Why I’m a ‘Woke’ Hypocrite & You Might Be One, Too

Here’s my latest Complexion Chronicles column for Multiracial Media:

Being “woke” suggests a relatively new dawning of awareness or consciousness. One can be exposed to information and even digest that information intellectually before it trickles up to actual awareness or activism. And when someone does achieve a new level of wokeness, that doesn’t fast-track them to a flawlessly consistent brand of political consciousness in all of their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

Real growth, real consciousness-growing is messy, inconsistent and full of our human contradictions and flaws. Especially when it comes to race, religion and gender-sexual identity—all of which most folks have very deep feelings and ideas about. Some of us are born into families, cultures and communities that program us about ourselves and those considered “other.” Others develop these feelings and attitudes en route to adulthood. Whatever our beliefs and actions, they’re unfolding against a backdrop of institutionalized programming so deep, wide and pervasive that it’s unreasonable to expect most of us to zoom from “woke” to absolutely consistency without traversing the difficult, awkward obstacle course of real growth and activism.

This reminds me of the lyrics to Tower of Power’s 1976 jam, “Can’t Stand to See the Slaughter”:

I can’t stand to see the slaughter

but still I eat the meat

I can’t stand dishonest people

but still sometimes I cheat

I can’t stand that air pollution

but still I drive a car

Maybe them’s the reasons why

things is like they are

Political activism cannot wait for or rely upon everyone to be completely free of their own contradictions, biases and hypocrisy. Social movements don’t have the luxury of requiring political purity.

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Just Because I’m #Woke Doesn’t Mean I Won’t Swirl: At the Intersection of Race, Sex & Black Activism

Fasten your seatbelts: we’re venturing into that messy, murky place where racism and sexism clash with individual choice and cultural significance; where the personal and the political are inextricably intertwined; where triggers are activated and views will collide.

The disclaimers:

  1. This is not a post opposing interracial dating, romance or marriage.  (I’m first-generation Mixed, remember?)
  2. I believe that folks can and should be able to be with whomever they choose
  3. The celebrities cited herein are used as high-profile examples because they live in the public eye, have strong brands as pro-Black activists, and serve as screens upon which many of us project our various views, feelings and cultural programming.

My thesis statement: When a high-profile, successful Black man elects to leave a Black wife and children for a White woman, the realities of the USA’s historical dynamics and cultural programming might cause these actions to be viewed against a backdrop of racial and sexual complexity.

In other words, it might raise questions about individuals who, while they certainly have every right to be with whomever they choose on the personal level, have made choices that cause us to assess these actions through a broader political and cultural lens.

Current case study: actor/activist Jesse Williams who, almost a year after rocking America with his swoon-worthy sound bites about Black pride and resistance, is in the headlines for recently announcing a breakup with Aryn Drake-Lee.

GQ, Nautica, and Oceana World Oceans Day Party

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – JUNE 08: Actor Jesse Williams (R) and Aryn Drake-Lee attend the “GQ, Nautica, and Oceana World Oceans Day Party” at Sunset Tower on June 8, 2010 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for GQ Magazine)

She is his wife of four years, mother of their two toddlers, the natural-hair-wearing Black woman real estate broker who’s been with him since he was a teacher of African History and Diasporic Studies.

jesse minka

Jesse Williams and actress Minka Kelly

Since splitting with Aryn, Jesse is said to be dating actress Minka Kelly, who is White. So………on one level, hearing about a celeb divorcing the spouse who traveled the road to fame with them isn’t that newsworthy. And rumors that Hollywood was whispering in Jesse’s ear that he could pull a star more big-screen glam than wifey would be understandable if they’re true. But when you add this race-gender triad to the picture, the story can take on added significance.

This isn’t about woke Black men swirling being good or bad. It’s not that simple or simplistic. This is about America and her racial history…and the cultural programming that impacts us all.

Clarification Pause: Yes, Jesse is a first-gen Black/White Biracial man with a White mother. And we can debate whether the rules and expectations around this leaving-a-Black-woman-for-a-White-one dynamic are the same as for a non-Biracial Black man. But since Jesse’s recent brand and off-screen popularity seem built around his being a very aware, conscious and unapologetically down-with-the-people Black activist, we’re going to take that big-picture view of him for this discussion.

Jesse Williams Epitome of Woke BETTo wit: Jesse skyrocketed into the national Black consciousness in June 2016, when he was honored as a humanitarian at the BET Awards. His award highlight reel featured superstar testimonies to his stellar and very Black-focused activism:

“Jesse chose to use his power and his platform to put a light on things that people would never ordinarily expect him to speak about,” said friend and mentor Harry Belafonte. (Jesse reportedly plans to produce and star in a Belafonte biopic).

“He is amazingly conscientious about the world in which he lives,” said actress/director Debbie Allen, with whom Jesse has worked on the hit Shondaland TV series, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Jesse’s activist resume is very impressive. He pushes for social change through his work with www.questionbridge.com, described as “an innovative transmedia project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of Black men from diverse and contending backgrounds and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine Black male identity in America.”(Side note: when I went to the QuestionBridge website to see what it’s about, it opened with a video conversation about this VERY TOPIC! Since I’ve been doing some heavy vacillating about writing on this subject, I took that as a sign to keep going). 

