Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Attempted Hijacking of a Movement

This past Sunday and Monday, NFL teams responded to Donald Trump. As I predicted in my previous post, there would not be mass protests of the extrajudicial killings of unarmed black men, women, boys, and girls, there would be "displays of solidarity" against the dotard President Trump attacking the rights of NFL owners to manage their property as they see fit and summarily insulting a large swath of the on-field laborers.

NFL owners do not care about the plight of black people in America. I do not mean that in the abstract. One is hard pressed to find any stories of NFL owners donating their tremendous platform and, more importantly, their money to cull the epidemic of police shootings of unarmed citizens, particularly black men. An effective method might be to withhold campaign contributions from political candidates and appointed judges who fail to prosecute murderous police officers. However, as the statement implies, that would be too effective. On a more accessible level, if NFL owners really cared about the killings of unarmed black men, a practical way to show it would be to sign Colin Kaepernick, who initially sat and eventually took a knee during the national anthem to highlight this very issue.

Instead, NFL owners have effectively blackballed Kaepernick from the NFL. Many have opined that there is a lack of evidence to support the charge that there is an organized effort by NFL owners to prevent Kaepernick from playing in the NFL, the latest example of Americans not understanding the meaning and context of words. The very nature of being blackballed is that it only takes one dissenter. The rest of the group follows by tacit agreement.

To the actual protests that NFL fans and casual viewers attracted to anything with the scent of black dysfunction witnessed on Sunday and Monday, the protests were some of the most disorganized displays of unity one will ever bare witness to. The Seahawks, Titans, and Steelers(with the exception of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva; more on him later) refused to stand on the sidelines during the national anthem. Still others, such as the Ravens, Jaguars, and Bears locked arms while the national anthem played (while some of the players on each team knelt while locking arms, a posture that reminded me of my formative years in a collegiate fraternity). America's team, the Dallas Cowboys knelt as a team with locked arms BEFORE the national anthem, but then arose for the actual playing of the cult hymn.

The aforementioned Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, said after the game that he is "embarrassed" every time he sees images of himself standing alone while the rest of his team remains in the tunnel. Given Villanueva's service record and lucrative contract to promote the USAA, one is hard pressed to believe that his separation from the team was a mere misunderstanding. I truly believe that Villanueva followed the convictions of his heart or, rather, I should say, his military programming kicked in.

Subsequently, Villanueva's jersey has become the highest selling jersey in the NFL, showing yet again that there is wide support to be gained by telling black people to effectively go fuck themselves. It is not lost on me that Villanueva is Latino, which to some people may make the gesture a bigger slap in the face but, to me, is simply par for the course since a large number of Latinos are under the mistaken assumption that they are white (or, to put it more precisely, work hard to make it clear to America writ large that they are not black).

To be fair, distancing one's self from the black community is not solely a Latino tactic. It is a tactic that is employed in every community, including the black community (I am guilty of this myself in a former life). There is money to be made in not being black but, like anything that is rooted in a negation rather than an affirmative, the gains are fleeting and, if you are an ethnic minority, it is only a matter of time before society turns it's attention away from the national pastime of hating black people to hating you because you are not THEM.

If you wonder why there is nary a black voice to be found outside of a few boot licks in the mainstream media supporting DACA, viciously opposing the Muslim travel ban, or aiding disaster relief in Puerto Rico or Mexico, wonder no more. I, for one, would love to see the fabled black-brown coalition come to fruition, but the very definition of the word coalition requires that there be an alliance for combined action and a fusion of ideas and methods. Villanueva's actions were the three dimensional embodiment of the antonym of a coalition, with his teammates and with the rights of the very people that he swore to protect. Villanueva is but one person and is not representative of the totality of sentiments that I have received from friends, family, and brothers. However, Villanueva is indicative of the undercurrent that runs through the relationship of the black community to other ethnic minorities in America.

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Eric Decker (more accurately, his country singer wife Jesse James Decker) implied that he was not on the field for the national anthem because he was misled as to the start time of the game. To say nothing of the minimum expectation that a professional athlete know when the game starts, Decker and his wife were clearly signaling to their country music base that they would never engage in such a rapacious activity as supporting anything remotely to do with black people. They know where their bread is buttered.

Broncos defensive tackle Derek Wolfe was probably the most forthright player of the weekend, reverting to such white supremacist hits as "everyone has something to protest today" and "if it is so bad here, why do THEY stay?" Wolfe made it abundantly clear that he stands for the national anthem to honor the men and women who are "fighting real battles". The implication is that unarmed black men being killed by the police and the police not being charged is fake news, while weapons of mass destruction and bringing democracy to Afghanistan (and opium to America) is the real war. It will be interesting to see how Wolfe's teammates react to him during the "real battle" of subsequent NFL games. Sarcasm intended.

In the midst of all of these shenanigans, the NFL owners pushing back against an imposition upon their authority and safe Negroes using the opportunity to show that they are "down for the cause", the real purpose of the protests are being lost.

This is not about labor rights. Although NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed, they are governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and protected by a players union (a weak, feckless players union, but a union with a lawyer at it's helm nonetheless). Even if an owner wanted to fire a player for protesting the national anthem, it wouldn't be wise or prudent to do so, that's if they don't want to be bogged down in litigation so dense that it would make the concussion lawsuits look like small claims court.

There are some who say that they would be fired if they took a knee for the national anthem at their jobs.

Firstly, you probably don't work at a job that reminds you that you live in the United States via the ritualistic playing of a song before your day of labor begins. That sounds like something that, oh, I don't know, North Korea would do.

Secondly, because of your ardent support for the Republican Party, you probably work in an At-Will state, meaning that you can leave your job for any reason and, most importantly, you can be fired for any reason with or without notice. There is something for you to think about the next time that you go to the Storm Front web page on your Internet browser at work, use the company printer for non-work related endeavors, or steal your co-worker's Chobani yogurt.

This is not about free speech. It is widely understood that peaceful protest is a form of protected speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. If there is one connection to free speech, it is the relationship that white America has to it's exercise.

