Wacky Wednesday: What Are You Reading?

Da Hype 1

Junie B. JonesRecently, my 6 year old has gotten into to Junie B. Jones books. I have enjoyed reading these books with her because I love watching her fall in love with a character. I have learned that reading a book series allows children the opportunity to get engaged and stay engaged with a character. Since she was a baby, we have read entire series of books. The characters are familiar to her and she looks forward to the newest experiences they face.

Junie B. Junes, who will not engage you unless you call her by her entire name, gets into trouble and she is brazen and fearless. She is spunky, and she gets into the type of mischief that was historically reserved for boys in literature. She is also creative and smart. I like reading about her new escapades and discussing them with my daughter. Her behavior also provides us opportunities to discuss how I want my 6 year old to behave.

I love watching my daughter explore literature and I am happy that we can now explore it together.

Da Realist 1

I just completed While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of whileworldwatchedAge during the Civil Rights Movement by Carolyn Maull McKinstry. As the title suggests, McKinstry was at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when it was bombed on September 15, 1963. In fact, she had just seen her friends Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair in the bathroom before the explosion.

I was interested in Maull’s perspective as teenager and as a survivor of such a tragic, violent event. As one might imagine, she had survivor’s guilt. She lost her best friend in the bombing. Psychologically she was traumatized, but she had no opportunity to discuss her feelings. No one talked about what happened–not at school, not at home, and not at church. When the church’s damage was repaired, the bathroom where the girls were killed was literally walled off. When she left Birmingham to attend college, she began drinking as a method of coping. It took her many years to come to terms with her alcoholism and her feelings about the bombing.

While the World Watched is compelling when discussing events that Maull participated in or witnessed. But the sections on other historical events and actors (like JFK and “Bull” Conner) are much less effective. Her narrative is not written chronologically; as a result, it is somewhat repetitive.

It was important for McKinstry to share her story of survival and illustrate the impact of the bombing on her life. While we mourn and pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement, we give considerably less attention to the effects of violence on those who lived through it. Though I may have issues with this book, I’m glad she wrote it.


Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.

Movie Review: “The Butler”

Author Wil Haygood is also an associate producer of the film.

Author Wil Haygood is also an associate producer of the film.

I knew that seeing the movie “The Butler” was going to be a challenge for me, but I decided to see it anyway because I wanted to write about it for 2 Dope Sistahs. As my husband and I waited to go into the theater, a woman with tears in her eyes came up to us. “You gotta see ‘The Butler’! You just gotta see ‘The Butler’!” she implored. Then she asked, “Are you going to see ‘The Butler’?” I rolled my eyes, sighed, and let out an audible “Oh, Lord.” My husband, on the other hand, was less irritated and told her yes. She assured us that we would love the movie then moved on to spread the word to others in the lobby. I thought about leaving right then and there, but we had already paid. I was hoping for the best.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was “inspired by the true story” of Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House for 34 years, eventually retiring as a maître d’ in 1986. I was relieved to see that the movie did not purport to be the “true” life story of Allen although much of the publicity surrounding the film seemed to hinge on the connection with the “real” butler.

Forest Whitaker is “The Butler,” Cecil Gaines; Oprah Winfrey is his wife Gloria; and David Oyelowo is their son Louis. The film tells the story of the parallel, yet connected lives of father and son. After his father’s death, Cecil Gaines begins his “career” as a domestic worker in the plantation house where his family sharecropped. He takes great pride in his work. After landing the job at the White House, Cecil has close and seemingly intimate encounters with the presidents. He is present at pivotal moments in American history, and the presidents seek his input, especially on matters of civil rights and race.

While Cecil doesn’t seem to have much interest in civil rights, Louis is eager to be involved. He wants to attend an event where Mamie Till, whose son Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, is speaking, but his father forbids it. Louis decides to attend Fisk University in Nashville rather than Howard University in the nation’s capital in order to be close to and involved in the civil rights movement. Louis has little time for school because he is busy taking part in EVERY major civil rights protest of the 1960s. In one particularly heavy-handed example, Louis is in Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King when he is assassinated. In his room at the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King informs Louis of the importance of domestic servants in African-American history.

