Black. Pride.

I feel I owe a bit of an explanation behind the name you’re reading. I call this exercise “Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Man” as a play off the wording of catchphrase of the popular comic book character Spider-Man, who often reminds people that he’s your “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.”

More on that later. But in case you don’t know this about me, I’m a pretty huge geek about comics and their culture. One of the reasons why is I think they’re able to tell our story and our history in a way that’s actually a safe medium for people to understand without it being too serious. And one of the better books and characters to ever do this in comics is The Uncanny X-Men. You know the group of superheroes like Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Iceman. Now, the thing that makes these superheroes so unique is the qualities of their superpowers. Whereas someone like Spiderman got bit by a spider to mimic their abilities or Superman gains his powers from his strange alien physiology and Iron Man built things and used his mind to make him “super”, the X-Men were born with their special abilities. 

As it has been written in the comics, these heroes, who were collectively called “mutants” by the public at large that often shunned them, were born with certain qualities that made them different. Some of their abilities were rather conspicuous , like Nightcrawler’s blue skin or Angel’s feathery wings, which made them a strange oddity by appearance alone. Other characters had abilities that were more hidden that you couldn’t outwardly see. Jean Grey could move things with her mind but otherwise looked like a normal teenage girl. Rogue, who also looked normal, could kill or injure a person with just a simple touch. Obviously, the characters that looked strange or foreign to regular people were immediate outcast. But those who felt they had to “hide themselves”, their abilities and who they really are from a public that would also shun them if they knew that they were different, walked the same path. They too were “mutants”, ie. people with differences that don’t fit in among regular people.

If you haven’t figured out by now, a kid growing up reading these comic books in the 1960s could gain much more insight on the plight of minorities and marginalized people than their parents would ever assume. While they think they’re reading stories about heroic characters fight against menacing villains, they were learning what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those who society treats different and less than and what it feels like. Obviously, the characters like Nightcrawler and Angel with their appearance tell the story of Black Americans living in a America that refuses to treat them as the Americans that they are. But what about the X-Men characters like Jean Grey and and Rogue who look “normal” but they know they are different and if society found out how different they are, they too would be treated like the other X-Men? What story in the 1960s told their tale?

51 years ago this week, something happened in a bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. During the heyday of mob activity and organized crime, Mafia soldier, “Fat Tony” Lauria bought a rather small and rather dilapidated “Christopher Street Club” pretty cheap. It had no running water at the makeshift bat. No liquor license. The bathrooms hardly worked and the toilets would constantly overflow.  Fat Tony(always seems to be a “Fat Tony” in at least every Mob family) renovated the club, illegally sold alcohol, controlled the sale of cigarettes and even controlled the money made from the jukebox and he reopened the club as a exclusively gay club.  They called it the “Stonewall Inn.”

To keep the police at bay, Fat Tony would have the club managers pay off the police with a $300 weekly bribe. What they got in return was information. As typical with many gay bars in those days, they were raided quite regularly. The Stonewall Inn’s management would be able to get tipped off when raids were imminent and frankly they were done early enough that they hardly interrupted business. They had time to hide their booze, alert patrons and when the raids would happen, patrons would produce identification and police would leave(with their bribe) and the night would continue. But of course, Fat Tony and the mob got greedy and found a new racket out of the Stonewall Inn; extortion. They began to extort some of the more prominent patrons who were not out publicly or those who felt comfort in their gender identity behind the walls of the club. This new income stream quickly began to cut into the kickbacks to the police, which lead to the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

Different than most raids, this night the Stonewall Inn was raided hours after the time raids typically happened. Not to mention, the managers received no tip off either. Moreover, the police weren’t really prepared to actually conduct the raid and many of the club-goers were practically held in the club with the police without actually being arrested or allowed to leave. Things exploded when the police, who were not only sexually assaulting the gay female patrons and physically assaulting the male patrons, none of which weren’t exactly rare occurrences for patrons at Stonewall, they finally did both to one particular female by whole heaving her forcibly into a police vehicle.  The crowd that had formed outside reacted to the police’s tactics. From there, the police barricaded themselves in the club, the Club itself was practically destroyed and soon, the riot police showed up to further inflame and assault those who were there.  After the press reported on what happened through the night, more protest continued the following days.

The aftermath of the Stonewall Riots was an awakening of yet another segment of America that realized that their rights and dignities were being neglected the mainstream and oppressed by those in power. Like Black America with the Civil Rights Movement and women in the Women’s Liberation Movement, Gay and Lesbian men and women found their cause in Stonewall and spoke up. Quite loudly.