If you are a white man marching through the streets of Charlottesville with Tiki torches screaming "blood and soil" and "the Jews will not replace us", that's free speech, even if it leads to deaths (the textbook definition of hate speech, which is not protected speech).

If you are a black athlete taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, that is not free speech and, furthermore, you are an ungrateful son-of-a-bitch who should be thankful that WE allow you to play games for millions of dollars and not be subjected to the murder-at-will policies that OUR agents are allowed to enact on the niggers in the neighborhoods that you come from.

If there is a connection to free speech, it is the centuries old debate in America concerning who has the privilege to speak and be heard. Whose words hold the power to sway opinions among the masses? Right now, the twin moral authorities in America are the President and professional athletes and entertainers. To have one of those nodes controlled primarily by straight, black men is as dangerous to white supremacy as having the other node being controlled by a white supremacist is to ethnic, religious, and political minorities. 

This is wild speculation, but I would not be surprised if the NFL owners got together with their old friend Donald Trump and asked him to send out a tweet to stir up the rancor of the players and trigger the righteous (yet ultimately fake) indignation of the owners regarding the anthem protests, effectively pivoting the issue from one of drawing attention to the killings of unarmed black men to outright rebellion against a widely unpopular President. This would be just as effective at culling the protests as actually re-hiring the guy that caused all of the issues in the first place. Hell, even the covertly racist limousine liberals and gluten-free ASPCA crowd can stop clutching their wallets and purses long enough to lock arms in unity against the anti-Christ. Skeptics will say that the NFL colluding with the government for propaganda purposes is a wild conspiracy theory with no foundations in reality. To such skeptics, I need only point out how the Pentagon paid up $6.8 million to pro sports teams for military tributes.

It is simultaneously sad and, at the same time, heartening that the two people left in America who seem to remember what the anthem protest is all about and the potential implications of stifling such protests are white athletes in baseball and NASCAR respectively. Bruce Maxwell, an emerging star catcher for the Oakland Athletics stated that he will take a knee for the remainder of the season (6 games no less, but its something) to show his solidarity with athletes seeking to bring attention to "racial inequality in America". Maxwell appears to have unassailable credibility in his endeavors since he was born on a military base in Germany to a career Marine officer father.

NASCAR star and future hall of famer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sent out a tweet in the wake of Trump's initial comments, quoting President John F. Kennedy by stating "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable". Subsequently, NASCAR released a statement saying that national anthem protests would not be tolerated by it's crew members. Hall of fame driver and team owner Richard Petty took this statement even further, exclaiming that any members of his team that did not stand for the national anthem would be fired. His publicist is currently hard at work attempting to walk back Petty's comments because, you know, labor laws.

The response by NASCAR officials is not surprising given their overwhelmingly white, male, middle-aged, Southern, low-income, Confederate flag toting base of support. The real shock to the white supremacist machine in NASCAR must be that their preeminent star, the son of a race car legend and martyr, would even tacitly associate himself with the rights of black Americans. They'll ultimately just chalk it up to his multiple concussive symptoms. You can say a lot of things about Dale, Jr., but the man knows which side is the right side of the arc of history.

The imminent challenge for black players in the NFL is to not allow the temporary distraction of a Donald Trump tweet to divert their cause. If it is not clear to the players what the agenda is, let me restate it here. The protest that Colin Kaepernick spearheaded is about drawing attention to the killings of unarmed black men by the police and, on a macro level, to draw attention to the ongoing malady of racial injustice in America. The vehicle to be employed in the execution of the protests is to sit on the bench or, otherwise kneel during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. 

It is not to lock arms or, as the Coon-in-Chief Ray Lewis did, to drop to both knees and pray while holding hands. If team owners and white players and players that think they're white and moist Negroes want to lock arms and sing hymns, that is certainly well within their rights to do so. However, it must be made abundantly clear that what the aforementioned individuals are doing is a public relations tactic to make their mostly white audience more comfortable with civil disobedience by black athletes and that they ARE NOT a part of the protest that you are engaged in. The premise being that you actually believe in what you're doing.

In the absence of defined principles and methods of execution, the protest that Colin Kaepernick potentially sacrificed his career and livelihood to courageously enact will be relegated to the abridgment of history. A once in a generation opportunity will be lost to force real change through peaceful revolution by those who have the most on behalf of their brethren and sisters who have the least. Most importantly, black lives will be placed in greater danger of extrajudicial killings, police brutality, and hate crimes because white supremacists in American society will have yet another example of a black movement for equal rights and equal treatment being co-opted by an inconsistent message, ineffective action, and general unwillingness by all participants to pay the ultimate price (whatever that means to them) to ensure that concrete steps are taken to ensure that tomorrow is better than today for themselves, their contemporaries, and their posterity.

Make no mistake that this is a zero sum effort that black NFL players are currently engaged in on behalf of their people. Given the current domestic and international climate, there is no solace in small victories because succor in such events requires faith that there will be a tomorrow in which to redouble one's efforts. For the black community in America under the white supremacist regime of Donald Trump, tomorrow is not guaranteed. The stakes are are no less than absolute victory or extinction. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Why There Won't be Mass Protests Around the NFL Today

In light of President Donald Trump's rambling comments made during a campaign-style rally for Sen. Luther Strange (R - Alabama) that NFL owners should fire any NFL players who engage in national anthem protests, I have noticed many people on my Facebook and Twitter timelines imploring the NFL players to call the Provocateur-in-Chief's bluff.

In an ideal world, one based on rational thought and concerted action, this would be a reasonable expectation to have of a group of men who had been disrespected and debased. I am not as hopeful as my friends and followers because, as a black man, I am all too familiar with the malady that has taken hold and metastasized in my community, particularly among our men. This illness is played out on a nightly and weekly basis in the collegiate and professional sports arenas and on reality television in shows such as Growing Up Hip-Hop, Cuttin' It in the ATL and, recently, The Bachelorette, all showing black dysfunction for mass consumption. You know that a people are in a slow descent into the abyss when they are no longer viewed as your neighbors, co-workers, customers, or friends but as a disconnected other, a product that you consume and discard like a plastic water bottle.