Cecil and Louis are engaged in a classic generational conflict. The father doesn’t understand the son, and the son doesn’t understand the father. Not to worry, though. It all works out in the end.

“The Butler” featured great performances by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, although I was puzzled by her character’s alcoholism and extra-marital affair. I also enjoyed the performances of Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, and Elijah Kelley as Charlie, the Gaines’ younger son. These performances, however, do not make up for a simplistic story that fails to capture the complexity of the lives it portrays. But in case you’re wondering, my husband absolutely LOVED it.

In Remembrance: The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

On September 15, 1963, just eighteen days after the March on Washington, four young black girls (pictured above) were killed by a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In remembrance of those girls whose lives were taken by senseless violence 50 years ago, 2 Dope Sistahs has compiled a list of books, DVDs, and websites on the Birmingham Movement and the bombing. We hope our readers will find our list useful. Let us know what you think. We welcome your suggestions.


Carolyn Maull McKinstry, While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement, 2013


Glen T. Eskew, But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the
Civil Rights Struggle, 1997


Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, 2013 (Reissue)


Andrew M. Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, 2001


Larry Dane Brimner, Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Conner, 2011.  (For ages 12 and up)


Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, 2001 (For ages 8 and up)


Cynthia Levinson, We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, 2012 (For Young Adult readers)


Spike Lee, Director, 4 Little Girls, 2001 (DVD)


Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 (DVD)

16th Street Baptist Church (Photo by Da Realist 1)

16th Street Baptist Church
(Photo by Da Realist 1)

Websites (links):

Eulogy for the Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing

16th Street Baptist Church (The church has scheduled events and activities to commemorate the anniversary.)

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

“Hello”: Where Are the Women?

Photo from democracy.org

Photo from democracy.org

Representative John Lewis (D-GA) is recognized as the only living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. That is, if you don’t count Gloria Richardson.

In 1963, Gloria Richardson was a 41-year-old activist, an organizer of the Cambridge (MD) Movement, when she was asked to help coordinate travel for people attending the March. She was a part of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, which was affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and became its chairwoman. As chair, she helped launch a multi-generational movement which focused on public accommodations, economic opportunities, and housing.

Richardson’s name was listed on the official program along with Daisy Bates, Diane Nash Bevel, Mrs. Medgar (Myrlie) Evers, Mrs. Herbert (Prince) Lee, and Rosa Parks as “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom.” Daisy Bates, former president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke less than two minutes. When it was Richardson’s turn, she was only able to say “hello” before being whisked away from the microphones and off the stage.

Richardson’s story illustrates the marginalization of women and grassroots activists. There are so many great stories surrounding the Civil Rights Movement in general and March on Washington, in particular, but this anniversary has focused primarily on Martin Luther King and the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream Speech.” If you are weary of this over-simplified representation of people and events, you will enjoy learning about Gloria Richardson. (For a link to Gloria Richardson’s August 27 interview with Democracy Now! click here.)

Our Favorite Civil Rights Books

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington has 2 Dope Sistahs thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Often the narrative is decidedly male-centered, so we decided to share some our favorite books that focus on women’s activism.


Melba Patillo Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High


Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi


Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer


Elizabeth Martinez, ed., Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers and Freedom School Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer


Howell Raines, My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered


Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson


Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle


Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement


Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Barbara Woods, eds., Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965


Lynee Olson, Freedom’s Daughters : The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement

There are great resources on the internet. We have included a few links below:

Malcolm X vs. Bayard Rustin Debate (January 1962)

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Letter From a Birmingham Jail (April 1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech at the Great March on Detroit (June 1963)

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Testimony, Democratic National Convention (August 1964)


“Tell them about the Dream, Martin,” Or, Carrying a Heavy Load

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And, then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or, crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or, does it explode?

–“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

1963 March On Washington

1963 March On Washington

On August 28, 2013, our country will celebrate 50 years since the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

The contents of that speech was not what Dr. King originally planned to discuss. Just after he spoke on the issues in his prepared text, singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Scholars believe that Mahalia Jackson prompted Dr. King’s extemporaneous speech on his dream for a better America.

