Kendrick Lamar Can Gon’ Somewhere with His Black Respectability Politics

Let me preface this by saying Kendrick Lamar is incredibly talented and is easily one of the realest dudes in hip hop right now.  And I appreciate his expression of self-love throughout most of “The Blacker the Berry.”  That said, I’m still not here for his respectability politics which dominate the third verse and, frankly, I’m disappointed that he doesn’t understand why it is problematic and how it amounts to anti-Blackness.

In “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick raps from the perspective of a young Black man who feels hypocritical for being outraged at police violence and other forms of systemic oppression in his community while simultaneously contributing to gang violence and the perpetuation of Black self-hate himself.  A running theme throughout the first two verses is “You hate me don’t you?” a question directed at a unnamed (White?) audience as he articulates the myriad ways in which Black people have been oppressed.  But in the third verse he poses the question to other Black men.  He raps, “You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, I can tell ‘cause it’s threats when I see you.  I can tell ‘cause ya ways deceitful.  No, I can tell ‘cause you in love with that Desert Eagle, thinking maliciously.  He get a chain then you ‘gon bleed ‘em.”  He closes with “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gang banging made me kill a n*gga Blacker than me?”

As I mentioned, Kendrick articulated these lines from the perspective of a Black man who, himself, had killed other Black people.  And the accusation that it is hypocritical for Black people to be outraged at police violence while some Black people kill other Black people in their own communities is fair and valid when leveled exclusively against those Black people who do kill or have killed other Black people – a small minority of us.  But, given comments he made about the Michael Brown shooting in an interview with Billboard magazine in December, I think Kendrick intended to suggest to all Black listeners that we should rethink where our outrage is placed. He intended to call us all out as hypocrites.  He said in the interview, “But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how can we expect them to respect us?  It starts from within.  It don’t just start with a rally.”

I have two issues with this argument. Firstly, it is completely possible to be outraged both by police violence and Black intra-community violence, and to recognize both as issues that need to be discussed. I am and do.  But they require separate conversations. One requires a conversation on the causes of violence within the Black community, the other a discussion on systemic racism that impacts us from without. Regardless of whether Black people do or don’t kill each other, the problem of police officers killing us and getting away with it still remains, and the solutions to that problem are different from the solutions to the former. The former should not be used to silence the conversation around the latter. Both need to be addressed.

But even so, Black people killing Black people does not justify the police doing it, nor does it delegitimize the anger Black people feel when an officer kills an unarmed Black person.  When Black people kill Black people, they go to jail.  We don’t have that same guarantee when police officers kill us. So we protest and shout and make a scene in the streets because we have to to get the media to talk about it – to get anybody to care.  Furthermore, as I mentioned previously, it is fair to make the hypocrisy argument only against Black people who kill other Black people.  It is not fair to make it against Black people who sag, or use the N-word, or do any of the other inconsequential things that people point to as “Black self-disrespect,” but that have no relationship whatsoever to death.  And it’s not fair to say to other Black people that they can’t be upset about state violence against Black people because other Black people commit these trivialities.

This is the same argument made by racists who say that all Black people should shut up about police violence against Black people because some Black people kill Black people too.  Or racists who attempt to justify the killing of unarmed Black men by citing their choice of clothing, or that they posted a Facebook photo throwing up hand signs which, to them, indicated that the victim was a “thug.” It may well be beneficial for Black people to rectify some of the issues we have within our communities and to stop doing some things. But us not doing them is not a precondition for our being able to walk down the street in peace or for our rights to life and liberty to be respected. We aren’t more or less deserving of these rights depending on whether we are or aren’t “respectable,” our lives don’t have more or less value, and the anger we feel towards our oppression isn’t any more or less legitimate. We don’t have to have kids in wedlock, speak proper English, or smile in pictures.  All we have to do is be human.  And that we are.

Again, I like Kendrick Lamar.  He has contributed a lot to hip hop.  But he got it wrong on this song and I expect better from him.  To love Black people is to reject the idea that we have to do anything more than be human in order to deserve our freedoms and for our feelings to be legitimate. The argument that we should be or do more is dangerous – life threatening – and we should challenge it when it is articulated, no matter who it’s articulated by.

