It isn’t just about cops killing black people. It isn’t just about cops being killed


It isn’t just all that which has gotten us all worried and concerned.
There is more.  We forget all the incidences of mass murders that have happened in this country. We forget the incidences of rape that have occurred that have had no punishment for the rapist.

The issue at hand is all the various examples of random and unexpected violence that have occurred in the past several years.  It doesn’t make any sense. It is violence that seems to come out of the blue. It is school shootings. It is shopping malls, it is movie theaters. It is anytime anyone out of the blue starts killing people who have done nothing to him. And that is the operative point.  It seems that all of these incidences have involved single men acting alone, and often young white men. They’re angry at something in general but not someone in particular and they don’t know how to express their anger, so they kill the person in front of them. The thing that is most frightening about all of this is that it could happen to any one of us at any time. It is nothing that we can control or prevent.

We feel helpless and constantly on guard, but even being on guard won’t do us any good. It is as if we can do all the right things and still be victims. We haven’t angered anyone. We’ve done all that society expects us to do and still someone, randomly, on their own, can decide to kill us. It isn’t personal at all – it is as impersonal as it could possibly be.

We were terrified by Ebola and then the Zika virus. These two things are seemingly random and they can forever affect your life (if not end it).  There was no way to avoid them. These incidents of random violence are the same.  There is no way to prepare or prevent them from happening.

This is why we feel so helpless.  We can’t legislate it away.  We can’t do anything.  Our “thoughts and prayers” seem to be falling on deaf ears.


To turn away from the newsfeed is to be accused of being indifferent.  It is to be accused of “white privilege”.  Tell us what we can do, and we will do it.  Otherwise, to continue to drown in these stories is to be psychically attacked over and over.

Speaking up.

I overheard two regulars talking in the library today. They are both white men over 50. To be honest, only one was talking – the other was listening.

He was talking about the police officer who pulled a gun on unarmed teenagers at the pool party. He was sympathizing with the police officer, saying that he had attended two suicides that morning – and went into graphic detail about one of them. I was considering telling him to be mindful of where he was at that point alone. Small children do not need to hear brutal details like this. Heck – I don’t need to hear them.

But what made me speak up was that he kept going on about the officer, and the kids, saying that they were wild and unparented.

I leaned in and said “That still does not give him the right to pull a gun on unarmed teenagers.”

He agreed – but as I was walking away he then said to his companion that he would have shot them.

I continued to walk away. There are only so many battles to be had.

A few minutes later he caught up with me at the front desk. So many people think of us as a sympathetic ear there. We have to listen – right? Public servant, and all. We are trapped behind the desk. We can’t defend ourselves.

He said that so many of these kids weren’t being raised by parents, but by their grandparents. He is generalizing, and stereotyping. He doesn’t know these kids or what their home life is like.

I repeated – that still does not give him the right to pull a gun on them.

He said “You know what I would have done? I would have pulled a billy club on them!”

I said “That is unfortunate.” and walked away from the desk. He is unreasonable and it isn’t worth continuing the discussion with someone who speaks like this.

Note that in front of me he changed what he would have done from shooting them to striking them with a billy club.

As I was walking away, he again repeated that the officer had attended two suicides that morning. I did not respond.

Whether that is true or not – does seeing someone kill himself give another person a right to kill?

To be silent to injustice is to condone it. Will he change because of what I said? Doubtful. But that wasn’t the point. It would be great if he changed, but if I didn’t speak up I would have been part of the problem. I don’t feel qualified to have long debates on any hot topics. I do better with writing than speaking. But I had to – because to me, his words were the same as hitting someone in the face. I have to speak up, or the violence will continue. The poison that he was spewing would spread. I cannot allow this to happen in front of me.

Rise up, not riot

The riots in Ferguson speak to the pain and frustration that the black community feels. Yet they are saying the wrong thing. They are saying that violence and destruction is standard operating procedure for the black community.

We all know that isn’t so. We all know that the majority of our black neighbors are kind, hard-working and polite. In short, they aren’t thugs and hoodlums. Sadly though, good doesn’t sell in the news, so we don’t see their stories on the evening news. The only problem is that there are thugs and hoodlums. They aren’t just stories. The only problem is that there are “baby daddies” and “welfare moms” aplenty. Clichés come from reality. The actions of the few speak for the whole and they drag down everybody.

