And Therein Lies the Rub…

This blog post is in response to an opinion piece in the Fargo Forum: https://www.inforum.com/opinion/7139823-Nelson-They-myth-of-white-privilege?fbclid=IwAR1Iuv2jafAfvo40bUMZHgpqXEqjGpbZi6o4Z_M2v46j_r2xILmIehtdYXU

The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.

— Trouvillot

Have you ever been told that you are a credit to your race?

Have you ever been told that you are not like “them?”

Have you ever had to attain the highest degree of your profession to become an example of excellence in a homogeneous environment?

The words are meant as terms as endearment as compared to the norms. The action is intended as a way to assimilate to the norm.

The norm is essential; both what it is and what it means for each ethnic demographic both now and throughout history.

Minority groups did not set the norms until recently—it was either against the law or left them subject to bodily harm. What they did was find a way to navigate. The fortunate ones did this successfully, but most couldn’t or wouldn’t (and why should they have to)?

What was asked of them was to assimilate or die, which is still the case today.

If you’re are not a minority, you may never have to make that choice. And based on the part of the country from which you are raised, either option means the diminishing of one’s self to create anew.

So, if you haven’t had to make that choice, or you haven’t had those things said to you, then you cannot begin to understand what privilege is. White privilege does mean that you haven’t had issues in your life. It doesn’t diminish how hard you’ve worked for what you have. It does not mean that you actively participate in racism or bigotry. It does mean that when the norms were established, ethnic minorities did not have a seat at the table. I will give you a personal example:

I am probably the first generation in my family (on either side) that will have the opportunity to leave investments for my kids when I die. My wife is white, and I am black. The most interesting aspect of our relationship is how different our ancestor’s paths were.

When her ancestors traveled to America, mine were sharecroppers in Alabama — with no hope of acquiring land.

When her ancestors were settling in North Dakota, making them landowners — an investment that would pay dividends for centuries to come, mine were living life under Jim Crow.

While her ancestors were tilling the land with their blood, sweat, and tears, mine was part of the great migration, using their blood, sweat, and tears to escape poor economic conditions and persecution, just as her ancestors did 50 years previous.

The only way that my father was able to open doors for his family was to join the military in the ’60s, which gave us a fantastic future, but also brought its own set of racial challenges for him.

And there is me. I am a doctor, a politician, an educator, a proud father, and a devoted husband. On the surface, it is easy to say, “Look at you, you have pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and made something of yourself. But that would be missing the point entirely.

Every generation in my family had to start again. Learning norms, navigating to survive, facing oppression and marginalization, and overcoming to strive for uncertain success — things that some minorities have to do still today. For every one of me, there are thirty others that could not defy the odds.

With all of that said, I need to point out that my story and your story are only relative to ourselves and not the bigger picture, and therein lies the rub. You cannot base societal issues solely on individual stories. Both mine and your story are important because it provides some context. But your story does not prove that white privilege does not exist any more than mine proves that it does. We must start to criticize the status quo. Only then can we begin to improve our communities. If we continue to believe that each person is born with the same chance at success regardless of race or social-economic status, we are kidding ourselves.

The Decision

To be a black male is to live a life that is full of contradictions. Contradictions that cause us to make decisions that we may not understand. Decision that now our black boys are having to make.

It is a critical one that directly affects them future and the future of their children.

It is one that has been overlooked in our society for far too long, and it is time we discussed it.

It is a decision whether to assimilate or not.

Each path comes with favorable and less favorable outcomes. And, it is a decision that each black individual will need to make for himself.

The decision is whether to become an assimilationist or a non-conformist.

The definition of assimilation is to act accordingly with the intent of fitting in and or conforming. In this case, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

A non-conformist is a person whose behavior or views do not conform to prevailing ideas or practices. Again, we are talking about societal norms and expectations.

For a black male, assimilation can be considered a good thing. A black person who chooses to assimilate is more likely to be accepted and given privileges that maybe not part of their original environment — an environment that could deviate from society’s expectations of “success.” On the other hand, choosing to assimilate could come at a great price. The acceptance of one set of norms could mean the a denial of another. The ability to attain and keep street credit within ones own community (not just geographical location) is an important part of the black society. To be able to walk down the street and get “the nod” from peers means acceptability and the ability to walk through certain neighborhoods with confidence and respect.

For a black person, to be a non-conformist is to keep and maintain street credit, which holds the ability to walk around a neighborhood as a leader or a a well-respected member of that community (again looking at more than geographical location). People who do not understand this may ask, “Why would anyone forgo the opportunity to improve themselves for street credit?” Those people would be missing the point.

Improving oneself is only relative to society’s definitions of success. If a house, a car, and a picket fence is society’s definition of successful, then the non-conformist may net ever meet the expectations for success, which is why it is important that society does not create perimeters for what it is to be successful. Success can come in many forms and is only contingent on each individual who must decide for oneself when enough is enough.

In order for black youth to be able to make a concious decision, they must first be presented with the question through conversation. This conversation between older and younger generations of blacks males needs to be had and must continue because it is critical. The conversation has not gotten any easier — especially for those of us who live in homogenous communities.

Look no further than the current state of events. It is getting harder and harder to avoid the elephant in the room. It is harder to look past the fact that if it were a group of African Americans that stormed The Capitol, we would be reading a different story. But, who bears the cross of uncomfortable silence? Is it me – who fears that the conversation could go too far and disrupt my livelihood or my life’s work? Or is it my community — who has to live with the fact that there are some truths that they must come to terms with? Especially since the community knows and interacts with me, my wife, and my children daily.