As I reflect on his “dream” for this 50 year celebration, I cannot help but consider it in the context of this tough summer we had in civil rights.

Arguably one of the most significant accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement is the Voting Rights Act and this summer, parts of its provisions were overturned. Immediately after the decision was made, the State of Texas put into action new voting districts that diminish the power of black voters.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”–Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

In addition to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was another keynote speaker the day of the march, and he was a 23 year old powerhouse named John Lewis.

In 1963, John Lewis was the President of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had such a  powerful voice that he was invited to speak alongside Dr. King. I think about John Lewis often, nowadays, as I reflect on the current state of race relations and civil rights, and I wonder how painful it must have been for him to witness significant parts of voters rights revoked.

This past Saturday, there was a march that commemorated the one 50 years before, and it established the need to address the current social and political needs of African Americans. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who 50 years before spoke to a crowd about their inalienable rights as citizens of the United States, reaffirmed the need for blacks to stay vigilant in their fight for civil rights. He also made clear that he would not “stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

Where are we today in actualizing Dr. King’s dream? Has his dream been deferred?

What do you think about Dr. King’s Dream? What has disturbed you or what (if anything) has this country done right?

Wacky Wednesday: Lunch, Anyone?

Ok, 2 Dope Readers, we have a question for you. If you could have lunch with anyone–dead or alive–who would it be? And what would you talk about?

Da Realist 1

I am going to stick with someone living. For a historian, picking from people who have passed on presents far too many possibilities. I could never narrow it down to just one.

While there are many people I’d love to dine with, I would select Rep. John Lewis (GA). He is a civil rights icon, truly a national treasure. He has witnessed and participated in so many important events of the 20th century. The Freedom Rides. The March on Washington. Freedom Summer. Bloody Sunday. He was there for all of it.

Walking With the Wind:: A Memoir of the Movement, John Lewis and Michael D'Orso

Walking With the Wind:: A Memoir of the Movement, John Lewis with Michael D’Orso

I missed an opportunity to meet him when I was at Miami University in the spring of 2007. John Lewis gave the commencement address at graduation, but he also came to my department. Although I thought I was a logical choice, I was not selected to meet with him or show him around. Ironically, while he was touring the department, I passed him and his escorts (my colleagues) in the hall. They waved and kept walking. Looking back on it now, I wish I had gone to the dean and asked to meet Rep. Lewis. All he could have said was no. Or, I should have tried to introduce myself when I passed by him and my colleagues.

And what would we talk about? Oh my! Where would I start?  I would definitely ask him to sign his autobiography for me. From growing up in the South, to the Civil Rights Movement, to his career as a congressman, I’d be willing to listen to anything he had to say. I’d be honored just to sit and talk and share a meal.

dorothy_heightDa Hype 1

I could come up with a number of people that I would love to have lunch with, but if I have to name someone, I will identify Dorothy I. Height as the woman I would like to break bread with.

Dorothy Irene Height, who lived to be 98 years old, was a Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activist. She served as President of the National Council of Negro women for 40 years and National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Many sitting U.S. Presidents sought her council over the years. She was the special guest at President Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration.

If I were able to partake in lunch with Dorothy Height, I would ask her what inspired her to keep working towards equality over the years. I would like to know what it felt like for her to experience the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States. Did she give up anything for this lifetime commitment to black liberation and women’s liberation? Were there times in which she felt like her commitment to one movement alienated her from the other? During her fight for equal rights, what was her greatest moments and what were her most heart breaking moments? I would like to know what this current moment in our lives feels like for her, especially given this very tough summer in civil rights.

Of course, I would talk to her about what Delta Sigma Theta meant to her.

Who would you have lunch with if you had the opportunity?

Finding My Great-Grandfather in a Box of Memories

Last year my mother was searching for something in storage when she found a chest that my paternal grandmother had given her when her mother, my great-grandmother (Grandma Della) died. It was filled with old bills, cards, letters, photographs, Bibles, and various knick-knacks that belonged to my Grandma Della. Although it appeared to be junk, I asked her to send the contents to me. The historian in me just knew there would be a great find among all that stuff, and I was right. I found my great-grandfather–not literally of course, but figuratively.