When college educated black youths are made fun of for “talking white” when they speak clearly it drags down everybody. When some black employees “play the race card” to stay employed even though they are doing half the work (or only there half the time) it drags down everybody.

Yes, it is time to rise up but not with riots and destruction. If the black community wants to make a real change, to be really heard, there needs to be a collective decision to “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Use the library to get books not DVDs. And by books I mean educational and uplifting ones, not ones that teach the same old script of “thug meets girl, thug uses girl”. The entire genre of “urban erotic fiction” is dumbing-down black women and enslaving their hearts and minds.

Celebrate education rather than ignorance. Sure misery loves company but miserable people aren’t good to hang out with. Rise up past the peer pressure and the collective dumbing down of our society.

Get healthy. Good health leads to strong minds and spirits. Eat better. Exercise. All these things are doable even with limited means. If we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t we get free. If we look for openings rather than closed doors we will see them. Quit smoking and go for a walk instead. Avoid all sugar, caffeine and fried and salty foods. These socially accepted addictions are dragging down us all.

Sure we have a race problem in America. Sure we have a long way to go. Sure there have been problems on both sides of the race wall. Sure people are going to say that I don’t get it because I’m white and have white privilege.

Yet I do know what it is like to feel dragged down by my peers who wanted me to be as petty and lazy as them, the worst version of lowest common denominator. I got a college degree and they are still working in fast food. I do know what it is like to have a learning disability and rise up above it through hard work. It is why I now tutor learning-disabled kindergartners. I do know what it is like to be obese and addicted to drugs. It is why I write now to show there is a way out.

It isn’t easy to change but it is possible. Change starts one step at a time, one person at a time. The strong have to encourage the week. Good deeds and efforts soon start to outweigh the bad and momentum is achieved.

All this may sound like I’m blaming the black community when it was certainly the fault of police who shoot unarmed, unresisting black youths. It is certainly the fault of the judicial system that lets the guilty go free. We need to work on that too but that will take longer. Right now the first and best change has to start from within. Each individual has to decide to stand up and walk away from the old rules and the old clichés. Each individual needs to lift up everybody else with their actions. It is about caring for yourself and our community through the true empowerment that comes from education and health.

Action? Affirmative.

I read a story of a lady who was applying for jobs online. She thought that she had a pretty good résumé and skill set. But she wasn’t getting any hits. She thought that it might be because she had a noticeably African American name. She created a fake profile, with all the same information – schooling, work experience, and skills. But this time, she used a name that sounded white.

Her inbox was flooded with requests for interviews.

She thinks it is racist, and it is, but it isn’t for why she thinks it is.

I’m not going to win any friends with this post. I’m pretty sure someone is going to say I’m being racist. But if we don’t start talking about this problem, it will continue. And good people will keep getting shafted because of the actions of bad people.

We’ve created our own monster.

Affirmative action prevents someone from being fired because of their race. This means that someone who is African American cannot lose their job solely because they are African American.

But here’s the reality of it.

It also means that someone who is African American cannot be fired, or even censured, or even get a bad review AT ALL, because of the fear that they will pull the race card.

Thus, employers are afraid to hire someone who is African American, because they cannot treat and train them the same as every other employee. They are above the rules.

The intent of Affirmative Action was to help them, but sadly, some people are using it as a way to get away with bad work. This is affecting everybody else.

I’ve seen this over and over again. I was born and raised in the South. In my nearly thirty years of working, I’ve seen this play out over and over. When I lived in the North, I saw an entirely different thing. It was better there. So this is why I’m writing about this. Perhaps people don’t see this because it doesn’t happen where they are. But it happens plenty here, and it is terrible.

African American employees are allowed to do substandard work, and they still get to not only keep their jobs, they will get raises. Sometimes they last long enough to become supervisors. They still can’t do the work, but they get paid thousands more than those who actually do the work.

They can come in late and leave work early, and nothing happens.

They can be surly or indifferent to their fellow coworkers and customers and nothing will happen.

