Being a “Black Contrarian” & The Marcus Smart Example

After the recent outcry over the fraternity “MLK Black Party” that took place several weeks ago & my subsequent blog which you can see here, I received the usual praise, primarily from White folks, & the usual criticism, primarily from Black folks. Let me be clear: I am no race-baiter, I am no opportunist, I am nothing; but with your help, your input, your ingenuity, we can not only sustain, but improve & enjoy more successful race relations. I am only an individual with a desire to bridge gaps, create understanding, & build a better community. We live in the greatest country, in the greatest time, with great opportunity as well as great privilege. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, & those of their ilk, I am not.

I write to open minds, shed stereotypes, & ignite discussion. Imagine my surprise when successful, intelligent Blacks whom I admire, chastise me for being too real, hitting too close to home & holding my community accountable. Often times I am labeled a Black Republican because of my contrarian views, contrasted with those within the Black community. However, even I am guilty of taking the “Black position” (see my thoughts on Justice Clarence Thomas). Even though I am a Black-American, that is only one aspect of who I am. I am an individual, & I’ve learned that I respect those who exercise freedom of thought, & do not fall into the trap of taking a position simply due to their racial makeup, their nationality, or their socio-economic status.

It is never my intent to disempower anyone. That being said, from a kid who lived in the projects growing up, I have lived a blessed life. It’s easy for me to sit from my perch & talk down to folks about what they’re doing wrong & how they could be better. It’s easy for me to talk about opportunity when I’ve been blessed with so many, some that many of my young Black brothers & sisters can only dream of. I’ve traveled, I’m cultured, I know which fork to use at a formal dinner, how to set a table & what to say & how to dress for any social situation. I sit where I am because the community has embraced me, supported me, & encouraged me. I am cognizant of all these blessings, & I take none of them for granted. However, the underlying principles of my life, the things that have made me successful, things like personal responsibility, accountability, perseverance & integrity are the principles on which my personal success is built. These are foundational elements, & we should exalt them, not disregard or downplay them. We, as a Black community, spend too much time being victims, & encouraging others to settle into the victimhood mentality, & this is one of my greatest sources of frustration with my Black community. We can never make progress if the conversation is consistently about who to blame & how we can escape accountability; this is the mindset I am fighting against.

When I talk to my Black family about accountability & the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, I am often met with resistance. Instead, we focus on past wrongs & blame others for our shortcomings as mothers, fathers, & citizens. We can no longer live like this. This is the victimhood mentality that has paralyzed our community & stunted our political, social, & intellectual growth. We have to identify the people & the issues that are stunting our growth and address them head on. We cannot expect the Jay-Zs, the Kanyes, the Sharptons, et. al. to fight those fights for us. Those folks espouse the philosophy of NEW SLAVERY, a mentality that values materialistic conquests & the perpetuation of a victimhood mindset. We need a narrowly focused effort that unifies & educates the family, in the home. Strong homes, make stronger citizens, make great communities. Instead, we have young men & women who idolize the aforementioned celebrities & value a lifestyle that is shortsighted & unrealistic.

The Marcus Smart situation is a prime example where personal responsibility & accountability should be at the forefront of our minds. (In case you haven’t seen it, see the clip here. The fan who was shoved allegedly hurled that racial epithet toward Smart. What the fan said doesn’t matter, Smart shouldn’t have put his hands on him.) Sadly, the majority of my Black brothers & sisters have shown support for Smart & his actions Saturday night. Let me be clear: support for the young man’s actions is misdirected, misguided, & only empowers his sense of entitlement & lawlessness. He has to learn to conduct himself with the aplomb expected of a (potential) professional athlete. Going into a rage & assaulting a person because they dropped that racial epithet is never the appropriate response. Can I knock someone out at my firm because they drop that word? On the street? Anywhere? For those who support Smart’s actions, tell me the logical conclusion of his rage every time some drops that word to disparage him?

By all means this young man has a bright future ahead of him, yet, without accountability he will never have an opportunity to see the NBA riches he covets. The correct response isn’t support for his actions, but constructive criticism for his lack of self-control. We need to distinguish him as a person from his actions Saturday night; condemning him for one should not be confused with condemning him for the other, & this is what we have failed to do as a Black community. Smart was forced to apologize; he should be. He was suspended for three games; it’s warranted. Don’t undermine the disciplinary process by telling the young man his actions were acceptable Saturday night, it gives mixed messages & more importantly, the wrong message. The young man has a history of tantrums, hopefully this is the wakeup call that helps him toe the line.

The praise from my White colleagues about the blogs I’ve written often make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I ask myself, am I a conduit through which they can voice an opinion they wouldn’t say aloud? This troubles me.

To my White friends & family, I urge you to be cautious in your words. Your experience is not the Black experience; your hasty disregard for your Black brothers & sisters story undermines the relationship we need to build. That relationship can be built if we listen & are receptive to what they have to say. To say that slavery does not affect you, to say that you haven’t struggled, to say that your experience is not worthy of my time, is to silence that person’s story. You’ll never understand being the only black person in a corporate meeting, or being the only kid in your class who is Black, or being told you can’t get into a Scottsdale club because your jeans are too baggy or you’re wearing Jordans, or whatever creative euphemism the doorman gives you that night. I would also caution you about your insistence that racism is nonexistent (it is very much alive & well), & the idea that it only exists in Black folks’ minds. Consider this: poverty is cyclical, & for a family, especially a family whose ancestors were firmly rooted in Jim Crow, slavery, & inequality, the cycle continues to this very day. This is not just Black families, but many white families as well. Once we understand the cyclical nature of poverty, it becomes abundantly clear why access & inequality still exist. In many places, we are living with the “badges & incidents” of slavery from decades past. Hell, inequality is written into our Constitution (check out that whole 3/5ths thing).

The sheer bigotry & vitriol for President Obama is enough to make even the most optimistic Black American suspicious of the political process & the true motives of the Right. Our history is littered with injustice (for a graphic recount of the lynchings & sheer terror Black Americans experienced, particularly Black women, go here), & when we turn on the news & see George Zimmerman go free (in some cases lauded as a hero) for the death of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Kimani Gray or Ervin Jefferson, or Timothy Stansbury Jr., or Sean Bell, or Victor Steen, (Start the video at 1:00 to see footage from the patrol car of Victor being run over by the officer), or Oscar Grant or even Emmett Till, how can we believe in a fair & just system? Compare that to Casey Anthony. How many of you have been stopped & frisked by NYPD because you fit a stereotype? When you say things like “get over it,” or “stop complaining,” not only is it insulting, it’s infuriating. Don’t cursorily dismiss any Black person’s situation, frustrations, & social misgivings. There is an abundance of evidence that lends credence to the thought that Black folks don’t get a fair shot in this country, even if one has made it to the White House. This is not meant to reinforce White guilt, this is meant to raise awareness; be cautious before you dismiss our story.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ve probably pissed you off, or maybe you agree with what I said. The point is I want to challenge your assumptions, have the discussion, shed stereotypes & promote understanding. We each have an important role to play in the discussion on race, we can contribute to it, or we can detract from it, but it is long past due for us to address it respectfully in the spirit of unity, brotherhood, & greater comprehension.

I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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