Category Archives: Black Women

Front and Center: Why Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globe Address Flew over the Heads of the Majority of Women’s Rights Activists

During the mentoring process, one rarely understands why they are being taught certain things. Oftentimes, one could be convinced that their mentor is insane as they seek to prepare you for a “higher purpose” as the next generation of race men/women.

There is no doubt that experience has taught the elders of our community that this next generation of black leaders must be equipped with the ability to inventively ply our craft in uncomfortable arenas. This process extends beyond readings and exposure to lectures. The most poignant way my work as a “race man” was explained to me came from Michael Eric Dyson who asserted, “Jones, when you get up on that stage, at that panel discussion, you have to let all of the ‘Niggas’ out like an exorcism is occurring.” Of course, this was Dyson’s method of reiterating what I learned long before at the foot of many elders; that being, it is imperative that I represent our people at every moment.

By the time I became a Professor of African-American Studies, I fully understood that I must not temper my words and analysis even when those in attendance would certainly consider my words harsh and inappropriate as they realized they were daggers directed at the throat of white supremacy. A worldview that has incubated whites for so long that they no longer recognize its existence.

It is this understanding of how black leadership must behave in front of white powerbrokers that makes me so appreciative of the genius that Oprah Winfrey displayed at the Golden Globes while accepting the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.

In front of a mesmerized audience, Oprah Winfrey offered deafening commentary regarding White America’s muting of the horrific sexual assaults that black women have endured since the Jamestown Colony was established in the early 17th Century. In a style that most black professionals recognized as “a courageous way of addressing powerful white folk when they are in the room,” Winfrey positioned black women in their rightful frontline position as the foremost victims of the historic sexual violence perpetrated by the same white men that white women have loved, comforted, protected, married, and produced children with as they built a life that partially rested on the sexual and economic exploitation of Black America for centuries. Winfrey’s comments were based around the riveting story of a poor black woman named Recy Taylor who was a victim of a rape by six white men who the white community, meaning men and women, hid as they considered the brutal crime to be a non-issue. According to Winfrey,

Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

Had the white women in attendance listened closer to Winfrey’s comments they would have discerned what politically astute segments of Black America heard. They would have heard that the fact that the perpetrators of the attack on Recy Taylor were never captured speaks volumes about a white community, a populace that we must remember is majority female, that has never taken definitive action against the rape and lynching of black women. Let’s be clear on this matter, it was no secret within that community regarding who the perpetrators of this or the millions of other sexual assault crimes were. There was a general acceptance among whites that the black women who worked in their homes, fields, or traveled along roads such as the one that Recy Taylor was traveling as she left church on that eventful day were so inconsequential that neither man’s law nor God’s providence covered them.

One must always be on guard for the voluminous impact that emotional moments have on the mind, particularly when it comes to political analysis. The site of so many well-known white actors and actresses standing in public clapping their hands in support of this latest social movement is particularly riveting for those who have been silenced for far too long, unfortunately for those who cherish this moment in time, such a display has no impact on the matter of sexual violence directed at women in general and black women in particular.

The impact of such public displays are so limited that I would suggest that those in attendance should be challenged not with the #MeToo, rather the internal introspective inducing query of #WhereWereYouAndWhatDidYouDo? when you heard your “paw-paw”, “daddy”, “uncles”, “brothers”, “sons”, “husbands”, “fiancées”, and “boyfriend” laugh and banter about the rape of some nameless, faceless, and defenseless black woman. As Malcolm X posited, the black woman is the most disrespected person on the planet. Historically speaking, the black woman’s lack of worth in the eyes of bigoted whites throughout this nation has been cemented by not only her race, but also her gender. My question to those assembled for Winfrey’s poignant commentary is, “Where was that hiding place that you were able to totally hide your new commitment to protecting black women? Or is it merely another occurrence of currying favor from an emotional audience by co-opting the latest faddish social movement?”

