It’s not about the national anthem, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the bus.

I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]

For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.

Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:

If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee

Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.

 

What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

France, Muslims and Terrorism

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As noted in this mini-documentary from CBS news “It sucks to be a Muslim in France”…

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/les-banlieues-seeds-of-terror

[I consulted with the producer of the mini-documentary as an expert on the topic]

One of my first trips to Paris as a graduate student in 1995 coincided with a series of terrorist bomb attacks, likely by Algerian Islamic extremists (CNN, 1995), that led to the removal of all garbage cans in the city. Many years later, as a professor working on a book project, I happened to stay in a hotel which was about a block away from where one of the busses had blown up during the 7/7 bombing attacks. Many have written about whether or not terror attacks like the 7/7 bombings or 9/11 have led to a securitization of immigration policy. What is different now is that Europe is currently experiencing the largest flow of refugees since the end of World War II, and most of those refugees are coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, meaning many of these migrants are Muslims.

Many European countries have faced terror attacks over the years and have taken a variety of measures to improve security. However, even though new measures may be taken to deal with security, such as stricter screening of immigrants and refugees, most European countries, including countries like Germany, France and Sweden, have remained open to refugees fleeing violence, whether they were Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Balkans or Iraqi minorities fleeing sectarian violence.

Europe has faced a challenge integrating Muslims from various countries and backgrounds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recent attacks in Paris appear to have been perpetrated by so-called “home grown terrorists,” i.e., radicalized Muslims who were born and raised in Europe. This makes the connection between terrorism and refugees rather tenuous.

Perhaps a larger issue, in terms of integration, is the situation for immigrants, ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, given that many of them live on the margins of society. Many are the targets of racism, but also have to deal with living in places like the suburbs (banlieus) of Paris where they have little educational and job opportunities. France has been trying to address this issue for many years, with a variety of policies, including antidiscrimination policy, as described in my book, Legislating Equality. Although the French government initially embraced antidiscrimination policy through its equality body, politics eventually reduced the impact of its activities related to racism.

Journalist and documentarian Rokhaya Diallo has examined these issues through the lens of Americans visiting France in her recent work, Steps to Liberty. Going back to the 1995 movie, La Haine (Hate) it seems that little has changed. However, I have seen a new awareness developing among various groups including Muslims and those who now consider themselves black and French. I have written about the impact of racial equality legislation on blacks in France in the book Invisible Minorities. These groups have the potential to develop as voting blocks and to impact politics in France, as well as other European countries. These political developments can be important to the integration of minority groups and may ultimately create a new outlet for the frustrations that can lead to radicalization.

 

 

 

 

 

From Ferguson to Austin – Many Questions, Fewer Answers

“What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”  Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

     I feel like whatever I write tonight will be unsatisfying, but maybe these words will touch someone, somewhere. I happened to go running this morning in a different direction than my normal route, along Shoal creek and under 35th St. It only occurred to me on the way back that I was running past yet another location where an unarmed black man had been killed, Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.  It was a beautiful morning, but I couldn’t escape the reality that is America today. In this case, the detective involved was indicted.
     It has been an interesting week, to say the least. I feel exhausted from the range of emotions that have come from the barrage of news from immigration, to sexual assault, to Ferguson. With the news that there would be no indictment in the case of Michael Brown Monday evening, I saw similar responses from most of my African American friends — we are all tired. We are tired because yet again we have to come to grips with an institutional structure that devalues the lives of black and brown people. We are tired because we have to explain to our children why people are so frustrated. We are tired of being angry. And yet we soldier on, we try to understand, we create communities online and in real life to try to learn, teach and share so that we can somehow chip away at the underlying issues that lead to these incomprehensible outcomes.
     I believe and hope that we are at a turning point because of the fact that so many African Americans, along with their allies, are in a position to be heard on these issues. We are professors at universities, speaking on radio and television. We are trying to find answers from our research and sharing it on social media. We are marching, taking care of our families, taking care of our careers.
     Today I have been reading the news, blog posts by friends, social media. I see calls for coming together as a community, maintaining hope for the future. I can’t help but be hopeful, it’s my nature. I have to believe that we can find answers to these vexing questions that make me fear for the future of minority communities, and even my own children. For at least the last year or so I have thought long and hard about the issue of social justice, what it means, and what I can do to promote it. I’m disappointed that I’m still trying to find the answer to that question, but I know that there are many of us out there in the same situation.
     So I proudly wore my shirt today, declaring myself “unapologetically black” and that is how I will continue to carry myself. I am cheered by the conversation I had with a friend last week, who will benefit from the President’s executive action on immigration. She is very excited by the fact that for the first time in over 20 years she may be able to go and visit her parents in Mexico with her son who was born here. We all have our struggles, and change is slow. The future is murky, and there are no guarantees that things will improve, but I often describe myself as a change agent and I will rest, rejuvenate and take that next step, hoping that those of us who believe in justice, despite being bloodied and bruised, will go on to fight another day.
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The war at home…

The juxtaposition of the passing of Robin Williams with the death of Michael Brown, shot by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, was a stunning example of the disconnect we have in this country. So many posts on social media about depression, suicide and reaching out for help. It made me wonder how many people ever think about the never-ending impact of discrimination that ultimately leads to the deaths of African-Americans, Latinos and so many others in this country, at the hands of the people who have pledged to protect us as citizens.

