The Blue Klux Klan

You can hardly scroll down a Facebook timeline without seeing yet ANOTHER video of a black or brown man under attack by the police…usually while unarmed.  These videos are so rampant that I can hardly keep up with them.

But what we’re not seeing, but which is happening just as frequently, if anecdotal evidence is half true, are the daily micro-aggressions black people suffer daily at the hands of the police. Most black folks have their own stories, but this one is compelling.


I Can Nurse Your Baby But…

I could nurse your baby, but I couldn’t vote, couldn’t drink from your water fountains, couldn’t eat at your tables.

But that was then.  This is now.

And now, I’m losing important voting rights, I’m mistaken for a domestic servant, even though I’m a judge, I’m shot down by police officers even though I’m unarmed, and I’m burying my black sons and daughters at the hands of police brutality.

Ain’t progress grand?



This is MY story.

If you are black, “Selma” is more than a movie. “Selma” is your story too. It is your heritage. It is a generational struggle, the suffering of discrimination, the courage to overcome, the hope for a better future.

It is more than a movie.

So when it gets passed over for Oscar nominations, if you are black, the affront feels deep and personal and intentional. It is natural to feel that if you are black.

Because you saw your story.

That’s your perspective. That is the honest to God truth about the way I felt watching that movie. It was not just a MOVIE.

It was a reminder of when I was 10 years old and went to Mississippi with my parents and grandparents and couldn’t get a drink in a clean water fountain at a gas station because it had a sign above it that said “Whites Only” and a nasty, dirty, chipped basin water fountain for me.

How did I know that nasty one was for me? Because the sign above that one said “Coloreds Only”.

It was also a reminder that 50 years later, I am still assumed to be the defendant when I walk into some courtrooms…even though I am an attorney, supposedly with all of the rights and privileges accorded thereto in a courtroom.

It is a reminder that my paternal grandmother (who was VERY VERY fair skinned and “good hair”) passed for white at one time so that she could get a job at a downtown ladies dress shop, and all the Black women in town kept her secret.

It’s MY story.

And the Oscar rejection feels very personal.

I Watched “Selma” With a White Girl

black-and-white-woman-struggleAgainst my better judgment.

But this time, my better judgment was wrong.  Similar to how I felt when I summoned up the courage to see “12 Years a Slave” for the first time, I thought I’d be better off watching “Selma” with other Black folks, in the comfort of my Blackness.  It never even occurred to me to watch this film with a White person.

But this White girl is a client and I consider her a friend, so when she invited me to a screening of the movie, despite my nagging better judgment, I accepted,  My issue with seeing the film with her had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me.  

Can I sit through the film without showing emotion (rage, pain, tears)?  Should I stifle those feelings so she won’t know how I’m REALLY feeling?  What if, like during 12 Years A Slave, I come unglued?  Is that going to be awkward for her?  For me?

Sometimes, it’s hard to be real and transparent with White people around issues of race, racism, and especially those taboo subjects that you don’t dare touch (like the Third Rail of the Metra train) like White privilege and systemic racism.  They just don’t get it and it is exhausting for me to always try to be “Captain Save-A-Racist”.

“Yes, I’d love to go”.

And I’m glad I did.  We took the slightly-over- an-hour train ride together and then caught a cab to the theater.  We arrived early enough to have dinner and a glass of wine before the movie started, enjoy catching up with each other’s lives, new jobs, kids, etc., and then…we watched “It”.

But, during the movie, not only did I not worry about letting my guard down in front of her (and the many, many other White people in the theater), I also forgot anybody else was there.  I was consumed by the moment and caught up in the reality of it all.  The reality that the Civil Rights Movement was not some glorious moment where Dr. King and his posse rode into town, gave a few moving speeches, organized a march or two, and White America rose to the altruistic occasion and enacted the Voting Rights Act.  The reality of what those, just one and two generations before me, endured for the right to vote.  For the dignity of self-determination.  And I reminded myself of the reality of the fact that Black people are still in that very same struggle today, some 50 years later.

