And we wonder why we are still talking race in post-racial America

If you are sensitive to discussions about race, do me and you a favor and just skip this post…I am talking race today and it might start feeling a smidge uncomfortable. What you are about to read is a column I wrote for a local publication that was rejected by my editor on the basis that maybe when I am talking race, I am the one with the chip on my shoulder. It was suggested that I need to look at why I get so bothered by racial things…I don’t know maybe its because as a Black woman living in these divided  States of America that despite having a Black president racism is still a fact of life and as much as I wish race wasn’t an issue that I didn’t haveto think about, that just is not the world I live in….

Uncomfortable in my own skin

I’m proud to be Black. I sometimes joke with my husband that I’d like a “White suit” for those days I don’t want to deal with preconceptions from other people that derive from the color of my skin but the fact is: I wouldn’t want to be White.

Then again, lately I feel conspicuous in my dark skin. So, what’s the trigger for that?

Hell, what aren’t the triggers?

In the nearly three months since David Okot was killed by the Portland Police after reportedly waving a gun around in a threatening fashion, I’ve watched the continued deterioration of relations between Somali and Sudanese immigrants and the police. Seems like whenever police have to chase a Somali or Sudanese kid for stealing something, now they’re accused of harassing these two groups. And lately, there have been rumblings that when the police are called by some Somali and Sudanese residents of Portland, the calls might be ruses to lure police into confrontations.

Closer to my home, Rory Holland of Biddeford in late June reportedly shot dead, at 1 a.m., brothers Gage and Derek Greene–aged 19 and 21–outside his home. Holland has a criminal record going way back, for a variety of unsavory crimes, and is the kind of guy who seems to like to file lawsuits against people for fun and profit.

Also, there is Shalom Odokara, who runs Women in Need and was vice chairwoman of Portland’s Planning Board until city officials learned that she recently pled guilty to criminal charges in federal court. She was already on probation after pleading guilty in 2006 for embezzling $108,000 from the World Bank, and in 1989 she was convicted for trafficking heroin from Nigeria to Maryland.

As if that’s not enough, it turns out that Portland city council member and current mayor Jill Duson apparently knew about at least portions of Odokara’s criminal past already, and didn’t tell her colleagues, nor ask Odokara to resign.

Can you guess what Okot, Holland, Odokara and Duson all have in common?

Yeah, they’re Black.

And I feel sometimes like the rest of us Black people are being judged in light of that. Any time even one Black person makes the news prominently for a crime in this state, I get tense because people almost invariably start look at me harder and more suspiciously. And in a short span of time, three major stories in which four black people and a couple of entire immigrant African populations figure prominently.

Oh, joy!

Partly, I sense the judgmentalism in the comments I see online in response to news articles about these events. But while I realize that those aren’t allMainers, why is it that so often, when I sit down in a restaurant or coffee shop and settle into my “eavesdropping for entertainment” mode as usual, someone starts talking about Rory Holland or Odokara or the “Somali problem” within seconds? And why am I getting more grumpy looks from people after living in my community for six years now?

And no, I don’t mean the Canadian tourists; I’m used to getting weird looks from them every damn summer. I’m talking people who see me in passing on a regular basis.

In African-American culture, many of us are raised to understand that, for right or wrong, our actions will be seen as representative of the entire Black community. My 17-year-old at times tells me this thinking is outdated. But even he has come to realize that  wearing the baggy pants and gym shoes that is so popular with youth is a surefire way to invite trouble from racists and attention from police even though he doesn’t do anything nefarious or suspicious.

So I would urge all of you to please remember that it’s White people who commit the vast majority of crimes around here–and no, aside from having run into Rory Holland in downtown Biddeford from time to time and steering clear of him because I thought he was creepy, too, I don’t know these people. And I certainly shouldn’t be judged based on them.

End of column……

Obviously this piece has a local slant so feel free to google additional information if you really want to know what goes on in Maine. Now it was funny because as the Spousal Unit (aka resident white guy in my house) and I were discussing how I should proceed with my column, we got news of this story. Seems Skip Gates, a well known Black scholar and Harvard faculty member was arrested for breaking into his own house. Now having read the police report it appears Gates forgot the rules of Blackness in America…when dealing with the police, they don’t give a damn who the fuck you are, and you can best believe Barack Obama in a few years when he is out of office if his ass ever gets caught without Secret Service detail and the local police think he is suspicious, he too could get locked up.

If you think I am tripping as the young folks used to say, well you are asleep at the switch. There may be a few times when Black folks cry race when its something else but too many times race is the issue, it never stops being an issue.  Sadly too many well meaning white folks these days point to the fact that we have a Black president as hard evidence that racism is mostly dead. Look, truth is Obama won because the economy sucked and folks realized that with McCain and Palin we would really big screwed…when it comes to folks and their money, they will do what advances their best interest and McCain was not in most folks best interest. You think the economy is screwed now? Imagine life under the maverick duo? I know…nasty thought!

Instead we have to look at ways to get around issues of race and not let it be an issue but that still does not stop us from having days when we shake our heads and go damn!  As for me, well I am gonna do some soul searching and figure why oh why I get so bothered by race..maybe its because every time my son leaves the house there is a part of me that prays and wants to tell him no don’t go. Maybe its because I hear the stories of abuse that Black and biracial kids put up from their peers here in Maine for the crime of not being white…maybe its because despite the fancy letters that go after my name, I still encounter folks daily who question who I am and whether or not I am qualified to do my job. Just little stuff that keeps me wondering….

