Black Girls Do Rock, And No It’s not Racist to Say So

Yesterday BET aired the 5th annual Black Girls Rock! awards.  The ceremony is held annually to celebrate Black women’s achievements and contributions to society, and it’s always a spectacle of Black excellence.  Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King hosted the show jointly this year.  Erykah Badu, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Ava DuVernay, and Cicely Tyson were among the celebrity honorees.  But Black Girls Rock! also honors everyday people for their work in their communities.  Nadia Lopez was recognized with the Social Humanitarian Award, Dr. Helen D. Gayle received the Change Agent Award, and Chentel Song-Bembry (a freshman at HBCU Hampton University), Gabrielle Jordan, and Kaya Thomas were recognized for their work as well.  First Lady Michelle Obama was the most esteemed guest in attendance.  She delivered a speech in which she reminded Black girls that, despite societal voices that may tell them they are not good enough, they are.  “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful, you are brilliant” she proclaimed.  “Black girls rock!  We rock!”

But even before the show aired Sunday, the First Lady caught flack for her appearance at the ceremony.  Last week, when the show was recorded and news of her appearance broke, articles surfaced online slamming both her and the show as racist and exclusionary.  The Twitter hashtag #whitegirlsrock emerged in response to the show’s title, under which users made such claims as “If there were a White Girls Rock! it would be a whole different story,” and “How come Black people get a Black Girls Rock! but we don’t get a White Girls Rock?”

How they missed the memo, I don’t know.  But, clearly, some people don’t recognize that we live in one giant White Girls Rock! ceremony.  White women’s beauty and achievements are celebrated constantly in mainstream media and culture.

White girls rock on the covers of Vogue, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, People, and endless fashion and beauty magazines.  They rock in the majority of lead and supporting women’s roles on TV and in film and on most commercials featuring women.  They rock as heroines, superheroes, and princesses on screen and in books.  They rock in the best actress categories at the Oscars, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Tony Awards.  They rock at the Grammys, American Music Awards, VMAs, and the Teen Choice Awards.  Among elected officials in Congress, state legislatures, and mayoral and gubernatorial offices, and first ladies, White women compose the bulk of women that hold these positions.  White women constitute the majority of all women in medicine, law, business, academia and the professions.

My point? White girls have the privilege of constant affirmation in mainstream culture.  As a result, They know they rock.  They know they are beautiful.  They know they can achieve.  The purpose of Black Girls Rock! is to affirm the same for Black girls, many of whom do not recognize such of themselves.  It serves to affirm Black girls’ worth in a society in which their image is not the standard of beauty, where they do not see many positive images with which they can identify, where the contributions and achievements of people who look like them often go unrecognized, and where even Black social movements like Black Lives Matter center Black men over women.  It is so necessary at a time when rampant police brutality against Black bodies reminds us all that Black lives are considered disposable in the mainstream.  Asserting that Black girls rock is not to assert that girls of other races don’t.  Black Girls Rock! is not exclusionary.  It is inclusionary of Black girls and women who are all too often excluded.  So I applaud the First Lady for attending and recognizing the importance of Black girls – of Black people – seeing the First Lady of the United States affirm their Blackness, and for reminding Black girls that they, too, are stars.  Lord knows how many of her advisers told her not to.

Yet, despite the abundance of affirming images that White women see on a daily basis, many of them reject the idea of Black Girls Rock!  They made that clear in their #whitegirlsrock tweets.  The conversations that emerged under the hashtag, the articles that were written in response to the show, did not seek to affirm the value of White women.  They did not sing White women’s praises, as many people claimed to want to see happen.  Instead, the conversations sought nearly exclusively to denigrate Black women’s celebration of themselves.  They derided Black Girls’ Rock!  And this kind of response appears as a recurring theme among White people’s reactions to Black self-empowerment.  Whether it be the slogan “All Lives Matter,” White Out Day (which White people held on social media in response to last month’s Black Out Day, during which Black people shared selfies of themselves and other Black people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr in affirmation and celebration of their beauty), or the hashtag #whitegirslrock, initiatives such as these are never about self-empowerment and affirmation, though White people like to claim that they are.  They never materialize on their own merit or out of forced necessity.  They occur in response to exercises in Black self-empowerment.  In fact, as you can see, the titles White people ascribe to their initiatives are literal plays on the titles Black people give to ours.

