to see what his reaction would be. I’m almost glad I had that experience, so I can understand more what people have to go through.”

Then in 2006, when she traveled to Ghana and toured the country’s slave castles, inequality and racism became even harder to ignore. Since then, she’s visited the continent often. She financed two high schools in rural Kenya, in an area where many girls drop out by 14-years-old to marry. Williams insisted that the enrollment be at least 40 percent. Of the 442 students, 54 percent are girls.

After viewing a TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative- a Alabama legal organization that provides representation for prisoners, mostly Black and poor, who have been wrongfully convicted– Williams decided to coincide her return to Indian Wells with her partnership with EJI. No prominent athlete had ever endorsed them before. Offering up a hitting session, a souvenir racket and court side tickets to her first match, Williams raised $100,000 for the organization. The publicity generated another $100,000 in contributions.

Stevenson naturally praised Williams for her involvement.

“It’s been huge. It’s so rare when athletes at the top of their game are willing to embrace a set of issues that, for a lot of people, are edgier. This is not aid to orphans. These are questions of racial bias and discrimination, mass incarceration, excessive punishment, abuse of the mentally ill. You don’t change the world by doing what’s comfortable or convenient. You have to be willing to do uncomfortable things. In a small way, Serena’s return to Indian Wells represented that. But associating herself with an organization like ours was more significant: She was standing when a lot of her contemporaries remain seated, speaking up when others are being quiet. That’s an act of hope and an act of courage, but it’s also an act of change.”

And though Williams thought she was fully prepared to return to Indian Wells, as the date approached, she was anything but ready. Two days before she was set to play, she had a panic attack in her bedroom. Serena thought, “I do not want to go there. What if it’s horrible? What if they boo again? How can I get out of this?”

Her sister Isha was all for her retracting her offer. She didn’t want her sister vulnerable and exposed.

Eventually, she pulled herself together and attended with her sisters Isha and Lyndrea and her mother Oracene.

She arrived to a standing ovation.

At first Oracene was wary, wondering, Why are they being so nice? But Serena’s turn to conciliation made her mother take stock. “She needed that, and I learned that I need a bit of that, too,” Oracene says. Isha started crying. When Serena pulled off her headphones before the warmup and heard the cheers, she cried too.

Serena Williams, Sportsperson Of The Year, Talks Black Activism

Source: Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated

Serena talked about the moment being an iconic one in her career.

“Everyone always asked, ‘What was your greatest moment in tennis?’ and I always said it hasn’t happened,” Serena says. “But I think it has happened now, and that was going back to Indian Wells and playing. It released a lot of feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I was really surprised at how emotional I got—and how relieved I felt after everything was said and done.”

But we all read the headlines. We know the racist incidents didn’t stop after Serena returned to Indian Wells. Many unarmed Black men were killed at the hands of police. Then nine Black people attending Bible study were shot and killed in a Charleston, South Carolina church.

In September, she enrolled in an online history of civil rights class at the University of Massachusetts.

“I was disappointed in how little I knew compared to how much I thought I knew.”

Like many of us, Williams’ parents, who are old enough to remember the country, in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle, tried to warn their daughters of the racial changes they’d face. Their mother, Oracene told them that they would never be fully accepted by Whites. The Williams sisters bristled.

“They used to say, ‘You’re racist!’ ” Oracene says. “And I’d say, ‘I’m not. I just want you to be aware.’

In October, Williams guest-edited Wired magazine. In her piece, she wrote: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter,” she wrote, “I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you.”

In a question and answer session at the University of Pennsylvania, Williams told students she was inspired by the examples set by Black activists in the ’60’s.

“I’ve been a little more vocal,” Williams said, “but I want to do more. I want to help everyone to see the so-called light. But there are a lot of other athletes, actors, politicians who are speaking out—of all colors, by the way. They’re not sitting back. They’re calling for justice straight away. It makes me look at myself and say, like, What am I doing? I have a platform. I can speak out, too. If one person hears me, maybe that person can speak out and help. I embrace that. I’m willing and happy to be part of this new movement.”

You can read Williams’ full interview over at Sports Illustrated now.

Activism As A Career? Yes, You Can!