Black folks and Twitter…we are everywhere

Excuse me for being a tad late on this but with all that’s happening locally, its taking me a while to catch up on world happenings. Anyway Sunday night the BET awards were on, I won’t even go into what a mess they were other than to say, I don’t care what they say they have planned, I will pass the next time. However something interesting emerged, seemed a lot of Black folks were tweeting about the festivities at BET and some folks got mad about it…check this out, you can also feel free to do a Google search on the matter.

Seems a few folks were bothered by the fact that the trending topics the other night were the BET awards and were a tad pissed that all things Black seemed to be taking over…seems that social media like so many other things are no  longer the sole domain of white people. Shit, even the White House is no longer inhabited by white folks!

Seriously, all jokes aside I think this is great, for years folks have been quick to point out there is a digital divide that is leaving poor folks and people of color out in the cold. Yet with the price of technology steadily dropping, it seems access to the information highway is now being made available to everyone and while I am irritated to hear folks bitching about so called Black topics, its nothing in comparison to the fact that more folks have access to information.

I must say when I first heard this story, I did get a tad pissed…no offense to my white readers and friends but as a Black woman who spends a lot of time around white folks, you have no idea how often I have been on the listening or reading end of subject matter that frankly bored me to tears. Yet I sucked it up, its part of living in a diverse and increasingly more inclusive society….we get exposure to all sorts of things.

In hearing about this story, I was reminded of a quote by Audre Lord     I Like this quote I dislike this quote“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”….while the masters tools may not dismantle the masters house, we most certainly can say that using the masters tools will create change. Change that will make us all reexamine how we look at the world. As for the few idiots who tweeted their irritation about the trending topics perhaps next time they would feel more comfortable on a discussion board for Stormfront or some other racist organization…after all in cyber space you have no idea who you are engaging with and now the world knows you are a bunch of idiots but you will hardly deter folks like me from venturing into this brave new world of social media.

King of Pain….King of Pop

Obviously if you are reading this, unless you have been under a rock, you have no doubt heard of the sudden death of Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop. Clearly June 25 was quite a day for pop culture with the expected death of Farrah Faucett and the unexpected death of Michael Jackson.

Michael…what can I say. I was born in the early 1970’s…I grew up listening to the Jackson 5 and the ole Black Michael. Mine was a family where we were always listening to music like many working class Black families…I was in either 4th or 5th grade when Michael made it really big with the release of Thriller. Damn, I still remember how cool that cat was when he burst on the scene with that famous moonwalk, as another piece I read last night stated this was before the era of you-tube, when it was a huge deal to see something like what that cat was doing. I remember when every kid wanted a red leather jacket and a glove. Everyone wanted to be like Mike.

But somewhere along with the way, Mike went from being a superstar to a super oddity. First it was a nose job, then a little more nipping and tucking….eventually Mike went from being a Black boy to being a strange looking cat. Then there were the allegations of sexual abuse of little boys which for many Americans turned us away from MJ. I admit between the allegations and strange behavior, I can’t say I have been an active fan for years. But I still have enjoyed his early music.

In many ways Michael changed the music and dance game, even though there are younger generations like my son, that only remember MJ as a circus act, there is nothing that can take away from the reality that he changed music and broke records…his music broke musical barriers, hell he put Black folks on MTV. He was a game changer.

All that said, he was incredibly tragic figure, I was surprised to hear he was only 50. Considering he got in the music game at 5, that was 45 years of actively being in music. It also meant that he never had a life and later years I suspect alot of his eccentricities were the result of a childhood deferred. It’s also been well covered that MJ’s father, Joe was a unrelenting taskmaster who worked his children hard to escape the grind of life in Gary Indiana which truthfully who wouldn’t want to get the fuck out of Gary? Gary Indiana is the arm pit of the Midwest, less than an hour away from Chicago, for as long as I can recall its always been a shitty place.

Yet the level of fame that MJ found came with a price, perhaps he should have called himself the King of Pain since clearly his journey in life despite the riches and fame seemed rather painful at least to me.

Which brings me to another point, in the hours since his passing, I have noticed at least in my online circles, that while many will acknowledge he was a game-changer when it came to music at least here in America, many were so disgusted with the charges of sexual abuse that his professional accomplishments were overshadowed by his tragic personal life. Yet at least within the American Black community, there is a sense that while we recognize he was tragic at the end, we are still able to celebrate the greatness he was before the madness took over his life. Among whites that I know and that includes the Spousal Unit, there is less of a willingness to see that greatness but more of an acceptance for the circus freak he had become in his later years.

I am reminded though how many great whites in entertainment though still stand the test of time despite the rumors and allegations that personally they were unsavory characters on a personal level. Elvis, anyone? Elvis  is still seen as great despite the fact that getting involved with a 14 year old girl when you are 24 is pretty much a no-no and as a parent equally as offensive as allegations of sexually abusing young boys. In both cases its abuse of a child but America has a funny memory when it comes to race and what we remember.

Anyway may the King of Pop perhaps find peace in the next life.