Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson-63106 Project

I am one of the "story-tellers for Before Ferguson Beyond Fergusons “63106 Project,” a journalistic effort to engage individuals and families in the 63106-zip code who grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. This zip code has a documented history of disproportionate economic and health disparities. Go here for more information and to read our stories: beforefergusonbeyondferguson.com


Sunday, April 5, 2020

White Folk: You Must Own This!


by Sylvester Brown, Jr.
April 5, 2020

I’m sorry. I feel compelled to write this: White folk, this is on you. And I pray you realize it. I hope that now that some of you or ones you know and love are sick or dying; now that incompetence is on public display; now that the whole country faces an economic collapse, I hope you see the folly of your ways. I hope you understand that racism, like a double-edged sword, can kill the victim and wound the aggressor at the same time. I hope you realize that you have squandered your great power, traded your core principles, mainly, because of your race-based biases and fears.
According to data from CNN’s Edison 2016 national election poll, white voters, who made up 69% of the total, voted 58% for Donald Trump in 2016. White men opted 63% for Trump while 53% of white women gave him their vote.


I hope you understand that racism, like a double-edged sword, can kill the victim and wound the aggressor at the same time

Please, don’t allow your insecurities to let you disregard this message.  Don’t write me off as just some kind of Farrakhan wannabe who you assume hates all whites. I don’t. Your myths, your movies, your religions have shaped me, molded me, influenced me. I know it sounds trite, but I have many white friends and supporters. I was married to a white woman and we have two children. I like to think that most know and trust my intentions. It’s largely because of them that I find the courage to write this. They understand that I’m not including them in this piece. I’m addressing whites who put Trump in office.

 I know it sounds trite, but I have many white friends and supporters.... It’s largely because of them that I find the courage to write this. 

Therefore, whites need to own this! Because many of you simply hated the idea that a black man was elected president 12 years ago, you catered to your baser instincts and anxieties. You spent all those years bashing, ridiculing, stereotyping and demeaning this man, his wife and children even though they were the epitome of intelligence, dignity, class and “American Family” values.
Because of your disdain for Obama, many of you voted for someone you knew wasn’t qualified to lead this country. And you can’t place all the blame on your barely educated, low-income, white supremacists, confederate flag-waving brothers and sisters either. According to data from the CNN/Edison poll, one in three of white Americans who earn more than $50,000 annually backed Trump. Also, of white male college graduates, 54% voted for Trump, as did 45% of white female college graduates. Of white voters between the ages of 18-to-29, 48% voted for Trump.
So, it was older, younger, upper, middle and lower-class whites who placed Trump in the White House. It was doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges, cops, farmers and factory workers. All of you backed someone you knew the Ku Klux Klan also supported. Before you stepped into that voting booth, you knew this candidate was a liar, a womanizer, a cheater and a man whose business reputation was built on fabrications and falsehoods. But you didn’t care. He wasn’t Obama; he wasn’t black. He called Mexicans “rapists and murderers.” And that’s what mattered most to you.
I hope now you see that you’ve been victimized. Before Obama or Trump even sought the presidency, some very savvy, very unscrupulous people recognized that you were ripe for plundering. They created a news network backed by a powerful alternative media force. Like Hitler’s main man, Joseph Goebbels, CEO of Fox, Roger Ailes, created an all-powerful propaganda machine aimed at legitimizing your fears, prejudices, woes and downright wacky ideas. The network validated you, codified you, made you feel that someone cared about you-the ignored, the maligned and the underserved majority.

He wasn’t Obama; he wasn’t black. He called Mexicans “rapists and murderers.” And that’s what mattered most to you.

You were unknowingly programmed to elect someone who reflected and echoed your ideas and feelings. He wasn’t that smart, but neither are you. But he made it OK to be snarky and uninformed. In fact, he made it cool to ignore, malign or mistrust facts, science, common sense and anyone deemed “too educated.”
White folk who aren’t necessarily “racist” but tolerate racial inequities and oppression are at fault. Those who sincerely believe, as polls have shown, that whites are the new victims of racism also shoulder the blame. The whole country is paying a huge price for your toxic misconceptions. 

He made it cool to ignore, malign or mistrust facts, science, common sense and anyone deemed “too educated."

Oh, and black folk, don’t you get too comfortable. There’s a small pack of you complicit in this mess. I’m talking about the Candice Owens, the Diamond & Silks, pastors like Darrell Scott and all those blacks promoting the illusion of Trump as “our savior.” You’re also to blame but only partially. For you are just a product of generational conditioning. Like the twisted house slave Stephen, in Django Unchained, you uphold the shameful legacy of being tethered to the oppressor. I get it.  You want to eat and live comfortably; you want media attention and the rewards that come with siding with the rich, the powerful and the almighty.


***
I know it’s hard to admit when we’ve made mistakes. It’s a human thing. But, it’s also OK. The world will not end if we confront the folly of our ways.
But the world, as we’ve known it, just might, if we don’t. 

Like the twisted house slave Stephen, in Django Unchained, you uphold the shameful legacy of being tethered to the oppressor. 

Isn’t it way past time to stop covering up and enabling someone who’s invited foreign countries to meddle in our elections; who’s placed children in cages; spat on the Constitution; placed the accumulation of wealth over the well-being of people; whose foolish decisions and public denials has contributed to the loss of American lives…seriously, isn’t it time to just say “enough?”  
Trump is not responsible for this pandemic. He should, however, be held accountable for his failure to respond immediately and efficiently. We now know that in 2018, when his administration fired the U.S. pandemic response team to cut costs, experts warned that the government would be unable to respond effectively to a pandemic.  That prediction is now our reality. His supporters must own this tragic fact.
The president and his army of GOP minions, media gasbags and loyal sycophants are desperately trying to rewrite history. They want you to doubt your lying eyes and deceitful ears; to ignore what they and the clown prince has carelessly said publicly about this pandemic.

Trump is not responsible for this pandemic. He should be, however, held accountable for his failure to respond immediately and efficiently. 

Please don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Now that this unqualified “leader” has seriously stumbled in this time of crisis, isn’t it time for reflection and correction?
I know the mere mention of “race” and its role in our current predicament, will alienate many.  I suppose most of this could have been written with the omission of race. But to do so, would be a cowardly disservice.
Why? Because the demographic I’m addressing are vulnerable and susceptible to a replay of this disastrous scenario. Right now, as the economy crumbles, many are arming themselves, preparing for the downfall of a fool or the darker-skinned uprising. Right now, our xenophobic “leader” is placing blame for this pandemic on China and stoking the embers of war with Iran.  

Right now, as the economy crumbles, many are arming themselves, preparing for the downfall of a fool or the darker-skinned uprising. 

It will be so easy to fire up his base with a another campaign against “foreigners,” a bold stand for “Christian or American values” or irresponsible police. A revised “drug war” aimed at “illegals,” blacks or other marginalized people would be a convenient distraction for a bungling president and an inept administration.
Let’s face it, at this moment, whites hold the economic, voting, media and political power in this country.  As the saying goes: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Real Talk: your decisions, your actions are what really matter in America.  Racism played a huge role in where we are today. The only way to change that, negate that in the future is to own that reality today.


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Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, founder of the Sweet Potato Project, an entrepreneurial program for urban youth and author of  “When We Listen: Recognizing the Potential of Urban Youth.”



Sunday, March 29, 2020

We’ve Been Here Before: And That’s What’s So Damn Scary


by Sylvester Brown, Jr.




We’re in a global pandemic. Names of the dead or dying scroll across our news feeds daily like the New York Stock Exchange's ticker tape. Because of the government's ineptitude in handling the virus, many now ask just how low can this country go? President Donald J. Trump makes it easy for us to blame him; He’s so uninformed, so untruthful, so arrogant and so damn narcissistic he invites criticism.  
For me though, as a researcher, writer and consummate observer, I can’t escape a historical truth: America has been here before. And that, my friends, is what’s so down right bone-chilling.
I don’t have the luxury to support the simplistic “Make America Great Again” mantra. Unlike so many others, I must flip through the Rolodex of history to decipher if such a time ever existed. Were we “great” when we erased millions of Native Americans from their native land? Were we magnificent during the 400 years of slavery and legalized oppression? Was it our shining moment when we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 100,000 people? Was our response to the 2001 terrorist attacks wonderful? Brown University’s “Costs of War Project” conservatively estimates that at least 480,000 people (244,000 of which were civilians) died in the U.S.- led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. 

Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, George W. Bush and more helmed the country when these atrocities occurred. Was their callous disregard for human life and liberties any more abhorrent than Donald Trump’s?

In the sphere of collective short term memory, it’s convenient to believe that thousands of immigrant kids separated from their parents and locked in cages; that alliances with foreign governments to sully our electoral process; that the shredding of the Constitution; being a deathly stupid leader during a global health crisis and, now, willing to sacrifice human lives for the economy-represents a new political low.

For me though...I can’t escape a historical truth: America has been here before. And that, my friends, is what’s so down right bone-chilling.

Sadly, it does not. It represents an American reality: Due to feelings of white superiority, exceptionalism, patriotism, fear and prejudice, Americans will tolerate, excuse and justify just about anything. This is indicative in polling data showing Trump’s approval numbers are at an all-time high.  Despite daily, televised examples of his incompetence, pettiness, corporate avarice and disdain for non-billionaires, 50% of Americans love what he does.

Due to feelings of white superiority, exceptionalism, patriotism, fear and prejudice, Americans will tolerate, excuse and justify just about anything. 

And that’s what’s so scary. Our “new normal” is old social, cultural and political American standards. We, as a country, have revisited our dark place. We’ve allowed FOX News, the election of our first black president, the myths of marauding, raping, lawless immigrants and left-leaning media bias malarkey to put us in a Nazi-like state. Like Hitler, Trump. the creative con man, backed by an army of obliging minions, has simply swooped in and propagandized our fears.

We have revisited our dark place 

We now exist in a bizarre environment where it’s not political suicide to publicly speak of letting old people die so corporations can thrive.  It’s a surreal time, in the wake of the powerful #MeToo movement, when a candidate who bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia is in office, idolized by evangelicals and supported by half the populace. Suddenly, it’s a badge of honor when a tyrant demands praise before releasing life-saving medical supplies and equipment when Americans are sick and dying.
We’re in a terrifying place and not just because of the coronavirus. We’re suffering from the pandemic of justified, collective, selfish ignorance. We’re once again at a crossroad.  We’re in that familiar, deadly space where real, live people can be exiled, annihilated, ostracized and tossed aside for the greater good of corporate greed.

We’re in a terrifying place and not just because of the coronavirus. We’re suffering from the pandemic of justified, collective, selfish ignorance.

Trump is but a glaring symptom of a metastasized societal cancer. He ravages because we’ve willingly fed off poison for decades. Because we live in “the now” and have not learned from our collective mistakes, the proverbial ball is in court and the “new low” has yet to be determined.  
And that is what’s so damn frightening. 


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Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, founder of the Sweet Potato Project, an entrepreneurial program for urban youth and author of  “When We Listen: Recognizing the Potential of Urban Youth.”