On Kobe Bryant And Collective Black Thought

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The idea of better and opportunity-filled lives for ourselves and our loved ones is something we all aspire to. The means we take to get to that point will differ — and perhaps some of us want it a bit more than others — but we all want the increased access that opportunity provides us. We all want to enrich our lives. And we all want to leave a legacy.

This is why half the people reading this have six-figure student loan debts. And why so many of us are so determined to see – and eat food from – every corner of the globe. And why we make sure to send our children to the best schools we can afford. And why we make pains to surround ourselves with people who’ll add something to our lives. Because education gives you more opportunity. And opportunity can give you more access. And access can give you more freedom.

And that’s it. We want to be free. We want to accomplish enough that we’re able to do the things we want to do. And, if we’re not able to ourselves, we want that for our children.

This freedom isn’t just about action, though. What we’re really aspiring for is freedom of thought. The ability to just think and imagine and dream without any limitations or constraints.

Or maybe not.

The reactions to Kobe Bryant’s statements about Trayvon Martin suggest otherwise.

Kobe comes from wealth. His dad was a professional basketball player, he grew up in Italy, and before he was a teen he’d already seen parts of the world many of us will never see. He did not have to deal with the complexities, contexts, and constructs of race most of us have had to. At least not on the same level. Basically, he was able to just be. Which, again, is what we’re all aiming for. If not for us specifically, our children. Those expanded horizons. That freedom.

But, when Kobe said something that wasn’t aligned with how Black people are supposed to think — something that really wasn’t all that controversial — this privilege became a problem because it cultivated a disconnect to Black people and Black thought. And, while Kobe is the most recent example, this same idea is brought up whenever Jaden or Willow Smith or any other high-profile person of privilege says or does something outside of the realm of generally accepted Black behavior.

Thing is, this is something we all know. We know that the person who grows up with more privilege and more freedom probably just isn’t going to see and process things the same way as the person who wasn’t afforded those things. The rich Black kid from Italy just aint gonna see the world the same way the poor Black kid from Baltimore will. And we criticize the mindset that often comes with that privilege and freedom.

But we still want that privilege and freedom. It’s still an aspiration. It’s still something we work for and pray about.

I’m not a fan of Kobe Bryant. And I do think his statements about Trayvon Martin suggest a certain race-based naivety. I do plan to have children one day, though. And I’d love to be able to provide them with the same experiences and opportunities Kobe’s parents were able to give him. But how will I feel when those experiences and opportunities lead to them thinking and feeling…differently about what it means to be Black?

I wish I could say “What’s the point of all the education, experience, and opportunity if you feel the exact same way about shit that I do?

But, honestly, I don’t know. Cause right now, I think it would bother me too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

“Yes, I’m Black (And I Write For EBONY). No, I Don’t Want To Talk To You About Race”

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***The Champ’s latest at EBONY discusses why he’s not always interested in having race-related conversations with White people***

As soon as Mike learned I co-founded a website called VerySmartBrothas.com, work for EBONY.com, and frequently write about race and culture, his eyes lit up, and a strange look formed over his face. For Black people who do what I do and happen to find themselves at bars with conservative but “well-intentioned” White people who find out what you do and don’t interact with Black people that often, that look is unmistakable.

“Oh sh*t! A smart Black person! I can finally unleash all these thoughts about Obama, crime, Trayvon, democrats, MSNBC, “the Black community,” Don Lemon, and Al Sharpton! Let me buy him a round, and let’s talk about race!”

I obliged. We spoke about racism and the fallout from the Zimmerman verdict. Although I had to correct his “facts” a couple times, it was a good conversation. Actually, calling it a “good conversation” would be underselling it. Even while we were talking, I recognized how rare it is to have two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum sitting down, having a beer, and just sharing what’s on their minds. (An actual, completely organic Beer Summit!)

Yet, after 10 minutes or so, I took a gap in the conversation do to the “Well, it was nice meeting you.” thing people do when they want to end conversations, and started talking to other people. A couple minutes later, he came over and apologized, obviously thinking I left because he offended me in some way. I told him not to worry about it, and he walked away, still bothered.

What Mike failed to realize was that just because this was his rare opportunity to talk to a “smart” Black guy about those touchy race-related subjects doesn’t mean that smart Black guy actually wants to have the conversation right then and there.

Yes, I am very interested and invested in race, racism, and the effect bias has on our behavior and our culture. It literally fascinates me. Yes, I talk about those subjects frequently, and write about them even more frequently. And yes, I recognized the importance of Black and White people actually speaking to each other about this stuff instead of shouting at.