August 12th, 2015 - By Ann Brown
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a katz / Shutterstock.com

a katz / Shutterstock.com

You find yourself concerned about the course of society, about social issues that plague the community, about making global change. Well, a career in activism could be the direction you might consider. And it’s never too late to enter the field.

In fact, you can study social activism as an undergraduate degree or a masters program. “The key to creating a career in activism is to find ways to bring your beliefs and values into your work,” reports Amherst College, which offers a social activism degree. Their site goes on to say “Just about any career choice can incorporate an element of activism if you are working towards societal change. Combining activism with your career choice may require creativity and resourcefulness on your part. For example, you could be a teacher contributing to activism by teaching your students about environmental, human rights and global issues. As a doctor you could dedicate your career to offering medical services to children in impoverished areas. Or as the director of an employment agency, you might hear your organization’s efforts towards helping homeless people find work.”

There are several other career options that involve  social activism as well, such as law and public policy, social work, and environmental and community organizing.

According to Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org, activism can be a full-time job. But you not only have to have passion for social change, you must be able to fighting multiple battles at a time, be able to recognize trends, be organized and able to organize others, be able to see the bigger picture and plan your battles strategize, be willing to be on call 24 hours a day (social justice never sleeps), and have leadership qualities.

“There are moments that happen in our lives every single day that make us feel angry or sad or happy, and those are organizing moments. They give us the opportunity, if we respond fast enough, to add more people to the movement. We can give people actionable things to do in that moment. Often times those moments are really about cultural presence. They create a presence in our lives and if we don’t pay attention, that’s all they’ll do is create awareness,” Robinson told Levo.

Felicia Davis, who directs the Building Green Initiative at Clark Atlanta University and is founder of HBCU Green Fund, got bit by the activist bug as a young girl. Fighting for social justice ran in her family. “One of my earliest recollections in the public sphere was as a four-year-old marching with my mother in Englewood, NJ, protesting public school segregation,” recalls Davis in an interview with us. “At 13 my very first campaign was an effort to raise funds to support drug treatment then unavailable at our local hospital.  The action was inspired by my grandmother’s work with the Friends of Dr. Willoughby Auxiliary honoring our town’s first Black doctor and the premature death of a high school basketball star that died from a heroin overdose.  Today, I’m working to combat climate change by creating the HBCU Green Fund to upgrade aging campus infrastructures.  My father taught me African history, my mother taught me that we have healing power, and my grandmother taught me that we each have a duty to serve.”

As she matured, Davis says it wasn’t really a conscious decision to enter activism; it was a path she followed while even in school at Howard University and she’s found activism to be an open career field. “Activists can work in virtually any field, some work within advocacy organizations or even establish organizations, and some of the most impactful activism takes place within mainstream organizations of all types, including corporations,” she says. “Many hires, advancement and progressive change is the result of activists working from the inside out.”

And when it comes to income, yes, you can make money as an activist. “Emerging activists must understand that ‘non-profit’ s a tax designation it does not mean that an organization cannot generate revenue to address problems and sustain their workers,” explains Davis. “If work is not organized in a manner that generates financial resources it will not be sustainable.  Money may not be the primary objective but it is an important consideration for any effective activist or organizer especially when working in under-resourced communities. Activists have families and they need health care, housing, transportation, etc. just like anyone else, therefore they must manage their work in a way that enables them to take care of these essentials.  There is nothing wrong with living well.”

There are various streams of revenue for activists, according to Jenifer R. Daniels, brand strategist and co-host of #WomensWednesday on SiriusXM’s Make It Plain. She tell us, “Activists can earn incomes using the speaker’s circuit or by providing training/workshops on their specialties. Activists can also work for/with political or issue-based campaigns as paid staff.”

Niki Okuk balanced activism with a “regular” job until she found a way to combine the two. She went into business for herself and launched Rco² Material Reuse, a tire waste upcycling company that diverts petroleum waste from landfills into new products and has created green-collar jobs in Compton. “Most of my life I’ve been working my day job and partitioning my activism into my ‘real’ life, after hours,” the lifelong activist tells us. “That meant desk jockeying with my college degree during the day, protesting, canvassing, petitioning, holding community meetings, and planting community gardens on the nights and weekends. More recently I’ve started my own business, with the aim of creating good working class jobs in my community, having a significant environmental impact, and nurturing dignified and democratic workplaces–constantly dismantling hetero-patriarchy, racism, and hierarchies–and hopefully still continuing to support myself.”

