PASSA, WHERE ART THOU?: THE INCREASING IRRELEVANCY OF THE BLACK CHURCH IN THE BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLE

The reality that African-Americans are not monolithic is apparent to anyone who glances at the black community. Make no mistake about it, the alluded to diversity in appearance, thought, and ambitions is a double-edged sword.

The alluded to diversity is so prevalent among African-Americans that it is often difficult to find areas and issues upon which we agree. In fact, there is only one point of consensus I have discovered, that being, the Black Church is the most important institution within our community. I have been known to state the following routinely, “the black church has been, is, and always will be the most important institution in Black America.”

It is with extreme sadness that I confess to no longer being able to unconditionally make such an assertion as today’s Black Church has lost much of its relevancy.

If you are wondering from whence my increasing pessimism emanates, well I’ll tell you that it begins and ends with men of God who have betrayed the pivotal role that black pastors have played in the struggle to liberate their people. Put simply; the Black Church has fallen into the hands of individuals who have no interest in politicizing their followers for a continuation of a four-hundred-year battle to confront racial bigotry and oppression.

During a recent series of workshops in my hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, designed to both address and formulate a workable plan to close a cavernous racial divide that manifests itself politically, socially, and economically within every fiber of that community, I was utterly shocked to see that local Black Pastors have little concern regarding such pressing matters. Consider for a moment that the local high school attended by the vast majority of African-American students employs a single African-American teacher. Historically speaking, such a grave situation would lead to significant action by Black Church leaders. Unfortunately, contemporary Black Pastors have little interest in such matters as evidenced by their absence from the series of workshops and town hall meetings mentioned above.

The most succinct display of Pastoral indifference was displayed when a Pastor of some notoriety arrived at the venue. After enthusiastically greeting many of the workshop participants, the alluded to man of God took a seat in the rear of the site. Moments later it became apparent why he chose such accommodations as he exited out of an adjacent door moments after the workshop began. There is no doubt that he had neither interest in the seminar or the topic of improving the dire plight of those who faithfully tithed to his ministry on a weekly basis. Unbeknownst to this “man of God,” his hasty exit was noted and termed “shameful” by all participants. Sadly, many participants related that such behavior was fairly representative of the disinterest that local Black Clergy displayed toward any endeavors aimed at uplifting the Black Community. Apparently, these “men of God” are too busy filling their pockets with the tithes and offerings of the poor and downtrodden souls to do anything tangible to address their suffering.

Considering the essential role of the Black Church in the struggle for black improvement, it is not a stretch to lay a sizable portion of blame for the current state of Black America at the feet of Black Clergy who are singularly focused on the accumulation of dollars and the construction of imposing cathedrals that not only tower over their members, but also fail to address their tangible issues in any noticeable way. It is for these reasons that so many within our community not only criticize Black Church leaders for their dereliction of duty but also refuse to support them under any circumstances. Put simply, Black Pastors with their focus on dollars, infidelity, and showmanship have simultaneously abandoned “the Gospel” and rendered the Black Church entirely irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of African-Americans.

My heaven help us!!!!!!!!!

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

WHERE ARE THE REVOLUTIONARY BLACK LEADERS TODAY?

“Here – at this final hour, in this quiet place – Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought – his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are – and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again – in Harlem – to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor even to the death.
It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us – unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American – Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted – so desperately – that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too.

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain – and we will smile. Many will say turn away – away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man – and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate – a fanatic, a racist – who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them : Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.

Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: ‘My journey’, he says, ‘is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.’ However we may have differed with him – or with each other about him and his value as a man – let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.

(Ossie Davis, 1965)

There is little doubt that Malcolm X remains the ‘gold-standard’ of black male leadership. For the vast majority of those involved in any facet of the current black freedom struggle, Malcolm X serves as the North Star of Black Manhood.

I am quite certain that it was Malcolm’s display of a courageous manhood that inspired SNCC worker Cleveland Sellers to posit that ‘the problems facing Black America will be solved by black men and black men alone.’ The historical record indicates that Sellers’ strand of thinking remains the most popular view of the black man’s role inside and outside of the African-American freedom struggle.

Consider for a moment the “traditional” roles that black men are expected to fill within their community.

  • Head of household
  • Priest of the home
  • Primary Material Provider
  • Protector of the home
  • Revolutionary Leader

Make no mistake about it the duties assigned to African-American men are critical to the continuing existence of black folk in America.