Donald Trump and other white supremacists like him are all too familiar with the condition of the black community. That is why they feel comfortable making comments such as the ones that Trump made in Alabama because there is no real fear of reprisal. A backlash certainly wouldn't hurt Trump, since the black vote does not constitute a significant portion of his base of support. In Strange's case, the black vote has become so disenfranchised in the state of Alabama that it is almost laughable to think that Trump's comments would animate voters in that state to such a level that it would have any impact on any statewide election, and certainly not one on the Republican ticket. On an economic level, black people are the poorest people in the United States but, ironically, constitute one of the largest consumer bases. This means that producers, whether they be consumer brands or political brands, can reasonably depend on black people to consistently spend dollars on products and people that do not have the best interests of the black community as a priority (just ask the folks at Jordan brand or your local black politician if this is true).

In my last post, I called for the formation of a black professional sports union and laid out steps for it's creation. The primary goal of such a union would be to coalesce the tremendous economic power inherent in sports and entertainment towards the building of a black economy in America. The premise is that those groups with economic power hold the means to influence political and social issues. It is the Golden Rule. Those who have the Gold make the Rules. Inherent in calling for such a union is the idea that such a gathering of economic power would wield a mighty carrot as well as a big stick to be used against those individuals and groups, both internal and external to the black community, who attempted to subvert a black agenda. Such a union would be helpful today.

In the absence of a union to coalesce like-mindedness and like action, I am not placing my hope in the idea that black professional football players around the NFL will take a knee in unity with one another and call President Trump's bluff. There are too many black athletes bound to the system by the tremendous wealth and notoriety that the system affords. Players are not willing to risk lucrative advertising and endorsement deals for benefits that they, themselves, may not realize. Hell, this is the very reason that the players have not gone on strike for a bigger piece of the NFL economic pie, better benefits post retirement, and for a fairer disciplinary policy that does not effectively make NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell judge, jury, and executioner.

Furthermore, and much more insidious than the economic pull of the NFL plantation, I am not certain that 100% of the black players in the NFL see themselves as as "black players". From the very moment that their immense talents in athletics began to emerge, they have been treated as being something above and apart from the black body politic. This separation from what it means to be black in America is only exacerbated by the college education (for those who take full advantage of it), awards, honors, money, fame, and fortune. As a seemingly minor example, we only need to look at the wives of a preponderance of NFL players to see how far the brainwashing has gone. On a genetic level, the players have attempted to distance themselves from the worries and cares of the black community and to ingratiate themselves to their mostly white owners, bosses, and benefactors. Show me the woman that a man sleeps with, and I will show you how he feels about himself. There are not a whole lot of black women on the arms of black professional athletes.

To this point, I have not mentioned the handful of white NFL players who have engaged in national anthem protests if only because there have only been a few examples. The one thing that we can safely say about white supremacy is that they know how to keep their own people in check. We have not witnessed a critical mass of white players supporting national anthem protests because even those with the most noble of hearts inherently know that supporting black causes will bring even greater consequences to bear for themselves and their families than even the black athletes will face. They need to look no further than the martyrdom of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, VA for a contemporaneous example of the consequences of white people taking a stance against white supremacy.

Contrary to popular belief in the black community, causes that primarily concern black people are not popular causes in the wider society. As an example, when was the last time that you heard your local politician use the word "black" or discuss "black issues"? We typically hear exhortations concerning the plight of "people of color" or "minorities". This language has even become prevalent in the discourse of other ethnic minority communities, showing how expansive white supremacist ideology is. When we do hear discussions concerning black people, it is typically in a negative light. I challenge anyone reading this post to find a profile piece on a black person in their local newspaper that discusses the person with depth and nuance.

The very reason that the national anthem protests are as controversial as they are is not simply because of the methodology employed by the protesters (and the myopic view of patriotism in the United States post Vietnam War era), but because of the causes that protesters such as Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, and Malcolm Jenkins are attempting to draw attention to, namely the shootings and killings of unarmed black men, women, boys, and girls by white police officers without criminal remuneration by the justice system.

If you have not learned the lessons of history by now, it should be clear to you that white supremacist ideology views the lives and bodies of black people as insignificant and disposable. That is why the movement is called Black Lives Matter and not "All Lives Matter" or "Blue Lives Matter" because, unfortunately, it is all too necessary to remind American society that black people are human beings with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Other than the slayings of unarmed black men and women, there is not greater example of the insignificance and how seemingly dispensable black bodies are than the modern day NFL.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the so-called leadership of the black community is so lacking from an economic and moral perspective that they can not even blackmail NFL players into taking a knee en mass. Could you imagine how powerful of an example it would set, not just in the black community but to the world, if the leadership of the black community said in no uncertain terms that any player that does not take a knee in solidarity with his community could expect shoe and apparel sales, jersey sales, ticket sales, and donations to his various philanthropic endeavors to be reduced to such a level that he, his family, and his team would be left virtually destitute, both monetarily and in terms of their reputation? This carrot, nor this stick currently exists in the black community because their is no agreement on just how severe the situation is for black people in America. In the absence of agreement, there can be no collective action. The emperor has no clothes.

Not only are the bodies of NFL players colonized, their minds have been colonized. Their conditioning as athletes is not separate and apart from their circumstances as black people in America. You do not need to go to a football stadium to witness a lack of collective will in the black community. Many will point to the institution of chattel slavery as the genesis of the separation of black collective action, and those folks will not be wrong. However, black people have been out of physical chains for a little over 150 years in America, but the mental chains placed upon us by the integrationist fantasies of the Civil Rights Movements still impede liberty and progress in the black community today. The Civil Rights Movement, black Baby Boomers, and the church (all of which are synonymous with each other) have failed the young black people of today.

