The Perils of Micro-activism

I used to love reading about microaggressions, comments or slights that happen in the course of everyday life that sting because of assumptions made about the targeted person’s identification within a specific group. It’s the ‘you’re not really black’ comment said to the grammatical correct Black women, the ‘is English your first language?‘ asked of the the third generation American or the ‘I thought all Asians were good at math’ comment to a high schooler struggling in Trigonometry. I’ve had a faux pas (or more) in my lifetime: telling a colleague of mine that I would not match her Korean features with her Polish last name or exclaiming (in genuine awe), ‘that white girl can really dance!’

I would read about others’ experiences with daily ignorance to commiserate. It’s comforting to know that others stories are similar to mine and sometimes, I would even get ideas on what to say and how to react. I believed that while these moments were unpleasant, even painful, they were the cost that we paid for living in an integrated society. It seems in 2020, what was once viewed as ignorance and prejudice has been elevated from micro to macro-level racism, a word so overused and overplayed, it barely has meaning.

And that’s a good thing for those who wish to dilute it’s definition in order to cast a wider net to ensnare people. Take Samantha Ware’s now infamous unrelated response to Lea Michele’s tweet about George Floyd. The national conversation at this moment was about the death of another unarmed black man at the hands of police and the desperate need for reform. And what has she got to add? ‘Traumatic microaggressions?’ You have to be bold to stand on the back of a national dialogue about police brutality and make it about someone threatening to ‘s*** in a wig.’

Recently, I posted the video of the Michigan couple charged with felonious assault for an incident in a Chipotle parking lot. The alleged bump between the white woman shown and a teenager was enough to convince the unidentified individuals in the video that the woman was racist. The bar is now that low. And it doesn’t even have to be evident, just assumed.

The rise of the media attention on ‘{Enter location} {Enter generic white sounding name}’ also coincides with the rise of micro-activism and its raison d’être: microaggressions. Why bother solving problems that can help a people when you can just get rid of a person? It takes less time and nowadays, yields results in days, sometimes less. These kind of ‘victories’ only whet the appetite of people so far removed from the satisfaction of justice and change, that they’ll accept the far inferior substitutes of personal attack and degradation as a social justice win.

I’m Sorry…so sorry

Liam Neeson, yesterday, gave an interview to the British newspaper, The Independent. He gives a testimony, affirming his humanity, in all of its ugly glory and his reward? To be called a racist and to be asked to consider the feelings of ‘an innocent black man knowing that he could have been killed’. Like Kevin Hart before him, Neeson is being asked to consider the feelings of those he may have hurt who, heretofore, had no knowledge of, interest in or concern for his actions. I am not a fan of cheap or political apologies. I don’t believe that people should apologize for hypothetical pain; pain is very real, visceral and tangible. You can objectively count its victims. It is not amorphous and vague, lacking real effects or clear connections. Holding strangers guilty for the possible distress they might have caused makes as much sense as demanding redress for the punch that could have hit you in the face. We live in a time where victimization is a fast track to a public platform, so we shouldn’t be surprise that it’s becomes more attractive to be in the cross hairs.

Writing so Poor, It Begs the Question: What Happened Before the Video? – the Doubletree/Massey Edition

What happens when you can call anyone a racist?

The latest installment in the media driven narrative of LWB (Living While Black) focuses on Jermaine Massey, a guest at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – Portland. The incident took place on December 23rd after Massey returned to the hotel from a concert. He claims he received an urgent call from his mother and went to a quiet area in the lobby to take the call. It was then that he was interrupted by a security guard, requesting his room number. Much of the furor surrounds the video Mr. Massey took after police had been called. Within a week, the two men, identified as ‘Earl’ and ‘Luis’ in the video, were fired. Thus far, no report has surfaced inquiring as to what their view of the event was because, apparently, that doesn’t matter. Mr. Massey says that he was discriminated against, so therefore, he must be right. The hotel chain was swift with public apologies and promised to work with ‘diversity experts‘ to rectify the situation…whatever that means.


  1. How long have ‘Luis’ and ‘Earl’ worked there?
  2. How many times have they called police on guests? Were all those guests black?
  3. How many other guests did ‘Earl’ request information from?
  4. Is ‘Earl’ (within his authority as a security guard) allowed to ask individuals questions to identify if they are guests or not?
  5. Is not identifying yourself to staff, grounds for removal?
  6. Why did the guard call the police on Mr. Massey?
  7. Why was Mr. Massey, a registered guest, taking a personal call in the lobby instead of his room?
  8. Why did he not show is room key or state his room number when first asked?

