Confronting echoes of the AIDS hysteria as we battle Ebola

October 22, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ebola virus

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Exactly a decade ago this month I received an email flagged as urgent from Monrovia, Liberia. It was from Lee Johnson, then coordinator of “Liberian Youths Against HIV/AIDS.”

“Presently, the HIV/AIDS scourge is deeply eating into the fabric of our society and there is little being done to bring this to a halt. Therefore, some of us youths have come together to be able to bring awareness to our fellow youths on the danger of HIV/AIDS and other STD’s. But, at present, we are not receiving much from the locals and that is why we have decided to get in contact with you,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson wanted to know if the US knew how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was ravaging his city and countryside; and if the US knew how possibly could his distant cousins of the Diaspora-African Americans-and his queer allies-LGBTQ Americans-simply be silent and not act.

By 2012 the US is on record for contributing nearly $200 million devoted to stemming AIDS and malaria in Liberia. Only then did the county begin seeing a decline in the epidemics.

Since December 2013 Liberia, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, cried out to the world community for help in fighting the deadliest outbreak of the Ebola epidemic to date. By this summer’s end the death toll per day from the virus in those West African countries was staggering to the point of disbelief – with a projected rate of 1,0000 new cases each week in two months according to the World Health Organization.

In September Shoana Solomon, a photographer and TV presenter, and her daughter excitedly arrived in the US from Monrovia just in time for Solomon’s nine year old to start school.

“You’re from Liberia, so you have a disease,” was what the nine year-old heard as a greeting.

The unrelenting tenacity of the Ebola virus – like HIV/AIDS- has taught us much about the preciousness of life, and about the various faces -across race, class and gender, country and continent -who wore and continue to wear the face of this disease.

But since September 30, when Thomas Eric Duncan became the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the states and subsequently died of the virus, West Africans, specifically Liberians have been the target of unimaginable stigmatization and untold discrimination.

The hysteria and paranoia associated with Ebola is eerily reminiscent of when the country was in its AIDS crisis.

When the New York Native, a now-defunct gay paper, in its May 18, 1981, issue first reported on a virus among gay men that was known then as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), an editorial made it known that “even if the disease first become apparent in gay men, it is not just ‘a gay disease.’”

Hysteria coupled with homophobia reared their ugly heads and targeted gay men across the country. Now, perhaps because we are decades removed, we can recognize this as an act of intolerance and inhospitality toward the ill.

With the AIDS epidemic also came the emergence of the Christian Right, which propagandized the moment as a providential sign of God’s abhorrence for LGBTQ people. But with no help from the Christian Right, President Ronald Reagan, who saw the first signs of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, his first year in office, had his own theological view on the AIDS epidemic that influenced the laissez-faire attitude his administration exhibited. Reagan said, “Maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

In seeing the inherent value and goodness in every person’s life, 16th century English poet John Donne once said “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

However, with the theological belief that God’s will was indeed being done, Reagan unflinchingly watched the death toll climbed to over 41,000 deaths and over 60,000 diagnoses of full-blown AIDS before he spoke up about it in March 1987.

For the Christian Right, it was a just way to exterminate us instead of making us wear pink triangles in a German concentration camp. And for others, tagging us was a more acceptable way of monitoring. In 1986, for example, Sen. William F. Buckley Jr., believing in a need to track who was inflected with the virus in order to stop its spread, suggested that people with AIDS be tattooed on their buttocks and forearms.

The “God is angry” explanation for the Ebola epidemic is the same misguided theological response given about the Haiti Earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and for that matter any disaster since the biblical Genesis flood narrative.

When doors and hearts are shut to people in need out of fear that is an act of inhospitality.

There has been much debate about tighter border controls to keep out not only the Ebola virus from jeopardizing any more of American healthcare workers, but West Africans, too. And there has also been some bantering about keeping a closer eye on those who look West African. And, good luck with that xenophobic measure since those of us who are the progeny of the Transatlantic Slave Trade are from West Africa.

While hysteria paints a picture that America is in the throes of an Ebola epidemic no American to date has died of the virus. Five, however, have contracted the virus in West Africa and returned home to the states- Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Rick Sacra, Ashoka Mukpo, and an unnamed American.

We are now too often hearing the numbers of those dying or dead from this disease and unfortunately do not fully comprehend the magnitude of how lives are continually being lost in West Africa or stigmatize for being West African here.