And why shouldn’t they? They are as human as the rest of us. They live, they love, they feel and they exist like the rest of us and are exposed to a society that has and will reject them for doing ANY of that.  Of course they would have a problem with being rejected. And as a person of color, we should understand that as much as anyone.  And that’s the rub.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen this country transform with an awakening of what it’s like to be black in America and what we have to live through. I have had white friends of mine, from ALL walks of life, from the very conservative to the very liberal, personally reach out to me with concern and thoughts of appreciation and empathy.  Many black people have seen our White allies do this.  And honestly, it’s a goddamn shame and embarrassment that the Black Community has not and can not toe the line and stand with the LGBT Community as the White allies have done for us. I mean, I get it. There is an immediacy in Black Lives we’re seeing today. It’s deserving of the attention. But frankly, it shouldn’t have taken a death of a George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery to awaken the public consciousness of what we go through in America and our Gay brothers and sisters don’t need another Stonewall Riot for us to wake the fuck up to the constant barrage of embarrassment, slights and humiliations they are forced to accept legally or socially by a society that they every right to be a part of as all of us do.

And this is the worst part.  It is physically impossible for White America to walk our path and to know our truth. Apologies to John Howard Griffin, but can only empathize.  Many gay and Transgender men and women are every bit of Black and American as I am. If anything it shouldn’t be that hard to know what it feels like to live a life in society’s margins. Their Black lives matter as much as mine. But with the circumstances of their sexual or gender identity, as well as their racial identity being constantly at odds with the expectations of our societal standards, they EASILY walk a harder path than anything I could EVER experience on my worse day!

Now, I cannot accuse anyone in particular of blatant discrimination, but as clear as I’ve see White Americans step up to the plate for Black Lives, we have to accept the truth in our community, that in our own lives, we have not returned the favor to a community we definitely can and should empathize with. And frankly, it shouldn’t take a shared struggle for us to realize this. And it shouldn’t even have to take us knowing someone who is gay or transgender and wanting them to be happy and safe like you would want for ANYONE who you love and respect. Even that is a disgracefully low bar. Yes, I have gay friends. But damnit, they’re human. That is the standard for which we all should demand dignity and rights. I shouldn’t have to know you to know your life matters.

So, despite the outward appearance of the X-Men’s Nightcrawler and Angel, who can hardly hide who they are, they are still on the same team of Jean Grey and Rogue who are just an action away from being outed as a societal outcast.  They obviously have their differences, but they are still one team. They fight the same fight against ignorance and hate from people who can never understand their path.  Just same, we share some of the very same stressors and microaggressions as the LGBT community. They understand the code-switching and moderating how you sound and act to be more socially accepted. They know what it feels like to not feel welcomed in certain places and with certain people because despite however much they try subjects and behaviors makes it hard to fit in.  They definitely can understand negative and dangerous assumptions of sexuality and state of mind that are way too often thrusted upon us as well.  They can’t help being gay no more than I can help being Black. It’s a part of who I am, as it’s who they are. So why can’t we join them in the fight for the same respect and dignity that they have fought for themselves? How dare we expect White America to join us and our struggle, but we refuse to join the LGBT Community for theirs? Yes, being black in America is hard enough alone. But damnit, we’re not expecting White folks to fight our fight. We just want them to give a shit and respect our lives as much as their own.

That is not a lot to ask. And I, for one, have the capacity to do the same for people I know have the pain of acceptance as I have had in my own life.

We know what they experience is wrong. We know we don’t accept it for ourselves. But we insist on treating them and their lives with the same regard we reject in our own. And that has to stop. Yes we fight different villains. But they all have the same superpower of hate and ignorance. We know how to defend and fight against it. Fight for their team too. Because they are already on ours.

Party Like It’s 1889

Let’s play a quick game of Guess Who. Do you know who this man is?

If you do not, he might sound familiar to anyone paying attention to our modern political landscape. Starting off as a Congressman from a rural state, he launched multiple candidacies for President with an aggressive populist message. A Democrat, who was far from the “establishment” wing of his party that was often at odds with the rest of his party as well as the Democratic President, due to his stance on using the government to raise taxes on the rich, expand the scope of government and to doggedly attack the super rich practically campaigning to redistribute corporate wealth to workers. He held rallies where thousands would attend to hear him give speeches about the common man and how they were being victimized by wealthy corporations who hated him.

