A while back I attended Oprah’s “Live Your Best Life” tour and one of the things she said that really stuck with me was the fact that she had some “good white people” in her life who helped her get to where she was today…then she literally said, “get you some good white people” [blank stare]. So immediately I thought wow, I know a few good white people but clearly not enough!
Fast forward to yesterday, I’m scrolling through Facebook and I keep seeing the same quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as it relates to the necessity to speak out against racist, sexist, homophobic, ridiculous Donald Trump: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Black friend after black friend has this quote on their feed – probably aimed at their other black friends – and the more I see it, the more pissed I get.
Why is it that every time black people get upset by something crazy a crazy white person does we’re all over social media quoting how we need to do this and do that to combat white craziness? (Listen, I know there’s black craziness too but that’s not what this post is about). When are we going to expect, no demand, that white folks police their own crazy people and hold them accountable for their words and actions?
Or in the words of the great sociologist Chris Rock, “When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”
In reality, the MLK quote that black folks need to spout online is: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. So with this sentiment in mind, I'm issuing a #CallToAction to #GoodWhitePeople everywhere to put on your "save'em" capes and go hard against Donald Trump, the media that gives him leverage and the GOP that grants him validity.
Look, people are used to black and brown people showing out and being up in arms when they are faced with hate speech and racists actions. The response in Chicago at Trump's rally was not a surprise - it was inevitable and the response was typical. White crazy talk = black anger and protests = TV coverage and chatter for a few hours = everyone goes on with their lives = racism flourishes unchecked = the American way.
Yet in the midst of all the talk about the need to push back on Trump is the noticeable absence of the good white people that must be as outraged about a Trump presidency as the colored folks are right? I feel like #HollywoodSoWhite has caused me to look out of my window and watch for the good white people to fly through the skies, white capes sailing in the wind, to come and save brown people from all of the evils of the world. I mean, you watch "The Blindside", "The Help", "Race" or any movie with Kevin Costner in it and you start to think that God put good white people on earth just to save the good brown people.
So now, when we need life to imitate art I'm wondering where is Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock when we need them? (They even adopted black babies so they definitely need to worry about a Trump-led America).
Why is Matt Damon and George Clooney so silent? (Aren't they BFFs with Don Cheadle?)
Leonardo - even if you don't speak out on behalf of the browns you surely love the greens enough to know that Trump would singlehandedly try to cut down every tree himself to build a Trump hotel.
In fact, the head of every major hotel chain should be panicking every time Trump wins a primary state; who will you employ in your hotels if Trump actually enacts his deportation "plan" (and that's not a racist statement just a real one).
But most importantly, the good white people who we joke with at work, who carpool our kids to school, who come over for dinner, who've benefited from Obamacare, who understand that there is a real danger to the fuel Trump is using to flame the fears of white people who think they are losing "their America" are the ones we need to hear from NOW. Seriously, say something. Be louder. Be unafraid to denounce racism and sexism and other ‘isms in all its forms but especially when this type of hate is being championed by a presidential front runner.
And frankly this goes beyond politics. I don't care if you're a republican, conservative, liberal or anti-establishment, the venom Trump is espousing and violence that is yet to come if he isn't shamed into oblivion is far more crucial than your political ideology - it's not as if he's talking about real policy solutions anyway. It is beneficial for the country, for future generations, to have a diverse and safe environment where all people can flourish instead of the divisive, narrow-minded, white supremacy driven country Trump is blatantly championing.
If good white people of the past could travel to the Deep South and risk their lives alongside black activists you surely can put on your cape and risk losing a few friends online because you spoke up for decency and against hate. Or should we consider your silence as agreement?
The call has been issued. The #GWP sign is flashing in the air. Now the choice is yours good white people – will you put on your white cape or put it over your head instead?
The curious case of Sandra Bland has really been on my mind lately not so much for the obvious reasons but more so for the fact that I don't know with 100% certainty that she didn't commit suicide. Sure, the civil rights activist/freedom fighter side of me totally believes that she was murdered in her jail cell because 1) she's black, 2) she pissed off the cops and 3) she was in Texas. But it's this same side of me that also totally believes that a woman who is embarking on a new journey in her life and isn't afraid to speak up against injustices could actual hit a brick wall all of a sudden and commit an act that no one believes she's capable of doing...because why would suicide ever be on her mind?
