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.

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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://

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

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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: 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. 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.

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Champion All Human Dignity: Courageous Response 1

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 15th, 2014 filed in Courageous Responses
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Originally posted on the Patheos “Emerging Voices” channel…

The work I find most rewarding nowadays is helping communities of goodwill find courageous responses to challenges relating across differences in identity. So when asked to become a regular contributor to Emerging Voices (to come home, as it were, to this space now hosted by Patheos that started as the Emergent Village blog where I used to converse and co-convene years ago), almost immediately it came to me to use the opportunity to explore the theme of “courageous responses”. It is such a joy to be able to explore these hopes with you.

The first courageous response I’d like to propose came to me no more than a day after being invited to post here. It was early morning 29 August, and I was checking my “black twitter” feed. (Who knew there were more black people on Twitter than any other demographic? We’ll see how long Twitter lasts!) I saw at the top of my stream a tweet by Rachel Held Evans, that sent me to a post by Justin Lee (black twitteratti that they are). daniel peirceThe post was a YouTube video of a young gay man from Kennesaw, GA, who was evicted by his parents for refusing conversion therapy. The video was entitled “How Not to React When Your Child Tells You that He’s Gay.”

It was heartbreaking to hear this teenager demeaned, cussed out, beat up and kicked out because in his stepmother’s words (speaking for his biological mother, biological father and others present), “I will not let people believe I condone what you do.” My heart broke not just for what the young man’s family did in the name of Christianity, but also because I grew up holding faith in a way that, though it may not have condoned the physical violence, definitely would have justified the parents’ posture toward their son.

While I wasn’t looking, the video went viral. I saw it again that evening when my cousin, a local news anchor raised in the same fundamentalist tradition as I, played the video and made it the focus of her end of the broadcast commentary. Her commentary? “That’s your child. And at the end of the day, that’s your child. Period. Nothing more to argue.”

The 19-year-old Daniel Pierce’s video at the time had over 3 million views and the Go-Fund-Me campaign he had set up to raise a mere $2,000 for living expenses was nearing $80,000 in donations in two days. It was amazing and wonderful: the compassion and generosity of spirit and support poured out toward this young man. It was a privilege to stand in solidarity with Daniel and queer friends everywhere.

michael brownBut here’s where my encounter with Pierce’s story gets complex and awkward and risky to write about: for a split second, I was resentful. Loss of housing simply doesn’t compare to loss of life. And I couldn’t help but wonder, What if 3 million white people in 2 days had raised their voices in collective outrage over the slaying of Michael Brown or any of those who came before or after him? (By way of comparison, in 1963 it took less than 10,000 committed citizens to bring the city of Birmingham, AL–the biggest, badest, most belligerent southern bastion of inequality–to initial overtures of repentance and to instigate the national Civil Rights Act.)

Now, for sure, I have no idea how many white people stand in support of Michael Brown any more than I know how many black people or other people of color, how many gay people or how many women versus men or how many people from various religious backgrounds. All I can see are the profile pics that show up in the list of comments and donations on Daniel Pierce and Michael Brown’s respective YouTube and GoFundMe pages as well as what I’ve been privy to in my own Facebook and Twitter feeds. There is a smattering of cross-racial support to be sure, but not as much as one might imagine, knowing the billions who claim to follow after a God who specifically claims to stand with the oppressed.

This strikes me as a deeply important faith conversation that needs to be had at a level of vulnerability we don’t often risk. So let me make a goodwill attempt. I have over 1000 Facebook “friends” (not a lot, but more than I can keep up with). The majority of them are both people of faith and beige (go “white facebook”!). When yet another unarmed person of color is killed, assaulted or maligned by white authorities (or wannabes) and beige friends remain silent, I confess I wouldn’t mind losing a few–namaste. Moreover, when in maintenance of the privilege of perpetual (not just “presumed”) innocence beige friends remind me “we don’t know all the facts,” as if there were some special fact that makes the loss not loss, I find myself trying to remember the deep breathing techniques I learned when my wife, Leslie, was pregnant with our three children–woosah. And when so many of my beige friends, in earnest belief in the so-called “justice” system’s ability to render justice (you know, the same system that took more than 200 years to settle the question as to whether or not I was human, 90 years to denounce the first Jim Crow, 30 years to convict Medgar Evers’ self-admitted murderer… what was that about “justice delayed…”?), respond with the ever reasonable “let’s not rush to judgement,” somehow oblivious to the irony that a person who looked like me was just victimized by an actual rush to judgement, it takes everything within me to remain civil. Especially when I see the very same folks en masse instinctively rally, publicize, advocate, endorse, finance, go out on a limb for, give the benefit of the doubt to or speak so well of the next victim who looks like them.