Now if read the above platform and you are a conservative, you’d readily recognize this as something you’d associate with most(if not all) Democrats. An over-eagerness to rely on the government and punishing the rich. And of course, if you are a progressive, the platform looks like a solid start, using the strength of the federal government to aid working families because you’re probably a Democrat like him.

But if you thought this was a picture of a younger Bernie Sanders… you’d be wrong. Though it does sound remarkably like what a Bernie Sanders would sound like today in 2020.

This is William Jennings Bryan.

William Jennings Bryan isn’t a Democrat from the modern Democratic Party. He isn’t even a Democrat from the formative years of Bernie Sanders’ youth of the 1960s. He really isn’t even a Democrat from anytime in the last 100 years. William Jennings Bryan rose to prominence in the Gilded Age of the 1880s campaigning for then President Grover Cleveland. Now, the politics of the 1880s and the 1890s when Bryan entered in politics is definitely not the politics of 2020, but the the similarities between the Democratic Party of now and the Democratic Party then are unmistakable.

And there is a very specific reason for this. To understand this reason, you have to go back to the very beginning and understand the philosophical difference with any Two-Party Dominant system like ours and that’s with the size and role of government. One side likes the role of government to be small and the other prefers for its presence to be more ubiquitous. The foundations of the Democratic Party was found with those that believed in a small government that allowed for individuals to know what’s best for them and their farming or agrarian interest than a centralized authority. This was the philosophy held by Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, farmers from Virginia who were known as “Democratic-Republicans” then. On the other side of the coin, Founding Fathers like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton belong to the “Federalist Party”, who believed in a stronger centralized government that could best protect the rights of individuals. However, before too long, John Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton, of course, lost his life to Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s Vice President. And the Federalist Party soon followed both. (SPOILER ALERT for anyone who has either not seen Hamilton yet or opened a history book.)

Eventually, the Democratic-Republicans fractured and the Democratic Party emerged as the same party of Jefferson, that was the party of small government and agrarian interest and of course some of the largest holders of agrarian interest was the slave owners of the Antebellum South. They were eventually opposed by the Whig Party that believed in stronger government. They did not, however, believe in taking a strong stance against slavery, but a newer party did and took their place in our system; The Republican Party. Their first champion was Congressman and eventual President, Abraham Lincoln. And it is with his election that the question of slavery, the fall of agrarian politics and the rise of industry that gave birth to politicians like William Jennings Bryan.

When Lincoln was elected, Southern politicians saw the writing on the wall that the end of slavery was coming and they of course rebelled. The Civil War was fought and was won by the Union that won not simply by better tactics or strategy. The Confederacy, being mostly of the agrarian politics of farming and plantations did not have the powerful industries and factories of the Northern states. Lincoln was able to use that industrial strength to America’s advantage to produce more bullets, more cannons, textiles for more uniforms and bandages, iron for railways and wood to create cars to move soldiers. It was not the government making these resources, but it was the government buying these resources. It was Republicans like Lincoln that lead the party to be the pro-business party that it has become because they were dedicated to continuing the policies that generated their unparalleled wealth and agrarian workers of the Democratic Party were left behind.

And this is where William Jennings Bryan found his legacy. He was known as “The Great Commoner” because he was the face of the then-agrarian Democratic Party fighting for their interest against the Corporate Trust that backed Republican Presidents like William McKinley. The very William McKinley that would defeat Bryan in consecutive elections in 1896 and 1900. Unfortunately for the super rich, some Republicans still supported workers and saw the threat of a powerful Corporate lobby. And when President McKinley was assassinated, his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt took up right where William Jennings Bryan left off and did as President what Bryan could not do as candidate.

I write all of this for those who do not know or who continue to dismiss political history. Many tracing the history of our Political Parties will draw the line at the likes of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who were instrumental in bringing Black Americans to the Democratic Party over the last 50 or 60 years. Prior to that, Black Americans were not able to vote in large enough numbers to have political capital. That was actually succinctly done with the election of Republican President Rutherford Hayes when he ended Reconstruction. Yes, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were supposed to give us equal rights and voting rights, but those were laws of a central government authority. As was the politics of Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, an agenda that used the resources of central government to aid workers. However, small government figures in the South where the majority of Black Americans lived controlled voting rights and privileges. And when the the big government Republicans became focused on generating wealth, BOTH parties lost interest in Black America as a priority. This, of course, changed with the Kennedy-Johnson Administration. However, those same small government factions, Democrats AND Republicans in the South opposed Johnson’s priorities. And those same Small government factions are the ones who run the Republican Party today.

