Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm X’

The Status Quo

July 5, 2014

Donald Sterling was recently recorded telling his Afro Latin girlfriend to keep her associations with other blacks to herself behind closed doors.  Sterling, now former owner of the Clippers Pro Basketball Team has earned billions of dollars from the blood sweat and tears of black athletes, many of whom thought Sterling to be a friend and mentor, only to discover recently that he secretly loathes them.

Talk show host D.L. Hughley posed the supposition that most white men of a certain age hold racist views and most of the call ins to his syndicated radio show agreed with him.  I hope that most of you have had an opportunity to hear the exchange between Sterling and his former girlfriend.  Sterling cajoled her to keep her relationships with blacks out of the public eye, mainly because he didn’t want to deal with the acrimony his friends heaped upon him after seeing a photo of her and Magic Johnson on Instagram.

Hughley also criticized Cliven Bundy, a cattleman angry at the US Government. He suggested that black people were better off as slaves because picking cotton was a skilled trade and now that we have lost our former skills we flounder in the wilderness of poverty, apathy and ignorance.

I know both of these men. My drinking buddy for over 10 years was someone I describe to others as “the whitest man I’ve ever known”. We managed to be friends despite the constant rhetoric that spewed form his mouth.  For a decade, I tolerated his bigoted jokes, even repeated some of them; attended parties he hosted at his home for his ‘One Percenter’ buddies and came to understood the roots of his arch conservative political views.  It didn’t take me long to realize that ‘racist posturing’ was for the outside world and for his cronies. He was consciously upholding a point of view that had been passed down from his father, after the old man had accumulated some wealth and stature, here in America.

I loved ‘the whitest man I knew’ because of our relationship.  We took care of each other as often as men can do that sort of thing. When we went to one of his watering holes where we were sure to encounter his old cronies he would introduce me as his “body guard”.  I would go along with his charade because in reality I would physically defend him against any threat we might encounter in the mean streets of Detroit.  I would also defended him, on occasion, when our black female co-workers verbally attacked him because of the caustic remarks he would make in their presence just to make them angry.

I am not without sin, therefore I no longer criticize others for their perceived bigotry. I know that I often say things about others that I really don’t believe intellectually.  I know that it feels good when I ‘vent’ by calling someone a name privately that I would never dare utter publicly.

“Men change masters willingly, hoping to better themselves; and this belief makes them take arms against their rulers…..” Machiavelli

I grew up in a time of heightened awareness for black men and women.  I marched with King because my parents demanded it but when I grew into manhood, I sided with Saint Malcolm because I’ve never been able to embrace pacifism.  I eagerly bought into the Pan Afrikan dogma of the 60’s and 70’s that I am descended from hunters and warriors not tillers of the soil.  I went to the Black Panthers lair, the Black Topographical Center on Linwood and the Shrine of the Black Madonna in search of information about liberating black people.

As time moved forward, I found far too many people with personal agendas and few with sound economic and political strategies to advance our people.  Brothas in dashikis were selling heroin in our community while exhorting Pan Afrikanism, the Panthers had white women waiting on them hand and foot in their lair and the leaders of the movement were selling their souls for government jobs.

My time at the university enlightened my world view. I developed a better understanding of the mechanics of oppression.  I became less militant and more focused on proactive ways to effect change through working within systems. I graduated and got a job that allowed me to be part of the solution to some of societies’ problems.

At the beginning of my professional career.  I became active in the largest independent union in the country.  I learned the mechanics of power and watched as many in power became corrupted.  I saw in action Lord Acton’s assertion that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I don’t care if Donald Sterling and Clive Bundy mean what they say about blacks. They are relics representative of belief systems that will die along with them. In any event, their day to day actions do not reflect their words, which is the height of hypocrisy and therefore not worthy of serious consideration.  Only a fool gives power to meaningless words!