I hope that black women are not unduly moved by these recent expressions of female solidarity by white women. The historical record indicates that their only priority is not protecting womanhood, rather securing equality with the white males that they rival ‘by any means necessary.’ Unfortunately for the liberation of black women, the historical record also predicts that they will forget recent betrayals by white women political initiatives and be swept-up with emotions that lead to them yet again abandoning their political interests in favor of helping white women achieve their selfish individualistic goals. In the end, such political naïveté will guarantee that black women will find themselves in the same troubled position that they have always been, meaning cast aside, disregarded, and devoid of a single advocate beyond themselves.

So I applaud Oprah Winfrey for situating the sexual violence perpetrated against black women front-and-center where it should be. However, I am also a historian who understands that the historical record is the best indicator of future behavior and political priorities, hence, I understand that the white women who are at this present moment clapping wildly at Winfrey’s commentary are the descendants of women whose moral compass made it unconscionable to report their “loved ones” for the ghastly attacks on the black women who worked for them, nursed their children, cleaned their homes, and enriched them by applying their labor for a pittance. I pray that black women will finally realize that no one, not even the majority of black men, has their best interests at heart.

Let us not forget that the black women Winfrey speaks of are the very women

(W)ho have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.

These are the women who birthed me, loved me, cared for me, and guided me toward an understanding that I must speak on their behalf at every turn. I just wish that these women would make themselves the center of the universe that they obviously are and not rely on white women to aid them at any moment because that aid is not only unreliable but also only offered as a means to further advance a white agenda that has never been kind to our kind.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

MY MIND IS PLAYING TRICKS ON ME: BLACK AMERICA’S NEVER ENDING SEARCH FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL PEACE

Although I do not profess to be a person who knows each and every African-American personally, a reality that would most likely shock many whites, this thing called life has taught me several things. At the top of these lessons is the fact that it is awfully difficult to be a black man in America. If black men were injected with a truth serum, I would venture to guess that there is not a single black man who has not felt the pressures of being what the great scholar W.E.B. Du Bois described in the following manner:

With other black boys the strife (becomes) silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

It is this duality that Du Bois describes that sits at the core of so much angst in the souls of black men who live life’s of extreme frustration as they seek to fill what for many are impossible manhood duties.

There is little doubt that the alluded to frustrations and disappointments sit at the core of escalating mental health crisis among black men. Consider the following data from the American Association of Suicidology, in 2015, 2,023 African-American males, out of a total of 2,504 blacks died by suicide. The most dangerous aspect of a mental health crisis is that not only do those suffering from this situation never reach out for help. Mental health clinicians repeatedly cite that African-Americans hesitation to reach out for help is directly tied to what can only be termed cultural stigmas the black community possesses regarding this matter.

Iconic rapper Scarface addressed issues of mental health in the Geto Boys song “My Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me.” Just consider the dark portrait that Scarface paints in the initial verse of this song.

At night I can’t sleep, I toss and turn
Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned
Four walls just staring at a nigga
I’m paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger
My mother’s always stressin’ I ain’t living right
But I ain’t goin’ out without a fight
See, every time my eyes close
I start sweating and blood starts coming out my nose
It’s somebody watching the Ak’
But I don’t know who it is so I’m watching my back
I can see him when I’m deep in the covers
When I awake I don’t see the motherfucker
He owns a black hat like I own
A black suit and a cane like my own
Some might say take a chill, B
But fuck that shit, there’s a nigga trying to kill me
I’m popping in the clip when the wind blows
Every twenty seconds got me peeping out my window
Investigating the joint for traps
Checking my telephone for taps
I’m staring at the woman on the corner
It’s fucked up when your mind’s playing tricks on ya

In a subsequent interview with Complex the Houston-based rapper goes in-depth regarding his thinking and the process that he undertook to create this iconic song.

“I was really going through some deep shit when I was a kid. I was going through manic depression. I just wanted to die. I spent a lot of time in hospitals for depression. I was really one of those kids that was fucked up. It had nothing to do with the way I was brought up, but I didn’t value life back then as much as I value it right now. I thought about death, I thought about crazy shit.