The fact that African-American existence is consistently perilous makes it critical that we take a closer look at how contemporary black leaders conceive manhood. Put simply, within black America what does a revolutionary black leader look like at this moment?

Before I begin, let me issue the following qualifier regarding the primary pre-requisite to black leadership in today’s Black liberation struggle, that being an individual who has someway or somehow been able to generate a substantial following within the African-American activist community. Such a qualifier is necessary to make this topic somewhat manageable in this space.

When considering the type of male leadership that has curried favor with a sizable population of the African-American community, there are several qualities that contemporary black male leaders possess.

  • Charisma
  • Substantial Social Media Presence
  • Tendency to become involved in Public Spats with other Black Male Leaders
  • Willingness to implement a ‘scorched Earth’ policy when challenged by anyone at any place or at any time.

In many ways, contemporary black leaders’ actions and articulations put one in the mind of a mundane reality television star.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of contemporary black male leaders flows from the many qualities that they neither possess nor need to remain atop their perch. The qualities include, but are in no way limited to the following items.

  • Historical Illiteracy
  • A gross absence of political astuteness
  • Lacking the courage to either speak truth to power or develop reasonable plans to attack white power structures
  • Failure to engage and comprehend an essential literature base
  • Psychologically unbalanced
  • Inability to be governed by a reliable moral compass
  • Socially inappropriate in their interactions with (black men and women)
  • Incapable of developing and then implementing a logical plan aimed at addressing the politico-economic, social, and cultural problems negatively impacting their people.

Put simply; it is safe to term contemporary black leaders “anti-Malcolm’s” as they are devoid of all of the qualities that endeared Brother Malcolm X to the Black community.

The great historian John Henrik Clarke once noted that today we have Hollywood revolutions that do not begin until someone says “lights, camera, action.” Unfortunately, I believe that Dr. Clarke was correct in his summation of contemporary black leadership, as it is undeniable that they are more interested in own self-promotion than in liberation of the masses. The alluded to figures appear to be primarily concerned with speaking engagements that produce nothing more than an increase in their bank accounts and increased television exposure that increases their fame. If nothing else, this pursuit of fame via social media and television guarantees that they are most definitely not leading their people down a revolutionary path, because even the Last Poets told us that “the revolution will not be televised.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

FLOYD: THE BESTOWER OF GIFTS

You know, now that I think about it, one of the more entertaining aspects of my relationship with Floyd is witnessing the lengths to which he will go to prove a point. I am telling you that when it comes to proving a point, Floyd has a serious problem.

Although he has gone through Herculean efforts to prove his point before, none of those efforts rival Floyd’s efforts to disprove my belief that the present state of Black male and female relationships is hopelessly flawed. I both wrote about this matter and explained it to Floyd.

Put simply; my observation goes as follows. Women, in general, are programmed by God to find a mate and live happily ever after. From my estimation, this wiring characterizes the makeup of the vast majority of women. My point to Floyd was that African-American men have historically taken advantage of this wiring and often treated their ‘sisters’ as if they were some prey to be stalked, hunted, subdued and then released back into the wild. My relatively sophisticated theory also posits that repeated disappointment has led to our ‘sisters’ altering the manner in which they engage their ‘brothers.’ They have quite simply tired of being used, abused, and jilted by Black males and have likewise altered their expectations of ‘Black love.’

It was the above observation that Floyd was desperately seeking to disprove via his dating life. Floyd had apparently been seeing someone. I suspected that it was the ‘river-hipped’ woman that he met during our night out at ‘Grooves,’ however, he refused to disclose the mystery lady’s identity; citing some superstitious reason about jinxing his ‘relationship’ by debuting it too soon.

I must tell you that Floyd was apparently going ‘all-in’ on this one. He even related that he purchased, out of his meager fixed income, gifts not only for the woman but also a grandchild that she was raising. I hoped that Floyd’s generosity was born of love and not a desperate attempt to disprove my theory.

Considering that we had much to discuss regarding the after-effects of Floyd’s impaling by cupid’s arrow, we agreed to meet at a local soul food jointed called Josie’s Place located at 7473 N. Shepherd Drive. I laughed inside as Floyd swiftly agreed to the meeting place as he planned to be in that area shopping for his new love. Knowing that Floyd did not have a vehicle, I knew that he must be particularly smitten with this lady as it most certainly had to be difficult to navigate Houston’s sprawling environs with such restrictions.

