The Only One

IMG-3914 (1)
At a time when I was the only black 7th grade teacher at a charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York (2015). 

Every day I stand in front of my diverse classroom intensely aware of my skin color. As the only black man teaching at my school, I am one of the 3.7 percent of New York City teachers that share my identity. This May, during Teacher Appreciation Month, I celebrated the critical impact black male educators have on the life of students who share similar experiences based on our gender, race, and life experiences. Despite the crucial impact we make, there are less black male teachers in NYC today than ten years ago. It is time for NYC, and the rest of America, to double down on recruiting, retaining, and developing excellent black male educators.

Growing up in Miami, I was one of the only black students through most of my schools and classes. Still, my teachers reflected the great diversity of my hometown – I had multiple African American, white, and Hispanic teachers of both genders throughout my K-12 education. It was these teachers that challenged and pushed me to become the learner, and later educator, that I am today.

Now, as the only black male teacher in a New York City public school, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, their uncle, their big brother, their mentor, and their hero. At the end of my first year in this school, a group of my black female students started to affectionately call me “Uncle” Toussaint. It has carried over into this school year. On my birthday, I found a card on my desk, signed by this group of four black girls and the card read, “Happy Birthday Uncle, you’ve done so much for us. You’re an amazing figure to have in our lives.” My connection with my students go beyond the content and test results. I look at them and see myself, 20 years ago. And in turn, I am someone they can see themselves becoming.

A study by the Institute for Labor Economics found that if a low-income black male student has a black teacher in elementary schools they are 39 percent less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend college. These effects were even stronger when the teacher is a male or shares the gender as the students they teacher. Conversely, the media reports constantly about the disproportionately, higher rates of suspensions that black boys face in American schools. Not only are black boys susceptible to systematic racism and discrimination, but they are also susceptible to stereotypes that too often become self-fulling prophecies suffocated by dreams deferred.

In an age when our black boys are under constant attack, we must interrupt the status quo for young black male lives and the limited narrative that offer such limited options. As an educator of fifteen years, the solution I’ve seen work best is to recruit and retain black men in the teaching profession. Education is the most powerful vehicle people have to rise from humble circumstances and fight for better opportunities for their families and communities. When we recruit, support and retain black men in the crucial roles of educator, principal, counselor, or coach we provide a powerful opportunity for our young black boys. They are able to share some lessons that only a black man in American can truly pass on to a black boy; like how to survive an encounter with the police; how to code switch, how to fight with your words and not your fist, how to advocate for those like you and how to give back. This is the important difference a black male education can have on his students. It promotes a narrative that at times can seem non-existent, and makes it real, that black men can be intelligent, caring and a vital part of the development of children.

Nationwide, black men make up only 2 percent of the teachers, while half of all students are students of color. James Baldwin said, Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Our children need to see black male educators, who are professional, passionate, intelligent and tangible. It is time to deeply invest in effective initiatives that develop and recruit black male educators that address this issue nationwide.

As a black male educator, I am not just a teacher to my black boys and girls, I am a father figure, an uncle, a big brother, a mentor, and their hero. They trust me. They love me. 30 years in the school system and it seems all too familiar. I look around and I am the only one. But this time, I am not the only black boy, I am the only black man. 

 

Advertisements

COMMON DAMN SENSE & WHY I NEED MY WHITE FRIENDS

Just be a descent human-being and use common damn sense!

When Colin Kaepernick is kneeling, he is exercising his “right” to peacefully protest. This is not a violent attack on our military or any civilians. Feelings may get hurt, but no one is in any physical danger. And yes, rich people have the right to protest too.

When openly racist members of white supremacy protest, but instead use violence to get their point across, that is not only dangerous, it is Un-American. It is the exact opposite of what our brothers and sisters in uniform or risking their lives for. It is a direct attack on American citizens. It is a direct attack on democracy. Our military fights for freedom, not oppression.

This battle for equality in America is not just for black people, gay people, women or immigrants. It’s about people. People who do bad things should be held accountable—that is all. People who use violence should be held accountable. Officials who abuse their power to oppress others, in order for their own benefit are just as guilty.

Nonetheless, I do believe in a system where white Americans have an inherit advantage; fair or not fair. That same privilege and power is what it is going to take to save our country. Who can come between a fight between two elephants?