The backlash against Black Girls Rock! is not about racism in the show, just like the call “All Lives Matter” is not about racist exclusivity in the Black Lives Matter movement and White Out Day is not about mean Black people posting selfies.  It’s about the fragility of White people’s racist superiority complex.  In mainstream American culture, Whiteness is always centered.  So many White people cannot handle when Black people affirm or celebrate Blackness independently of Whiteness because they are no longer the focus of the discourse (“All Lives Matter” is okay, for example, because it includes White people).  White people are so rarely excluded from the conversation that they feel the need to reassert their presence when they are.  #Whitegirlsrock and the now trending #allgirlsrock are symptoms of this compulsive need to be acknowledged. They are not efforts by well-meaning people to affirm all marginalized women.  They are temper tantrums thrown by privileged White women who demand the spotlight.

Yes, all girls do rock.  But, no, all girls don’t get the same shine.  Last night, Black girls got theirs.  And it was well deserved.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He currently writes for NBCBLK and Politic365 and is an aspiring journalist.  Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.

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3 Things I Get Out of My HBCU Experience That You Can’t Get at a PWI

This week a video went viral of members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity singing a racist chant about excluding “niggers” from their fraternity and hanging them from trees at the University of Oklahoma. The video sparked the closure of the SAE chapter on the school’s campus, protests on and off campus, and the expulsion of several students involved in the video. It also sparked a resurgence in the ever-raging debate on the pros and cons of Black students attending HBCUs and PWIs via the Twitter hashtags #SAEHatesMe and #HBCULovesMe.

For months, I’ve intended to write a blog post about my experience at Howard University but never got around to it.  But given the interest in the HBCU/PWI debate, and because high school seniors are currently in the process of deciding which college to go to, I decided that now is the perfect time to add my two cents to the conversation.

I did not want to attend Howard specifically because it was an HBCU. I assumed it lacked diversity.  I envisioned it being ghetto.  I didn’t think it reflected the real world.  But I graduate in May, and I now believe it was the best, single most important decision of my life. Howard has played a pivotal role in forming my identity, and I honestly feel indebted to this institution.

Many Black students and parents share similar concerns about the HBCU experience.  Students are often told they are too smart for HBCUs and steered away from them by their parents or school counselors.  So, I want to debunk some of the myths about HBCUs and talk about the three most important things I got out of my four years at Howard that Black students simply cannot get at a PWI. These are the things that changed my mind about HBCUs.

If you’re one of those doubtful people, hopefully I can convince you to join #TeamHBCU.  At the least, I hope this post better equips students to make decisions about what school will be best for them.

Here it goes.

Culturally Relevant Education

At an HBCU, you are always learning things that are relevant to your identity as a Black American, inside and outside of the classroom. From discussing African American and continental African history, to talking about current events that are relevant to the Black American experience, to holding conversations with my peers about colorism or the appropriation of Black culture by White artists, I always feel like I’m learning about me. Always. And I personally needed this – I had no real exposure to Black history in elementary or high school.

Now, that’s not to say we don’t learn about anything else at an HBCU – of course we do. And that’s not to say that Black students at PWIs never talk about Mike Brown and Iggy Azalea – of course they do. But they have far fewer conversations like these because there are so few spaces in which to have them, outside of the monthly Black Student Union meeting at the Black Culture Center, or whatever they call it. Frankly, they have to pick a date, time, and place to talk and learn about being Black. That’s not necessary at an HBCU.

At Howard, I feel immersed in Black ideas, Black culture, Black people. And I love it. It’s necessary. It’s the reason why Black students at PWIs have Black Student Unions in the first place: there is value in Blackness and Black spaces. At an HBCU, you don’t need a Black Culture Center or a club – the entire campus is both. The entire campus is a safe space that caters to you.

Diversity

Yea, I said it. I would argue that HBCUs are more diverse than many PWIs, especially large, public state PWIs.

First, let’s talk about the demographic make up of HBCUs and PWIs. Many public state PWIs have a student body made up of around 80 to 85% White students, and 15 – 20% everybody else (students of color). Similarly, at many HBCUs, the student body is around 80 – 85% Black and the remainder is non-Black students. It’s the same demographic breakdown, except a different group is in the majority.