And I let the emotions out, unencumbered.  I jumped with shock at the bombing of the church where four little Black girls were killed because some White people and a White-constructed system didn’t believe their Black lives mattered.

I felt the rage from watching Black women and men beaten like rabid dogs and assaulted by the “protect and serve” police for daring to peacefully demonstrate for the dignity of self-determination.

I felt deep, raw pain and cried when the young man was shot, point blank, by the police after he ran to perceived safety from the police beatings.  His mother cried, and I cried with her, because I have two sons whose Black lives matter, if only to God and me and my husband.

I felt resolved to go deeper and wider in 2015 in speaking out against racism, White privilege, poverty, and marginalization in America.  I felt resolved to turn a mirror on White America and disabuse them of any semblance of notion of a post-racial America.

And finally, I felt grateful that I watched this movie with my White friend.  Not to make her feel bad for how dirty her people have been and continue to be.  And most certainly not to make her feel good that her peeps came through and “helped a sister out” by granting little ole Black me the right to vote (even as currently, her peeps are slowly, but surely, dangerously dismantling key provisions of the Voting Rights Act).

But I was grateful that I watched it with her, because as we dialogued about the film afterwards, I came to believe that she too, felt the pain and rage of the visual of what the Civil Rights Movement was, and that real people—innocent people—suffered greatly in the pursuit of what she could always take for granted: Her God-given right to vote and to “move about the cabin” free from oppression.

And I was grateful because she got the irony of the events of then, and the events of today.

To be sure, this is not any old White woman.  She and her husband adopted two beautiful little Black girls and so she has a vested interest in trying to understand the Black Experience in America.  But I believe that she could envision her precious daughters inside that Birmingham church.  And I believe that she could envision her husband and herself marching alongside Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, John Lewis, and all the others, as many White allies did, facing the same beatings and death threats.

And THAT right there…that level of empathy…is what I believe it will take to continue to get traction in the “Civil Rights Movement – Remixed” that Black folks find themselves embattled in now.

Just like in the movie “A Time To Kill”, as more White people see their husbands, their wives, their brothers and sisters, and for sure, their sons as the possible victims of an oppressive system, there will be increased numbers of White allies in this movement with us.  My job is keep that mirror turned to help them see.

And like my White girlfriend knows, they’ll know, that Black Lives Matter.




BlackLivesMatter2014 brought us a lot of tragedy.  We are leaving behind Akai Gurley, John Crawford, Kajieme Powell, Ezell Ford, Vonderitt Myers, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. (Did I miss anybody?  There’s just too many).  RIP brothers.

But 2014 brought us some good too.  The Black Lives Matter movement for one.  People have questioned whether THE Civil Rights Movement was a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the moon and the stars that can never be re-created.  In other words, can we create an effective movement in the 21st century?

If ever there was a movement that could come behind THE Civil Rights Movement…if ever there was a time for such a movement…

BLACK LIVES MATTERS is the movement and the time is now.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?  Mine is to speak truth to power, to engage with people on issues of oppression of all types, and to participate, support and rally  for the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement.  Resolutions?  Oh, I’m plenty resolved…to fight oppression.

I leave you in 2014 to ponder this video.  Are you willing to sacrifice to end this type of abuse?  Are you willing to be arrested? Are you willing to speak out?  Are you willing to step up and say NO MORE?

This IS the movement and the time IS now.  Here’s to 2015 and to the movement.


Crazy Is As Crazy Does

Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos did not deserve to die.  They are the two New York police officers who were ambushed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a mentally ill man who shot his girlfriend, then drove from Maryland to New York to, as he posted on his Instagram account, “put pigs in a blanket”.  He was known to be mentally unstable and clearly, given what he did–and to do it in the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner–demonstrates that he was not working with a full deck.  In case you’ve been under a rock for the past 3 days, here is the full story.

Brinsley was psychotic.  Clearly.  And he has now left two families devastated. A child without his father for no justifiable reason.  It is inexcusable.  I pray the peace that can only come from God for those families.