For years I battled with depression and it wasn't because I was jobless, or broke (even though I was) or needing a man (even though I wanted one real bad). In fact, I was well on my way up the success ladder as the National Youth Council Coordinator for the NAACP - spending my days training young leaders to be fearless advocates for Black youth across the country. Unfortunately, as my external persona shined, internally I was perpetually, deeply unhappy, sad, confused, lost...and suicidal.
If I was detained by the police as I constantly traveled the darkest back roads of the rural south or white as snow heartlands of the midwest, NO ONE (not even my momma) would have ever believed that in my jail cell, my ever present dark cloud overcame me to the point that I finally gave in to the voices in my head and just let go...
I didn't know Sandra and I feel for all of the loved ones in her life who will have unanswered questions about her death - and life - forever. I feel for those of us who've grown weary because we believe/know another Black person has died at the hands of the police without any chance of justice being served or our lives mattering more today than they did "back in the day". But I also feel for those who without a doubt believe that Sandra Bland was murdered because suicide isn't something that a "strong" Black woman would ever consider - and the conversation about the need for mental health support in the Black community is an unnecessary distraction.
At this point, the only thing I know for sure is that you only have one life to live - and in this life it's important that we all work to break the chains of oppression that hold people down physically, emotionally and mentally as well.
So today, don't just "say her name" - that won't bring Sandra back or prevent another life from leaving this world. Check in on your friends, your family members and let them FEEL that you're there for them - to listen, to just be present or to take them to see a doctor if need be. It's so easy to go about our days as online activists and forget to be offline support systems. Lastly, but most importantly, take care of yourself first...for it's impossible to be strong in the fight if you're weak in the mind.
Last night I stopped by the National Action Network's DC office to see my NAACP family at work – Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, Rev. Charles White and Trudy Lucas. The fact that these former NAACP staffers and institutional experts were let go unexpectedly after 20-30+ years of service earlier this year, then hired by Rev. Sharpton at NAN with a renewed passion to continue their civil rights work with a new organization is truly inspiring. They could have been broken by the challenges they experienced at the hands of the organization they've dedicated most of their lives to serving. But once again, here they were working at almost midnight getting ready for a march the next day because at the end of the day, it's not about which organization they work for, but the love they have for black people and the desire to work for positive changes.
As a I left the NAN office last it hit me that I needed to apologize for the admonishment I gave towards the "Black Friday" boycott in response to all that has transpired. What good was it for me to publicly criticize an effort that was only trying to help address a problem? I could have tracked down the key people who started the boycott idea to give them some strategic guidance based off my experiences but I chose to vent on Facebook instead of offering a helping hand. I allowed by "organizers arrogance" to overrule my sincere desire to see people take substantive action and for that I apologize.
On a similar note, this week there have been so many negative comments about NAN's National March Against Police Violence - so much criticism of either the event itself or the organizers behind the effort. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of marches myself, but the fact that you have people who are spending time trying to organize an effort to address a problem that is literally killing black people shouldn't be shunned. Trust me, there's not too many people who will work 15+ hours a day into the morning to do something to try and help someone else. And I'm talking about people who do laborious work, not pontificating online or on TV. Who knows how many people will be spurred into sustained action because they attended the march today? And isn't that a good thing?
Whether we agree with marching (or the march speakers), or shopping boycotts or protests in the streets, we have to be encouraged that there are people who are out there doing what they feel is best to advocate for justice. And we need to stop playing each other and truly work together - like for real! We all have strengths and weakness and the sooner we figure out how we can fill each other's gaps, uplift each other's goodness and put our unity puzzle together instead of spending energy bashing each other, the better off we'll be as a community.
It's not News Year's yet but I've resolved that from now on I won't waste time criticizing the road someone or some organization takes as they try to determine their best path for success (especially if I'm not a member of said organization). Instead, I'm going to focus on figuring out and acting on what I need to do to uplift others (and give some advice along the way). So in closing I want to thank all the community organizers for the work you're doing to better the lives of so many people you'll never know personally. You may burn the midnight oil and think sometimes that your work is in vain but trust me; we need you and appreciate all that you do.
