Dangerous to be Black in America

The man who is accused of shooting and killing 19-year-old Renisha McBride says he was afraid for his life …and that he shot her in the face “accidentally” with his 12-gauge shotgun.

Sounds painfully familiar. Didn’t George Zimmerman say the same thing when he shot Trayvon Martin? And the police officer who shot Jonathan Ferrell  – didn’t he say he was afraid, which was why he pumped 10 bullets into Ferrell after having shot at him 12 times? What

What is clear is that it is dangerous to be black in America. Because black people have been criminalized and objectified, it is easy for a police officer or citizen or vigilante to claim that the killing of any given black person was “justified,” and that the shooting happened because the shooter …was in fear of his life.

Whenever I am in a strange neighborhood which also happens to be predominantly white, I am nervous. If I have to pull into someone’s driveway to turn around, again, I am nervous.  I realize that fear and racism, mixed together, make for deadly consequences. There has been, says Ruby Sales, founder and director of the SpiritHouse Project, a “rampant return of white vigilante violence that has resulted in black bodies being thought of as disposable and black people thought of as human waste.”  Instinctively, I know that that feeling is pervasive, and I have seen black people try unsuccessfully to defend themselves or loved ones in cases where there has been a tragic shooting.

Nobody listens to or believes the black accused.

In New York just this week, a 20-year old black male was released from prison after he had been accused of , tried, and convicted for a robbery. From the moment he was “snatched” off the streets in the Bronx, where Kalief Browder was walking home from a party, he protested his innocence …but nobody listened to him. Nearly in tears, he told reporters that he had missed his last years of high school, his graduation and momentous events in his life. In his face there is still a look of shocked and pained incredulity. (http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news%2Finvestigators&id=9317078)

Somebody needs to say something. I mean, not just somebody, but a lot of somebodies, black parents and relatives who are, as Fannie Lou Hamer said, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  The late Gordon Cosby, pastor of Church of the Savior, remembers Sales, would say today, in light of the shootings and killings that are happening at the hands of police and vigilantes, that it is not enough to be outraged. People who care, Cosby would say, would be “compelled to change” what is going on.

The question is, “how does one change something that is so completely systemic, insidious and basically ignored by “the law?” How does one change something that “the law,” in fact, seems to implicitly support? It seems part and parcel of the same attitude that accepts violence in black neighborhoods and schools, even as children are gunned down, without a word, and, in fact, assists in the criminalization of even the youngest students by arresting kids for things that used to get kids sent to the principal’s office.

Change can only come if those who are outraged speak up and speak out,  making more and more people aware of what is going on. Onie Johns, the founder of The Caritas Village in Memphis, Tennessee, has set up a “ministry of presence” there. She moved from the comfort of the suburbs to a house in the inner city where she sees and lives how “the least of these” lives daily. The mission of Caritas is to “break down the walls of hostility between the races and build bridges of love and trust between the rich and those made poor.”

Such a “ministry of presence,” practiced by those who are content and willing to accept the outlandish story of the man who allegedly shot Renisha McBride in the face, might help cut down this senseless, cruel and racist trend – and far too frequent trend –  of fearing for one’s life when a black person is in distress, seeking help. It might make people show compassion and concern, instead of cruelty and viciousness, supported by that fear.

Black parents know the drill in teaching their kids how to interact with a police officer, should he or she ever be stopped. Funny, we haven’t so much given the same drill, instruction on how to act when confronted by a vigilante, or what to do if they get into trouble and need help if they are in a white neighborhood.  We haven’t been teaching our kids on how to act, live and survive in a world where, apparently, far too many people look at us as “the boogie man.”

Perhaps we ought to begin. I am so tired of white people being afraid of black people …just because we’re black.

A candid observation …

When the Children Leave …

Well, I have recuperated.

At the beginning of the month, I ushered my daughter to Indiana, where she has begun her work (her first real job) as a certified music therapist.  I am so proud of her …

Before she left, people around me were asking, “are YOU OK?” I thought, “what a dumb question. Of course I am! I sent her to Spelman College and then she went to the University of Dayton …I’ve been through this before. I am OK.”

But I was not! The angst started while I was still with her in Indiana, helping her to set up. I thought I was coming down with the flu. Not so. I was coming down with parentalitis – a word I have made up to describe the spirit-trauma we parents go through when the children leave.

We want them to leave, right? I mean, we raise them in order to send them forth. Nobody really wants his or her grown child living with them, right? Living close is OK, but WITH us? I think most parents would say they would not prefer that, though the door to “home” is always open…

So, theoretically, I have done my job. My son left a couple of years ago to move to New York. He didn’t live with me, but he lived in Columbus, I thought I’d be OK. He brought some of his stuff over to my house to store as he cleaned out his apartment. I knew it was temporary and that his stuff …and more importantly, he …would be gone. I thought I’d be OK.