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.


Why I Have A Problem with Kylie Jenner’s Dreadlocks

Apparently, dreadlocks, braids, and full lips are new to White people in the same way America was new to Columbus.

Yesterday, Kylie Jenner posted a picture of herself on Instagram rocking dreadlocks she had done for a “rebel-themed” photo shoot (whatever that means) she did recently in the desert.  Within hours, articles surfaced on the web from style magazines calling her new look “edgy” and “cool,” and scores of White girls took to Twitter to shower her with praise and compliments. But Black women on Twitter were not amused. Black Twitter was abuzz last week as well over a viral photo of a White teenage girl wearing box braids.  And weeks earlier, after a magazine declared that Kylie’s apparently newly surgically plumped lips were currently “trendy,” Black women and women of color responded with the hashtag #trendylips and tweeted pictures of their naturally full lips – lips they had before it was “cool” to have them.

I, as I think many people were, was more annoyed by the declaration of a full lips trend than I was by Kylie’s lips themselves.  I don’t care about her lips, I recognize that full lips are not “ours” (Black people’s exclusively). But I do have an issue with White people rocking dreadlocks and box braids and other natural Black hairstyles as a fashion statement.  Many of these styles are ways in which Black people’s hair literally grows out of our heads, but we’re told that it’s a problem when we wear our hair that way.

Black children are routinely suspended, expelled, and disciplined in school for wearing dreadlocks, braids, afros, and other natural Black hairstyles.  Many of these styles are deemed inappropriate for a school setting in Catholic and private school codes of conduct, and even in some public schools.  Not more than two weeks ago I read an article about a boy who was disciplined for wearing braids to school, a hairstyle which school administration considered “gang-affiliated.” And I see articles all the time about the cutest little Black girls with afros and afro puffs who are sent home, kicked out, or voluntarily withdrawn from a school by their parents because the school’s administration said they couldn’t wear their hair like that and they refused to change it, rightfully so. More, many Black people are hesitant to wear dreadlocks and other natural hairstyles to work because they are generally considered inappropriate for most professional settings.  My brother cut his dreadlocks a year and a half ago when he was looking for a business internship because, frankly, a lot of White people find the style foreign and intimidating, especially on big Black men.  And a professor of mine told me a story about her nephew who cut his dreads because he got sick of the police harassing him every time he turned around.

I have a problem with White people appropriating Black hairstyles because they will never face the same consequences for those styles that we face.  Many of us wear these styles as statements of pride in our heritage.  But we are implicitly reminded and explicitly told that our natural hair is inappropriate; that our biology is unacceptable.  We face constant efforts to shame and regulate our bodies, to tame our natural features, but Kylie Jenner will never have to deal with that.  Neither will little White girls who wear box braids as a fashion statement, to be “different.” It’s cute on them; it’s cause for concern on us.  And I’m not okay with that.

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 and is an aspiring journalist.  Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.

White People Wish Black Celebrities Would Just Do What they Say

The White masses can’t seem to handle when Black celebrities don’t do specifically and exclusively what they get paid to do.

Marshawn Lynch has been called a “thug” and a “jerk” for refusing to speak to the media at pre-Super Bowl press conferences this week.  Richard Sherman was called the same things for the opposite reason in advance of the Super Bowl last NFL season: for being overzealous and “arrogant” during interviews.  Kanye West hasn’t had much negative press lately, but he’s known for refusing to talk to the media unless it’s on his terms, and he has been lampooned as well for his perceived arrogance and for speaking out on issues of concern to him.  And Black NFL and NBA players alike were criticized for saying nothing at all, but for sending a message of support to the Black Lives Matter Movement by donning ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts before games.

There’s a pattern here, and it’s not that Black athletes and entertainers just do too much publicly.

White people have particular expectations for Black celebrities.  Black celebrities are expected to do what they get paid to do and politely and humbly answer questions about it afterwards.  They are expected to stay in their lane, score points and sing songs.  What they aren’t supposed to do is voice an opinion on any substantive social or political issue that White people might disagree with, and they aren’t supposed to convey any recognition of their personal capabilities or achievements.

