The Tragic Death of Sandra Parks

Sandra Parks (13) Killed by a stay bullet in her home

My heart goes out the family of this young girl. Sadly, this story is one of the countless others taking place all over the country. Soon her short life will become part of the landscape of the numerous Black lives lost to the senseless violence that has become routine in many segregated, predominantly Black communities. Her story like so many others will get little attention before fading away. What is certain is that there will be many more Sandra Parks. In her award-winning essay, parks only 13 years old wrote about the crime in her neighborhood only to be shot dead in her room. Parks wrote: 
“Little children are victims of senseless gun violence,” she wrote. ” … I sit back, and I have to escape from what I see and hear every day. When I do; I come to the same conclusion … we are in a state of chaos.”

If Parks’ essay wasn’t a plea for closer examination and adequate address of the existing violence through a macro level lens to understand the root cause of the problem and come up with a viable, sustainable solution, what will it take? Extensive research has identified several contributing factors to high crime neighborhoods including but not limited to the fact that these incidents occur disparately in predominantly segregated Black neighborhoods lacking the necessary resources to address community needs. The high poverty rate is a result of unemployment, underemployment and shattered family structures in which one or both parents may be incarcerated, on drugs and have succumbed to other hardships.

The version of the story that America would have us believe is that hopelessness, lack of ambition, laziness, and criminal behavior to name a few are inherent qualities of Black people and that the victims choose the oppressive conditions in which they live. But that’s just the story used to deflect responsibility from those responsible for creating the problem. The fact is enduring systemic structures around racism has segregated and trapped many in the harsh conditions that do not provide the resources for many to escape. This same system is responsible for the mass incarceration and senseless killings of countless Black men that leaves many Black women without husbands and children without fathers. Racism is a factor as to why upward of 68 percent of households are headed by Black women many of whom work multiple jobs and still do not make a livable income – leaving their children to raised by the streets.

In Notes of a Native Son (1995) James Baldwin wrote, “I don’t think the negro problem can be discussed coherently without bearing in mind its context; its context being the history, traditions, customs, the moral assumptions and preoccupations of the country; in short, the general social fabric. Appearances to the contrary, no one in America escapes its effects, and everyone in America bears some responsibility for it.”

It cannot be said often enough that if we are to address the issues that exist in the Black communities adequately, we must first understand the formulation of the problems from a macro-level perspective. And to do so, our systemic structures must be scrutinized and ultimately dismantled. Ms. Parks life and death is a symptom of a more significant problem. As a society, we must identify the elephant in the room – and demand accountability.

Reference: 
Williams, Walter (2014) Black female head of households number is 68 percent
Baldwin, James (1995) Notes of a Native Son

Education: Unlearning Racial Biases

The article, Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity Natalie Moore (2018) presents a poignant view that embodies the harsh realities of how starkly devalued Black people remains in life and death. Time and again we see how deftly a Black man’s innocence can be distorted into one that paints him as the perpetual flawed character prone to criminality – one deserving of the brutality committed against him. Indeed, if there is no outward reason that one can use to justify his abuse – something will materialize. Whether it is the blunt that he was caught smoking in high school or a minor brush with the law at some point in his life – the story of him as a flawed character becomes a justification for his demise. The fact that he was unlawfully gunned down, arrested, beaten, convicted and a plethora of other abuses that many Blacks encounter on a routine basis becomes the background story.

The distorted narratives are influential contributions in desensitizing barbaric acts against Blacks on several fronts. For one, they invoke the dehumanizing ideologies that already exists. As such it is not difficult to convince many that Black men/ women and other minority groups deserve the cruelty they receive and are guilty of the crimes for which they have been accused no matter evidence to the contrary.

It is essential that history, as it happened, is taught across disciplines (in classrooms, homes, organizations, government.) Racism is a sickness stitched in the fabrics, cracks, and crevices of our psyches. It is imperative that as a nation, we unlearn all that history has taught us about ourselves and each other. Education is crucial in this regard. If we do not know ourselves – how can we know others?

Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity

The Masculinization of Black Women

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GQ cover placed “woman” in quotation mark on its cover featuring Serena Williams as Woman of the Year. With the barrage of racist, sexist criticism of her appearance as masculine, it is baffling that GQ’s editorial team did not find this problematic. Or did they? The publication is undoubtedly getting a lot of attention.
The backlash is not surprising. The stereotypical manlike association is an enduring and pervasive assault on many Black women’s image that dates back to the antebellum period. Placing ‘woman’ in quotation mark about a Black woman/ group subjected to a plethora of criticism about our womanhood, can and should be perceived as an overt microaggression. These actions cannot be downplayed as ‘someone who uses quotation marks in his work about an issue that has serious adverse psychological and emotional effect on individuals and target groups.

Serena Williams named GQ Woman of the Year

Addressing Bigotry

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels.com

I have never ‘truly’ felt the kind of terror that lived in my belly and would not go away, until I filed a racial discrimination complaint at work against a co-worker who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ reference about Black football players who kneel during the national anthem. When I learned that another co-worker had referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’ I asked for an investigation into that incident as well – in a dominant, white male workforce, no less. Evidently, no one had let me in on the secret that speaking out against bigotry would have changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. But even if they had – it would not have made a difference.

People have asked me, what did you expect? Actually, I expected leadership to be as appalled as I was – and take swift and immediate action that sent a clear message that racism was not tolerated. And used the incident(s) as an opportunity to improve issues around racial diversity. What else was I supposed to expect?

It’s become clear to me, in my research and observing the ways in which many racial conflicts escalate and are addressed – that fear by bullying, threats, fabrications and sometimes outright force …is still the weapon of choice that many in White America utilize to get what they want. This tactic has been used for so long, that tragically – for all of us – many believe this is the only way to deal with conflicts. But.. what has history taught us, if not, that not everyone can be bullied or threatened into silence – for some, this has the opposite effect. And clearly, we are not at a point in history where Black people will retreat into silence.

For those in white America who believe that fear-based tactics is the best way to address conflicts, I challenge you to try a less hostile approach. Can we talk?

 

Originally published on LinkedIn, June 5th, 2018

Black Women

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Malcolm X, in his 1962 speech, Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, spoke about the marginalized state of Black women calling them the most disrespected, un-protected and neglected person in America.

Of the many realizations that became clear during my research – one is how truly vulnerable and confined a space many Black women are forced to live within a systematic construct that treats them with hostility even as it deems them hostile. It appears that Black women who dare to embrace themselves as self-loving, prideful, accepting and unapologetic-ally Black – who challenge dominant ideologies that they are dis-empowered figures – who, in asserting themselves as having the right to speak, ask questions and stand against an unjust system – they understand how potent racism can be. It matters not the level of education and professional success that many Black women attains, society demands that they prove themselves worthy of respect and dignity. To name a few instances where the debase treatment of Black women is evident, Bill O’Reilly thought nothing of ridiculing congresswoman, Maxine Waters by attacking her appearance in his “James Brown wig” remark. Throughout her years in the white house, former first lady, Michelle Obama was routinely referred to as a monkey. Serena and Venus Williams have from the time they emerged on the national scene have been subjected to a ferocious barrage of racist and sexist comments. Omarosa was recently referred to as a ‘dog’ by our president. By a large scale, Black women and girls are victims of violence, murdered and incarcerated and many of these issues remain unaddressed.

Those who do not have access to the necessary resources or the ability to advocate for themselves are particularly at risk of becoming truly invisible – in a sinister way- within this hostile environment. That’s why it is vital that we help each other up. No other group can truly understand the bond we share in the struggles we face as Black women – and carve out a space that we can call our own. And as for Black men, stop disrespecting Black women. It’s shameful. We are stronger together that we are divided.

There is No Force More powerful Than A Black Woman Determined to Rise

There is no force more powerful than the Black women determined to rise

There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.” — W. E. B. Du Bois.

Resulting from historical and contemporary struggles around race, gender and sex biases, many Black women have developed extraordinary resilience, strength, courage and the ability to adapt and navigate harsh social and systematic conditions. In fact, many have found innovative ways to use their marginalized status to their advantage and are creating a space that they own. 

