Ferguson, Missouri, Yale and What We Learn If We Listen

Mizzou bookstore
Mizzou bookstore

The first version of this post appeared in August of last year, just 15 months ago.  (Ironically, Ferguson is only 2 hours from Colombia, MO, home of the University of Missouri. ) Much of that year’s BlogHer had dealt with intersectionality; Ferguson demonstrated how much I didn’t know and how much I could learn from listening to friends of color both on Facebook and on their blogs.

Well – the posts connected to what’s been happening at Yale and U. Missouri illustrate that all the more.  I’m going to leave that earlier post but just so it’s clear what I mean, here one from a professor that circulated in the past week.

Listen, I need you to understand what I’m about to say. This is what I taught the students at Morehouse last week.

2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.  Shaun King

One of the bloggers I admire most is Kelly Wickham, who writes  Mocha Momma. I “met” her online 7 years ago because she was a reading specialist and, as the parent of a dyslexic child, I was so grateful for the committed, loving, determined way she wrote about her work. I kind of stalked her in comments until we met at BlogHer in 2007. (Actually I also stalked her after that, too, but at least by then she knew who I was.)

She writes, with honesty and rage, about race.  About family, and  love, and education and whatever else occurs to her, but also about race.  I’ve learned a lot from her, including how much I didn’t know.  As the years have passed, and more women of color have joined BlogHer and Kelly’s Facebook feed, I’ve learned from others, too.   The BlogHer community grew and widened, and with it the gut understanding of the whole community.  On our blogs we tell the truth, and the different truths shared by the bloggers who are now a part of my life have been an immeasurable gift.

Of course it is beyond wrong that, in 2014, we still have to seek diversity, to go out of our way to learn lessons we should have learned long ago, and that those most in pain still experience so much that we haven’t figured out how to learn.

The trouble is that there hasn’t been nearly enough intersection between us and those experiencing  the harshest emotions that emerge in response to American racism.

I remember once talking with author Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, who said to me “Don’t you see, we black mothers must be lionesses to protect our sons.”  I thought of her statement often as I was raising my own.

I remember a colleague describing to me, when we were both pregnant, her fear of the first time someone called her not-yet-born child a “n*$%#&r” – of what she would say to him, what she would do.

But despite having African-American colleagues and friends, I’m not sure I ever, until these past days, completely heard the depth of anger and despair that lives within so many.

It’s not that I didn’t know; most people I know care about and have seen plenty of racial injustice and have worked, in our own ways, to change it.  But that’s different from opening someone else’s door and walking in.  It’s on fire in there.  And it should be.

Listen to these:

Everyone can’t stand up the moment something pisses the off and we’re all different in how we react. Some people shut down because they don’t even know where to start. Some people just need a nudge to be emboldened to speak. Some people need to know they’re needed before they speak.

Well if you need that nudge, here it is. If you’re afraid because you don’t want to say the wrong thing, push past that fear. Because right now, your silence about the continued devaluation of Black lives is wrong. Your lack of acknowledgement is not ok. If you need tips before speaking out here’s 3: don’t blame the person who was killed. Don’t say you’re color-blind. Acknowledge the racism at play.

Speaking up when it matters is usually when it’s also the hardest. When your voice shakes, that’s when you’re standing in truth. But that’s usually when it is most needed. And when you do it, someone else might be encouraged to do the same. Do not be silent.  Awesomely Luvvie 

I am outraged but I do not know what to do with my outrage that might be productive, that might move this world forward toward a place where black lives matter, and where black parents no longer need to have “the talk” with their children about how not to be killed by police and where anger over a lifetime of wrongs is not judged, but understood and supported. Roxanne Gay

Black bodies matter. Black bodies matter. Black bodies matter. Say it with me: Black bodies matter. This isn’t a question. This isn’t a euphemism. This isn’t an analogy. This is a fact. Black cis and trans boys, girls, men, and women and non-binary folks, they all matter. Until that fact becomes a universal truth due to the precise liberty and justice the Constitution of this country promises, I won’t stop fighting and neither should you.  Jenn M. Jackson

But it wasn’t what I could see and hear as Ferguson residents fled and were pursued into residential areas that gave me chills. It was what I couldn’t see. Because behind the walls of those smoke-shrouded homes were parents comforting their frightened children. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there. They could have been me. They could have been my children.Kymberli Barney for Mom 2.0

This is what I need, dear friend.

I need to know that you are not merely worried about this most tragic of worst case scenarios befalling my son; I need to know that you are out there changing the ethos that puts it in place. That you see this as something that unites us as mothers, friends and human beings.

My son needs me, as much as yours needs you. Sadly, my son needs me more. He needs someone to have his back, when it seems that the police, the men he’d wave to with excitement as a little boy, see him as a being worthy only of prison or death.