If you don’t want to go the organization route, you can create your own non-profit or a social business as Okuk did. “If you get frustrated by the organizations out there, make your own way: There are beautiful examples out there of Black women who have founded, funded, and rocked their own non-profits, and many who are live-streaming, reporting, and authoring from the front lines, funding their work with ad revenue and gofundme campaigns,” she says.

But let’s be clear, activism can have dangers. “Activists working in fields where they must encounter death, devastation and enormous human suffering are very special people that have a unique capacity to work through these tragedies. Activism also requires sacrifice, the secret sauce to create change.  Effective activists solve problems and regard themselves as servant-leaders,” notes Davis.

Activism, however, can satisfy many of your needs–careerwise and personally.  Davis says not only does she feel she’s doing good work, but there are some perks she enjoys. “I thoroughly enjoy traveling and working with people from different places and cultures.  I have been to five of the seven continents…I also know how fortunate I am and this inspires me to work to advance equity and opportunity.  Victories are invigorating but working on social, economic and environmental justice means that victories are few and challenges many.  I am excited about the enormous transformations underway. Activists are change-agents that create new paths for others to follow.  I kind of like that.”

My Thoughts On Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s Searing Critique Of Dr. Cornel West

April 22nd, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Shutterstock

If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then men and their egos know no bounds.

I say this because an essay, which begins with the most sexist of cliches used in a roundabout way to call another man a bitch, is nothing but petty, unadulterated pissing-in-the-snow, male ego.

And that is, in short, what I have to say about Michael Eric Dyson’s epic takedown of his former mentor, Dr. Cornel West. And when I say “epic,” I don’t mean in terms of content, but rather length. Seriously, the essay was longer than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Hobbit. As always, I advise readers to pause my essays and take a look at the source material, but I’m afraid that if you go away, you may not have the time nor the energy left to come back and read my thoughts. So I’ll do my best to summarize it into more digestible portions.

Dyson begins by telling the readers about a personal conversation he had with his former mentor about the right way to critique the first Black president without sounding like a bitter man with a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality:

During a private conversation, West asked how I escaped being dubbed an “Obama hater” when I was just as critical of the president as he was. I shared my three-part formula for discussing Obama before black audiences: Start with love for the man and pride in his epic achievement; focus on the unprecedented acrimony he faces as the nation’s first black executive; and target his missteps and failures. No matter how vehemently I disagree with Obama, I respect him as a man wrestling with an incredibly difficult opportunity to shape history. West looked into my eyes, sighed, and said: “Well, I guess that’s the difference between me and you. I don’t respect the brother at all.”

Setting the stage for what sets his criticism of President Obama apart from the no-holds-barred approach West has been known to take, he goes on to talk about West’s legacy among the Black intellectual elite:

If black American scholars are like prizefighters, then West is not the greatest ever; that title belongs to W.E.B. Du Bois. Not the most powerful ever; that’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. Not the most influential; that would include Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, Black History Week founder Carter G. Woodson, historian John Hope Franklin, feminist bell hooks, Afrocentricity pioneer Molefi Kete Asante—and undoubtedly William Julius Wilson, whose sociological research has profoundly shaped racial debate and the public policies of at least two presidents. West may be a heavyweight champ of controversy, but he has competition as the pound-for-pound greatest: sociologists Oliver Cox, E. Franklin Frazier, and Lawrence D. Bobo; historians Robin D.G. Kelley, Nell Irvin Painter, and David Levering Lewis; political scientists Cedric Robinson and Manning Marable; art historian Richard J. Powell; legal theorists Kimberlé Crenshaw and Randall Kennedy; cultural critic Tricia Rose; and the literary scholars Hortense Spillers and Farah Jasmine Griffin—all are worthy contenders.”