When I attended my friend’s funereal, I kept looking at the entrance of the church just waiting for his mulatto child to break through the door, like that scene in the movie Imitation Of Life! That drama never occurred that day to the chagrin of several of us that knew him well because I knew deep down inside that he loved many black people, some in a biblical sense. His actions not his word told me who he was not the comic rhetoric that spewed from his mouth daily.   Most men say one thing then do something quite different behind closed doors.

At the end of the day, I hope to be judged by my actions and hope that my actions are not misinterpreted.



February 28, 2013

Each February, during Black History Month, I am introduced to many historical facts about the Afrikan diaspora and am consequently more politically reflective than usual.  It occurred to me this year that the great Malcolm X died in February (1965) and two of  my heroes; my father Robert O’Bryant (February 2nd), and the consummate orator Frederick Douglass (Valentines Day), were born in the month of February.

This February has been particularly snowy and frigid.  I haven’t had a lot of incentive to leave the house, so I’ve been more involved with reading, writing and social media.  I have limited my TV watching to the news and prime time network shows.  I don’t have cable, so I rely on an  HD antennae to bring erratic signals to my flat screen.  When I turned on the news at 11 am this morning, the transmission on Fox2 was too distorted to watch.  I began channel surfing and discovered the story “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about artist and political activist Ai Weiwei on the local PBS station.  As I watched in horror as Ai was beaten, hospitalized and later arrested, I was moved by this passionate man and his courage of convictions; a man who like Malcolm and Frederick Douglas was willing to die for what he believed.  His courage, as he publicly confronted the brutal policeman that tried to bash his head in a dark hotel room, was reminiscent of footage I have viewed of men and women in the early civil rights movement here in America.

As I was watched his story, I realized that I take my autonomy as an American for granted.  I exercise ‘freedom of expression’ effortlessly and without reproach.  Ai Weiwei and millions worldwide have been beaten, maimed, imprisoned and murdered simply for expressing their points of view!  That revelation inspired me to write this post.

At this point in my life, I am proud to express my love of my country because of what I have come to know understand about oppression in other parts of the globe.  I know full well, as a large black man, from one of the most racially divided regions in the country, that America has social issues that are as prevalent in the twenty-first century as they were 100 years ago.  I am not politically naive, as I witness the acrimony that Barack Obama must endure, as the first acknowledged black president.  I harbor no illusions about life in America, but as I compare my life to Ai Weiwei and Nelson Mandala, who were imprisoned because of their beliefs, or Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for detailing her life of oppression to “outsiders”,  I understand that I live in the greatest country in the world!


December 5, 2011

At the end of 1999, I found myself at a precipice.  At that point I knew intrinsically what I was lacking to become a “whole person”, yet I had not been able accomplished that feat.  I knew that I needed to change,  so I began making drastic changes in my life, in an effort to preserve it.  Part of that change involved moving in a more spiritual direction and learning to be less pragmatic in my approach to life.  I prayed for change and change in my life began.

One Sunday morning, as I was sitting at home watching Sunday Morning on CBS, it occurred to me that I had developed a great degree of expertise in many areas but was not working to improve my spiritual self.  I realized that I knew very little about the church personally or The Church as a cultural force in the community!  I had to ask myself: ‘How is it that I know so much about so many things but have never sought to know the thing that many others, including my family members,  view as the foundation of the community?‘  I knew that I had to rectify that dilemma, so I started going to church more often.

I come from a family with three generations of clergy.  My maternal grandfather was a Baptist minister and my maternal uncle is a Methodist minister.  Both are named Walter.  Much to my mother’s chagrin, I sidestepped that legacy.  My younger brother, Reverend Mark Timothy O’Bryant received the calling.

As a child, I lived in an environment that was rich with spirituality.  I have always understood the value of prayer and positivity.  I have always had a strong personal relationship with the Lord but at an early age, I found myself ambivalent toward The Church,  in part due to what I perceived as bourgeois indulgence and politicization of western religions.