These questions matter because in situations as sensitive as this, nuance matters, context matters. In light of how quickly corporations rush to squelch (i.e., quietly settle) damaging incidents gone public, Mr. Massey has something to gain from this (not implying, however, that that is his motivation) and the current atmosphere of ‘question nothing’ leaves businesses (large and small) vulnerable to opportunists looking to cash in without being challenged.

Here it is…

I believe Mr. Massey when he says he was irritated by ‘Earl”s interruption and I believe ‘Earl’ when he said Massey refused to give his room number which led to the police being called. I don’t believe the video circulating on the networks now is all there is to the story. Especially since along with the publicized clip, Massey posted a few more, since deleted videos, to Instagram in which he gave further commentary on the event. In one, he stated he was in his room and then went to the lobby to call his mother. In another, his description of the initial word exchange between himself and the security guard is vague at best and offers no insight into how things escalated so quickly.

The two men fired in this video have had their faces shown to the nation and been labeled racists, a scarlet label not so easily removed. This is not a trial, so it is not a matter of due process, but proper investigation. For the sake of everyone involved, as much of a complete version of events should be presented so that judgment doesn’t just come swiftly, but accurately.


Today in Racism: Victims of Hurricane Florence

The same event, different players: Hurricane Florence is barreling through the Carolinas. A car drives past a barricade, floodwaters take over the vehicle and not everyone can get out time. Later, the bodies are recovered. If you are the sheriff tasked with determining the criminality/negligence of the situation, it would appear to depend on one thing: whether or not you are a police officer. Two separate incidents occured, one involving a young black mother and another, involving two police officers transporting mental health patients. The earlier stories both indicate a poor choice was made to go around a barricade, but only the one pertaining to the young mother inquired as to whether or not charges might be filed despite the fact that the exact same mistake was made. A few weeks later, two different outcomes: the mother is charged with involuntary manslaughter; and the police officers? Are given pink slips and a convenient excuse. Apparently, they were waved through by National Guardsmen because they were in a law enforcement vehicle. No mention is made as to why they would be waved through in an area under watch for flood or who the individuals were that waved them through and whether or not they would be held accountable. Also, why didn’t the earlier story mention that the National Guard were in the area at the time? Things that make you go, ‘hmm,’ and ‘mmph.’

Um…that’s not Blackface

Thoughts on Megan Kelly and conversations about race

Full disclosure: years ago, I went as a white colleague of mine for Halloween and she had planned to go as me. The day of the party arrives and she can’t make it, but I decided to keep my costume intact. Some close friends of mine decided to go as ‘thugs’ and had taken some makeup of mine to darken their skin. I don’t remember exactly what I said to them at the time, but it was something along the lines of, ‘you don’t have to be dark to be a thug.’ They respectfully (and wisely) stopped with the makeup. I, however, when out in full pale makeup, wig, stuffed bra and overalls, looking like a life-size Raggedy Ann doll. And the reaction?…I won best costume. During my heartfelt acceptance speech, I thanked my absent colleague, and my touching words were met with a face full of silly string. I promptly took my seat. The lesson? It’s that serious and sometimes, it’s not.

Sometimes, It is

I recoiled when my friends tried to darken their skin to portray hoodlums because they were playing with a stereotype, the idea that baggy clothes and a tough guy pose is the sole province of dark skinned people. I couldn’t sit with that and when I expressed that to them, they respected it and stopped. So what made my get-up any less objectionable? Not much. It was in poor taste, as costumes typically are on Halloween, but I was a joke (not a stereotype) and the target was in on it.

And Sometimes, It’s Not

The term blackface and minstrelsy has been used more in the past couple of days since the implosion of Megan Kelly’s talk show. If you haven’t seen it, check it out below. “It” happens around the 4-minute mark. After watching though, I genuinely don’t think that Kelly was defending traditional blackface as being an acceptable costume when she was a kid and here’s why: the example she gives of Luann De Lesseps, and the flack she received for her Diana Ross costume on the Real Housewives of New York, which surprised and confused Kelly. And after seeing the picture, I think I was more offended by the hair (Diana Ross would never) than her skin.

Blackface and more specifically, Minstrelsy, was a popular form of entertainment starting in the 1830s. It was especially racist because of its reliance on popular stereotypes of African Americans and influential because it reinforced the worst assumptions that White Americans had, giving the perspective that theatregoers were getting accurate depictions of Black life. And even though minstrel shows would eventually be replaced in popularity by vaudeville and later on, motion pictures, many of its staple characters (Mammy, Sambo, Tom, etc) remained deeply entrenched, making their way to later mediums, including radio and television, forcing black actors to accept demeaning roles or unemployment.