If every black player walked off the field today and refused to play until the owners and politicians acknowledged the plight of their communities, they would threaten the collapse of the entire economy of the NFL and the millions of dollars that NFL owner pay in political contributions and lobbying fees. The NFL already attempted to survive and thrive without black labor in the 30's and 40's and it did not work, forcing the eventual desegregation of the sport. The players, in particular the black players, are the true power base in the NFL, but they are too psychologically colonized to realize this. A few notable players get it but, until every black player who puts on a NFL uniform gets it, any hope and calls for collective action on any subject matter is a fool's errand. The same can be said of the black community at-large. Until that day, the players and communities that they come from are and will forever be...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Imperative for a Black Professional Athletes Coalition

I have not written in this space for several years. Over that time, I have engaged in the dogged pursuit of success in corporate America. In this same time frame, I have come to realize that my pursuit of corporate success was a Freudian pursuit of white acceptance, working within the white social and corporate arena to somehow overcome the blackness that I was born into, which covertly and overtly holds the meaning of inferiority in a white supremacist society. It took many years of toiling away in entry-level positions in several prominent organizations to realize for myself the truth that many family members, friends, and black intellectuals have directly and anecdotally attempted to impart upon me on this journey.

That truth is simply this: It does not matter how smart or talented or prepared you are, you are not simply attempting to overcome the competition for power and position in corporate America and in society at-large, you are also attempting to overcome your blackness in relation to your counterparts in the pursuit of "success" in a white dominated society. Any degree of success that one does attain will, in many ways, be correlated with the degree to which you are willing to appear to be less black than your skin tone denotes, through your action, figures of speech, and the groups of people that you associate with. Even then, whatever success you attain will be a gift from white society that can be taken away as swiftly as it was given out if one does not maintain consistency in distancing one's self from black society whilst simultaneously propagating a white supremacist agenda.

Finally tiring of the double-veil that one in my position is forced to wear to obtain a modicum of success in corporate America, I decided to do what many black people would consider sacrilegious. I left a "good job" at the Federal Reserve to pursue my individual interests in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community. While working for myself has been difficult, fraught with uncertainty of where the next paycheck will come from, the independence and freedom to work for my daily bread and speak on issues that I feel passionate about without fear of corporate or social reprisals has been well worth the leap. What I gave up is no where near as valuable as what I have garnered because, now, the ceiling is as high as I can imagine it to be whereas, in my former life, reaching the pinnacle of my talent was dependent upon forces that were seen as well as unseen.

Over the past several years that I've failed to write in this space, so many occurrences have taken place in America and, specifically, black America. There is the continuing and seemingly never ending War on Terror, the continued progression of the national surveillance state, the rash of killings of unarmed black men, and the ascendance of reality star and real estate figure Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States with white supremacy (now re-branded as the Alt-Right) in tow. When I think critically about why I have not used this space as often as I could've and should've, I have to come to grips with the fact that like many Americans, black Americans in particular, I was lulled to sleep by the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first (half) black President and the seeming comfort that came forth with. Although I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person with above average faculties for rational thought and deductive reasoning, to say that I was not emotionally influenced by the narrative that the election of Barack Obama heralded the age of a "post-racial" American society would be less than disingenuous. As with an any malady, the first step is to admit that you have a problem. The preceding paragraph was my admission.

In the realm of professional sports, a space that I now occupy, the narrative of the past 3 years has focused mostly on two athletes, both of whom are black (no, I am not including Tom Brady for allegedly deflating footballs). Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice struck his then fiance in a casino elevator, knocking her unconscious. Unlike previous instances of domestic abuse, the entirety of the interaction was caught on casino security camera footage and, subsequently, broadcast to the masses.

After rendering an initial 2-game suspension, the NFL was forced to suspend Rice indefinitely after the release of the video caused an uproar in the anti-domestic violence community and in mainstream society as a whole. After completing counseling and becoming outspoken on issues of domestic violence, Rice was eventually reinstated by the NFL after missing a full season. However, the damage had been done. Ray Rice became the face of domestic violence in America. The NFL being an organization whose finances are heavily dependent on television, advertising, and merchandising revenue, the hit to Rice's image was too much to bare. Rice has yet to play another down in the NFL and, given his age and the relatively short career of NFL running backs who don't have the image issues that Rice now has, his career is more than likely over.

The second NFL player who has occupied the vast majority of the narrative in the NFL over the past 2-years is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After leading the 49ers to two straight NFC Championship games, including a Super Bowl berth, the tide began to change for Kaepernick. Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who many credit for creating the environment that allowed Kaepernick to flourish, was fired in a dispute with upper management for more organizational power. Harbaugh's firing set off a series of events that saw Kaepernick endure 4 head coaches in 3-years and declining or non-existent talent on both sides of the ball. Kaepernick soon found himself removed from his starter role on the team, displaced by former first round pick Blaine Gabbert.

While languishing on the bench as a second string player, the media began to notice that Kaepernick did not stand for the pre-game national anthem. When asked to explain his motives for not standing for the anthem, Kaepernick explained that he was protesting the killing of unarmed black men and women in America and the overall lack of social justice for people of color as a whole.

This almost immediately caused an uproar in white America, with accusations of Kaepernick being "unpatriotic" and "not supporting the troops" becoming prevalent. In an attempt to assuage the military community, Kaepernick agreed to take a knee during the anthem in lieu of sitting. This compromise coincided with Kaepernick being reinstated as the starting quarterback of the 49ers, bringing the reasons for his protest and the methods employed to greater prominence. Needless to say, the reason for Kaepernick's protest were given passive mention in the national media while the methods employed (and the feelings of the masses about those methods) were covered extensively. As a show of support and solidarity to the man and the message, black teammates of Kaepernick began to join in the protest, kneeling with him during the anthem. Sentiments soon spread to black players on other NFL teams, with players staging similar or modified versions of the national anthem protest.

At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers. At the time, the overarching media narrative was that Kaepernick would soon find himself with another team, if not as a starting quarterback, certainly as top-tier back-up quarterback in a league that is devoid of talent at arguably the most important position in all of professional sports. Hindsight has proven this belief to be wrong. Kaepernick has yet to sign with another NFL team, causing many in the sports community to levy allegations that he is being "blackballed" because the method in which Kaepernick chose to protest. For a while, the national media narrative was that Kaepernick remained unsigned due to his seemingly pedestrian stats on a terrible 49ers team coupled with the reluctance of teams to sign a back-up player who brings the "baggage" that Kaepernick would presumably bring. Over time, even the most corporate of corporate media types have had to admit that the overwhelming factor in Kaepernick remaining unsigned is the national backlash to his method of protest and the lack of widespread appeal for the issues that he is protesting.