But now, the circus has begun.  Police unions and other White wingnuts are trying to use the acts of one mentally deranged idiot to derail the entire national conversation about police brutality.  Somehow, a single crazy man commits a heinous act, and those at the center of the criticism, see an opportunity to seize the conversation and turn the spotlight from them, to the protesters, the Mayor of New York, President Obama, and Black folks in general.


Somehow, everybody else is to blame for the crazed act of one man, and a few misguided protesters who were calling for cops to be killed.  But the reality is that police officers and their rabid supporters (the ones who completely deny that police brutality even exists) need to own up to the fact that if there is blood on anyone’s hands for the acts of a mentally ill man, if blame could assigned anywhere, then it starts at the front steps of police departments across the country.

Until good cops (who I believe far outnumber the bad ones) stand up and call out the bad ones, and stop tolerating the bad behavior, then police brutality will continue.  And as long as police brutality continues, there will be push back and protests from the Black community.

And as long as there is oppression anywhere, there will always be mentally ill people who come out of the shadows and try to gain notoriety or seek some kind of twisted retribution for some offense.  Oppression and stress bring out crazy people.  And you can’t foresee it.

Who knew Adam Lanza was going to kill 26 school kids?  Who knew James Holmes was going to shoot up a movie theater and kill 12 people and injure more?  Who knew that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was going to set off bombs at last year’s Boston Marathon?  What set them off?  WHO KNOWS.  Crazy people do crazy things.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget Cliven Bundy.  When the feds came for him, him and a couple hundred of his closest friends got their rifles and dared the agents to cross the line in the sand.  And the agents backed off.  Clive Bundy is a nut job. Again, crazy people do crazy things.

Yes, let’s grieve…HARD…with and for the Liu and Ramos families.  But let’s not allow the conversation about police brutality in Black communities to be co-opted or derailed.  Let’s be willing to have dual conversations of improper policing and improper management of the mentally ill in this country.  Both conversations are appropriate.

But we must not let up on our demands to address police brutality.  Crazy people aside, the police have blood on their hands for the killings of far too many unarmed Black men and women.




I’m on to some White people.  I’m talking about the “pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps” white people.  Or the ones who peddle the myth that education and hard work will open up the doors of America’s rich bounty for even people who look like me.  The ones who tried to convince me that I have the same opportunity to succeed that they do.

All Black people have to do is work hard.  Keep our nose clean.  Stay out of trouble.  Get an education.  Speak the King’s English.  Show some culture.  Get some home training.  Act like you’ve been somewhere.  Sound familiar?

RespectIt’s called respectability politics.  And it’s a bunch of bullshit.  Ask this man.  He bought into the whole respectability theory, taught it to his kids, and then felt crushed when his son was called a “nigger” while walking on the campus of the elite, private, boarding school he attended.

Ask me.  I was raised in a two parent household of educated people, with professional jobs who made sure I did well in school, took ballet, went to art institutes and museums and played the clarinet.  They paid my way through undergrad and most of law school.  I lived in a nice home in a super predominantly white neighborhood growing up, and they closely monitored who I hung out with.  I graduated from law school and went to work for a white-gloved law firm.

My first clue that respectability politics was a hoax was on my first day at that law firm after taking the bar exam.  The partner who was the head of the litigation department (e.g. my boss) took me to lunch and said (and I quote):

“You got in here on affirmative action and I just want you to know that I don’t believe in any of that, so just know that you are going to have to work to keep this job.”

End quote.

But I was deeply entrenched in the hope of respectability and so while shaken, I forged ahead.  My second clue that respectability politics was a myth was when I was interviewing for a position at a company where I had to go through about 5 separate interviews.  The HR rep just kept calling me back saying they wanted me to meet with “one more person”.  FINALLY, when I got the offer, the Senior Vice President told me that I was an attractive candidate because I was black and a woman and had a graduate degree…because they only wanted graduate degrees for these senior positions.  That was cool with me.  I was willing to use my 2-fer (black female) and grad degree to get that job.