This is not only an unconscionable act of xenophobia toward the targeted groups believed to test positive for Ebola, but it is also a symptom of a sick society that tests negative for compassion.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Lessons from Ferguson

September 26, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo credit: Associated Press.

Photo credit: Associated Press.

 

September 26, 2014

WGBH News’ Morning Edition host Bob Seay spoke with Peniel Joseph, professor of history at Tufts University and author of Stokely: A Life, about the continuing lessons from Ferguson, MO about race, civil rights in the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black youth.

“What you saw in Ferguson in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting was a really militarized police response, where the police were looking at the residents of Ferguson as local enemy combatants instead of citizens who you’re trying to proactively solve situations with,” observed Joseph.

The full conversation from WGBH News:

 

For more on events in Ferguson, watch America After Ferguson on your local PBS station, September 26, 2014 at 8:00pm (EDT).  Follow the conversation on Twitter: @BasicBlackNow or #AfterFergusonPBS.

 

Black children are beloved and beaten

September 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

“Beloved and beaten” is a phrase that best depicts how many African-American children—past and present—are disciplined.

It is an authoritative type of African-American parenting discipline style that is painfully revered. Yet, in too many incidents, it continues to be uncritically passed along generationally.

When Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on allegation of child abuse, he admitted to using the disciplinary methods passed down by his father.

“I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man,” Peterson said in a statement.

Among those coming to Peterson’s defense was NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. “Whipping—we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances,” Barkley stated in an interview with Jim Rome on the CBS pregame show The NFL Today.

Comedian D. L. Hughley tweeted his thought, “Who knew that was illegal, cuz my mama would b in jail!”

The “in jail” part Hughley is referring to is the punishment that black parents would likely receive due to the flogging and excessive bodily harm many exact on their children—all in the name of discipline. It’s done without reproach, both legally and culturally.

“I’ve had many welts on my legs,” Barkley recalling his childhood beatings told Rome.

Unfortunately, the tradition of this type of discipline style lives on—unchecked and unexamined.

While black people don’t have a monopoly on beating children, we do have unique reasons for choosing it as a style of discipline.

Using corporal punishment on our black children is rooted in the violent history of American slavery. It was a prophylactic method to protect black slave children from harsher beatings from white slavers by having enslaved adult Africans—parents or authority figures—publicly discipline them.

The “switch” has become an African-American institution—both feared and revered. This savage tool that was once used to break the back of my ancestors sadly finds its marks on too many black children’s’ bodies today.

In a tussle over a toy, Peterson’s 4-year-old pushed his brother off a video game. Peterson reacted by shoveling leaves in his son’s mouth from the “switch” made from the tree branch he used to lash him pants down. His son sustained lacerations and wounds to his ankles, legs, hands, back, buttocks and scrotum, requiring medical attention.

“My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day,” Peterson stated in his defense.

But too little progress has been made in peacefully teaching right from wrong, because teaching positive nonviolent child discipline methods in my culture are a Herculean task to both uproot and replant. The internalized violence many of us are unconsciously passing on to future generations—as a disciplinary method or prophylactic approach—is doing as much harm to our children as the ongoing toll of racism and discrimination they confront.

But like Peterson, some black parents still see physical discipline as their duty, and data supports it revealing that 89 percent of African-Americans use corporal punishment to discipline our children.

If you’re looking for parental guidance from African-American ministers—young and old —on this issue, more of them than not are likely to recite the hackneyed phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child,” and have you read the biblical injunction stated in Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

Let’s not forget the 2012 child abuse incident with Atlanta mega church minister Creflo Dollar. When his 15-year-old daughter called 911 because he choked and slapped her, Rev. Dollar was only detained in jail for a few hours. He had to be released because the local NAACP was outraged releasing the following statement:

“The parents are in a dilemma whether to forgo disciplining their children or to leave it up to law enforcement. Should we be apathetic, lax or indifferent and let the courts send our unruly children to jail or should we as parents do our duty and appropriately discipline our children?”

There’s the racist belief that our children should be beaten as a disciplinary method—and our style easily feeds right into it. For example, the 2002 Journal of Clinical Child Psychology issue unabashedly reported that the authoritative style black parents use on their children was more effective.

Black parents have an uphill battle disciplining our children. Our children confront a myriad of obstacles before them: a higher school drop-out rate, teen pregnancies, gang violence, juvenile detention, being racially profiled, and killed by police, to name a few.

