Where Is My Black Body Safe in America?

July 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sandra Bland

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Like so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death, resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention it’s receiving is, however.

The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled, sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with alarming regularity is too often ignored – especially with the focus of police brutality on African American males.

And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus or walks to work as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.

A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement officials.

Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beating by California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no reason. I did nothing to him.”

While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested more often than white women in any given city across the country, what is shocking is the rate at which we are.

For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these arrests too often result in death.

African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago), Kimberlee ­Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis), and Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials. While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July 13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail cell following day.

Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated, statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.

The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women—combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman”—can sadly turn into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s described as “contempt of cop.” She wasn’t obsequious or subservient enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.

When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And it’s because of Waller County’s long and boastful history for keeping blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.

I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a lynching—a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.

But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard, if they die at all. The Equal Justice Initiative states that African Americans were lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.

When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not fathom such act.

But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger. Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Removing The Confederate Flag Is Not A Victory, It’s An Icebreaker

July 14, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Now that the confederate battle flag has been successfully removed from the South Carolina State House can we get back to the real work of healing our fractured, fragmented and frayed nation?

Although South Carolina’s senate easily cleared the 2/3 majority with a 37-3 vote in favor of removing the flag, the House of Representatives took a different course of action. Wednesday’s debate, lasting over 12 hours, included some interesting filibustering tactics by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) who is opposed to removing the flag. Ultimately, with a 94-20 vote the Representatives passed the senate’s bill and with the stroke of her pen, Governor Nikki Haley, who until recently staunchly opposed the removal of the flag, removed the flag.

The removal of the flag and the tangential debate over heritage vs. hate is not a culminating sign of victory, in fact, thinking such is a greater insult than the flag’s presence as a representation of all South Carolinians for the past 54 years. The presence of the flag remains a clear reminder of South Carolinian lawmaker’s objection to national civil rights legislation during the 1960s; legislation that not all South Carolinians opposed. The major issue with the presence of the Confederate Battle Flag at the State House is the flag’s past as a representation of racist ideologies.

The initial incarnation of the flag, nicknamed “stars and bars,” was first flown in 1861 and was redesigned a number of times in subsequent years. The current battle flag was actually made popular during Governor Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. Under the short-lived political party, States’ Rights Democratic Party (also known as the Dixiecrats) Thurmond ran on a platform that was pro-segregation, anti-miscegenation and focused on protecting “the southern way of life.” Campaigners and campaign related events donned the confederate battle flag as one of their representative emblems.

The battle flag was initially raised over the State House in 1961 to commemorate the inaugural battle of the civil war at Fort Sumter. Thirty nine years later, as a result of the Heritage Act, the flag was moved to a separate flagpole next to a memorial in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers leaving South Carolina’s state flag and “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America, flying above the State House dome.

Over the years there have been numerous campaigns, initiatives and attempts to have the flag removed from the State House grounds. It is unfortunate that it took the death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight prayer warriors of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to stimulate a local conversation with national impact. Let it be known that their death did not bring about a race war, but a recommitment to the pledge that we all know so well. A pledge to an indivisible nation, one with the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Now that the flag is down, can we get back to the real work of engaging in sustained conversations on race, race relations and racial reconciliation? If that is too much to ask let us return to the unfinished work of the founding patriarchs, to provide equal access to “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The removal of the flag is not the victory; it is the icebreaker.

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

The welcome challenges of marriage equality

July 14, 2015 at 11:02 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

For some time now, my spouse and I have been bickering over where we should live in our retirement years. She, being a child from the South, and me, being from the North, well, we have our tensions. I have jokingly dubbed them our “Mason-Dixon line feud.” We are not stretching our imaginations much to feel some of the same concerns our enslaved ancestors must have encountered as they considered the free states up North.

My spouse is tied to the weather of the South — a moist, subtropical climate with sultry summers. I like the four seasons of the North, but could live in autumn all year round.

During particularly heated battles, I have questioned if her desire to live in Georgia was worth living in a state that didn’t recognize our marriage. Our marriage would be de facto dissolved.

Our ongoing exhaustive argument gained a new complication (in my mind, at least) with last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was once again the swing vote on this tough ruling. Kennedy wrote all recent decisions protecting LGBTQ rights, including the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas — which struck down sodomy laws that targeted gay men; and the 2013 US v. Windsor — recognizing and providing federal benefits to same-sex married couple in states where their marriages were legal. His argument last week was Loving v. Virginia (1967) redux, showing how these two historic struggles for marriage equality are interconnected.

