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Dr. Boyce: No One Should Be Telling Black People How to Vote

*Roland Martin recently wrote about the Associated Press and its proclamation that there are several prominent black pastors telling their congregations not to vote.  According to Martin, the story was an overblown and misguided assertion that ultimately misled the public into believing that the men and women running black churches across America are hungry to violate their 501c(3) status.

Martin was right to point out that the media seems to have a hunger for sensationalizing the black church into a backward bastion of perpetual ignorance, where people hold onto ideals that appear to be from another planet.  Since several pastors spoke up against President Obama’s support for gay marriage, many of our fellow Democrats on MSNBC spent countless hours depicting members of the black church as primitive fools incapable of forming their own opinions.  They even hired a few black people to do their dirty work, with none of them providing a perspective that was in any way sympathetic to why a spiritual leader might choose NOT to ignore the teachings of the bible.

I personally have no issue with gay marriage, but as the son of a pastor, I found myself insulted by the way liberals tend to abandon black folks when we are not in lockstep with their agenda.  The liberal telephone connection with the black community only goes one way, where we are expected to hear what the liberal establishment thinks, but they don’t spend much time listening to us.  Black people are expected to hand their political power over to the Democrats without saying a word, like an uneducated NFL player signing his paychecks over to an agent who uses the money to buy himself a Mercedes Benz.

Now, with regard to the media’s claim that black pastors are telling their congregations not to vote, we must note that there are thousands of pastors across black America.  So, the idea of singling out three or four of them as representing the entire black community is absolute nonsense.  The opinions of pastors are as diverse as any other group of people, and we don’t all attend the same church.

Roland and I agree on the media’s misrepresentation of black folks, but here’s where Roland I slightly disagree.  Martin mentions that our ancestors died for African Americans to be able to cast their ballots.  This is true.  But we have to remember that they died for us to have the RIGHT to vote, not the OBLIGATION to vote.  So, like WEB Dubois, 50 years ago, some African Americans are choosing to conscientiously abstain from the election until one of the parties gives them a reason to support a given candidate.

While this strategy may seem awkward to some, it should be noted that many members of the Congressional Black Caucus chose to abstain from the House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Abstention is a powerful political strategy that has been used throughout history in order to make a point.  A woman choosing between dating a man who beats her and a man who ignores her might get more leverage if she chooses to withhold her “goods” from both of these men until they learn some respect.  Even President Obama abstains from using his voice to speak on the violence occurring in Chicago or any other matter that is not politically convenient for the Obama Administration.

Many experts and pundits have rightfully claimed that part of the reason that the Democratic party has almost never mentioned racial inequality anywhere in its agenda is because they are using their resources to get votes from people who are NOT already in their pocket.  The problem with this approach is that while we celebrate the collective high of seeing the Obamas hanging out in the White House, black kids are being murdered on their way to school, families are starving and children suffer as their parents rot away in a money-hungry prison system still being fed by the failed War on Drugs.  We DO NOT have time to waste on symbolism in an era that requires us to focus on substance.

There are some who think that you are wasting your vote by not showing up to the polls.  But there are others who say that the best way to waste your vote is to support a candidate and get nothing in return.  The point is not to convince anyone to stay home from the ballot box, but we don’t have the right to tell anyone what to think during the next election.  The only thing we should ensure is that we all think for ourselves and not let any black public figure tell us what our opinion is supposed to be:  That includes your pastor, some radio show host or even President Obama himself.

When people ask me if I think everyone should vote, I say, “Yes, I think they should.  But that doesn’t mean you have to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.”  By telling anyone how they must use their Democratic freedoms, we are being no less sinister than the leaders of countries we claim to despise. Members of the black church have a right to honor their God over their president should they choose to do so, and that might mean choosing to abstain.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins

As far as the media depiction of black church leadership, Roland Martin is correct in that African Americans continue to be misrepresented in all walks of life.  This is the reason that we must tell our own stories and shape our own agendas, not allowing others to hijack our Democratic freedoms.  We didn’t liberate ourselves from slavery 150 years ago. The psychological liberation is occurring right now.

Dr Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of YourBlackWorld.net. He also stars in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” with Steve Perry, Marc Lamont Hill and Jawanza Kunjufu. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

 

vince young

Vince Young, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens: A Predictable Cycle of Self-Destruction

vince young*I remember a few years ago, on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, a picture of NFL player Vincent Young.