Parenting is hard, and trying to figure out what is the appropriate punishment gains nothing with the force of violence. And just because it was done back in the day from slavery to our childhood, it doesn’t mean it ought to be revered, but rather cease and desist immediately.

In 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama learned that lesson when she admitted to spanking her then 4-year old Malia—the same age as Peterson’s son—but she came away changed.

“I did it one or two times and just found it to be completely ineffective because it was less about teaching a lesson and more about my own [feelings]. Malia was younger, probably 4.”

The challenge to our community is break free from a shackle of our past, corporal punishment, to find a peaceful, and more effective, way to discipline our children.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
 Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? …Now

September 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Guest review by Kevin C. Peterson

Against the political backdrop of a dashing, brilliant black president, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the racial crisis now roiling in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of unarmed Michael Brown by a local white police officer, the themes and tropes that comprise Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—which premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston this week–seem absurdly lame and unforgivingly naive.

Originally released as a movie in 1967 to critical acclaim, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also widely popular, featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as white ultra-liberal parents who face a moral and racial reckoning when confronted with the “situation” that their daughter was on the verge of marrying a black man–played in the film sensationally by Sidney Poitier.

The current cast performing in Boston is excellent, led by Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo, from The Cosby Show, playing the pliant Dr. John Prentice), Will Lyman and Julia Duffy portraying Matt and Christina Drayton, the parents of Prentice’s fiancée, Joanna Drayton (Meredith Forlenza) and Patrick Shea, the grog-loving, but soulfully insightful Monsignor Ryan.

Each character alternatively gives the play superb moments that are lighthearted, grim, then sometimes earnestly introspective–reflecting the racial realism of the sexual taboos of the time.

The ensemble sparkles generally but is made more radiant by Lynda Gravatt, who plays the maid, Matilda Binks, the moral epicenter of this story. Gravatt’s protean talent brings to this production all of the spiritual and psychological gravitas of what it then meant to be Negro, female and American–the pangs of love and hate, servitude and dignity, bitterness, promise, and no-nonsense racial conservatism, that stresses family, continuity and tradition.

But mostly Matilda signifies–like Dilsey in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or Aunt Ester Tyler in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the hopeful recognition that our humanity is ever waiting for opportunities to bloom, a careful optimism that, despite the country’s many tragic, racial sins, there is space for redemption for those on both sides of the aisle.

The issue of interracial marriage was all the rage at the time of film’s release. During its production, 17 states deemed interracial marriage a crime.

Decades later, this is now an archaic matter layered over and made obsolete by the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws and the emergence of an integrated national popular culture that has made aesthetic and cross-racial erotic choices sometimes simply a peculiarity of taste.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains an important literary artifact mainly because it reminds the carefully attentive clear insight into how hard the task is of achieving a racial democracy. This reality is made so clear as we simply look at neighborhood apartheid patterns that persist as an embarrassing American social feature.

The play, (which runs at the Huntington through October 5th) is good nostalgic theater that possesses moments that will evoke laughter and even raise high the irony that the guests at dinner at the White House every night currently are black.

But for Americans today–including Bostonians–who continue to take race seriously, who acutely understand the persistence of racial supremacy, this is a theater production that will also evoke some sadness.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston and a democracy activist.

Reconsidering the Boston Caribbean Parade

September 4, 2014 at 9:16 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Kevin Peterson

The murder of 26-year-old Dawnn Jaffier on a Saturday morning in August should lead us to a sobering conclusion: it’s time to cancel the Boston Caribbean Parade. Forever.

The yearly carnival is supposed to be a celebration of West Indian culture. But over the years it has become an event associated with routine violence.

Jaffier — a youth mentor who spent the summer coaching kids at the West End Boys and Girls Club — died during J’ouvert, a pre-parade event. She was shot in the head on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, her blood staining the street.

But many others have been victims of shootings and bloodletting connected to the parade in years past.

Consider the following small sample of the carnage:

• In 1993 seven people were shot during the carnival. Police blamed feuding gangs.

• In 2007 four people were stabbed as they attended festival-related events.

• In 2008 a man police believed to be attending the carnival was found stabbed to death in a Dorchester park.

• In 2010 three parade watchers were shot, one died.

The problem with the Caribbean Carnival is that it gives outlaws opportunities to show their disrespect for law-abiding citizens. Gun-toting youth have turned the parade into a place of violence that many now fear.