But at large, state PWIs, many – if not most – of the students in the majority hail exclusively from within that state. Too, many are of the same socio-economic background. This is not the case at many HBCUs. As a result, there exists a wealth of diversity on HBCU campuses that in many ways is not present on PWI campuses.

Before attending Howard, I hesitated to apply to HBCUs because I wanted “diversity” and I didn’t think I would find it at an HBCU. I was wrong. Black people are incredibly diverse. I have met students from all over the country – California, Texas, Georgia, New York, to Alaska and Hawaii. I marvel at the uniqueness of the cultures that exist amongst Black people in different parts of the country – from the slang they use, to the dances they do, to the music they listen to. Too, Howard has students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. There are students on this campus that grew up in the inner city and can barely afford to be here, to students whose parents are B-list celebrities and are paying for their education out of pocket, and everywhere in between. Students hail from 67 different countries. It is this breadth of backgrounds that produces the diversity of experiences that produce diversity of thought – the true end goal of diversity in an educational setting. Such diversity of thought is often lacking on campuses where the majority of students hail from the same state and went to private school in the city or grew up in the suburbs, as is the case on many PWI campuses.

Frankly, the idea that HBCU campuses are not diverse stems from the notion that Black people themselves are not diverse – that we all think and act the same. Students look to PWIs specifically seeking diversity, despite the fact that most students are White. It is understood that White people can be diverse. The same must be recognized about the Black community.

Comfort/Psychological Safety

At an HBCU, you are in the numerical majority. This allows you to achieve a level of comfort with yourself and with the people around you that is not possible when you are one of 150 Black kids out of 2,000 students at a PWI.

For one, the burden of representation and the threat of racial stereotyping are non-existent. You don’t have to worry about whether people are going to think this about you or that about you because you are Black. You don’t have to worry about “representing well.” You don’t have to worry about whether your peers think you are there only because of affirmative action, or worry about you’re opinions, experiences, and contributions to discussions being devalued because “of course you think that. You’re Black.” You won’t experience overt racism or constant racial microagressions. You can be yourself and be at ease with the knowledge that your presence is valued, your opinions are respected and appreciated, and that excellence is assumed of you, no less than. You don’t have to feel like you must prove anything to anybody.

Additionally, you experience with the majority of the student body a certain cultural connection, and relate to them in more ways than you would most students at a PWI. This manifests itself in ways that may seem insignificant until you are in an environment completely void of all of them at once. That means things like people understanding the slang you use; to being familiar with classic songs by Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg; and having the rhythm to join you when your song comes on and it’s time to hit the latest dance. Too, Black people interact with each other differently amongst themselves than they do in mixed company. That’s a reality.

Being in an environment in which you feel comfortable is critical to the college experience. After all, the campus you choose will be your home for four years. People often want to learn from being outside of their comfort zone, but there is a difference between being forced outside of your comfort zone on occasion and learning from that experience, and never, ever being comfortable at all.  The former can occur on an HBCU campus.  By contrast, four years is a long time to be uncomfortable in your own home.  The kind of comfort and connection achieved at an HBCU allows for an honesty and an openness with your peers that enables you to explore and learn about yourself and from others at a greater depth than is possible in an environment in which you feel alienated – or worse, rejected. Too, it facilitates the development a groundedness in your Blackness and a confidence necessary for navigating the rest of the largely White world in professional spaces and elsewhere.

At an HBCU, you never feel starved for Blackness. At a PWI, starvation is the norm.

So What?

There is something truly magical about the HBCU experience.  That is not to say that you cannot enjoy, learn and grow from a PWI experience as a Black person.  Many people do.  But it is to say that the cultural climate at an HBCU – being surrounded by Black people just as beautiful, brilliant, and driven as you are – can do things for your personal growth and development as a Black person that a PWI cannot, simply by virtue of the fact that there are so few Black people.  Too, you will be pleasantly surprised – if not proven right – by the diversity on campus.  You’re an interesting person.  Other Black people are just as unique and interesting as you are.  And the friendships you forge with them on campus will last a lifetime.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun.  From the poppin’ homecomings, to the step competitions, to the parties, Black people know how to turn up!  Attending an HBCU is a once in a lifetime cultural experience.  It’s not one you want to miss out on.

I strongly urge Black high school students to apply to and consider attending HBCUs.  Visit a campus.  Attend an HBCU college tour.  If you have questions about the rigor of the coursework or career opportunities post-HBCU graduation, talk to current students, alumni, and administrators. Do some research.  But don’t write them off for reasons as baseless as the ones I chose.  And recognize that when you stereotype HBCUs, you are stereotyping yourself.

