Black folks were definitely on the receiving end of all kinds of shade in 2013, weren’t we?
• Just last week a white PR executive named Justine Sacco tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
• TMZ.com was completely insulting by asking what we’d rather be called, African Americans or “N****s,” like they were asking “paper or plastic,” “chop sticks or silverware?”
• Fox News’ anchor Megyn Kelly resurrected that tired, historically and theologically inaccurate myth about Jesus being a white man — and oh, in case you were wondering, Santa Clause, too.
• The normally hilarious satire site The Onion bombed when one of its writers called 9-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis a c***.
• Comedian Steve Martin tweeted a joke, seemed to say that “lasonia” – “lasagna,” misspelled – could only be found in African American neighborhoods. (Martin has since explained the joke.)
• Actor Alec Baldwin referred to a retired and decorated Black police officer and staff photographer for The New York Post as a “coon” and a “drug dealer” via Twitter.
• Former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin compared the federal debt and Obamacare to slavery.
• A Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois, Ian Bayne, compared Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson to civil rights leader Rosa Parks in a post on his web site. Robertson says he picked cotton with black people and that they sang songs and never once did any of them say they were unhappy.
• Vickie Marble, a Republican State Senator from Colorado, compared black people, poverty and disease to fried chicken.
• Huge retailers like Barney’s were taken to task by major civil rights organizations over racial profiling. Jay Z decided to move forward with the launch of his collection with the retail giant, however, and it has been reported that his leather hat sold extremely well in the first week. As a matter of fact, I tested the site and could not purchase the signature Brooklyn cap, but his $12,000 gold two-finger NYC ring is still available if you’re interested.
• Many of us learned via social media just how much value is placed on the lives of young Black boys after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon’s trademark hoodie, iced tea and Skittles became the punchline “costume” of choice for white fraternity boys at Halloween parties.
• And one could write a very long book on all the ways in which President Obama was disrespected in the media in 2013 and really, every year since he’s been in office.
Whether we acknowledged it or not this humiliating list of incidents were meant to chip away at our humanity. There is a saying that people will treat you the way you allow them to, and this year it seems we allowed a lot of disrespect. With our overwhelmingly silent consent we allowed people to talk about us as if we are three-fifths human – with none of the respect or dignity our forefathers and mothers fought and died for us to have.
We allowed lawmakers to ignore our youth’s off-the-charts unemployment rate — at a whopping 35.8 percent for teens 16-19 — as the rest of the country bounces back from the recession. We watched in awe, but without much action, as harmful cuts were made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, literally taking food from our children’s mouths. Without any real fight we allowed critical elements of the landmark Voting Rights Act to be repealed, most notably the requirement that states with a history of voter suppression obtain federal permission to change its voting laws.
The good news is, after a storm a rainbow can appear. Hopefully our rainbow is just days away. 2014 – a year marked by midterm elections – offers us a fresh start. We must ask ourselves if we are going to continue allowing Tea Party conservatives to dictate our futures or if we are going to fight to secure our children’s futures.
Given the seriousness of what we face in our neighborhoods this is no time to rest. Poverty, homelessness, drugs, a lack of access to good educational opportunities, affordable housing and racial profiling–all of these issues require that we show up and get involved. We must show up at the polls the same way we do for other important occasions. We must wait in long voter lines the same way we wait outside Nike to please our children for the holidays. We must follow the Tweets and Facebook posts of our elected government officials and advocacy groups the same way we do celebrities and cast members from our favorite reality shows and series like RHOA, Basketball Wives and Scandal.
We must do this because nobody’s going to give us respect — we’ve got to take it, and without apology. Although many strides have been made, the bigoted and misguided comments people in positions of power and influence make with little fear of retribution demonstrates that we have not yet arrived.
This fight will never be won by a few; it will take the involvement of the majority. 2014 is a new opportunity for all of us to rise to the occasion. Let’s make our New Year’s resolutions ones that are rooted in action.
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