Just like when viral youtube videos of black people acting ignorant makes all black people look bad; the same can be said for what is happening in Virginia right now. At this moment, this country needs descent, moral white Americans to openly and publicly be just as bold as the white supremacists; not just today and tomorrow, but everyday.

And to my black people. We need to continue to be good to each other; today, tomorrow and everyday.

charlotteville
A driver plows into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Associated Press

Whose America?

img_1701-1
Hundreds of thousands protested along 42nd Street in Manhattan during the Women’s March.

Crowds of protesters flooded the streets of every major city in the United States; hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City and Boston. Even my hometown of Miami drew over 10,000 protesters. To think, just days before the mass demonstrations, I had no idea of how immense the protests would be. As my social media feed continued to update, I learned that it was not just a movement in America, but it was a worldwide collaboration. London, Nairobi, Berlin, Paris and Prague too? Over 1 million people worldwide protested on Saturday (see article Washington Post ). It was a worldwide march lead by women, with a unified message; the disapproval of the recently elected United States President, Donald Trump.

There has been a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding this campaign and his ascent to the White House. Many have viewed his words as racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and divisive. One of Trump’s most troublesome ideas is to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, in which he initially stated that the Mexican government would pay for (see article Los Angeles Times). He also painted a grim picture of Mexicans and other immigrants from Latin American countries as being responsible for bringing crime and drugs into the United States.

On 16 June, at his campaign launch for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Donald Trump aired his views on immigration, saying: ‘[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ (see video The Guardian).  

Not only did Mr. Trump speak harshly  about Hispanics, but he also proposed a ban on immigrants from Muslim countries, (see video CNN News) creating a larger rift within America and its immigrant communities.

According to News One, Trump received single digit support from black voters throughout most of the campaign. His rallies were overwhelmingly white and there were several instances in which black people were physically assaulted by white crowds (see video Washington Post). Furthermore, Trump publicly received support from the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) (see article Washington Post). Trump’s campaign swiftly denounced the group’s support, however their public endorsement left an undeniable stain. With this kind of negative press, relations with the black community became as tense as ever.

And just 24 hours before a nationally televised presidential debate, a recording of Mr. Trump having a conversation about groping women and “grabbing them by the pussy” was made public (see video New York Times). This brought even more controversy to his campaign and the timing could not have been worse. Surely, his approval ratings would drop. Surely Mrs. Clinton would expose Mr. Trump and use his words and ideas to show just how unfit of a candidate he was. But like a cat with nine lives, Trump survived yet another blow to his campaign and came out seemingly unscathed.  His crowd remained fervently supportive of him.

Going into the November election, the polls and experts had Hillary Clinton ahead with a double-digit lead (see article CNN News). But on the night of Tuesday, November 7th, the unexpected happened. Clinton’s so-called lead never actually materialized. As a matter of fact, the race was a lot closer than the experts had anticipated, and the world witnessed one of the biggest upsets in election history. Though reports will show that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, the electoral map was overwhelmingly red (see article CNN News). The results of the election created an uproar. Members of the Democratic party demanded a recount. It even brought our electoral college system into serious question; many legislators are now arguing to have it removed all together.

What a campaign year! Our country seems more divided than ever. Though many continue to contest Trump’s presidency, the fact remains that he is our nation’s leader.

I was part of the massive crowds that marched, chanted and protested. And as I marched among the throngs of people, something became apparent, more than ever. Dr. King’s words never rang truer:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

img_1681
Protesters crowd the streets at Grand Central Station.

The historic crowds were impressive and beautifully diverse. The marches brought people of all walks together. However, I had to ask myself:

 

  • When scores of unarmed black bodies were being mowed down by law enforcement, sparking protests and giving birth to the phrase Black Lives Matter, where was the uprising then?  Where was the outrage?
  • When mass shootings of innocent men, women and children in Colorado, Connecticut, and Florida revealed how our gun laws continue to put as all at risk, where were the mass protests then?
  • When families were being torn apart by aggressive deportation practices-again, where was everyone then?
  • When our native American brothers and sisters’ livelihoods were under direct attack by greedy and heartless companies threatening to build a pipeline directly through their water source and ancient burial grounds, where was everyone?
  • Where was everyone on November 7th?