Such expectations hearken back to the plantation.  Black slaves weren’t expected to read or write, display any sort of mental capacity, or exercise any kind of agency that wasn’t directly to the benefit of their masters.  Now, I’m not calling Black celebrities slaves.  But stereotypes about Black people as unintelligent and incapable, and as submissives in White-controlled and dominated spheres continue to inform how White people perceive Black athletes and entertainers, just as they informed how White owners perceived their slaves.  When Black celebrities do something that doesn’t serve some benefit to the White forces of control, or if it doesn’t serve to entertain, they are condemned.  If they actively recognize their talents, praise themselves, voice an opinion people disagree with, or otherwise challenge the subordinate position which they are expected to assume, they get attacked for it and told to stop.  In short, they are expected to “behave” and not ruffle any feathers.  So Marshawn Lynch gets criticized for refusing to speak.  Richard Sherman got criticized for making White people uncomfortable when he did speak.  Kanye West gets dragged for speaking out on racism in the music and fashion industries, rejecting paparazzi who harass him, and claiming his artistic genius.  And Black athletes who publicly support the Black Lives Matter Movement are told to apologize.  It’s no wonder more Black celebrities don’t speak out on social issues.

I appreciate Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Kanye and others for breaking the mold set up for Black celebrities.  I appreciate them for using their platforms to bring attention to important issues, and for exercising an agency that many don’t have the courage to exercise.  It’s not easy, I’m sure.  But somebody’s got to do it.  They have my support.

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 and is an aspiring journalist.

Who Cares that Selma Was Snubbed by the Oscars? I Don’t

It’s award season.  The Oscars are approaching.  And many people have taken issue with the glaring lack of diversity in this year’s nominations.  Twitter users used the satirical hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to express their frustration with the facts that all of the Best Actor nominees are White men, and that no women are nominated in the Best Writer or Best Director categories. Many are upset, in particular, that Selma actor David Oyelowo is not nominated for his powerful portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nor is director Ava DuVernay nominated for Best Director for her work on the film despite the film itself being nominated for Best Picture.

I saw Selma.  It was a moving film.  It reminded me of the present political moment.  That is, in large part, why I enjoyed the film so much: I saw myself, my reality, my narrative in it. But regardless of whether Selma “deserved” to be nominated for more Oscars, I couldn’t care less that it’s not.  I couldn’t care less about the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the VMAs, or other award shows like them.  Why?

Because all of these shows are run by rich White people, the voters and decision makers are mostly White people, and they are geared towards a White audience. So it comes as no surprise to me that nine times out of 10, they give awards to other White people, and that films that center Black people and albums that center Black cultural themes and feature Black musical styles aren’t nominated for top awards. White people, like all people, appreciate what they relate to, what they see themselves in. And they don’t relate to Blackness, nor do they see themselves in Black people.

But, ironically, it is these very reasons why these awards are coveted by Black creatives and audiences. Black people rarely win these awards against White people, so when they do, or when they are nominated amongst them, we feel as though they have gained membership to an exclusive group. There is a novelty, a grandeur attached to Whiteness and things associated with it that, due to myriad historical causes, we have learned to aspire to.  We see wealth and Whiteness, especially Whiteness, as lending a kind of validation to those things which they stamp – because if rich White people like it, then it must be good.

By contrast, we don’t see nearly as much value in awards like the BET Awards, the Soul Train Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, BET’s Black Girls Rock (which I love), and the little known, because it’s never televised and seldom talked about, Black Movie Awards.  These are award ceremonies where Black people celebrate Black culture and Black people’s contributions to society.  They are award ceremonies where the people voting on who wins what are more likely to have listened to the nominated albums and are more likely to understand, relate to, and appreciate the themes centered by Black music, Black movies, and other forms of Black culture.  And – get this – Black people always win! But, for many of us, the stamp of Blackness does not carry the same weight as the stamp of Whiteness.  Other Black people seeing value in our art doesn’t mean as much as White people seeing value in it. So we have rappers who brag about how many Grammys they have instead of how many BET Awards they’ve won; Beyoncé and Jay Z rarely attend the BET or Soul Train Awards even when they’re nominated, but attend the Grammys yearly even when they’re not; and Black people get upset when a Selma or a 12 Years A Slave doesn’t win every Oscar or Golden Globe that they think they deserved, but don’t care who’s nominated for what at the BET Honors. The same dynamic is at play with many Black people who aspire to attend PWIs but won’t even consider applying to an HBCU (I was one of them before Howard), or Black PWI students who look down on HBCU students as if admittance to a White school validates one’s intelligence or makes one smarter or better. We have developed the idea that Blackness is something to transcend, and that Whiteness is a goal. We have learned to seek validation for our Blackness from Whiteness, and we must learn to validate ourselves.