I was very close to Grandma Della. I was always at her house. Among other things, she taught me how to bake and crochet. She passed away while I was in college. Her husband Jim died when I was 5, so I can’t recall very much about him. I called him Jim, not grandpa or granddaddy, but apparently everyone else did too. He had a heart attack and was in the hospital for a week before died. Even though I wanted to visit him, I was not allowed inside his hospital room. I remember his funeral. He was a World War I veteran, and the American flag draped his casket at the gravesite.

Jim in his Army uniform, circa 1918.

Jim in his Army uniform, circa 1918.

I found some wonderful pictures inside the box, including Jim in his World War I uniform, Grandma Della and Jim together and with their young family, and my great-uncle James as a baby (born in 1923).  My interest was piqued, so I began to gather the documents, Grandma Della’s stories, recollections from other relatives, and research from Ancestry.com to flesh out Jim’s story.

Jim was born in Kemper County, Mississippi in 1894. Not much is known about his early life except that he attended Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. He registered for the draft in June 1917 and was called into military service in August 1918, three months prior to the Armistice. He served overseas, most likely in France. A year later he was discharged from the Army. He and Grandma Della married in December 1919; she was still a teenager. She told me that Jim had come to “court” her, riding his horse with his Army uniform on.

Jim, circa 1950s

Jim, circa 1950s

Grandma Della and Jim raised seven children (and some grandchildren too). They worked  hard and were able to buy several acres of land and build a small house.  Grandma Della was a cook. Jim was described in city directories and census records variously as a laborer, yard man, and a janitor. He apparently had lingering physical and psychological issues resulting from his time in the military. As late as 1939, his physician noted in a letter requesting disability that he had difficulty walking and pain in his knee and shoulder. He also experienced nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and “all manner of bad dreams.” A contemporary diagnosis would probably be that he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Because of Mississippi’s reputation for almost totally eliminating the black vote prior to the Civil Rights Movement, I was surprised to find evidence that my great-grandparents were registered voters, at least as early as the mid-1950s. The box contained poll tax receipts and sample ballots. If they were able to vote, perhaps it was because Jim was a World War I veteran.

Poll Tax receipt, Lauderdale County, Mississippi

Poll Tax receipt, Lauderdale County, Mississippi

I suppose grandchildren can never really know about the lives of their grandparents. After all, Jim was almost eighty years my senior. But I feel as if I know him a little better now, and I certainly enjoyed searching through the box of memories.

From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization

*This post contains language that may be problematic for some audiences.

King Memorial True Peace is JusticeIn the last month or so, I have been listening closely to conversations on race and racism, especially as they pertained to the Trayvon Martin case, Paula Deen’s racist remarks, and the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. I’ve been troubled by the ways in which the conversations on race have oftentimes been hijacked by racists themselves.

I was especially disturbed when the Trayvon Martin case quickly shifted from addressing the acts of a racist vigilante, who racially profiled an innocent black boy, to address the well-versed discussion on the so-called “black-on-black” crime phenomenon. (See Da Realist 1’s post last week, “The Last Word: President Obama’s Statement on Trayvon Martin”).

What I find most fascinating is how racists are capable of turning the conversation on its head so that they become victims. In this case, “black-on-black crime” allows them to validate their fear of black people and to promote the idea that the vigilantism of George Zimmerman is necessary for white people to survive when interacting with young black boys, who are so violent that they kill each other.

This fear tactic was used to lynch black bodies in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century and was the premise behind the fear mongering in the white supremacist movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915). In so many ways, black people participate in this dialogue, much to our detriment.

This way of co-opting victimhood can be traced back to the Don Imus case, though it goes back much further than that. In April 2007, morning radio and talk show host, Don Imus, eagerly commented on the Women’s College Basketball playoffs between Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee. He made the remark that the women on the University of Tennessee’s team were more attractive than the women on the Rutgers’ team. He cringed while addressing the Rutgers’ women and said that they “looked like some nappy headed hos.”

He proceeded to liken the well-played championship game to Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, by saying it was like watching the “Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes.”