I must give it up to Floyd; he arrived at the venue promptly at 1:00 PM as promised. Making it even more impressive was the fact that Floyd was towing around several bags. After entering Josie’s Place, Floyd and I quickly ordered and were promptly served plates that included Turkey Wings, Fried Fish, Corn, Greens, Cabbage, and Macaroni & Cheese.

It was after settling into our seats and consuming the better portion of our ‘Soul Food’ meals that I tongue-in-cheek asked Floyd,

What’s in the bags? Is it Floyd’s love potion?”

As expected, Floyd’s response dripped with sarcasm.

“You see that right there. That’s why we as Black people can’t get ahead. Whenever we see someone doing good, we gotta try and knock them down. And if you must know, these bags right here contain gifts for my woman and her grandbaby.”

Although I knew that it was equal parts mean-spirited and spiteful, I could not resist harassing Floyd.

Oh, so now you are claiming this woman? Don’t tell me that Mr. player, player, got his nose opened wide? Never thought I would see such a thing when a player like you retired from the game. Say it ain’t so Floyd.

Floyd just stared at me while consuming another morsel of food.

So what did you get everybody?”

It was then that Floyd reached into a bag and pulled out a very nice bracelet for his newfound love.

“You know it is nothing big, just a Lil’ Sumthin, sumthin for her. So when she looks down, she’ll think about Ol’ Floyd.” 

All I could say was, “That’s nice Floyd. What did you get for the ‘grandbaby’?”

It was then that Floyd reached into the larger bag and completely blew my mind. He retrieved three Barbie dolls from the bag, each doll more whiter than the last one. I just cringed inside as I could not believe that in the 21st Century African-Americans were still purchasing white dolls for black children. Apparently, Floyd detected my soul’s consternation.

“Now what’s wrong with the gift? That little girl loves to play with dolls.”

“It’s not the gift. Well, it isn’t, and it is.”

“Now what in the hell does that even mean? It is, and it isn’t. Man, make up your mind. Just come on with it, why don’t you like my gift.”

“Floyd, do you remember my column titled, Black Doll Matters? The editorial where I commented on the desperate need for our community to take every opportunity to build our children’s self-esteem.”

The article that I am alluding to read as follows.

BLACK DOLL MATTERS

          While recently tooling around the internet, I came across an approximately forty-second video of white parents giving their two white daughters Black dolls that apparently arrived as gifts “from Uncle Seth and Aunt Cynthia.” It was clear from the moment that the two children, no older than five years old, realized the contents of the package that they entirely disapproved of them. This point was driven home by one of the two little white angels throwing her black doll on the floor prior to falling to the floor hysterically crying while her mother burst into laughter.

          Although I would love to attribute this moment as equally inconsequential and meaningless, the truth of the matter is that it reveals much about the importance of dolls in the lives of girls, regardless of their race/ethnicity.

          I am old enough to remember a time when it was so rare to find African-American dolls at local toy stores that it was considered a given that African-American girls would not have dolls that reflected their beauty. However, my sister and cousins were fortunate to have Kathryn V. Jones, my beloved mother, in their lives. My mother, a real race woman in every sense of the word, fanatically sought out Black dolls for not only my sister, but also my cousins as Christmas and Birthday gifts.

          During the 70s and a major part of the 80s, white manufacturers apparently did not think that such items were worth the trouble of making, meaning held the potential for significant profit. That decision by ‘mainstream’ toy companies facilitated what is akin to a self-imagery desert for young African-American girls in regards to dolls. Things were so bad in regards to Black girls and dolls that many within our community celebrated the issuing of a Black Barbie doll that possessed the same features as the standard white Barbie.

          Dolls are one of the gateways to the future for Black girls as it allows them to not only play out the present but also their understanding of what is possible in the immediate and distant future. Without dolls that reflect them, African-American girls predictably turned toward television to find women they wished to emulate; there is no need to even delve into the dangers of such an occurrence.

          I find it perfectly understandable that two young white girls would resist receiving African-American dolls, in their imaginary world where Black girls not only do not rock but also are not desired. That is their prerogative. My concern is the Black girls, our daughters/nieces do not have a similar reaction when it comes to there being a dearth of Black dolls for them to play with and imagine a world where they can be the leader of a nation, college, or business; identities that are far greater than being a ‘baby momma’, one of the many negative things they are currently learning from watching ‘reality television.’

