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.

To Scroll, or Not to Scroll

We have lost our way in terms of communication and social media etiquette. Far too often, I see a person post a not-so-popular opinion on social media, and a different person comes along and adds a comment to the opinion. What ensues is what I will call a cluster f—. Something like this:

“You should not think the way you do!”

“I don’t mean to offend you, but…” (Note: the person meant to offend).

“I hope that never happens to anyone in your family!” (Note: they, in fact, mean to wish shitty fortune on the person and family).

“Well, a simple Google search will show you…” (Note: Insert shitty articles passed off as research from a highly suspect author/group/firm).

“Well, it is my opinion — and if you did not want it, you shouldn’t have posted what you did!”

Here is the thing, purposeful or not, people who post on social media want some sort of reaction or dialogue from their audience. A person would be correct by saying that the author should not have posted something without expecting a negative response. But the audience member also has a responsibility — one that requires some maturity on their part. What is not appreciated is when a person comes along, reads the post, then adds their opinion with the intent of only being right and not to have a dialogue.

If this is you, guess what? Approaching information with that sort of intent does not make you right; it makes you an ass, and here is why:

  • You don’t have to answer. You could go on about your business and have an awesome day.
  • The person who created a post is most likely not going to change their mind.
  • You, I am assuming, are not an authority, nor are trained on researching the subject.

That means that you are entitled.

Sorry, it does.

Not only that, but you also gave up your power. A person that you may not even know got a rise out of you and caused you to react. The person got you.

“But, what if they say something offensive?”

Simple answer, keep scrolling. Physically show someone close to you the post and laugh at the dumbass comment. But keep scrolling and have a nice day.

If it is a company that says something offensive, even better — boycott the business and get others to do the same. But you don’t need to comment on their post.

I have watched long time friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, disown each other on a public platform because of a need to be right. The sad thing is, both sides were right. Dead right.

I’ll explain

When a person is willing to give up everything, even if it comes as a detriment to their well-being to be right, they most likely will be dead right. Why? Because being right is just a subjective construct. Being right does not mean that you are fair or honest; it only means that your set of values justify your stance. It also means that each person is not willing to change their view, which is not necessarily wrong – unless you cannot coexist with someone who does not believe the same as you.

Let’s review:

  1. If you see something that you don’t agree with: Keep scrolling.
  2. If you see something that offends you: Keep scrolling.
  3. If you see something that you believe is not true: Keep scrolling.
  4. If you have some information that you would like to share, but it does not come from a peer-reviewed article: Keep scrolling.
  5. If you want to add some emoji, fine, but after that: Keep scrolling.

The highest form of discipline is self-restraint. It is wise to practice that.

Arguing with a fool only proves there are two.

*I know there will be some who will not agree with this post, and that is okay. But guess what? I don’t give a shit, so do yourself a favor and keep scrolling.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Unapologetically Black

Many people say to me, “I don’t see color, I just see a person.”

I think it is about time that you start to see color.

I am black.

I am proud to wear it.

It is a badge of honor.

Seeing me as a black man would help you realize how I, along with many others, have to navigate this world.

When a black man is gunned down while he is jogging, you can expect social media to buzz. It’s easy to say, “I’m glad that doesn’t happen where I live.”

Many of us, regardless of color, have said that. Including me.

When you look at me, you see a confident, educated, capable individual on the surface. But inside, I have been suppressing forty years of experience in my skin, and a boatload of instances that suggest that this type of racism is not so rare.

A few years ago (when writing checks was still a thing), a clerk at a local grocery store told me it was against policy to write a check for more than purchase. They cashed checks for my wife all the time. She is Caucasian.

When we first moved to town, an older lady from the community stopped by to welcome us and asked if we had a church.  She suggested one to us that she had “referred another colored family to a few months ago.”

When Covid-19 hit, and officials were recommending that people wear masks, a part of me was more worried about people perceiving me as a threat.

I once looked at a pair of earrings at a department store jewelry counter. After the clerk locked them safely away in the case, she accused me of putting them in my pocket. My girlfriend pointed out her mistake; that was enough to settle it. She didn’t apologize.

I applied for a position for which I had more experience and was better qualified to do than the competition. I didn’t get the job and my boss told me it was because I was “rough around the edges.”