The image was taken shortly after Young won the NCAA championship for the Texas Longhorns, the institution that has made billions on the backs of unpaid black athletes.  On the cover of the magazine were the words “I was born to play football at The University of Texas.”

When I saw the quote on that cover, that’s when I knew Young was doomed.

Since that time, Vincent Young has been cut from the Buffalo Bills, possibly ending his NFL career.  He became depressed and suicidal a few years ago after losing his starting spot with the Tennessee Titans.  He has also gotten some attention for blowing $30 million dollars in six years by “making it rain” at the club and reportedly spending $5,000 per week at The Cheesecake Factory.

Young isn’t the first, or the last, professional athlete to blow through money like he didn’t want it.  Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Allen Iverson are some other recent examples, as we get to watch our nation’s gladiators melt down into little punks as they cry about the fact that they’ve lost it all.

The reason that I felt sorry for Vince when I saw that magazine cover is that I realized that this was a man who has shaped his entire identity around sports.  He sees no other value that he can add to humanity that goes beyond throwing a football to entertain white people.  There is a good chance that education has fallen on the backburner, and there is also a chance that he’s engaged in the other destructive habits that can pollute the life of an athlete:   sexual promiscuity, excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol, financial irresponsibility and other poor life choices.

Then, years after that athlete sits at the top of the world, he finds his life and his soul in the pits of hell.   This is the story that can sometimes be told before it even happens, and I only hope that one day, we can learn from the mistakes of others.

The fact is that it’s easier to become a surgeon than to become a professional football player.  It’s easier to become a high paid attorney than a rap star.  A person has a much easier path to wealth by being a business owner than by trying to get into the NBA.  Also, without education, you’re lost.  The wealthy athlete who can barely read is sure to be ripped off by his Harvard-educated business manager, who can replace him with another kid from the ghetto next year.

By not thinking about his life and choices off the field, Vince Young has created a life full of regrets.  He, like so many other athletes, signed up for a life of slavery and an existence that makes him only a shadow of the man that he could have been.  Any black man who walks away from education and the ability to engage in leadership and critical thinking makes himself as worthless as the crack head on the corner, in large part because he is choosing to destroy himself and neglect his community by not using his powerful platform for a productive purpose.  There was a time when athletes prided themselves in being leaders of the community, but now, too many athletes are too busy Buck-dancing for a chance to get a Reebok commercial.

I love my brothers and I love sports, but we should all decide that we hate the embracing of ignorance.  It’s time to make a change.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins

harry_belafonte(2011-headshot-med-wide)

Harry Belafonte’s Critique of Black Celebrities is Right on Time

Harry Belafonte*As I prepare to address students at Grambling University about the importance of giving back and having the courage to fight for social justice, my mind is drawn to the words of our predecessors who paved the way for all of us to have the freedoms that we enjoy to this day.  At the top of the list is the legendary entertainer, Harry Belafonte.

This week, Belafonte laid down the gauntlet for black entertainers, some of whom have become ecstatic about selling their souls to the highest bidder (or the lowest common denominator).  Belafonte, saying things that probably make half of the entertainment industry wish he’d been killed with Dr. King, stated that the indifference of celebrities to black suffering is “unconscionable.”

This is the second time that Harry has said something to undermine his love within the black entertainment establishment by actually asking entertainers to be accountable to something other than buying bottles at the club.  Just a few weeks ago, Harry asked Beyonce and Jay-Z (aka the royal family) to do something for the black community that didn’t including blogging about Blue Ivy’s new line of baby sneakers or tweeting pictures of themselves on vacation.  This is a tough task for people who’ve been led to believe that the world is their oyster, and that poor black people simply don’t exist.

Harry Belafonte is in an uphill battle, especially when it comes to the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce, who’ve become the prototype of the new “Greed is Good” philosophy that has taken over black entertainment.  Jay-Z, the man who attacked the Occupy Wall Street movement even as he tried to make money from it, was raised with the mindset of a hardened New York crack dealer who doesn’t seem to have learned the value of caring about anyone other than himself.  Jay-Z still sees himself as a product of his environment, rather than a man who can control his environment, like a 7-foot giant with the mind of a four year old victim of child abuse.