Is this true for all African Americans? No, certainly not. I’ve had the privilege of working with many fine people of all races who were great employees.

But I’ve also had the sad misfortune of working with too many people who were African American who were terrible employees. If they were challenged about their bad work habits, they threatened to sue for discrimination.

I can understand why employers are not wanting to take the risk.

So yes, we need Affirmative Action – we need members of the African American community to affirmatively decide to act – to self-police, and to hold each other up to a higher standard.

Sure, you shouldn’t be fired because of your race, but likewise it shouldn’t be that because of your race you can’t be fired. Ability should matter, right?


In the same way that children learn prejudice, they can unlearn it.

Many years ago, I was at a Balinese shadow puppet performance at the Smithsonian. We were all sitting on the floor. A nearby child noticed that one of the male performers was wearing a skirt. The child was a young boy, probably about seven years old. He and I had worked up a rapport, having talked about the event. It was a pretty exciting show. All the performers were wearing long flowing clothes in rich fabrics. The headdresses alone were pretty off the charts, with all the gold and wires and wiggling bits.

The child looked at me and he said “A man wearing a skirt? That’s weird!” This child wasn’t even my child and yet I felt an obligation to help. I said that women couldn’t even wear pants just 50 years ago, and in Biblical times nobody wore pants. What is normal now isn’t always normal. Normal changes. Plus, there is also the idea of men wearing kilts in Scotland.

It was awesome to watch his head expand. His limited understanding of the world just got bigger.

I also know a child who saw a spider outside and it attempted to kill it. I pointed out that the spider was supposed to be outside. Outside is the home of spiders and so it is okay to leave it alone. She looked at me funny, but then she understood. She had learned somewhere else that spiders were bad and the spiders should be killed but I taught her otherwise. If they are outside don’t kill them.

Prejudices are simply limited understandings. They are simply the result of not having enough information.

This is how all of us learned what we learned. We were given just enough information to get us going, and then left to figure out the rest. Hopefully we fill in the rest with good stuff. If we don’t, it is up to teachers to help us out. Teachers come in all varieties. You can be a teacher, and you don’t even need a certificate. If you come across someone with a limited understanding, it is important to teach them a different way of thinking, to fill in the gaps.

I have a friend who is white. She was walking with a little girl who also was white, whom she had just met. The little girl told her a story about someone in school who was mean to her. That someone happened to be black. The girl generalized and said “Black people are so mean.”

My friend was very upset by this and told her about her nephew who is half black and said not all black people are mean. She was a bit distraught about this whole exchange hours later. She thought it was tragic. She couldn’t believe that prejudice still exists these days.

It wasn’t tragic. It was an important moment to teach this child to see things in a bigger way. Our job as adults is to teach them that not everything they know is everything there is. Our job as adults is to expand their understanding. We are supposed to be teaching them to open up their minds and to understand that the world is a lot bigger place than they think.

If you are cooking on the stove and you burn your thumb you may think that the stove is a dangerous thing, but if you have a good teacher with you she will explain how not to get hurt. Then you will start to cook again.

The same is true with people, and cultures, and insects, and anything. If you get hurt once you may generalize and think that is always the way it is. If you have a good teacher with you, you’ll learn how to interact with that person, that culture, that insect, and you will learn that not everything will hurt you.

Our job as teachers is to help children learn to establish boundaries and also how to break boundaries down.

The best part? You can be a teacher and not even be in the classroom. The whole world is your classroom, and teachable moments can happen anytime.

It isn’t sad that this child thought the way she did. This is just part of being a child. She has generalized, like we all do. The sad part would have been to not use that moment as an opportunity.

Handout, handbag

I was walking downtown and saw a black man cross my path. He was a bit shabbily dressed – worn t-shirt, baggy jeans. While I’ve been taught to be wary of strangers, I’ve been taught that message applies double to black men.

Is it fair? Is it fair that I have been taught to think that a black man wants something from me? My handbag. A handout. Or something more heinous.

How much have we created the very thing we expect, by expecting it? If the only interaction white people, white women especially, are able to have with black men is an adversarial one, it is all we will have.

People need to interact with each other. It is part of what makes us human. We live in community. It is our common life that sustains us.