I concluded my dissertation with a significant paradigm shift on ways to best approach and expand the discourse , and correct the destructive, slave-era narratives about Black women. The dimensions that embodies and shape Black women’s lives are best captured not in their historical and enduring oppressions- rather, it is in their stories of survival, strength, endurance, resilience, and adaptability –  among  a plethora of other empowering attributes that the Black woman is captured and best understood.  Expanding the research about Black women’s unique, inter-sectional struggles from the point of power instead of oppression provides a more comprehensive and accurate answer to the fundamental questions, who is the Black woman, and what is her story?

The intelligent, accomplished and courageous women in my study who shared their lived experiences and observations of racism in America have inspired expanding the research. Indeed, the various dimensions of Black women are so complex that the study necessitates an in-depth exploration focused on Black women’s refined, acute, super-human like abilities to manage the challenges they face under oppressive and exploitative conditions.  One thing is certain; Black women are NOT the dis-empowered hopeless characters that the dominant narrative portray them. They are far from it! 

Justified Black Anger and Mental Health: Controlling the Narrative

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It is important that we acknowledge the issue of Black anger against the systematic structures that keep a large segment of the population marginalized and trapped cyclical in oppressive conditions for what it is – justified. In recent years, extensive studies have shown that pervasive confrontation with racism can create feelings of powerlessness and depression that may lead to emotional and psychological harm. These findings are essential to the discourse on racism – equally important, particularly in this climate where racial tension is high and more Blacks are raising their voices, it is crucial, that a clear distinction is made between justified expressed anger and what determinant factors constitutes as a mental health condition.

Indeed, many are justifiable angry that Blacks have remained among the poorest, most economically disadvantaged, oppressed population from the slave-era into current times. Studies show that the same slave-era, racist ideologies and systematic structures have rendered the group greatest at risk across the spectrum for illnesses, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, unemployment, and underemployment – to name a few. These injustices have not only been passed down to this generation, but many can also envision these same chains around the necks and ankles of future generation. As such, many of us are angry and justifiable so, that…

1. Socio-economically, most of America’s wealth remains predominantly in the hands of the white ruling class. And with the vast disparities in socio-economic solvency, education, and political representation that are in place – there is little to no chance that these inequities will change.

2. The vast disparity between incarcerated Blacks and other groups, whites, in particular, indicates an immediate need for review and reform of the penile system. Instead, more jails are being built to host more Black bodies – leading to an epidemic of fatherless Black children who are left to be raised by over-worked and over-stressed single mothers struggling to survive harsh economic conditions. This domino effect places many Black children at risk for a life of drugs, crime, and systematic exploitation. Within the construct of these conditions, one can argue that long before many Black children becomes an adult, they are perceived as future criminals – that once old enough, even a minor offense can mark them convicts and ‘property’ of the same system that created the problems that led to these horrific outcomes.

3. It is hard-pressed to turn on the news and not see Black people being brutalized and treated like animals, getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, white people calling the police for things as basic as napping in a common dorm space, getting fired for speaking out against racism, and that massive under funding in predominantly Black schools has led to high drop-out rates and illiteracy among many Black youth.

4. Negative slave era stereotypes still mark Black women as angry, unrefined, overly aggressive, out-of-control and a plethora of other intimations that deflect attention from the real issues that they face. As such, when they voice concerns about social issues that impact their lives, their interests are dismissed and their voices silenced. Despite women contributing to the workforce more than any other group, even those with comparative or more education, on a large scale, work menial jobs, are among the lowest wage earners and face a variety of intersectional challenges that renders them perpetually marginalized and struggling against oppressive conditions.

While it is necessary to address the adverse mental and psychological impact on Black lives resulting from racism, we must be careful not allow white America to label us as emotionally or psychologically disturbed when we express anger at the fact that slavery and its enduring adverse impact on Black people remain unconfronted and unaddressed. The danger here is that if the ideology of expressed anger at racism converges and takes root as a mental or psychological health ‘condition’, adding to the list of negative stereotypes, will be mental instability which will further marginalize and diminish the voices of those who speak out against racial injustice. An effective approach to silence us – is to discredit us- and we must be cognizant of all the ways in which that can happen.