Plus Jesse executive produced the documentary, “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,” which premiered on BET weeks before the Awards. He also serves on the boards of the Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights project founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers, and Sankofa.org, Harry Belafonte’s social justice organization. Not to mention that he and Aryn created “Ebroji,” described as “the first “curated GIF keyboard, designed specifically to enhance the way we already communicate.”

jesse williams on colorism

Hell, Jesse’s so woke that he candidly addresses his light-skinned, blue-eyed privilege. Clearly he knows what’s up.

Thus, in addition to being a hot TV star, Jesse has some well-earned Black activist cred, which went viral after his BET Awards acceptance speech gave America a massive racial orgasm.

Big-time mainstream media outlets were gaga. Time.com ran the transcript, as did the Washington Post, who headlined it as “one of the most memorable speeches in award show history.” From WaPo:

Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight — I just want to thank them for being here and teaching me to focus on comprehension over career. They made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also, thank you to my amazing wife for changing my life.

“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

“Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function in ours.

“Now, [standing ovation] I got more, y’all.

“Now, the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back. To put someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid with brands for our bodies. There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we pay all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free, they keep telling us, but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”

 

The visuals at the BET Awards were equally evocative: cameras lingering on Jesse’s White mom and Black dad standing together as he praised them for raising him with strong political consciousness. Not to mention Jesse’s wife Aryn, which might have led some Black women to exhale and say, “Yes. He chooses to be with one of us.” And then those words that that went straight to the hearts of many sistas:

jessie-williams-bet-awards

What made that statement significant is not only that a light-skinned, blue-eyed brothah with a White mom said it on national television, but the fact that we see and hear so few Black men EVER publicly speak up on behalf of Black women, or promise that they “can and will do better for you.” This facet of Black life and love created so much excitement because it is so rare.

So between the celebrity accolades, the impressive activist resume, the super-woke comments and the family visuals, it’s safe to say that Jesse Williams positioned himself to be considered a certain way when it came to his life choices. Not constrained, not judged, not condemned–but considered. 

Still we must ask: is any of that diminished–his legit activism, his impassioned statements, his demonstrated commitment to Black causes–if he leaves a Black woman and takes up with a White woman? THAT is the question we’re grappling with here.

I’ve seen lots of social media convos around this very question, with some Black women fan expressing their disappointment, and some Mixed-race and swirling White women expressing their annoyance about the Black women’s questions and disappointment.

THIS is the dynamic that we need to discuss. THIS is the very powerful racial reality that must be acknowledged because it’s running in the background 24/7, and activated every time a successful, desirable brothah proves Kanye West’s prophecy from his mega-hit, “Gold Digger,” reminding Black women that “you stay right girl, and when he get on, he’ll leave yo’ ass for a White girl.” (Pause: Kanye is not part of this conversation, since he hasn’t been and is not an activist for Black anything. I’m still salty about him calling us Mixed girls “Mutts,” but trust that his daughter North will straighten him out on that front).  

Oooh but those words “when he get on, he’ll leave yo’ ass for a White girl,” echoed the many messages of my personal life story as a light-skinned, ethnically ambiguous-looking Biracial #BLEWISH girl with a Jewish mom and a Black dad and a lifetime of growing up in swirl-friendly Seattle, Washington where this topic was such a constant obsession that I moved across the country to escape it. Where, adding insult to injury, local media reported back then and even now about how Black hetero women in Seattle should not expect to be desired or sought by Black men. 

Where my swirling Black father routinely called Black women “bitches,” and wouldn’t let my Black friends, male or female, cross the threshold into his house. Where, starting in elementary school, many of the Black boys and men in my neighborhood and schools went out of their way to inform us Black and Mixed girls of all the ways in which White girls were superior to us. I never heard this stuff from the Mixed guys; it was the Black-Black guys with Black moms and dads and sisters and grandmothers. And they didn’t exempt me or the other Mixed girls–we were included in their condemnation and branded undesirable from the same early age as the other girls. (Deets in my upcoming memoir).

So, steeped in this messaging, I knew by adolescence that I was already seen by my father and my Black male peers as “less than” a White girl. Any White girl simply by virtue of my non-Whiteness. Less beautiful, less desirable, less worthy of love and protection, less everything I might want to be. As a young adult, some of the Black guys I had crushes on passed me over to swirl, then eagerly sought my approval of their new relationships. I knew the pattern all too well.

harry-belafonte-sidney-poitier

A young Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Jesse isn’t the first and he won’t be the last and again–this is not a personal indictment of him but rather a look at the background context against which we are made to process these incidents. I grew up watching this drama play out with countless guys in my environment as well as many Black male celebrities. But the ones who got my attention were popular actor/activists, like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, who left Black wives and children to marry interracially.

swirl sellout

And while there is nothing inherently wrong with interracial dating and mating, I am concerned by the sentiments I’m seeing from some Mixed women and non-Black swirling women that criticize Black women for feeling some kind of way without acknowledging the thorny and painful history behind their feelings. Discrediting someone’s truth because it’s different from yours is something we all have to stop doing. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way we can move forward.

When I see Blackfolks criticized for not being kumbaya about swirling, I laugh because my Mom was Jewish. Since Jewish identity is traditionally defined as passing down from mother to child, and a large number of Jewish men “marry out,” that form of swirling is a BFD in many Jewish communities. Some Jewish parents have been known to disown their sons and even sit Shiva for them while they’re still very much alive. Point is: humans are tribal by nature and the instinct to preserve tribal identity is not unusual. Nor is it necessarily a sign of racism. We are constantly challenged to evolve as a species but in the meantime, dismissing folks’ feelings and the history behind those feelings doesn’t contribute to the process of growth.

cosmo 2015

White women are consistently portrayed as more beautiful and desirable than Black women, as evidenced by this 2015 feature in Cosmopolitan magazine.

