Monday, July 12, 2010

Shut Cho Ass Up, Jesse!

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Yesterday, the internet was all ablaze with news that Reverend Jesse Jackson called Cleveland Cavaliers Majority owner Dan Gilbert out, in regards to Gilbert's childish open letter to Lebron James. James who left the team after seven years and no championship was blasted in Gilbert's letter and warned that:
And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.
In response to that, Jackson offered the opinion that Dan Gilbert's "feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality." Yesterday and today, people are criticizing the Civil Rights activist, accusing him of using the race card, and yelling "Shut Cho Ass Up, Jesse!"

But now that I have your attention, and tricked you with the title, here's why I DON'T think Jesse should shut his ass up:

We live in a society that is seemingly one dimensional and incapable of broad interpretation. Although we desire to live in a post racial society, we cannot help but to interject race into various facets of our lives. Contradictory to our ultimate goal, when race is interjected, we feel obligated to  dispel it at costs. However, the irony of this particular situation is that we see race in Jesse's comment even when race hasn't been mentioned.

Enter Dan Gilbert, a white team owner, Lebron James, a black basketball player, and Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader. The composition of these characters present a situation where even in a self proclaimed "post-racial" society we cannot help but ignore the racial dynamics in play. Yet, the interpolation of race and racist connotations come more from our inability to expand the context from which we draw our assumptions than the actual statement.

What if Jesse Jackson wasn't talking in terms of race at all? The institution of slavery as we know it in the United States was the first system of slavery predicated upon the use of race. The social construction of race became the mode for which and through class was lived. If you were black, you were a slave. Bottom line. However, predating chattel slavery was that of bondage, serfdom, indentured servitude, etc.

Slavery simply meant a system in which people were the property of another person. Yet when we think of slavery we tend to automatically equate it to the middle passage, forced labor, and inhumane treatment. On the other hand, outside of the system of slavery in America, most slaves were debt slaves under bondage by their lenders. The betrayal felt by Gilbert comes from Lebron not winning the city of Cleveland a championship. In other words he feels Lebron has not paid out his debt.

Also keep in mind that in addition to Jackson being a civil rights leader, he is a Baptist preacher. The Bible talks heavily about a system of slavery that is not predicated upon race. Furthermore, while the Bible also does not condemn slavery it does regulate it. Particularly this one scripture:
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.  Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. Exodus 21:2
First, the Bible uses the term ebed which has a much wider meaning than the English term slavery. More accurately translations define it as a servant or hired worker. Secondly, Manumission, the act of releasing a slave after working for six years was a condition offered by the Covenant Code. However, even with these commandments slaves were often kept longer than they were supposed to be kept. Furthermore, if a slave was unable to find waged employment and make more than what he made previously, if he made anything at all, the Covenant Code gave him permission to renounce his manumission and opt to stay a slave forever. Or the property of his current master. Despite his "manumission," or the expiration of his contract Gilbert expected that Lebron stay with Cleveland. I'm sure it was a slap in the face that he also took a pay cut to be with another team.

When I first read the letter, I honestly did get the feeling that Gilbert's comments came more from a place of "How Dare You N*gger, I Made You." I made a comparative analysis between that of Gilbert's letter and the historical relationships of white and black owner/boss and worker, respectively. James as a multimillion dollar maker quite possibly heavily blurred the lines of worker and commodity. That was a luxury I could afford with my own comments. Perhaps, I am just as surface deep. 

However, with Jesse Jackson's comments, I particularly thought this time around there might be more to his opinion. I don't think it's that far off to believe Gilbert saw some part of his relationship with James as that of owner and property. The bottom line, which I believe fueled Jackson's comments is, in a world where the relationship between Gilbert and James was an "owner employee relationship -- between business partners -- and LeBron honored his contract," Gilbert's feelings of "betrayal" are particularly disturbing.

With that said, I think Jesse has a point. I also think that in an effort to move into this post racial society as well as demonize the messenger, we interjected race without looking at the complexities of the message.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where There's A Will, There's A Rae...

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When I met Rae Lewis-Thornton, this past February, I NEVER could have imagined that I would be so fortunate to build such a lasting relationship. I walked into a room at The University of Illinois-Chicago, where she was scheduled to speak, so I could deliver some collateral. In celebration of our one year anniversary The Red Pump Project was hosting an event and honoring Rae as the "Ultimate Red Pump Rocker." I walked up to her, what I'm sure was timidly, and began introducing myself. Quicker than I could say "Red Pump" she had opened her arms, given me a hug and returned the pleasure of meeting. Then the moment that had me stuck like glue, after she placed the flyers down I gave her, she turned, looked me straight in the face and said "You're staying to hear me speak right? Cause if you don't I'm gonna tweet how one of them Red Pump girls just came and left!"

During her speaking engagement, I remember her speaking on the growing usage of social media to address HIV/AIDS. Around that time Rae also began heavily using forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Rae also launched her blog about a month later. Since then she has become somewhat of a social media expert, especially as it relates to spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS. So what more appropriate than for Rae to host a social media event around this cause?