Fast forward to the 21th century, minstrel shows are dead, but dressing up as another race…not so much:


The vast majority of the depictions above are from comedies (where the boundaries of good taste are…looser) and are, what I believe, Megan Kelly was referring to when she said ‘blackface’. The significant difference between these images and traditional blackface is obvious, but the most important one is time. It would be quite a stretch to say in 2018 that any one of those individuals greatly influenced the perceptions people had of the specific ethnic group they were imitating; I didn’t watch Ms. Swan on Mad TV (bottom left) and think, ‘So that’s what they’re really like!’ Those who claim that race based costumes are essentially the same as blackface in minstrelsy are themselves dressing their logic in the ill-fitting clothes and garish makeup of a time gone by and, are in effect, denying the successful work done to drain the once popular artform of its power.

Racism is often defined as having an element of power, and I would suggest the missing piece is not prejudice, but suffering. Black Americans suffered under the perpetuation of racial stereotypes popularize in Minstrelsy. Can we say that today? That Robert Downey Jr’s Oscar nominated performance in Tropic Thunder set us back a few years? That Megan Kelly’s genuine question about what qualifies as being racist has done tremendous harm to progress? I would be afraid to be a part of a movement where suffering is wielded as weapon against those who would be better served by mercy, and energies are focused on draining power from individuals rather than from the institutions.

There is a line. Let’s talk more about where it is and why and less about who’s crossing it.


Today in ‘Ugh’: UF Graduates Manhandled

So today’s current annoyance is the treatment of students at their graduation at the University of Florida. If you’re unfamiliar, get acquainted.

I used that video first because it was one of the earliest reports I could find of the story, before it got picked up nationally. Contrast it with this one, post virality. Inserted now are suggestions of racial profiling; one of the students is quoted as saying that she found it ‘degrading’ and felt she was being treated like a criminal (!). Another one expressed ‘shock and disappointment’ at being treated this way in 2018. Question: are we talking about being pushed off stage or a plank?

The first story makes it clear it was several students and not just black graduates that were rushed off. It also discusses whether the dancing was unseemly at a graduation ceremony and the inappropriateness of the physical contact between the faculty member and students, but the latter report doesn’t bother to explore any of those topics. Instead it inserts racial undertones to give the story more of an unnecessary, polarizing edge. The first reporter presented two students with slightly opposing opinions while the other gave us lopsided vent sessions. Reporting Red Flag: if your only hearing one side of the story, you’re being patronized. Good reporting makes no assumptions and offers no judgement.

And finally, a logic exercise: is it possible that students strolling or dancing across the stage happened for the first time ever at this ceremony? Probably not. If not, why was the faculty member’s reaction so severe? Protocol? Nope, that ain’t it. So what are his reasons? We don’t know. The people responsible for finding out didn’t tell us, but what would you think if the previous ceremony ran long because of unencumbered celebrations and the staff member was then tasked with making sure that didn’t happen again? Which might explain why no other faculty member intervened when he began to shove students. His method was excessive. Could he have tried speaking to them? I’m curious to see how this plays out, but my guess is that UF is protecting him (by not releasing his name) because part of this was the school’s idea. Better to apologize than accept blame.

Last thought: 20 years ago, a young woman gave a speech at her college graduation…naked. She was not rushed off the stage.


The only hole to worry about is the one you’re digging

Where you’re from is not who you are, what you do is.

Yes, there are crappy places on earth to live, but that’s not the point. Whether some of those crappy places include Haiti and El Salvador, countries reportedly named by President Trump in an article from The Washington Post, is also not the point. Assuming that people who come from these countries are also crappy IS the problem. Colonization, corruption, unrest, and natural disasters all play a part in the quality of life within a nation. And none of those factors can be easily controlled by the average citizen. The average citizen simply wants a better life which is what immigration is all about: getting the hell out of s***holes. From the Pilgrims to the ‘poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ we are descendants of people who mastered the art of spinning straw into gold and this thread is woven into the fabric of the American experience and, most importantly, American success.

