Thursday, December 8, 2016

The step towards eradicating racism is...

As our nation moves into an era of uncharted waters and much uncertainty, I am reminded of a conversation that I had recently with my pharmacist.  She is an endearing person with a wonderful personality.  Our exchanges have always been full of laughter with the occasional serious overtone.  It has always been that way.

On one of my last visits, I shared with her my hesitancy to interact with white people the way that I used to. I find myself second guessing the person's intent, something that I never gave much thought to in all the years that I have been alive.  I knew that there would always be a demographic of white people that would look at me and see my skin color and nothing more.  I knew that they existed and in their existence, judged me, regardless of whether their assumptions were fair or unfair.  Every person of color has experienced this at one time or another...and yet, it never stopped me from interacting with them in the assumption that you will treat me fairly and with the dignity in which I carry myself.

And yet, I am always surprised when people don't see me for who I am.  They don't see the man that has aspirations of contributing something positive to the world...that I am a hardworking individual who wants to earn his way as opposed to being given a free handout.  Most of us don't want that.  But that doesn't stop people from thinking incorrectly that we do.

As I navigated social and professional circles throughout my life, I found myself being judged, at times before I even opened my mouth.  I was judged by both black and white people alike.  As a young man, I was judged by blacks as being not black enough.  I spoke and acted too "white."  And I realized that I simply didn't speak enough slang and didn't blend in enough with black culture because of the way I dressed.  As I grew older still, I realized that I didn't fit in with white people for the very same reasons; I didn't adhere to the stereotype that they held of me.  Because I had a decent command of the English language, that meant that I was uppity and that I thought more of myself than I should.

In both cases, both demographics made me feel like I was doing something wrong when in reality, all I was doing was being me...being the man that God had intended me to be.  I realized that this was the crux of the problem with most of us.  Some white people just don't see black people.  Some never will because in order to do so would be to admit that we are capable of feeling, loving, learning and yes, providing for our children.  Even worse, it would force them to admit that black people are deserving of the same rights and privileges that they enjoy and take for granted everyday.

In order for us to have a candid conversation about race in this country, you first have to admit that there is a certain level of perception that needs to be removed.  You cannot paint an entire race of people with the broad paint brush of preconceived notions based on the actions of a small portion of that same group.  All blacks are not poor and ill-mannered just like all whites are not wealthy and racist.

The problem comes when you meet people that adhere to that stereotype.  And that brings me to my initial point.  I second guess my interactions with white people now.  I don't know who adheres to the ideology of white supremacy especially in light of our current political climate.  And yet, there are times when some white people have reached out to me as opposed to looking through me.  A simple one minute exchange is initiated as if to say "I don't am not part of the crazy rhetoric that has torn this country apart."

We can all take the first step of ending a chapter in American history that is marred and tainted with the blood of innocent people.  It begins with the eradication of self entitlement.  Admittedly, it will be harder for some people do than others, for if you have never been disenfranchised, how can you expect to have empathy for those that are?

We know that the enemy comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Recently, I saw a picture of what appeared to be four college coeds wearing white tee shirts that  had a word emblazoned upon the chest.  When they stood side by side, the words spelled out the sentence "Make America White Again."  Regardless of whether this is a hoax or not, the sentiment resonates across this country.  There are many white people that believe in "white entitlement."  There are also many people that don't.  The challenge is, how can you tell them apart since they all come enshrouded in white skin?  Do you interact anyway or do you stand by and let them make the first move?  Or even more importantly, do you lend validity to their particular stance at all and keep it moving?

There is no easy answer to this.  You cannot deny that we are a nation built upon the backs of immigrants.  We are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, so the idea of one race presiding over all of the other races that helped forge this country is absurd.  But like it or not, people will believe what they want to believe without lending much thought to the amount of truth that those beliefs entail.

I guess the words of the day are "See Me."  See past what you think I am and take the time to learn who I am.  See Me.  Learn that who I am and want to be will not in any way be detrimental to you.  This is easier said that done...because at the very root of racism, no one really wants to see the other.  It's easier to live in fear and ignorance.

