Why Supremacy Is the Problem, Even If You Don’t Believe In It 

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 8th, 2016 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Every single governor now fighting for the enforcement of the post-Voting Rights Act evisceration of right-to-vote laws (e.g., Pat McCrory, Greg Abbott, Scott Walker) is a racist in the most meaningful sense of the word. By “most meaningful sense of the word” I mean that my indictment has nothing to do with how they think they feel about people of color. Racism is the system of laws, process, education and institutions put in place to maintain white supremacy. And governors like Pat McCrory in North Carolina are determined to preserve that system.

That makes those who vote for him at the very least collaborators with racism, and that makes his colleagues who support his policy agenda either racists themselves or collaborators or colluders with racism for political expediency.
This is what makes supremacist logic so insidious: it will seldom put on you more discomfort than you can bear. It gives you some way to fit into its agenda as long as you allow for the ultimate goal of leaving a particular people in power, which in the case of US voting rights, is white people. Racism, in this case, is the power and insistence to disenfranchise people of color.

Now here’s what makes racism in America so difficult to dismantle. In general, white conservatives’ response to such a blatant indictment is simply to say it’s not true and defiantly continue to do that which serves them. However, those who are inclined to react in defiance could not maintain power through defiance alone. they need the collusion of those who know better, but aren’t willing to insist on better. Welcome to the stage good liberals. In general, white liberals’ response to such a blatant indictment is to minimize the racism being demonstrated as not being such a big deal or as being more complex than such a simple declarative can capture.  As a result, supremacy remains empowered and systemic inequity continues unabated.  

A Litany For Those Who Aren’t Ready For Healing

Posted by Melvin Bray on July 11th, 2016 filed in Useful Perhaps
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thank you, yolanda pierce. micky scottbey jones was able to use your words to great effect in creating a healing circle, a clearing, for the leaders of color who risked being at the wild goose festival this past weekend.

Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound.

Let us not rush to offer a band-aid, when the gaping wound requires surgery and complete reconstruction.

Let us not offer false equivalencies, thereby diminishing the particular pain being felt in a particular circumstance in a particular historical moment.

Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of reparations and restoration, or how we can repair the breach and how we can restore the loss.

Let us not rush past the loss of this mother’s child, this father’s child…someone’s beloved son.

Let us not value property over people; let us not protect material objects while human lives hang in the balance.

Let us not value a false peace over a righteous justice.

Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together.

Let us not offer clichés to the grieving, those whose hearts are being torn asunder.


Let us mourn black and brown men and women, those killed extrajudicially every 28 hours.

Let us lament the loss of a teenager, dead at the hands of a police officer who described him as a demon.

Let us weep at a criminal justice system, which is neither blind nor just.

Let us call for the mourning men and the wailing women, those willing to rend their garments of privilege and ease, and sit in the ashes of this nation’s original sin.

Let us be silent when we don’t know what to say.

Let us be humble and listen to the pain, rage, and grief pouring from the lips of our neighbors and friends.

Let us decrease, so that our brothers and sisters who live on the underside of history may increase.

Let us pray with our eyes open and our feet firmly planted on the ground.

Let us listen to the shattering glass and let us smell the purifying fires, for it is the language of the unheard.

God, in your mercy…

Show me my own complicity in injustice.

Convict me for my indifference.

Forgive me when I have remained silent.

Equip me with a zeal for righteousness.

Never let me grow accustomed or acclimated to unrighteousness.


Posted by Melvin Bray on February 27th, 2016 filed in Useful Perhaps
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as one who works with and considers quite a few white people friends, i choose my words intentionally when i say…

white folks, generally speaking, are infatuated with themselves and expect people of color to be as well.

(i did not say “white america,” because i do not mean to exempt anyone from consideration of this fact through collective anonymity.)

the truth of this infatuation is why, among many many other things, the #Oscars(are indeed)SoWhite but they will still have a substantial audience; #BlackLivesMatter disruptions of business as usual continue to take liberals by surprise and produce anger in many; steve phillips’ timely and seminal work on The New American Majority (Brown Is the New White) is largely being ignored by mainstream media, the DNC and by most “progressive” candidates in the country; and to be “for racial justice,” even as a person of faith, is still a thing. it is also the reason why nielsen ratings have always under-represented people of color and Michel Martin and Joy Reid’s news shows (npr and msnbc, respectively) and now Melissa Harris Perry’s news analysis (not just talk) show–each THE BEST SUCH SHOWS ON THE AIR–are considered expendable, although they were the only shows of their kind on their networks.

you even see the infatuation in the majority of headlines and coverage of harris-perry’s strike by mainstream outlets, characterizing what has happened as if she has done something unconscionable to her “benefactors”:

