Yo, Brother: Teach me to be Black

A powerful book and a community of elders help a

young man to learn “how to be Black so I could live.”


The author with his mother around 2000, the year he discovered "Yo, Little Brother" | Courtesy Christian Brown

The author with his mother around 2000, the year he discovered “Yo, Little Brother” | Courtesy Christian Brown

Last Saturday, Oct. 25, 600 Black boys and men congregated on the University of Southern California’s campus to learn survival techniques from Omega Psi Phi, a fraternity that originated in 1911. Among them was Christian Brown, who credits the group with providing him with the tools so he could grow up to be a professional Black man in Los Angeles, and in particular exposing him to a book he received from one of Omega’s elders called “Yo, Little Brother.”

I was halfway through my jog around my suburban Los Angeles neighborhood when a White police officer stopped me.

“Hey! Do you live around here?” he demanded.

I was angry with the police officer, but also wondered if some of the blame was mine. I had forgotten the 145-page book that taught me how to be Black so I could live. One of the key lessons: I should never run at night. [Read more…]

NAACP trains Black church leaders about health equity

1.1 million people in the US are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

1.1 million people in the US are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

African-Americans comprise about half of all HIV-positive people in the United States. The NAACP is promoting education that might help halt the trend. It held a forum on Thursday in Manhattan Beach on HIV, health equity, and the black church.

The event, part of NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference, drew an array of people, including Black pastors from South L.A. “We’ve been in this losing streak for a long time,” one said.

A long-time health care worker from Inglewood also attended. “Everyone thought this was a gay, white disease,” she said. “And I said no, that’s not true.”

Hear more voices from the event in a story from Annenberg Radio News:


HIV Statistics among Black women

HIV Statistics among Black women


OPINION: Trayvon’s class of 2013

Black scholars At Black Skeptics Los Angeles’ scholarship ceremony, my colleagues and I had the honor of awarding scholarships to five brilliant youth of color who are first generation college students. They are 17 and 18 year-olds who have known more struggle and sacrifice than many adults have known in their entire lives. They have each battled the dominant culture’s view that they are not white, male, straight, wealthy or smart enough to be genuine college material. They have all seen their neighborhoods—South L.A. communities powered by hard working people, students, activists, educators from all walks of life—portrayed as ghetto cesspit jungles where violent savages roam, welfare queens breed, and drive-bys rule. They have all mourned the absence of young friends and relatives who did not live to see their high school, much less college, graduation ceremonies. Looking around the room at their bright young faces, surrounded by proud family members, teachers, and mentors, the collective sense of duty and obligation everyone felt toward this next generation of intellectuals, activists and scholars was evident.

Because the ceremony occurred in the midst of national anxiety over the murder trial of George Zimmerman it was both a celebration of promise and a bittersweet paean to the burning loss and betrayal communities of color routinely experience in this racist apartheid nation. Trayvon Martin would’ve been 18 this year, a graduate of the class of 2013. He might have been college-bound, anxious, bracing against the fear of the unknown, heady with anticipation about the future. He might have been mindful of the psychological and emotional miles he’d have to travel to be freed from the prison of society’s demonizing assumptions. He might have experienced all of these feelings while grieving the untimely deaths of his own friends and being told that young black lives don’t matter.

Zimmerman’s acquittal for his cold-blooded murder is a turning point and baptism by fire in the cultural politics of colorblindness. It is a turning point for every middle class child of color who believes their class status exempts or insulates them from criminalization. It is a turning point for every suburban white child whose lifeblood is the comfort and privilege of presumed innocence. It is a turning point for every Talented Tenth parent of color who has deluded themselves about the corrupt creed of Americana justice. And it is a turning point for a collective historical amnesia in which race and racism are soft-pedaled through imperialist narratives of progress, enlightenment and transcendence.

For black people who have had faith in the criminal justice system and due process it is no longer possible to pretend that black life is worth more than that of a dog killed in broad daylight on a city street. People who kill dogs—or those who run vicious dog-fighting rings like NFL football player Michael Vick—receive longer prison sentences than do law enforcement officials (or their surrogates) who kill black people. For a predominantly white female jury that did not see the crushing loss in the murder of a young man pursued by a predator who was expressly told not to leave his vehicle by law enforcement; the life of a dog was apparently more valuable.

This is one of the indelible lessons in “democracy” and American exceptionalism that Trayvon’s class will take with them to college and hopefully spend their lives fighting to upend.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles and the author of the new book Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

OPINION: We may forget Dorner, but we won’t forget the LAPD’s history

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has developed a reputation in the Los Angeles community and in the nation as one of the most brutal and corrupt police departments in the U.S., a reputation stemming from cases such as Rodney King and those involving the Rampart Division. For more of the story please click here.

A City of Muted Color

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageErin Aubry Kaplan has been writing about race and Los Angeles for many years. The former L.A. Times and L.A. Weekly columnist has a new book out titled, “Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line.” She talks about the current state of “Black L.A.” and how she hopes her new book will help people come to a better understanding of color in America.