I spent a lot of time in this hospital in the adolescent unit for troubled kids. I was fucking terrible. I beat up teachers, students, mommas, daddys. I was a fighting motherfucker when I was a little kid. The doctors gave me shit like Mellaril and Lithium. They didn’t give me shit like they give these kids now a days. They give them all kinds of dope nowadays.

Growing up I did all the cool drugs like hallucinogens, I did a lot of rush, and I smoked a lot of weed. Rush a little jar with a red top, you can get it at the head shops, and it says ‘Rush’. It ain’t no popper, it’s a puff. We sniffed a lot of paint, sniffed a lot of glue, and did a lot of acid. I didn’t start fucking with acid until I was probably about 17. Oh and mushrooms.

My uncles were drug heads, so I was getting high when I was 8-years-old—I’m not even exaggerating. My uncles would blow me charges while my other uncle would squeeze my chest, like they put me in a death grip from behind where I couldn’t breathe and you would black out. You would call it an Indian Charge.

When I wrote ‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me’ I’m pretty sure I was high. I know I was high on alcohol and maybe like a fucking drop of something crazy. I mean I did a lot of fucking dope, man. I mean like, ‘Holy Fuck!’ I got real high and maybe that put a lot of the darkness that came out in my records back then. I’m so blessed to still be in my right state of mind as an adult.”

The most recent example of a prominent African-American male dealing with mental health issues in public is Kid Cudi, an artist that achieved significant notoriety for his song, Day N’ Nite. The alluded to song also deals with the darkness associated with being a black male in search of a far too elusive peace. Consider the following lyrical content from the song.

Day and night

I toss and turn

I keep stressing my mind

I look for peace but see I don’t attain

There is little doubt that it is the disturbed place that the vast majority of African-American males know so very well that led Kid Cudi to separate himself from the adoration of droves of fans via the following communication.

Its been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter and all of you, my fans.
Yesterday I checked myself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges.
I am not at peace. I haven’t been since you’ve known me. If I didn’t come here, I would’ve done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life. There’s a raging violent storm inside of my heart at all times. I don’t know what peace feels like. I don’t know how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I can’t make new friends because of it. I don’t trust anyone because of it and I’m tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me? I guess I give so much of myself to others I forgot that I need to show myself some love too. I think I never really knew how. I’m scared, I’m sad, I feel like I let a lot of people down and again, I’m sorry. Its time I fix me. I’m nervous but I’m a get through this… 

Love and light to everyone who has love for me and I am sorry if I let anyone down. I really am sorry. I’ll be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel like shit, I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry.

I love you,

Scott Mescudi

Although figures such as Kid Cudi, Scarface, Kanye West, and Jay-Z are the most known victims of mental illness, the truth of the matter is that at the present moment African-American teenagers are committing suicide at a rate that exceeds their white counterparts. It appears that psychological peace is an extremely elusive destination for African-Americans regardless of educational attainment, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexual orientation. We are all prone to being entrapped by “walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons (and daughters) of night who must plod darkly on in resignation…” For that reason, it is incredibly important that we encourage those who are in need of mental health services to seek those services out; in fact, if you truly love that person, you help usher them through that process.

If nothing else, rest assured that I love you all and want you to live the best life that you can.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

#Invisible Sisters: Are “Good Black Women” Invisible to Black Men?

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.” 

(Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man)

I recently had the pleasure of serving as the moderator for a community panel discussion at the African-American Library in the 4th Ward of Houston, Texas. As a writer, I do my best to stay keenly aware of discussions as they provide the basis for much of what I write about regarding Race in America, hence, I was particularly attentive to a panel composed of prodigious scholars and intellectuals such as Dr. Kaarin Perkins, Dr. James Conyers, Dr. Ronald Goodwin, Dr. Derrick Wilson, and Dr. Jasmine D. Parker. I intuitively realized that this group would provide innumerable moments of brilliance that I would do my best to first seize and then expound on in this space.