Beyonce, on the other hand, was raised in a suburban, affluent community in Texas, where poor people are simply the ones that you manipulate for your own economic gain, not those for whom you make significant sacrifices.  The psychological slavery of some black folks in the deep south can be so frighteningly insidious that you want to send out emails announcing that slavery ended nearly 150 years ago.   Rocking the boat is the last thing you’ll ever see out of many black Texans, especially those who’ve been accepted by white people.

But the fact is that, in spite of the resistance he is sure to receive, Harry Belafonte is nothing less than entirely heroic for doing what he is doing right now.  As an 85-year old man, Harry shows more courage for the black community in one week than most celebrities show in an entire lifetime.  Most members of the black entertainment industry just don’t get it, and the truth is that many of them never will.  In their minds, making money makes you into a decent and relevant human-being, nothing else seems to matter beyond that.

When Harry says, “I need you to help alleviate black suffering,” he’s speaking about the trauma being experienced by millions of black youth due to urban violence, the prison industrial complex, black unemployment and unequal educational systems.  But when he makes his critique, people from Beyonce’s camp might reply with, “But we DID help with Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative and we also supported gay marriage, so take THAT!”

Celebrities don’t understand that cute, polite and uncontroversial forms of activism, like anti-obesity initiatives (you know, things that are designed to keep white people from getting upset with you), are not even in the same ballpark when it comes to the type of empowered activism being requested by men like Belafonte.  That’s like someone saying, “Our nation needs a stronger military,” and another person replying with, “Well, we just bought 400 water balloons and a sling shot and we’re training all of our soldiers to prepare for massive pillow fights.”

Harry is talking about saving that illiterate teenager in South Central Los Angeles who is worried about being shot on the way to school, who comes home to an empty refrigerator after seeing her father sent to prison for 150 years for drug distribution.   The last thing this kid needs is to have Beyonce and Michelle Obama show up to tell her to eat her vegetables.  This reminds me of missionaries that go to starving villages in Africa with a stack of bibles and no food or medicine.  Perhaps the next time Beyonce rubs elbows with the Obamas, she can ask them to use the power of the presidential pardon to send that little girl’s daddy back home so she can have her father in her life again, or to change the gun laws so that teenagers can’t buy AK-47s and blow each other’s heads off before their 16th birthday.

Topics like anti-obesity and gay marriage are perfect reflections of the Beyonce-Jay Z activism that has long been adopted by members of the entertainment industry.  The goal is to be seen with the black elite and other members of the political aristocracy who gladly elevate themselves above the masses.  The Carters love taking pictures with the Obamas and appearing at joint events with them, as the rest of us sit back and marvel, fantasizing about enjoying just a piece of the empty, materialistic life that most of us will never have.  All the while, the willingness to engage in truly impactful sacrifices to slow the suffering of black people is virtually non-existent, for members of the black elite feel obligated to sacrifice for nothing other than the size of their bank accounts.

If scientists could invent a fountain of youth, they should give it to Harry Belafonte.  He’s simply in a class by himself, and represents something that almost no entertainer could ever be.   Harry’s mind is operating at the doctoral level, while many black celebrity brains refuse to leave the third grade.  Harry is saying to all of us that many of those we profess to care about are struggling in ways that we simply can’t imagine, and that it is up to us to use our platforms to truly liberate the entire black community and not just rap about being a “Nigger in Paris.”

Maybe one day entertainers will get it.  But even if they don’t, the rest of us should.  Harry Belafonte is nothing short of extraordinary, and he won’t live forever.  It’s up to those of us who respect him to relight and carry this torch forever.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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Dr. Boyce Watkins

Cornel West & Eddie Glaude

Is Black Advocacy Automatically Anti-Obama? Cornel West and Eddie Glaude Speak Up

Cornel West & Eddie Glaude

Cornel West & Eddie Glaude

Recently, Dr. Cornel West and his academic homeboy, Eddie Glaude, spoke up about black suffering that has occurred during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Glaude and West feel that the Obama Administration has leveraged its strong support from the black community as an opportunity to engage in serious political neglect.

“As folks rally to support POTUS in Charlotte, will anyone sound the alarm for what is happening in Black America?” Glaude said on Twitter.

As expected, fans of President Obama will interpret Glaude and West’s remarks as political mutiny of the worst kind.  Even as America endures record poverty levels, and African Americans see an unemployment crisis that has hardly slowed over the last four years, some will presume that none of this has to do with the White House.