In considering the question of whether a Black man can be both #woke and swirling, we must also consider the nonstop optics and messaging that White girls and women are inherently beautiful and desirable, and Black girls and women are not. And yes, the Whiter-looking non-White girls and women are deemed more desirable in all aspects of popular culture than their darker-skinned sistren, but make no mistake: when these men choose to cross the line, few of them are half-stepping. From the regular news stories about famous Black men publicly decrying the value and beauty of Black women to the endless stream of commercials, advertising and images in across pop culture, to reports that Black women are the least desirable on various dating websites and apps, the message is loud and undeniably clear: Black women, you’re not wanted.

Acclaimed educator/author/activist and former Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux recently shared on her Facebook page an incident where a White woman’s leashed dog pushed open the gate to Julianne’s yard. Julianne gave the woman a dirty look. And a dreadlocked Black man walking behind the White woman said to Julianne (who, despite her property boundary being breached, had not uttered a word), “What is this about? Why you got an attitude?” Then the Black man loudly told the White woman about “evil Black women.” As Julianne wrote: “Bad enough that Becky and her dog think it cool to push into my space. Worse that Dead Dread feels like he has to rescue her. Who is rescuing Black women?” 

Black Women are Trash

As I was writing this, I saw this tee-shirt advertised on Facebook for sale until a bunch of folks pushed to get it taken down from the social media platform and website.

Lest we forget how the gorgeous, gifted, super-classy Michelle Obama and Serena and Venus Williams and countless Black women in private life and the public eye are ROUTINELY denigrated, dissed, compared to primates and other animals, described as “manly,” and endlessly held up as inferior to White women. This form of ridicule is practically a staple among some Black male celebrities/sports figures who feel the need to publicly spew these messages. It’s so common that many people–including some Blackfolks–don’t even consciously notice it; they simply accept it as a given. And many have internalized these attacks to accept them as truth.

What IS the real deal about crossing color lines in the name of love? How common is it anyway? There is research to suggest that most Black men are with Black women and only a small percentage swirl. But what’s pushed at us in mainstream media reflects the popular narrative of White supremacy in all areas. Why should beauty, desirability and popularity as romantic partners be any different?

Research also tells us that there’s enough sexual swirling  going on to make Multi-racial babies a booming demographic, with Census reports that the “two or more races” population is projected to be the fastest-growing over the next 46 years.” According to this research from Pew, “Rapid increases in mixed-race marriages have likely fueled much of the rise in the share of multiracial babies in the past several decades. Since just 1980, the share of marriages between spouses of different races has almost quadrupled, up to 6%, a new Pew Research study on multiracial Americans has found. At the same time, though, a large share of mixed-race babies (43%) are not living with a married parent, suggesting that it’s probably not just interracial marriage, but interracial dating in general that is driving the demographic change.” Keep in mind that behind every statistic is a human story. Or two. Or three.

barack and michelle 2

From the cover of Ebony magazine.

And on the topic of Biracial Black men and their romantic preferences, we must stop here to acknowledge one POTUS#44 Barack Obama and the fact that many of us were intrigued but wary of his personal racial expressions until we were introduced to Michelle. One look at her and our questions were answered: he LOVED and valued this unapologetically  Black woman. Beyond his obvious political charm and viability, the love he demonstrates for Michelle Obama, the adoring desire when he looks at her and speaks of her–those are priceless and precious to many Black women–again, because they are just so rare in the public arena.

jager_sheila

Sheila Miyoshi Jager

Yet, as I’m writing this, news breaks of a Mixed-race Dutch/Japanese professor Sheila Miyoshi Jager, (described by some media as White) sharing the revelation that POTUS#44 twice proposed to her, but that they broke up because he believed that having a non-Black spouse would be bad for his political career. While “going low” by sharing this story publicly, Sheila pulls the “he’d have preferred to be with me, but chose the Black woman for political reasons” card, which is just another version of the same old “Black women are undesirable” trope. Key point: whatever the reasons for either of their marital choices,  it’s the ongoing message behind Sheila’s “revelation” that fits into this dynamic.

The thing is that none of these public choices take place in a vacuum. Absent the gnarled context of these collisions of racism and romantic choices, Jesse, Harry, Sidney and others are simply individuals making very personal choices. Do they ever look in the mirror and ask themselves about these dynamics? We’ll probably never know. But when their words and actions are considered in the context of their pro-Black activism and projected upon a public screen for our consumption, we can’t ignore the complexities of the optics, the triggers embedded in the messages and the way they’re likely to impact different groups of people based on their own lives and racial histories.

This isn’t about woke Black men swirling being good or bad. It’s not that simple or simplistic. This is about America and her racial history, about how notions of beauty and desirability shape all of us in our formative years, inform our adult choices, and set us up to have to wrestle with these issues in personal and sometimes very public ways.

There is no consensus to be reached or conclusions to wrap this all up in a neat, post-racial package. The point is to have these conversations as honestly as we can, sharing our differing–and often divergent–perspectives with full acknowledgement that each person’s truth is valid, knowing that sometimes our experiences will bump up against each other in uncomfortable ways. But if we’re serious about addressing racism to create something better, we must heed James Baldwin’s wisdom that, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

And we must continually work to untangle the personal from the political and honor the sometimes ugly truths of each others’ lived experiences if we are to ever find common ground. Long after we have forgotten Jesse Williams’ name and ceased to care about his personal life, the underlying dynamics will remain to challenge our choice to either maintain the status quo, or believe that we deserve and can create something better. If we’re genuinely down to tackle that hurdle, then maybe we’ll get to the point where celebrity activists’ personal romantic and sexual choices can truly be just that, and nothing more.