Waking up this morning I’m sure you experienced a lot of emotions – anger, sickness, frustration, sadness, disbelief, utter belief, confusion, love. I know I woke up wanting to believe that last night didn’t happen and that all of this has been just a horrible nightmare. But as we know, the reality of what occurred months ago and last night in Ferguson is indeed real and ridiculous.
One thing I’m absolutely, without a doubt sure of is this – what the devil means for evil, God uses for good. Regardless of the outcome of yesterday’s farce of a legal system, Michael Brown did not die in vain. He died to wake us up from our comfortable coma. He died (as did too many before him) to push us over the edge and come together as a community to take action on problems that have run rampant for too long.
All across the country many of you have aimlessly wondered what your purpose was in life and through this tragedy you have found a path. For this I am thankful because we need you. We need Black people who love Black people to care for Black people and fight for Black people. While I’m thankful for allies of all races and ethnicities whose support is also needed, we must support each other first.
Sadly, we must also admit that America has never loved her bastard children – a race of people born from the capturers and the enslaved. She has never given her love freely to us. We have worked for it. We have fought for it. We have pretended for it. We have died for it. We have lived for it. We have earned her love because this is our home too. There would be no America without Black people and we cannot turn our backs on the country that our ancestors built. So I implore you to not turn to violence or tear down our communities. Why should we give racists and pacifists the pleasure of thinking we’re barbaric when in reality we’re brilliant?
So the real question following last night’s decision and decades of injustice is what do we do now?
First, let’s not forget how we feel today. Don’t dull the pain with superficial things to take your mind off of the realities that surround you. You and I both know that Black people have been unjustly persecuted, manipulated, disrespected, hated and murdered for years. And no matter if you’ve personally felt this way in your own life or not, today you feel the pain of your people so allow these emotions to stay in your soul’s memory.
Second, don’t make this an issue just about Ferguson. Ferguson was a catalyst not a conclusion. If you don’t actually live in Ferguson you’re able to be passionate about the injustice of Michael Brown’s murder from a distance while the same embers that sparked this situation in Ferguson are burning in your own backyard. Now, I’m not saying to be unsupportive of the activists in Missouri – I’ll get back to that in a moment but make the commitment to address the same issues that reverberate in Ferguson at home in a forceful manner.
Look, it’s real in these streets – so you posting a picture holding a sign about injustice in Ferguson won’t cut it. Sending tweets expressing your outrage is ok but it’s not going to save Black lives. Commit yourself today to choose chose civil rights over comfort and niceties over conformity in your own life.
Trust and believe, Black people are being disproportionately, negatively impacted by some issue in your community right now. Whether it’s police brutality, racial profiling, over-funding of prisons and under-funding of public schools, community redlining, food deserts in your neighborhood, lack of public health facilities, crooked politicians in office, prosecutors who clearly are biased against black and brown people and should be removed (blatantly referring to Bob McCulloch who should be disbarred immediately) no diversity in senior staff positions at your job - whatever - do something about it.
Now is the time for us to use our money and our time to better the position of Black people in this country – or stop complaining. In no way do I proclaim to be an expert but for starters, here are just a few thoughts on actions that you can take in the coming days:
1. Donate money to the Ferguson Action and Hands Up United coalitions currently doing awesome work in Ferguson – more info can be found on their website: http://www.handsupunited.org/#donate-1-section (they have a good list of protests occurring around the country too).
2. Don’t rush to travel to Ferguson unless your presence will result in a real accomplishment. Symbolism can be expensive. Assess if it’s more impactful for you to spend $500 on a flight to Ferguson or donate that money to the advocates working on the ground. Now, your presence might be needed but try to connect with an organization on the ground first to make sure your week in the city is useful.
3. If there is a Black child, teen, young adult or adult with a temper in your life that you love, teach them how to interact with the police and practice how they should react regularly. Unfortunately, we have to assume the worse when it comes to our interactions with law enforcement so our loved ones need to know what to do in various situations. Here are few points by the ACLU that you can use: https://www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform-immigrants-rights-racial-justice/know-your-rights-what-do-if-you
4. If you already belong to an organization in your community that is working towards a just society for Black people that’s great – step it up. Form stronger coalitions, measure your work and communicate your successes, hold elected officials accountable for their rhetoric, recruit new members and give them meaningful roles to play, reduce your reliance on corporate dollars or money that comes from outside our communities. Now is the time for us to go from protests to policy changes and we need your expertise to lead the way.