I don’t care that Selma was snubbed by the Oscars because an Oscar doesn’t mean anything to me.  And I stopped caring about the Grammys after Kendrick, Kanye, Jay Z and Drake all lost Best Rap Album to Macklemore last year.  Year after year, White people demonstrate that they don’t see the same value in our art that we do.  And year after year, we get upset because somebody got snubbed, or they gave an award to the wrong person because they don’t really know what constitutes good rap or R&B anyway. I cherish Selma because it’s a movie that focuses on the Black experience, staring, written by, and directed by Black people, and that’s good enough for me. Some of my favorite movies – Friday, Boyz in the Hood, Baby Boy (Baby Boy!) – center aspects of the Black experience that I don’t expect White people to appreciate. I don’t expect the White masses to appreciate music by Janelle Monae, Solange Knowles, or D’Angelo. And I don’t need them to. I don’t need them to tell me that my movies are worth watching, that my music is worth listening to, or that I’m is smart, kind, and important. I know that already.  And as Black people, it’s our job to know that, not theirs.  It’s our job to love us, to value us, and to celebrate us.  And as long as we keep looking to White people to do these things for us, we will never be satisfied, we will always be disappointed. But when we learn to value ourselves for who we are and our culture for what it is, then we can know true validation.

It might sound cliche, but there is a lot of truth to the adage: happiness starts from within, not without. Whiteness cannot be the standard against which we measure ourselves.  So, watch Selma. Love it. Bask in its Blackness. And forget about the Oscars, the Grammys, and everything else. Because, frankly, they don’t mean a damn thing.

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

The “Bad Role Model” Argument against Beyonce is BS

Over the past two weeks, Former Arkansas Governor, former Fox News host, and potential 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been on a number of day and nighttime talk shows to discuss comments he made about Beyoncé in his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.  In his book, Huckabee notes that he thinks Beyoncé is an incredible talent, but criticizes her for dancing “explicit moves best left for the privacy of her bedroom.”  On The View, he said Beyoncé “doesn’t need to do songs like ‘Partition’ and ‘Drunk in Love,’” and on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he called her “vulgar” and insinuated that her music makes young girls want to be strippers.  Basically, his point has been that Beyoncé is a terrible role model for young women and girls.

But the argument that her sexual explicitness makes her a bad role model for kids falls apart on one important yet often ignored fact: Beyoncé doesn’t just sing about having sex with anybody anywhere because she feels like it.  Particularly on her most recent album, Beyonce, Beyoncé sings about sex within a very specific context – monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  This – the very context which Huckabee and the Right have been so apt to remind us that sex should  take place in (according to them, I don’t necessarily agree).  Beyoncé is a 33-year-old married mother of one.  She’s been married to her husband for almost a decade and they’ve been a couple for longer.  Her album is gushing with language about how in love she is with her husband and with her child.  Beyoncé and Jay Z represent the quintessential example of sex done “the right way” – they exemplify the model of the traditional nuclear family championed by the rightwing.  But, apparently, for Beyoncé, that isn’t good enough.