Until then, a luta continua, the struggle continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crisis Communications 101: Lessons to be Learned from Luvvie’s Fauxpology

The planet Mercury is retrograde, mucking up communications like nobody’s business. Maybe popular blogger/influencer/author Luvvie Ajayi is more deeply impacted by these communication misfires than the rest of us. But I’m not quite ready to give her a planetary pass for the fauxpology she recently issued after publicly trashing unnamed Black and Mixed-race activists in a Facebook post, then spending most of the week defending her rant.

 

luvvie fauxpology snip

 

I’m going to analyze this from two of my areas of expertise: as both a Mixed-race identity activist, and and as a veteran strategic communications expert with special cred in crisis communications. My receipts in this area include Spelman College and other HBCUs, the Children’s Defense Fund Black Community Crusade for Children, speechwriting for high-level government officials, and teaching public speaking at Temple University, along with more than a decade of executive consulting in the public and private sectors.

 

Let’s break this down:

First–context. Now that Luvvie’s platform and spotlight are shining way beyond her blog and social media presence, her words and messaging are impacting other people and platforms beyond her own. It is possible that her being featured as one of the most “Woke” women in the new issue of Essence magazine, might have spurred someone in her circle to help her to realize this. And since monthly magazine content and covers are typically wrapped up weeks or several months ahead of publication, Essence was loving Luvvie long before her problematic FB post.

luvvie essence group

Luvvie is 3rd from left.

Reference: Here are her original offending rant and my response.

Now for our Crisis Communications case study analysis:

  1. She begins the fauxpology by centering herself in the narrative and talking about what a bad week it’s been for her and her spirit without taking any responsibility for having created the “shitstorm” in the first place. This sounds like she’s complaining about the natural consequences of her choice to trash the activists rather than feeling any actual remorse or experiencing a real revelation. Solution: Reference yourself, not the victims, and stick to owning your offense and taking full responsibility for the impact and outcomes that it created.
  2. Unlike in her original post, the fauxpology has a glaring omission of Black people and a total focus on Mixed-race folks. “I should not have broadly generalized a whole group of my people based on a few people. My mixed race comment offended a bunch of you…”  Where is the reference to the Black activists who were the focus of most of her rant? Why the singular focus on only Mixed-race and light-skinned people who were clearly not the main target? Rather than saying, “My mixed race comment offended a bunch of you,” an apology would say, “My comments about both Black and Mixed-race activists were offensive.” And P.S. to everybody: You don’t upper-case Black and lower-case Mixed-race, or vice versa for that matter. Just: No on that passive-aggressive foolishness.
  3. “To my mixed race and light skinned folks, I’m sorry I made you feel like I was questioning your Blackness.” Here you see the classic fauxpology move: I’m sorry I made you feel like I was…” putting the burden on us for what we felt in response to her comments versus a more sincere, straightforward apology for what she said and inferred. She could have simply said, “I’m sorry I questioned your Blackness.” Although, to be clear, she was not “questioning” our Blackness. She was trashing it. There is a huge difference.
  4. She was also being patronizing and condescending while policing our identities. Your Blackness is not for me to judge … Your #BLAXIT passport was never revoked or in jeopardy.” Luvvie still seems to see herself as qualified to confer Black and Mixed-race identity upon folks. Does she not realize that we are born with all the Blackness and any other DNA we need, no external recognition or validation required? She seems to be claiming authority while continually showcasing her lack of basic knowledge and understanding about how these things work in the real world. Then she demonstrated more cluelessness by throwing Rachel Dolezal into the conversation as if Dolezal is Mixed. You can read my column on that hot topic right here.   Solution: she could have said, “I have no right to question, challenge or insult anyone’s racial or identity credentials and I will not do it again.”
  5. Biggest issue: Why is this entire message limited to Mixed-race and light-skinned folks when the bulk of the originating crap-fest specified Black activists? Why aren’t they even mentioned here? Maybe she reached out to them separately. But without knowing that, this just plays like that age-old, beyond trite and tired attempt to divide us: house vs. field; light vs. dark; Mixed vs. Black, etc. Does she really think we don’t see this obvious ploy to favor us at the expense of Black people? To prioritize us and our feelings as if they’re somehow different or more important?
  6. This is the same game the world runs on us each and every day. I don’t know if her advisors pointed her in this direction, or whether she came up with this bright idea on her own. But pitting us against each other just spotlights the underlying problem of her original rant, subsequent defenses of that rant, and now this fauxpology: no evidence that she has any desire to further unity or solidarity. Solution: since she mentioned Black and Mixed-race activists separately and to different degrees in her original post, this response should have covered the same ground in the same proportion and order. Crisis communications require absolute specificity to be effective. Solution: To simply say, “It was not my intention to promote divisiveness between Black and Mixed-race or dark and light-skinned people. I am striving to better understand this dynamic so that I do not inadvertently make the same mistake in the future.
  7. Attempts at humor. Luvvie is a very talented and successful humorist. However, there is nothing amusing about any of this, or any place for this kind of messaging in a crisis communications response. Whether citing Rachel Dolezal in a Mixed-race context or falling back on her popular reference to not coming for her “edges in the name of Jamaican Black Castor Oil,” these read as attempts to deflect from the gravity of the topic, which help to render it a fauxpology rather than the real deal.
  8. Skip the low-key self-referential promotion. The “I should’ve known how important my words would be to people” comes off like a humble brag. Of course she knows how important her every word is–as a blogger, social media influencer, #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of Essence magazine’s “Most Woke Women,” what else could she possibly think? Any real apology focuses on the offender taking full and unequivocal responsibility while centering the offended and their experience to the original offense(s). And promoting her book just felt even more self-serving and less authentic. Solution: delete all of these references before posting.