Black people were outraged . . . for a while. It didn’t take long for Imus and others in the media and political arena to say that he was only doing what the rap artists do by using derogatory language to refer to black women. In other words, it was fine for these young black women to be degraded by this man who had the power of the press to publicly attack and humiliate them directly because rap artists offend black women in their lyrics all of the time.

What followed was a new discussion, one that erased Imus’s behavior as problematic and replaced it with conversations about black people’s usage of the word “nigger” and other derogatory lyrics about women in rap music. A local Historically Black College/University held a forum on the subject matter that ended up solely addressing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” In July of the same year, the NAACP, at their 9th Annual Convention, thought it prudent to funeralize the word with a procession and burial.

The women on the Rutgers’ Basketball team were no longer considered victims of the vicious words that attacked their identity and the identity of black women as a whole, but they became transgressors of the wrong-doing initially aimed at them. In fact, we all became transgressors–black women and black men alike–of an offense aimed at all black women. I’m sure Imus breathed a sigh of relief that he was no longer the focus of the conversation.

Fast forward to this year when Paula Deen (who I promised myself I would not talk about on this blog) was exposed for using racist and offensive language. For some reason, folks were surprised that this 66-year-old white woman from Savannah, Georgia, who pours on her “Southern” as thickly as she pours four sticks of melted butter into every meal, dreamed of hosting a wedding party where black people returned to the Antebellum South as “servants” to white people. She also admits using the “n-word” at some point in her life.

Black people were horrified by her racist fantasies and by her usage of derogatory language . . . but, not for long.

Again, the discourse quickly changed! We were no longer addressing the language used by Paula Deen, but we began discussing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” As in the Don Imus case before, the conversation moved from addressing black people as victims of racism to a discussion of us as perpetrators of racist behavior toward each other.

There is a formula for how we engage conversations on race and racism in this country and it goes a little something like this:

1. White person offends a black person/all black people by making racist comment(s). The language is so offensive that people are initially shocked, saddened, and/or sickened by it, at least for a short while. Sometimes, the offender feigns ignorance and claims, for example, that they had no idea that it was racist to pass around an email with a picture of random black folks having a picnic and eating watermelon and fried chicken out of a KFC bucket on the White House lawn, with a caption that reads “the new White House cuisine since Barack Obama became President.”

2. Other racists quickly come to the defense of their fellow racist by making the argument that it is okay for comments that espouse white supremacist ideology to be used toward black people because black people, themselves, use derogatory language when engaging each other all of the time. Somehow, the word “nigger” is invoked in the conversation, even when it was not in the original insult. Apparently, calling an African American a “nigger” is the only way to degrade us. Invoking “nigger” in the conversation is tactical because when there are no specific examples to show black people using derogatory language against each other, the usage of the word in rap music becomes the default for example.

3. In response, black people (including politicians or organizations like the NAACP) jump on the bandwagon and reiterate on every talk show, blog post, interview or media outlet, that we must end the usage of the word, “nigger.” How does one manage such a monumental feat as making sure that no other African American ever utters the word again? By holding a march and burying the word, of course!

4. The focus of the conversation has now successfully shifted. We are no longer addressing the issue at hand: in the case of Imus, a white man with a public platform attacks the character and identity of black women. This original issue is no longer being addressed.

5. Not only has the discourse been redirected, but so has the victim’s rights to be victims. The Rutgers’ basketball team is no longer the victims of Imus’s public ridicule, but they are now the perpetrators of the transgression that victimized them because, “they probably listened to rap music anyway.”

Tracing this history of how we converse about race makes it very clear for me how the defense of George Zimmerman successfully painted the picture of Trayvon Martin, the victim of murder at the hands of a racial profiling vigilante, as a marijuana-smoking, violent black male. This is consistent with the way this conversation has been had for so long. Black people are only seen as perpetrators of crimes and wrong-doing, but never as victims.

There is certainly space for conversations on violence in black communities and conversations on how black people engage each other, but the Trayvon Martin case is not that space. The facts: Trayvon Martin was killed by a white man (not a black man), in a predominately white (not black) neighborhood. That white man (by the way, his official government documents identify him as white) has walked free because a jury could not imagine Trayvon as a victim.