We may think we live independently, but we don’t. We eat food that is grown and harvested by others. We use electricity and water that is harnessed and directed to us by others.

When we allow only a small kind of interaction, and a warped kind of interaction at that, to take place between entire groups all the time, then we are short-changing individuals of their basic humanity. We are seeing them as things and not as people.

Perhaps I was taught that black men are lesser are thieves and beggars because that is what was seen as the truth by my role models. Perhaps there were far more bad examples than good examples for them.

But perhaps there were far more bad examples because that is what they were looking for. Perhaps they created this reality.

In the child rearing books that I have read, you are supposed to ignore the bad behavior and praise the good. Children, like all people, crave attention. Even if it is negative attention, it is still attention. If we focus and give energy to bad behavior, we will get more of it.

If we tell black males that we will relate to them only in terms of being thieves or thugs or transients, we will get more of it.

Time to change the script.


We recently went to get gas at a local store. A carload of young black males pulled up in front of us at a diagonal. They were there to get snacks at the shop and to get gas. But how the driver parked was weird. He parked in such a way that there is no way we could pull forward to leave, and there is no way another car could have pulled through. How they parked was selfish and thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Then their music was insanely loud. I was in the car with the windows closed. Their windows were also closed, yet their music was still so loud I could clearly hear it. They did not care whether other people wanted quiet or not. Through their actions they showed that they didn’t care about other people at all. One of the passengers pulled out a roll of cash and started fanning it. There had to be at least five hundred dollars in his hands.

Then I noticed the driver’s shirt. It was black and had huge letters in a white typeface. The letters took up a fourth of the front of the shirt. They spelled out “HATED”

What a way to self-identify. My thought was if you feel like you are hated, then stop acting in a way that makes people hate you. Act in a civilized manner. Start acting as if you aren’t the only person around.

Then I remember how I’ve seen a lot of black mothers talk to their children. Not all, certainly. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Maybe one in ten use calm, friendly tones with their children. If they talk to their children at all it is sharply. It is hostile. It is frustrated. They bark at their children. “Stop doing that”. “Get over here.” The tone from these mothers says “you are a waste of my time. You are an inconvenience. I didn’t want you. ”

No wonder their children grow up feeling hated. No wonder they grow up angry. Maybe their mothers spoke the same way to them. I’m just reporting what I’m seeing. I’m not saying it should be like this. I’m saying it shouldn’t. I’m saying it is time to change things.

How much of this comes from the mothers reading “urban erotic fiction” with such winning titles as “Thong On Fire” and “Pit Bull in a Skirt”? No, I’m not making these titles up. Sadly, the most popular reading genre in my library for black women is “urban erotic fiction” – where the men are gangsters and the women are whores. It is junk food for the soul. Actually, it is worse than junk food. It teaches women that they are nothing. They are meat. They are things. They are something to be used and thrown away. Women read this and they learn this script. They learn that they are less than nothing. They learn that they have no purpose in life other than to get laid by a man, who is going to leave them.

Why would anybody want to put this message into themselves? This is poison.

While I support the right of everybody to read what they want, I also reserve the right to think that what they are doing is harmful to themselves, and by extension, society. I think the same of the general American culture as well. People can refuse to exercise and eat well. They have that right. But I still have the right to point out that not only will they suffer for their bad choices, but we all suffer from having sick people. We cannot possibly move forward if we are all stuck to the couch. And it doesn’t matter if we are on the couch eating junk food, or reading junk books.

Black and white – self respect and expecting the good

I saw a story about twin girls who were born – one was black and one was white. Both parents were half black and half white – and the genes had shuffled around and produced an all-white and an all-black child. I saw another story about a woman who gave birth to a white child, and she and her partner were both black. Both mother and child were genetically tested and it was proven that she had not cheated – the child was hers.

We can go into the concept of even using the term “black” versus “African-American” if we want, but the parents in this case weren’t in America, so they aren’t “African-American” themselves. Plus, my “African-American” friends frequently use the term “black” to describe themselves. Morgan Freeman says we shouldn’t use any term – just talk about people as people. But that isn’t going to work either.

