Why I Won’t Sign the Trayvon Martin Petitions on Facebook

First of all like most humans I am truly sorry for the loss of Trayvon Martin. My prayers go out to his family and to the countless nameless others who like Trayvon have been killed because they are black. 

It used to be that particularly in the south non-black folks were not afraid to admit that they were racist. Folks were not politically correct.  They called a spade a spade literally and said and thought the N-word out loud. 

They thought black folks were inferior and were less than human. Folks who held these opinions had no regrets. They expressed their racist thoughts openly without fear of retribution. 

Now in 2012, even if one is busted uttering the N-word, there is some justification for it or rationalization of why that person is in fact not racist.

So Craig Sonner, George Zimmerman’s attorney, says Zimmerman is not racist. Sonner did not admit to hearing the 911 tape when folks thought they clearly heard the word uttered. 

Trayvon Martin through his tragic death and our 24-hour news and social media cycle has captured the attention of folks and now folks act like they finally want to talk about race and racism. 

And therein lies the problem. We are not ready to talk about race or racism. Yes there is superficial talk.  Many folks are outraged at the shooting and lack of an arrest. It has captured the traditional and social medias attention. 

Here is why I won’t sign the Trayvon Martin petitions on Facebook.   People are expecting some change to come about because they sign a petition or don a hoodie. But as Bilen Mesfin so eloquently stated in “Stop Racism, Not Hoodies–A Message to Geraldo Rivera”  racism and its root causes that need to end not hoodies and other other symbolic apparel.

So yes WeAreTrayvonMartin but also WeAreGeorgeZimmerman.

Because just are there are millions of potential victims of racism as long as the underlying causes exist there are also perpetuators of racism.

We’ve got to stop glossing over the issue of racism with shock and dismay at the myriad of occurrences or outright denial. Yes, legislation is needed to address the civil and criminal law violations, but more importantly change must come from communities. That is where the true battle lies.  Racists do not care about petitions and marches, but once folks like Trayvon are viewed as humans rather than less than human, social justice can prevail and racism can be eliminated.

Let’s engage in real dialogues to end all the isms and phobias:  racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, homophobia, and more.  And not petitions and pictures of us in hoodies where we are preaching to the choir.

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A Welcome Increase in Interracial Marriages

Thankfully, Americans are increasingly accepting interracial marriage.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Since then, interracial marriages have become much more common, and the stigma against them has faded considerably.

A whopping 15 percent of new marriages in the United States in 2010 were interracial, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. The racial breakdown was 9 percent of white newlyweds, 17 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asian-Americans.

Thirty years ago, only 7 percent of new marriages were interracial. Back then, interracial marriages accounted for only 3 percent of the total. Today, they account for 8.4 percent.

As for the country’s attitude about interracial and interethnic marriages, 43 percent of those surveyed thought the trend was a change for the better and only 11 percent thought it was for the worse.

Intermarriages occur in families across the country. Of those surveyed, 35 percent acknowledged that they had either an immediate family member or a close relative who is in an interracial/interethnic marriage. Here the difference in attitudes over time was striking: Today, 63 percent said those marriages were fine with them compared to 1986, when only 33 percent said it was acceptable.

This is how we make progress in this country and how we overcome stereotypes: By getting to know people who are different than we are on the surface but coming to understand that, fundamentally, they are just the same as we are.

It’s true whether we’re overcoming opposition to intermarriage or whether we’re overcoming opposition to same-sex marriage. The more we recognize our own family members, in-laws, friends and neighbors for who they are, the more the scales of prejudice fall away.

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Let’s Cheer the Desegregation of Neighborhoods

Here is an encouraging fact to celebrate during Black History Month: Residential segregation is a thing of the past.

Racial segregation between blacks and whites has declined for four consecutive decades, according to a study based on census records through 2010 from the Manhattan Institute.

The study looks at the black population in metropolitan areas. It finds that these cities are more integrated now than they have been since 1910.

“A half-century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents,” the report finds. “Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide.”

Government regulations around mortgage credit led to blacks being able to purchase homes and integrate neighborhoods more easily. The study’s authors caution those who criticize such lending policies.

“At a time when proposed regulations threaten to eliminate the market for lending to marginal borrowers, it is important to recognize that there are costs and benefits associated with tightening credit standards,” the report says.

The integration of neighborhoods is only a start, however. The authors of the study readily admit that “eliminating segregation” is “not a magic bullet. Gaps in achievement and employment are still pervasive.”

And there is still segregation in the schools and within communities. Martin Luther King Jr. noted more than 40 years ago that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. It still is.