But, I came to that bar to drink, laugh, and talk about basketball, BBQ burger recipes, and the bartender’s ass…not George f*cking Zimmerman.

Read more at EBONY.com

My Truth About The Night Of The Zimmerman Verdict

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Those who know me and/or have been long-time fans of VSB know I am a textbook introvert. A prominent characteristic of this introversion is the possession of both a need to be clearly understood when communicating and an equally present fear of being misunderstood. My preference for writing instead of speaking stems from this. Basically, I love to write because it allows me a better opportunity to articulate exactly what’s going on in my head than speaking does.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve gotten better at getting what’s in my head outside of it. It’s very rare now to have a thought I’m compelled to express and not have the words to express it. Even rarer to not have the words and be unsure I’d even use them if I did.

When attempting to process my feelings about what happened the night of the Zimmerman verdict, both occurred.

The night the verdict was announced, I had plans to attend a friend’s birthday party. This friend lives six blocks away. Since my girl and I planned to drink, we decided to walk instead of drive, and I received word that Zimmerman was found not guilty right when we were about to head out the door.

I still remember the weightlessness—a combination of outrage, sadness, and shock—I experienced when first hearing the news. I also remember how scrolling through my Twitter timeline and reading hundreds of tweets from people experiencing the same thing exacerbated these feelings.

When writing about that night, I made sure to articulate these feelings as passionately and contextually as I could. But, I intentionally left out something that colored my night just as vividly. The decision to omit was partially influenced by the fact that I couldn’t quite articulate it yet. And, even if I was able to, I wasn’t willing to go there. Especially not at that time.

I’m still not sure if I should share this. And, I’m still not sure if I will articulate what I’m about to say the best way I can. But, I don’t know. I just feel like I need to now.

It was approximately 75 degrees and clear enough to see multiple stars. And, as I mentioned earlier, my friend lived six blocks away. Six blocks in Pittsburgh is a 10 minute walk. Driving to this party should not have even been an option.

It was an option, though, because we live in a neighborhood where the threat of violent crime is always present. I wouldn’t exactly call it crime-ridden. I grew up in a legitimately dangerous neighborhood, and this doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to that. But, there have been some robberies, and it’s not uncommon to hear police sirens and occasional gunshots at night. In June, a house across the street from us was hit with bullets from a drive by shooting.

Ironically, on a night when my anger towards and suspicion of the criminal justice system, the government, and America in general—all “White” institutions—reached an all-time high, my most immediate thoughts and actions where governed by a suspicion of some of the Black people in my neighborhood. Not the “good” Black people, mind you, but Black people nonetheless.

That night was a perfect example of the mental gymnastics I put myself through when thinking about race, crime, and my own personal safety. I am fully aware of the traditionally adversarial relationship between Black people (Black men in particular) and the criminal justice system. I’ve read hundreds of articles, studies, and books about it. I’ve listened to numerous personal stories involving racist cops, judges, magistrates, lawyers, congressmen, and mayors. I’ve watched and attempted to deconstruct everything from Crash to Do the Right Thing (and I’ll get around to Fruitvale Station some time in the next couple of weeks). I’ve also been the victim of racial profiling on numerous occasions. (The latest occasion ended up costing me over $500 in tow and court fees.)

Yet, most of my anger towards and suspicions of “the system”—as well as White people in power—seem to exist on theoretical level. It’s almost as if I feel this way because I know I’m supposed to. It’s the way well-read and historically-aware Black people—Black men especially—are supposed to feel, but I think it more than I feel it.

In reality, when the sun goes down—the time of the day when people usually put more of a guard up—I’m much more cautious of and concerned about Black people. Black strangers, rather. And, by “Black strangers” I mean “sketchy-looking young Black males who I don’t know.” Women, men my age or older, and young Black males who don’t look and act “sketchy” don’t even register.

I’ve been annoyed by White strangers. Suspicious, even. But not suspicious to the point that it starts to register as legitimate caution. At least not the same type of caution that would make you consider turning an easy, 10 minute walk into a two minute drive.

I didn’t always feel this way. Despite being affected by violent crime in more ways than I care to list, those experiences never really caused me to experience any fear. As a kid, I was much more uncomfortable catching the bus at night while alone in the White suburb my middle school was in than catching one in my own neighborhood. Even the night of the verdict, I wouldn’t have even considered driving if I was by myself.