It's harder to do when black men are dying in the streets at the hands of very people that have taken an oath to protect and to serve.  It hard to do when you are regarded with suspicion in some stores that you patronize.  It is hard to do when you are passed over for a well deserved promotion and instead, it is given to someone whose credentials happens to include being white.

So what do you do?

J.L. Whitehead

Friday, November 18, 2016

We are our brothers keeper

It's been two weeks since America decided to elect Donald J. Trump as our new Commander in Chief, and many of us (depending on who you cast your ballot for) are either elated or in a period of begrudging acceptance.

I, myself went through begrudging acceptance phase last week and realized that I have to move on.  There is nothing that I can do to change the outcome of the election.  It has brought out perhaps the worst in us as a people collectively...but since the pendulum does swing both ways, it can also bring out the best in us.

Like many of you, I was genuinely surprised by the hatred that came out as a result of this election.  I thought that we were moving past this.  Slowly yes, but past it all the same.  And yet, with the introduction of a candidate that seemed to embrace all of the things that we despise in modern society, the ugliness has risen it's head and some white people are saying and behaving in ways that we haven't seen since the 50's and 60's. 

People that subscribe to bigoted ideologies are lowering themselves and their dignity by calling our current First Lady a gorilla in heels or by spray painting inflammatory an statement on the side of a building that read, "black lives and your vote don't matter."

It's enough to make someone that is non-white give pause to responding to thoughts like this with aggression...except we can't do that.  For to do that would be to lend legitimacy to those that harbor racist thoughts.  But what do you do?

We know that we have always lived in a land of the haves and have nots. Furthermore, we know that the haves (for the most part) have been white people and the have nots (for the most part) have been black.  We also know that there is a certain portion of white society that had hid their racist feelings behind political correctness, and now those same people feel emboldened if not empowered to release them.

What we have to realize in all of this is that number one, all white people don't subscribe to those types of ideologies.  We have to remember that there were a huge number of white people that were surprised if not downright outraged by the results of the presidential election.  And since that is the case, we cannot afford to put all white people in  the same basket because it only causes further division.  And in the upcoming times ahead, division is something that we cannot afford.

Secondly, we are truly our brothers keeper.  If we mean what we say, we have to learn that we are now living in a time where we all need to do better for ourselves by doing good for one another.  We must learn how to give to someone in need and care for our own; and by that I simply mean to care for an lift one another up.  It will be difficult because that thought process is new, foreign to most, but it can be done.

More nasty things will be said about us.  More things will be done that will test us.  And more people will feel like it is their right to make life miserable for others based on nothing more than the color of that person's skin, the way that they pray, their gender identity or their sexual orientation.

I do not believe that at the end of the day, we will all join hands and sing Kumbayah.  Life is a bit more complex than that.

But we can start by not giving into hatred.  We can start by demonstrating what it truly means to be thy brothers keeper.

J.L. Whitehead

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American Politics: Is this what we've become?

This election has kept me awake at night.  I have found myself lying in bed with eyes closed trying to get to sleep, and yet my mind continued to turn going over the events of the race for the White House.  I wonder who is going to win and how that victory will translate to the betterment of the people of the communities that I am a part of.

We all know that both candidates are flawed and depending on whom you talk to, one candidate’s flaws and inconsistencies will override the other by far.  But this race isn’t strictly about the personal flaws of each candidate.  Or rather, it isn’t ONLY about the flaws of each candidate.
For me, what is very important is how the person that wins the White House will be once they have obtained the office.  How will their decisions impact me and those like me?  Will I be better off a year from now or will I be worse?

I’ve heard bits and pieces of what one candidate will do regarding race relations in this country, and this is a vital topic that needs to be addressed.  This is not just about the shootings that have taken the lives of so many African American men like me.  The concern runs deeper than that.  It is the very perception of African American men that is disconcerting at best.  It is that preconceived notion that we are perhaps not worthy of making a better wage, living in affluent neighborhoods or providing a sense of financial stability for our children.  What should be addressed is the leveling of an economic playing field that has perhaps never been equal for the participants involved.  Someone needs to talk about that.  The unjustified killings are an end result of that thought process.  I would be willing to participate in that conversation.