I hope this helps.  Students, share it with your friends.  Parents, share it with other parents.  Teachers, share it with your students!

Good luck!

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is a weekly contributor to Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.  Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.

Reflections on Selma: 50 Years Later

My father took me and my brothers with him to the polls when he voted for Barack Obama during his first campaign.  We were late to school, but he thought it was important for us to be there.  The second time around, I was a sophomore at Howard and I voted for Obama myself. 

This past weekend, President Obama delivered a rousing address to thousands at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the incident which spurred then-President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That fateful day, police officers in Alabama brutalized 600 peaceful Black demonstrators attempting to march across the Edmond Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery.  The march was held to protest the murder of a young Black man Jimmy Lee Jackson by a White police officer following an attempt to register to vote.  Seventeen marchers were hospitalized.  Many more were bruised and bloodied.  All recognized the necessity of their sacrifice for the right to vote – for racial equality.

Congressman John Lewis, whose skull was fractured by police as he attempted to cross that bridge 50 years ago, introduced President Obama at his speech.  Both called the occasion a time to celebrate the progress that has been made in 50 years.  Indeed, much has changed: then, Blacks were widely denied the vote.  Today, the president is Black.  Black people attend historically White colleges and hold public offices.  Still, we are reminded day in and out, that though much has changed, much has not. 

Much progress remains to be made.

We are reminded by Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, whose murders echo eerily the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson.  We are reminded by the deaths of Mariam Carey and Rekiya Boyd that we still live in a society that devalues Black lives, and protects a privileged class of largely White power wielders from prosecution for their crimes against Black bodies. We are reminded by the DOJ’s report on the Ferguson Police Department, that hostility and systematic abuses of power and rights violations still characterize American law enforcement in relation to the poor and people of color.  We are reminded each time police successfully apprehend White mass murderers without firing a shot, yet justify the killings of unarmed Black men.  We are reminded by the mass incarceration of Black men, women, and children. 

We are reminded of the work that remains by the murder of Antonio Zambrano Montes, a Mexican immigrant apple picker shot five times by three officers for throwing rocks at them in Pasco, Washington, in February; by the killing of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in Denver, Colorado in January.  We are reminded by the experiences of Hispanic Americans who are harassed because of assumed immigrant status.  And the thousands of Hispanics who languish in private prisons while fighting to prove legal status and avoid deportation.

We are reminded by the Chapel Hill murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha; by attacks on Sikh temples, mosques, and Somali natives; and government policies that monitor Muslim American families in New York City. 

We are reminded by sales by the US government of sacred Native American grounds to foreign mining companies. 

We are reminded by the prevalence of these things in the experience of being a person of color, and their near absence from the White American experience.  

Indeed, racial otherness is criminalized and assaulted in modern America. 

We are reminded by the Black unemployment rate which is twice that of Whites, and the fact that poor students of color continue to trail their wealthy White peers in academic achievement.  We are reminded by renewed efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in states across the South, and in conservative states across the country.  We are reminded by Congress’s failure to repair the Voting Rights Act. 

We are reminded by Mitt Romney’s 47% comments; by Rudy Giuliani’s remarks to White donors that President Obama “wasn’t raised like you were raised and I was raised;” and, most recently, by the video of members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity gleefully singing chants about lynching niggers at the University of Oklahoma; that many people in spaces of power, those making decisions that impact us, and who will one day go on to make those decisions, carry race hate towards people of color.

We are reminded of these things.  Daily, we are reminded. 

Those who marched across the Edmond Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, wanted nothing more than equal protection under the laws.  Fifty years later, that goal has not been achieved. Fifty years later, people are still treated differently in political, economic, and social spheres and discriminated against because of their race, simply because they are different. 

Many deny this reality.  They allege we live in a post-racial society, or at least that colorblindness can bring and is bringing us closer to one.  But American society is not post-racial. Nor should that be our goal.  Nor can colorblindness be the weapon with which we fight racism.  Indeed, colorblindness defeats the purpose of diversity.  Our goal should be to embrace and celebrate differences, and to treat people the same despite them, not to make them disappear by pretending they don’t exist.  Not talking about race and racial disparities won’t make them go away.  That can only perpetuate and exacerbate the problem.  We must face it head on if we are to solve it. 