In light of Kaepernick's seeming banishment from the NFL for his beliefs, other prominent NFL athletes such as Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Michael Bennett have continued his protest, adding support for the predicament of Kaepernick himself to the banner of criminal justice reform and the killing of unarmed black men that sparked the the initial protest. While so many have erroneously thought that denying Kaepernick employment in and use of the platform of the NFL would dissuade other NFL athletes from taking such stances for fear of similar repercussions, what started as a protest has now become a movement. A protest was recently held outside the New York Park Avenue corporate offices of the NFL in support of Colin Kaepernick.

White NFL players are now showing solidarity and support for their black teammates who sit, kneel, or raise a fist during the anthem, albeit by placing their arm around said players as opposed to engaging in the same actions themselves. Recently, video footage of the aforementioned Michael Bennett being forcibly detained by officers in Las Vegas has come to light, bringing the men and the message full circle in a way that only the ubiquitous nature of contemporary social media can.

I felt that it was necessary to give a brief synopsis of the events of the past several years as a foundation for what is the main point of this post. Whether it is the events surrounding Ray Rice, Colin Kaepernick, or Michael Bennett, there is one undeniable link between all of these incidents. All of the men involved are black men. While there are many in society who are woefully ignorant of the intersection of race and gender in American society and still those who are aware of this interaction but, in support of a white supremacist agenda, choose to willfully ignore or, worse, counteract discussion of this interplay, the fact that the aforementioned gentlemen are all black and that, due to their blackness, society writ large has certain thoughts and feelings towards them can not be ignored.

Discussions around the Civil Rights movement, for most Americans and also those who come to America's shores from other countries, typically centers around the movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King and his acolytes were proponents of non-violent protest and resistance, even in the face of decidedly violent backlash by the dominant society. Furthermore, King and his followers advocated for integration into American society. The legacy of Dr. King is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it's subsequent amendments, all of which in some way, shape, or form made discrimination on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin in public spaces illegal.

The movement of men such as Malcolm X, who advocated separation from the dominant society through the creation of a black economy and violent resistance in the face of violence, and Marcus Garvey, whose "Back to Africa" movement advocated extirpation from American society altogether for the descendants of slaves in America are pushed to the back burners and closets of the national historical narrative.

The promotion of Dr. King as the face of the black Civil Rights experience in the United States is not surprising. Non-violence against a violent oppressor and integration as opposed to economic freedom was the least threatening to the white supremacist apparatus in place in America of the various brands of black resistance in vogue at the time. One also can not overlook the distinctly Christian roots of Dr. King's movement (a belief system that is familiar and comfortable to many Americans, including the black population whose slave ancestors were converted to this belief system) as opposed to the Muslim origins of Malcolm X's ideology (a foreign belief system, which was the original religious subtext of many of the black slaves prior to their arrival in the Americas) and teh distinctly secular ideology of Marcus Garvey before Malcolm.

If one were to look with clear eyed, cold rationality at the gains that black society has garnered as a result of Dr. King's brand of social justice, one would be left wanting. Black people (particularly black women) are still among the poorest people in the United States. The criminal justice system has been turned into a multi-billion dollar industry as a result of the re-enslavement of black men and women. If unarmed black men are not gunned down in the streets in cold blood, we still have the lowest life expectancy of all other racial and ethnic groups in the country. The state of the black nuclear family is in shambles, with the percentage of single black mothers dwarfing their next closest Latina counterparts. Black owned businesses are virtually non-existent in a country that produces more entrepreneurial millionaires and billionaires than any other country save China and India. While we revere Dr. King and his martyrdom, a clear eyed look at the results of his movement show nothing less than utter failure.

Contemporaneously, the black millionaires and billionaires (the handful that exist) are in the areas of entertainment (sports, music, and media). This is not surprising seeing that blacks have always been relegated to these forums in American society both through covert methods such as a lack of education in the sciences, technology, engineering, and manufacturing and through overt methods such as a lack of access to entities such as Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and a lack of willingness for banks to fund black real estate and manufacturing interests. One could (and many have) written books and made movies about this plight, but if there is one lesson that black Americans can learn from the American experience, it is that you have to play with the cards that you are dealt as if it were the hand that you actually wanted. This is where black athletes come into play as it relates to Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Ray Rice, and others.

Over 70% of the 1,700 or so players in the NFL are black. Over 80% of the players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) are black. Major League Baseball (MLB) has witnessed a steady decline of black players among it's ranks, with black players composing a meager 6.7% of the MLB ranks as of 2016. The National Hockey League (NHL) has even fewer black players than MLB, with players of African origins comprising only about 5% of all active players. Of all of the aforementioned leagues, the NBA has the strongest player's union with the most leverage while the NFL has the weakest player's union with the least leverage. All of the major sports leagues in the United States have almost entirely white ownership groups (Michael Jordan in basketball and Shad Khan in football being the lone exceptions) and overwhelming white representation of front office personnel.

Given this varied landscape for black athletes across the 4 major sports leagues in the United States, there is an imperative for collective action across borders so-to-speak, one that has it's foundations in collective economic power in support of social action. What do I mean by this?

For example, in the NFL, many players are reluctant to hold out and miss games to gain a modicum of leverage with NFL owners as it relates to revenue sharing and disciplinary power due to the lack of guaranteed contracts in that league. For the same reasons, many players, such as Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, are reluctant to speak out on social issues for fear of losing the precarious foothold that they have on fame and generational fortune.

Similar sentiments were expressed by MLB players such as Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, who has a guaranteed contract but works within a majority white environment in both the clubhouse and in the media.