If the slightest chance exists that someone may be shot or murdered next year, then shutting down the event is a responsible action.

Let’s not get this twisted. We shouldn’t confuse the yearly violence at the Caribbean festival with what happened at the Boston Marathon two years ago.

The bombings on Boylston Street were an aberration, one terrible event in an otherwise long history of peaceful celebrations.

But the ugly terror that happens along Blue Hill Avenue each festival approaches the level of self-inflicted, protracted terrorism. It numbs our souls.

It’s an insult to the black community in Boston to allow the parade to continue when the results of the event are too often murderous.

Jaffier’s life represented yet another bright promise in an increasingly vibrant and diverse city. We all need to ask ourselves: “Is her blood on our hands?”

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston and founder of the New Democracy Coalition. (This editorial was originally published in The Boston Herald on September 1, 2014 and is posted here with permission. The views expressed are those of the author.)

The stigma of black suicide is killing us

August 18, 2014 at 10:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When the first news reports of Robin Williams’ death hit the media, few questioned the report that the country’s most beloved comedian had committed suicide.

This reaction stands in stark contrast to the reaction to the 2012 news of the death of “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius. Cornelius was found dead in his home after committing suicide with a firearm. Many African Americans believed Cornelius must have been murdered by an intruder, even after the official report.

Although one death involved a firearm, and distrust of the government runs deep in our communities of color, the myth that “black folks don’t get depressed, we get the blues” persisted. And, unfortunately, an opportunity to talk about suicide in the African diasporic communities was missed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black suicide is not only on the rise, but that suicide claims at least one African American every 4.5 hours.

And black males have a higher suicide rate than their counterparts.

I can identify at least five factors contributing to suicide in communities of African descent which, for the most part, go unaddressed: untreated mental illness, homophobic bullying, religion, “Cop-Assisted Suicide”, and the “Strong Black Woman Syndrome”.

Untreated Mental Illness
The leading cause of suicide in African diasporic communities are not only the cultural stigma about mental illness, but also the barriers to mental health treatment. While health care disparities undoubtedly contributing to the problem, so, too, the dearth of mental health professional—therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. According to the 2010 data from the American Association of Suicidology “Just 4 percent of the nation’s psychiatrists, 3 percent of the psychologists and 7 percent of social workers, are black.”

Homophobic Bullying
LGBTQ African Americans residing in black communities are frequently the subjects of bullying, which often times lead to their death by suicide or gang violence.

In 2009 Ms. Walker found her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their home after he endured endless anti-gay and homophobic taunts by schoolmates, although Carl never identified as gay.

When I went to speak that year at the Anti-Bullying Community Forum and Vigil in reference to Carl’s death some kids in the black community of Springfield I spoke with about the incident said Carl’s gender expression was queer, implying that there existed sufficient rationale to taunt him.

In 2010, Governor Patrick signed landmark anti-bullying legislation , cementing the state’s commitment to changing the culture of bullying in schools, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) was involved in the drafting and legislative process from beginning to end.

Religion
Not surprisingly sisters of African descent are one of the largest religious demographic groups. A 2012 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey disclosed that 74 percent of African American women revealed that” living a religious life” was very important to us.

But our very religious life can also contribute to a cult suicide as Sikivu Hutchinson points out in her article “Jonestown Massacre: How Religion Kills Black Women.” And because suicide is such a taboo subject and kept on the “down low” in the community very little research among African American religion scholars and theologians have probed into just how conservative Christianity not only harms our LGBTQ brothers and sisters but also our grandmothers, mothers, and sisters.

“About 75% of Peoples Temple members were African American, 20% were white and 5% were Asian, Latino and Native American,” writes Hutchinson.

“The majority of its black members were women, while its core leadership was predominantly white. As per the cultural cliché, black women like (sole Jonestown survivor Hyacinth) Thrash were “the backbone” of Peoples Temple, the primary victims of Jonestown, and the population with the deepest investment in the philosophy, ethos and mission of the church.”

“Cop-Assisted Suicide”
Most black males in America feel they reside in a police state. The hopelessness it engenders among this demographic group has created a cop-assisted suicide culture.