But then, within the first couple of weeks after I started, I came to realize that the only person at my level (and even one level up from me) with a graduate degree (and many of them had no degree, but had been there a hundred years)…was me…and ONE other person.  Another Black woman.  So, in reality, they only wanted graduate degrees for these senior level positions for Black folks.  The old “Black people have to be twice as good to get half as far” thing.

Since those days, I’ve had lesson after lesson after lesson of the fallacy of respectability politics.  I mean, how many courtrooms do I have to walk into dressed just as professionally as the white attorneys in the courtroom, and carrying the indicia of an attorney (legal pads, file folders with labels, etc.), like my white attorney colleagues, and still be assumed to be a defendant by the White clerk?

Now I know.  There is no amount of respectability that will allow us to escape systemic racism.  Or overt racism.  Despite raising my sons to be respectable, my youngest was put out of a gym where he had a membership, by the police, who had been called because he was Black in an all-white gym.  We can’t behave our way out of racism.  We can’t earn enough degrees, dress well enough or talk enough impeccable English to escape the barriers of White privilege and entitlement.  To prevent us from being a suspect and “handled” by the police or a courtroom clerk.

But…we can do all of the above, and be…an Exceptional Nigger.

The Anthem

Sing it Samuel L. Jackson.  Sing it brother.

Watching thousands of protesters sing this song in solidarity moved me to tears the first time I heard it, and it continues to be that powerful for me.

Sing it with me:

I can hear my neighbor cryin’ ‘I can’t breathe’
Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave.
Callin’ out the violence of the racist police.
We ain’t gonna stop, till people are free.
We ain’t gonna stop, till people are free.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersectionality. The place where all oppression meets. The point of common pain. We have a movement happening in this country. It started with Mike Brown and become a national force to be reckoned with on the news the Eric Garner’s government-sponsored killer would face no consequences. It has continued on the back of our collective horror of the killing—once again by a police officer–of 12 year old Tamir Rice in less than 2 seconds.

IntersectionalityWe could ride this movement for years to come on those stories, plus the stories of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Remarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, and the (unfortunately), many others. And I pray that the movement continues strong and powerfully. I stand united for Black Lives Matter.

But I’m wondering if we can expand the movement and make room for all the ways in which Black and Brown people are oppressed. Can we raise our collective voices and protest and rally for the egregious and calculated mass incarceration of People of Color? Can we add the fight for a $15 minimum wage to our demands? Is it possible to include the demand for the absolute legalization of marijuana (or at the very least the decriminalization)? What other cause that would ease the oppression of POC could we use the momentum we have to address while we have the country’s, indeed the world’s attention?

Because cops, security guards, and self-appointed vigilantes need to stop murdering unarmed Black men. And this country needs to dismantle the prison industrial complex that incarcerates POC at rates at many multiples times our representative population in this country. Because a living wage to begin to lift people out of poverty is not only good for POC, but it’s good for this country. And I’m sorry…but NOBODY who is making the effort to hold it down should have to work 40 hours a week and still be unable to meet basic needs. And because let’s face it…the less interaction black men have with the police, the better off we all are and, well, marijuana is just the low hanging fruit. Legalize it and that is one less reason our young men will be subjected to police interaction.  At least decriminalize it and there’s little reason for hostile  police interaction.  Write us a ticket and keep it moving.  We know that Black folks use marijuana at the same rate as White folks, but of course, we are the target of enforcement.  Well, there you go.  Can we add the inequality of the entire criminal justice system to the movement?  You know the old joke: you go to court looking for justice, and that’s all you find—Just Us.

Can we join with Occupy Wall Street and rise up as the NINETY NINE POINT NINE PERCENT of this country? Just as an aside, I never really understood why that movement was “Occupy Wall Street”. Wall Street did what Congress allowed it to do. Why not go to the source and “Occupy Congress”? But, regardless, you get my point

Intersectionality. It’s just had me thinking lately.

Photo Credit:  Thanks to for the graphic.