I am quite confident that if you have sat at the foot of those mentioned above that you already realize the depth and breadth of their insight regarding being black in America. While listening to riveting comments by the esteemed Dr. Kaarin Perkins, a sister who carries her passion on her sleeve, it dawned on me that a recent construct that I borrowed from the great writer Ralph Ellison was woefully incomplete.

In an earlier post, I posited that today’s progressive black man is an “Invisible Man” whose existence mirrors that of the figure that Ellison wrote about sixty-five years ago. Although I maintain that my analysis is spot on, it was Dr. Perkins whose poignant comments pointed out that my construct was a far too abbreviated idea as African-American men have much company in being rendered “Invisible” by an outside world that refuses to see them. Most disconcerting is Perkins’ contention that she could care less about the viewpoints of the outside world, her indictment was aimed at black men who render her invisible.

According to Perkins, progressive-minded black women whose entire being is aimed at uplifting the black community and those that call it home are routinely grouped with others whose entire existence has nothing to do with being politically astute, pillars of their community, and savvy enough to battle those seeking to destroy our community on their turf. Instead of seeing these women, far too often black men only see a figure onto which they are able to project their insecurities, hatred, and disdain. “Instead of seeing their sister who is here to aid them, they see a hoe, a bitch, or a slut.” This matter reminds me of an observation that W.E.B. Du Bois made in his classic text The Souls of Black Folk regarding it being a “peculiar sensation to view oneself through the lens of another.”

This matter leads me to an interesting query. Is it a reasonable assertion that African-American males have allowed their negative interactions with what many would term “basic” black women to destroy their understanding that black women are not a monolithic population? Although I hate to say it, I know for a fact that the negative interactions with a few “basic” sisters is integral to black men grouping all “sisters” together and thereby making those who serve as pillars in our community as Ellison would term it, “Invisible (Wo)men.”

While listening to Dr. Perkins passionately explain this conundrum that affects nearly every black woman that I consider a friend, it dawned on me that this situation is tied to an oppressive white world supremacy that has ensnared far too many of us. Most unfortunate is the reality that until we are able to somehow free ourselves from the reverberating damage that being black in America has wrought on our souls, sisters like Dr. Kaarin Perkins will remain invisible to the vast majority of black men. And that is a shame!!!!!!

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Why Black Men Should Applaud the Development of a Black Woman’s Movement and Political Agenda

I must be forthright and state that I believe public protests and marches should be at best a minimal portion of strategies aimed at liberating Black America. A century ago, public protests and marches were a phenomenal way to inform naïve whites of bigotry, racial discrimination, and institutional racism, the need for such measures are long gone as all Americans realize that we have a Race problem in this nation. The historical record indicates that over the past half-century public protests have failed to make significant strides toward solving the underlying catalysts to racial inequality. Put simply; the typical march for racial justice amounts to little more than our people talking loud and achieving nothing.

Although I hold fast to the belief that marches such as the March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women planned today in Washington, D.C. will fail to make a tangible difference in the plight of black people in America; there is a silver lining to be found regarding the latter. To the chagrin of many who oppose black liberation, it appears that a segment of African-American women have channeled the spirit and intelligence of their brave sisters of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the Black Liberation Army and realized that black women have tended to exist in a peculiar space that lends itself to political invisibility.

Consider for a moment that it is common for the needs, wants, and particular issues facing black women to be muted by their identity. Unfortunately, black women are too female to be adequately represented in the male-dominated African-American freedom struggle and too black to be centered in a women’s movement that disregards the pernicious evil of racial oppression. Verification of such an assertion is found throughout the entire feminist movement that has “welcomed” black women into their fold under the condition that they must adopt a pre-existing agenda that has nothing to do with their particular needs, wants, and desires. The issues that matter most to black women conflict with the “white world supremacy” that provides great privilege to white women; it is, after all, their first inheritance as an America.

In many ways, it should be difficult for anyone who has any love for black women not to applaud this courageous decision by march leaders to articulate a political agenda that highlights peculiar issues that will never be found within either the African-American freedom struggle or the feminist movement. This decision should ensure that black women are no longer eclipsed by an African-American freedom struggle that accentuates racial matters at the cost of ignoring gender issues or a white female-headed feminist movement that will never work toward eradicating white supremacy.