I need you, too, because I can’t do this alone.     Keesha Beckford “Dear White Moms” on BonBon Break

This is where the story gets tricky. This is where our son paced up and down the stairs—in his under shirt, gym shorts and crew socks—telling us about the police who came to our door and handcuffed our son and pulled him outside.    “Why?” It was the only question I could come up with — “why?”       

His hands ran over his face and found each other behind his head. I knew this look too. The one of lost words—of previous trauma—of discouragement. 

“I don’t know. There’s some robberies in the area? I guess? And they saw me here—I don’t know. They thought it was me. They thought it was me and wouldn’t listen. They didn’t believe me that this was my house.”

He shook his head and looked at me. “It didn’t even matter that I had a key, moms.”   Elora Nicole

For each of these there are dozens and dozens more.  No more to say.


Race, Power, Education, . . . and Football

1950 is the year the first Black student enrolled at the University of Missouri.
1950 is the year the first Black student enrolled at the University of Missouri.

“We have to do it on our own, Cindy.  You can’t help anymore.”  She said it gently, but it was pretty painful.  I’d been involved in campus civil rights advocacy since I’d arrived as a freshman in 1964, just a little bit more than a year after the March on Washington.   Now it was the fall of 1966 and we were back from summer vacation.

I was early for the first action meeting of the year and ran into my friend Cheryl on the steps.  I started to ask about plans for the year and she shook her head — then told me that the Black students on campus had decided to build from within their own community.  It was kind of “thanks but no thanks.”  I was sad, but not angry – I knew what she was saying and as much as I wanted to be part of what they were doing, I understood their desire to act independently.

That was almost 50 years ago and still students of color are forced to demand respect, rather than assume it.  This time, at least, they got it.

My sister Pittsburgher Dr. Goddess sums up: “The Movement we just witnessed was intersectional, humanist, gendered, Black-led and labor-fed. Celebrate the Vision!” 

OH – and because we should always seek the wisdom of Dave Zirin in moments like these,, take a look at  this thoughtful meditation on racial justice AND the power of student athletes.


Did We Thank Title IX on Thanksgiving?

imageThere’s a beautiful breakfast buffet at the hotel we stayed at for Thanksgiving weekend; Wednesday morning was a pretty thin crowd so there was a lot of easy chat from table to table and in the buffet line. Just in front of me at the omelet station was a very tall young woman — around 30 or 35.

“My husband and I together aren’t as tall as you are!” I teased. “Did you hate that in high school?”

“Oh, no” she replied, “I played basketball so I was fine about being tall.”

“WOW – Thank you Title IX” I laughed.

You can guess what came next: she’d never heard of 42-year-old Title IX and had no idea what it was or why it had been so necessary or what would have become of her basketball opportunities without it. Like my most-admired friend Veronica Arreola,  we all need to help the girls coming up behind us understand how far we’ve come and how very far we still need to go.


The NFL, Women and Spartacus

SpartacusNobody can stop talking about the NFL.  Me neither.  Yesterday I wrote about the complicity of broadcast networks and sponsors  (who by the way paid my salary for more than 25 years) in this issue of women’s and children’s safety.  I’ve never seen so many tone-deaf people in my life.  Even CoverGirl can’t seem to get it right.

But today, on Microblog Monday, I have another question.  What do we do about this world of modern gladiators in a game that damages their brains until many of them are never able to think clearly again?  How do we protect them from the impact of the conditioning and brutality that is part of their work?  And what is the difference between NFL owners and those who sent Rome’s ancient, doomed fighters into the Coliseum?

Women Are 45% of NFL TV Audience. FORTY-FIVE!! Time to Take On the Networks

Photo by Coemgenus via Wikimedia
Photo by Coemgenus via Wikimedia

We need to do something (HINT: #boycottNFLsponsors)

Why is it so hard to affect the NFL and its disgraceful responses to abusive players?  After all, women are 45% of the NFL fan base.  It makes sense to care what we think.

Sadly, there’s that other thing. To see what we’re up against, follow the money.

Team owners make money from tickets and souvenirs but even more from TV contracts and the networks who pay for them.  It’s all nicely divided up.  In the 2011 9-year NFL-broadcast contract, CBS gets American Football Conference games – and is asking $500,000 for thirty second spots, according to Forbes, Fox carries the National Football Conference and NBC broadcasts Sunday night in prime time – with ads going for $628,000/30-second spot. Each network gets an exclusive crack at three of the nine Super Bowls and all the revenue that comes with it. (Bloomberg News)

Here’s what Forbes said this time a year ago, “Live appointment television—already extremely important—will only grow in significance in coming years, as television programming and audiences continue to fragment. On TV, the NFL is king.”

This morning (9/15/14) Joe Scarborough, never one for impulse control, lashed out at NYT columnist Alan Schwarz for his mention of the failure of broadcasters to acknowledge their own complicity in the shameful collaboration among the NFL, sponsors and the networks who charge them for their ads.