He eventually drops a line declaring West to be one of the country’s most exciting scholars, but after that sort of belittling of his legacy, it is hard to see the piece as anything other than a slight. If that is not bad enough, Dyson says that West basically peaked with his much-celebrated cultural critique Race Matters and that much of his work since then has been “paucity of serious and fresh intellectual work, a trend far longer in the making. West is still a Man of Ideas, but those ideas today are a vain and unimaginative repackaging of his earlier hits.” He also notes that West uses co-writers with many of his books and chides him for not taking his written works as serious as he used to.

According to Dyson, this lack of clarity in his writing is also reflected in West’s self-proclaimed title as a prophet, which he has mostly used to position himself against others who he feels dishonor the Black prophetic tradition. In particular, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whom he calls head house Negros for seeking out camera time. Yet as Dyson points out, West has never missed an opportunity to be in front of the cameras or in the public eye, and that includes his involvement in The Matrix sequels as well as his choice to make some really bad rap/spoken word albums.

Dyson also calls out West’s connection to the Black prophetic tradition in the church, which he so admires and emulates. As he notes, West has done nothing to actually honor that tradition, one that includes ministers and pastors who have done righteous things to get themselves defrocked and excommunicated. Moreover, he adds:

West has a measure of responsibility as a professor, but he enjoys far greater freedom than most ministers or prophets. Professors have a lot of flexibility in teaching classes, advising students, writing books, and speaking their minds without worrying that a deacon board will censor them or trustees will boot them out. Prophets, as a rule, don’t have tenure. West gets the benefits of the association with prophecy while bearing none of its burdens. By refusing to take up the cross he urges prophetic Christians to carry, West is preaching courage while seeking to avoid reprisal or suffering. Playing it safe means that West doesn’t qualify for the prophetic role he espouses.

If that isn’t a tough enough pill to swallow, he continues on with his critique and eventually calls West “curmudgeonly”:

West remains an elite academic and can hardly be said to have ever been a true outsider, given his position in the academic elite and the upper reaches of the economy, but he hungers to be seen as rebellious. In truth, West is a scold, a curmudgeonly and bitter critic who has grown long in the tooth but sharp in the tongue when lashing one-time colleagues and allies.

And of course, there is the matter of that inauguration ticket, which has been beaten to death for the entirety of Obama’s presidency. In short, West didn’t get one, but the doorman at the hotel he and his mother were staying at in the nation’s capital received one. As Dyson notes of the incident:

Thus the left-wing critic found it unjust that the workingman and not the professor had a ticket to the inauguration. Only in a world where bankers and other fat cats greedily gobble rewards meant for everyday citizens would such a reversal appear unfair. J.P. Morgan might have been mad; Karl Marx would have been ecstatic.

He also accuses West of being enchanted by the same oligarchy and power that he claims to detest. West brags about his affiliation with celebrities more so than he does any affiliation with the very people he claims that he is a prophet for, the poor and the Black.

Dyson took West further to task for his often heavy-handed critique of the president, writing:

The odd thing is that Obama talks right—chiding personal irresponsibility in a way that presumes the pathology of many black families and neighborhoods—but veers left in his public policy. West, on the other hand, talks left but thinks right in his notion of nihilism and the factors that might reduce its peril. In Race Matters, West argued that the spiritual malady of “nihilism” is the greatest threat to black America—not racism, not class inequality, not material hardship or poverty or hyperincarceration. Steinberg rightly argues that it “takes hairsplitting distinctions, that do not bear close scrutiny, to maintain that West’s view of nihilism is different from the conservative view of ghetto culture as deeply pathological, and as the chief source of the problems that beset African Americans.” Steinberg says that despite “frequent caveats, West has succeeded in shifting the focus of blame onto the black community. The affliction is theirs—something we shall call ‘nihilism.’” West did as much to slam the poor with his stylish, postmodern update of ghetto pathology and blame-the-victim reasoning as any conservative thinker. He gave the notion ideological cover because it got a sexy upgrade from a prominent leftist. As much as West berates Obama’s neglect of the poor, his own writing brought them harsher visibility than they deserved.