As everyone knows, our nation’s history is steeped in racism, discriminatory practices and overt sexism.   But the sad part about all of this is that history continues to invade our present.  If it weren’t so, Donald Trump would have never risen to the level that he has.  Though I believe that many of his supporters are not overt racists but people that are tired of politics as usual with little or no say in what matters to them, many of them are.  There are those who still and will always believe in that sense of White Entitlement…which simply means that it doesn’t matter what happens in communities of color because it doesn’t affect me or my family.  Donald Trump is the voice of many Americans who feel as if something of importance was taken away from them.  And despite some of the vile things that he has said and done in the past, he continues to be that voice no matter how UN-inclusive he happens to be.

Many people believe that Hilary Clinton is self-serving and lies when it is convenient for her to lie and honest only when it is equally convenient for her to do so.  And in some circumstances, that may be true.  But I still support her because I believe that she is better equipped to run this country than Mr. Trump.  It’s not that I hate Donald Trump.  Personally, I don’t know the man.  But I’ve seen people like him in action.

He is not a career politician.  He says what he means…but what he means is contingent upon the audience that he stands in front of.   By the same token, the same can be said for Mrs. Clinton.  And yet, I will take the gamble and support her because I would rather have someone occupying the role of Commander-in-Chief that is familiar with world events…not someone that simply says that they are.

It is important for us to know that the person residing in the most coveted position in this country if not the free world needs to have personality traits of someone who can lead effectively.  This involves not only being strong, but possessing quality traits of compassion, caring and to a certain degree…generosity.  It is not enough to just be strong because pure strength is not what got us this far.  I would like to believe that the majority of us are not racist or harbor racist, xenophobic tendencies.   I would like to believe that we all understand that everyone is entitled to equal pay for equal work as well as the opportunities for advancement.

I believe that we are all concerned about national security, terrorism abroad as well as on American soil.  We are concerned that our very way of life is challenged…the good and the bad.  We are concerned about job security and a strong economy.

But in order for these things to be addressed, we need to have a government willing to work with one another for the good of the American People… the key word being American People.  We cannot have someone in office that is promoting and an agenda where only a precious few can and will benefit from.  Somehow, that concept has been forgotten.  

Our Republican Congress had decided that once our current President took office, it was their main mission to ensure that he failed.  Their mission was not about the betterment of the American people but to make sure that the president failed at doing his job.  

As someone who has been paying close attention to this race, I’ve been watching both candidates.  I am familiar with the pasts of both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.  Mrs. Clinton has made mistakes that will continually come back to haunt her.   But at the end of the day, despite those mistakes, I believe that she is qualified to be president.  Mr. Trump continues to demonstrate that he does not have the temperament, knowledge or distinctive personality traits needed to govern this nation.  To date, he has never apologized to the many people that he has offended.  Speaking to his temperament, he has a tendency to lash out at anyone that he perceives to be a remote threat, regardless of whether it is factual or not.
So as this race continues, I will watch what is happening in politics.

But here’s a final thought:

Whoever assumes the role of Commander-in-Chief will hopefully reflect the values that we as Americans hold dear.   Regardless of who you prefer, the most important thing that you can do is vote.  If you decide to vote for a candidate that will not or cannot win the White House or if you decide to sit this election out and not vote at all, you are, in fact casting a vote for someone that you may ultimately not want residing in the most important role in this country.

~ J.L. Whitehead

Sunday, August 28, 2016

So just exactly how often does molestation happen within communities of color?

In the 50's, 60's and 70's no one ever talked about child sexual abuse.  Most people didn't know how to process the idea of a child, male or female, being violated.  For some parents, it may be the factor of guilt in not being there to protect their child now that the damage has been done.  For survivors, it is about not knowing how to process what has occurred.  For all, it may be as simple as not knowing what to do about it.