Black players across all major sports should form a black professional athletes union or coalition as it were. The main goal of this coalition would be to pool the collective resources of black professional athletes into a trust for mutual economic benefit. These funds could then be used to defray the costs of living for black athletes in the NFL to discourage them from crossing the picket lines during league negotiations. In other situations, such as those experienced by Colin Kaepernick and Ray Rice, the fund could be used to pay for legal costs and lost earnings as a result of not being able to gain employment due to the media backlash concerning their respective situations. Should an athlete such as Adam Jones in baseball lose advertising endorsements due to his support for "unpopular opinions", and in the face of a lack of support from the Latino and white players who compose the majority of players in MLB, this coalition could use it's considerable resources to purchase media advertising that highlights Jones and his message.

Further down the road, and once the fund reaches a substantial size due to new black athletes contributing in conjunction with market growth due to smart investments and management of the fund, medical costs for former athletes (particularly in football) could be subsidized. From a social justice perspective, the fund could provide grants to athletes to go back to their respective communities to provide much needed support, advocate for issues that do not receive national attention and, most importantly, to build vibrant and sustainable economies in black communities with the goal of building and expanding black owned businesses. The coalition could provide full-ride scholarships to promising and worthy high school students who plan to engage in a course of study in the STEM fields.

Going even further, the coalition of black professional athletes could provide unconditional full ride scholarships to elite black athletes in high school on the condition that they attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This is in juxtaposition to the conditional, year-to-year scholarships currently provided to even the most elite athletes who attend traditional powerhouse athletic programs. Such an endeavor would have a two-fold reasoning:

  • To ensure the economic stability of HBCUs for posterity through the draw of enormous television and advertising revenue due to the marketability of the talent that would then be present at the HBCUs in addition to the revenues from traditional powerhouse schools who will be drawn to have their programs compete against the talent at HBCUs (and the subsequent bolster to their marketability and share of the advertising revenues) due to the elite athletes who attend, and
  • To ensure membership in and loyalty to the black professional athlete coalition by those elite scholarship athletes who go on to have careers in professional sports.
Furthermore, and a close second to collective economic empowerment, will be the role that the black professional athlete coalition plays in setting standards for conduct among black athletes in professional sports. The elder statesmen would police the activities of their younger colleagues as opposed to allowing the mostly white owners and front office executives to do so.

Using Ray Rice as an example, can you imagine if older black professional athletes took Ray Rice aside and explained to him in no uncertain terms that his conduct does not just reflect badly upon his family name and the Baltimore Ravens, but on black male professional athletes as a whole and that he was messing up a good situation for himself and future generations that hoped to follow in his footsteps? Simultaneously, can you imagine if the wives of the black players coalition took Rice's fiancee aside and explained to her in no uncertain terms how she was expected to conduct herself if she wanted the gravy train to continue. Behind the scenes, members of the coalition could have exercised their collective economic power to ensure that Ray Rice had a spot on a NFL roster as long as he and his wife complied with the edicts of the coalition.

Looking at the collegiate ranks, what if such a coalition existed for now Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon in light of the video that emerged showing him striking a woman in a crowded bar during his freshman season at the University of Oklahoma? In no uncertain terms, Mixon could have been told that if he ever hoped to realize his immense talent at the next level, he would be held to a code of conduct for the rest of his playing career and, should he choose not to cooperate, the coalition would use it's collective economic power and influence in every locker room to ensure that he had no future in the NFL, eradicating a cancer to the collective black body politic of the league before it had a chance to metastasize and create a bad image of black athletes in mainstream society. Insert Greg Hardy here. Insert cornerback Adam Jones. Insert Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, golfer Tiger Woods or any other prominent black athlete who has had "off the field" issues in recent history.

Some who read this post will automatically dismiss it because it discusses black empowerment. Those who are not automatically put off by the subject matter will have doubts about the possibility of making such a coalition of black professional athletes come to fruition due to the utter and complete impotence and lack of success that attempts at creating other black coalitions in other professions (e.g., doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc.) and interest areas (e.g. NAACP, Nation Urban League, etc.) have experienced.

As a black people, we have been divided since our ancestors were brought to this continent. During that time, the division was decidedly physical so as to stifle any efforts at mutiny to obtain freedom. Now, the divisions are more psychological. The black corporate executive receives treatment that the black underling does not. The black athlete and entertainer enjoys fame and fortune for himself and subsequent generations that the average black American can only enjoy through vicarious consumption. Even when socioeconomic factors are controlled for, black people still manage to find themselves divided on such trivial issues as skin tone, what kind of car one drives, what type of clothes and shoes one wears, and what gang (both street gangs and college gangs nee fraternities and sororities) one belongs to. There is not a good history of black collective action after Emancipation.

If there is any scintilla of hope for the black collective economic action to establish firm roots once and for all, it is that the hour of black destruction in America is at hand. If the murders of unarmed black men in cold blood in the middle of the streets on camera and the subsequent acquittals of their killers was not enough of a driving force, then the mass removal of blacks from urban centers such as Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston and, soon, Atlanta through gentrification should act as an electric cattle prod.

Furthermore, other minority groups are becoming major players in American economics. Asian-Americans as a whole dominate the tech sectors of the west coast, which is rapidly spreading to Midwestern and East Coast urban centers. More specifically, Filipino-Americans have grabbed hold of a strong position in health care. Immigrants from India and their Indian-American compatriots are steadily displacing American workers in engineering. Chinese interests are becoming more prevalent in real estate. Arabs and Arab-Americans have a strong foothold in energy and convenience stores. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are building strong coalitions in construction, landscaping, hospitality, and the ancillary support services associated with farming. Native-Americans are major players in gambling and gaming.  Despite allegations of Antisemitism, one can not look at entertainment and media without seeing a decidedly Jewish influence in those areas.

With this landscape, what do we as black Americans have to offer American society?

If our lot as black people in this country is to be the athletes and entertainers for the masses, shouldn't we at least control athletics and entertainment? If you want to participate in athletics, music, television, and fashion in the United States, as an owner or otherwise, should you not have to go through and cooperate with a black person since our likeness has been used so ubiquitously to enrich so many people in those industries? Being an actor or an actress is nice and has it's rewards, but being a producer and/or a director allows you to control who is seen on screen and the messages that are purveyed. That would certainly help to alleviate the tired images of black people as poor, violent, ghetto, or side-kick to the white star.