What I find to be a bit contradictory about those who criticize men like West and Glaude who have the courage to speak up on such matters is that it is presumed that advocating for black America is somehow anti-Obama.  When someone says, “I’d like the president to do more for black America,” they are simply doing what any other political constituency does when they meet with the president:  Hispanic leaders say, “I want President Obama to do more for our people.”  Those who support gay rights and women’s rights do the same.   Without an in-kind response from the White House, they vote for someone else.

Keeping Barack Obama honest is not just what we should do, but it’s what he wants us to do.  An entire demographic handing power over to a politician and asking for nothing in return is like giving someone a paycheck and not asking them to come to work.   Even the employee might look at you like you’re crazy.

This perception that black American problems are not significant enough for a “busy and important” president to address is a reflection of the low self-esteem of descendants of slaves, who’ve always been made to believe that their suffering isn’t relevant.  As a result, whites are allowed to be angry about seven percent unemployment, while black people are expected to remain silent about 14 percent unemployment.  That, my friends, is an artifact of racism, because we’ve been programmed to believe that we shouldn’t disturb president Obama while he deals with important white people.

One of the criticisms of the entire black community that some have been levied is that we can’t agree on what we want, thus giving the administration an excuse for ignoring African American interests.  Part of the reason that we can’t agree on what we want from the president is because specific leaders in the black community have chosen to mute their own voices so as to allow the Obama Administration to operate without being “disturbed” by the petty problems of black America.

I don’t speak for everyone, but here are a few things that I believe the black community needs:

1)      Targeted economic policy that addresses the black unemployment problem.  No president (white or black) should be allowed to preside without dealing with racial inequality as a persistent American problem.

2)      Better schools in the inner cities and incentives that will attract good teachers

3)      A response to the urban violence epidemic that is plaguing cities like Chicago, where black men are more likely to die than any other group in America:  As we console shooting victims in Colorado, we must remember that there were far more people murdered in Chicago this year.  Their lives are just as valuable as those in Colorado.

4)      A presidential executive order that directly confronts the mass incarceration epidemic that resulted from the failed war on drugs:  Modifying the crack-to-powder disparity to 18-to-1 (from 100-to-1) still implies that a five year sentence is converted to 90 years, so it really doesn’t mean a thing.

Rev. Jesse Jackson also mentioned poverty as a serious issue that he’d like to see addressed by President Obama.  All the evidence agrees with Rev. Jackson on this matter:  There are now 46 million Americans in poverty, giving us poverty rates that haven’t been this high since the 1960s. With all the talk about gay marriage and abortion at the Democratic National Convention, it’s disheartening that some care about these matters more than the death and starvation of our nation’s children.

Some of us have been led to believe that advocating for Obama is the same as advocating for black America.  But many of these same people believe that advocating for black America is inherently anti-Obama.  The fact is that the two should be one-in-the-same, and if they are not, we must ask ourselves why this asymmetry exists.  Speaking up for the suffering of black people does not mean hating the president; it simply means that we’re asking for policy in exchange for our votes.  This is what President Obama expects us to do, and it is far more patriotic than forcing free voices into silence.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce: Rapper’s Violent Death Shows How We’re Failing Our Kids

*This week, a rapper in Chicago by the name of Jojo made a “diss record” about the rapper Chief Keef.

A few days later, the 16-year old rapper was dead.  Some think that Jojo’s death certificate was signed when he spoke negatively against Keef, and some of his friends were even dumb enough to brag about it on Twitter.  Words like “Rest in piss” came from kids who seemed happy that Jojo was shot in the face so that his mother could not have an open casket in his funeral.

This crime was heavy on my heart as I did an interview in Chicago on my favorite station, WVON.   I was there to promote the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” but I found myself reflecting on how we’ve failed our young people.  Most of us who celebrate our nation’s first black president have nothing to say when politicians are asked to respond to growing violence in cities like Chicago, where kids can’t walk to school because of the risk of gunfire.

My people, we have let down an entire generation, and it’s coming back to bite us.  Every time we overlook our own inaction and simply blame the parents, we are excusing ourselves for not working as mentors for kids who have no parents.  Whenever we act as though politicians have no obligation to speak on the violence in Chicago, we are allowing another child to die because of our silence.  Every time we excuse companies like Interscope  Records for producing weaponized psychological genocide in the form of entertainment, we are adding a bit more acid to the poison (please scroll down to listen to the Chief Keef song to know what I’m talking about).