 

All of our struggles are just as important, but they are not always treated with equal care, respect and the unity that they deserve.

The mere threat of the Trump administration galvanized millions world-wide. So what gave this march priority over everything else? I cannot quite say, but moving forward, if we want to preserve our rights and dignity as Americans, it would behoove us to capture a wider lens that includes everyone in the struggle. We can’t just protest when we are inconvenienced. We must speak out against oppression and injustice for everyone.

 

The Good Negro

the-good-negro

When Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel, instead of stand during the playing of the Nation Anthem, he positioned himself and changed his status from “the Good Negro,” to “a Problem”. Immediately, his critics became historians, patriots and defenders of all things American. Well, at least from the dominant culture’s perspective. When Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812, people who looked like Colin Kaepernick would have been considered slaves, chattel, property, 3/5 human being or at best, byproducts of infidelity manifested through the rape of enslaved black women. A little more history will reveal that during the war, that thousands of black people actually fought against the United States on the side of the British, as they were promised to be liberated, if they fought for the British crown. Ever heard of Freetown, Sierra Leone? Look it up.

After all, Britain had abolished slavery by 1808, nearly 60 years before the American Civil War (1861-65). So any historian or person of color might naturally be inclined to believe that the Star Spangled Banner was not a song about justice for all, but a song of preserving the rights, freedoms and liberties and the union of a nation that was built on the oppression of black people; so much so, that they fought to preserve the union, as well as slavery. So to any well-versed and well-read person, black, white or any other label, can clearly see, why someone of color, or any American for that matter, might be dissatisfied with the content, context and history of our National Anthem.

Many have argued that Kaepernick is dishonoring, or disrespecting America and especially its veterans. Well, they have the right to believe that, but up until the 1950’s, our military was still racially segregated. And it was not until the Obama administration, that being openly gay in the military was legitimately addressed, protected and recognized by our government. And if you truly understand our history, America has always been a land of protest and freedom of expression. After all, the Bill of Rights, protects the very actions that Kaepernick has decided to exercise. The first amendment gives all United States citizens the freedom of speech, which also includes freedom of religion, press and peaceful assembly. This means that even organizations built on the foundation of using terrorism to intimidate black people from voting in the late 1800’s, known as the Ku Klux Klan, can have parades, demonstrations and marches, while being protected under that same amendment. This means that Neo-Nazi groups can pass out white supremacist literature and rhetoric to the public and they have the right to do so, under the same amendment. Our unique principles of individual freedoms that are protected by the U.S. Constitution, were supposedly built on these same rights.

However, when I see someone who looks like Colin Kaepernick being attacked for exercising his freedoms, I become suspicious. I begin to question whether my contemporaries really believe in justice for all, or are they just as short sighted as our founding fathers were, when it comes down to race and gender equality. Are they upset because of his complexion, or his privilege as an elite athlete, who just happens to be a person of color? If you feel that not standing for the American flag is un-American, then you must have the same sentiment towards the Confederate Flag, which was a direct dis against our United States. Then you should be just as passionate about the Ku Klux Klan being able to continue to operate after going on a reign of terror that lasted 100 years, as they hung innocent black, men women and children and any brave white folks who dared to stand for justice and equality for their black brothers and sisters. You should be outraged at how the 2nd amendment continues to be the same device used to allow almost anyone over 18 years old to purchase an assault rifle, that was only designed to do one thing —-and that is to destroy human flesh.

However, I do see why some people may be upset with Colin. They are upset because Colin Kapernick has gone from the conventional role of the unassuming, quiet in the storm of injustice, Michael Jordan silent, endorsement filled “good negro” to “a problem.” Our history has always been fine with people of color who simply conform to the system, even in times when the flaws of the system have direct negative impacts on them. We can look at the Trail of Tears, under the Indian Removal Act of 1831, under Andrew Jackson’s presidency. As long as the people of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and other nations did not resist leaving their ancestral land and being forced to march 1000 miles to Oklahoma, then they were fine. But if they resisted or protested in any way, they were eradicated. As long as black folks in the South did not show up to the ballots on election day during the Jim Crow years (1877-1965) they were fine. But as soon as a negro tried to exercise their right to vote, they were eradicated. Do you know who Medgar Evers is? Look him up.  As long as immigrants work under the table, doing menial jobs for impoverished wages, it is not a problem. But as soon as they begin to get involved in the political process, send their children to school and demand higher wages, “they need to go back to Mexico, because they are taking all of our jobs, committing crimes and leaching off our healthcare system.”

