Tag: african americans

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

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It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.

But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?

You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.

In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).

President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.

What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.

But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.

As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.

Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Shonda-Rhimes1
Shonda Rhimes

Which would you rather be called?

A b&$%!, or an angry black woman?

If you said neither, you’d be on the right track.

If you asked “aren’t they the same thing”?, then you would have hit the heart of the matter.

Folks are wondering why Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times Article about Shonda Rhimes is causing such an uproar. Stanley wrote an article about television writer Rhimes (of “Scandal”, “Gray’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” fame), and while complimenting her success, focused largely on Rhimes’ ability to get away with being an “angry black woman”.

For the record, Rhimes has not been known for any publicized rants or bad behavior; her characters are the furthest you can find from angry black women; yet somehow, the article focused on this aspect.

For African American women, the stereotype of the angry black woman is parallel to the struggle that White women have had with the word “bitch”. Some women embrace the word “bitch” to mean a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense woman that threatens men on their own turf in the corporate world. The majority of women view it by its actual definition – a female dog, and a derogatory term that has no connotation of respect. Women of all races have fought for the right not to be called that word (including the ongoing battle in the music industry).

The image of an “angry black woman” conjures up that of an angry ghetto chick, snapping her gum, screaming at someone for no apparent reason, and making a scene “just because”. It embodies that of a bitter nasty woman who you certainly would not want to be friends with, much less date.

It even justifies (in some people’s minds) domestic violence (well of course he had to hit her…you know how those angry black women are). This becomes even more relevant in the current discussions of the recent arrests of NFL players Ray Rice and Jonathan Dwyer.

The last image that comes to mind when one says the term “angry black woman” is an educated, polished professional woman, who is the top of her career, has great credit, is a pillar in her community, and is a loving family member/friend (which all of Shonda Rhimes’ characters are in some way or form). But from a quick reading of Stanley’s article, Rhimes, as well as her body of work, is reduced to a simple stereotype.

That’s the dangerous thing about stereotypes – it paints all with a very wide brush. This is not to say an African American woman can’t be angry. But there is no “angry White woman” syndrome, or “angry White man”….so why make such a big deal about how Shonda Rhimes defied the odds and is NOT an angry black woman? If we were not sure before, reality television certainly has shown us that EVERY race, gender and sexual orientation can be good, bad and downright ugly. Why not characterize the individual by how they behave, instead of by some perceived stereotype that you believe is the standard?

Stanley has since stood by her article, saying that she “complimented” Rhimes for defying the stereotype. To draw another analogy, it’s like calling the female CEO of a major corporation  “a smart bitch with a heart of gold”, and as folks recoil in horror, saying “but I said she was smart!”
As we explore Stanley’s description of Viola Davis’ character in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she discusses how she is not classically beautiful due to her dark skin (!!) but has a sexy but menacing quality. Menacing, angry…common theme? Certainly not the way any woman would want to be described.

In truth, Stanley does chronicle the television evolution from the “uh uh-ing” maid, to the beloved Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show, to the characters we see today. But she gave, and took away at the same time.

In summary: happiness comes from within, no matter what race you are.

So here’s a hashtag for you: #happyblackwoman.

Or better yet: #happy.

Weigh in with your thoughts!

M.

The Depths of Racial Profiling

As the events in Ferguson continue to unfold, I am constantly reminded of the divide in the policing experiences of many Americans. The Pew Report came out with an interesting study regarding perceptions of the problems in Ferguson, and sadly, it went firmly along racial lines. White Americans thought justice will prevail; African Americans did not.

This gets to the heart of the issue. If you (or those around you) have negative experiences with police while growing up, you will never believe the system is fair.

Looking back, I can think of one such encounter. Growing up in a beautiful waterfront community in suburban New York, my father loved to take me to the park. He would play games with me, walk with me along the water, and listen to my little girl chatter. One day, a police vehicle drove by. The car returned, and began to slowly circle, watching us.

I, of course, was oblivious. It can be a joy to be young and naive.

My father, however, got the message.

The message wasn’t “oh how cute, look at this man and his little girl”

It was “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE“.

Rather than risk an unpleasant encounter, he cut our day short and took me home.

Maybe I didn’t mention it before — I grew up in a predominantly White community.

