Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

So many of us thrilled to these words from Cassius Clay who cast off his “slave” name, and named himself Muhammad Ali. He proclaimed himself the greatest, long before we were able to face the possibility that we might not have to “feel bad about ourselves” all of the time.

Black people were longing for champions and heroes, and Mohammed Ali gave himself to us. He made himself, claimed himself, named himself and gave himself to the world. He is a sports champion, a civil rights champion, a human rights champion, a liberation worker, and a lifter up of people.

Ali understood the usefulness of taking charge of the shaping of your own life. He said, “The man [and woman] who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life”.

Farewell dear brother. Thank you for the gift of you!

Notes On The Life of Ali

1960   Won Gold Medal at Rome Olympics

1964   Won the world heavyweight championship

Changed his name to Muhammad Ali

Was a conscientious objector to Vietnam war, refusing to join U.S. army.

1971   Won his appeal to overturn conviction for refusal of conscription.

1975   Converted to Sunni Islam

1974   Won the world heavyweight championship

1978   Won the world heavyweight championship

1981   Retired from boxing

1998 United Nations named Ali a “messenger of peace”

Ali campaigns against apartheid and racial injustice.

Supported children’s initiatives and racial and political reconciliation on behalf of United Nations.

Famous fights included:

1971    Fight of the Century

1974   Super Fight II

1974   The Rumble in the Jungle

1975   Thrilla in Manila

I was the Concorde of boxing.

I was at a higher altitude than the rest,

moving faster than the rest…

Muhammad Ali



Militants Occupy Federal Building in Oregon. Nobody Gets Shot!

Militants Occupy Federal Building in Oregon.  Nobody gets shot.

What I mean to say is that “Armed Militants Occupy Federal Building in Oregon. Nobody Gets shot.”

How did it happen that armed people can illegally occupy a federal building and nobody gets shot?  We have painted a picture of police as trigger-happy and out of control. They sometimes shoot people in the back, sometimes multiple times, sometimes while the person is lying face down in their own blood. We have branded (some) police as officials who use unnecessary violence to assert their control and force people to submit to authority.

Yet, armed militants have been in occupation of a Federal building in Oregon for five plus days and there is no report of the police shooting anyone. It is reported that “authorities from several law enforcement organizations were monitoring the ongoing incident.” Nobody has been shot. How did this happen?

One of the ‘occupiers’, Ryan Payne, claimed that he “helped organize militia snipers to target federal agents in a standoff last year…, [saying that] the federal agents would have been killed had they made the wrong move”. A person who has threatened federal agents with violence is involved in the illegal occupation of a federal building and nobody has been shot. How did this happen?

Oh! I meant to say, “White” armed militants occupy Federal Building in Oregon. Nobody gets shot.” Perhaps that explains it.


They Don’t Oppose Obamacare! They Oppose Obama!

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare as the law of the land, does not signal an end to Republican calls to repeal and replace Affordable Health Care. Their ‘stop Obamacare’ campaign continues, despite the SCOTUS decision that made clear that a future president cannot undo this law.

Republicans have been unanimous and vituperative in their negative response to the SCOTUS decision. Justice Scalia described the majority opinion as “jiggery pokery’. How articulate of the judge.

Why are they so ‘fierce’ in their opposition to Affordable Health Care? Particularly since they proposed a similar bill years ago. Particularly since one of their own helped establish Affordable Health Care in Massachusetts while Governor of that state.

One answer: These people don’t oppose Obamacare! They oppose Obama!

One of them announced, before President Obama was sworn into office as President, that they would see to it that he was a one-term President. Before he served a day in office. They swore to oppose everything that President Obama tried to do. In December 2010, the Senate Minority Leader announced that the top priority of the Republican Party over the next two years was to deny President Obama a second term. Their priority as a party had nothing to do with enacting legislation, or thinking about the people of the country they were elected to serve. Their priority was to stop President Obama. They promised to oppose anything and everything that he attempted to do!

Despite their best opposition, The Affordable Health Care Act, a top priority of President Obama, was enacted. The Affordable Health Care Act is one of the most significant pieces of legislation since the establishment of Social Security in 1935, and the establishment of Medicare in 1965. Many President’s have tried to enact affordable health care without success. Valiant but failed efforts were made during the Clinton administration. People said that it couldn’t be done. President Obama did it! He did what previous white Presidents couldn’t do.

How dare a Black man do what the white men before him tried to do and failed!

For this success, they aimed to make him pay.  They sought to destroy his signature legislation and his Presidency. They played the oldest game in the U.S. history game book. They brought the race card into play. They employed ‘race baiting’ and race based fear mongering.

How do you get white people who need health care and have no insurance, to oppose affordable health care?