I think Huckabee’s problem with Beyoncé stems from two causes.  Firstly, Beyoncé’s open sexual expression doesn’t fit his archaic idea of how a woman should behave.  Time and again, from comments telling women to dress more conservatively if they don’t want to be raped, to asinine comments on abortion, to Rush Limbaugh calling then-Georgetown student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for advocating for birth control, the rightwing has demonstrated that they are obsessed with controlling women’s sexual behavior and expression.  But Beyoncé challenges the idea that women should not be sexual beings.  She has owned her sexuality, she loves her body, and she encourages women to do the same and to express their sexuality on their own terms.  That makes Mike Huckabee uncomfortable, despite the fact that the terms on which Beyoncé has chosen to express hers is with her husband exclusively.  Apparently, he’d rather she just not sing about sex at all.  (Maybe he’d like “Cater 2 U” better than “Partition.”  She sings about cooking and cleaning on that one.)

But Huckabee’s issue with Beyoncé also stems from a centuries-old White American preoccupation with Black physicality, Black sexuality, and a desire to regulate both.  The mainstream has long articulated a fascination with Black bodies and sexual expression, be it with Black male sexual prowess, with size, or with Black women’s bodies and sexual activity.  From the slave auction blocks on which we were displayed in the nude for White buyers to inspect and examine, to our history of false accusations of rape against Black men (no, that is not a reference to Bill Cosby) which were used as a tool to discourage contact between Black men and White women, to the modern-day phenomenon of Black women and girls with curves being scrutinized at school and work for wearing some of the same clothing styles that less-curvaceous White women wear, Black physicality, Black sexuality, and their regulation have been major points of interest for the White American public throughout the nation’s history.  And they remain so.  It’s why artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj catch so much more heat from critics for their content than White artists like Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea who sell just as much sex (Iggy has been widely criticized, but for cultural appropriation, not for her sexual content).  It’s why we talk about sexual explicitness in rap music but not sexual explicitness in rock music.  It’s why White kids want to touch the hair of the only Black kids in their class and why Black children are routinely suspended, expelled, and disciplined for wearing natural Black hairstyles like afros, dreadlocks, and braids deemed “distracting” or “inappropriate” for a school setting, the same hairstyles that fascinate their peers.  Because of Africans’ natural curves and thickness, and other dissimilarities between our bodies and those of people of European descent, because Black bodies have historically been hypersexualized and exoticized, there remains an element of foreignness attached to Black sexuality that fascinates and, because of it, Black artists – especially Black women, at the intersection of femininity and Blackness – are hyper-scrutinized for their sexual content while White ones are often let off the hook. So, Beyoncé, apparently, according to her critics, must hold herself to a sexual standard even higher than monogamous marital relations.

On Beyonce, we got to see Beyonce the grown woman: in love with herself, her family, and all the beautiful things that come with marriage. And when you’re the biggest pop star on the planet, apparently that includes fucking your husband behind the limo partition. Would I necessarily want my daughter emulating her dance moves at 10-years-old?  No, I wouldn’t.  And, to be honest, I wouldn’t let my 10-year-old daughter listen to her last album. But I would certainly want her to understand the context in which Beyoncé is doing what she does, and to aspire to that. And I certainly would want her to aspire to the kind of personal agency and happiness that Beyoncé has achieved.  Frankly, aspire to it.

I think Beyoncé is a great role model.  She’s a businesswoman.  She balances her career, motherhood, and marriage.  She champions personal, especially women’s, empowerment.  She and Jay Z are one of the few prominent Black examples of marriage and family values in the media.  But if you don’t like Beyoncé’s music, then, as a parent, it’s your job to keep it away from your children.  It’s not Beyoncé’s job as an artist to tailor her music to your standards of acceptability.  It’s her job to create the art that makes her happy.  And if you don’t like that, well, to the left, to the left.  She’s still Queen Bey.  She still runs the world.

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

NAACP Bombing: Why the Media Won’t Call It What It Is – Domestic Terrorism

The last few months have felt eerily like the 1960s.

First, Michael Brown was shot in cold blood with his hands in the air in August.  Ferguson police responded to peaceful protesters with teargas and physical assaults, and the National Guard was called in not to protect protesters, but to help the police.  Then, video went viral of Eric Garner being strangled to death in broad daylight on a New York street.  After Michael’s killer was let off by a largely White grand jury, rioters in Ferguson set a dozen buildings on fire.  Then Michael Brown’s father’s church was torched by arsonists. A Black man was found murdered in suspicious circumstances in Ferguson that same night.  He was found shot to death, his body burned, in the back of a car.  But the murder wasn’t covered by the national news media.  Then, news broke of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy’s death in North Carolina: he was found hanging from a swing set in an all-White trailer park.  He and his girlfriend, a White woman, had previously received death threats.  Ku Klux Klan chapters have been active around the country, holding “pro-police” rallies in some places and threatening Black demonstrators in others.  Now, the NAACP has been targeted in a bomb plot.