Birth certificate controversy exemplifies racialized politics

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News:


image “I hope this settles once and for all this ridiculous accusation that he was not born in the country and that he’s somehow less American than any other president we’ve ever had,” University of Southern California law professor Ariela Gross said.

Gross, a civil rights and legal history scholar, said the controversy regarding President Barack Obama’s birth is an example of racialized politics in society.

“I don’t think we would be seeing these accusations about President Obama if his father had come from Europe and rather than Africa,” Gross said. “I think there’s become quite an ugly tone to the kind of politics we’ve seen around this kind of conspiracy theory movement.”

Novelist Susan Straight talks about her new book, ‘Take One Candle Light a Room’

Listen to the audio story:


LeTania Kirkland: This story was largely influenced by your own family and stories that you picked up from your own community. How did you bring it all together?

Susan Straight: These are stories that I’ve been hearing pretty much since I met my future husband, which was in the 8th grade. When we started hanging out a lot at his family’s house, there were all these men who were always around telling stories, and one story that I heard at a family reunion was, someone was standing behind me, and said to my father-in-law, ‘Oh, how did you all get to riverside?’ My father-in-law, who is from Tulsa, told how his family came, and he said, ‘How about you?’ This person was from Louisiana, and he told the story about how he got to California. That was the basis of the whole Mr. Mcqeueen story, which is that someone had a beautiful daughter, and Mr. so and so was gonna come get her one night, so they had to pack up and flee to California.

Kirkland: The main character, her story has a lot to say about race, class and family. Do you feel that her character crosses racial boundaries and that these themes even blur the lines of race and class?

Straight: I have these three daughters that are of mixed race. I just wrote an essay about mixed blood. We talk a lot about how America is clearly not a post racial place. In fact, I think we might be moving to a much more… place of racial separation. The character of Fantine, it’s funny, my oldest daughter thought she was a jerk in the beginning. My oldest daughter looks that way. When we used to go places, people would think she was Samoan or Hawaiian or Algerian. The entire room changes when someone says, ‘I’m black, African American or even, I’m mixed race.’ When I was working on this book, I realized there are two kinds of people: the people who stay, and the people who leave. Fantine left. She considers that the complete eruption of any ties. It has to be about race and class.

Kirkland: You’ve made a commitment to writing about the places east of Los Angeles. I don’t think a lot of people realize how diverse the Inland Empire is. How do you think that diversity has influenced your work?

Straight: Oh, there’s no place like the Inland Empire. My kids and I, when we travel around, it’s astonishing to them when they go someplace else, how segregated that place might be. In riverside, because we grew up in this neighborhood, right next to a military base, I had friends who were half Japanese and half black, and half Egyptian and half Hawaiian. All of these people that I grew up with, we then married each other. When people try to break down what racial designation someone is in Riverside, it’s actually pretty funny sometimes. I do have a commitment to it I think because I’m parochial, but I also feel like, I remember reading Ernest Gaines, and he said he went to the library when he moved from Louisiana. He went to the library in San Francisco, and he said, ‘I read all the Russians, but my people weren’t there. I always thought that I wanted people from the Inland Empire to be in fiction in the same way that Flannery O’Connor’s people, Louise Erdrich’s people and Joyce Carol Oate’s people were in fiction. I wanted my people to be there, too.

NPR Host Michele Norris talks about her memoir, ‘The Grace of Silence’

Listen to the audio story:


LeTania Kirkland: You venture to write this book about other people and the conversation about race in America. What caused you to change course and write about your own family?

Michele Norris: Well, I started listening to this hidden conversation about race around the country because I wanted to capture it and write about it. And when I set the frequency to listen to that conversation, I started picking up bits and pieces of it in my own family. I started realizing that the older people in my family were talking about things that they’d never spoken of before. I realized as interested as I was in the other book, where I was listening to other people and examining how they talk and think about race, the story I had to pursue was my own family’s history.

Kirkland: As a journalist who’s normally telling other people’s stories, what was it like to switch roles and talk about your own family’s experience?

Norris: It was incredibly difficult and vertigo producing. I’m used to being on the side lines. I’m not used to being a part of the story, and I couldn’t stay on the side lines in this case. I had to get into the story, I had to speak honestly about not just what i was discovering, but what it meant to me.

Kirkland: And you found that your parents kept things from you regarding their own experience around race. That’s what you call the grace of silence. Why do you think they chose to keep those things from you?

Norris: They moved on. They decided not to dwell on painful aspects of their past. But I now understand something else, that they were trying to create a narrative of their lives about ambition, success and getting to a better place, but they also did not want to burden the next generation, and that is where the grace comes in because it would’ve been so easy for them to wallow in complaint or frustration or feed their kids a steady diet of regret, woe and complaint. And they didn’t do that, because they so badly wanted their children to soar, that they decided not to dwell on it.

Kirkland: You have your own children now. How as a parent do you negotiate your own grace of silence or not?