One would think faith would have something more useful to offer than this sort of petty tribalism. Lots of younger victims of historic marginalization have stopped looking for the church to provide leadership in rectifying the oppression they encounter, in part because in the church even within identity groups the tribalism shows up. So, if people of faith are going to bother to show up, I would argue that the courageous response–the response worth folks caring that we showed up–would be to show up in defense of ALL HUMAN DIGNITY everywhere.

faith signs for one human dignity

So while justice orgs with no faith connection continue to fight-the-good-fight in silos if they must, I’m talking about faith-rooted queer orgs, women’s orgs, immigrant orgs, black orgs, brown orgs, white orgs, interfaith orgs, etc, publicly joining forces (1) to campaign for an intersectional justice that strikes at the roots of structural oppression, (2) to raise our numbers to a critical mass that cannot be ignored and (3) to exemplify the improvements in interpersonal dynamics we say are possible but haven’t gotten around to demonstrating (much like the Forward Together Movement in NC). As long as people of faith continue to stand for only those portions of human dignity with which we personally identify, we perpetuate the same fragmented, colonial morality that gave us the script of disintegration we currently have. However, if people of faith began to practice solidarity with ALL whose human dignity is being denied, we could write a whole new story of what is possible in the world. Now that’s a witness!

I don’t need my beige friends to have all the answers or even to know what to say all the time, but when people of color are feeling the terrorizing effects of the same violations time after time for time immemorial, it would mean a lot if those I call friends would stand with me as I stand for human dignity.

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Taking Janay Rice Seriously

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 13th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Women trying to find their way beyond the trauma and stigma of abuse shouldn’t be used as props for third-party PR campaigns–even for the “greater good”. Public conversations about championing human dignity are profoundly important. However, we can talk about issues without re-violating those who have already been victimized.

Here’s how to do it right.


Watch PART 2.

Watch PART 3.

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Will the “Citadel of Toxic Manhood” (the NFL) Ever Stop Trying to Cover Its Own Assets?

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 12th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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All due respect to James Brown for seeking to speak meaningfully to the issue of violence against women Thursday night before the Steelers-Ravens game. When public figures choose to stand for human dignity, we are better for it. However, we, the general public, need to stop accepting empty responses to real problems just because we want somebody to say or do something.

Violence against women is as much a systemic issue as it is a individual behavioral one. Yet Brown basically said all men in general–which means no one in particular–need to take personal responsibility for their thoughts, attitudes and actions, and that would make the problem of violence against women better. Really? That’s all that’s missing?

It is simply a fact that everyone IS responsible for their own thoughts, attitudes and actions. So to say men need to “take responsibility” for these things is tantamount to saying, “Men need to keep breathing, because if we all keep breathing, we will be alive tomorrow to possibly do something about this important issue.” Such conversation does nothing to move the ball down the field.

With all this talk about responsibility, it was striking that no responsibilities were assigned to the systems of which Brown is a representative (professional sports and sports broadcasting) for perpetuating a culture of violence and toxic masculinity that shapes men who are violent against women. Far be it from the NFL or CBS Sports to “take responsibility” for that which they actually have control over. No, instead NFL and CBS, “Use your megaphone to assign responsibility to the players or maybe all men everywhere, but never to the decision-makers in the C-suite.”

Brown’s statement was a carefully crafted denial of culpability on behalf of pro football, whether he himself intended it to be or not. Many are now celebrating it. However, it leaves us at the same level of non-response that we were before. It just sounded good.

If you don’t believe me, go back and question what’s actually being said.
JB's Supposed Statement About Domestic Violence

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Employer Paternalism Isn’t the Answer to Violence Against Women

Posted by Melvin Bray on September 2nd, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Yet another example of why Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry should be considered one of the foremost public intellectuals in America. She is joined by fellow contributing writer at The Nation Dave Zirin, former NFL quarterback Don McPherson, MSNBC contributor Dorian Warren and ESPN’s Jemele Hill in her continued critique of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

Dave Zirin and Don McPherson are standouts in the incisiveness of their critiques. Zirin notes, How can the NFL, “the Citadel of Poisoned Masculinity,” be expected to render any kind of credible moral judgement in such matters? And would the league even attempt to were it not an organization of predominately black athletes being ruled by predominately white executives?

McPherson notes, speaking of the commissioner, “Men’s response to violence is [typically] more violence. ‘You do bad, we’re going to do worse to you.’… Sports in general has a toxic masculinity problem and so that needs to be addressed.”

The sad reality is, McPherson suggests, “We don’t care that Ray Rice is an abuser. We cheer for Ray Rice. We want him to entertain us on Sunday afternoon.” “In fact, we prefer that he is an abuser of other men on the field in that moment,” Harris-Perry concurs.


Watch PART 2.

Watch PART 3.

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Destination: Human Dignity

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 29th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Here’s to Audi and Dodge for publicly acknowledging the struggle for human dignity! (For kicks and giggles, everyone who can should go out and buy a set. Show a little love for socially conscious multi-national conglomerates. :-D)

BRAND human dignity 5

Find other BRAND: Human Dignity posts.


Source file for Dodge Dart logo
Source file for Audi logo

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The VMAs and the Emmys

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 27th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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And the winners are… Kerry Washington, MTV and Common for awarding human dignity the spotlight earlier this week on nights when for so many celebrities it was all about them.

If you know of others, let me know.

BRAND human dignity 4

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Source photo for Kerry Washington
Source photo for Common
Source photo for MTV VMA logo

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Listen Without Prejudice, That Noise Is Dead

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 25th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps
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Shout out to Orlando Jones and Jesse Williams (yet again) for putting human dignity ahead of the maintenance of their celebrity brands. #brandhumandignity

if you have examples of others who have done the same i’d love to hear.

BRAND human dignity 3

Find other BRAND: Human Dignity posts.


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