Simply being a consumer will not ensure future black existence in the United States. We live in an increasingly globalized economy where people in India, China, and Saudi Arabia can influence consumer behavior in America to a much greater degree than the average black American can. Being an owner and operator who builds lasting economies that are by and for the black community is the only way to ensure black survival in the United States of the future. We might as well start where we are in entertainment and, specifically, professional athletics. Then, as other groups have done, we can use the economic power that is wrought from those endeavors to fund expansion into other areas of the economy through direct investment and the indirect investment in our children's education and training.

With issues pertaining to money, those who have control will not give up control simply because you want them to or ask nicely. Politics and economics are warfare by other means. This is why it is imperative that black cooperatives and coalitions be formed in professional athletics, entertainment and, eventually, other economic endeavors so that the costs, casualties, risks, rewards, and accountability can be shared across a large base of support.

Economics has it's foundations in the Golden Rule. Not the Golden Rule of bible mythology, but the Golden Rule of money. Those who have the Gold make the Rules. If we as a black society want to see an end to the killings of unarmed black men and women, an end to the blackballing of figures such as Colin Kaepernick and Ray Rice, and an end to laws and policies that seem to continuously disadvantage us over all other groups in the white supremacist landscape that we currently and will continuously operate in, we need to stop praying to Jesus and start listening to the ghosts of Malcolm and Marcus.

Remember the Golden Rule.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On to the Next One (D. Jones Remix)

It's yo boy D.Jones, aka Skully bones,
Now I'm workin' for the Fed, now here come them hoes
Naked from the waist to the toes, sucking on these flows
Got D like Rodman, go head and put it in your soul
I'm on my fuckin rap shit, fuck all that actin,
Lights, Camera, Action, it's a chain reaction
I gots me a sweet tooth, like a fuckin fat chick,
Eat the beat up, I ain't on no diet
It's on to the next one, on to the best one,
Movin on up, like I'm George Jetson
Or was that Jefferson , kiss and caress em,
So much hate, I just deflect em
Y'all niggas old news, Wildcat formation,
Let me show you how its done, standing ovation
Niggas is emotional, must be ovulating,
Rumors of my demise were much exaggerated.
Drinking Crown and ginger, I'm a Presbyterian,
A chosen one like a Philistine, vaca in the Philippines
Is y'all niggas feeling me? D. Jones molestation
This that death row flow, no probation.
I'm opening up the studio, gettin on my Diddy flow,
Use some alliteration, y'all niggas too literal
Its on to the next step, movie star no extras
2 women, no homo, sugar free like Extra.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reason for the Season

Photo by DeAngelo Jones
Over the years, I have grown to dislike Christmas. I would even say that I dread it. Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or, more accurately, the slow ascent of the sun toward the Northern Hemisphere once more, heralding the lengthening of the days and the renewal of life in the Spring, it is a commercial holiday where people use material objects as a surrogate for real connection.

I've gotten more emails from Amazon, The Tie Bar, and JackThreads than I have from friends and family members. Not unlike my family and friends, when I do hear from these companies, they want something from me. Often times, I succumb to the constant intrusion into the sanctity of my autonomous life, buying a new shirt, pair of shoes, or giving the few bucks that I'm asked to "lend". God, I need another shirt, sweater, or bill to pay like I need a hole in the head (lobotomy maybe).

However, the best thing about the holiday season is the spirit of giving the permeates the ethos. This year, my company (Norwegian American Hospital) decided to have a toy drive in lieu of our usual "Adopt - a - Family". I was put in charge of the project. Given the low morale of the workers as evidenced by our engagement survey scores, I didn't know what to expect. Armed only with my name and the reputation for trustworthiness and competence that I had engendered over the fast few years, I humbly asked our employees for donations (both cash and toys).

Many of our employees are themselves living paycheck to paycheck. They can barely make ends meet and have some tough choices to make on a daily basis in their own lives. However, when confronted with the needs of the community at-large, they rose to the occasion! Hundreds of toys flooded into my tiny corner office. Employees walked up to me with envelopes filled with cash, some of significant amounts. In the end, we collected nearly 200 toys and $500 in cash.

On December 19th, we had our toy drive. There are no words to describe how honored I felt to be a part of this event. The kids that received the toys didn't know that they were poor. Their level of scrutiny concerning what we had to offer them was evidence of that. However, the level of appreciation and gratitude that their parents expressed was enough to break even Scrouge's heart. There was a literal and figurative sigh of relief from the parents in knowing that their children would have something in their stockings this holiday season.

The other aspect of the toy drive that amazed me was the dedication and teamwork by our employees, who took time from their very busy schedules to volunteer to brighten the lives of a few kids. I think that if you asked any of the volunteers, they would say that the most important work done that day was not accomplished in an office or conference room, but in the lobby of our hospital at that event.

We have out the remainder of our toys at a coat drive that took place last night. Hundreds of families lined the corridor to get winter coats for their children, something that those of us that are fortunate take for granted as a given. Once again, the parents were so grateful that their kids would not have to brave a harsh Midwestern winter with a sweatshirt or layers under a spring jacket.

To me, this is the essence of the holiday season. Yes, it is to give material objects, but only those that are truly needed and greatly appreciated. Most importantly, it is about creating shared experiences, opportunities to work together and enjoy the fruits of meaningful labor and, most importantly, to increase the amount of positive energy permeating the cosmos.

Photo by DeAngelo Jones

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Yesterday, I attended new student orientation at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

During my breakout session with my academic advisor Dr. Charmon Parker-Williams, she proposed a question to the group of other advisees that has stirred something immense in my very being.

Dr. Parker-Williams asked whether leaders are born or made. Of the group of 10 advisees, 7 sided with "made", while 3 sided with "born". I was on the fence because I believe that it is a hybrid. Agnosticism not being a choice, I had to choose a side. In the end, I sided with "born".

Leadership, in the first place, is contextual. A leader in one situation may be a follower, or even a non-participant, in another. Leadership skills can be taught and developed. If I didn't believe that, why would I be studying I/O Psychology at such a high level? However, it is my fundamental belief that the qualities that allow for the learning and, eventually, the expression of these leadership skills are inherent at birth.