In my youth, I was quite the revolutionary minded proletariat who viewed Jesus as a militant religious figure who was later demonized by western man’s ambivalence toward historical religious figures.  I have always tried to model my life as I believed HE lived HIS life as a man when HE walked this earth.  Jesus delivered his sermons in the fields and in the streets.  HE had no fear of men and the institutions that they created.  HE brought men and women together in the understanding that GOD governs our existence not men.  I knew early on that if average men used Jesus as an example as to how to behave as men, we could live good exemplary lives.  There is a contemporary phrase “what would Jesus do”.  I incorporated that notion early on in my adult life and I know that I have made better decisions than I might have in many many situations because of Jesus as a role model for my conduct as a man.  I never felt that I needed The Church as an institution to give that insight to me.  I thought that a spiritual connection to the My Personal Savior was enough.

Throughout my life, I have been intrigued by religious and spiritual figures.  I was impressed at any early age that men like Martin Luther King Sr. changed their names and lives and outlooks because of men they admired.  Malcolm Little became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.  Cassius Clay became Muhammed AliMahatma Gandhi sacrificed wealth and comfort and eventually his life to change the world he lived in.

I have also been a long time admirer of the Dahli Lama, who reminds me of Jesus, because of the trials and tribulations that he has endured, due to his convictions.  What I know of him comes from the media and what I know about his religion is largely anecdotal.  In my early professional days, the most pious man who I knew was a Buddhist.  He was a Korean born doctor that I had the privilege of working with, during my time at the Coldwater Regional Center.  We developed a camaraderie as I did with most of the men that were not from the local community.  Of all of the men I worked with he had piety; a quality that most men I know simply do not possess.  We would talk one on one from time to time.  Our discussions about his religious values piqued my curiosity for eastern religion and offered me a broader outlook on religion per se.

I met a writer, some years ago that is a practicing Buddhist.  I attended a Buddhist Ceremony with her, but the experience that I had was tantamount to eating a Pop Tart while craving Red Velvet Cake.  My media fueled image of what I should encounter was simply not met.  I decided the day I attended the Buddhist service that I would withhold any subjective judgments that I entertained regarding Buddhism until I had the opportunity to experience how other sects practice the religion.

A few years ago, I attended a wedding of a friend.  She renewed her vows with her husband in a traditional Catholic Wedding that included mass.  Typically when I’m in church, I find myself preoccupied with things that have nothing to do with the ceremony.  On that Saturday, my mind was clear and I was in the moment!  I found serenity, in a pious way, that I had not experienced, since my childhood.  It whetted my spiritual appetites, in a way that I had longed for, for many decades.

Not long after that experience, I began attending New Mt Vernon Missionary Baptist Church where my brother had become the assistant pastor.  I began attending the church in an effort to support his ministry, as my dear mother had done up until her death.  I began attending church regularly for the first time since childhood.  I hung in there all spring and summer of 2010.  When football season began, I fell off!

Throughout the fall season, I watched Sunday Morning and the NFL pregame shows with much guilt and some remorse.

At the beginning of this year, I renewed my pilgrimage to church with vigor.  I began dividing my church time between four churches: New Mt Vernon, Vernon Chapel AME, in my old neighborhood in Conant Gardens, Faith Clinic Church of God in Christ, pastored by my good friend Rev. Dr. Zachary Hicks and Peoples Community Church, an inter-denominational church that I have attended, since my early childhood.

I am working to understand the custom and intricacies of The Church.  My longing to fill that spiritual gap in my life has led me to return to Peoples Community Church  in the north end; a place in which I find comfort and familiarity.  And I surprisingly know many of the ‘customs’ of the church that have remained constant for the past 6 decades.

Peoples Community Church recently celebrated its 57th anniversary.  My parents began taking my brothers and I to Peoples Community, when I was a very young child.  I sit there now during service and am overcome by the memories of the time I spent there in my youth.  My father, who was a painter by profession, worked at the church, from time to time.  My older brother and I played in the basement of this historic institution, as he worked.  Now when I sit on the main floor of the church, I am overwhelmed by those memories but most importantly, I feel that I’m part of this institution.

Peoples Community Church remains as the one of the few constants in my life.  My parents are gone.  The founders of the church are gone but when I am sitting in those pews, I am home.