It’s like the story of the nail and the horse and the war*:  Sponsors pay the networks, networks pay the NFL, the NFL divides the revenue among the teams and the owners combine these huge paydays with their ticket sales.

Listen to the Wall Street Journal describe the most recent TV rights auction:

The auction was a sign of the NFL’s huge leverage over television networks, which are increasingly looking to the NFL to help fortify them against the rise of online video services, the stagnation of pay TV and other threats. “It’s almost like the networks are afraid to say no to the NFL,” says one senior TV executive involved in the bidding process for Thursday night games.

So.  If the NFL is king and everyone, especially the TV networks who profit from ad revenue, ratings and football programming in general, are enablers then we have to make it scarier to continue than to take a stand.  That means finding, and boycotting, NFL sponsors and letting the network brass know what we’re doing.  (I boycotted Greece for years during the Junta years.  Then an Amnesty International leader told me “If they don’t know why you’re not coming, it doesn’t do any good.   You need to write to them and tell them why you’re not there.“)

That’s the other part of it.  We need to be noisy and bold and brassy and (forgive me Ms. Sandburg) bossy about this – holler like hell in support of our sisters and put our money where our mouths are.  Nobody needs any of the stuff that advertise on NFL games and there are alternatives for all of them anyway.

Women’s bodies should not be paying for the bad business planning of television networks; if they won’t take a stand with the NFL, let them find another way to make their money!


UPDATE: See this Jezebel story on CoverGirl, too.

Microsoft  @Microsoft (big deal w/NFL to use ONLY Surface Tablets and other MS technology on the sidelines

Gatorade  @gatorade                 Bud Light  @budlight

Visa  @visa                                  Verizon @verizon

Papa John’s  @PapaJohns           FedEx  @FedEx

Marriott  @Marriott                    Pepsi  @pepsi

General Motors  @GM                Campbell’s Soup  @CampbellSoupCo

#boycottNFLsponsors  Please add more in comments!


*For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.   

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Barack Obama, Style, Change, and Basketball

Rice cover1
I really like Barack Obama – anyone who reads this blog knows that. And it's not just his ideas that are so attractive; his style is just stunning. I'm no starry eyed kid; I've been around the block with many candidates who looked better than they turned out to be.  But in this case, it feels like the more you look the better it gets.  It's scary, in fact, because it can't be true – there are sure to be grim and discouraging moments and long dry periods.  Even so, there is so much room for hope.  I wanted to share a couple of moments that add to that hope as we look forward in these very scary times.

First, last week's issue of the New York Time Magazine included a piece by Ron Suskind, author of A Hope in the Unseen, called Change.  You really should read it, but for now consider this story that Valerie Jarrett told Suskind as evidence that I'm not delusional to be so excited about the basic qualities of this man.

It was in Iowa, just a year ago. Obama was way behind Hillary Clinton. The heavyweights were called in, 200 members of Obama’s national finance committee. The money people. Many had given mightily. And now, it seemed, nothing was working. Obama said that before they
all gathered to pass judgment, he wanted them — all 200 — to meet his grass-roots field team in Iowa.They did, then gathered in a room at an Iowa arts center. The room was tense.
Obama explained that day that they were running a different kind of campaign, a real grass-roots campaign, one that grew from the bottom up, from the dirt, and that it takes time for those roots to take hold. And the heavy hitters nodded; yes, they understood that idea, but it wasn’t working. The polls were the proof. They showed Clinton with a double-digit lead.
And Jarrett can remember how Obama looked at them, hard-eyed, everything on the line. “ ‘Did you think I was kidding when I said this was the unlikely journey?’ ” Jarrett recalls him saying. “‘You thought this would be simple? No, change is never simple. Change is hard.

‘Listen, I know you’re nervous,’ he went on. ‘But if you’re nervous, I’ll hold your hand. We’re going to get through this together. And if we win Iowa, we’ll win this country.’ ”

Jarrett said: “He turned their emotion around. He made sense of it. He told them why we were there and what was within our grasp. And people became jubilant. You
never heard cheering like that. That was the turn, where it happened.”

To me that says it all. There's lots more in the piece though; I just read it last night and was just knocked out by it.

Then, thanks to RoadKill Refugee, who always seems to find things no one else has noticed, I came upon this remarkable interview between Obama and my old boss Bryant Gumbel. Again, everything that is revealed seems positive. Wise, funny, unpretentious – a man, as so many have observed, who is comfortable in his own skin; a man who doesn't have to prove anything to anybody.

Make of these what you will – but amid all the staffing speculation and bailout talk, school choice, puppy shopping and Inauguration gossip, this is a look at what appears to be some of the real stuff behind this person we've chosen to lead us for the next four years.