Who we are, our personality, is a conglomerate of who we are on a genetic level coupled with our experiences over time. This is the old nature/nurture paradigm. Who we are changes over time because our experiences morph in that timeframe. However, how we are able to express those changes over time is hard coded into the very essence of our being. A few examples.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a dedicated learner. I vividly remember reading my grandmother's mail and reading the newspaper to my grandmother because she was functionally illiterate. Over time, this developed into academic excellence at every level, up to this day.

I have always taken learning into my own hands. My mom was a good student, and my dad was very intelligent by all accounts. However, I did not grow up in an environment where there were many books, and education was not a concept that was emphasized in my family. Where did this thirst and desire come from?

Well, I believe that it was a combination of the genes that I was born with coupled with the situation that I was born into. I had to have the mind to read a newspaper written for adults at the ripe old age of 5, whilst growing up in the situation of having an illiterate grandmother, who I loved and cared deeply for.

Let's look at elite athletes versus very good athletes. Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter frequently talks about his induction weekend at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Chris brought his childhood friends with him to Canton. All of Chris' friends played sports with him as a youth, yet he was the only one that played professionally and, eventually, was immortalalized in the HOF.

Chris' friends all said that there was just "something different" about him, even as a young kid. What was that "something different"? Yes, it was the fact that he grew up in abject poverty.

That experience pushed him to pursue a better life. Chris also came from a family that produced several pro athletes. This fact alone speaks to both having examples of athletic excellence around him and, most importantly, the genetics to express this talent.

There is a razor thin line that separates elite athletes, and people in general, from great, average, good, and mediocre people (in any walk of life). That line is defined by what we generally observe to be grit, determination, will, desire, resilience and the like.

Can those qualities be taught? Yes, but on a superficial level. What causes those qualities to be hard coded? Do the precursors have to be present for the training to have something to attach itself to like a computer program must have a processor upon which to imprint the code?

Another good example is the psychological trait of sociopathy. Sociopathy has been proven by science to be a trait that one is born with. It is an inherited trait in fact. How sociopathy is expressed is the sum result of one's experiences over time.

Negative experiences coupled with improper training may yield a sociopath who becomes a rapist or pick pocket. Positive experiences coupled with more traditional training may yield a stock broker, CEO, lawyer, physician, or an elite athlete (all of these fields measure highly for the trait of sociopathy).

The quintessential example that I can elicit derives from the area of stem cell research. Biologist have discovered that stem cells are the basic building blocks of every component of organic bodies.

For example, scientist harvest stem cells from the umbilical cords of human babies, add a stimuli, and can then produce a liver, kidney, retina or other organ in the human body. Heretofore, scientists can not produce the stem cells themselves. Only God or nature, depending on your belief system, can perform this action.

A sculptor can chisel away at a block of granite or marbel, and create a beautiful statue, but they can not produce the stone itself. They harvest the block from a quarry. The quarry itself was formed by water and other elements shaping the base materials over eons. The base materials are organic materials that either fell from space or were formed from materials that are indigenous to the earth. Who or what formed those organic materials? Diamonds are another example of this analogy.

The question of whether leaders are made or born speaks to the very question that humans have asked since we became conscious beings. From whence came us?

As an I/O Psychologist, I am bound by objective data derived from observation and testing. I then use this data to create training & development plans that are tailored to individuals and that, ultimately, meet the needs and goals of these individuals and the organizations that these individuals work for and within.

To me, it is important to understand where a person comes from in order to facilitate where they are going in various contexts. A huge component of who we are, aside from our experiences, is how we are. This is the part that scares scientists to this day because it can't be explained through traditional scientific inquiry. We have mapped the human genome, but we can not explain the existence of the materials which compose it.

However, we can't ignore what we heretofore can't explain. Is this not the basis of scientific inquiry to seek answers where none appear to be? As I/O Psychologists, we must reconcile this seemingly unanswerable query in order to properly assist the people and organizations that we work for with becoming their best selves and institutions.

Such science has been used negatively in the past to justify the superiority or inferiority of certain races and genders. This misuse of knowledge can not scare us from reasonable inquiry because, in the end, we are the expression of our genes.

Our genes are the acorns that produce the evergreen. Our experiences, training, and education are the ornaments that adorn the fern, creating the Christmas tree. Let us not find ourselves in the abyss of valuing the ornaments at the expense of the tree.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Taking Initiative

I hate firing people. It's my least favorite part of being an HR professional. When someone gets fired, not only did the individual fail, but I can't help but to feel like the organization failed the individual.

I ask myself, what more could we have done to keep this employee? Did we effectively communicate the resources that the employee has at their disposal? Did we have them in the right job that accentuates their strengths and diminishes their weaknesses? Is our organizational structure conducive to success?

But, then, I remember this long lost concept known as Personal Responsibility. Yes, as an HR professional, it is my task to ensure that the organization is structured correctly, that training & development opportunities exist and are communicated, and to keep both the employer and the employee informed of and compliant with ever changing labor laws (to name but a few responsibilities).

However, the employee has to have some skin in the game as well. The employee has to make sure that they show up on time, are competent at their jobs (maintain licenses and certifications), provide excellent customer service to our patients and each other, and take an active role in shaping their own future in relation to training, development, and career advancement.

I'm afraid that, as Dr. Lovell alluded to in his quote, we have developed a society where people wait for things to happen instead of making things happen. In organizations, it may be a bureaucratic reporting structure that formalizes development at the expense of flexibility and creativity. But, what is it about people, as individuals, and society as a whole that breeds this lack of initiative? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that allowing a 26 year old to stay on their parent's health insurance is a symptom of whatever IT is.

I encouraged the person that I had to let go today to take control of their life. They can create the future that they want if they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I encouraged them not to look at being fired as a sad thing, which is difficult to do when you're the one being fired, but as an opportunity to grow and become the person they are destined to be. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, but you don't have to be a passive observer in your own life's journey.

As the sage Manly Palmer Hall once wrote, only those who live the cause can produce the effect.