Georgia Peace Education Program Director, Tim Franzen, shares the story of Shabaka Addae Guillory, a 20-year-old who joined the Crips at age 14, and Sherrod Britton, a 29-year-old Blood member. According to Franzen, the two became best friends during an impromptu freestyle rap session at Occupy Atlanta.
“I saw him in the park, saw his colors,” Guillory told Franzen. “There was no mean mug or rivalry because we realized that what’s happening here is so much bigger then gang rivalry.”
Sherrod said he felt a deep connection to the message and process of Occupy Atlanta.” I stayed for the common cause, speaking for the people. I feel strongly that we have the right to jobs, health care, and affordable higher education.”
Franzen, who called the new friendship “one of the beautiful byproducts of this new movement…” says it is one of the “transformative experiences that has arisen as a result of so many different people from different walks of life occupying a space together for a common cause.”
The desire among gang members to fight for social justice may seem antithetical to outside observers, but the story of these two “thugs” perfectly reflects the spoken word message “The OG” voices to “The CEO” in the poem Dignity, a piece that is performed from the point of view of a gang member in a scene in my novel Skin Deep:
DIGNITY (The OG Addresses The CEO)
If I had my dignity
I would not yell street obscenities
to assert my dominion
in my streets
or paint my name in block letters
to remind you
this is my block
If I had my dignity
I would not sell anything
I could not sell without lies
or steal anything I could not buy
If I had my dignity
I would not feel the need
to threaten you physically
or challenge your right to survive
If I had my dignity
But you conspired to remove it from me
I knew even then
there was something
not quite white
about the color of my skin
And G.I. Joe and Ken?
they knew too
and they screamed it loud and clear
so all the little brothas in my neighborhood
if you try hard
you could be somebody
you could pump gas
or bag groceries
Hell, if you try REAL hard
you could even become president
you convinced me to measure my VALUE
by my material things.
And when I came up short,
my E N T R E P R E N U R I A L S P I R I T
My first BMW was black
as black as I could get
to affirm that I had bought into
the huge social lie
that you ARE what you HAVE
And when I step back and ponder
(yeah, I said ponder, it means THINK LONG)
I find similarities in our occupations
Me behind my nine
You behind your nine to five
and I wonder if you yell street obscenities
to assert your dominion
on Wall Street
or if you paint your name in block letters on your high-rise
to remind me
this is your high-rise
and I wonder if in Central America
you have sold anything
you could not sell without lies
or if in Africa
you have stolen anything
you could not buy
and facing me here eye-to-eye
I wonder if you feel the need to threaten me physically
or challenge my right to survive
…and now I realize…
if you had your dignity
you would not have taken mine
©1999 Kathleen Cross
From the novel Skin Deep by Kathleen Cross
The fact that President Barack Obama is the product of an interracial marriage has led folks of every ethnicity to argue about whether he should be calling himself “Black.” Many people are of the opinion that he should identify himself as “Biracial” to more accurately reflect his ethnic mixture.
It seems to me Obama’s own rationale for referring to himself as a Black man is the opinion that matters most, because what is being identified here are his life and his experiences. It astounds me that so many people have taken it upon themselves to inform the man that he is “not Black.”
It is true that in some places in the world Obama would not be referred to as a Black man because in some cultures the term Black denotes an African phenotype in which European characteristics are not visible–that is, the person does not appear to be mixed with anything that is non-indigenous African.
On this continent, however, “Black” is not a reference to dark skin or “full-bloodedness,” but to membership in a community of Americans of African descent who share similar cultural experiences and are exposed to similar social challenges that cannot be fully mitigated by economic or educational status (or by being mixed with European genes.)
Being Black is membership in one extremely diverse group of people who are daily responding to a supremacist construct in which any measurable deviation from Whiteness can make one socially “cast out” and deny one the many privileges White folks take for granted.
Being wealthy, well-educated and/or lighter-skinned can (and very often does) significantly mitigate racial discrimination, but smart, rich, light-skinned Black Americans will still experience countless instances in their lives where they are viewed (not just by Whites, by the way) through a supremacist lens that labels them LESS __________ (insert positive quality here) than their White counterparts. Driving While Black does not require much pigment, nor does being denied justice, housing or employment. All that is required is for the decision maker in the situation to view you through a lens that tells them you are less trustworthy, less civilized, less attractive, less responsible, less intelligent, less law-abiding, etc.
If the discriminating lens of white supremacy did not exist, ethnic identity would not be such a big deal. Racial labels would not come with such political and social baggage and Obama might actually choose to describe himself as bi-ethnic or multiracial, but so might millions of other “Black” Americans who do not have one white parent.
My Black father was mixed with White, but both of his parents were considered Black. Just how far back in our lineage should we be reaching to rename our black ancestors “Bi-racial” or “Multi-ethnic” when we discover they have some mixture of European, Native American, Asian or Hispanic DNA?
If Obama is not Black, then neither is anyone else who has a non-black ancestor or two. Spend a few hours on Ancestry.com and you’ll quickly recognize that millions of so-called “Black” Americans are actually “Multi-racial.” So, in America, “Black” already means “mixed” most of the time anyway. At some point the insistence on deBlackifying folks just becomes ridiculous and redundant.
How Black is Barack Obama?
He is as Black as it takes to be Black in America.
This is old news, so why am I writing about it today? Because it is reflective of one of the major themes in my novel, Skin Deep, and this blog/fansite is dedicated to all things Skin Deepish! (My novel’s protagonist looks white, but has been raised by her famous Black jazz musician father to identify herself as Black.)