So it’s not enough to live in desegregated neighborhoods. We need to desegregate our lives if we are to end inequality and foster true diversity.

Here’s to working toward that goal.

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It’s not easy being a black atheist.

“Less than one-half of a percent of African-Americans identify themselves as atheists, compared with 1.6 percent of the total population,” the New York Times noted in a feature story on Nov. 25. “Black atheists, then, find they are a minority within a minority.”

The reasons for this are complicated.

“Religion is a large part of the black American culture,” says Ayanna Watson, founder of Black Atheists of America, Inc. “Hence, it is extremely difficult for black atheists to be open about their stance regarding religion. Unfortunately, it is viewed as turning your back on your culture.”

The black church has played a central role in the community for more than 100 years, and during the civil rights movement, it was a crucial site for organizing.

It’s hard for blacks to be atheists because they not only risk alienating family members and friends. They also may be accused of being disrespectful to their heritage.

Gays and lesbians in the black community have had to deal with similar accusations, since black churches are often homophobic. It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

But the New York Times article found that for some blacks, coming out as an atheist is even trickier than coming out as gay.

The black community needs to be more tolerant of the atheists in its midst. The civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph was an atheist, after all, as was the actress Butterfly McQueen.

Today, the Black Atheists of America has about 3,500 people following it on social networks, says Watson.

“I formed Black Atheists of America, Inc., to build a support group for black atheists and to bring diversity to the overall atheist community,” she says.

Here’s to hoping for tolerance no matter your sexual orientation, race, religion or lack of same.

There is room here for all of us.

Akilah Bolden-Monifa is a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached pmproj@progressive.org.

You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.

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Black History Month Has Degenerated into a Farce

February is Black History Month and is no longer serving its intended purpose. It has turned into a mundane, meaningless and commercialized farce. Some folks pay only perfunctory lip service to the month.

The celebration was started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an educator, and was then known as Negro History Week. Woodson selected a week in February because that’s when some African-American folks celebrated the birthdays of two heroes, Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of that first Negro History Week was to recognize the importance of black history to America. Woodson never intended the week to be celebrated in perpetuity.

According to historian John Hope Franklin, Woodson “fervently hoped that soon the history of African Americans would become an integral part of American history and would be observed throughout the year. In succeeding years down to his death in 1950, he continued to express the hope that Negro History Week would outlive its usefulness.”

In 1976, Negro History Week became Black History Month. Many in the media have embraced this month, giving token nods by publishing more articles about African Americans in February and by airing special programs, public service announcements and movies. Museums and libraries also hold special exhibits, lectures and events.

But Black History Month has become a ready-made excuse to ignore African-American history and contributions for the other 11 months of the year. It’s little more than a bone to throw to us.

In 1998, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education conducted a symposium on whether Black History Month still served a useful purpose. The introduction stated that February has become a “marketing weapon” for advertisers and book publishers to boost sales and then abandon them for the remainder of the year. There also are special marketing efforts made during the month of February for selling other products, like liquor, nicotine and sodas, to the African-American community, according to the journal.

But what is lost in this commercialization is the essence of Woodson’s dream: to recall the contributions of African Americans in history, industry, the arts and sciences and all aspects of our country.

Except for students in our grade schools, who do benefit from the Black History Month curriculum, most people don’t gain much of an appreciation for African Americans in February, or during any other month, for that matter.

And that’s the problem. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that by designating February as Black History Month we’re really doing anything to honor African Americans or to combat racial prejudice in this country, our Black President notwithstanding.   For it is this prejudice that continues to divide us.

Instead of a month of perfunctory gestures, we need yearlong efforts of recognizing African Americans who made — and continue to make — a contribution.

These contributions need to be an integral part of our lives all year, not just the shortest year of the month even in this a leap year.

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WHAT MLK DAY MEANS TO ME

Martin Luther King Day is much more than a holiday.

I often wonder what those who didn’t know the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. think of the man and the holiday. I don’t have that problem.

I am a 54-year-old lesbian of African descent who grew up in Huntsville, Ala. My parents strategized and marched with King. I learned about civil disobedience and protests from them when I was 4 years old. I heard them talk of engaging in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. And they explained to me that we would not be buying new clothes from the segregated stores in town on Easter because King, in conjunction with the local churches, had organized a boycott. If we couldn’t shop at these stores by entering the front door, then we wouldn’t patronize them.

Easter clothes and accoutrements were a very big deal among a lot of African Americans in the South. It was the time when we put on our finest clothes. We all got entirely new outfits, the whole regalia, including underwear, shoes, purses, hats, and gloves.