Once again, I, a forty-year-old man, am forced to decide between assimilation and non-conformity. I am once again forced to make a decision that can derail what I have worked for. I am forced to make the same type of decision that I had to as a youth.


Is it fair? No.


Is it real? Yes.


So, here I am, stuck between two worlds — forced to navigate this world without a playbook, instructional manual, or a tour guide. Trying to be successful, while trying not to become a traitor –

An Uncle Tom.

An Oreo.

A Coon.

While also not trying to be angry —

ungrateful

ghetto

intimidating.

It is a terrible thing to be black male to be labeled as one of these things. But, it is a reality.

This is why representation matters. This is why we need black people in positions that matter. Black males deserve to have people in positions that matter!

We shouldn’t have to make this decision. But we do — and, as a whole community, it is our job to guide our black youth and not judge their decision. There are no wrong answers, only consequences.

Public Figure

Previously, I had written about my pet-peeve of complaining about a situation without having a call to action. I discussed how the mentality that “somebody should really do something about that” is far too commonplace in our society. Individuals should get off of their butts and do something, rather than talking about what others should do.
It seems that I have arrived at one of those instances where I need to put my money where my mouth is. It is time for me to take the next step in being involved in my growing community. It is time for me to take the reigns and become a leader that envokes change and accepts constructive criticism.
It is time for me to run for public office.

No, I am not running for Mayor.

Not yet…

But I am going to run for a position on the City Council.

Never in a million years did I think I was going to run for office. However, as the years have gone by (and my house became more crowded), I realized that a person has to get involved in the community to improve it. So, I have worked to build our community and make an impact. But I want to make a more significant difference. A seat on the City Council can do that.

Running for office is not about me. This is about having the ability to make a powerful difference for the good of the community.

  • I want to improve the overall economic health of the community.
  • I want to be a person who actively listens to the community and votes with their considerations.
  • I want to create opportunities for our children to grow up in a community that gave them every opportunity to become successful citizens.

We live in a wonderful city. I want to help make it even better.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black…

By now, you have either seen or heard it…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/08/mayor-reportedly-said-her-city-isnt-ready-black-leader-council-member-went-further/?utm_term=.e70aa4383b15

Yes. Discrimination is everywhere. Racism is everywhere.

But, it is no longer the person who stands outside your house and burns a cross in your front yard; it is no longer the person who calls you a nigger (or some variation of it) to your face; it is not in the signage around town that prohibits you from using a certain fountain, or entering through the front door of a business. It is systematic. It is when people accept the status quo; It is when people say, “Well, that is how it has always been.” It is when people stand by and refuse to get involved because it is “none of their business.”

There is one line that hit me really hard in this article.

“I can’t imagine anyone is going to be applying for anything in that city anytime soon,” Fuller said. “I can’t imagine businesses are going to want to move in there with the current leaders in City Hall.”

This is where I will concentrate this post.

I live in a town where few African Americans live. Are there people in the town who are blatantly racist? no. Have I been discriminated against and denied opportunities because of my race? yes, but mostly because of the ingrained ignorance that sometimes exists within the community. Ignorance that allows people to discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Most unknowingly. But they do not get a pass.

…which is why it is my duty to make sure that they have no choice but to see me for who I am.

Young, Gifted, and Black.

I did not ask to be black, but I am. My parents taught me that being black comes with responsibilities:

You must be the best.
You must work the hardest.
You must put yourself in a position where saying no hurts them, not you.
If you can help it, you must live to see another day.

When they told me these responsibilities, they did not say:

You must be better than white people.
You must work harder than white people…

It was indiscriminate. They meant all people.

My parents made me realize that being black was the best gift my ancestors ever gave me. I, along with others, get the responsibility of carrying centuries of history on my back. My people were built for this; we made the world go around, we made economies grow, we built cities from the ground up.

And I am the fruit of all of that labor.

I will teach your children,
I will coach your children,
I will sit on your boards and councils,
I will create your businesses, and (God willing), I will be called Doctor.

I will do this because there are more like me. There are more blacks that are driven to accomplish the same goals that I want to accomplish. More brothers and sisters who believe that accomplishing these goals are a responsibility that is owed to our people – a responsibility to your people as well. Your community is not whole without us.

So, although the community in this article may not have been ready, I hope you are ready; you don’t have a choice.

Giving Back

To me, the pinnacle of being a successful person is the way that you can go back and affect your community. Whether it is the community that you grew up in or the community that you currently live, the ability to use your platform to affect one or more kids. Some people choose to give back monetarily, some choose to work within the community, I have chosen to start the Father of the Year Foundation.

Contrary to what is displayed in the media, there are many fathers that want to do what is best for their children. Whether that be volunteering to coach a children’s team, doing their part to fulfill a need in the family household, providing discipline and/or structure, or promoting positive childhoods for their children and children in their communities.

Growing up, I was lucky to have a father who took the time to teach me how to be a man. But, my father was a very hard worker, which meant that he was not home as often as he would have liked. Luck for me, I had a group of men who help mold me into the person I am today. This group of men consisted of coachers, fathers, businessmen, and community members who believed that it takes a village to raise each child. The Father of the Year Foundation believes that fathers play a pivotal role in the development of not only their own children, but children within the community. The mission of the Father of the Year Foundation is to promote positive fatherhood by providing opportunities, support, mentorship, and fellowship to men so can be the best fathers (or father-figures) that they can be for their children and children within their communities.

So, there you have it. I am starting a foundation. I am not sure where this will take me and I am not sure of the impact that I can make. But, however small, it is the best avenue for me to feel as though I am making a difference.

And, that is all that counts.

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