But when the UHaul truck pulled into my driveway, and he took all of his stuff and added it to what was in the truck, I was done. He was really …leaving! Miles and miles away! As he pulled away, after having endured my massive hug…that stupid lump in my throat started throbbing. When he turned the corner and I could no longer see or hear the truck, I lost it.

So, I cried as I left Indiana. I cried when I got back into my house and realized she was gone. I was completely stricken with a bad case of parentalitis.

I am happy to report, however, that I am on the mend! I talk to my daughter and son continually. More importantly, I have them in my heart, in a place from which they can never leave. I have in my heart so many hours of love and joy and “growing up” experiences. That’s my “stuff,” and no matter what, my “stuff” will go with me. That makes me smile, and it is indeed a candid observation…

When We Lose Our Power

Several years ago, there was an ice storm in Columbus, Ohio.  The storm itself was horrible …but what was worse was the loss of power.

It was so cold that even now I shudder, thinking about it. I wanted to stay in my house, though. I thought I’d be able to make it work. I had a fireplace…and thought it would help.

It didn’t, not nearly enough. My son, daughter and myself huddled in my king-sized bed,  dressed in layers and with hats, coats and gloves on …but it just kept getting colder and colder.  Finally, I knew we couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t afford to get us into a hotel, which many people were doing. Thank goodness I had a friend who took us …and our two cats …into their home over the Christmas holidays. My two Huskies I left in the house, and went to the house repeatedly to make sure the fireplace stayed active.

I was grateful for my friends, but I hated not having power in my house. Every day I would drive to my neighborhood as dusk settled…to see if there were signs of power, and every day – for seven days, to be exact, I would leave my neighborhood, after tending to my dogs, crying. It was depressing. When my power was restored, my whole attitude changed.

I keep thinking of my own experience as I think of the people on the Eastern seaboard who do not have power. It is getting cold. Some people are staying in houses that are uninhabitable, because they have nowhere to go. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, estimates that 70-80,000 people may need housing, and there really aren’t enough places to put people who have been displaced by the storm.

I can feel the depression of the people who not only are looking at stark destruction before them, and who do not have the comfort of having their power. It is getting colder, and blankets are not enough to keep people warm. I can literally feel their depression.

Whenever there is a horrible weather  tragedy, there are mental health issues that we really do not think about, but one thing that exacerbates mental strain is not having power. We take it so much for granted, having power. When we have no power, we have no light, no warmth and we feel like we have no hope.  It makes us susceptible of plunging into deep, deep depression.

I wonder how the people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Cuba are faring, post-Sandy? It doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity; a storm wreaks havoc on people equally. Some get more attention in the aftermath, but the mental scarring is universal, not discriminatory.

We take having power for granted. Since my ice storm experience, I find myself literally thanking God every day that I have power. I think of people who do not have power because they cannot afford to pay their bills. How do they do it, mentally?  How does that affect the way they live and interact?

As horrible as the destruction is in Staten Island and on the Jersey shore, I am sure that people will feel better once their power is restored. My niece, who lives in New York, lost her power, and once it was restored, wrote, “I turned on every light in the house, just because I could.” I understand. I am thanking God for my power this morning, because it’s cold outside, and my power enables me and my family to stay warm and to have light to see.

People who were hit by Hurricane Sandy have a lot to deal with, with boats sitting atop houses, cars on top of each other, houses completely destroyed and lying on the ground like discarded toys.

But I would bet that they would be able to handle that better if they just had their power.

Funny, the things we take for granted, the things we do not miss or realize how important they are to our very psyches…until they are gone.

A candid observation …



Sandy: An Act of Terrorism

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near i...
Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near its peak Category 5 intensity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


As the reports of the devastation and destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy continue to dominate the news, it has been hard for me not to think of this as an act of terrorism – a natural act of terrorism.


We all know that terrorism can come in a lot of ways, but the most threatening, at least in my mind, is that which can come from an act which upsets and unwinds our infrastructure. something that is so complete that our very economy and way of life is threatened. Terrorism seeks to do its work by destroying what is vital for everyday life, and by instilling fear in those being terrorized. Hurricane Sandy seems to have done that.


Hurricane Sandy, like Hurricane Katrina, showed no mercy to its victims. Both storms went right to the heart of their targets’ infrastructures, causing people to lose everything. When one looks at the total destruction on the Eastern seaboard, and remembers back to what New Orleans and places like Pas Christian, Mississippi were like after Katrina, it is easy to see how the goal of the storm was met. People were left hopeless, distraught, and displaced. They were that way after Katrina and they are like that now, after  Sandy. People bounce back…but they are never the same. Terrorist acts do that: they destroy what “was” and force us to do something new.


What if these storms are a warning, or a clarion call, for the United States to become aware that we are NOT the same as we were before 911? What if these storms are saying to us that we have to create a new reality, live within a new caution and awareness, so that we are not walloped again like we have been? Every time I fly, I moan at the screening we have to go through as a result of 911, but I also realize that we in America have to accept that things are not the same here as they were and will never be.  It feels like we need to begin to accept the new reality that is before us and begin to act in different ways.