Chris Rock kills, but bias lives on

The Oscars were on last Sunday and Chris Rock put on a clinic of how to show grace under fire. Despite calls for a boycott and suggestions that he should step down as host, Rock delivered an edgy, mostly funny opening monologue. Not everything landed (who’s fault was that Stacey Dash bit?), but a lot of it was fly-yes, that pun was very intentional- (‘Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties – I wasn’t invited’;  black folks ‘were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer’; the clip featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan inserting themselves into nominated films – great sfx btw!) . At one point, he soften a bit, simply saying that all black actors want is opportunity. It was in that moment, I realized something…that’s not going to happen.

There is something uncomfortable in 2016 about any group of capable, creative people asking peers for a chance. People are designed to protect their own self interests; it’s all about survival, so in an industry where it’s incredibly hard to succeed (white or not), we’re asking those who work the most to give up a piece of the pie? Why would they? They know how lucky they are to work AND they know how quickly it goes (especially if you’re a woman of a certain age), so what motivation do they have to diversify (i.e, increase an already crowded playing field)? And please don’t say fairness because nobody cares about equity when it comes to money unless you’re talking about ownership. And please don’t say justice because Hollywood is not the government or law enforcement (and you can see how well those institutions have done by people of color).

We’re asking for people to change what they do and not what they think and that’s a waste of time. Ok, so you throw a couple of nominations out to black folks. Is that the answer? A bigger problem becomes watered down to something superficial and ultimately, can’t be taken seriously. It’s not about how many black actors get nominated. That’s a worthless discussion if we’re not talking about minority writers, directors, crew, producers or the fact that Asians and Latinos have it worse. We’re asking white people to give us a place at a table where nine times out a ten, we don’t like the food they serve!

Enough with that. While I didn’t agree with Jada Pinkett regarding an Oscars boycott, I do agree with her statement via her Facebook page that ‘we must stand in our power’. It’s not self imposed segregation to create films and shows with our own money; It’s called community: a collection of like minded individuals working toward one goal. So, while the solution isn’t knocking on doors, it’s not kicking them down either. It’s going back to your house, inviting some friends over and getting the job done.

Shame the Black Away

I was on Larry Elder’s twitter to prepare for this post (believe me, I don’t go looking for Larry Elder quotes) and noticed his reply to one of the comments made about him: ‘What’s the difference, between calling a white guy a “nigger lover” vs. calling a black an “Uncle Tom”–as you’ve just done to me?’ I’ve heard lots about Elder over the years; his ultra conservative perspective and sometimes, seemingly anti-black sentiment is tough to sit through, especially when he’s spouting his ideology in front of a white viewership. I used to think he was an Uncle Tom until I realized how much that played into the stifling mainstream perception of black people as monolith.

Folks (of all ethnic backgrounds) get away with calling  out black people for not being ‘black enough’. This kind of shaming is still acceptable because we still intrinsically believe there are certain things that all black people do and say, after all, that is a form of solidarity, no? NO! It’s actually called groupthink. The past couple of months, I’ve seen the ‘blackness’ of popular Twitter targets, Don Lemon and Raven Symone, called into question. When Stacey Dash endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, the b(l)acklash was fierce and furious (and foolish).

There’s something unsavory about the pass we give shaming African Americans whose opinions are on different ends of spectrum. The silent endorsement shores up the idea that only certain kinds of public expression of black thought are acceptable, forcing fresh perspectives out of the spotlight and reinforcing the status quo.

No Apologies (The End of ‘Fashion Police’)

Maybe we need to start encouraging people to ignore foolishness

So Guiliana is forced to apologize to a well spoken teenager who takes her hair (and self) too seriously. Everyone was focused on what Guiliana said, but they should have paid closer attention to what Ms. Coleman said. Toward the end of her Instagram post (in response to the weed comment) she writes, ‘My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.’ Really? When I was 18, my choice of hairstyle was a fashion statement not a visual exhortation to the masses. Her reasoning strikes me as pretentious, an effort to add gravity to what is essentially hurt feelings. Hair is not sentient; we’re talking about dead skin cells! This isn’t life! Fashion Police talks about people’s hair, clothes and accessories ALL THE TIME. That’s the point. Apologizing for the core element of the show nullifies it. It kills the show because it sets a precedent that what’s said, will be taken back if someone cries foul or racism. Joan must be rolling over in her grave. And speaking of the late Ms. Rivers, Guiliana shouldn’t have to be her in order to crack off color jokes. Free speech doesn’t belong to just comedians, or to the really young or really old. Fortunately, that’s not how the Bill of Rights works. To those who feel Rancic’s comments were racist, remember her comments were singular, referring to the specific looks of a specific person. Broadening her opinion to apply to a whole race of people is flawed logic, and the means for the severely sensitive to mount social media witch hunts.