Instead of calling it affordable health care, you employ the “Lee Atwater Strategy”, and name Affordable Health Care something that would frighten white folk. You associate it with a Black man and call it OBAMACARE. The Lee Atwater strategy is intended to elicit white folks unconscious (and conscious) fear of Black men. Using the Lee Atwater strategy, Affordable Health Care would no longer be about health care. It would become something to oppose because of it’s association with a Black man. Repeal Obamacare became a rallying cry of the ‘rightwing’.  Politicians with no other credentials got elected to Congress on the basis of a “stop Obamacare” campaign.

That duck is now dead in the water. Racism is not.

They will continue their campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare, even though they have not presented anything that they call a replacement. Even though the SCOTUS has declared Obamacare to be the law of the land.

Racism was never about what can be done to help anybody. Racism was always about what can be done to stop, hinder, tear down and harm.


Race Based Terrorism in Charleston: Interrupt Targeting the People of U.S. South

Black people have been killed recently by white police (and other white people) in New York City, Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago, Utah, Los Angeles, and other places north, mid-USA and beyond.

These killings are different from the killings in Charleston in numbers only, not in intent or effect. All of those killings have terrorized people in the Black community, and made us fear for our safety, the safety of our families, and for the future of these United States. Many of us liken the atmosphere in the United States since the election of President Barack Obama and the rise of the tea party, with the fear engendered during the reconstruction era and the rise of the KKK.

I fear that the killings in Charleston provide new opportunity for white people in the north and other parts of the United States to point fingers at the people of the south of the U.S. as representing a special kind of racism.

That the confederate flag, symbol of rebellion, treason and racial hatred, flies over the state house in South Carolina, could lead some northern and other US’ers to point fingers at the South, and assume that racism in the south is different and special from racism in their own part of the United States.

As a Southern Black woman who has lived in the north of the United States for more than four decades, I want it understood that the racism of the north is not nicer, cleaner, better, or more tolerable than racism in other parts of the United States. White people of the North and other parts of the United States do not act out racism in a way that is more acceptable than racism acted out by white people in the South.

This is a good time to interrupt and heal the tendency or inclination to point fingers about racism at the people of the U.S. South.


A World Without Racism…

A World Without Racism, a country without racism, a community without racism….

We get to hope for such a world, we get to believe that such a world is possible, and we get to act to achieve a world without racism.

We get to heal the fear that has been installed on us to keep us from acting on our belief that such a world is possible.

We get to express and heal our grief and outrage about the terrorist killings in Charleston, South Carolina. We get to notice and discharge our rage and terror; that the conditions that allowed this to happen, indeed, the conditions that predicted such an event, the conditions that almost insisted that such a thing happen, have been created in this country (the United States).

We get to be outraged that in the face of this act of terrorism (what else could it be called?), rooted in racism, that so many public leaders equivocate and seek to explain it away, to shift the focus, and to construct and bolster barriers that hinder the people of this country from facing racism and its terrible consequences.

The South Carolina terrorist who killed nine Black people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been shown draped in the confederate flag that, though long considered a symbol of racial hatred, is described by a Republican Presidential contender as “part of who we are”. This terrorist undoubtedly drew inspiration and courage from his state house that flies the confederate flag as mandated by South Carolina State law.

This terrorist undoubtedly draws inspiration and courage from a national conversation that allows and defends white people killing Black people (police and others) with impunity, if white people “feel fearful” of Black people. I imagine that this terrorist was emboldened by a national tolerance for public lynching threats directed toward the Black man who is President of the United States.

This terrorist is reported to have said that he wanted to start a race war. I say, let this act remind us of our humanness, our connection to each other, and our commitment to have a world without racism.

White People get to stand together, as white people, and heal the guilt, shame, outrage and fear, about the conditions that created or enabled this act of terrorism. White people get to speak up as white people and oppose racism. White people get to be visible in the world as white people in their call for ending racism, and their acting to create a world without racism.

Black People get to stand with all of our allies (People of the Global Majority and white people) to heal the indignation, outrage, exasperation and terror evoked by this act of terrorism. We get to speak up and act to create a world without racism.


Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

I have been thinking about the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the response around the world to those murders. People are expressing shock and outrage. I am expressing wonder about their shock and outrage.

People are expressing shock and outrage about the murder of 12 people. I hold all human life as sacred, including the lives of people who do things that I find abhorrent. I fight for a society and a world that holds human life as sacred.  No one, including the State (or the police in cities in the United States), has a right to take a human life (I oppose capital punishment).  I hold human life as sacred, including the lives of those who have themselves taken a life, and alas, must also include people who say things that I don’t like.