So now is less a time to celebrate racial progress and more a time to recommit ourselves to making more of it.  We must hold America to the values that our Constitution alleges this country stands for.  Generations of Black people fought and gave their lives to bring us to where we are today.  Now a new generation must fight to bring us even further.  A new generation that affirms that Black lives matter.  A new generation that exercises the power won us by those who died so we could vote.  New abolitionists who reject the mass incarceration of Black bodies.  We are the heirs of a rich legacy of resistance, and we must continue this legacy and this narrative.  We must support each other, and the struggles of allies who support ours.  We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to those who sacrificed for us. 

Now is a time to act.  To get involved.  To use whatever talents you have to contribute to the liberation movement.  And to demand and be an agent for the change you claim you want to see, just like those who marched on Selma decades ago.

For if we stop now, all their efforts may be in vain.  But if we press on, we can create a world of tomorrow which we could only imagine today.

Selma was then.  But, truly, Selma is now. 

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is a weekly opinion writer for Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.

Fresh off the Boat is Funny, Relatable, and Poignant

As a person of color myself, I am always eager for media narratives that center other people of color.  So when I heard about ABC’s Fresh off the Boat, especially on the heels of the debut of Black-ish, I was excited to watch, and appreciative of the fact that ABC has made a conscious effort to tell stories about us.  Fresh of the Boat is about an Asian family, not Black people.  But in watching the show, I marvel at how relatable is the experience of being a non-White face in a White space, even across ethnic differences.

Fresh off the Boat, based on a memoir of the same title by chef Eddie Huang, tells the story of Eddie, an 11-year-old, first generation Chinese-American in love with hip hop music and culture in the year 1995.  Eddie’s family – his mother Jessica, his father Louis, and his grandmother, who are Taiwanese immigrants, and his two younger brothers Evan and Emery – have just moved from Washington, DC’s Chinatown neighborhood to Orlando, Florida, because his father purchased a Western cowboy-style restaurant called Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse.  The show follows the family’s experience navigating being Asian in a White world, from Jessica’s experience fitting in with the women of the predominantly White neighborhood into which they have moved, to Eddie’s experience navigating friendship and peer pressure in a predominantly White school environment, to Louis’s experience as a Chinese man selling White food to White people.  The show’s premier marks the first time a television show has starred an Asian lead character since American Girl was cancelled after one season twenty years ago in 1995.

In writing and talking about the show, Eddie Huang has said that his goal was to show that the Asian American experience is more diverse than the handful of stereotypes associated with it – to show that Asians can love rap music and run cowboy restaurants just as much as they can be doctors and laundromat owners, and at the same time portray the nuances of experiencing racial otherness as an Asian American specifically.  This, the show does well.  Still, it is within this depiction of otherness that I, as a person of color, find something to relate to.

The experience of being the only one, of bearing the burden of representation.  The experience of feeling alienated from the mainstream culture.  That of grappling with your racial identity in a White space, and recognizing that you may have to make certain compromises if you are to fit in.  These are experiences portrayed from a Chinese-American perspective that I relate to even as a Black man.  In one scene in the pilot episode, as the Huangs move their belongings into their new home, they are approached by several White women neighbors.  One of them expects the family to speak in broken language and tells Eddie slowly and in a condescending tone, “You’re English is very good.”  In another scene, upon realizing that White people don’t relate to Chinese immigrants with accents, Louis decides to hire a likeable White man as manager of his restaurant whose presence, he says, will say to White customers, “I’m just like you.”  Watching scenes like these, I am reminded of experiences I have had where White people express surprise because I defied the stereotypical expectations they had of me.  Or of the things Black people do to accommodate White people in White spaces and make them feel comfortable, like reducing outward ethnic-ness by not wearing hairstyles like dreadlocks or braids to work.  Cultural sacrifice is necessary for assimilation across the board.

Fresh also feels familiar because Eddie identifies with hip hop music and culture.  Eddie Huang, the author of the book, narrates the show using urban slang.  Classic tracks by Biggie, Snoop Dogg, and others serve as the shows soundtrack.  Eddie is always rocking a t-shirt with Nas or Biggie on it.  And each episode he reminds us of some advice he’s learned from his hip hop idols, such as “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”  In this way, Eddie reminds me of me.

