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.)

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