I’m sure that Harriet Tubman was an excellent slave. They say that she was a strong as any man. She probably worked as hard as any slave during her years of bondage; and her masters benefited greatly from her production- as a slave. But when she ran away, she was no longer helpful to them. And when she began to free others, she became a problem. By no means am I saying that a multimillionaire professional athlete is a slave in today’s society—- at least not from a materialistic stand point. But if our argument is that because Colin Kaepernick is wealthy then he has no worries or place to speak out or protest the unjust treatment of some of his fellow Americans; then what is the point in becoming wealthy; to only remain wealthy and not use your influence or platform to change the things that are flawed with our system?  May he should just continue making millions and keep his mouth shut. Paying a few black athletes millions of dollars does not even begin to address our country’s battle with racism, discrimination and inequality.  And just because Colin was raised by white parents does not mean that he does not understand what it is, feels like to be black in America or that he is not somehow, immune or protected from the same unfair treatment of those who do not have the implied protection of white privilege.

So does the first amendment apply to everyone or does it only apply to some? If you agree that it applies to everyone, then Colin Kaepernick is just as American and patriotic as anyone who has ever spoken out against injustice. He is just as patriotic as Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, while owning hundreds of slaves on his Virginia plantation at the same damn time; not to mention becoming elected our 3rd president, not to mention fathering at least six bi-racial children with his mistress, Ms. Sally Hemings. These documents were a direct response to the injustice that Americans faced under British tyranny. We were a country born out of a social revolution. But if we are going to have a double-standard about who can fight and speak out for freedom then the flag means absolutely nothing.

 

White Privilege Gone Wild

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honest and open conversations can be very uncomfortable. That is why so many of us are dishonest; at times. I sincerely believe that most people have good intentions. However, there is a saying that goes something like this, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I think you get the point. America, needs to have an honest and open conversation about something that has polarized our nation from the very onset and will only get worse unless it is honestly addressed …. The true power of white privilege.

Don’t get me wrong,  all Americans have a certain level of privilege that the rest of the world does not. The founding fathers established a legacy in the United States that is quite unique. Because of our geography; bordered by the vast Pacific Ocean to the west and the great Atlantic Ocean to the east, we are essentially impossible to invade on a mass scale from other world powers or our would-be enemies. Therefore we are arguably, one of the safest and secure countries in the world (arguably). With the exception of Donald Trump’s recent attacks and ridiculous rhetoric about our neighbors to the South, the true narrative of the Mexican people has considered them to be an overall asset to our nation, rather than a liability.

Furthermore, with our advancements in technology, industry and conquests during the  past century,. we have become the world’s greatest Super Power. Not to mention gaining a pretty substantial economic head start from 300 plus years of slave labor. In 2016 all Americans, whether black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, atheistic, Christian, Muslim or Jewish,  all receive some relative benefit from being a U.S. Citizen; that most of the planet does not. Most of these privileges are bundled in the realm of quality of living, but not necessarily quality of life.

Yes, the average U.S. household has access to running water, electricity, internet, shelter and cable television. But women still only make 75 cents on the dollar to men for performing the same job. Millions of middle-class Americans of all races and backgrounds were robbed of their pensions and life savings during the 2008 economic crisis, while big banks were bailed out. Poor white children from the Midwest and the South sign their lives away to go die in the fight for “freedom,” in places they could not identify on a map, before they are old enough to crack a Bud Light. Unarmed black men are killed by the police at five times the rate as white men and double  the rate of Hispanics.

What does all this have to do with white privilege? Well, because America was founded by the white elite and is now run by their heirs, they have created this divisive culture and have the privilege to ignore it, because what happens at the middle, lower and darker classes of America does not inherently affect them. With the emergence of white-ism, the idea and belief that any thing affiliated with being white is the standard of what it is to be American and that everything else is foreign and therefore illegitimate. This cup of ignorance is poisonous to the human spirit and though may taste sweet for a few, it is bitter and lethal to most.