And, sadly, it’s a suicide method very common among African American urban young males. It’s when a young brother deliberately engages in a life-threatening unlawful act that provokes a cop to shoot to the point of killing. Social stressors such as police profiling, constant images of unarmed black males being shot by police, high unemployment, incarceration and dropout rates, and family and community violence, to name enough, contribute to black male suicide.

“How many young men who put themselves in situations where it’s very likely that they’re going to get shot to death are actually committing suicide?” Poussaint asked in a recent interview on National Public Radio. “There is such a thing as what we call victim-precipitated homicide, which is suicide. The most classic example would be suicide by cop.”

“Strong Black Woman Syndrome”
In July 2010 a groundbreaking study titled “Black Lesbians Matter” examined the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of Black LBT communities. And sadly little was known about it.

The report revealed that LBT women of African descent are among the most vulnerable in our society and need advocacy in the areas of financial security, healthcare, access to education, and marriage equality. The study is akin to a census conducted over several months in 2009 – 2010 where 1,596 LBT women from regional, statewide, and local organizations in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver, and also through an on-line survey participated. The study focused on five key areas: health, family/parenting, identity, aging, and invisibility. One key finding of the survey revealed there is a pattern of higher suicide rates among us. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s inability to deal with “coming-out” to their faith communities.

When news hit that the lovely 22-year-old Karyn Washington, creator of the uplifting and empowering online site, “For Brown Girls” committed suicide even “Ebony Magazine” had to ask “Is ‘Strong Black Womanhood’ Killing Our Sisters?” With the black community focusing primarily on the “endangered black male” and the dominant culture also not seeing, and hearing

African-American voices on this issue, unfortunately, our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. And, so too is our suffering.

It time to acknowledge that the stigma of suicide is killing us.

 

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
 Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

More Than One…

August 14, 2014 at 10:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Willie Bodrick II, M.Div

The debate continues over Governor Patrick’s announcement that Massachusetts would temporarily aid in the humanitarian emergency to shelter refugee children at our country’s southern borders. This came weeks after celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Museum of African American History, and the timing of such events prompted me to ponder about the upcoming elections in September.

From campaign ads to community meetings and parades, we have come closer to intimately getting to know each candidate one by one and name by name. There are some candidates that are new to political sphere and then there are others that are seeking political tenure. Despite all the political excitement there is still something strange about the 2014 elections in Massachusetts.

If you take a look at the candidates seeking statewide office at the highest level, one thing becomes clear: there are hardly any minorities on either party’s ticket. Cambridge City Councillor and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Leland Cheung, remains the only person of color on this year’s ballot running for any statewide office.

In a state that just eight years ago stunned the nation by electing Massachusetts’ first African American governor, Deval Patrick, frankly this is an embarrassment. The United States is becoming more diverse year by year, yet there is still a severe underrepresentation of people of color throughout all levels of government. Let 2014 be a wake up call for anyone looking to advance minority rights in the future. Unless we work together, we will not be able to achieve equality and opportunity for everyone regardless their gender, race, creed, sexuality, or religion.

When Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, one year before the Civil Rights Act was passed, he hoped for a nation in which his children were not “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In that very same speech Dr. King also critiqued injustice and brought into question whether America’s living was reflective of her language. As a progressive beacon in this country, we too must keep in mind that our reality must reflect our rhetoric as we engage the state of race relations both in Massachusetts and nationwide, particularly regarding the lack of minority representation in government.

Some may argue that Councillor Cheung, who is the son of immigrant parents, does not qualify for the “person of color” tag because Asian Americans in this country have been repeatedly cast as the “Model Minority.” However, I would suggest that you have fallen into the racial trap that mediates the same particular stereotypes that insinuate that everyone who looks Hispanic is here illegally, everyone who’s Muslim is connected to terrorism, everyone who is Black is thuggish or ghetto, and that every Woman is emotional. These problematic frameworks operate as means to maintain and commodify racial division for power and profit. The sad reality is that Asians Americans often struggle with the same levels of poverty experienced by other minority groups, and they too are victims of marginalization, prejudice, vulnerability, and falsehoods.

Yes, there is still interminiority prejudice that is tied to a gloomy history of oppression and conflict that has created crude competition rather than cooperative coalition. Although we should never naïvely forgo such realities, we must overcome these hostile histories and begin enacting meaningful dialogue that will engage all minorities to get involved in governance. For example, the last mayoral race in Boston featured multiple minority candidates that could not find a way to build sustainable cooperative political alliances amongst minorities to address the mutual issues that many of our communities face. We may not have the same history, but this is the United States of America, the land of immigrants. Whether by choice or by force, we come from all corners of the globe and we need minority mutuality as we move America forward.