What complicates the issue further is that depending on the victim, finding out what really took place may be next to impossible because of the range of emotions involved.  Some will want to protect the molester because they have been groomed to do so.  They may feel a sense of allegiance to them because at the end of the day, the molester made them feel good.  Or, they may feel that they need to protect their family because the perpetrator may be in the family and it will cause chaos in the family unit if the abuse were ever to come to light.  The victim may feel embarrassed because this has happened to them or even worse, they may feel powerless to stop it.

Abusers are smart.  They know how to select a victim and once targeted, the child will be groomed until the act occurs.

In my particular circumstance, my abuser targeted homes where there was no visible father figure.  He preyed on young boys that needed the guidance of a father and willingly offered to fill the void that the absentee father left behind...or at least that's what he did with me.

I missed my father tremendously while growing up...or rather, I missed the idea of him which is why it was so easy for this man to manipulate me into doing things that a 13 year old boy shouldn't be thinking, much less doing.

The molestation went on for only a few months before he moved on to someone else.  I didn't find this out until years later, long after I graduated from high school...long after the trajectory of who I would have been or matured into had been permanently altered.

So just how often does this occur?  I think that it occurs more often than we realize.  On the website "1in6" it is estimated that one in every six boys experience sex inflicted by a molester before the age of 18.  Personally, I think that these statistics are higher because boys don't talk about things like this.  We suffer in silence and carry the after effects with us into our latter years.

We abuse drugs, alcohol, sex our partners and each other...and yet we don't know why.  We think that our defects of character are ours and ours alone without making the correlation that something happened to us in our early years that may be the cause of our actions today.

So...what do we do?

J.L. Whitehead

Sunday, July 10, 2016

When will things change for African Americans?

I went to church to pray today.  I prayed for the change that is so desperately needed in these challenging times.  As I settled in for prayer and listened to the readings of the day, I was struck to my core by the homily that Reverend Sean Lanigan had to say.  It echoed a sentiment that I have carried with me throughout my life.  In his homily, he addressed the issues of the day...the senseless killings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas.  We have all lost something in these events.

White American may feel like they lost something in that five white police officers who had taken the oath to serve and protect lost their lives doing the very thing that they have sworn themselves to do.  African Americans lost yet two more lives to senseless violence at the hands of the very people that have sworn to protect us.  There is a sense of outrage, fear and frustration as we move forward into the aftermath of these events.  Many of us are at a loss as to what to do with the emotions that churn within us.

But what Reverend Lanigan said was a message directed at white people.  Although you are not directly responsible for the loss of life that occurred in Louisiana and Minnesota, you can do something.  Feeling guilty is not the answer, for to feel "white guilt" is to give yourself a pass to do nothing.  What he meant by that was if you as a White American allow yourself to feel guilty over the circumstances that have been in place for many African Americans for centuries, then you are in essence saying that, "I feel guilty, which makes me better than the person that feels nothing...and because I feel guilty, that is an excuse to take no action at all."

I walked up to Reverend Lanigan after service and told him that as an African American man, I have been the victim of  passive racism (if there truly is such a thing) for most of my adult life.  That racism came in the form of being stopped by police officers in New Jersey for doing nothing more than driving a nice car, to being passed over for promotions because there was always a more qualified "White" constituent who could do the job better than being told by a supervisor a few years back that I should be happy that I have a job when I was given the promotion that I was due, but the raise that came with that position was given to someone else.

This is my personal reality...a reality that may of my white brothers and sisters will not understand because it is not a part of their reality.  The fairness that all are entitled to is not experienced by all.  And the undercurrent of racism is so entrenched in American culture that it is easy to overlook if you are not the victim of its practices.

Racism is not as overt as the tragic killings that occurred in Louisiana and Minnesota.  Most experiences of racism is actually difficult to prove...but if you are on the receiving end of it, you know it when you see it.

