“Re” Was One of Us

Black folks are not a monolith. But there are a few things we share in common. One is that we treat our celebrities as if we know them personally. We follow their life occurrences through our Black-owned weekly newspapers and monthly magazines, which, even now, in the 21st Century, are the primary sources of positive, non-stereotypical news and feature articles about us.  We vicariously share Black celebrities’ successes, their failures, their hopes, their dreams.

Visit any Black hairdressers or barber shop, doctor’s office waiting room, almost anywhere we gather, and you’ll likely hear talk about this or that actor, singer,  rapper, dancer, as if they lived around the corner.   As if they were members of our families. So it was with Aretha Franklin, known by those who were really her friends, and those of us who felt we knew her, as “Re.”

When we talked about her life as we were busy living ours, it wasn’t just idle gossip. Although there was some of that: “Did you SEE what she wore on the TV show last night? Who picks her clothes? LAWD .  .  . !”  But we worried about whether she would be alright following the death of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, who raised her, initially guided her career, and was both mother and father to her after her mother passed when Re was a child. Or if she was surviving the latest divorce, or truly happy in the recent marriage.

We could identify with everything she sang. The blues and heartache songs: Ain’t no way  for me to love you if you won’t let me. Yesterday I sang a love song but today I sing the blues. Never loved a man the way I love you, but your lovin’ is much to strong, I’m added to your chain of fools. My health is failin’ me, and I’m goin’ down slow.

But it wasn’t all cryin’ and dyin’ with Re. We rocked steady with her, “movin’ our hips from left to right” on dance floors. Found friendship and good times in the neighborhood joint that she sang about in “Try Matty’s: “There’s gonna be a group of people from everywhere in Matty’s this morning. So go on and do your do, try to hurry up and get through, and meet me .  .  . ”

Her songs “Respect” and “Think” expressed the insistence of a people who have seldom received respect in a nation where racism is part of its DNA. Especially “Think”:  “Think about what you’re tryin’ to do to me! .  .  . oh, FREEEDOM!!!”

Offstage, Aretha was well aware of the power she had as an popular entertainer with means to advance our movements for equality and justice. She and her father contributed funds to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization associated with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. She performed in concerts that raised more funds for other movement groups.

She wasn’t always able to fulfill fundraising requests. In 1972, she answered a letter from The Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, who asked if she could perform in an event for the  Oakland, California-based organization. The letter arrived too late, and Aretha had already made other plans. “Nevertheless,” wrote Aretha, “I love what you are doing in the community, and I am looking forward to meeting all of you.”

In 1971, Aretha offered to post bail for California activist and former UCLA college instructor Angela Davis. Davis was accused of complicity in a failed kidnapping attempt in a California courtroom, in which two prison inmates on trial would be exchanged for the release of famous prison author and Black Panther Party member George Jackson, among other prisoners. One of the guns used in the incident was said to be licensed to Davis, and Davis and Jackson were then involved in a relationship.

In a Jet magazine interview, Aretha said she would pay the bail  “whether it’s $100,000 or $250,000.” Davis was a Communist, an economic and political philosophy that many in the U.S. misunderstood or feared. Aretha said she wasn’t helping Davis because she believed in Communism, since she herself did not. “She’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people,” Aretha said. “I have the money; I got it from Black people — they’ve made me financially able to have it — and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

Aretha added, ” My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (in Detroit for disturbing the peace) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts .  .   . ”

As she was of the Black community, Aretha was not immune to racism and audacious snark. In 1993, New York Post columnist Liz Smith commented on a gown designed by Bill Blass that Aretha wore on a Fox television program. “She must know that she’s too bosomy to wear such clothing, but clearly she just doesn’t care what we think, and that attitude is what separates mere stars from true divas,” Smith wrote.

In the perfect “Who asked YOU”? retort, Aretha wrote to Smith, “How dare you be so presumptuous to presume you could know my attitudes with respect to anything other than music. Obviously I have enough of what it takes to wear a bustier and I haven’t had any complaints. When you get to be a  noted and respected fashion editor, please let us all know.  P.S. You are hardly in any position to determine what separates stars from divas since you are neither one or an authority on either.”

Even in death, Aretha is treated by some as undeserving of recognition for her artistry. The unpresident in the White House, in his “tribute” to Aretha, saw fit to add, “She worked for me on numerous occasions,” a comment that could be construed as her having been a mere employee, like the maids who cleaned his hotels and casinos.