But the show’s star quality is in the poignancy of its perspective.  This is where it bests Black-ishBlack-ish deals with experiences of racial otherness in White spaces, but, generally, each episode concludes with a kind of kumbaya, All Lives Matter reminder that, even though we’re different, we’re all the same, almost suggesting that the characters’ Blackness is inconsequential.  Fresh off the Boat does not do this.  As a viewer, you leave an episode well aware that the comedy and uniqueness of the Huangs’ experiences arise from the fact that they are not the same as the show’s other characters, and that you are watching an Asian-American family, not an American family that just happens to be Asian.  This is not sanitized for the viewer – you are forced to grapple with this, laugh at it, and learn from it.

Overall, Fresh off the Boat is a seriously entertaining show.  It’s funny, poignant, and relatable for any person of color who has ever felt like they were drowning in White people.  Hopefully, it’ll be around next year for another season.  It’s really important stuff.   People need to watch this.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is a weekly opinion writer for Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.

Patricia Arquette’s Oscars Speech Demonstrates the Need for Intersectional Thinking

I didn’t watch the Oscars last night.  I had no interest in watching White people give awards to other White people for two hours, to the exclusion of black and brown talent. I did, however, keep up on Twitter with which Black actresses where killing it on the red carpet, and which Black award winners brought attention to racial injustice – shout out to Common and John Legend.

I also kept up with who Black and social justice Twitter were going in on: Patricia Arquette was the number one target.  Accordingly, I checked out her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech and subsequent backstage interview to see what the big deal was.

She, too, sought to be a voice for a worthy social justice cause: gender wage equality.  But in typical non-intersectional feminist fashion, she dropped the ball, and she dropped it on the LGBT community and people of color.

Arquette’s initial acceptance remarks were all good.  She proclaimed, “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights.  It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

Fair enough.  Women have made important contributions to social justice movements.

But then she elaborated on her remarks backstage.  She continued, “When they wrote the constitution, they didn’t intend it for women… People think we have equal rights; we don’t. Until we pass a constitutional amendment, we won’t have anything changed. It’s time for all women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

It was at this moment that I knew: Patricia Arquette had lost her damn mind.

First and foremost, in calling out gay people and people of color, Arquette made it clear which women she had in mind as the benefactors of this fight for wage equality, and just who was included in the “we,” the “us,” and the “our.”

She meant straight white women.

Newsflash: there are a lot of women who are gay and of color, too.

What’s more, women of color are impacted even more by wage inequality than White women:  White women earn 78 cents of every dollar a White man earns; Black women earn 64 cents; Native American women earn 59 cents; and Hispanic women earn 54 cents.  In fact, even all men of color earn less than White women as well: Black men earn 73 cents of every dollar earned by a White man; and Hispanic men earn 61 cents.  I don’t know the stats for the gay-straight wage gap or the cisgender-transgender wage gap, but I do know that openly transgender people have an incredibly difficult time finding a job at all.  So for Arquette to stand up as a rich Hollywood actress White woman and demand that LGBT persons and people of color fight for her right to earn more money, was incredibly offensive.  Quite frankly, she should be fighting for us.

But just as problematic as her neglect of any intersectional thought whatsoever, was this idea that gay people and people of color owe White women something – that we should fight for them because they have fought for us.

Please.  Somebody give this woman a history lesson.

No doubt, when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it to protect the rights of women.  But they didn’t intend that for people of color either.  In fact, Black women and men alike were written into the Constitution as 3/5 a white woman, Native Americans were written into it as subjects in their own land, and other people of color were written out of it completely.  From their inception, the women’s suffrage and feminist movements among White women excluded women of color; most White women, as most White people did generally, opposed civil rights for Black and brown people. And many – not all – White people are opposed to the struggles of ethnic minorities in this country, and many more, if not most, are indifferent to them, especially in relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

So spare me the “we fought for you” bit.

I don’t think Arquette intended to be problematic with her comments.  I think she doesn’t realize at all why what she said is problematic.  And that’s a problem in itself.  Her comments demonstrate the need for intersectional thought not only in social justice advocacy, but in our everyday lives as we interact with different kinds of people. We need to acknowledge and consider the intersections between different aspects of people’s identities – gender identity, race, class, sexual orientation, disability status, and otherwise – and the different experiences they encounter, issues they face, and ways they are marginalized because they check a certain combination of boxes and not another.