The shift in my perspective has coincided with me reaching an age where I’m responsible for the safety of others. Basically, I have a girlfriend now. And, having a girlfriend (or a wife, or a child, or an elderly relative) means I don’t have the luxury of allowing how I’m supposed to feel about the macro to override the reality of the micro. Mind you, they’re both important to me. But, my concerns about the criminal justice system’s inherent racial inequality, racial profiling, and even racism resonate with me on the same level that, I don’t know, heart disease does. I know it’s a huge problem that affects us disproportionately and I know it can very well even kill me and people close to me. But, on my personal hierarchy of things needing my immediate concern and attention, it just doesn’t rate very high.

We eventually decided to walk, and we talked about the verdict each second of the 10 minute trip. But, as heated conversation as that conversation got, it never entered the same immediate, visceral space for me that “I need to stay alert for n*ggas” did.

I am not speaking for all Black men, nor am I attempting to minimize what many other Black people have experienced and currently feel. I’m not aiming to start one of those “Black kids get shot every day. Why do we only care when they’re shot by White people?” conversations, and I’m also aware that much of the Black crime most of us have been touched by is a direct result of conditions created by this same system.

I’m just finally sharing what all was in my head that night, not just what would make for the most passionate and eloquent takedown of the Zimmerman verdict. I don’t feel good about this. But, I don’t think I’m supposed to.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Black Man Is An Endangered Species (Or At Least Close To It)

[Today, I'm handing the reigns over to friend, politico, commentator, event host, and fellow radio host on The Blaqout Show, S. Malik Husser. He had an essay he wrote about the Trayvon Martin verdict that he wanted to share with the VSB fam. It's all still relevant and will be for quite some time. Here's the essay. Treat him like family and welcome him to VSB. - PJ]

photo(5)The Verdict for the case against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is in.  Not Guilty. 

But you already knew that. 

And you, much like me, have probably gone through a series of varying emotions. Disgusted. Frustrated. Angry. Confused.  Another young life taken, senselessly.  Because he was walking home, late at night, appearing to be out of place in the neighborhood his parents provided for him, as home. 

Let me be very honest before I continue.  I did NOT follow this trial closely.  So, outside of the facts that have been reported in the media, I do not contend to know every detail of every second within the context of this trial.  Facts aside, I do have an opinion. Facts aside, I do have an issue with the outcome of this case.  And facts aside, I have very strong feelings for things to come for young, unassuming black men in America.

Notice in my list of emotions experienced since the verdict was released Saturday evening, Shocked was NOT one of them.  And quite frankly, neither were you.  I mean, yes, you were hoping, wishing, praying for justice to prevail, but in the deep recesses of your consciousness you KNEW what the outcome was going to be.  Haven’t we been through this enough to prevent our hopes from rising to heavenly expectations, only to be hit by hellish flames of reality? 

No?  Well, let me help you, I have, and here is my solution.

I would like for the Black Male to be listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  According to our friends at Wikipedia, “there are currently 3079 animals and 2655 plants classified as Endangered Worldwide” [Wikipedia. Search Endangered Species]. That makes 5,734 organisms on Earth that are “endangered” or “threatened” by extinction.   Extinct. Obsolete. Died out. No longer.  I would ask the members of IUCN to consider making an addition to this list, the Black Male, bringing your complete number to 5,735.  Too much you say? Absolutely not.  It may be the only way African Americans are able to remain relevant for generations to come. “Protect us NOW” will be the name of the intended campaign as to emphasize the urgency of this request.

Did you know that if you capture or kill an American Bald Eagle there is a possibility of a fine up to $250,000.00 and/or a maximum of 2 years?  Oh yeah, and it’s not a misdemeanor, it’s a felony.  Still consider my request too much?  Oh, I hear what you are saying?  The Bald Eagle is a symbolism of strength, recognized by all Americans of our ability to be strong, courageous and bold, even in the wild.  Well, have you been to the Urban Centers of America like Chicago, Washington DC, Newark, and witnessed first hand what our young, black children must over come to be successful? I’d say their efforts and achievements resemble strength, courage and boldness in an environment that is too often compared to the Jungles of our world.

I mean, really, I’m not asking for much.  “Threatened” actually has three subcategories, ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Endangered’, and ‘Vulnerable’.  Let’s just start with ‘Vulnerable’, because if young black boys like Trayvon are allowed to be murdered in cold blood, without arms to defend himself, even when their killer remains on the scene of the crime, and our justice system says, “Not Guilty”, what are you asking us to accept?