Aside from the length and poor transitions between thoughts, I honestly can’t find much here that I disagree with. In fact, I’ve had some of these same thoughts about West for years and Dyson’s essay helped to provide clarity to other feelings, which I couldn’t fully articulate until now. In particular, West’s self-declaration that he’s a prophet, which always rubbed me the wrong way. It is no longer a rub, but rather a full-fledged feeling of disturbance. Also disturbing is the fact that one of the nation’s premier Black intellects was prank calling the first Black president of the got-damn free world from an anonymous number (as told by the president to Dyson and reprinted in his essay) over some inauguration tickets. It should be clear to all now that fighting the oligarchy on behalf of the poor is the furthest thing from West’s mind. I know it is a hard pill for Dr. West’s supporters to swallow, considering they too can be as fanatic in their support of him, as they often accuse those who are supporters of President Obama of being. But the truth is the truth.

Still, you have to wonder why Dyson chose to write this harsh critique of West. And there should be no doubt here that this essay was an “Ether.” As mentioned several times in his piece, West was a mentor, and not just in theory. Dr. West actually wrote a letter to help Dyson attend a graduate program at Princeton. Sure, West himself has taken several unnecessary shots at Dyson over the years for his close relationship with President Obama. And I too believe that those attacks against him “brought him great sorrow,” which Dyson admits in his piece. Yet when I read the way Dyson trashes West’s scholarly works and legacy, it makes me wonder how much respect for the professor he ever had to begin with. No, this doesn’t read like someone who was once dear friends with another. And if he felt that West had alienated himself and diminished his own legacy to the point where most do not take him serious, why the need to be the final nail in that coffin?

I would never in a million years speak like this in public about someone who helped give me a leg – even if they deserved it. This seems more personal, or maybe even opportunistic, but it’s definitely crafted for the white gaze (after all, why publish family business in a neo-liberal rag like The New Republic and not EBONY?). I don’t fully understand Dyson’s motivations, but the entire essay reads like a sleight of hand meant to refocus attention away from what at times is a disjointed but much needed criticism of the first Black president, and instead, put it on gossip meant to discredit his flawed critics, in this case, Dr. West and his character.

And if I could be more brazen, stuff like this is why I can’t stand what the activist community has become. As a former community organizer who actually worked in neighborhoods that many of these public academic activists speak so profoundly and for great pay about, my job was to take those ideas, which we read about in books including the scholarly ones, and put them into practice. As the truth is and always remains, there is no glory in community service work. Likewise, there are no platforms and very little ego. And there definitely are no prophets, brands, and no celebrity. Just long hours and lots of thankless work.

My point here is where would our communities be if we had more people willing to organize quietly instead of shouting to the heavens about their own genius and engaging in very public spats over who is more legitimate as an activist for the people?

MLK Would Be Proud: Celebrities Who Won’t Stay Silent On Injustices

January 19th, 2015 - By M A
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C.Smith/ WENN.com

C.Smith/ WENN.com

Celebrities are more than just red carpets adornments and glitz and glamour. While we will admit that there are many A-listers who seem more concerned with themselves than they do with serving their communities, we’d be remiss to discount the countless celebrities who donate their time, money, energy and likeness to a variety of causes. From domestic violence awareness and prevention to campaigning against racial and social inequality, some celebs are true inspirations. In their honor, MadameNoire takes a look at the celebrities who speak out and refuse to stay silent when it comes to the issues they are most passionate about.

What If We Had No Voice At All?: Color Of Change Election Day Project

October 23rd, 2014 - By Kweli Wright
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We sometimes take our voices for granted, but what would it be like if we had no voice at all? As important as it is to vote–our ancestors fought and died for that right–some of us still feel voting is a waste of time and does no good. What do you believe?

ColorOfChange.org is doing a social experiment called the Election Day Project to show people how much power they give up by not voting and essentially letting someone else make decisions for you. Check the video and see these women find out what happens when others speak for them in a hair salon.

ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice. The goal is to empower our members – Black Americans and our allies – to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone. ColorOfChange.org is comprised of Black folks from every economic class, as well as those of every color who seek to help our voices be heard.

The members are united behind a simple, powerful pledge: we will do all we can to make sure all Americans are represented, served, and protected – regardless of race or class.