One thing is clear: If you build your brand on the concept of you judging people, you are seemingly not trying to understand or respect them or their point-of-view. It’s never a good idea to convey a mix of superiority and cluelessness when responding to a communications crisis, especially when you created that crisis in the first place. She’s many days late and several dollars short with the fauxpology, which should have run immediately after the “shitstorm,” and she blew the opportunity by trying to play colorist divide-and-conquer politics while opting out of taking actual responsibility.

Big picture takeaway: Beyond Luvvie, everyone experiences communications crises from time to time. How we respond can have more long-term impact than the original offense. And when done properly, the response can neutralize damage and sometimes even turn a negative into a positive. Let’s recycle this “shitstorm” into a teachable moment for us all.

A study published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research outlines the essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Expression of regret

2. Explanation of what went wrong

3. Acknowledgment of responsibility

4. Declaration of repentance

5. Offer of repair

6. Request for forgiveness

See how simple an apology can be?

 

MRM logo snip

And on a more personal note: Anyone who sincerely wants to know about Mixed-race people from the source is invited to visit Multi-racial Media, where a large and varied group of us very ably represent ourselves in all of our complicated glory. This is my very respectful request that all non-Mixed public commentators and anyone else who is inclined to trash, police, and/or play to us at the expense of any other People of Color, please cease and desist immediately and forever. We are more than capable of speaking for ourselves. And when it comes to potential conflicts, the old-school rules apply: Don’t start none, won’t be none. Because you don’t need to be any kind of communications expert to understand that common-sense wisdom.

merc retro sorry

Finally: As any communications expert can tell you, Mercury goes retrograde 3 to 4 times each year. Do your homework so you’re not misspeaking and you might not need to apologize in the first place.

 

 

About That ‘N-word Jew’ Headline…

Bone-tired, I made the mistake of peeking at Facebook before going to bed. And while physically exhausted, I became jolted into outraged #BLEWISH wokeness.

In one of the Black-Jewish Facebook groups I’m in, Robin Washington, a veteran Black-Jewish activist and acclaimed journalist, posted an Atlanta Jewish Times column with the headline  below:

atlanta jewish times headline

While I wanted nothing more than to log off and get some sleep, I had to express my displeasure–especially since I live in Atlanta. So I spoke up in the column’s comments section and on Twitter:

Atlanta jewish times my tweet

 

As I was fighting off slumber, Washington was fully #woke in all senses of the word, leveraging his considerable experience and expertise to reach out to both the publisher and editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times. 

Robin Washington

Award-winning #BLEWISH journalist, activist and subject matter-expert Robin Washington. @robinbirk

After an appropriate Passover greeting, Washington rolled out a few of his receipts, which include his considerable credentials as the co-founder and first chairman of the Alliance of Black Jews and likely the most published commentator about Black Jews anywhere. He’s been editor, columnist and an editorial board member of major newspapers, and a contributor to The Marshall Project, WGBH Boston, NPR, BET and the JTA/myjewish learning, among many others. Washington is also a research fellow of the Institute of Jewish and Community Research.

Having provided both credibility and context to Jacobs, Washington went in:

I’m saying this not to impress you but to tell you that I know more than a little bit about journalism–and by no standard whatsoever is the headline on the article by Patrice Worthy acceptable. The only possible reason it would be remotely so is if she had referred to the phrase herself in her article. I’ve read it thrice, keyword searched, and it’s nowhere to be found. And even if she did suggest the title to you herself, without that being made 100 percent clear, it is not acceptable. 

And then Washington invited a dialogue:

I’m on deadline tomorrow, it’s Pesach and Shabbat. Nonetheless, I implore you to call me immediately to explain yourselves and begin your apology. B’shalom…

Drake Applause

I think that famously #BLEWISH rapper/singer Drake would approve of Robin Washington’s messages and activism.

 

Here are excerpts of the resulting email exchange with editor Michael Jacobs:

Jacobs: I am not attempting to be patronizing. Nor do I need a lecture on my job as an editor … Patrice chose that headline for her column about herself. Its context and meaning were clear to me, based on the personal experiences she was sharing. Yes, it has shock value, but that’s an accurate reflection of the powerful content of the column. 

Washington: Michael, anyone who writes a hed with the most hateful word in human history does need a lecture on journalism … It is an editor’s job to save the writer from her/himself … Further, the headline is the paper speaking, not just the writer. And with the phrase missing from the body [of the column], you are, in effect, calling her the Nigga Jew … Please don’t patronize me to suggest that after 60 years of living this duality and 40 years writing about it that I am somehow mistaken. I don’t think you understand the severity of this or the outrage that is already happening in Black Jewish circles. 