An article in the conservative-to-right-wing National Review magazine written by Dan McLaughlin, a New York City attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation, “helpfully” noted that Aretha  ” .  .  .was bright-eyed but plain in her youth and heavyset in her older years .  .  .” (Blackfolk translation of white critique: She was ugly and fat).

McLaughlin also wrote, “I might not rate (Aretha) as the single greatest female vocalist of the rock era — Kelly Clarkson and Linda Ronstadt come to mind as more versatile across musical genres and more varied in their emotional resonances .  .  . ”

But we who are Black know well Aretha Franklin’s amazing talents and skills as a vocalist, pianist and musical arranger that unpresidents, certain newspaper columnists and securities and commercial litigation attorneys will never understand, even if the live to be 76, her age when she died on August 16. We’ll miss Re, she whose music informed our lives and our struggle for freedom and respect. Days, even years after her death, many of us will play her records or CDs, remember her performances, and try not to drown in our own tears.

’60s Civil Rights Activist Imprisoned for Crime He Didn’t Commit

Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown)

The Uppity Colored Women’s Congressional Squad

“Show me someone not full of herself and I’ll show you a hungry person.”

Nikki Giovanni,  poet

The Congressional Women's Squad.2019.jpg








Up-pi-ty. Meaning: Arrogant. Self-important. Presumptuous. The word comes from the late 19th Century, right after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period and the beginning of the rigid Jim Crow racial segregation laws in the Deeper South.

It began as a description Black people used for other Black people they perceived as acting snobbishly towards them, as if they thought they were better than the rest of the race. Then white people started using the word to connote Black people who “didn’t know their place,” who refused to be subservient to whites, who, in fact, behaved as equals.

Seemingly, the 21st Century version of “uppity” is people of color who talk back to the un-president; who defy his cruel executive orders on immigration, social safety net programs, the LGBTQ community, and just about anything else he supports. Apparently the un-president considers  the four most outspoken Congresswomen of color — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn,), Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — as the most “uppity” of all of his critics, and he can’t STAND them. How dare these women of color in Congress say anything against HIM! Who do they think they are?

And so the un-president began a prolonged attack on the women via his  tweets. He accused, or implied, that the women were unpatriotic, un-American, and (GASP!) SOCIALIST!  And not only that, THEY AREN’T EVEN WHITE!!!

Meanwhile, Repugnantthugs and their various spokespeople are tying themselves up in knots trying to explain on the public affairs talking heads TV shows how the un-president’s tweets were NOT racist. What he was attacking, they’ve said, was the women’s supposed far left, extremist political views, lack of patriotism, and, tacked on as a last minute charge, anti-semitic (that one was mostly directed at Rep. Omar because she’s a Muslim).

But People of color, especially Black people, see through the un-president’s lies. We know his history of bad-mouthing people of color and women he can’t control. Before the “Squad,” he called out Rep. Omar for her statements which allegedly backed Islamic terrorist groups (which she didn’t). Before that he went after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for claiming to have some degree of Native American ancestry (she does, according to her DNA test results), and he derisively called her “Pocahontas” after the 17th Century Native American princess. Before and during the 2016 Presidential election campaign, he slandered former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton,  calling her a “crook” (with no evidence of such).

Elections are part of the reason for the un-president’s lies, verbal and written attacks against the four female, politically progressive U.S. Representatives of color. He’s running for re-election, and he knows that his voting base is just as racist as he is, as well as frightened of intelligent, articulate, highly educated people of color — especially women of color with those characteristics.  Women like that will not stand for his bullying and name-calling, his deliberate misinterpretation of their political views.

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar and Tlaib are doing their level best to draft and pass legislation for which their respective constituents elected them. The un-president’s antics are like an annoying housefly, making a lot of buzzing sounds and flying around but creating nothing. These Representatives will serve their voters, and all Americans, regardless. It’s what “uppity” people do.







Where Is OUR Outrage?

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Newsweek photo.

I’ve gone for months without writing anything in this blog. So much has happened, and much of what has happened is so horrible that it’s hard to find the words to describe it. And most of the horrible things that are happening are happening to people of color.

Every day one sees on the news that yet another unarmed Black person has been shot and killed by police. Or there are stories about Native American and Black women all over the country who have gone missing, and nobody’s asking why.

White hate groups are increasing their presence in the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights and watchdog organization, says such groups grew by 30% in the last four years. There are 1,000 hate groups.

And now within this atmosphere of escalating racism and hate, is a U.S. immigration policy that takes migrants fleeing gang and government violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to obtain asylum in here, and confines them in detention camps’ wire cages. The migrants are denied basic amenities like healthy food, soap, tooth brushes and toothpaste. Toddlers are going for days without a diaper change. Some of the children are reportedly being, or have been,  sexually assaulted by the immigration guards at the camps. Children who have been forcibly separated from their parents are trying to play the role of parents and look after their younger brothers and sisters. There have been deaths among the migrants, some of whom had chronic conditions and were prevented from obtaining their medication which could have kept them alive.

Where is OUR outrage? We who are Black know what it’s like to be treated like less than animals. Why aren’t WE in the streets? How can those of us who are parents look at the face of the child in the photograph and not feel anger and compassion?

And more immigrants are coming from African countries, desperate to escape political violence in Cameroon, The Republic of Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. They travel to Central America and wait at the U.S.-Mexico border in the hope that they will obtain an asylum hearing.

What can WE do about this? Maybe it’s time to take a page from protests past. In the early 1980s, The Free South Africa Movement in Washington, D.C., which was led by Black folks, set up a picket line very close to the South African Embassy every day, rain or shine, to protest the South African system of apartheid, or forced separation of the races. A designated number of demonstrators would walk up the front steps of the South African Embassy and stand in front of its door, where they were promptly arrested. The process was repeated every day, and each day the kinds of groups picketing and being arrested differed. Teachers. Doctors. Lawyers. Students. Mothers. Fathers. Unions. Local government workers.

The demonstrators demanded that the U.S. change its policy on South Africa, and impose economic sanctions in an effort to force it to end apartheid and institute all-races elections in which everyone there could vote in national and local elections, whatever their race.  The protests worked, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions, and not long after that apartheid ended.

Maybe something similar could be undertaken here to radically change the U.S. immigration system. The reason it might work is that in #45 we have an un-president who hates bad, unfavorable, unflattering publicity. HATES it. What if daily and nightly protests generated so much negative local, national and international publicity that even his own party would plead with him to hire more immigration judges to eliminate the backlog of immigration and asylum cases, increase and expedite immigration and asylum hearings, and in the meantime provide shelter for the immigrants that didn’t involve cages and filth?

If anyone has a better idea, please come on with it. All I know is that we can’t sit and watch what’s happening from the sidelines anymore.  ESPECIALLY not US.The face of that child behind the wire tells me, and one hopes, you, that simply watching what’s happening is not an option.






The Incredible Shrinking “DSPs”

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March is Women’s History Month. It also happens to be National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Month. The coincidence places a spotlight on a profession that people with intellectual disabilities depend on to help them obtain a better quality of life.  It’s a profession dominated by women, and as such it is taken for granted. It’s the field of Direct Support Professionals, the DSPs.

They may be known by other titles, but the work that DSPs do is the same: It includes everything from assisting  intellectually disabled individuals with personal care (bathing, toileting, dressing, grooming, eating) to finding and taking them to social and recreational activities that they might never experience otherwise.   They help those who want employment find work and job training. They sometimes serve as counselors to those clients who feel they have no one else with which to discuss their problems or concerns, not even friends or family. Many DSPs have been trained in first aid and CPR, what to do when a client has a seizure, how to calm down a client who has a temper tantrum , becomes hysterical, or behaves in a manner that could endanger the client and other people in the vicinity.

Eighty-nine percent of the DSP workforce is composed of women. Forty percent of the women are white, 30 percent are Black, 16 percent are Latinx, and seven percent are”Other.” Their average age is 42.  Approximately 880,000 full time DSPs serve roughly 1.4 million people with intellectual disabilities. Thirty percent of the DSP workforce is part time, or 1,276,000 employees.

Of the 1.4 million people with intellectual disabilities that DSPs serve, one in five are white, one in four are Black, three in ten are Native American.

Given all that they do, one would think that DSPs would be amply compensated for their work in the form of livable incomes. But the average DSP wage is $11.76 an hour, an amount which has not kept pace with rising food and housing costs. Many DSPs are on public assistance just to make ends meet, or they’re working two or more jobs. According to  the spring 2019 edition of Impact, the newsletter of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, DSPs earn less than a family of four living below the federally defined poverty level.

So they leave their jobs in droves. The annual turnover rate is 46%. Thirty eight percent leave after less than six months on the job; 21 percent leave between six and 12 months. DSP vacancy rates are high, which means adults with intellectual disabilities, their families or guardians, wait months for more to be hired and trained to provide them with desperately needed assistance.

In many states, advocates for DSPs and the disability community have demonstrated and lobbied their governors and legislatures to increase DSP wages. Maryland’s state Senate Finance Committee recently passed a bill that would gradually increase DSP wages over six fiscal years, beginning with FY21 at five percent; FY 22 at five percent; FY23 at 4.5 percent; FY24 at 4 percent; FY25 at 4 percent, and FY26 at 3 percent.   The bill heads to the full Senate for a final vote.

There’s a saying among DSPs that everyone is only one stroke away from being disabled. And that’s when DSPs would finally be appreciated. Don’t wait for the unthinkable to happen. Call on your states’ legislators and tell them that those women who work to enable intellectually disabled individuals to live lives of dignity, relative independence and respect, deserve some dignity and respect themselves. Their work needs to be recognized through wages they can actually live on.


The Attack on Jussie Smollett and the Silence of the “Woke”

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By now, most people have heard about what happened to actor-singer Jussie Smollett, who is Black, gay, and a featured actor on the Fox TV network drama series, “Empire.” For anyone who hasn’t: In Chicago on  January 29 at 2 a.m., as he was walking home from a sandwich shop, Smollett says he was accosted by two white men who called him the n-word as well as a slur meaning homosexual, beat him, poured something liquid on him, and tied a rope or clothesline around his neck arranged to resemble a noose.

As soon as the news got out, Black Hollywood rushed to his support, tweeting encouragement and calling for his alleged attackers to be brought to justice. But where were the non-celebrity Black folks? Silence. Crickets.

The Black community has always been a little ambivalent about LGBTQ people. The Black Christian church, where a majority of the congregants are Baptist, has gradually accepted Black LGBTQ. For instance, Black Protestants’ support of same sex marriage rose from 23% to 38% between 2003 and 2014. But on any Sunday, especially in fundamentalist churches, one can still hear that LGBTQ sexual orientation is a “sin” and an “abomination,” the work of the devil.

I’m most concerned about the “woke” Black folks who identify with Africa politically and culturally. Unfortunately, there are some who are spreading the misinformation that LGBTQ is an invention of white evil scientists who created Black LGBTQ people to destroy the Black community from within, and emasculate Black males. They claim that LGBTQ people were never tolerated in the mother continent of Africa.

Not so.  “The idea that homosexuality is ‘Western’ is based on another import – Christianity,” wrote Bisi Alimi, a gay Nigerian man, in the September 9, 2015 edition of The Guardian. “True African culture celebrates diversity and promotes acceptance.”

Alimi wrote that homosexuality existed in the Yoruba and Hausa cultures in Nigeria. In Uganda, he wrote, there was even an openly gay king of the Buganda Kingdom, King Mwanga II.  Homosexuality wasn’t an issue, Alimi wrote, until the Christian colonizers invaded African countries, and imposed their conservative views on the African people.

Many of today’s African leaders are outdoing each other in who can out-homophobe whom. Former and current heads of Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda have signed anti-LGBTQ legislation, and hate crimes in those and other African countries have increased. Similar to the political situation in the U.S., Alimi wrote, “.  .  . populist homophobia has kept many politicians in power. Across Africa, if you hate gay people, you get votes.”

Which is what the U.S. un-president has done. It’s no accident that the two men who Smollett says attacked him, yelled “You’re in MAGA (Make America Great Again) country!”

Black “woke” people in the U.S. should know better than to write off more than one million Black people who are LGBTQ. We shouldn’t be mirroring the homophobia and racism of whites, or of suspect “leaders” in African countries. We are all in the struggle for justice and freedom together, and to win that struggle, we’re going to need every Black man, woman and child working together to bring about that victory. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with that.

Smollett is Black AND gay, and he shouldn’t have to choose between the two. He’s both, and he has advocated for, and championed, both. Stop being silent, “woke” Black people. Show Smollett some love, and stand with him against racial AND homophobic hate.






“They Done Taken His Blues and Gone”


“You’ve taken my blues and gone — 

You sing ’em on Broadway

And you sing ’em in (the) Hollywood Bowl,

And you mixed ’em up with symphonies

And you fixed ’em 

So they don’t sound like me.

Yep, you done taken my blues and gone .  .  . “

From Langston Hughes’ poem,  Note on Commercial Theatre

When is an authentic blues man not an authentic blues man? When the Recording Academy says he isn’t, and rejects his submission for a blues Grammy Award as not “authentic” enough!

That’s what’s happened to Chris Thomas King, a Louisiana blues man who is the son of a Louisiana blues man. Those of you who saw the 2000 film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” might remember him as the blues singer who joins George Clooney, who plays one of three escapees from a Mississippi prison, on a search for buried treasure. King was also a featured participant in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 seven-part PBS documentary on the history of the blues.

In short, King knows his stuff.  He grew up in his father’s juke joint, where he was surrounded by blues music 24-7. His father played it and sang it. King was even “discovered” by a Smithsonian folklorist. Being “discovered” by white musicologists or folklorists was one of the ways that Black Southern blues men like Huddie Ledbetter  (Leadbelly) and others were first “found,” and their music recorded and distributed in the early part of the 20th Century.

What made King’s newest release Hotel Voodoo “inauthentic”? Some of its songs included a musician playing a clarinet! Apparently, that simply isn’t done on an “authentic” blues album.

What constitutes an “authentic” blues musician in the eyes of the Recording Academy’s blues music Grammy nominating committee? First you have to understand that the blues music category is a subcategory under the overall heading of “American Roots Music.” “Roots music” is defined by the Academy as “Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk, or regional roots.”

Once you weed through all that, there are two blues categories, “Best Traditional Blues Album” and “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” In the traditional blues category, three of the five nominees are Black: blues guitarist Buddy Guy (whose playing influenced Jimi Hendrix), drummer, guitarist and singer Cedric Burnside, and singer guitarist Ben Harper, whose album “No Mercy In This Land” was recorded with longtime blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, who’s white.

Of the Grammy nominees for best contemporary blues album, only one — ONE! — is Black: singer and guitarist Fantastic Negrito.

King has written an op-ed about what happened to him in the online Spectator USA .  He was also interviewed recently on a podcast.  From what King is saying, he’s not seeking white acceptance by winning a Grammy.  The fame and recognition that comes with the award, he said, means getting better jobs at better venues.

Blues already has a wealth of white fans, but they tend to be fans of white “blues” groups or individuals playing and singing Black “blues” music, or an approximation of same. Meanwhile, Black blues musicians go unrecognized, unappreciated, unhired and unpaid. Even sadder is that Black people have left blues by the wayside, like jazz, another musical form created by Black people. Go to any blues or jazz club where the performer is Black. You can count Black people in the audience on one hand. Maybe one finger.

King has said he was told to sing and perform like The Rolling Stones or other white American and British groups who made their musical reputation by imitating Black blues singers and re-recording their blues classics. He shouldn’t have to do that, or prove his “authenticity” as a blues artist to anybody.

King is currently touring the U.S. I hope Black folks turn out in droves to see him, and show the brother some love.

This is one of the songs that got King disqualified due to the presence of a clarinet:





“Anti-Vaxxers,” PLEASE! Immunize Your Children!!!


It’s fashionable these days to blame us Baby Boomers (yeah, I’m almost at the middle of the “Boom”) for anything and everything from the state of the economy to the high costs of housing, maybe even for global warming. This is despite the fact that we were responsible for advancing the civil, women’s and LGBTQ rights movements, came up with p.c.s (Steve Jobs was one of us, y’all), and all kinds of advances in art, science, politics. The un-president is a Boomer, but I don’t claim him as such.  I like to think of him as an aberration.

Among the many things that parents of Boomers got right, and from which we benefited, was immunizing us with vaccines to prevent us from getting childhood diseases, all of which were highly communicable and could be fatal if left untreated.

Vaccinations have been very helpful in keeping Black children and adults from being victims of mumps, measles, chicken pox, yellow fever, tuberculosis, polio, and other infectious illnesses. I remember hearing about life before vaccines. I have an aunt who contracted tuberculosis in her youth and had to spend time laid up in an “iron lung”, a case fitted over her body that pumped air into her so she could breathe. Then she was sent to a “sunshine camp” way out in the country somewhere,  quarantined and isolated from family and friends until she recovered.

Another friend of mine contracted polio back in the day, before polio vaccines all but eradicated it. She has walked on crutches all of her life.

Ignoring such immunization benefits are the “anti-vaxxers,” parents who, in the last 30 years or so, have been opting out of vaccinating their children for “religious reasons” or because they think vaccines cause illness. Then there are those parents who believe in a long discredited connection between the measles vaccine and autism. That myth originated in Britain by Andrew Wakefield, a former researcher and doctor. When it was found that his so-called autism study was funded by people who were suing vaccine manufacturers, he was removed from the United Kingdom Medical Registry, which prevented him from practicing medicine ever again.

These beliefs in false information and research have resulted in an increase of children being exposed to, and catching, what should have been preventable childhood illnesses across the U.S., according to a study by the Public Library of Science journal Medicine.

Repugnantthugs are also in part responsible for spreading misinformation about vaccinations.  Various G.O.P. candidates have supported parents “opting out” of mandatory vaccinations for their children because it’s another instance of “big government telling us what to do.” Some have also supported an end to mandatory vaccinations.

What anti-vaxxers and Repugnantthugs are missing is that not vaccinating children leaves all children who haven’t been vaccinated susceptible to childhood illnesses. Especially babies. The immunization schedule for children starts at birth with the Hepatitis B vaccination. If it isn’t given at birth, it can be given at any age.  Without it, and the other vaccines babies and children are to be given, they can become very sick. What parents want that for their children?

I’m aware that in the Black community, many of us are highly suspicious of “white medicine” because of the infamous Tuskegee Experiment of the 1930s and ’40s.  A group of Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama was injected with the bacterial infection syphilis without their knowledge or consent and left untreated, while another group of Black men received experimental-stage vaccinations  that cured them.The results were compared, but meanwhile, the men in the untreated group became blind, mentally ill, and died before their time.

I get it. But not all science and medicine is evil, or a plot to destroy the race. What will destroy the race is standing by while our children die off from preventable illnesses.  Anti-vaxxers are pressing their luck if they think they can get through life without being immunized. Want proof? Bre Payton, a writer for conservative news site The Federalist and a Fox News commentator, died last month at age 26. The causes of death: H1N1 flu and  meningitis, for which there are vaccines. I don’t know if she or her parents were against vaccinations, but she might have still been alive today if she had been immunized.

Want further proof? My daughter and I are of different generations, but we both had all of our vaccinations, as well as the flu shot every year. We’re both alive, and neither of us is autistic.

Fellow parents, this is a new century and a new year. We should know more, not less, about vaccinations than in previous years and centuries. If you have not yet done so, PLEASE vaccinate your children! Help prevent national health crises, and keep your, and our, children alive and healthy.

The Late President Bush’s Greatest “Hits”

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My mother taught me not to speak ill of the dead or wish anyone dead. However, it’s not always acceptable to beatify someone just because they died, especially an elected official, a public figure, such as former President George H.W. Bush, who passed on Saturday, December 1.

Various pundits, observers, friends and those who worked for Bush remember him as a dedicated public servant who had the best interests of his country at heart, and someone who was devoted to his family.

But there were things that Bush was involved in that were far from saintly or in the best interests of the U.S. They include:

  • The Willie Horton presidential campaign strategy of 1988. To defeat Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who was Bush’s Democratic opponent in the presidential race, Bush campaign director Lee Atwater came up with the case of Willie Horton, a Black prisoner in the state who was serving a life sentence for murder. While on a weekend furlough, he fled to Maryland, where he raped a white woman. The case was magnified and repeated ad nauseum in a Bush campaign ad,  terrifying people into thinking that as President, Dukakis would be “soft on crime.” which really meant soft on Black criminals. Bush took advantage of white voters’ unfounded fears, and  won on the strength of that ad.
  • The faked “drug buy” in Lafayette Park across from the White House.                During a live speech to the nation on drug crimes in September 1989, Bush held up a plastic bag of crack cocaine to indicate that drug abuse was so widespread and uncontrollable  that drugs were being bought and sold across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. Turns out that government agents got the bag under false pretenses. Pretending to be drug users, and bought the bag from a dealer who they then arrested. Bush used the bag as justification for harsher sentences and building  more prisons. Today, prison inmates, who are disproportionately Black men, are serving inordinately long sentences for drug sales and possession, while whites serve much shorter sentences for the same crimes, if they serve at all.
  • Bush participated in the Iran-Contra cover-up. Begun under President Reagan, the U.S. secretly sold arms to Iran — which the U.S.  and the world was supposed to be barred by law from doing — and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan “contras” or counter-revolutionaries, attempting to overthrow the country’s popularly elected government. That government happened to be left of center. The Reagan/Bush Cold War mentality claimed that if Nicaragua became Communist, so would the rest of Central America, and the region would provide a home to Soviet and Cuban weapons of war. The Sandinista government wasn’t interested in doing any of that, and found itself struggling to feed and educate its people — many of whom are Black and indigenous or “Indian” — while fighting in a war. The arms sales and the cover-up continued when Bush became President. He refused to turn over any information or documents to an Iran-Contra investigation, and even pardoned some defendants involved in Iran-Contra, among them, Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger.

Among the worst “hits” was the assassination of former Chilean ambassador to the U.S. Orlando Letelier, and his assistant, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, in Washington, D.C. on what’s called “Embassy Row,” a section of the city where many nations operate their U.S. embassies.

Leterlier was a very active and vocal opponent of Chile’s ruling dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who led the 1973 military coup overthrowing the elected, leftist government of Salvadore Allende. Again, fearing a “Communist takeover” of the country, which would do business with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other left governments  — countries that the U.S. couldn’t control — the CIA played a role in Allende’s overthrow and Pinochet’s becoming Chile’s leader.  Bush was the CIA’s director at the time.

Pinochet was incensed that Letelier was thriving in the U.S. and increasing opposition to his regime. He contacted an American expatriate who was working with DINA, Pinochet’s secret police, to stop Letelier. The American DINA operative formed a group of assassins with three Cuban Americans, and two other men, who planted a bomb on the underside of Letelier’s car, which could be detonated by remote control. And it was — on September 21, 1976, as Letelier was driving to his job at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank. What was left of the car is depicted in the above photo. The impact of the bomb was said to have severed Letelier’s legs, and blown off his torso. Moffitt’s larynx and carotid artery were severed by a bomb fragment. She choked to death on her own blood.  Letlier also died from his injuries. Moffitt’s husband Michael, who was sitting in the car’s back seat, sustained minor injuries.

After the assassinations, the CIA, under Bush, leaked false information to Newsweek magazine that DINA was not involved in the assassination. But the CIA knew beforehand that something was about to happen when it found that Chilean operatives were headed to the U.S. Those involved in the assassinations were tried and given short prison sentences in exchange for information.  All were eventually acquitted.

As a Black woman I am also outraged that Bush was silent during his presidency about the brutal, white, apartheid regime in South Africa — supposedly to give South African President DeKlerk the space he needed to “reform” apartheid before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his election as South Africa’s first Black President.

As a Black woman whose ancestors experienced the terrorism of U.S.-style apartheid and enslavement, I am livid that he allowed another country’s murderers to operate in my adopted city. And I hate that Bush would not hesitate to use Black people and other people of color as “monsters” to scare his base into supporting him and his policies.

I cannot forgive or forget these incidents involving Bush. Any tears I shed this week won’t be in mourning for him. They will be for the people he hurt.


















“Mississippi Goddam!”

Hyde-Smith.confederate hat.jpg

The above exclamation has been making the rounds of social media following this Tuesday’s runoff election for U.S. Senate in Mississippi. It’s taken from a song written by the late singer-activist Nina Simone. It expresses her frustration with Mississippi in 1960s, a time when Black residents and civil rights workers were terrorized by whites who did not want Black people exercising their constitutional right to register to vote, and to vote in elections. They did not want Black children integrating public schools, Black families buying homes in all-white neighborhoods, or competing on an equal basis for jobs. Segregation ensured that whites would be in power and rule the state forever.

As a result of its rigid racism and its decades-long fight against change, Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the country. It ranks 48th in its economy compared to that of other states. In opportunity and infrastructure it ranks 49th. It ranks 45th in fiscal stability. Only 31 percent of its population has a college education, which underscores its ranking of 46th in education, and 47th in educating children from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

So it makes no sense that the majority of the state just elected a Repugnantthug woman, Cindy Hyde-Smith,  to the U.S. Senate, someone who agrees unquestioningly with the un-president’s positions on everything and votes accordingly. Someone who, only days before this week’s runoff election against the Black Democratic opponent Mike Espy, “joked” that if a friend invited her to a public hanging, she would be there in the first row.  For a state known for its violent opposition to racial integration, which often expressed itself in whites hanging Black people, that “joke” was decidedly unfunny.

But the publicity around the her comments did little to stop her from winning the U.S. Senate seat, by a vote of 53 percent to Espy’s 46 percent.

Espy would have been the better choice. The grandson of Thomas J. Huddleston Sr. who founded a Black fraternal society in Mississippi that operated the Afro-American Hospital, Espy earned his undergraduate degree from Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. He received his Juris Doctor from the Santa Clara University School of Law in California. He later worked in the Central Mississippi Legal Services. He served as the Assistant Secretary of State to the Mississippi Legal Services, and the Assistant Secretary of State to the Public Lands Division.

Espy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi in 1986, the first Black person to represent the state there since Reconstruction. He served three more times. In 1993, Espy was appointed by President Clinton to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he served from 1993 to 1994. During his tenure he was accused of accepting gifts and misusing government “perks.” Although he was charged with receiving improper gifts in 1997, resulting in his resigning from the Department of Agriculture, he was acquitted of all charges in 1998.

Upon returning to the private sector, Espy advocated for poor people in Mississippi, and for Black farmers through his legal representation of the National Black Farmers Association.  He became a staff attorney at the national law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

Given his background, Espy might have brought about some much-needed reforms in Mississippi, which would have benefited all Mississippians, and raised the state’s lower-than-the-bottom status in just about everything. But despite his credentials, Espy still lost to Hyde-Smith, who was educated in the state’s segregated private “academies” rather than attend desegregated public schools with Black students. She, in turn, sent her daughter to such “academies.”

If there’s any remaining doubt that Hyde-Smith is a daughter of the Confederacy, take a look at her photo (above) in which she wears a Confederate soldier cap and proudly displays a rifle.

Then there are the Black Mississippians who voted for Hyde-Smith. One of them was, ironically, Charles Evers, brother of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who in 1963 was shot and killed in front of his own house by a white man,  a member of the White Citizens Council, the suit-and-tie version of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many voters, Black and white, claimed that they voted for Hyde-Smith as the “lesser of two evils.”  What is more “evil” than a U.S. Senator who embraces her Confederate “heritage” and the implied racism that goes with it?  All one can do is is shake one’s head and decide that there are things one can never understand. It’s just the way it  is in  Mississippi. Goddam.



If You Think It’s Racist NOW. . .

Television commentators and everyday folks on the street are saying that they have never seen the U.S. as imbued with racial hatred as it is today.

And they place this attitude squarely at the feet of the un-president. He who has made speeches at his political rallies that the hundreds of Central American refugees fleeing to the U.S. to escape persecution in their nations of origin are “invaders,” “terrorists” and “criminals” with “unknown Middle Easterners” among them. Who has disrespected three Black women reporters who cover the White House, calling one “stupid.” Who has said Congressperson Maxine Waters of California, who is Black, has a “low IQ.”

Hate crimes spiked upward last year under the un-president. FBI statistics released this month indicate that 7,175 hate crimes took place last year, an increase from 6,121 in 2016. Three out of five hate crimes were against ethnic and racial groups. One out of five targeted religious groups.

But the last two years isn’t the only time in U.S. history that such hatred has been out in the open, seemingly unrestrained. Ask your grandparents, your great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, if they are still living, if they remember seeing, or hearing about, Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi  (1877-1947), or Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina (1847-1918). During their active years in government, more than 3,000 Black people were lynched in the South.

Tillman and Bilbo were both Democrats, or “Dixiecrats” at a time when the party was dominated by white Southern racists. The Republicans were the “liberals” then, and had earned Black peoples’ support as the party of President Abraham Lincoln which freed their ancestors from enslavement.

Tillman made his political career as a champion of poor white farmers, and a scourge of rich whites and all Black people. He was a member of a “rifle club,” or “Red Shirts,”one of several in his state that existed to terrorize and kill Black people, especially those who had entered political office during the South’s Reconstruction period, and those who tried to exercise their right to vote. He boasted about his role in the Hamburg Massacre, in which six Black men who had done nothing were murdered. “The leading white men of Edgefield (city in South Carolina) (seized) the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson,” he said.

As a governor of South Carolina, Tillman was responsible for many of its Jim Crow (segregation) laws, and created a new state constitution that prevented Black people from voting or holding elected office. A staunch white supremacist, Tillman opined that educating Black people means ” .  .  . you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”

In a 1900 U.S. Senate speech, Tillman supported white men in his state who had murdered Black people by characterizing the victims as “hot-heads” who brought their murder on themselves. Black men in the South, he said, had to be killed. Whites would   .  ” not submit to (the Black man) gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

Mississippi Senator Bilbo (pictured), like the current un-president, was effective in using the news media to spread hatred. The radio was Bilbo’s Fox News. Commenting on the severe beating  by whites of a Black World War II army veteran in Mississippi who tried register to vote, Bilbo told his radio audience, “.  .  . every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi (must) resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls .  .  . And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures.”   A lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan, Bilbo attempted to be taken seriously as an author when he wrote and published his book, “Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization.”

Bilbo supported lynching as a way to keep Black people in their “place.” During a filibuster against an anti-lynching bill pending before the Senate in 1938, he insisted that passage of the bill “will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White (sic) Southern men will not tolerate.”

The current racist atmosphere is nothing new. Many of our ancestors survived the Tillmans, the Bilbos, and worse. Because of them, we are here. We owe it to our progeny to get through this. And to be strong. We are the descendants of the enslaved Africans they could not kill.