When I first spoke with Councillor Cheung, I was so impressed with our dialogue about the racial dynamics of this upcoming election that it was necessary to video and make accessible to our community at-large via You Tube. Just as we did with Deval Patrick, our minority communities should see 2014 as an opportunity to make Massachusetts a better, and more inclusive place, with hopes that America will one day be more than a land with space for only one.

 

Rev Willie Bodrick IIRev. Willie Bodrick, II is a 2010 graduate of Georgetown University and a 2014 Master of Divinity graduate of Harvard Divinity School. He is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition and finds interest in Political Activism, Community Organizing, and Social Entrepreneurship. He is currently the Youth and Young Adult Pastor at the Historic Twelfth Baptist Church and a resident of Roxbury.   Twitter: @willbeamer

Maya Angelou recites her poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” at the Clinton Inauguration

May 29, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(Courtesy: William J. Clinton Presidential Library)

 

Military’s ban on nappy hair

May 8, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Photo of female hair styles considered "unauthorized" by the US Army.   (Photo: US Army)

Photo of female hair styles considered “unauthorized” by the US Army. (Photo: US Army)

Guest posting by Rev. Irene Monroe

African American female service members comprise the highest percentage of women in the military. And with these sister servicewomen enlisting in the military at higher rates than their white, Asian and Latina sisters to serve and die for our country, the last thing the military should be squawking about is our hair.

In March the Army released an updated policy on appearance and grooming, titled “AR 670-1,” limiting or banning hairstyles- braids, twists, cornrows, and dreadlocks- inimitable to African American women.

The Congressional Black Caucus outraged sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stating ” that the Army policy’s language was ‘offensive’ and ‘biased.”’

In 2007, Imus who has always been an equal opportunity offender with his no-holds-barred humor has assailed broad demographics of the American public, from heads of states to homeless citizens. When Imus ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team he hurled a gender specific racial invective about black women’s hair that struck a raw nerve in the African American community. He ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team by not only calling them “hos,” but by also calling them “nappy-headed” ones.

The other n-word in the African American community.

In 2010 Gabrielle Christina Victoria “Gabby” Douglas was one of that year’s Olympic darlings.

As a member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team, Gabby is the first African American gymnast and women of color, in Olympic history, to win gold medals in the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. When she won the gold the blogosphere blew up expectedly with a torrent of congratulations. But the blogosphere blew up unexpectedly with a deluge of condemnations, too. Douglas’s hair had been the topic of a ton of e-chatter since she stepped onto the Olympic world stage. If Douglas wasn’t privy to what the condemnations was about it, she quickly learned; and it lied at one of the roots of the universal denigration of black beauty – our hair.

This issue of black women’s hair texture is inescapable and continues to dog us women all throughout the African continent and African diaspora -young and old.

When a tsunami of criticisms pored in about Gabby’s over-gelled and under-tamed ponytail, and -yes, that very touchy subject for African American women- her nappy edges, it dredges up and fosters the misperception of how could any put-together and accomplished black woman with fleecy wooly wild hair be happy being nappy.

While many sisters today might use a hot comb on their hair, hot combs also called straightening combs were around in the 1880’s, sold in Sears and Bloomingdales catalogs to a predominately white female clientele.

Madam C.J. Walker, the first African American millionaire for her inventions of black hair products, didn’t invent the hot comb; she popularized its use by remedying the perceived “curse” of nappy hair with her hair- straightening products that continues to this day bring comfort to many black women.

While the etymology of the word “nappy” derives from Britain meaning a baby’s cotton napkin or diaper, in America the word became racialized to mean unkempt, wild and wooly hair associated with people of African descent. And used to demean and to degrade African Americans.

But even with good intentions the land mine can be detonated. In 1998 Ruth Ann Sherman, a white third grade teacher, who taught in a predominately African American and Latino elementary school in Brooklyn, learned that lesson when she read African American author Carolivia Herron’s award winning children’s book “Nappy Hair, ” a celebration of black hair.

And let not forget, the Sesame Street controversial song “I Love My Hair,” a remix of “Whip My Hair” sung by Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Intended to promote self-pride, the song received mixed reviews within the African American community with some critiquing it as a black accomodationist version of white girls flinging their tresses.