My heart weeps for the parents and family of Trayvon Martin.  In the cases of violence where someone ends up lifeless, he or she is not the ONLY victim.  I have no words that can adequately describe my disappointment in the returned verdict.  We now must remember Trayvon and honor him by protecting those around America that look just like him.   We can no longer accept that taking the life of a young black male comes without consequence.   We must demand more from our legal system so that it works equally for all ethnicities, cultures and people. 

Finally, I’d like to add, if anything ever happens to me where I should be on trial somewhere for something, (those of you who know me, knows this is COMPLETELY possible), I’d like the lawyers for the prosecution to be the ones to take me trial.  They wouldn’t be able to make a parking ticket stick, with photos and time stamps

-S. Malik Husser

Race-Related Takeaways From The George Zimmerman Verdict

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This will likely be the last time I write about this trial. Actually, let me rephrase that. At this moment, I do not envision myself writing about this again. Between Sunday’s post and today, I don’t have anything else to say. But, my feelings may change.

1. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if the races where reversed and Zimmerman was a Black guy who followed, shot, and killed an unarmed White kid in a residential neighborhood, he (Zimmerman) would be in prison today. There is also no doubt that the racial make-up of the jurors made them more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman—someone who looks more like them than Trayvon Martin did.

Does this alone make them—and anyone else who’s more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who looks more like them—racist? I honestly do not think so. At least not consciously. But, while thinking this, I’m reminded of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Fear of a Black President where he states that racism tends to be “…broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others” and I wonder if racism as it’s defined here is more natural than we want to believe. Race-based hate is definitely learned and, if not stemmed, cultivated. From what I understand, though, being more sympathetic towards people who look like you—and more suspicious of people who don’t—is more inherent. I could be wrong (I often am) but I don’t think this is an American thing as much as it’s just a human thing.

Considering all historical context—institutional racism, the existence of White privilege  etc—I think that White Americans have to consciously and doggedly work at not being racist. Basically, racism is the default. And, because of this, I don’t consider White racists—well, White racists who don’t consciously attempt or wish ill will on Black people—to automatically be bad people. Just negligently lazy. And, sometimes that negligent laziness leads to people like George Zimmerman walking free.

2. For White Americans who’ve appeared to have made the attempt to not harbor any race-based prejudices, I applaude their efforts and I’m very happy to see that, but I am still very skeptical. Extremely skeptical. Even after reading dozens of passionate pieces penned by Whites heartbroken over the Zimmerman verdict and seeing tens of thousands rallying for Trayvon, I’m still not completely convinced of their buy-in and support, and I’m not sure if anything can be done about that.

Honestly, this sentiment surprises me. I’ve grown up around White people. I’ve had White teammates in high school and college, and I’ve made some close White friends. My favorite teacher was White, as well as my favorite coach. I consider myself to be legitimately open-minded and painstakingly pragmatic. And, I do not find myself consciously uncomfortable or suspicious around them. But, when asking myself if I’m truly, 100% sold when one claims and/or even shows to be “down for the cause” (whatever that means), I have to say no. Even while I believe them on an intellectual level, I don’t feel it emotionally. This is bothersome. It’s especially bothersome when knowing that if a White person I knew and respected said what I just said about Black people, I’d be highly disappointed and perhaps even saddened.

3. Going on a somewhat related (and much lighter) tangent, there is a very small and very vocal population of Black men and women who date “out” and make sure to disparage Black men and women as unworthy in comparison to Whites. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in one of their living rooms right now.

(Question: For those types of Black people, do they not realize that if they have children, they’re still very likely to have a child that’s a member of the hated gender? I mean, what does a woman who’s sworn enemies with Black men do when the son she has with her White husband turns out to be darker-skinned than she is?)

4. I’ve seen the reaction to the Zimmerman verdict compared to the reaction to the O.J. verdict numerous times, including in the comments to the last post. Before continuing, I have to admit it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I realized a considerable number of Black people were actually happy about O.J. getting off. At the time of the verdict, I remember people (my parents especially) being more shocked that someone so apparently guilty was found not guilty than anything else.

Anyway, I don’t know if they realize they’re doing this, but people making that comparison in an effort to twist the knife are actually admitting they believe Zimmerman should have gone to prison. They’re basically saying “Ok, you got to celebrate your guilty-as-hell celebrity defendant who was found innocent, and now we have ours.”

But, it was never really about Zimmerman being “innocent,” was it?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)