With all of our so-called social advancements, our government has yet to apologize for 100 years of legalized human trafficking and another 100 years of state sponsored terrorism and apartheid. Bandages have been placed on our society’s injuries with affirmative action and the election of a first Black president, but our country needs surgery, not simply stitches. White privilege has created this false sense of accomplishment and arrogance among millions of Americans, who believe that they have actually achieved their status in life on their merits alone, discounting their inheritance of privilege.

And now the entire world gets to witness the worst and most dangerous form of white privilege gone mad in the actions, words and conduct of Donald Trump. He is the reason why America has to admit to the immeasurable power of white privilege. Donald Trump has no political experience, has proven on record that he is a mediocre business man at best, has divided our nation even further, publicly disrespected the family of a fallen veteran, has not developed nor articulated any policies that would yield any benefit to our country and yet, he is in position to be the leader of our great nation.

Our eyes are wide-shut, because quite frankly the greatest alley, advocate and asset that Mr. Trump has, is his white privilege. His privilege runs so deep, that his ignorance is actually perceived as noble and virtuous according to his constituents. They regurgitate ridiculous rhetoric such as, “at least he’s honest” or “he’s going to make America great again.” Meanwhile his incumbent Barack Obama, a black man could have never even gotten on his party ticket, unless he was the most brilliant candidate among his competition, which he has proven time and time again, because of his blackness. But truth be told, even Mr. Obama benefited from the privilege of being raised by a white mother and white grand parents.  And more pressing,  Hillary Clinton, a woman who has over 20 years of political experience and our former Secretary of State shamefully has to compete against an unworthy opponent.Because you see, white privilege is also patriarchal.

Donald will ride his white privilege all the way to the Oval Office, if we stand by and let him. But those of us outside of the sphere of white privilege are limited in our access to power. We can only hope that more of our influential white brothers and sisters start to be honest about the mess that America has made. Admit to the inherent and obvious powers of being white and privileged in America; to use that same privilege to stand for those of us who do not have the same reach. We can only hope that they are willing to get dirty, get honest and get uncomfortable, not just for their immediate gratification, but for the defense and honor of us who cannot and will not ever be able to sit at the “bargaining” table. At least until more and more white folks begin to openly and honestly admit that Emmitt Till, Freddy Gray, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin were denied due process because the color of their skin.

Dr. King summed up our a current situation nearly 50 years ago with the following quote:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Only light can cast out darkness, love conquers hate and peace ends wars, but in our case, only the privileged can call out those who have privilege. It must be done so that liberty and justice for all becomes fact, because today, it is fiction.

 

Spoiled Milk

Until, the philosophy

Which holds one race superior and another inferior

Is finally and permanently 

Discredited and abandoned 

Then everywhere is war.

Bob Marley so eloquently and prophetically sang these lyrics over 40 years ago and they continue to hold truth today; especially in the United States.There is a psycho-emotional  war in America and no one is winning. We are all losing.

Our country was birthed from the womb of violence, fed through the umbilical cord of slavery and it now sucks on the milk of racism. To establish our empire, it was necessary for those privileged generations to remain in power. However, this system is infantile and archaic. Those in power need to relinquish the bosom of prejudice and voluntary ignorance, so that our country can grow— so that we can move forward.

Imagine a grown man, feeding from the breast of his mother for nutrients. He comfortably lays across her lap, cradled and curled in a fetal position. He will receive all he wants from her breast milk and nothing else will matter, because that will be the source of his comfort and security. This is what our country looks like when we have black men and women being slain by a racist criminal “justice” system in 2016. Black people have been an integral part of the building of America going back as far as 400 years and we are still being treated like the “new kids on the block.” America needs to grow up, this is embarrassing and shameful.

Bluemilk_MTC

He does not feed in public,

He feeds in private.

His racism is not flagrant,

Instead it is veiled,

By policy and the misuse of power and privileges.

Why? Because it is safe.

A baby clutches to this Mother’s breast

and feeds because it is familiar,

it is easy to access,

it is within arms reach,

it requires very little effort.

Who would not wish to remain

in this repose position forever?

But he must move on

and find his own source of food,

of wealth,

of knowledge of the world,

on his own.

Not from the bosom of inequality and injustice.

Just imagine… The greatest nation in the world? Home of the largest incarceration rate of black people on the planet…sucking on the bitter milk of racism until the entire body of our country caves in.