Eventually, Jacobs emailed back sharing a note of apology he said he’d prepared for the next issue of the Atlanta Jewish Times, in which he explained that Worthy suggested the headline herself, then expressed second thoughts, and nonetheless he persisted:

And I thought, despite or because of the shock value, it was appropriate for the content of the column and the upsetting experiences that have arisen from her dual identity. But before we went to press, Patrice had concerns that the headline might be too much, and I should have listened to her … The decision to use that headline was mine and mine and mine alone, and I regret it. I apologize to our readers.

Soon after, the headline was changed to:

New ajt headline

 

Washington and I spoke with a decidedly more contrite and reflective Jacobs by phone the next day.

Jacobs explained that the story had been posted Thursday afternoon, so by the time Washington and I saw it, it had been up for several hours. Jacobs said he was “glad to get the feedback and appreciate[d] that you’re willing to listen to what happened and that it wasn’t something that was done in an effort to label Patrice or offend people. It was Patrice’s effort to portray how she feels she’s perceived in communities and we wanted to share that. There was nuance lost and it was a bad idea to do it in a headline like that.”

When Washington asked about Jacobs’ plan to publish an apology, he responded, “I will apologize that it was a poor decision and I’m certainly sorry that it was offensive to people, and that it detracted from the content of the column.”

Jacobs and Washington also discussed Worthy’s status at the Atlanta Jewish Times. Jacobs said that she’s a frequent, paid contributor on a contract basis. “We don’t have an open [full-time] position right now, but we’re using Patrice as much as we can. She’s a valuable contributor and has been for some time.” Washington and I encouraged Jacobs to consider more coverage about Jews of Color working not only with Worthy, but other Black Jewish journalists.

Kudos to Jacobs for corresponding with Washington and talking with both of us. After his initial reluctance, he stepped up to the plate and did the right thing in response to having run a slur so damaging and distracting that it all but obliterated Worthy’s otherwise high-quality column and the messages therein, in which she stated:

“My identity garners resentment from those who are comfortable with the status quo because being a black Jew disrupts stereotypes in both communities. People who have never met a Jew tell me about being Jewish or tell me I’m trying to whitewash my identity,” she stated. “I never felt that being black and being Jewish were mutually exclusive.”

When I reached out to Worthy to connect in #BLEWISH solidarity, she politely declined at this time. It’s understandable; she might have lost even more sleep than I did over this debacle, and might be fielding some tough questions and outraged attitudes herself.

One of the bigger and continually problematic issues, of course, is the lack of Persons of Color at the editorial and oversight levels in most of our nation’s media, including Jewish media. As Washington shared with Jacobs, all of us who have been published have had our content and certainly our more provocative headlines changed before publication by a higher-up operating with the big picture and best interests of the media outlet in mind, as well as probable responses from the audiences.

Both Washington and I viewed this through the lens of both nuance and lived experience. We were both part of the movement to diversify our nation’s mainstream media spaces beginning in the late 1960s. Our longtime bonds with the National Association of Black Journalists and Unity Journalists of Color provide a long-term, big-picture view of this kind of “best judgment” issue at editorial levels. When there is nobody with the perspective, expertise and authority to nip a problematic word choice in the bud, these things are much more likely to happen.

Bottom line: we must all be eternally vigilant and prepared to call out problematic words and actions whenever and wherever we encounter them. It’s tough, exhausting, often thankless work, but somebody’s got to do it. I’m grateful for Robin Washington’s leadership and diligence in this case, and pleased that his eloquence seemed to move Jacobs to a higher level of awareness. However, in the Jewish, Passover AND Black spirits of #NeverForget, we certainly can’t rest or relax, even if it interrupts our sleep.

 

When Luv Turns to Hate

As many of you know, I’ve been a super-fan, promoter and cheerleader for the blogger-turned-author and influencer, Luvvie Ajayi ,aka Awesomely Luvvie, who rose to great fame and popularity doing ROFL recaps of “Scandal.” She built that into a golden platform, nabbed a book deal that shot to a #1 New York Times bestseller and has been picked up by “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes for a TV series.

All through this process, I’ve gleefully shared Luvvie’s posts, witticisms and news of her awesome ascension to the big time. All of which led me to this, a post I really wish I didn’t have to write.

Last night, Luvvie shared a FB post that was not only far less coherent and eloquent than her normal style, but overflowing with passive-aggressive hateration towards quasi-identified but unnamed Black and Mixed-race activists. Here’s her post:

Luvvie Ajayi

Some of us are fighting for freedom, while others don’t want freedom, because if we have it, then they will no longer have anything to make them the center of attention. Those people are the ones who wear oppression like coats they refuse to take off, and the very act of being marginalized is what defines them. It is what gives them purpose.

There are some digital activists who tend to profit on the pain of Black and brown people, and they use that as a business model. As in, EVERYTHING is a battle, almost strategically. If they aren’t in the middle of “I just got oppressed” chaos, then they aren’t in their element. When everything is a battle, what war are you trying to win? When you sit in a 24-hour cycle of outrage, it’s easy to become the person who cried “INJUSTICE” wolf.

And here’s the thing. We tend to call out white folks who are out of line when it comes to activism and call out culture, but what about our skinfolks who do the most with the least? Folks who are trading on white liberal guilt in the oppression olympics, and surrounding themselves with peanut galleries of people who assign them genius-ship PURELY because they’re loud and Black-identifying. And then they send these people to fight their battles. One of these people even has fake ID numbers for her group, and sends them on eMissions. Or had. She blocked me when I once asked her (on her wall) if she could stop tagging me to every post she writes, since she says she doesn’t like when people force “trauma” down her throat even though everything she wrote was traumatic and she’d tag 50 people to it.