          We so often talk about the idea of Manhood as African-American men. However, those discussions frequently avoid any discussion of creating a space for our young girls to pursue their full potential. I have come to learn that allowing their imaginations to fly through the bluest sky’s one could imagine is probably the manliest thing that we can do for the little angels that God gifted us.

James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016.

“Let me get this right; you have a problem with the gift because the dolls are white? Man, that is not only stupid but also makes you a racist. You do know that you’re a racist right? I just want to hear you admit it!”

“Floyd, I am not a racist; far from it. What I am is a Black man living in America who recognizes that we need not only to recognize but also counter the thousands of images directed at Black girls and women that tell them that they are less than. That’s what I am, ‘nothing more and nothing less.’”

I knew my use of one of Floyd’s favorite phrases, ‘nothing more and nothing less’ would get under Floyd’s skin.

“Nah, Nigga, you a racist!!!!!!! It is people like you who remind our kids that they are Black from the moment that they come into the world and create all of these societal divisions.”

“Now Floyd, you know good, and well that is not true. Whether I say anything to an African-American child regarding Race, they are most certainly going to at some point realize that they are Black in a white world. It’s just one of the hazards of being Black in America, an inevitability of sorts. That is the reason it is so important that we build our children up, especially our girls, with dolls that look like them. You don’t see white folk lining up to purchase Black dolls for their children. Why don’t they? Just answer that question.”

Floyd quickly responded with the following,

“I neither care nor am I concerned by what white folk is doing with their children. It simply ain’t none of my business. But I do see your point; maybe I should have purchased her a Black doll.”

I have learned that I am no more of a gracious winner than Floyd, so I immediately chimed in with an extra insult to drive home my point.

“In the future, just make it a personal policy not to purchase any images that don’t look like somebody that you are related to.” 

Thinking that my work with Floyd was done for another day, I sat back and relaxed as the full weight of the ‘Soul Food’ I consumed during our discussion began to settle upon me. It was at that moment Floyd chimed in,

“I’ll make a deal with you; I will take these dolls back and exchange them right away, to prevent my damaging a young Black girl’s self-esteem, under one condition.”

“What’s that?”

 “I need a ride back over to the store and then one home.”

I could do nothing but stare at Floyd and that developing ‘Foolish Grin.’

“C’mon man. Being on that bus is hell. There are all kinds of fools…”

Before Floyd could get his complaints out, I rose and motioned for him to follow me. I would rather go through the inconvenience of driving him around town than hearing his moaning and complaining. It was most certainly the lesser of two evils.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.

Why We Call Them Pigs: Huey P. Newton Explains the Black Panther Party’s Use of the Term Pig

I have always considered it extremely important to understand each and every aspect of the Black Power Era. Anyone who has studied this era will tell you that the language used by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was not only used to convey a message but also intended for that message to be delivered with laser-like precision. Considering the Panther Party’s never-ending conflict with law enforcement agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels it is not surprising that Huey P. Newton’s cadre would have their unique way of referring to law enforcement personnel that was often behaving lawlessly.

While researching my book, Creating Revolution as they Advance, I came across the following explanation and justification for the use of the term “Pigs” by Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton.

We thought up new terms for them. At first I figured that the reverse of god – dog – would be a good epithet, but it did not catch on. We tried beast, brute, and animal, but none of them captured the essential quality we were trying to convey…Eldridge showed us a postcard from Beverly Axelrod. On the front was the slogan “Support Your Local Police”; there was a sheriff’s star above the phrase, and in the center of the star a grinning, slobbering pig. It was just what we were looking for. We began to show policemen as pigs in our cartoons, and from time to time used the word. “Pig” caught on; it entered the language…

“Pig” was perfect for several reasons. First of all, words like “swine,” “hog,” “sow,” and “pig” have always had unpleasant connotations…”Pig” has another point in its favor: in racial terms “pig” is a neutral word. Many white youths on college campuses began to understand what the police were really like when their heads were broken open during demonstrations against the draft and the Vietnam War. This broadened the use of the term and served to unify the victims against their oppressors. Even though white youths were not victimized in the same way or to the same extent that we were, they nonetheless became our allies against the police. In this case the ruling circle was not able to set the victims against each other, as the racists in the South had done by setting poor whites against Blacks.

Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide

“Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?”: How Desegregation Played a Pivotal Role in Removing Black Male Teachers from the American Classroom

I have come to understand that when I teach the Civil Rights Movement, there are several things that I can expect. One of the most prominent is that the vast majority of my students believe that the desegregation of America’s schools was an undeniable positive occurrence in black education. From their myopic perspective, school desegregation provided a highly sought after route to black liberation with its infusion of better materials, facilities, and teachers. Trust me when I say that the vast majority of my students believe that the U.S. Supreme Court mandate to desegregate the schools “with all deliberate speed” was an unequivocal positive for Black America. As I am confident that you can imagine, my viewpoint conflicts with such a perspective.

The manner in which my students battle against my nuanced criticism of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision reveals a shocking emotional investment that shows a strident belief in meritocracy; the idea that if you work hard in America, success will eventually occur. Experience has taught me that the most certain way to undress school desegregation is via the following query; “How many of you had an African-American male teacher during your K-12 experience? Please do not count any teacher who was involved in school athletics in that number.” There may be a few students who indicate that they have had such an indicator by raising their hand. However, a brief survey reveals that very few students have had more than two African-American male teachers who were not attached to some athletic sport during their K – 12 educational endeavors. This unfortunate reality provides a perfect opportunity for me to query, “To what do you attribute that fact?”

As I am confident that you can imagine, there is a litany of excuses/explanations for the absence of African-American males from the teaching profession.

  • “Teaching doesn’t pay, so they refuse the work.”
  • “Being a teacher is woman’s work.”
  • “Too many of them end up in prison and not college.”

I am confident that the flawed explanations would continue into infinity if I did not stop them.

None of my students possess enough knowledge to trace the absence of African-American male teachers to the cause of this matter, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

When discussing this issue, I frequently take Malcolm X’s position and ask my charges if they are confident that it was a wise decision to abandon black schools to integrate with a hostile white community? I remind my students that they are integrating with a community that has publicly articulated a non-desire to have African-Americans anywhere near them unless it was in a subservient role that bolstered their monopoly upon limited politico-economic resources. My students are not alone in their myopic view of school desegregation. Integrationist oriented Civil Rights leaders also failed to understand that the integration of American schools would have an unconscionable impact upon not only the minds of African-American children but also ensure the disappearance of black male teachers. Malcolm X considered the decision to integrate so unwisely that he admonished his moderate Negro leaders that “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Over sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school desegregation, it is evident that African-American male teachers are the primary victims of desegregation. Consider for a moment that before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, educators made up over fifty percent of the black professional class; male teachers were approximately half of that population. Things have certainly changed since Brown in regards to the presence of African-American male educators. At this present moment,

  • 75% of American teachers are female
  • 83% of American teachers are white
  • Less than 2% of American teachers are black men

In hindsight, it is evident that Brown blocked a robust pipeline that consistently delivered black male educators to black schools.

After Brown, white school administrators efficiently replaced black male teachers with white women. The alluded to occupational displacement was motivated by an extreme desire by white managers to avoid an agreed upon racial taboo that forbid the placement of African-American men in positions of authority over any white, most notably a white female. An irrational paranoia that reduced African-American males to a monolithic population whose greatest desire was sexual contact with any white woman motivated this decision. Put simply, the pipeline that routinely produced black male educators before Brown was not only halted but also deconstructed by the Supreme Court order.

It is this historical reality that has forced a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Southern University, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Alcorn State University and Claflin University) to join in an endeavor that is ironically being called Project Pipeline Repair: Restoring Minority Male Participation and Persistence in Educator Preparation Programs (Project PR).

Project PR, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is seeking to “eliminate social and economic barriers” that preclude the presence of African-American male teachers in today’s classrooms.

I hope that Project PR is a resounding success as we are in dire need for African-American male teachers who could serve as educators and mentors to the next generation of American youth, regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity. However, as an individual who has studied Race in America for the better portion of his life, I am slightly perturbed that this movement to restock this nation’s schools with African-American male educators is occurring without any discussion regarding why there are so few of them at this present moment. The historical record shows that their absence is not due to social dysfunction or personal flaws, rather it results from white school administrators discriminatory hiring practices in the wake of Brown. It was their dastardly decision that facilitated the disappearance of black male educators from American schools and the subsequent decline of a quality education for African-American students.

The historical record definitively proves this matter. Until this nation places this conversation within its proper historical context, it is not only doing itself a severe disservice but also extending one of its greatest traditions of conveniently excluding significant aspects of its storied tradition of discrimination and racism. Until we tell the truth about American racial matters, this nation will continue to be haunted by this demonic spirit.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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