America has been sleep-walking into a situation where the police have become the occupiers in some neighborhoods.  Dressed in fatigues, carrying weapons that belong on a battlefield, not in a residential neighborhood, and seeing those who they have sworn to protect as “the enemy.” As noted by the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org/war-comes-home-excessive-militarization-american-policing), the excessive militarization of the police has become more than a ticking time bomb, it is now exploding in the deaths of people across the country.

Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

How do we de-escalate this situation?  Ferguson, Missouri looks like a war zone, with the frustration of so many years finally boiling over.  But it’s not just in Ferguson, people across the country are venting their frustrations and standing with the people of Ferguson, like these students from Howard University:

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photo via https://twitter.com/The_Blackness48

I don’t have any answers, I just know that it seems like we have reached a tipping point. I know that I will continue doing what I can to educate people and try to work on changing the tide. But it has an impact on all of us, the sleepless nights, the anger, the micro- and macro-aggressions that we have to deal with on a daily basis. Worrying about what might happen to our children, our husbands, ourselves…it ultimately damages the psyche, not just of an individual, but of an entire country.

And then the anger comes…

Yes, I’m angry.  I’m an angry mother to two boys who shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they are carrying a toy gun while playing in the front yard.  I shouldn’t have to worry that my son will be driving in a couple of years and I’ll have to teach him how to avoid being pulled over by the police.

I’m angry that the world looks at the events in Ferguson, Missouri and many will use it as an example of why those black people deserve to be gunned down.

I’m angry that too many of our elected officials are unwilling to face up to the violence and acknowledge the frustrations that lie underneath it.

I’m angry that we lose people we love to depression and suicide, that we don’t take mental illness seriously in this country, treating it like the medical condition that it is.

I’m angry that we can’t support a healthcare system in this country that pays for critical medications for those who can’t afford it.

I’m angry that I can’t sleep at night, worrying about what is next for our country, and wondering how we can stop the violence here and abroad.

I hope the petitions help, but it’s going to take more than that. I can’t afford to let go of this anger, just like the folks in Ferguson, Missouri. I plan to channel my anger into action, to fight to make sure that my boys aren’t the next victims. Class, manners, education, and even being mixed-race – none of it can protect them in the end. This country needs to take a long look in the mirror – but I know that’s not possible in this political climate. Too much of our politics is being driven by hate. It’s up to us to change the equation, even if it’s one person, one elected official, one police officer, one teacher, one friend at a time…

I’ll do it for them:

Seahawks fans

The hole in my heart…that provides comfort in the storm

I’m sitting on my parent’s couch that they purchased 13 years ago – it barely shows any sign of wear.  My father passed away in June of 2001, just a few months after they had redecorated their home in a retirement community in Mesa, Arizona.  My mother had a stroke 4 years later and had to be placed in a skilled nursing facility until she passed away in May of 2010. I’ve written before about losing my mother, but there are days when it hits harder than others.

After my mother passed away, I was able to take most of her living room furniture and use it in our lake house near Austin.  It’s a bit formal for a lake house, but it’s a link to the life that my parents had made for themselves in retirement, and I’m sure they are glad that I’m able to use it. It’s hard to believe that it has been 13 years since my father passed away and 4 years since my mother passed away. There are still times when I want to pick up the phone and tell them how their grandsons are growing, or about the latest book I published.

As I sit on my mother’s couch, I think about the dreams they must have had for us.  As I look at turning 50 in October, I reflect on a life that has been blessed with a close-knit family, good friends and a world that is looking crazy at the moment, but that can’t even come close to the uncertainty that my parents had to live with, growing up during the depression, World War II, the Jim Crow South, and an America that considered them less than human. It’s during times like these that I have to kick myself in the rear and remember that my parents sacrificed so that their children would have amazing opportunities like I have been able to take advantage of in my life (and for a nice profile, see my friend Anne Boyd’s blog).

The passing of my parents and others close to me, including my niece Melissa, has left a hole in my heart, but as I sit here on my mother’s couch, I know that they are here with me, enjoying the evening with a laugh and a smile. Although they have passed from this world, their love lives on, in those they left behind and it helps to fill in some of the emptiness that is that hole in my heart — it won’t ever go away, but as my boys grow it will be filled with their achievements and most of all, their love. ♥

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