People are using the idea of freedom as the basis for their expressions of shock and outrage. Freedom is a precious thing, worth fighting for.  Freedom is well worth the wrestle in our own minds and between our varied minds to determine what freedom means. Most of us are in agreement that there are limits inherent in the exercise of freedom.  I have a right to swing my fist and your nose has a right to not be hit.  There are limits attached to both sets of rights.

This brings me to the questions with which I want to wrestle:

  1. Does our freedom of speech include the right to hate speech?  Or only hate speech spoken, or written, by members of specific groups?
  2. Does freedom of the press include the right to publish hatred toward any group?
  3. All human life is sacred.  Are artists (cartoonists) lives more sacred than other lives?  The Islamic militant group Boko Haram killed upwards of 2000 people in Nigeria during the week of the 12 murders in Paris. 2000 children, women and men were murdered.  Are those lives less important than the 12 cartoonist whose lives were taken (not lost) in Paris?  Are their lives less significant and deserve less attention, mourning, outrage, commentary, because they are in Nigeria, not in Paris, and not in a magazine office, and might not be artists (cartoonists)?
  4. We assume that everybody makes decisions with an understanding of the probable and potential consequences of those decisions.  Who shares responsibility for the decision made by the editors to publish cartoons that had the possibility – even the probability- to end in violence?  We often make decisions to do what we consider the right thing, even when the potential outcomes can be terrifying. Are we then responsible for those terrifying outcomes because we made the decision that triggered those outcomes? Specifically, do the decision-making editors at Charlie Hebdo share any responsibility for the murder of their colleagues?

My mind keeps going to the many parallels that could be drawn from the response to the murders at the Hebdo magazine office.  The French Prime Minister has declared: “We are at War Against Radical Islam”.  Can you imagine the President of the United States, after the Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people were killed, or after the killings at Sandy Hook where 20 children and six adults were murdered, declaring, “We are at war against “angry white men”?  Or should such a declaration have been made after Columbine, or after …any one of many mass murders, including the shooting of Kent Sate students by National Guardsmen. 13 people were shot and killed at the University of Texas by a former Marine.  Should we declare war on former Marines?

I mourn for lives taken; for the lives taken at Charlie Hebdo and also for women killed by Islamic fundamentalists because they decide to drive a car, or get an education, or divorce their husbands.  I mourn for lives lost, because of poverty and disease and because western governments ignore and fail to respond to perceived and real threats to those outside the western world.

I gag at the racialized, hypocritical, hyperbole following the murders at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, by world leaders and other people who have seized this event as a way to push their own narrow, oppression based agenda.  I am wearied by the responses of people who consider the murders at Charlie Hebdo in a pitifully narrow frame,  and without the larger global context in which they occurred.

I remind others and myself that this is a good time to listen.  All sorts of people want and need to be listened to, as they share their fears, their trauma, (indeed their impulse to gag), and their grief, along with their hopes for a better world.


Effigies as Elegy for Lynching

Effigy:  an image or representation of something or someone hated.

Elegy: a mournful poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.

Life sized photos of lynching victims were hung at various places at UC Berkeley. A UC Berkeley spokeswoman called them effigies, and thought they were connected to the #BlackLivesMatter protests around the country.

It is estimated that between the years 1882 and 1951, 4,730 people were lynched in the United States. 3437 of those lynched were Black people and nearly 1300 of those lynched were white people.…

Any black person who challenged any white person was fair game to be lynched. Any Black person who did not display complete submissiveness to white people was subject to be lynched. Sometimes white people who had close connections to and equitable relationships with a Black person, or who took a stand for racial justice, was lynched to remind everyone else to stay in their place. As recipients of white privilege, white people were required to uphold and support the customs and routines of white supremacy. recently published an article indicating that police in the United States kill a black man every 28 hours. ( Darren Wilson, the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager who had his hands in the air saying “Don’t Shoot”, and New York Police officer Daniel Pantaleo who held an unarmed black man in a (banned by the department) choke hold leading to his death, are but two of a legion of police officers who have recently killed Black men with no accountability.   No one was ever charged in the racially motivated killings of the 4,730 people who were lynched between 1882 and 1951. Few if any of the police officers who have recently killed Black men face any charges for those killings.  A lynching is a lynching, whether in 1882 or in 2014 in New York City. A lynching is a lynching, whether by an out of control mob, or by out of control police. Whether locked in a chokehold or hung from a tree, a lynching is still a lynching.

I hope that the effigies at UC Berkeley were meant to announce: “Ding Dong, the Witch is dead!” The lynching period is over. The time when white people can kill Black people with impunity is receiving an overdue but rightful funeral song. Let those UC Berkeley effigies be an elegy declaring that the time when any people can be killed because they are hated or feared because of their race or any other social identify, by anyone, and especially by officers of the law, is dead!