5. If you don’t belong to an organized group of concerned citizens, research the ones that are doing real work and join the organization best suited for you – or start your own organization. You don’t need to elect officers, just have one goal in mind, create a plan of action and stay committed until you win.
6. Research how the police function in your community. Is there a civilian review board in place? Do they have regular meetings/forums with community members? Do their cars have dash cameras? Do they have body cameras? Does the police force reflect the demographic of the community? What is the training curriculum for their officers? How many discrimination/police brutality cases have been filed against them? Are they open to siting down on a regular basis to determine ways to better interact with the community?
7. Get to know your elected officials – many of whom were just elected a few weeks ago. What platform did they use to get elected? What is their background and can they be an ally for your organization? What solutions are they offering to deal with the pressing issues affecting Black people in your community?
8. Lastly, really consider the talents, skills, connections, resources and will you have to lend to this fight. Everyone was blessed to do something that will bring good to others and there is no better time than now to join the movement towards equality and respect for all people in our country.
In conclusion, I leave you with these words from Nat King Cole and Roy Wilkins in 1956 – a year after Emmitt Till was martyred, ushering in a new wave of Black people spurred into action to fight for their civil and human rights:
Nate King Cole: "I can't understand it…I have not taken part in any protests. Nor have I joined an organization fighting segregation. Why should they attack me? I'd just like to forget about the whole thing."
Roy Wilkins: "You have not been a crusader or engaged in an effort to change the customs or laws of the South. That responsibility, newspapers quote you as saying, you leave to the other guys. That attack upon you clearly indicates that organized bigotry makes no distinction between those who do not actively challenge racial discrimination and those who do. This is a fight which none of us can escape. We invite you to join us in a crusade against racism."
Not too long ago I sent my friend a Facebook message asking for her advice on how I could become a contributor to her magazine – a very popular publication that I’ve wanted to contribute to for quite some time. After a couple of days she writes back and asks me to send her info on the stories I’d like to contribute to the magazine. To this day, I still haven’t sent her any stories. Why you ask?
The answer is simple – I don’t know…like really, I don’t know what specific stories I want to write because I never stopped to figure out why I truly wanted to write for the magazine in the first place. I didn’t take the time to figure out my purpose for heading down this path because the “success” of writing for xx magazine would’ve been all the gratification I needed.
And hence comes the dilemma and the question I now ponder repeatedly – am I living my life on purpose or just in (and for) the public? To further clarify my question, let me give you another example. Yesterday was Father’s Day and the outpouring of love people had for their fathers was beautiful and contagious. As I began to dig for just the right picture of my dad and I to post with the emotional yet short and sweet “thank you for being my hero and the best dad on earth” Instagram/Facebook post, I realized that one key thing was wrong with this picture – my dad doesn’t even use a computer and would never even see this message!
What in the world was my purpose for writing this heartfelt post if the person I was directing it to wasn’t on the other side of the computer? I had gotten so caught up in wanting to let the public (aka “friends”) know how much I loved my dad that I neglected to ask “what’s the point of this” and act on purpose – thus, I immediately closed the laptop and called my dad.
The act of living on purpose and not just in public is a decision we must make every day, all of the time. And I’m not talking about the kind of purpose where you’re asking yourself, “God what’s my purpose in life” or the “what was I put on this earth to do” kind of questions. Getting into the habit of living on purpose can be the simple act of honestly contemplating one key question: “Why am I really doing this?”
…...why am I really getting married?
…...why am I really trying to go to law school?
…...why am I really having sex with this person?
…...why am I really posting profile updates about my “glamorous” life when I can’t even afford a hot dog?
Have you ever heard that for every cause there’s an effect? Well for every answer there’s an action. When you take the time to consider why you do or want to do the things you do, you can then take ownership of your reasoning for that answer and action – which in turn, leads you to continue on your current path, reassess and go a different way or abandon taking action on your question altogether.