Of course, I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision. It would have been both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed to rule otherwise.

But with victory comes backlash. This change in law will not come easy. A movement is already afoot with a 50-state plan to pass “Religious Freedom Restoration” acts to roll back progress.

As the country battles this issue on a new front, we should hold on to Thomas Jefferson’s words about how change is required for progress:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But . . . laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”

Same-sex marriage is of our times. And it’s democracy at its best.

I understand democracy to be an ongoing process, where people are part of a participatory government working to dismantle all existing discriminatory laws truncating their full participation in society.

But democracy can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable rights. The right to marry regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation or gender identity is now one of them. How wonderful to know that a same-sex couple in Mississippi has the same right to marry as someone here in Massachusetts.

Back to the challenge in my home: My spouse is all smiles now with this new ruling. She has been doing what I call “nicey nicey,” which is her way of using charm to wear down my recalcitrant stance on issues.

In celebration of Obergefell v. Hodge we went out for drinks at Legal Sea Foods in Harvard Square. While enjoying the evening summer breeze, my spouse said we could have this experience all year if we moved to a milder climate.

I snapped back and said, “I ain’t moving to Georgia!”

And that’s what marriage equality looks like.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger.  Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Obama used the n-word appropriately

June 25, 2015 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

 

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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When news broke that President Obama used the n-word during the podcast interview “WTF with Marc Maron” about America’s racial history, it caused shock waves. We are shocked because we are all confused as to when — if ever — there is an appropriate context to use the word.

On CNN, legal analyst Sunny Hostin said that Obama’s use of the word was inappropriate because of his office, and given the history of the word itself. New York Times columnist Charles Blow countered Hostin’s assertion, pointing out that Obama used the word correctly: as a teaching moment.

The confusion illustrates what happens when an epithet like the n-word, once hurled at African-Americans in this country and banned from polite conversation, now has a broad-based cultural acceptance in our society.

Many African-Americans, and not just the hip-hop generation, say that reclaiming the n-word serves as an act of group agency and as a form of resistance against the dominate culture’s use of it. In other words, only they have a license to use it.
However, the notion that it is acceptable for African-Americans to use the n-word with each other yet it is considered racist for others outside the race to use it unquestionably sets up a double standard. And because language is a public enterprise, the notion that one ethnic group has property rights to the term is an absurdly narrow argument. The fact that African-Americans have appropriated the n-word does not negate our long history of self-hatred.

Unfortunately, controversies seem to erupt regularly into public view. In July 2008, the Rev. Jesse Jackson used the n-word to refer to Obama. Although Jackson and a cadre of African-American leaders conducted a mock funeral in 2007 for the n-word at the NAACP convention in Detroit, the fact that it slipped so approvingly from his mouth illustrates its lingering power.

In January 2011, the kerfuffle concerning the n-word focused on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known as Mark Twain, in the NewSouth Books edition of his 1885 classic, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the original edition of the book, the epithet is used 219 times. In a combined effort to rekindle interest in this Twain classic and to tamp down the flame and fury the use of the n-word engenders, Alan Gribben — editor of the NewSouth Edition, and an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama — replaced the n-word with the word “slave.”

In short, the n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language used to disparage African-Americans. Our culture’s neorevisionist use of the n-word makes it even harder to purge the sting of the word from the American psyche.

Why?

Because language is a representation of culture. Language reinscribes and perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender, and sexual orientation that we consciously and unconsciously articulate in our everyday conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world, and consequently transmit generationally.
Too many of us keep the n-word alive. It also allows Americans to become numb to the use and abuse of the power this racial epithet still wields, thwarting the daily struggle that many of us undertake to try to ameliorate race relations.
In the end, Obama used the n-word appropriately, as an illustration that racism is very much alive.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger.

The Moynihan Report And The Black Family: 50 Years And Waiting

May 6, 2015 at 9:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price

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In the shadow of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), the Selma to Montgomery march and escalating racial tensions throughout the country, a significant report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action was shared in limited number within the Johnson Administration. Authored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy and Research, The Moynihan Report, as it is known, was significant and illusive, courageous and the source of great consternation.