Because we do have different experiences. We see the world differently. The world sees us differently. Every person is viewed, is judged, based on their appearance. Some of it we have a choice about – do we present ourselves as rich, as concerned about our image, as lazy, as bohemian, as eccentric…you get the point. Actors know about this. If you want people to see you a certain way, you can change how you are seen.

But you can’t change your race. That is a lot of surface area to cover. You can’t just put on a different hat and have people think you are a different person. It isn’t that simple.

I remember a study where people were applied with stage makeup. They had fake scars put on themselves. They noticed that people treated them differently. A little later in the study, the participants went through the makeup process, but didn’t get the scars put on. They were not allowed to look in a mirror either time – with, or without the fake scar. Even without the scar, they reported that people treated them differently. They still thought they had the scar, and they thought that other people were reacting to them as if they had the scar.

Really what they were reacting to was the participant’s fear and hesitation about being judged for having a scar – which wasn’t there.

So there is something internal about this.

I remember when I lived in Chattanooga I was working at a record store. A black lady was standing in front of me getting help. A white lady came in and, not noticing that I was helping another person, asked for help. She was standing about 10 feet away. I indicated that I was helping another person, and I’ll help her in a little bit. She noticed the other lady, apologized, and continued to look around the store, patiently waiting for me. Two days later, the reverse situation happened. I was helping a white lady, and a black lady came in and asked for help. I said the exact same thing to her – that I was helping this lady in front of me and I’ll help her as soon as possible. She stormed out.

For me to treat people differently because of their race is racist.
For them to assume that I’m treating them differently because of my race is racist.

I’ve heard and read plenty of discussion saying that black people can’t be racist. There is something about their definition of racist that isn’t in the dictionary. They use issues of power – of higher versus lower. They say that the racist is someone who has power in the situation. Their argument is that since a black person does not have power, she can’t be racist.

The definition of racist has nothing to do with this. It is to treat someone differently because of their race. Power has nothing at all to do with it. We’ve added that extra flavor to it, but when we do we miss the point.

To deny that there is a problem because you don’t like how it is being defined is a problem.

There was another situation in Chattanooga that I’ll never forget. I was about twenty years old. I was in a store in a mall and I saw a lady holding a child. They were both black. I had no way of knowing the gender of the child (babies are rather ambiguous – this is why some people get little girl’s ears pierced) and no way of knowing if this was the child’s mom or grandmother or aunt. I didn’t want to say “How is your little girl?” and get an earful. So I said “How is this one?” Oh – that was the wrong thing to say. “How dare you say ‘this one’! ‘This one’ is a child!” It went on and on. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say. The more I think she just was waiting to be offended.

These situations in Chattanooga made me not want to talk to a black person ever again.

Then I moved to the DC area. I was overwhelmed with the difference. There was no chip on the shoulder. There was no sense of “you owe me”. Each person, regardless of race, talked to me the same. There was no sense of ‘higher’ or ‘lesser’ – they weren’t acting from a sense of having a scar that they thought I was reacting to. There was no “you owe me” mentality. It was refreshing. I see this kind of healthy attitude in Nashville too, and I’m encouraged, but there is still work to be done.

How much of people’s reactions to you come from your sense that they are going to react to you? I’m remembering The Dog Whisperer here – he would walk into a room with a dog that was uncontrollable. He would walk in calm and assured, and the dog would react totally differently. He expected calmness, and the dog became calm. How many of us forget that we are animal at the core? We are human, but we respond on an instinctual level to energy. If we expect bad, we are going to find it. If we expect good, we are going to find it.

If we lead the way expecting people to treat us badly, then we will find that is true. People give us what we expect. So it is time to expect good. Lead the way.

It is time to wipe the chalkboard clean and start over. I am tired of the old rules of behavior being applied to me. I didn’t own anybody’s family. I wasn’t raised in luxury. I am not to blame for all that has happened in the past. I will not take the blame for something I have no control over.

I’m trying to do what I can to make things better, but there has to be some meeting in the middle. I try to treat everyone the same. Respect. Common courtesy. Civility. But I expect the same in return. This is regardless of race.

It is my responsibility to help break down these walls, but it is also the responsibility of black people to stop building them up.