Earlier this year, my wife and I spent a long weekend with friends in Arizona. When we booked the trip, I started researching the social climate of the area we were headed. Finding it to have little diversity, I took my wife with me on my morning walks.

These are just a few of the realities that I have faced as a person of color.

A black man.

And yet, I, like others, pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and persevere. It is what my mother and father expect of me.

I often feel bad for my wife, who married the love of her life – not realizing the anxiety she would experience with starting a family with me. She did not know the terror she would feel when she sees a person of color receives racial injustice. She did not envision the sheer horror she would experience towards those injustices as her sons grow older – the crippling uncertainty of their futures.

This is not a “woe is me” post. I need everyone in the room to realize that a person of color can go through life doing everything right:

– following the laws,

– getting the highest marks,

– receiving a degree,

– loving their family and community,

and still, receive “less than” because of their color.

This is not our father’s racism; this is systematic – and it is time we discuss it.

 

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.

The Highest Honor in Education

All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.

When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.

I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself…

If you grow up in my neighborhood, you have already practiced overcoming adversity. You were supposed to be some kind of negative statistic. You were told from a young age that you would be dead, on drugs, or in Cook Inlet Correctional by the time you were eighteen. Not by people who actually live in your neighborhood, but by those who claim that their data is an accurate predictor of outcomes.

If you grow up in my neighborhood, it is not problem when your college advisor refuses to give you a letter of recommendation so you can move on with your studies; you weren’t supposed to be there anyway, now were you? But you don’t fret. You persevere. You find another way – because that is what your hood trained you to do. And one day, it will pain her to have to shake your hand.

If you grow up in my hood, you are not afraid to stick up for your rights, question authority, or choose another path to success. You’ve witnessed good people get lead astray everyday, dreams deferred, futures crushed. Why would you blindly trust someone to steer the wheel to your future? You’re not going out like that. So, when your boss threatens to cut your pay or take your job if you don’t agree to his illegal terms, you don’t bat an eye. Instead – you say, “I guess I’ll see you in court.” You watch as the papers are delivered.

If you grow up in my hood, you don’t mind when you got overlooked for opportunities… when those way less qualified than you are placed ahead of you… when you are told that you are too, “Rough around the edges.” You get pissed, but you don’t lash out. You save that anger. You don’t make excuses. You say to yourself, “I will make them all sorry they did not choose me!” And you try harder — you do better. You win awards, you acquire accolades. And when you see those people next, you make them have no other choice but to respect you. They will ask “Why did you leave?” And you politely smile.

If you grow up in my hood, you hate the words, “Well that’s how it has always been.” It only means that there is going to be a door closed in your face or an opportunity that you won’t recieve because of established norms or customs that you didn’t have shit to do with. You do everything in your power to change the establishment. You don’t depend on others to do it. You don’t wait your time. You don’t use the proper procedures. You need this to happen now and you will be seen and heard! You already know how short life is and your time is now. Damn kid — maybe you are rough around the edges.

If you grow up in my hood, you are able to adapt to any situation and assimilate to any population. It does not matter who it is or what they stand for — you have grown up in one of the most diverse places in the United States and attended the most diverse schools in the United States. You have muliple dialects and an expansive vocabulary. When needed, you can choose to be prim, proper and articulate; or you can be just one of the homies. You have it all, and people are impressed by you — “you’re so “cultured.”‘

If you grow up in my hood, you walk with your head high. Some will mistake it for cockiness, but you’re not cocky. Cocky is for those who speak a good game – you let your actions speak. You say what you mean and you mean what you say. You don’t mince words and you fear no one.

If you grow up in my hood, you know loyalty when you see it. You live by it. You could have taken the more pleasurable route. You could have transferred to a better high school; you could have gone to a bigger college somewhere else; you could have transferred at the end of your freshman year after going 0-10. You’re no quitter. If you commit to something, then, dammit, it is going to be completed come Hell or high water. You’ll blaze your own path. You’ll take the unbeaten. What the Hell do you have to lose?

If you grow up in my hood, you were destined for greatness and respect. You were built to lead. You were made you rewrite history books. Damn what other people say, you’ve been mislabeled, marginalized, and undervalued your entire life. Seems like you came out okay.

I’m from The View.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

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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