Although I know that many black men will shudder at the prospect of black women having a separate political agenda, they have little to worry about as African-American women have historically supported the African-American freedom struggle. I am confident that the March for Black Women will not change that fact. The alluded to fears should be quieted by the reality that politically astute, courageous, disciplined, and educated black women are central to the creation of and the maintenance of an active black community.

Failure to understand this fact dooms us all and ensures that racial disparities will continue unabated. And that is a reality that all of Black America should consider revolting.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

WHY BLACK WOMEN MUST BE CAUTIOUS WHEN DEALING WITH THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT

It has always saddened me when people harboring good intentions are ensnared in unnecessary conflict; particularly when the dispute revolves around substantive issues that could be easily solved.

So I am confident that you can imagine how disturbing it was to listen to the endless debate among our community regarding the participation of black women in the new women’s march. A firestorm of rhetoric revolved around matters such as should black women have abstained from participation due to the past betrayals their kind have experienced within feminist movements or do not the interests of black women coincide with those of white women. It did not take long for a legitimate debate to devolve into a mess of vitriolic hatred and name calling.

Most disappointing of all is the reality that this matter is a relatively fundamental issue that a cursory understanding of the history of American race and gender dynamics would quickly solve. So I offer the following to those whose emotions remain heightened and their vision clouded by an issue that has driven yet another wedge among an already divided African-American populace.

To the question of should black women have participated in the women’s march, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Now I am certain that there is a segment of black women who will rejoice at this firm assertion, as well as a part that will instantaneously recoil at the assertion. I am asking each of these adversaries to pause for a moment and understand that my firm belief that black women should have participated in the historic march comes with a few conditions.

The paths to understanding the conditions and qualifiers that must be attached to African-Americans engagement with any political movement is to an understanding of the large difference between joining a movement and creating an alliance.

At the center of the public outcries regarding the participation of black women in the women’s march focused on the fact that by joining that movement one is now beholden to an agenda that does not reflect the totality of the political issues facing black women.

Historically speaking, movements headed by elite white women have failed to accommodate the issues facing poor and working-class women whose status do not mirror their own; rest assured that the unrepresented includes a significant population of white women as well as black.

Alice Walker, the famous thinker, and promoter of womanism, poignantly accentuates this point by highlighting that the issues facing black women are different from those facing the elite white women who lead the feminist movement. Walker reminds all of this difference in her reverberating assertion that “Womanism is to Feminism as purple is to lavender.”

Most critics of black women’s participation in the women’s movement agree that instead of joining a feminist movement that has at opportune moments muted the voices of African-American women and thereby needlessly prolonged their pressing political issues. According to such individuals, if black women formed their organizations to promote a developed political agenda highlighting their problems and promoting solutions to their grievances, they would then be on the road to liberation. Had black women taken this reasonable course of action, they would have been positioned to negotiate a mutually beneficial alliance that allowed them to simultaneously work toward the amelioration of pressing issues that faced all women, regardless of race or economic status, and still maintained their focus upon their political agenda.

It is time that African-American activists graduate with an understanding there is nothing wrong with creating a mutually benefiting alliance. However, they must also understand that when such a political arrangement is no longer helping either party, it is time to abandon the agreement.

Put simply; I see absolutely nothing wrong with black women’s participation as allies in a feminist march as there are issues that affect females regardless of their racial identity. However, history has taught us that it is unwise for black women to join feminist movements as their voices will invariably be muted at critical junctures when the specter of race appears.

History is very clear that our path to liberation does not include joining white-headed movements and groups whose leadership tends to have pervasive ‘blind spots’ when it comes to race and class. The only reasonable path to liberation in regards to political matters is found in the developing of black agendas and political currency before pursuing mutually beneficial alliances with non-black groups. Failure to do such not only reveals how little black leaders know about liberation and guarantees that they will continue their grandest tradition of “talking loud and saying nothing.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017