No – this is not the plot from Selma.  This is real life in the age of Obama.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating an explosion that occurred outside an NAACP office building in Colorado Springs Tuesday morning.  The explosion was found to have been caused by a homemade bomb.  The gas canister left next to the device did not ignite properly, so damage was minimal, but the explosion knocked items off the walls inside and caused burn damage to a barbershop – which has a predominately Black customer base – that occupied the same building.  The suspect in the attack is a White male around 40-years-old and balding.  The FBI says it hasn’t determined which entity was the intended target, but it is unlikely that it was the barbershop.  Too, in the current racial climate, the conclusion that the NAACP was, indeed, the target, while disturbing, would not be surprising, and it is the conclusion that many – myself included – have already come to.  But the bombing received minimal – if any – television news coverage the day it occurred and has received minimal attention in the days after (granted, the news has been dominated by the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that occurred the following morning). It is receiving some (inadequate) coverage now, but that’s only because the story went viral online and people have demanded it.

Clearly, this was a targeted act of racism – a hate crime.  But we already knew a lot of folks don’t like Black people.  But the coverage of the attack by the media – or lack thereof – also sheds light on Islamophobic attitudes, biases that seek to excuse White violence, and the perceived value of lives of color in comparison to White ones.

You can count on the American media to do two things in their coverage of any kind of violent plot, especially a bomb plot, committed by persons of Arab descent or by Muslims of any ethnicity.  Firstly, the plot is immediately characterized as terrorism or, even if it is found that the attack was not motivated by Muslim extremist views, the question is at least immediately asked.  If it is found to be so, the perpetrator is referred to as the “terror suspect.”  Secondly, there’s talk of where the terrorist was radicalized.  Did he come from overseas or was he self-radicalized in the United States?  The latter is seen as even more concerning than the former.  (As I write, the media is abuzz with such characterizations of the attack in Paris.) But at the very least, the attack is talked about.  No matter its scale, if it happens in the United States, it’s reported on major news networks and, if it happens elsewhere and is relatively major, it gets covered, too.  But the NAACP bombing has barely been talked about.  In fact, I first learned about it on Twitter.  MTV broke the story before CNN.  And the ten articles I’ve read about it, including reports by CNN, the Associated Press, and Fox News, have all been void of any such characterizations.  None of them referred to the bombing as domestic terrorism, despite several using the term “improvised explosive device” to describe the bomb, a term closely associated with terrorist attacks in the Middle East.  Most neglected to mention that it is specifically the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force that is investigating the attack, only mentioning the FBI.  And some even failed to mention the race of the suspect at all, as if that information is not a significant consideration in the bombing of a Black civil rights organization.

The media’s failure to adequately cover the NAACP bombing is a clear attempt to hide and downplay White racial violence in a heated racial climate, while simultaneously spinning bad acts by Black actors as extremist and somehow always connected to the Black Lives Matter Movement.  (And, accordingly, no one has sought to connect the bombing to the nearly all-White “pro-police” movement that has emerged. Not that it should be – it shouldn’t. But Black protesters were quickly blamed for the NYPD assassinations and we shouldn’t have been either.) But it is also reflective of differences in the perception of violence when it is committed by White people and when it is committed by people of color, and follows a patterned double standard in the treatment of such violence.  This attack was a clear act of domestic terrorism, yet the media has not ventured even to call it a hate crime – even to mention its occurrence at all on television news.  Can you imagine a bombing being committed on American soil by a Muslim and not making national headlines?  I cannot. But the mainstream narrative on violence dictates that White people are not violent – much less are they terrorists – they are much more the victims of terrorism. The “terrorist” label is reserved for brown people (much like the labels “thug” and “criminal”). This was demonstrated in reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing: the terrorist, who was Muslim, was also a White man from Chechnya in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe – the very region from which the term “Caucasian” is derived. But news networks struggled to “categorize” him, apparently because they couldn’t reconcile his White heritage with the idea that he was also a Muslim and a terrorist. In one report on the bombing, a Fox News host said, “He’s not White. He’s Muslim.” Whiteness cannot be corrupted by the violence of brownness, or the “evil” of Islam.