Hired as an urban affairs policy advisor to work on President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, Moynihan remained in the White House after the assassination of Kennedy to work on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Moynihan’s report was originally intended to serve as analytical research on the social and economic disparities faced by Blacks in preparation for the White House Conference on Civil Rights held on June 1-2, 1966. However, portions of the March 1965 report were leaked to the media causing visceral reactions from many who had not read the full 78-page report. Most critics did not understand Moynihan’s desire to coalesce all of the federal programs aimed at supporting equal rights and equal opportunities for Blacks into one comprehensive move by the government. With this report, Moynihan diagnosed that the root cause of Black unemployment and poverty was the increasing instability of the Black family. Moynihan believed that if the government could pass legislation to assist in stabilizing the Black family then Blacks would finally achieve equality. Unfortunately, 50 years later we can all agree that it’s not that simple!

Criticism of the report was widely published in daily papers, academic journals and complete monographs such as William Ryan’s Blaming the Victim (Pantheon Books, 1971). Much of the criticism was based on the emotive climate of increasing violence in inner-city neighborhoods highly populated by Blacks. As the United States increased involvement in Vietnam the discriminatory practices of conscription were in conflict with Moynihan’s research. His analysis did not account for these practices as ways in which Black families were disrupted.

Some of the most potent critiques, though, were from media pundits, scholars and local activists who argued that Moynihan’s analysis suffered from implicit bias. In essence, Moynihan failed to fully consider the socio-cultural landscape that substantiated the quantitative data as real life situations, circumstances and occurrences and not just collections of statistical results.

Moynihan openly acknowledged the “racist virus in the American bloodstream” within his report, but failed to account for the systemic policies, procedures, protocols and practices that not only were inequitable but drunk with racial prejudice and gender-based discrimination.

50 years later, these same challenges exist. More than ever before, it is evident that the unfinished business of this country is moving from the goal of liberty to the goal of equality; from being diverse to being inclusive. Today, according to the recent study accomplished by the National Urban League, Blacks are doing 72.2% as well as Whites relative to economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement as reported in their 2015 Equality Index.

50 years later, the statistical evidence matches the anecdotal evidence as thousands across the country and the world continue to join the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Today, there are more news stories, investigations and findings proving a systematic attack on Black bodies of all genders whether through voter disenfranchisement, segregation in housing, lack of adequate access to education and health care or the recent findings of widespread discriminatory practices in the criminal justice, jurisprudence and legal systems. There is too much data to deny and too many narratives to negate. If there was ever a time to recover Moynihan’s fumble and push forward a national case to seek legislative assistance, protection and affirmation that #BlackLivesMatter, now is the time!

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

Black History, Police Body Cameras and the Urgency of Now

February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

(Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.

As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.

The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.

Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.

Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.

This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.

The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.

“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”

Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.

Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.

In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.

A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.

Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.

Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.

“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”

Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.

Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.

He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The views expressed are those of the author.

Why The ‘Selma’ Soundtrack Deserves An Oscar

February 22, 2015 at 9:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 9.12.22 AMGuest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Selma is powerful, provocative, conversation starter on race relations in our nation. While pundits and critics focus on the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and others bemoan the lack of awards, don’t sleep on the music!

Selma offers the perfect soundtrack to not only make the screenplay come to life but to make history live again. The partnership of Music Director Morgan Rhodes and Director Ava DuVernay is not a new one (In 2012 they teamed up on DuVernay’s Sundance Award Winner, Middle of Nowhere and in 2013 they completed a short, The Door), but with Selma they made a timeless treasure.

Any attempt to chronicle the diverse lives of black folks, and others, must rely on the right music, stitched and weaved together, the right way. Within the black experience, whether historical or contemporary, music is never simply a background. Music is the foreground and it matters!

During the civil rights movement music provided the esprit de corps. Music kept thousands of individuals and families motived, encouraged and inspired to keep their “eyes on the prize.” The music of the movement set the pulse, stabilized the cadence and amplified the rhythm of masses of people into one combined force for change. DuVernay and Rhodes understood this and executed in impressive fashion.

The soundscape of Selma brilliantly balances tone and texture in order to empower the many voices of the people of the movement and not just the leaders. In this chronicle of a three-month journey, the music elevates the voices of women in a way that offers an enlightened correction to the often male-dominated depiction of the movement. We hear the voices of Sister Gertrude Morgan, Martha Bass, Sarah Vaughn and Odetta as we witness the priceless contributions of Amelia Boynton, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash and of course, Coretta Scott King.