I’m talking about the ones who will literally ask for “reparations” via PayPal when a white person asks them a question (that shit is weird AF). The folks who give ZERO grace to folks who are actually trying to understand this fucked up web of oppression they benefit from (not to be confused with the white folks who just wanna cry whiny tears of victimhood). The ones who are quick to yell “I’ve been harmed” when they publicly harm people they know in REAL LIFE every week (you got my phone number, B. You don’t have to start a hashtag against me). The people who tell allies who actually want to help dismantle the system that they need to shut up PURELY because they’re white and their voices are automatically trashed. And they do shut up, and clam up, and stay home, because they’ve been told that the fight is not theirs.

These fauxtivists are a problem. Cuz what they do is perpetuate the same cycle they say they’re fighting against. And unfortunately, for us to get free, white folks gotta do this work too. OTHERWISE if it was for US to fix by ourselves, we woulda BEEN done it. It’s not about wanting white gaze, or about begging for white friends or wanting white folks to love us. You ain’t gotta love my black ass, but you can’t say you want justice and MY life is in jeopardy every time I walk down the street.

It’s about building bridges that can lead to real progress. What are we fighting for if we want to turn right around and silence folks the way WE’VE been silenced? What is the goal here?

And what’s interesting is, a lot of the most CAPS CAPS CAPSing “activists” out here are of mixed race descent. I just wanna tell them that they can chill. You don’t have to make up for the lack of melanin in your skin by always using your outside voice, even in situations that don’t warrant it. Tuck in your overcompensation. It’s like they’re performing Blackness based on anger, which is insulting.

Can we have this conversation? And how can we build bridges in the call out culture, that teaches with grace but also holds people accountable. 

It’s not my normal style to respond to such highly personal snark. But I owe it to all of my social media fam since I’ve been such a consistent booster of Luvvie and her work for many years now. I’ve fused my brand and my credibility to hers. And now that she’s chosen to take another route, it’s time for me to un-fuse. So that you’ll fully understand my change of heart, here’s what I need to share with YOU about her post:

  1. As a self-described “wacky wordsmith” and “pop culture prima dona,” her strength is cleverly hilarious pop culture writing. To be honest, because I’m a Boomer, I cherry-pick her posts since many are skewed to younger generations. But I maintain a good overview. And while she reportedly has a non-profit project to raise awareness of women fighting HIV/AIDS, she is a hugely successful pop culture influencer, but by no means an in-the-trenches, doin’-it-for-the-people activist in any corner of Black America. She is a digital entertainer. So the fact that she’s passively-aggressively calling various activists out rather than womaning up and contacting them one-on-one to discuss her grievances lets us know immediately that she’s more interested in click-bait haterade than anybody’s progress.
  2. As y’all know, I’m an old-school Boomer activist, raised up by the Black Panther Party, the movement to end South African apartheid and etc. I was born illegal, integrated a bunch of White schools and have been working for change in both Black and Mixed-race identity spaces for several decades now. First rule of any movement for social change is to know how to prioritize your differences with others working towards the same or compatible goals and how to leave those at the door in the name of unity and solidarity. What Luvvie’s done here is behave like she’s so beside herself at getting a seat in the Big House that her first move is to turn around and burn all bridges to any form of Black person she fears might follow her in to love up on Miz Anne. There is nothing remotely new or unique about this dynamic; she’s not the first and she damn sho won’t be the last. We recognize these movement disrupters for what they are: agent provocateurs. They stir up brief flurries of hype and emotion, but never contribute a single thing to actual change.
  3. Luvvie is also displaying a dynamic with which many African Americans are familiar: the Diasporic national assuming a stance of both natural and inherent superiority, and a better understanding of our situations than we could possibly possess. In other words, her form of blackness gives her license to shit on ours.
  4. Y’all are well aware that I am a HUGE friend and colleague of Dr. Stacey Patton, who has devoted her life to making life better for Black children. And there is a section of Luvvie’s rant that is directed at Stacey–in fact, she has seemingly devoted an entire paragraph to Stacey who, like me, has never done anything except support and promote Luvvie’s work to her huge and diverse audience. Like me and the folks I roll with, Stacey is about the work–beyond 24/7–and her record requires no receipts. She is about changing lives for the better, a serious academic; an acclaimed journalist; an impeccable historian and a woman who will not compromise in her commitment. So Luvvie’s comments about Stacey and other front-line activists simply highlight how she views the landscape from her newly-privileged pop culture perch.  If you know Dr. Stacey, she has books of receipts to roll out, so trust that she responded to Luvvie in her classy, eloquent way, and then jumped back into the trenches of of improving and saving lives. But I will share two receipts: her amazing new book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, and her substantive, resource-rich website, www.sparethekids.com.
  5. In particular (and y’all knew this was the part I’d have to go in about), when she wrote: “activists” out here are of mixed race descent. I just wanna tell them that they can chill. You don’t have to make up for the lack of melanin in your skin by always using your outside voice, even in situations that don’t warrant it. Tuck in your overcompensation. It’s like they’re performing Blackness based on anger, which is insulting. Many folks knew that she was focusing primarily on Shaun King, who writes a column for the New York Daily and does some pretty serious activist work. While many folks trash King for being Biracial and light-skinned and thus not “woke” or real, I’ve been impressed with his policy-driven activism and the tone of his writings. But Luvvie has deemed herself qualified to call out ALL “activists” of Mixed-race descent, trying to crack on our “lack of melanin” and what she considers our “over-compensation,” as if she knows the first thing about being Mixed-Black in the USA. So I guess she’s including anti-slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass, footballer/activist Colin Kaepernick, and actor/activists Jesse Williams, Amandla Stenberg and Yara Shahidi. And, while I’m in no way famous or in any way on her radar screen, I take it to mean that she includes me and other Mixed-race activists who aren’t household names but are still putting in the work every day. The question is: why is she coming for us? Perhaps she’s not confident enough in her straight-from-the-Motherland melanin to believe that there’s more than enough room for all of us to co-exist, thrive and even collaborate when working towards our seemingly common goals.
  6. Pause: as some of us Mixies said in response to her Mixed-race “” comment, there are many conversations to be had about our roles as activists in Black and Mixed-race spaces, the dynamics of privilege, rejection, identity politics and all that. But, needless to say, such a flaccid attempt at the blacker-than-thou racial dozens serves no purpose beyond a round of ego masturbation at others’ expense.
  7. Now one of the first lessons one must learn first to survive and retain any measure of sanity as a Person of Color in a racist, White Supremacist context, is to separate the personal from the political. We all have personal preferences, prejudices and biases–these are human nature and will never go away. What MATTERS however is racism–systemic, institutionalized, strategically planned and executed in every aspect of our communities, our nation and our planet–that some of us have committed our lives to fighting in varied and diverse ways. Luvvie seems to have merged whatever her political stance is with an upchuck of personal snark, petty-wopping folks in a back-handed way. What a waste of talent and, more importantly, a huge and influential platform. This woman has fame up the yin-yang and look how she chooses to use it. Take heed: How people behave when they have access to power and money always reveals their true character and priorities. I’m a huge believer in what Mama Maya Angelou taught us: WHEN PEOPLE SHOW YOU WHO THEY ARE, BELIEVE THEM. And given enough time and opportunity, everybody shows themselves sooner or later. I mean, Luvvie’s book is titled I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual.” And as she states on her blog, “It’s basically a book where I tell everyone to get their shit together and you should order it.” Not surprisingly, while I’ve done everything possible to will myself to want to read it, I’ve simply had no interest. Now we know why.