Too, the media’s handling of this story reflects differences in the perception of violence depending on who it is committed against: it is interpreted differently when the victims are people of color, particularly when the actor is White, than it is when the victims are White.  Had a Black person bombed, say, a White conservative organization – particularly in this racial climate – it would be national news.  Had the targets in this attack been White (and, thus, usually, assumedly, Christian), even with a White attacker, this story would be the talk of the 24/7 news cycle.  Too, the bomber would be deemed a terrorist, as was Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombings: he was a White man, but he also took hundreds of White lives. Attacks on White life, be they small scale shootings with no causalities or otherwise, are always news.  White life is held in the highest regard – it is sacred – and threats against it, blasphemous – the highest of offenses.  But the lives of people of color – particularly of Black people – are not seen as such.  They are less valuable, so threats to them are less concerning – in this case, apparently, of almost no concern. We’ve been reminded of this time and again in recent months, from the numerous killings of unarmed Black people, to the hysteria surrounding the Ebola crisis, which ravaged Black people in parts of West Africa all summer but only garnered major attention from Capitol Hill and the American public once White people started catching it.  It is these differences in the perception and interpretation of violence that enable the media to characterize similar crimes so differently, and to give violent White people a pass. But, while this pattern in the media is inexcusable, it is not surprising.  We’ve seen this before.

Had the bomb plot been successful – had people actually died – this story would certainly be national news.  Alas, one can only conclude this to mean the media feels dead Black people get higher ratings – are worth more to them – than live ones, even when they are the targets of a bombing.  And, apparently, bombings potentially (likely) motivated by racial and political motives don’t constitute terrorism when the target is Black, or when the terrorist is White and his targets are not. But neither the media’s apparent inability to value Black lives nor the bombing itself will deter Black people from our fight for Black lives and equal justice.  Black freedom fighters, especially in the NAACP, have faced violent attacks in retaliation for our agitation for centuries.  This is nothing new.  We’ve faced them even from police as we’ve demonstrated over the past months.  And, as usual, we will keep on pushing, and keep on fighting.  This is a battle that will be won.

You can read about DeAndre Joshua, the Ferguson man found dead, here.

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

What Leelah Alcorn’s Death Means to Me as a Black Man with Tourette Syndrome

When I read Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note, all I could do was sit, and shake my head, and think no one should ever have to feel like she did.  Ever.  At any age.  At any point in one’s life.  But especially not as a 17-year-old girl.  It was truly heartbreaking.  I was struck not only by what Leelah had been through, but by her call for change, and her hope that her death would mean something to the transgender rights movement.  I read about the movement.  I follow several transgender individuals on Twitter from whom I have learned a great deal.  But I haven’t myself been actively involved in the movement.  I’m too busy fighting – perhaps selfishly, as transgender, gay, and lesbian allies are consistently involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement – for my own rights as a Black man.  But I wanted to contribute something.  And I thought it would be beneficial – if not simply for personal catharsis – to share my own story as Leelah shared hers.  A story which I have never shared with anyone in it’s entirety, and won’t here, but which I, nonetheless, want to share parts of.

I grew up with Tourette Syndrome.  I was diagnosed at three years old.  I’ve grown out of it for the most part now, and that happened around the start of high school, but in elementary and middle school it was bad. One of my earliest memories with Tourette’s is from second grade.  I was seven or eight.  I was in computer class and I kept making one of my most prominent verbal tics (I can’t really describe it in words on paper).  My teacher asked angrily,  “Who keeps making that sound?”  Several of my classmates said in unison, “Brandon!”  Everybody knew who it was without having to actually have seen me do it.  I was the weird kid in the class who was always making sounds.  “Do you think that’s funny?” my teacher asked me.  “No,” I said.  “Then stop!”  I was so embarrassed, as I often was, but also angry because I knew my mother had had conversations with the school faculty about my disorder, and I didn’t understand why my teacher would respond to me the way she did given what she should have known about me.  A few minutes later I asked to go to the bathroom.  I went, put the lid down on the toilet, sat on top of it and cried.