And another additional fact: my father never wore jeans or sneakers. To this day, he wears slacks, a polo or button down shirt, and a proper British hat, weather permitting. So this was not an issue of fashion, or fitting the description of a call regarding a criminal act.

This is an issue with no easy answers. I just encourage everyone not to assume, and LISTEN to what the deeper issues are.

Here is one man’s experience with profiling that really struck me. Even though he did everything society would expect, he was profiled as a student at Harvard. One quote from his article that struck me was that being racially profiled was a rite of passage as an African American into manhood, similar to a Jewish bar mitzvah. Read Madison Shockley’s article here.

My dad and mom circa 2004
My dad and mom circa 2004

What Do We Tell Our Sons?

The funeral of Michael Brown today is another chapter in an ongoing tragedy. In moving forward from here, the discussion needs to be had regarding what do we tell our children about how to interact with police? How should we interact with police?

Essence.com published my tips this weekend:

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In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, and the others killed by police in questionable circumstances, the question is “What do we tell our children about interacting with the police?” It’s not about assigning blame on the victims’ actions. It’s about arming our young people with knowledge that could help save them in the future.

Pull right over. If your child is driving a car, and sees police lights in the rearview mirror, he or she should pull over immediately.  If it is not safe to pull over immediately, slow your speed and signal that you are pulling over. Failure to pull over puts police officers on high alert that there may be a problem (even if there isn’t one). Think about it from a police officer’s perspective. Why wouldn’t you stop? Do you have an open warrant? Do you have guns or drugs in the car? Based on their occupation, police officers are trained to assume the worst in every situation.

Read the rest of the article here

At What Cost?

KERRY WASHINGTON

Everything has a price. It may not be monetary; it may be physical, it may be emotional. But everything has a price. Success has a price. Happiness has a price. Freedom has a price. The question is, how much is something worth, and more importantly…are you willing to pay?

So for the last time (for this season at least), I’m plucking another example from the show Scandal. The fictional president in the show, Fitz Grant, won a second term in office. It was a great accomplishment; but in the process, his son was killed, his marriage collapsed, and he was estranged from the woman he loved. Of course, the woman he loved was not his wife…the show IS called Scandal. But regardless, in this moment of victory, he had an emotional collapse. He fell to his knees in the Oval Office, and was overwhelmed by the extreme sacrifice it took to get there. And he was not happy.

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So switching gears to the real world. As Americans, we enjoy certain freedoms. As we know from history, it came at a price. We have the freedom of expression. But that freedom sometimes results in a lack of civility. We are free to express agreement, disagreement, and even hate. I am reminded of the awful shooting in Overland, Kansas this past week. The perpetrator is a white supremacist. He will likely face the death penalty for the three murders he committed.

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However, people are free to express their hate, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. As long as they are peaceful, this is a freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution. Although the majority of Americans are horrified by the fact such hateful people even exist, there is nothing that can directly be done unless a law is broken. We can ostracize extremists; law enforcement can keep a close eye on the activities of such groups just in case illegal activity is going on…but we can’t do anything more.

All we can do is educate our children that such beliefs are wrong.

This is a price we pay to have freedom of expression.

On another level, I look at those that work in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors, the public defenders and the police officers. They make the sacrifice on the daily basis so that the system keeps moving. They sacrifice high pay, sleep, and in some ways, a normal life. These are the people that spend time in the jails; these are the people who get out of bed at 3am to see death and its aftermath. For them, it is worth it so that justice can be achieved.

For me, as a prosecutor, I become reflective when posing this question.  Public servants are not always respected; I have been vilified by folks who just don’t get what I do. It is also not the most financially lucrative path in life.

But, I have the freedom to try über interesting cases. I have the privilege of holding the hand of a grieving mother, and bringing her a measure of comfort by putting the perpetrator in prison for a long time. I am able to volunteer in my community, and follow my passion of helping the youth. I also get to write. So I (and others) sacrifice for the ability to be free, do justice, and hopefully make a difference.

Is it worth it?

I can tell you this. The day the answer is no, is the day you will see a drastic change in my life.

So I ask you…what is worth it to you?

What price are you willing to pay…and is the price you are currently paying too high?

Comments welcome!