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The fact is that these kids belong to all of us and now all of our kids are in danger because we’ve done almost nothing for those kids who have been abandoned by their parents.

Now, it’s time to pay the piper.

The prison industrial complex, urban violence, inadequate educational systems and massive unemployment now serve as four of the dominant threats to the black family in America.  As black women lead the nation in STD infections, many of these infections can be linked back to women being forced to date men who have very little to live for and don’t protect their health.  The same can be said about the declines in black family wealth, and many other problems that impact our community. We must realize that these issues affect all of us and not just “those people.”

The bottom line?  We can all make a difference.  We must pick up those kids who need a parent and give them some kind of encouragement.  We must form viable political coalitions that command respect from the White House, Congress and any other politician who dares to ignore us.  We must teach and educate one another on our personal power and mandate that we all play a role in improving the conditions of our youth.  Millions of our lost children are nothing more than corporate commodities produced by gun manufacturers, hip hop music labels, and liquor distributors.  They are influenced by what exists in their “hoods,” and we must destroy these influences where they exist.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins

Jojo is not the only 16-year old to die in Chicago this week.  His twin brother is also being threatened with death, and there are thousands of other 16-year olds who will never grow up to become anyone’s mother, wife, husband or father.

This is what our community is faced with if we do not act.  It has literally become a life or death situation.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

To check out Dr. Watkins in the Janks Morton Film, Hoodwinked, please visit this link.

hoodwinked-janks

Dr. Boyce: Why You’ve Been Taught that Black Men Ain’t Sh*t

*Last night, I was watching my copy of the very important film, “Hoodwinked,” by Janks Morton.  I appear in the film, along with my respected colleagues, Drs. Marc Lamont Hill, Jawanza Kunjufu, Ivory Toldson and Steve Perry.

The film serves to debunk many of the ridiculous myths that black people perpetuate against one another, particularly those affecting black men.  For one thing, the film explores the notion that the black male high school dropout rate is nearly half, when in fact, it’s less than 10 percent.

Janks attributes much of the disparity to funny math that comes into play when a dropout is counted as someone who didn’t graduate with his/her cohort.   In many cases, black children either transfer to different schools or use a relative’s address to get away from the horrible inner city school in their district. Morton even shows that from 2006 – 2008, black females had a higher dropout rate than African American males.

We don’t want to celebrate anyone dropping out of high school and we certainly don’t want to add to the battle of the sexes between black men and black women.  The point is that black men are not nearly as sad and pathetic as many people would like to believe that we are.   Many of us are as productive, educated and conscientious as anyone else, no matter what President Obama said about us during his 2008 Father’s Day speech.

I enjoyed and appreciated what Janks was attempting to do with this film.  In many cases, we want to believe the absolute worst when it comes to black males.  Black men are sometimes treated as the rodents of our society, and no one wants a rodent to survive or even exist.  Some black women want to believe that all of us are either gay or running around with white women, and many white folks want to believe that we are all criminals.

I’ve never been gay, criminal or with a white woman, and neither have most of my friends.  So, for those who feel the need to project venom toward the image of the black male in America, you must realize that in order to be the creator of this kind of venom, your mind may have been poisoned as well.   That’s where brainwashing causes you to hate people who look like yourself.

“Hoodwinked” excited me because when I saw Marc, Steve, Ivory and Jawanza using their vast intellectual skills to protect other black men, I swelled up with pride, like an intellectual warrior standing alongside his brothers waging war against ignorance on the battlefield.  Black men have the ability to work together and do great things, whether it’s on the basketball court or in the classroom.  When we stick together, we usually defeat all enemies great and small.  The key is remembering to fight with our minds instead of our fists.

A new day is coming in black America. With the democratization of media that has occurred via the Internet, films like “Hoodwinked” can surpass the large, white media distribution companies and share messages with the black community that are more accurate to our purpose.   We can find out who we really are and share genuine love and support for one another.  In other words, we get to define and celebrate the vast potential that lies within our greatness, and we are no longer going to continue to be hoodwinked into thinking that we are inferior.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

boyce watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins