Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Do You Feel?


How do you feel when you hear of someone being murdered or killed in a robbery and the victim is a white girl or white guy? Are some of you like me when I see these kinds of atrocities that I internally weep for the victims but hope that the "person of interest" is not a brotha?

Recently, two young ladies were killed, both from Georgia, one in Georgia and one in North Carolina. I have friends who are professors at both schools (Auburn and North Carolina-Chapel Hill respectively) and asked how things are going. They say it is kind of hard and a big deal on campus. I do pray for the fathers and mothers of these two young ladies, I know the pain of watching a mother bury her own child. Somehow, it ought to be the other way around.

How do you feel when you see that the "person of interest" is a black man? I can tell you how I felt. Being a child of the south, I know how it does not take much to raise the southern current of black man/white woman trouble. After all, the blockbuster film, "Birth of a Nation" was anchored in the notion that the Klan stood as the protectors of white women against the "foaming at the mouth" freedmen seeking to claim white women as some kind of prize. How do you feel when you see one of us being led to jail for the murder of a young white woman for "chump change"?

How do you feel about our men and our people when we find that one of us is at the center of the investigation? It hurts me heart...

In Peace,

Cyrus Marcellus Ellis

Monday, March 17, 2008

Be All You Can Be?

My mother always taught me to be the best of the best. She said that being mediocre wasn’t an option for a black male in today’s society. America isn’t built for African Americans and even more so young Black males. Hearing this information as a ten year old didn’t resonate in my soul until I got older. As I grew in years I realized that hard work doesn’t pay off for everybody. Why do I have to study 20 hours to achieve the same goals of my white counterpart? I’m working double the time and not receiving double the payoff. How does one group of people seem to get further than another with the same amount of work and effort? We can easily say discrimination is the answer but the underlying cause of this issue extends further than discrimination. In my opinion it’s not only a matter of discrimination but a lesson in social mobility. Wikipedia defines social mobility as the degree to which, in a given society, an individual's social status can change throughout the course of their life. In this column I will look at how social mobility plays a role into the lives of everyday Americans.

Shaquana, Davonte’, Aaliyah, Porscha are all historically African American names. These names are vastly different to Michael, Amy, Christy, and Jonathan. Employers don’t even have to discriminate based on skin color, they can just look at your name. It’s hard to fathom that a special thing like your name could prevent you from realizing your potential. Of course I don’t have the proof, but it’s my firm belief that discrimination/racism is alive and well in other covert forms. Simple things like your name can hinder your social mobility. I feel blessed that I have my name because if I was named Dontrell or Andre I might not get hired based on the ethnic origin of my name. Just think about all the famous African Americans you know with “African American” names that aren’t athletes. Condoleeza Rice and who else? NOBODY. Other things such as gold teeth, dreads, tattoos and piercings can limit your social mobility. When is the last time you have seen anybody in Congress or in your local doctor’s office with any of the aforementioned body accessories? Society is becoming increasingly accepting of different lifestyles but there remains a bad stigma attached to things like gold teeth and dreads.

Lifestyle preferences such as religion, sexual orientation and even style of dress can hinder your social mobility. I personally don’t agree with homosexuality, but I don’t believe anyone should be stopped from being all they can be because of their sexual preference. Maybe if society had more of an open mind, we may have a gay president. MAYBE? The hip-hop generation also catches a lot of slack for its style of dress. The baggy pants, expensive sneakers, and gaudy jewelry are all hallmarks of this lifestyle. People still attach mischief and thuggery based on the sheer appearance of people who embrace this culture. Societal norms usually force most of us to conform, but why can’t I dress the way I want? I’m not advocating wearing a pair of Timberlands to a board meeting, but I am promoting a form of expression. Something that our Constitution guarantees and something we don’t stand by always. Racism has changed a lot since its early inception but it’s more institutional and mental than ever. Age old systems didn’t change with the inclusion of a couple civil rights laws they just found other ways to prevail. I’m not so skeptical of society that I think there is MASS plan to keep African Americans down but I do recognize certain things that are in place that prevent my people from succeeding.

For example, your teacher stresses to you to do your homework and you’ll eventually get A’s. What if you have a learning disability and it prevents you from reaching a certain level of understanding? Learning disabilities isn’t indicative of low intelligence, but it does hinder your cognitive process in some capacity. Some people with learning disabilities are straight A students. This disorder doesn’t predict your grades or intelligence it’s only indicative of your psychological process in regards to processing information. Learning disabilities aren’t caused by environmental factors, cultural differences or economic challenges, yet they are some of the main reasons why this problem is prevalent. How can a child with no medical insurance receive the proper attention for their condition? They won’t receive care and most children won’t be diagnosed if they don’t receive the proper attention early on. Some African American children are improperly diagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADD and ADHD by school counselors and doctors. In my opinion some of our children get prematurely diagnosed because schools and physicians don’t have the care or patience to deal with our children. African American children that show signs of hyperactivity and overall disruptive behavior in some schools are often left heavily medicated due to this lack of improper diagnosis. Public schools that are already suffering from economic issues can’t afford to pay a psychologist/psychiatrist. Most colleges don’t have a mental health education program installed and they require way more money to maintain than public schools. Imagine being put in a class with the so-called special kids and you’re not supposed to be there, but you are because you’ve been improperly diagnosed. That “special-child” treatment over time plays into the psyche of the person over time and most children and parents buy into these false diagnoses. Students are often tagged “dumb” and “slow” by their peers and even treated with lesser respect by teachers. How can a person progress in a society when their needs aren’t being addressed correctly? For every Malcolm Jamal Warner or Danny Glover, all of which have learning disabilities, there will be thousands of children that won’t succeed because of the stigmas attached to their learning disability.

In every society there are norms and at the expense of not being considered an outcast, I agree with conformity to some degree. However, I’m greatly opposed to modes of oppression that keep people from progressing as individuals in a society that worships the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. We pledge of allegiance for the liberty and freedom of the people, but do we honestly promote this ideal?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Walking to Class While Black

It's an uncomfortable feeling walking and it has been for some time. Besides my bad ankles with an occasional limp here and there, my stride is okay. Its uncomfortable because I'm conscious of the distance I feel like " I have to maintain" because I dont wanna scare people. I'm 5'8' 16o-something so I'm not intimidating physcially , yet with a hoodie on and a Black face I'm a monster. I find myself walking at a comfortable distance behind a person of another race because I dont want them to think I'm following them or a THREAT to them. This happens at night quite frequently for people who have fit my description. Last night I was walking back home from class and a White student was walking in front of me. He kept looking behind him and I couldn't help but assume it was because of my race. I tried to ease his nerves by making a joke about the school in which we both attended.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Reflection on Education and Blackness

Brothers and Sisters all,

I teach a graduate level course in Social and Cultural foundations, or what some call "the multicultural course". While I try very hard to try and provide insight to my students on a variety of cultural matters, I tend to always get stuck on the point about education and being African American. I am not stuck concerning the misrepresentation of African Americans and our educational ability in our media, I am stuck on the power of one written exchange between Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson that does not always see the light of day. It is the hallmark of my talks when given to kids who come from hard hit economic backgrounds (like myself) and who may have been tricked to believe that education is not for them.

We know of Benjamin Banneker's ability in designing the layout of Washington, D.C. and for the almanac, but he also tried, through his writing of the Queen's english, to have, then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, address the state of slavery that existed in the new land. Mr. Banneker's words were of the highest order and eloquence and it demonstrated that he had mastered the slave master's words in order to provoke the need for freedom for his people. Some of his words read like this,

I AM fully sensible of the greatness of that freedom, which I take with you on the present occasion ; a liberty which seemed to me scarcely allowable, when I reflected on that distinguished and dignified station in which you stand, and the almost general prejudice and prepossession, which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion...

Sir, I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye ; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thraldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings, which proceed from that free and unequalled liberty with which you are favored ; and which, I hope, you will willingly allow you have mercifully received, from the immediate hand of that Being, from whom proceedeth every good and perfect Gift.

This, Sir, was a time when you cleary saw into the injustice of a state of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition. It was now that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publicly held forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages : ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature ; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves. ..."

It has always stood out to me that these excerpts do not rise to the light of day. It is a testament to how the power of sound education can address the needs of the self and of a people. To me it is the brilliance of our people, like those in a particular dimension of the Rap game who can articulate the struggle of a people. It ought not be surprising of Mr. Jefferson's response,

"I THANK you, sincerely, for your letter of the 19th instant, and for the Almanac it contained. No body wishes more than I do, to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren talents equal to those of the other colors of men ; and that the appearance of the want of them, is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa and America. I can add with truth, that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced, for raising the condition, both of their body and mind, to what it ought to be, as far as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances, which cannot be neglected, will admit.

I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condozett, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and Member of the Philanthropic Society, because I considered it as a document, to which your whole color had a right for their justification, against the doubts which have been entertained of them.

I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedient Humble Servant,

THOMAS JEFFERSON." This is not an exceprt, this is the entire response.

Although Mr. Jefferson did not respond as an obedient servant , the power of Mr. Banneker's words serve me as the example of how we can use education to further our causes and that education has been, is and will always be as central to our people as the freedom struggle itself.

Much Love,

Brother Ellis

Dr. Cyrus M. Ellis is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education and the author of It's All Gumbo to Me: Examining our world through the metaphor of Gumbo. You can access Dr. Ellis' book by going to http://www.lulu.com/content/1906060