One of the most common complaints directed at contemporary Black celebrities flows from their failure to use their high-profile status to bring attention to political issues that are negatively impacting the common black folk that support them. Their supports expect for them to defend them and their interests at each and every turn. Put simply, it is their duty to speak for those who can not speak for themselves. Although I agree with this sentiment, often when Black stars regardless of from whence their fame flows, athletics, movies, comedy, talk shows, attempt to address an issue it ends in disaster. One needs to look no further than the random statements of Sir Charles Barkley or that disaster that we know as Stacey Dash, a political commentator for Fox News, for verification of this point. These two, and many others, make me hold fast to the axiom that one should ‘be careful what they wish for, because you just might get it.’
High-profile African-American entertainers are either uncertain if they should or incapable of issuing a relevant political commentary that addresses the issues our community are experiencing. I think that it is only fair when one of our own actually steps into such an arena that she be acknowledged for advancing a position that aids the Black collective. We must be more prepared to celebrate these moments of Black courage than we are to denounce the plentiful occurrences of Black ignorance and political cowardice.
Although the Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA) series has been a show that historically makes the vast majority of progressive, forward-thinking, educated African-Americans cringe for its wildly inconsistent and contradictory portrayal of grown Black women, Kandi Burruss took it upon herself to address the matter of the disparate sentencing that African-American males repeatedly receive by the American judicial system. Kandi related during the show that she thought it ludicrous that African-American males were being sent away for decades for non-violent crimes. Kandi was most-definitely supporting the research and theory of notable legal scholar Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, who highlights that when these men return home with a criminal record, they will most likely never find gainful employment.
Although we rarely speak about it, the rules governing African-American males are much different from those governing their white male counterparts. Similar to baseball, white males usually get numerous strikes before they are called out, African-American males may, and I emphasize may, get a single swing of the bat and there is no guarantee that the pitch will even be playable. To the contrary of what national pundits have advanced, we are not, and I repeat are not, in a post-racial America. Race most certainly remains the pivot that dictates much of the life chances for the vast majority of African-Americans.
The alluded to situation is a peculiar one to say the least. In a society that promotes the idea of family and lists being a provider, meaning a wage-earner, as being the single most important role of a man, gainful employment is critical to any opportunity for the a stable familial unit. Hence, the African-American community’s inability to employ its own because of its refusal to practice collectivist economics and political solidarity dooms every African-American male who is unable to latch on, almost like a parasite, to a white-owned business, factory, or corporation. Such is the cost that we pay for refusing to listen to the innumerable prophets (Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Claud Anderson) who pointed our people toward economic solidarity. An additional by-product of African-Americans economic powerlessness is the harsh sentences that its youth and men receive from the American judicial system. Kandi Burruss and Michelle Alexander are both correct when they refer to the manner that Black men are incarcerated for a non-violent crime for sometimes over a decade, they return home to an unforgiving public with every intention of finding legal gainful employment, however, when that fails many of them ultimately find themselves re-incarcerated.
Predictably, many whites, and a few negroes, have attempted to take Kandi to task for what today serves as political commentary. The RHOA star responded in the following way to the flowing criticism.
Some people felt that I was pulling the race card when I said I feel the justice system is harder on black men…I definitely feel that if you break the law, you should have to go to jail and do your time for the crime, no matter what color you are. BUT I feel like a lot of black men who have committed non-violent crimes get longer sentences than needed. For example, I have a family member who committed a non-violent crime and got 13 years in prison. He did his time, came home, and after a few years he committed another non-violent crime and now he’s serving over 20 years in prison. There are murderers and rapists who have gotten less time. When a man comes home with felonies on his record, a lot of times he can’t get a good job. So I just feel like it creates a cycle of repeat offenders. There has to be a better way… This is just my opinion.
I feel compelled to publicly state the following to Kandi. Sister, I take my hat off to you for not only your political statement, but also your courage to defend your position and not cower away from it as so many of your contemporaries do. And for that reason you will always have my, and every other righteous African-American males, respect.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III