As early as I can remember, I got all kinds of questions from my peers about why I made the sounds I made or did the things I did.  I got made fun of, laughed at, bullied, excluded from things.  I was called stupid and annoying.  My parents taught me to attempt to stick up for myself, and when asked why I did certain things I would say, “Because I was born like that.”  But for the most part in early childhood they taught my brother, who is a year younger than I am, to explain my situation to people at summer camps, on the school bus, or wherever we were together.  But moving into middle school, a lot of the bullying I dealt with wasn’t even over Tourette’s.  Maybe because by seventh grade my classmates understood and were over it.  But I still was teased for other reasons: for my thick lips, my wide ears, my dark skin.  I was already self-conscious about the things my body was doing involuntarily; now I was given new reasons to feel uncomfortable with the body I was in. To this day, I still don’t get why I was picked on.  Maybe because after years of me not really responding to being bullied over Tourette Syndrome my classmates now saw me as an easy target.  But this continued even into high school and got worse, with people who didn’t even know I had Tourette’s.  I was bullied for the same reasons: my ears, my lips, my complexion, and now for how I talked.

In high school, we had the same class schedule every day for the full school year, and in my freshman and sophomore years, I dreaded going to Chemistry and Physics in the mornings, because I knew if I opened my mouth at all – to ask or answer a question, anything – somebody would make fun of me.  Somebody would mock me in a funny voice and say “that’s how you sound.”  Sometimes – not often, but it still happened – the same kids threw things at me.  I would laugh a lot of things off like it didn’t bother me, but it hurt.  It hurt badly.  The night of my 16th birthday, I refused to come out of my room because I was so emotionally exhausted from being harassed that day, and the next day I refused to go to school because I needed a break from people.  Plus, I was lonely, I had no friends, in large part because the medication I was on to curb my Tourette’s had the side effect of making me timid and anti-social, so I was never good at making friends.  I had acquaintances, a few people I ate with at lunch, a few people I went to the movies with every now and again, but nobody I talked to outside of school on a regular basis.  And for the first two years of high school, not once did I ever visit anybody’s house.  No one ever invited me.

For years,  I did not like being me.  I thought something was wrong with me.  There had to be.  There was no other reason why kids in different places, at different times, and at different ages would make fun of me for the same things, and unprovoked.  There could be no other reason why I had no friends (I didn’t understand then what I do now about the medication I was on).  And I truly believed this until I got to college and met some wonderful people who, I felt, for the first time in my life, truly embraced me and liked me for me. But even so, I still have insecurities that I struggle with because of years of being bullied and constantly worrying about what other people thought of me.

So, I say all of that to say this: I get it.  I cannot identify entirely with Leelah’s struggle as a transgender person, but I understand her pain and her loneliness.  I understand feeling like you can’t be yourself. I understand feeling like no matter what you do or don’t do, no matter how you try to please people, nobody likes you.  I understand feeling like you could never feel lower.  And I understand feeling like nobody cares.  Because I’ve been there.  And having experienced what I’ve been through, but also as a Black man, I can relate to being told that who you are is wrong.  I spent a lot of time – most of my life – at the bottom.  But thankfully, things got brighter for me.  Today, I’m 21 and happier than I’ve ever been, and that is almost entirely because I found people who accept me and love me and, over time, I learned to love myself.  Leelah didn’t have that.  And so many others don’t have it.

So I say to all those reading this: be those people for somebody else.  Be those people who embrace those who need embracing.  Be those people who welcome those whom others won’t.  Be those people who care.  And most importantly, love somebody.  Because that love could change that person’s life.  Indeed, it could save a life.

Rest in peace, Leelah Alcorn.  May you never be forgotten.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee of the NAACP Howard Chapter.  He currently writes for NBCBLK and Politic365 and is an aspiring journalist.

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