As curator, Rhodes demonstrates a sonic journey that includes folk, blues, jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, Black improvisational music, Hip Hop and new compositions by Jason Moran. Yes, Jason Moran!

The soundtrack offers not only a demonstration of the diversity of ideas, thoughts and voices within the movement but it also offers an informed notion that music is both sound and text. In moments where there were powerful verbal exchanges or pivotal speeches, there is a courageous amount of musical silence. Music is not merely the presence of sound but the negotiation of sound and silence.

It is in the music that the most comprehensive notion of resistance is heard and felt. From the opening silence, to the cacophonous explosion to the “voice of God” (phenomenally performed by Ledisi) to well calibrated excerpts of Otis Redding, The Impressions, Joyce & Johnita Collins, Fink, The Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, The Orions, William Attoway & Irving Burgie, McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef. What an amazing collection of differing voices with a wide range of approaches towards voicing the same goal of fighting for freedom.

Rhodes’ inclusion of J.B. Lenoir, Duane Eddy and Seabell Kennedy proves that she can crate dig with the best! A true testament to her sincerity, sensitivity and savvy was the inclusion of the actual field recordings of the Selma demonstrators recorded in 1965 by Carl Benkert and released on Moses Asch’s Folkways Records as Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama (FH 5594).

Yet, the most powerful contribution is Common and John Legend’s protest anthem, “Glory.” The opus has already earned a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Academy Award. More important than accolades, though, is that the three-minute inspirational hit connects the events of Selma to the movement in Ferguson challenging all to understand that the struggle continues and must be fought until the war is over and victory is won.

Don’t sleep on the music of Selma, for it is the music that best connects generations, cultures, ethnicities, spiritual beliefs and races towards the pursuit of equality and justice for all. The music highlights the “drama” that Dr. King taught and modeled as a strategy for justice-based civil disobedience. It is in the music that we are challenged to “negotiate, demonstrate and resist!”

Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor and associate professor of Music at Northeastern University’s School of Music. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

A Road Map Beyond Black History Month

February 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bb_flag_1_6_2012Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black History Month (which kicked off on Feb. 1) became a national annual observance in 1926. The goal of the month is to honor and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

If Dr. Carter Woodson, the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud of the tenacity of the African American community. It speaks volumes about our survival here on this American soil, after centuries of slavery, decades of lynching and years of racial profiling.

However, for decades now, Black History Month has not broached the topic of the socio-political construction of white privilege.

There’s a reason why.

During Black History Month in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Many communities of color contest that white people—straight or LGBTQ—show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder—invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Ironically, or tragically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, but it also harms whites as well.

In her recent book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” Cambridge author Debby Irving’s wrote the following:

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving….Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”

On one hand we have the dominate culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms which thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (not same) experiences.

Both hands are right. And both hands are wrong. The only way forward it to keep talking about race. But how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, the killing of unarmed black males has awakened the movement. “Black Lives Matter” has taken to the streets.

Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—black, women, and gay—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other. But that is a false assumption.

When we look at how we moved forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ activists remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving set the precedent for marriage equality. Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s once racial and gender obsession—interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ‘Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:
1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.
2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can. We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.
3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.
5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation. We have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, 2015, in what is clearly not the post-racial era many had hoped for, I wish as a nation we begin an honest talk about race.

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.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

January 18, 2015 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us, so consequently we reside in a society were human brokenness, human isolation and human betrayal are played out every day.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the woundedness of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

Ironically, our culture of woundedness and victimization has bonded us together in brokenness. The sharing of worlds to depict and honor our pain has created a new language of intimacy, a bonding ritual that allows us to talk across and among our pains. In exploring our common wounds, we sometimes feel more able to find the trust and the understanding that eludes us as “healthy” people.
When we bond in these unhealthy ways we miss opportunities in ourselves for moral leadership, and to work collaboratively with others to effect change in seemingly small ways that eventually lead to big outcomes.

Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery bus boycott in challenging Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. Both were working together for a desired outcome, and they could not have done it without the other.

Had Rosa Parks not sat down by refusing her seat to a white man that day on the bus in December 1955, King could not have gotten up to promulgate a social gospel, which catapulted the civil rights movement.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King holiday by re-examining myself in light of King’s teachings. And in so doing, I try to uncover not only the ways in which the world breaks me, but also how it breaks other people. That keeps us fractured instead of united toward a common goal – a multicultural democracy.

I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

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.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

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