Next Thursday, July 15th, from 6:00pm - 9:00pm, Rae will present her first event "An Evening with Rae: A Meet, Greet & Tweet" at Encore Liquid Lounge, 171 West Randolph, Chicago, Illinois. Dubbed "A Social Media Event, For A Socially Conscious Cause," it will also be the official celebration of Rae's blog, "Diva Living With AIDS." Additionally, "An Evening with Rae," will be the official launch for The PROTECTED Project(TM), which was created by Rae to bring attention to HIV/AIDS and promote prevention through personal responsibility. PROTECTED also emphasizes open communication among sexual partners to change the course of HIV/AIDS.

 An Evening With Rae," is a chance for all of us to show our appreciation for the awe-inspiring work of Ms. Rae Lewis-Thornton. I have witnessed first hand the hard work Rae is putting into this event and I know for certain it will be a success.  Hope to see you there!

For More Information or to RSVP, please visit:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

You've Got Some Balls...

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There is no doubt that we live in a patriarchal society, where there is a perceived sanctity of manhood. Particularly, the culture of white masculinity is portrayed as the normative for which others should adhere to or assimilate. I suggest within this hierarchy underneath white masculinity is that of white femininity. As a result, white privilege extends to their women, as they are able to benefit from the protection of the construct of whiteness and their masculine counterparts. It is this privilege, along with just ignorance of politics, that lead columnist Kathleen Parker to write an article entitled “Obama: Our first female president.”

She begins her article by attempting to placate her audience, saying:

No, I'm not calling Obama a girlie president. But . . . he may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises, with which he has been richly endowed.
While I would love to appreciate this sentence in its contradictory glory, the rest of her commentary articulates her desire to emasculate Obama, through quoting studies she doesn’t tie into her theories and assertions she cannot intelligently defend. In order to label Obama as the first female president, Parker borrows from author Toni Morrison’s claim that President Clinton was the first Black President because:
Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.
As a result, she proposes that if Clinton was the first Black president, then Obama is the first female president. In order to dub Obama, the first woman president, the author purposely misunderstands the context in which Toni Morrison makes her statement. What Parker fails to realize is that in Morrison’s characterization of Clinton as the first Black president, she is linking the socially constructed phenomenon of race to some associated social classifications, commonalities, and constraints. Unlike Morrison’s statement, where there is long standing correlation between what it means to be Black in this country and Clinton’s lifestyle, Parker relies on fleeting gender stereotypes.

In a society where 70 percent of African American homes are headed by women there is a commonality with his single family upbringing. From the days of slavery, race was the modality by which class was lived. What this means is the legacy of poor, working-class has long been a social constraint associated with African Americans. Needless to say, the reference to the saxophone pays homage to Jazz music an art form created and perfected within African American culture. As far as McDonald’s, you should just be able to look at their commercials today to understand this comparison. McDonald’s has begun a series of advertisements specifically targeting African Americans through cultural expressions, because it is no secret the cheap fast food chain infiltrates lower-class, urban areas.

As a Black woman to see Parker take the statement of Toni Morrison and transpose it to fit her agenda is insulting. In a thinly veiled way, what it does is suggest that the comparison to Clinton as the first Black President, is so damaging, that the actual first Black president must be denigrated in some way to make atonement.

Racial and gender implications aside, Parker also cites a lot of inaccurate information in her article to support her claim. Specifically, she points to the BP Oil Crisis which has been inaccurately weighed against Hurricane Katrina. She argues that Obama’s inability to immediately act on the crisis made him passive and thus feminine. While I have my own criticisms of the Obama administration and its handling of the crisis, there is no doubt Parker ignores some facts in order to support her theory.

For instance, she stated Obama waited 56 days to address the nation. Doing so, she leaves her readers to assume that from April 20th, the day of the explosion, to the day he addressed the nation, Obama did nothing. On the contrary, within ten days, Obama had ordered a hold on new offshore drilling leases. An investigation of what caused the disaster was underway, and he sent a wide array of officials to assess the damage in the Gulf. Additionally, he secured an agreement with BP for over 20 billion in clean up funds.

Even in the midst of his passivity and inability to be an effective leader, since elected Obama has granted more funding to stem cell research, confirmed the first Hispanic woman Supreme Court judge and soon to possibly confirm another woman in the highest court. He has made huge advances in laws designed to protect individuals from hate crimes. Not to mention the success he had in passing the Economic Stimulus Package and Health Care reform, which were two of his biggest campaign platforms.

Parker also fails to mention for the first time in six years the economy expanded to its fastest rate, because of Obama. Let’s also not forget Obama’s accomplishments regarding domestic relations. Unsurprisingly, many of her assessments of President Obama are the consequence of living in an Attention Deficit Democracy. Basically, as stated in an article I read the other day, “the media views policy through the lens of politics.”

All in all, Parker premeditates the usage of gender to assess that Obama is incapable of doing his job. The insult is NOT in calling President Obama a woman, as women are great in their own right, the insult is that she insinuates he is less than a man. To suggest the perceived inadequacies of President Obama come from political effeminateness, should force the author to understand how her juxtaposition of gender capabilities maintains the status quo of patriarchy. Meanwhile, her desire to emasculate President Obama does so at a damning expense to the capabilities and success of women. Additionally, it ignores the fact that in terms of policy and legislation his portfolio already surpasses that of his predecessors.
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