  • “Melissa Harris-Perry Walks Off Her MSNBC Show…” (NY Times)
  • “Melissa Harris-Perry Refuses to Appear on Her Own Show…” (Chicago Tribune)
  • “As Melissa Harris-Perry Walks Off MSNBC Show…” (Washington Post)
  • “Melissa Harris-Perry Blasts MSNBC Executives…” (Gawker)

and you see the infatuation in MSNBC’s official response to the story:
“In this exciting and unpredictable presidential primary season, many of our daytime programs have been temporarily upended by breaking political coverage, including M.H.P. This reaction is really surprising, confusing and disappointing.”
they won’t even notice the audible click as tens of millions of us change the channel.

unexpectedly, the best coverage has come through cnn from an article written by brian stelter, in which he actually contextualizes the situation, harris-perry’s show and the popular quotes being repeated with little context from the extremely thoughtful and well crafted explanation harris-perry sent to her staff regarding her continued absence. in his article, stelter reminds us of the time when “Harris-Perry herself [seemingly] telegraphed this moment during a discussion at The New School in 2013.

“‘I show up on TV and say words because, at the moment, I have the cover of a powerful white man,” her boss at MSNBC, she said. “The moment that that powerful white man no longer wants me to sit on TV and say words, I will not be allowed to sit on TV and say words anymore.'”

this right here is the truest reason why i refuse to go on staff anywhere right now. like our jewish brothers and sisters have done, black people and other victims of racial holocausts, colonization and systemic racism need to build up the economic and political infrastructure of our own communities, even as we of necessity continue to engage the institutions of the dominant culture. we need #BETTER than to serve at the whim of powerful white people.

before you read any of the coverage on the quiet attempt to make MHP disappear, and particularly if you have already, READ THE FULL LETTER melissa harris-perry wrote her #nerdland staff (below).

Melissa Harris-Perry’s Email to Her #nerdland Staff

Bring Others into Your Privilege: Courageous Response 2

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 26th, 2016 filed in Courageous Responses
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The Difference Between Racial Analysis & Racism

Posted by Melvin Bray on January 14th, 2016 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Fight or Flight

Posted by Melvin Bray on April 8th, 2015 filed in Useful Perhaps
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walter scott shot

Even after video has surfaced showing that a North Charleston, SC, 33-year-old white police officer who was clearly not “in fear for his life” shot a 50-year-old unarmed black man fleeing in fear of his life (and justifiably so), the culture of white supremacy that permeates our society can’t help but try to give some grounds for the murderer’s actions or call into question the actions of the murder victim.

In an article released as recently as today, CNN reporter Holly Yan wrote:
“It’s unclear why Walter Scott decided to run away from Officer Michael Slager after a traffic stop Saturday morning.”

Really? Not ‘why shoot,’ but ‘why run?’ How many people of color have to die or be violently assaulted in the execution of a traffic stop or some other simple encounter with the police, before running away becomes a reasonable response? 10? 50? 100? 1000?

Modern science has assured us that “Fight-or-Flight” is an instinctual response to any life-threatening encounter. It is so fundamental to our understanding of human response that to say “I felt threatened” in any situation provides an immediate legally defensible rationale for the use of deadly force, even when the person killed had no apparent means of exercising lethal force in response. We call it “self-defense” or “stand your ground” or “justifiable homicide,” and the person who claims it is legally presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law–as long as they are white.

The moment color is inserted into the scenario even instinctive responses of self-preservation are called into question. Admit it, we’ve all questioned at some time or another, “Why’d he run/fight if he was doing nothing wrong?”

“Never mind the recent rash of unprosecuted killings of unarmed persons of color by law enforcement that are just the current manifestation of an even longer history of the same that dates back to the founding of this country. Never mind the generations long list of acquittals for non-police who’ve been able to successfully argue they felt threatened after killing a person of color. Never mind the generational in length history of state sponsored murder in the form of capital punishment of people of color convicted on dubious evidence. Never mind the poorly documented yet generationally substantial history of state sanctioned murder in the form of public lynching that has claimed tens of thousands of victims of color and at one time proudly included the participation of public officials until it became expedient to keep participants’ identities obscured. Never mind a criminal injustice system that has functioned primarily as a system of racial control creating a legally acceptable form of second-class citizenship, after the reconstitution of slavery and abolition of Jim Crow. Never mind that these things have happened to quite literally “choir boys” and those who were not alike, to persons who let injustice run its course and those who “raged against the dying of the light.” Never mind that there are an exponentially greater number of violent assaults short of death that happen in police custody day in and day out than those who end up dead or in the news.  Never mind that these things aren’t happening to some other people of color some other place far removed from us, but to our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, our uncles and aunts, our nieces and nephews, our friends and neighbors, so that as a community we are intimately acquainted with both the individual and collective grief as well as the threat of it happening to our person. Never mind that the society in which this happens doesn’t acknowledge any of these as conditions of sustained terrorism…. People of color have every reason to trust the system.”  Only a culture of white supremacy would insist so.