I don't blame all of my trials and tribulations on racism in America, but at the same time, I am smart enough to know that many of the issues that occurred happened because I simply did not fit into a demographic that would allow me to move forward with ease.

And now, I think about my commute to work.  I think about my three younger brothers who are all good, law abiding men and yet I know that they will always be seen as "black" men first.  And honestly, I don't know what that means anymore.  If I say the wrong thing or move the wrong way too fast or too slow, will I be accosted and thrown into jail?  Or worse, will I be shot because my actions were somehow perceived as a threat, even if the threat was only in the mind of the person that stopped me in the first place?

I think about my mother as well as all of the African American mothers out there who have sons and had to groom them for a life that they knew would present challenges for them. They knew that being black in this country is not always an asset.  And this is something that some white people will never understand.

A white mother does not have to prepare her children for the likelihood that her child's life will be made more difficult because of the color of their skin.  Some white people may not want to hear this...but simply because they don't doesn't make it any less a fact

Right now, millions of black mothers are in fear for the safety of their sons and daughters.  My mother is one of them, even though one of her sons is a police officer.

What happened in Louisiana and Minnesota was tragic.  What happened in Dallas was just as tragic.  One incident does not outweigh the other for to say that it does means that someone's pain is greater than someone elses.  Pain is pain.  Hurt is hurt.

Tears that falls from a mothers eyes, regardless of the race of the woman still reflects a broken heart.  Now is the time for a serious dialogue and then the appropriate action to follow behind it.  People need to understand that there is not a need for "White Privilege."  And my white brothers and sisters need to understand that it does exist.  As I said earlier, it is so entrenched in American culture that if you are not on the receiving end of it, you would not be able to see it; and if you can't see it, how will you know that it exists?

I'm not telling you that this is a problem that will be eradicated overnight.  The problem did not appear overnight and it will  not dissipate overnight.  It will be difficult.  The reason why it will be difficult is because many of my white brothers and sisters will not acknowledge that there is a problem and would like to see things remain status quo.  Honestly, if I were part of a demographic that had an edge simply because of the color of my skin, I don't know how quickly I would want to give that up either.

What is needed now more than ever is someone who will lead us with power, peace and the love of God.  We need prayer.  We need to see past our differences.  We truly need to learn how to love and accept one another for everything that we are as well as everything that we aren't.

Because at the end of the day, all lives matter!!!

~ J.L. Whitehead

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Can we change?

I have never viewed myself as extraordinary.  I never thought that I would amount to anything great or do something that would make a difference in this matter how much I wanted to.  I've been around people that have said, "'re going to make it because there's something in you that won't let you fail."

Most times, I would smile and nod...say "thank you" and keep it moving because I didn't believe it.  Not for one second.  The reason I didn't is because I knew the man in the mirror all too well.  I was well aware of all of my shortcomings; shortcomings that were magnified to the tenth power by my experiences.

I had accumulated scars that left deep welts in my psyche.  And yet everyday, I would plaster on a smile and ignore the ache that I had become accustomed to know so intimately.

Pain is a funny thing.  If you lose someone that you love, the ache will be brilliant, hot and it will feel like it will never go away.  It will weigh on your heart until you learn to live with it.  It will seem like you can't...until you do.

My pain became a part of me.  Sometimes, I wore it on my sleeve.  Other times, I pushed it so far back that I almost forgot that it was there.  But it never went away.

The mistakes that I made were magnified to the point that on some days that's all I saw.  It was my reality.  Mine and mine alone.  It never occurred to me to wonder why I felt the way that I did.

It never occurred to me to wonder why at various times in my life, I was so socially awkward that it was easier to drown myself in anything that would numb that pain than it would be to face reality.

There are thousands of men like me.  We carry pain with us and hide it behind our masculinity.  We hold things inside until they explode and then we wind up hurting someone...even if that someone is ourselves.