So it was a very big deal to forgo this. In fact, the organizing strategy was to wear blue jeans that Easter Sunday in 1962. Now, little black girls did not wear pants to church anywhere in the 1960s, much less jeans. But it was a visible way to demonstrate our outrage with stores that discriminated against us based on race. King knew that this would be a hard sell in the black community, but he also understood that it was essential.

I never met King, but my father so vividly described the meetings and organizing sessions around the boycott that in my young mind I had met the great man. Plus, in a lot of black homes in the 1960s, there were three pictures hanging on the walls: Jesus Christ, John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

My father, just five years younger than King, spoke of him both as a good friend and as a genius. His oratory skills were legendary, and I’m not simply speaking of his oft-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech. If there was an opportunity to hear King preach, you took that opportunity. His down-home preaching was so good that it made you want to holler and fan yourself at the same time.

I wonder what King, who would have been 83 this year, would make of the country in 2012. He would notice the national holiday and all of the streets named after him, but I imagine he would not be impressed. King was a man of substance. Stamps, holidays, and streets were not in his master plan.

King advocated for diversity, for an end to discrimination. At the time of his death, his focus was not just on race; he was speaking in support of labor unions and their right to strike and organize for better working conditions and benefits. His “dream” has not come to fruition. But neither are we in the nightmare that some might suggest. A lot of folks simply “talk the talk” rather than “walk the walk” around the diversity King dreamed of and worked toward. Some of us spend the majority of our time with people who look like us rather than those who reflect the rich diversity of which King spoke.

King had not specifically focused on diversity based on sexual orientation, but there is no doubt that he would have embraced equality regardless of sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, the right to marry and adopt children. King worked with and organized with Bayard “Brother Outsider” Rustin, who was openly gay. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, supported full marriage equality for the LGBT community before her death, just as Dr. King would undoubtedly have done.

On Jan. 16 and beyond, I will honor the anniversary of King’s birth, as I did even in the years before it became a federal holiday. I will shed tears over the loss of a great man and a philosopher. I will rue the lack of knowledge that most have of his life and legacy. And I will offer a not-so-silent prayer that the best way to honor King is by listening or reading some of his speeches and by “walking the walk” of diversity. I will hope for all-inclusive diversity regardless of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or identity, and physical or mental differences.

It has been nearly 44 years since Dr. King’s death. It is time to end all forms of discrimination against folk. Actions do speak louder than words.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Do more than “lift every voice and sing”: speak out against discrimination and advocate for legislative and social change for its end, as well.

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Here are answers to 10 Kwanzaa questions

1. What language is the word Kwanzaa from?

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, the largest spoken language on the African continent. Kwanza, with one “a,” literally means “first fruit.” Many African countries have celebrations of the first harvest of the year.

2. What African countries celebrate Kwanzaa?

None. Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, created and celebrated in the United States.

3. Wasn’t the founder a separatist, felon, and anti-white?

Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Evert) founded Kwanzaa and co-founded US (Us Black People), a black nationalist and social change organization. Karenga did have a felony conviction. He is a nationalist, but not a separatist, and there is no information about his being anti-white, just pro-black.

4. Isn’t Kwanzaa the Black Christmas?

Kwanzaa starts on December 26, the day after Christmas. And because of its proximity to Christmas and because it is an African-American holiday, it’s often mistakenly called the Black Christmas. But most African Americans celebrate Christmas on December 25th, like most Americans.

5. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, can you celebrate Christmas?

It’s not an either or. Some folks celebrate both. Some choose one or the other. Some choose neither.

6. Can non-African Americans celebrate?

According to the founder, “other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese.”

7. Aren’t the values of Kwanzaa exclusive to African Americans?

Quite the contrary. The seven principles of Kwanzaa—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith—apply universally.

8. Doesn’t Kwanzaa have the same number of candles and candleholders as Hanukkah?

No, the candleholder in Kwanzaa is called a kinara and holds 7 candles. Hanukkah has a menorah, which holds 8 or 9 candles, depending on whether you count the Shamash (candle used to light the others).

9. Don’t you have to celebrate all seven days?

Like most multi-day holidays, folks celebrate when they can and on various levels. Personally, I have never celebrated all seven days.

10. Isn’t it a made-up holiday?

Yes, it was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. But a lot of holidays are made up. What matters isn’t the origin of the holiday but the meaning we give to it.

To the 18 million people who will celebrate this the 46th year of Kwanzaa, I say, “Harambee” — “Let’s all pull together.” Happy Kwanzaa!

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