Using the Internet, as with this Election Day Project, they enable the members to speak in unison, with an amplified political voice. They keep them informed about the most pressing issues for Black people in America and give them ways to act. We lobby elected representatives using email, the telephone, and face-to-face meetings.

Color of Changes brings attention to the needs and concerns of Black folks by holding coordinated events in different parts of the country, running TV and print advertisements, and demanding that the news media cover our issues. They also work with other groups – online efforts and other organizations that are doing related work – to magnify their impact.

Are you planning on voting? Do you always vote?

World AIDS Day: Activist Maria Davis Reveals How AIDS Virus Has Affected Her Love Life

December 1st, 2013 - By Raven Carter
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"Maria Davis"

From ESSENCE

Back in 1995, South Bronx-born music promoter Maria Davis was on top of the world — young, beautiful, happy, and getting her first real taste of success. Her weekly “MAD Wednesdays” hip-hop showcase was a hot industry event, and as its host she even scored a guest spot on Jay-Z’s debut album “Reasonable Doubt.”

But then came the letter that sent her entire world crashing down. When she was forced to take a blood test for a life insurance policy, Davis learned she was HIV positive, and had contracted the virus from her fiance. Three years later, she was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.

That was 14 years ago. Today, despite the odds, Davis is not only alive and well but also on a mission: She is a Making AIDS History Ambassador, and together with the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), she’s spent the last 18 years of her life fighting to stay alive and to help spread awareness within her community and raise money to support research for a cure.

We know all about her public battles, but when ESSENCE.com sat down with Davis we asked her how living with AIDS has affected her private life. She opened up about her desire to find a soul mate and the hurdles the disease has created along her path to true love.

ESSENCE: Have you dated a lot since your diagnosis? What’s dating been like for you?
DAVIS: It’s been very fearful. But I love love. Tyler Perry is a big inspiration. I’m always watching his movies and the relationship dynamics that he puts in them. They’re all about a woman being hurt and finding love, and I’m crying and thinking to myself, Man, I want to be in love too. I’m not having a relationship with anybody unless I know their status. You can be re-infected. Another part of it is the person I’m sleeping with could have a different strain of the virus than I do. So whereas your strain is manageable, you could get another strain and it could take you out of here. The only way you can know for sure is to go and get tested together. That’s for anyone, in any kind of relationship. Whether you’re jumping the broom, just dating, whatever – before you sleep with someone, you should know him or her in and out. You have husbands and wives who have given each other HIV.

ESSENCE: Is making your status known right away most important to you when you’re dating someone new?
DAVIS: Absolutely! I’m a spokesperson. The only way you really don’t know I have HIV is if you haven’t read or seen anything about me. But I make it clear that I am living with AIDS. Actually, when I’m in a relationship, I’m more afraid of an individual than they are of me, trust me. They know what I have coming into the relationship, but I don’t know what they have. Are you telling the truth? Are you being honest? Are you telling me one thing, but it could be another thing? If so, then my life is in jeopardy all over again.

ESSENCE: Do you feel it’s been harder to find love because of your diagnosis or your fears?
DAVIS: Let’s be for real: It’s because of my diagnosis. I’ve had guys tell me I’m fine, or they try to talk to me. Then when I tell them that I’m living with AIDS they kind of back off. I do have one friend I’ve been in and out of a relationship with. But his head isn’t ready yet.

You can read the rest of Maria Davis’ interview over on ESSENCE.com, including advice she has for younger women who are dealing with HIV or AIDS and yearn to have a successful relationship. This is yet another important facet of dealing with this terrible disease that often gets overlooked. It is great to see Maria Davis opening up even more about how it has affected her personal life.

‘That Dude Don’t Stand For Nothing In The Hood:’ Tionna Smalls Rips Into Jay Z’s Barneys Response

October 28th, 2013 - By Jazmine Denise Rogers
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Jay Z

Sources: Facebook, WENN

Yesterday we told you that hip hop mogul Jay Z  finally issued a response to growing concerns in the Black community regarding his business partnership with luxury department store chain, Barneys New York. The controversy began after the company made headlines for allegedly using racial profiling tactics in an attempt to cut down on fraud. The methods unfortunately led to the unjust arrest of 19-year-old Trayon Christian and the questioning of 21-year-old Kayla Phillips. Both young adults are now suing the luxury retailer. In response to a petition urging the 43-year-old Brooklynite to take a stand and end his business deal with Barneys, Jay issued an official statement.