While being considered, on one hand, so inhumanly threatening, even when unarmed, as to be unworthy of a presumption of innocence sufficient to preserve their lives during a simple traffic stop, people of color are expected, on the other hand, to achieve the superhuman feat of never responding to the basic instinct of fight-or-flight, even in the face of likely death.  Pay attention to the disjointed contradictions in this corrupt line of reasoning.  When the only criterion under the law for presumption of innocence is humanity, one can only conclude by the patterns of clear bias against persons of color that they are perceived as something short of fully human.  This perception is further compounded by the perpetual expectation that people of color should do nothing humanly instinctual to preserve their lives when threatened with injury.  They must always rise above as if angelic or divine.  Simple fear is enough to justify legalized murder, but actual terroristic threat is supposed to be eternally ignored.  That’s ridiculous!  As long as it remains acceptable to perceive people of color as life-threatening though unarmed, both fight and flight remain perfectly reasonable responses.

Sure, I have other options too.  However, with the odds of things going bad being so high and that bad (not potentially but) likely costing me my life, how could anyone in their right mind fault me for running or resisting when the other guy is the only one with a weapon?

Consciousness Rider

Posted by Melvin Bray on April 7th, 2015 filed in Useful Perhaps
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signing-contract--pen--paperwork-jpgIn my time with the Wild Goose Festival, I learned about the various riders artists would send (e.g. technical riders or hospitality riders) along with their standard contracts, detailing stipulations for their participation beyond fees for service and use of property.  We’ve all heard of them, even if not by name.  For instance, contractual stipulations that one will only sing with a particular microphone or must have the largest dressing room or the closest room to the stage or towels of a certain thread count or only 5-star hotels or only yellow M&Ms.  You get the idea.

Well, today I have decided to compile what I am calling a Consciousness Rider. The way I figure it, people are only going to do better if people of influence expect it of them. The size of the sphere of one’s influence doesn’t matter, only that one use it to advance the best s/he knows to do. So here are my commitments when it comes to participating in public events.  If you make at least part of your living in front of an audience, I invite you to join me.  I have already distributed it in response to one invitation to speak.

Unless the purpose of the gathering is specifically to problem-solve toward these very ends, I will only participate in gatherings where:

  • No less than 30% of the rest of those who present are people of color (across the racial/ethnic spectrum); no less than 50% of those who present are women; no less than 10%, identify as lgbtq. I encourage intentionality be given to the age, faith, disability and national origin demographics in the room as well. The purpose of this is to normalize a gathering dynamic in western culture that is more indicative of the world in which we actually live.
  • A similar level of diversity shows up at every stage and on every platform: from the planning to the execution, from the main stage to the plenaries, from the art to books to social media. The purpose for this is to institutionalize one’s commitment to pursuing beloved community.
  • Any social identity discussed is represented by someone of that identity. The purpose of this is to make normative people’s right to tell their own stories.
  • If the gathering is talking about land in anyway, indigenous people are a part of the conversation. The purpose of this is to give ear to the wisdom long marginalized of those whose relationship with the land has proven itself most sustainable over the longest period of time.
  • An articulated intentionality is given to functioning in an eco-friendly manner. The purpose of this is to acknowledge our inability to become our best selves at the expense of the rest of GOD’s good creation.
  • Intentionality is given toward establishing a democratic learning environment that honors multiple learning modalities and doesn’t just privilege “the sage on the stage”. The purpose of this is to do what matters in ways that matter.

I am always open to exploring the possibilities of engagement with any community willing to make these commitments. And should that community desire to move this direction, but just don’t know how to begin, I am willing to help.

I won’t stop until all my audiences look more like this.

mountaintop1 crowd



For Putting Black Lives Center

Posted by Melvin Bray on January 24th, 2015 filed in Useful Perhaps
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In the immortal words of Nina Simone…

“[This film, this review] is not addressed primarily to white people…. It does not put you down in any way; it simply ignores you. For my people need all the inspiration and love that they can get.”

BRAND human dignity 6

Review by Robert Jones, Jr, and Original Photo of Ava Duvernay can be found here.

Creating Incentive for Survivors and Abusers to Seek the Help They Need

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 22nd, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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In the wake of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s failed Friday press conference, the debate still rages on as to whether enough retribution has been inflicted on Ray Rice and others to prove that Goodell actually gets it. In that sense the comparisons of American professional football to the blood-sport of ancient Rome that became common a few years back seem almost prophetic. “You have displeased us. To the lions with you!”

Despite my own propensities toward it, I wonder if the you-have-done-bad-we-will-do-worse-to-you approach is the best possible response to anything, let alone domestic violence. It surely isn’t if restoration of the family unit is the goal. If punishment for wrongdoing is the goal, perhaps it will suffice. However, forcibly divesting a family of income, forcibly divesting a mate of her/his intimate partner, forcibly divesting a child of her/his parent punishes the entire family, not just an abuser.