But when you don’t experience much – if any – marginalization as a result of the boxes you check – Arquette is White, cisgender, heterosexual, and rich, though she is also a woman – you don’t have to think intersectionally because the intersecting aspects of your identity don’t cause many problems for you on a daily basis.  Arquette, as do many White people, especially those who seek to be allies to marginalized groups, needs to learn how to do this.

So, Patricia, gay people and people of color don’t owe you anything.  When I see you at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in solidarity with Black people who get shot by the police every 28 hours, or at a Walmart protest for a minimum wage higher than $9 an hour, then come holler at me about supporting your right to earn a couple more million dollars.

Until then, have a seat, pop open some history and sociology texts, and read them quietly to yourself.  Because when you open your mouth, you emit White privilege.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is a weekly opinion contributor to Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.

Rudy Giuliani: The Right’s Latest Poster Boy for Racist Exceptionalism

If Republicans want to shed the marks of extremism and hate that taint their brand, they’ve got a lot of work to do with people like Rudy Giuliani running their mouths.

During a fundraising dinner for potential 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker earlier this week, Giuliani made incendiary remarks about President Obama.  He said, “I do not believe… that the president loves America.  He doesn’t love you.  And he doesn’t love me.  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”  The comments drew swift criticism from Democratic politicians and sparked the Twitter hashtag #ObamaLovesAmerica, while all of the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates remained silent on the matter, except Marco Rubio who condemned the comments.  When pressed on his remarks by Megyn Kelly in an interview on Fox News, Giuliani repeated his sentiments saying, “From all that I can see of this president, all that I’ve heard of him, he apologizes for America.  He criticizes America.  He talks about the Crusades and how the Christians were barbarians… This is an American president I’ve never seen before.”  Then, in an interview with the New York Times, Giuliani defended himself, saying that his comments were a joke and that they weren’t racist because President Obama was raised by his White mother and grandparents.

Giuliani’s comments weren’t a joke.  They were yet another attempt by another conservative political figure to paint President Obama as un-American and as the “other.” This has been a tactic used by Republican politicians and voters alike to defame the president and to rile the party base since Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2007.  They othered him by characterizing him as a foreigner, as a racial and religious outsider: they said he’s Arab.  He’s Kenyan.  He’s Muslim.  They demanded he produce a birth certificate as proof of citizenship.  Conservative cartoonists depicted him and his wife as jihadists.  Others as monkeys, an image with obvious racial undertones.  While most Republicans are smart enough not to make blatantly racist comments about him in public anymore, they continue to other him by characterizing his politics, too, as foreign: they say he’s a European socialist, if not a communist, who rejects American capitalism.  They say he runs his administration like a monarchy, not a democracy, and describe him as a “king” and a “tyrant.”  And with his comments at the dinner, Giuliani sought to other the president by attacking his cultural upbringing as different from his and the guests in the room and lacking of a patriotic “love of America.”

All of this is done with the aim of delegitimizing Obama’s presidency.  If he is “not like us,” if he is un-American, then, according to the Right, he has no claim to the presidency, they need not respect him, and they are justified in their hate of his otherness – otherness colored, above all else, by his blackness.  Giuliani’s remarks may not be racist in and of themselves, but they certainly lend themselves to the racist agenda to smear the first Black president.  They certainly serve the same function as racist slander.

But the reasons Giuliani cited for his original remarks on the president also reflect his disdain for any facts that challenge his inflated, exceptionalist view of America and of Christianity, a disdain shared by many in the Republican Party.  Belief in American exceptionalism is not unique to the Right, but the Right’s embrace of it is unique in that the ideology is an integral part of conservative politics and personal identity.  Many believe steadfastly that American political, social, and economic ideas and systems are superior to all others, and that the country’s history demonstrates this.  Their exceptional conceptualization of the country, too, is infused with religious significance: they hold that the United States was founded by the Fathers on Christian principles – indeed, that this land was predestined by God to house us in freedom from Britain (ignoring the fact that tens if not hundreds of millions of people lived here before us and that our forefathers murdered most of them).  They conceive of the United States as, to draw from biblical scripture, the “shining city upon a hill,” a – the – model for all that is good and right in the world, one for all other nations to follow.  This understanding of America informs who conservatives understand themselves to be as American citizens – special people.  So they reject anything and anyone that challenges this understanding.  Thus, Giuliani takes issue when President Obama “apologizes” for, and “criticizes” America because, the way he sees it, there’s nothing to criticize or apologize for.  Thus, he didn’t like when the president mentioned the Crusades and pointed out that the KKK committed acts of violence on American soil as recently as 50 years ago, because it flew in the face of his belief that Christianity is exempt from religious extremism, that Islam exclusively is the problem.