We push people away without knowing why...perhaps the very people that we want and need to be closest to the most.  We drink too much.  We do drugs.  We indulge in too much sex with anyone and sometimes punish that person because we don't love them.  We may become so engrossed in work to the point that work may seem like that is the only thing that matters.  We cheat on our loved ones, not because we don't love them but because we really don't love ourselves.  And when all else fails, we snap out into a rage over things that may be inconsequential and we don't know why.  In the silence of our rooms, we may even shed a tear only to wipe them away and hide behind our masculinity once again.

We do this without a thought because pain no matter how great or small has become one with us.  We don't talk about it because to talk about it would be tantamount to being weak.  Instead, we continue to live life in  the sense of normalcy that we have always known, even it isn't correct.

So what do we do?

~ J.L. Whitehead

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How gullible are we?

When I decided to enter the literary industry, I didn’t have any idea how I was going to convey my thoughts over the topics that would cross my desk.  Initially, I began writing commentaries about whatever moved me at the moment.  This led to the discovery of something that every journalist should think of before putting fingers to keyboard.  It’s the one thing that is at times missing from news reporting in general…and that thing is honesty in writing.

Freedom of the press has given itself free reign over when and how it delivers news.  But somehow that has changed into news being delivered in a manner that we not only want to receive, but also the means of which it is delivered. 

The attention span of the average American citizen is short.  We want information but we only want what we are truly interested in and in most cases that interest has to be something that we agree with.

Objectivity in news reporting has gone to the extreme, at times reporting what we want to hear when we want to hear it.  If we want to hear that something or someone is bad, we simply turn the channel to the network that will support our belief regardless of whether it is right, wrong or otherwise.

You’ll find news media outlets that will report an event and put their own spin on the circumstance to support whatever their watchers happen to believe.  And unfortunately, this is happening with an alarming frequency.  Often you’ll see the same story being reported on two different channels and you wonder “How did they ever get there?”  Maybe they report some facts while leaving out others.  And if that be the case, is this truly the norm in reporting?  Do we willingly believe what is being spoon fed to us because we truly trust that what is being said is the truth, or do we hope it is the version of the truth that we want to believe?

It brings into question what we as a society hold dear as truth.  Do we believe the truth no matter what?  Or do we use our own intelligence and search for the answers that often times elude us, hiding behind a thin veil of what can be construed as honest reporting?

Someone once said that there are two sides of a story, and then there is the truth.

I’ve become leery of any new media outlet that reports a view point that leans too far to the left or right.  Instead, I try to remain objective and research issues that directly pertain to me when time permits.

In contrast, many of us don’t have the time to research the reporting given to us.  It is simply easier to believe what is being told to us without question or thought.  But do we believe what is told to us because it suits our belief system?  Is it easier to believe that things are chaotic when in fact things may be normal?  Do we believe that we are suffering when we are not?

I am watching the presidential campaign from a distance while simultaneously conducting my personal research.  It is necessary to do so to maintain my objectivity as a journalist.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump, but I believe that I have an idea as to why his campaign has gained the momentum that it has and it ties directly to the very topic of this article.

People are angry and they want to believe someone that speaks to their emotions of late.  And if someone speaks to that emotion it will strike a chord with that individual, no matter who that person may be.  There is a general consensus in this country that something has been lost and that our government has perhaps taken something from us.  Some of us will blame the president and his policies.  Some of us may blame the previous administration.  And still, some of us may blame the parties that were instrumental in creating the circumstances that we are in right now.  We can blame the Republicans, Democrats or a combination of the two.

Most of us will not.  We will blame one faction and hold onto whatever shred of proof to support our belief…even if the proof is thin.

I want fairness and equality for everyone in this country.  Everyone should have access to success, peace and prosperity.  That is not something given to only a choice few.

So as I watch the race for the Whitehouse continue, I will continue to do my research, listen to news reporting as it is given, but at the end of the day, I will make up my own mind as to who is speaking the truth as well as who is speaking a lie.

After all, that is my right.

J.L. Whitehead

The Legacy Diner

  Everyone has a favorite place they like to eat and/or hangout at…literally.   We associate these places with pleasant memories.   Maybe ...