Renowned African American feminist author Alice Walker spoke about the constraints of hair and beauty ideals in African American culture. In her address “Oppressed hair puts a ceiling on the brain” Walker, at the all-women’s historically black college Spelman in Atlanta in April 1987 stated the following:

“I am going to talk to you about hair. Don’t give a thought to the state of yours at the moment. This is not an appraisal…. it occurred to me that in my physical self there remained on last barrier to my spiritual liberation: my hair…. I realized I have never been given the opportunity to appreciate my hair for it true self…Eventually, I knew precisely what hair wanted: it wanted to grow, to be itself…to be left alone by anyone, including me, who did not love it as it was.”

While many African American women today wear their hair in afros, cornrows, locks, braids, Senegalese twists, wraps or bald, our hair -both symbolically and literally- continues to be a battlefield in this country’s politics of hair and beauty aesthetics within and outside of the African American community.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

 

The Other “B” Word…

March 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,
Credit: #BanBossy

Credit: #BanBossy

Commentary by Callie Crossley, host, “Under The Radar with Callie Crossley”
Originally broadcast on WGBH Radio, 89.7 – March 17, 2014

Girls start to hear it in their early years, and women hear it all their lives. The b word. No, not that one, b for bossy, the other equally offensive b word.

Little girls who are assertive are called bossy, little boys, leaders.  Research confirms that between elementary and high school, girls self esteem drops 3 and half times more than boys. Girls seem to worry that asserting themselves will make them seem bossy, even as they are less likely to be called on in class, and more likely to be interrupted. Evidence is they self censor, move themselves out of leadership roles, and eventually silence their voices in an effort to be liked.

Now a high profile campaign—called ban bossy– is aimed at changing that. Leading ban bossy–Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and founder of the nonprofit organization leanin.org, and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the two recounted being branded bossy early on. In elementary school one of Sandberg’s teachers told her friend to stay away from her because “nobody likes a bossy girl.” Chavez remembers telling her playmates that she wanted to lead their game, and being told, “ you are really bossy Anna.” Both women point to evidence that shows labeling diminishes how girls and women see themselves as leaders, and equally important, how others dismiss their leadership abilities.

By the time these ‘bossy’ girls become women, they are regularly assaulted by an arsenal of jagged verbal stones, which include stubborn, difficult, angry, pushy, aggressive, and the all-encompassing bad attitude. Verbal assailants also use profanity as a weapon; they attack using the other b word former first lady Barbara Bush famously described as rhyming with witch.

Being called bossy could have shaken my sense of self, but I was lucky to come from a long line of women who were not easily cowed, and taught me to stand up and speak up. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and cousins celebrated women’s leadership, as did my Dad. He married the outspoken woman he wanted his two daughters to be.

High profile women, including three world leaders, two Supreme Court Justices and A list entertainers have helped the ban bossy campaign go viral.  Superstar Beyoncé’s empowering message  “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”

Add my name to the more than 100 thousand who’ve have taken the pledge. These last weeks of women’s history month, let’s honor the girls and women — now formerly known as bossy, with new words– audacious, brave, bold, confident. Ban bossy. Pass it on.

 

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 1.42.59 PMCallie Crossley is the host of Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, which airs on Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on WGBH, 89.7 FM. Crossley was formerly the host of the daily mid-day radio program, The Callie Crossley Show, which aired on WGBH 89.7FM for 2 1/2 years for which she was the host/executive editor.

Crossley is also a public speaker and television and radio commentator for national and local programs. She is a regular contributor on National Public Radio’s The Takeaway and Fox 25 Boston’s Morning Show, and she often guests on CNN’s Reliable Sources and PBS NewsHour. Crossley appears weekly on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press, a media criticism program that examines local and national media coverage, and Basic Black, a public affairs show focusing on current events and cultural issues concerning black communities. Ms. Crossley was a producer for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, the critically acclaimed documentary series, which earned her an Oscar nomination and major film and journalism awards, including a National Emmy and a DuPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism.

Crossley has been awarded two Harvard Fellowships: a Nieman fellowship and a fellowship at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, and holds an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Pine Manor College and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Cambridge College.

She was one of the six women in 2011 to receive the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts’ Leading Woman Award. She is also one of 125 women featured in the 2011 book “Boston, Inspirational Women,” photographs by Bill and Kerry Brett, text by Carol Beggy.

 

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