Giuliani’s criticism of Obama echoes ideas expressed by Oklahoma’s conservative legislature this week when it passed by an overwhelming margin a bill to ban AP US History courses in high schools, or views articulated by the Arizona state legislature in 2010 when it banned all ethnic studies courses.  The author of the Oklahoma bill withdrew it and vowed to resubmit it with amendments after a national controversy erupted, but in justifying the bill, he complained that the AP US History course “only teaches what is bad about America” and depicts the US as a “nation of oppressors and exploiters.”  And Arizona lawmakers in 2010 banned African American, Mexican American, and other ethnic studies courses because teaching students “historical facts of oppression and racism” could produce “racial resentment” against White people among minority students.  In other words, confronting the historical realities of racial minorities in the United States teaches students to challenge the feel-good narrative of American history that conservatives identify with, which makes White people uncomfortable.  The Right, including Rudy Giuliani, is not having that.

As many issues as Rudy Giuliani may actually have with President Obama’s politics, his problem with the president runs deeper than that alone.  Giuliani is a man who sought to justify the violation of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Black and brown people who were stopped and frisked in New York City even though police data showed that more than 90% of stops turned up no drugs or weapons and did not result in arrest.  People like him reject anything and anyone that challenges their elitist, ethnocentric, White supremacist view of themselves and of what America was, is, and should be.  As a bi-racial man who identities as Black, President Obama does that with his very being.  Therein lies Rudy Giuliani’s problem.

Read about the the Oklahoma AP US History bill here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-unflattering-history-lesson/2015/02/19/3be9cb0c-b878-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.htm/

Read about Arizona’s ethnic studies ban here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/11/us/arizona-mexican-american-studies/

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a Senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is a weekly contributor to Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.  Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd

An Open Letter from A Black Man to the Muslim Community

Dear Muslim Americans,

I stand with you.

I hear you and I stand with you because I know.

I know what it’s like to feel rejected, to be hated.  I know what it’s like to feel unsafe, like a target.  To wonder if you or someone you love will be next.  To wonder how much longer this will last, and to know it won’t end anytime soon.

I know how it feels to recognize that the masses have no ability to see you as a victim – to empathize with you.  I know what it’s like to be dehumanized.  Criminalized.  Demonized.  Trust me, I know.

I know what it’s like to read articles and watch newscasts about your murder and be outraged because the media characterizes your killer with kinder words than those with which they characterize you.  I know what it’s like to listen and become incensed as they entertain a ludicrous narrative of events or explanation for them, as they go to every possible length to normalize, to justify the actions of your murderer.  To call him everything except what he is, and you, everything except what you are. To know that were the identities of the perpetrator and victims reversed, the coverage of the crime would have been swifter, and the conversation surrounding it would be altogether different.  To know that the words they use to describe you are withheld from descriptions of your White assailants.

I know what it’s like to feel constantly under attack.  To be constantly misrepresented in the media.  To be targeted by unjust laws and misapplications of just ones.  To recognize that the rights and liberties that are supposed to apply to everyone don’t always apply to you.  To watch as bigots rally around your killer, and raise funds in support of him.  To know that many people in power feel the same way as they do, and will fight change.

I know.  I know.  I know.  Because the same system that did this to you, did it to me.

My Muslim brothers and sisters, do not be discouraged.  And to Black Muslim Americans in particular- at the intersection of racial and religious marginalization – know that your struggle has not been forgotten in all of this.  To all Muslims,  lean on one another for support.  Look to each other for love.  And recognize that as few and far between as they may seem, there are so many people in your corner.  Black.  White.  Christian.  And otherwise.  And we are here with you hand in hand as you wage your struggle for change and justice.  We got you.

I got you.

With love and in anticipation of better days ahead,

Brandon

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He is an aspiring journalist and his writing has been published by Politic365.  Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.

Analyzing dynamics of race and gender in social issues, politics, and pop culture. New post every weekend.