Before 911 and these storms, it seems like we were almost smug in our comfort. We had never been attacked. We heaped destruction on other countries in the World Wars, but we had never experienced that. We felt really safe and protected.


But with new technology, which is so powerful, and nations around the world which do not like us, we are not so safe anymore. All a nation has to do is figure out how to upset our infrastructure, and the reality we know even now will be forever gone.


I have heard it said that to fix infrastructure, like New York‘s 108-year-old subway system, is too expensive …yet, in the wake of this horrible storm, Hurricane Irene last year, and Hurricane Katrina before that, can we really afford to use expense as an excuse not to improve our infrastructure so as to protect our nation?


It is said that when bad things happen, it’s not so bad; bad things are “lessons” for us. I don’t think we are supposed to try to “get back to normal.” I think we are supposed to think about what our “new normal” looks like, and work to make it happen.


We have a good percentage of America that is severely traumatized by this hurricane. They are going “back” to nothing. Their homes are gone, their mementos are gone. For some, their loved ones are gone…because of this act of terrorism called Hurricane Sandy. They don’t have anywhere to go, some of them. Some people have resources to start over, but many do not. This country is not the same as it was, even a week ago.


It seems that we need to look at what has happened with different eyes and a new understanding, and with a determination to learn all the lessons we need in order to live in this “newness.”  If we do not,  Hurricane Sandy, who has danced blithely off into oblivion, will have had the last laugh. She doesn’t care what she did to our people, our country, our spirit, our hope …but we should.


A candid observation …






When Our Foundations Shake

Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near i...
Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico near its peak Category 5 intensity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, as we all see what Hurricane Sandy has done, we are reminded, as the prophet Isaiah said, “the foundations of the earth do shake.”

With the ruination and destruction that has occurred, it is clear that things will never be as they were before. When foundations shake, and destruction comes, change follows.  “Getting back to normal” will be a new normal. Nothing will ever be as it was.

Is that a good thing? Probably. There are things about which we as individuals or governments as entities grow complacent.  When Hurricane Katrina wrought destruction in New Orleans, discussions sprouted about emergency preparedness, about the levees, about race relations.  Foundations that are shaken reveal the cracks that have been there for a long time.

If we look at Sandy and even Katrina as metaphors, we can apply lessons we are learning from them to our personal lives. There is much within us that we need to change, and we have thought about doing it for the longest time …only, we procrastinate. And then …a storm comes and the changes we should have made a long time ago stare us in the face, menacingly.

I wonder how many times city planners in New York thought about changes they needed to make in their subway system. For 108 years, it ran without a major catastrophe, and yet, the possibility of devastation due to flooding must have always loomed as a discussion point.

Doubtless, changes to an infrastructure are not looked upon favorably, one, because we like things “the way they have always been,” and two, because change always costs.

We can be proactive and make changes before catastrophe happens, but most of us do not. Invariably, though change costs whenever you do it, it is cheaper to do it proactively as opposed to reactively. We know that, and yet we procrastinate. We eke by with things “the way they are” or the “way they have always been” until the foundation shakes so violently that things can no longer remain the same.  The shaking is so violent that destruction is complete. Change must occur.

So many people in New Jersey and New York and the entire Eastern seaboard are standing in the aftermath of shaken foundations.  Storms come unexpectedly. They come when they want, and they stay as long as they want. They don’t care who gets mowed down in the process.  As I think of Hurricane Sandy, I find myself angry at her. Who asked her to come? Why did she come with such a fury?  Why didn’t she care about the people, not only in the United States but in the Caribbean and in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, whose lives she absolutely destroyed?  I am so angry at her …

But I also understand that storms…come…uninvited, unexpectedly, with no regard of who or what they destroy. That being the case, we need to be, perhaps, a little more willing to cast procrastination aside and do what our spirits tell us we need to do to withstand the storms that will eventually come.  They always come, and they almost always pave the way for a new normal.

We could all do ourselves a favor by checking ourselves. Is our insurance adequate to handle a storm that might come? Do we have flood insurance? Do we have a plan in case a storm comes our way? Are we ready?  What do we need to do to prepare, so that when the foundations, our foundations shake, we are not completely devastated?

And …are we ready not only for the physical storms that will come our way but for the emotional and spiritual storms that will come as well?

This hurricane, just as Hurricane Katrina, has caused me deep thought. I cannot stand to see the total destruction, the pain and angst, of the people who lost everything, not now and not after Katrina. I am angry at Sandy, just as I was angry at Katrina. The audacity of these storms to wreak such havoc just does not set well with me.

But what also doesn’t set well with me is that we as humans are so slow to understand that our foundations – physically, personally and spiritually – will shake. We will not always be as we are right now.  It seems that we ought to understand that and do what we need to do to strengthen ourselves while we have a chance…because storms …will come.

A candid observation.