Unfortunately, too many of us go through life not knowing why we really do certain things because we’re often too busy to stop and question ourselves or can even be afraid (or ashamed) of our answers. But as you ponder the true purpose of your actions in even the most mundane of situations, you begin to learn more about yourself and gain greater clarity about your road ahead.
Thankfully, after much consideration and striving to live on purpose, I now realize that there’s even more I’d like to contribute to that magazine instead of just my writings. Now, I can be more accountable to myself and act on purpose as I strive to accomplish my new goal.
Note: This post was originally written on August 15, 2014
I continuously have no idea how our ancestors were able to deal with such racist/sexist brutality, murder of their own with no consequences and apathy from neighbors who wanted to act like nothing ever happened. Right now I want nothing more than to go about my life as usual. Forget about racist cops, symbolic Blacks and white folks who never - ever - have or want a clue. My time doing field work for the NAACP burned me out and I'm tired of feeling upset, angry...and tired...dealing with civil rights issues that never made the news...driving down dark back roads praying to get home ok. I would love to never revisit those tense days.
I'm so sick of Black and Brown people being treated like rag dolls that are toyed with when you want but ultimately devalued and thrown away (we do this to each other too, to much). And honestly, I'm jaded by "lack-avist" - you know, those who are so concerned and want to be activist but lack the real desire to take any action other than throwing on a t-shirt in a heartbeat (well now it's selfies in the t-shirt). But alas, complacency and ignoring pain can never be an option. So as I figure out my own actions regarding justice for Mike Brown and how I can work on behalf of the Black community as a whole, I do have a few suggestions I'd like get off my chest...
1. Take time to be angry and grieve for Mike Brown, others lost and pray for their families.
2. If you have friends or family in St. Louis, reach out to make sure they're ok - you don't have to be in the city to lend support.
3. Think really hard about what it means for pictures of people with their hands up, holding skittles and iced tea, wearing a hoodie - whatever "the" pose is - to go viral. In a real way, how does that make you feel? Do those pictures motivate you? What do they accomplish? And after YOU took one of those pictures, what did you do next?
4. If you want to do something in reaction to Ferguson, determine how many hours a week you have to dedicate to this cause and for how many weeks - honestly. Do you only have an hour to give for the next 10 months? Can you spend 2 hours a day for 2 years? Be specific then write your commitment down where you can see it everyday. This is important because one day attention will leave this issue and folks will inevitably be on to the next but you need to stay focused because this is important to you right?
5. Next, research actions that people/organizations are taking and contact them to ask how you can help. Perhaps there's a law office that is handling pro bono police brutality cases and they need help conducting research. There may be a local NAACP chapter near you that is working to introduce "Trayvon's Law" legislation on the state level (google this - I actually think it's a great piece of model legislation that needs our support to get introduced and passed on the local, state and national level - more on this later). Once you find someone that needs help, tell them your hours of commitment and get going!
6. Lastly, we've all been blessed by God with unique talents and gifts that are to be used for good works. What are yours and how can they be utilized to address this issue? Are you great at math? Some small organization surely could use your help with budgeting for their next rally. Hair stylist? Provide regular updates on volunteer opportunities, events and community meetings to your customers. Socialite? Host an event at a lounge and bring in a speaker who can educate your friends about police brutality, racial profiling, etc.
There is so much support people can give to an issue that is discounted because it's not "flashy" or can be conveyed easily on social media. 10 posts and pictures can't beat 1 hour of time you spend organizing a strategy session with your friends on what you can do together. 100 posts this month can't beat 1 blog post a week for the next two years to give info on the issue (you could do both though). Think outside your box and don't wait for direction from someone else. There's only one messiah and He ain't come back yet.
Finally, just remember that everyone can do something if they chose to...so let's all choose to do something today because we really have no choice not to...
WHO IS STEFANIE?
I am an inspirationeur!
I am passionate about empowering people to understand how their unique skills, talents and interests can change the world for the better while leading to personal happiness in the process. Through my work as a cutting-edge business woman, founder of a leadership development organization and spirited public speaker, I believe in #DoingItBIG and accomplishing results. #LiveCandid