So what I believe is that Luvvie will either thrive or flame out now that she’s hit the big time. She’s articulated all I need to know about her racial politics in her FB post (to which she turned off the comments, BTW). I believe that every word she wrote accurately reflects where she’s coming from, and that’s her prerogative. I understand how she feels about the activists I respect, support and work with, and how she feels about folks like me. Y’all know I don’t waste precious time, talent or energy with clapbacks, arguments or debates–those are for young’uns who think they have all the time in the world and no understanding of what it will really take to work for significant, sustainable change to challenge any aspect of systemic racism.

As always, I am striving to achieve the unity we will need to make this nation and this world a better place. I have no patience for anything that encourages divisiveness. If you agree, please visit my TeamUnity Facebook page and help build the movement to come together despite our various differences. Let’s be about some serious solidarity and join hands to move forward in our quest for racial progress and evolution.

Check My New Column! ‘Hold Up…Who Called the Mixed-Identity Police?’

Fam: I am SUPER-honored to debut my new column in the fabulous Multiracial Media blog run by Sarah Sarita Ratliff and Alex Barnett. Enjoy and be sure to let me know what you think!

Hold Up! Who Called The Mixed-Identity Police?

POTUS and his Mother. Do the Identity Police claim his as our first Black President...or nah?                                      Mama love for the first Black AND Biracial POTUS

Why are so many non-Mixed people obsessed with policing our identities?

Between media personality Crissle, actor Zoe Saldana, TV/film mogul Lee Daniels and zillions of other celebs and civilians, random folks invest mucho energy into trying to tell us who we are, how we’re supposed to self-identity and “choose,” and which tribes we are and aren’t “qualified” to join. (They especially love to do this to us Mixis who are any kind of Black-and).

Exhibit one: This week, Crissle, a Black woman who co-hosts the popular podcast “The Read,” and has appeared on MTV2’s “Uncommon Sense,” “MTV News” “Decoded” and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” trended by climaxing her Twitter rant against Black men who swirl and don’t reciprocate Black women’s support with a pitiful stab at policing Biracial babies  Read More

 

Prince’s Gift to Multi-Racial People

I was honored when the new blog Multiracial Media invited me to pay tribute to Prince:

Prince coy side eye

            “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”                                                                         –Prince Rogers Nelson

Let me get personal for a minute. My (Black) father and (Jewish) mother grew up in North Minneapolis, Prince’s home turf. My father was a jazz musician. He was physically abusive to his last (and longest-running) wife, but thankfully not to my mother. Before 1984, I liked Prince’s pre-1984 hits, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Little Red Corvette,” and I found his cute androgyny mildly interesting, but I was in no way a hard-core fan.

Then I saw “Purple Rain.” I had no idea what to expect. But that movie and the music spoke to me in a way that nothing ever had in my 29 years of life. I saw a representation of my own family onscreen, complete with “inside” local references (that was clearly NOT Lake Minnetonka, LOL) and an energy that had not been portrayed anywhere in all of USA art, culture or history. Ever.“Purple Rain” zapped me to my core and lodged itself inside of my consciousness in ways I hadn’t expected. Read more