Norris: I grew up in a family with lots of secrets, and I just made those secrets public by writing a book about it. My children will know about the things I never knew when I was growing up. But i will try to not just put the information out there and let it sit, I’ll talk it through with them. I want them to take away from this a strong sense of perseverance and to know that bad things happen in life, but it doesn’t have to define you. I hope they will be a bit more open in their willingness to talk about this than previous generations were. I hope the main lesson they take from this is that they come from strong people.

Virtual Book Club discusses race and America’s future

Starting in late September, EquityBlog launched the innovative idea of taking discussions of books from the living room or classroom and onto the Internet.  The “Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club” is a six-week long online seminar that provokes conversation about race relations and the concept of a post-racial society.

The book club will focus on the book Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future. Co-authors Angela Glover Blackwell, Stewart Kwoh and Manuel Pastor will moderate the online discussions.

According to its press release, the club “will host an online conversation looking at crucial issues facing America as we push toward 2050 and our inevitable future as a nation with no majority ethnic or racial group.”

Upcoming topics include:

  • Oct. 6: Color Lines: Growing and Accepting Diversity
  • Oct. 13: Race and the Economy
  • Oct. 20: Urgent Challenges: Immigration, Incarceration, and Climate Change
  • Oct. 27: New Leadership for now and 2050
  • Nov. 3: Equity is the Superior Growth Model

To find out more about the “Race and America’s Future Virtual Book Club,” go to www.equityblog.org.

Learn more about the idea of a post-racial society.

Silence Equals Death

“Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” – Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.”

There is silence in the classroom. Even amidst the clockwatching ten minutes-before-the-bell-rings clamor of a typical high school class there is silence, deafening and thick as quicksand. I have asked the class a question about the widespread use of the words “bitch” and “ho” to describe young women of color on campus and several boys are holding forth in response. They are the same four opinionated boys who have been the most vocal throughout these sessions, always ready with a quip, a deflection or, sometimes, serious commentary that reveals deep wisdom. They are bursting with perspective on this topic, but the girls in the room are silent. Some twist in their seats, some study the tops of their desks in calculated boredom, transporting themselves outside of the room, slain by the language of dehumanization. Finally a few girls chime in and say they use the terms casually with friends, as in “my bitch or my ho,” supposedly neutralizing their negative connotations akin to the way they use the word “nigga.” Some claim the words are justifiably used to describe “bad girls” who are promiscuous and unruly, not realizing that black women have always been deemed “bad” in the eyes of the dominant culture, as less than feminine, as bodies for pornographic exploitation.

When I wondered aloud whether white women call themselves “bitch” as a term of endearment I got uncertain responses. My guess is that they don’t, not because white women are necessarily more enlightened and self-aware than women of color on gender, but because white femininity is the beauty ideal and hence the human ideal. Despite the misogyny that pervades American culture there is inherent value placed on the lives of white women. Every aspect of the image industry affirms their existence, and the spectrum of culturally recognized white femininity extends from proper and pure to “sexually liberated.”

This is exemplified by the tabloid media’s obsession with missing white women and white girls. Plastered on websites like AOL, relentlessly rammed down our collective throats in titillating morsels with whiffs of sexuality and scandal, poster child Caylee Anderson and company are a metaphor for Middle America’s Little Red Riding Hood fetishization of white femininity. Tabloid narratives of imperiled white females highlight the suburban virtues of white Middle America and not so subtlely evoke the social pathologies of the so-called inner city. Indeed, the spectacles of grief, mourning, and community outrage trotted out on CNN and FOX not only program viewers to identify with the injustice that has been done to the victim and her family, but to her community. In the world of 24-7 media these victims become our girls, our daughters, while the “bitches” and “hos” of the inner city symbolize the disorder and ungovernableness of an urban America whose values must be kept at bay.

In many regards this is part of the same “post-feminist” trend of telling women to sit down and shut up, to internalize the values of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and stay in their place. A generation of Bush militarism and corporate reign over media has turned sexualized violence against women into a billion dollar industry, as illustrated by global romance with gangsta rap, violent video games and Internet pornography. Yet the desensitization of young black women to these trends is perhaps the most painful. When I talk to my students about the staggering rates of sexual assault and intimate partner abuse in black communities they are quick to judge themselves and their peers for inciting male violence. Unable to see themselves and their lives as valuable they slam other girls for being “hoochies” and sloganeer violent misogynist lyrics without a second thought. Awareness about the relationship between pervasive violence against black women in the media and male behavior is lacking. During the 2008-2009 school year a few South L.A. schools have been willing to partner with media literacy organizations like the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative on a gender equity curriculum that trains young people to engage in media advocacy. But unless we change the self-hating mindset of many young black women, silence—as the gay HIV activist saying goes—does equal death, and we are poised to lose another generation to a media-colonized sense of self worth.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org, a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM and co-founder of the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative, a partnership with the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women, the Ida B. Wells Institute, Mother’s Day Radio and the Women’s Leadership Project.

Sikivu’s commentary will be broadcast on SOME OF US ARE BRAVE, KPFK Radio on Thursday April 9th @2:30

Respect: The Declaration, the Commitment a Mother’s Day Radio community forum addresses the individual’s role in raising the self-image of women and girls.
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