Am I blaming anyone for their party in being Anti-CIvil Rights? No. Afterall it was overwhelming majorities in both parties that passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. But I am also tired of those who pretend history never happened. It did. Regardless of whether you ever heard of William Jennings Bryan or not.

I have an idea. Let’s make him a statue. To some, that goes for learning these days.

“All Deliberate Speed”

Today is an American Holiday.

Not a holiday for black people only. Not a holiday for former slaves. Today is a day that has been chosen to celebrate the end of the most destructive and detestable institution America has ever seen. As is such, it is a day that ALL Americans can and should celebrate.

But all of us are not doing that. Some of us even question the need.

So let’s circle back and examine what we’re actually talking about. Four hundred and one years ago, black men and women were brought to this continent and placed in a condition of servitude and slavery that would last nearly 250 years. However, we didn’t just realize slavery was all of sudden bad and we should stop doing it in 1865. They knew it was bad. The first prohibitions began within a few decades of it’s genesis. The first states began abolishing the practice before the end of the Revolutionary War. But for a hundred years after, the practice continued in some of the most harshest conditions. It was not easy. It was not just working without pay. It was organized torture. It was a constant rape of women. It was a constant brutalization and mutilation of men. It was kidnapping children from the only family they knew. It was a certain death. Sometimes a slow death. Many times an agonizing death. Only the fortunate ones achieved a long but undignified death. But it’s important to put in the context of what this was because we need to recognize where we are.

Today is Juneteenth. The unofficial recognition of the end of slavery in the United States. Of course we all know the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. We also know the Confederacy was defeated and officially dissolved by May of 1865. But slavery continued. There was no apparatus to, not only tell slaves that they were free, but there was nothing to hold them captive. There was no “Black Twitter”. There was no internet back then. There weren’t even telephones. So slave masters in the furthest parts of the United States just forgot to tell their slaves what they knew by other means. It took until Major General George Granger’s arrival in Galveston, Texas and broadly announcing “General Order No. 3” that emancipated slaves.

However, if you think this fixed 250 years of inequality, then I have another story to tell you. A few stories actually. First, in February of 2020, 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men that accused him of committing a crime. A few weeks later, Louisville Metro Police entered the home of Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor with a no-knock warrant and no announcement of who they were. Mr. Walker took his firearm to defend himself and his girlfriend and in the ensuing exchange, Breonna Taylor was killed. America would not learn of either of these instances until months later in May, a few weeks prior to the time when officers in Minneapolis responded to a report of a counterfeit bill and during the response Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.

150 years after the end of slavery, we STILL face death for being black.

So what exactly are we celebrating? What have we achieved? Slavery has technically ended. Yes. Over time, Black Americans have been given legal rights. But we still have to fight for our dignity and humanity. We are still fighting to remove vestiges of an order that fought to have that humanity and dignity stripped from us. Every time, the light is shined on our journey of pain, we in turn shine the light on what causes this pain. Whether it’s aggressive law enforcement, inequitable health outcomes, disparages in employment and education or even as simple as removal of icons of the Confederacy. And along the way we are still met with resistance.

It’s an oddity, that those who question why we need to celebrate the end of slavery also question why we need to end the celebration of slave masters.

That is what this is about.

This is why we need to celebrate Juneteenth. And it could not have come any sooner. We are at yet another intersection on an endless road of recovery, racing to play catch-up. We have obstacles and miles to go. Nothing is accomplished, particularly when it comes to race, when we think it should be done. It has taken centuries for us to be free. It has taken decades for us to be equal. And despite all that we are still fighting to even matter in the eyes of those that refuse to see our humanity. The ensuing protest to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks did not solves racism, no more than the announcement of “General Order No. 3”. And frankly, slavery didn’t even end on that day in June 150 years ago. The last slave wasn’t freed until a few weeks before Christmas of that year. But hey, Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t passed or signed on July 4th and Columbus didn’t discover America on October 12th. He didn’t really discover it at all, but that’s another conversation.

So please, celebrate Juneteenth. Celebrate it today. Celebrate it tomorrow. Celebrate it every year. It’s your holiday America. It’s time we all appreciate the end of a terrible institution and embrace what that end really means. Way past time actually.