Many of you predicted that he would continue to straddle the fence, never truly taking a stand either way. And according to some, that’s exactly what he did.

“Making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project, wouldn’t hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education. I have been working with my team ever since the situation was brought to my attention to get to the bottom of these incidents and at the same time find a solution that doesn’t harm all those that stand to benefit from this collaboration,” an excerpt from his statement reads.

As with anything, there are mixed feelings regarding his response. Some feel that he’s totally justified in not jumping the gun and cutting ties with Barneys. Others found it to be a total cop out. One of those people happen to be MTV’s Girl Get Your Mind Right star, Tionna Smalls. The outspoken Brooklynite took to her Twitter page to blast the rapper for his lukewarm stance.

“That’s why we keep getting sh***ed on because the ones who are in the talented 10th don’t take a stand.

“The boy who bought the Ferragamo belt and the girl who bought the Celine bag wanted to be like stars when they bought those items. Not knowing that stars don’t give an F when Shyte hit the fan. I was that girl saving my $$$ to get nice ish. So I’m 100% against Barneys!Everybody admire Jay-Z for what? I really see what people were telling me years ago. That dude don’t stand for nothing in the hood!” she continued.

She went on to address the widespread credit scams, which is believed to be part of the reason that Barneys has gotten more aggressive with their loss prevention tactics.

“Yall credit card scammers get me phucking sick too cuz it’s a lot of yall fault why law biding, young, blacks are stopped!If your stomach don’t hurt after seeing this cover of the NY Daily News- I have to question your humanity! Geesh!”

“Jay-Z has more power in the black community than anyone and I swear to God, Allah, Buddah, &Jesus that he never uses it the right way! STAND FOR SOMETHING OR YOU WILL FALL FOR ANYTHING! Now everyone is going to act like Jay-Z dont have any power in the hood! Stop it! I am done. Jay-Z pissed me off and I’m over it.”

Do you agree with Tionna?

Nanny? Not! Most Childcare Workers Make Poverty Wages

August 9th, 2013 - By Ann Brown
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childcare pf

Shutterstock

Why are childcare workers paid so little? That’s the question journalist E. Tammy Kim, who is set to join Al Jazeera America as a staff writer, set out to answer recently in an article for The Nation reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute with support from the Ms. Foundation for Women Fellowship.

In “Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?,” Kim writes: “Childcare workers perform that most vital labor, rearing our young, But across the country, they are invisible and poorly paid, without healthcare, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation or other benefits.”

Low wages are common. Each state conducts an annual market-rate survey of childcare fees and then tries to pay providers around the recommended seventy-fifth percentile (few states do), reports Kim. The market, however, reflects what parents are willing to pay, not the actual costs.

“In theory, providers could raise their private-pay rates or impose strict late fees to make up the difference,” Kim points out. But the reality is that most parents just can’t afford to pay more as child care already takes a large chunk of their income.

Most child care workers are  middle-aged women of color, earning very little in comparison to the responsibility they hold. According to Kim’s findings, most child care workers are low-income and a significant number do not speak English. “Legally, they are not considered employees. In New Jersey and 14 other states, in-home providers paid through public subsidies now belong to a union and can bargain collectively,” writes Kim.

In New Jersey, for example, “full-time” subsidy rate is based on only 30 hours per week (or “6 or more” hours per day) of childcare. “This hardly covers the average parent’s workday of eight or more hours plus the commute, but there’s no bonus or overtime pay for anything over 30 hours,” reports Kim.  Due to this, the child care provider either charges a late fee or works the extra hours free. In 2011, the median income for a child care provider was $19,000 per year. Seventeen percent were living in poverty.

There is a push to organize child care providers to provide them better pay and working conditions. But the move has had many struggles. Read more at The Nation, but please chime in. What do you think is fair pay for a child care provider?