Putting aside for a moment how repulsed we are by violence done to women and children in the home and the history of neglect that has obscured such violence in the past, let’s consider the interest of the family involved and our duty of support to that family. No one wants to lose their family, if they can help it. We are well aware of the measurable psychological, sociological, financial and other costs associated with broken homes. Forced family disintegration was one of the hallmarks of chattel slavery; it is not something a society seeking justice should ever think to impose on anyone. Provided the abuser has not demonstrated a life-threatening loss of impulse control and if the survivor(s) expresses a non-coerced desire to pursue restorative therapy and as long as the abuser is committed to appropriate therapeutic and legal accountability, who are we as a society to stand in the way of that family’s attempt to pursue health and healing?

Believing that we shouldn’t then raises several questions for me. Does it serve the goal of restoration to strip the abuser of his ability to provide for his family? Does potential loss of income make it more or less likely that a victim would come forward in acknowledgement of abuse? What other social expectations or public policies make it more difficult for victims to seek help? Can employers, who have a undeniable public relations interest in the outcome of any abuse scandal, ever be trusted to be the unbiased arbiters of what is appropriate in cases of domestic violence? Does our societal interest in correcting past wrongs, discouraging future misbehavior and protecting women (sometimes men) and children currently victims of violence ever trump a particular family’s interest in working things out?

As much as I am against allowing employers to be actual arbiters in domestic disputes, it seems to me relatively clear that they are the social institution best positioned to provide incentive for domestic partners to seek the help they need. As an act of good corporate citizenship, employers could enter into a 3rd-party arbitrated agreement of cooperation with the therapeutic and legal accountability plan that the family is pursuing. Such cooperation may include schedule accommodations for counseling or, in similitude to garnishment of wages for alimony/child support, a “family support trust fund” into which up to half of the employee’s income is paid each month, to be used for whatever, including household expenses, but kept under the strict control of the abuser’s spouse or children. The goal wouldn’t be to punish, but rather to leverage the opportunity to continue to earn income as incentive to remain committed to the therapeutic and legal process.

I’m particularly interested in what women in general and anti-domestic violence professionals or domestic violence survivors might think. Is this an appropriate roll for employers to play? Is this worth advocating as it relates to the NFL, as opposed to the simple resignation of Roger Goodell or the continued chastisement of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and others?

I’ve been seeking to listen deeply, while standing in solidarity with all who work to end violence against women. Here are two conversations I’ve found particularly insightful (in addition to others noted in previous posts):

MHP 14 Sept 2014 | “BeLEAGUEred: What If a Women Became NFL Commisioner?”

MHP 13 Sept 2014 | “Domestic Violence: ‘Leaving Doesn’t Make You Safer'”

MHP 13 Sept 2014 | http://http://on.msnbc.com/1wjRiLW

MHP 21 Sept 2014 | “BeLEAGUEred: Fans Exchange Ray Rice Jerseys”

Adrian Peterson and the Raising of a Perceived Threat

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 18th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Adrian Peterson physically harmed his son. He was wrong. There is a line between discipline and abuse that has nothing to do with whether or not one’s ideology permits corporal correction. Adrian crossed that line, as many who are ideologically against corporal discipline do at the other end of the spectrum when they are so lenient with their children that it leaves psychological welts of indulgence which over time create a pathology of entitlement that later spills over on the rest of us.

However, before we allow a dominant cultural agenda of conservative versus liberal to set the terms of this conversation, we need to be real about the social context in which Adrian Peterson is raising his child. It is the same catch-22 that faces any parent rearing a black son. Adrian Peterson’s actual fault was in overcompensating in his race-against-the-clock to cultivate in his son a particular manifestation of discipline that may one day be the only thing that saves his life–after he’s no longer 4-year-old-cute and many of the same people who now berate the father have begun to view the son as a threat even with his hands up and have no qualms “disciplining” him by taking his life, while telling the rest of us it was justified.

Additional Analysis:
Salon.com contributor Brittney Cooper, aka “Professor Crunk,” offers an analysis that reflects much of my own evolving perspective on corporal punishment.
-Melissa Harris Perry hosted a useful panel on the subject that included my friend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis (Part 1 & Part 2). I do, however, disagree with Melissa’s insistence and the panelist’s apparent agreement that all corporal punishment/correction/intervention is violence and thus abuse.
TheNation.com contributor Mychal Denzel Smith does some important work on this subject, although I disagree with his blanket analysis that corporal punishment is an extension of the

politics of respectability. Though it can be, it is not exclusively so. Often it is an extension of the ethic “do what you need to make it home.” And that’s real.