What Ridiculing Others For Sport Says About You

“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, then you have a very serious problem.” When award-winning author, Toni Morrison offered this hard-hitting analysis of white-supremacy in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, she gave the world a lesson on all forms of degradation. This critique especially applies to the popular forms of insulting gossip we see in mainstream culture today. Though our use of negative language directed toward others can be benign in some instances, it feels as if verbally wounding others for pure amusement has become quite a sport in varying forms of social media.

Celebrities are the easiest targets for “ordinary folks” looking to get their rocks off on slamming others. Hair, makeup, clothing, romantic relationships, even family are all up for grabs in the vicious game of nasty commentary thrown at people in the public eye.

Sure, we all have something to say about other people and sometimes it’s not nice. Who hasn’t watched a season of Basketball Wives, Love and Hip Hop, or Real Housewives of Atlanta and felt compelled to let it be known that some folks need to be put in the time-out corner permanently? That’s rather “normal.” It’s when it becomes a pattern of behavior or when your views reach a level of extremeness that goes beyond objectivity involving a degree of viciousness that you should take a step back and think about what’s causing you to be so worried about how other people are living.

Like everything else, these attacks as patterns of behavior stem from a few ugly places many of us wouldn’t dare talk about. Do you know what it may mean when you find yourself dogging others for the fun of it?

1. There’s Something They Have And You Want It

You may hate on the rich and famous, but I’m willing to bet that if they handed their fortune and fame over to you, you wouldn’t mind holding onto it for a while. They may have many things you believe you want or need to feel fulfilled and if you haven’t dealt with the jealous, mean-spirited child inside of you who had the potential to be a terror on the playground, beware! That child is now an adult who still has some growing up to do.

2. You Haven’t Found Or Fully Embraced Your Own Purpose

Like me, you may believe that everyone has a purpose and I’m sure you would be hard-pressed to find one person who believes their purpose in life is to tear others apart. So why do you spend so much time doing it? Well, what better way to spend your time when you haven’t found or embraced your own purpose than to put down others who are living theirs?

3. You May Be Lacking In Authority

Have you ever worked with someone who may be lacking power or authority in some area of their life so they embrace every chance they get to stand on someone else’s neck? Unfortunately, they don’t just exist in one area of work and life. They’re everywhere! What a joy it must be to spend your energy feeling as though you have some say in somebody else’s life because you’re lacking a say in your own. It might be scary but just imagine what could happen if you embraced what parts of your life you actually do have complete control over. Maybe then you’d stop wasting your authority trying to slam other people.

4. You’re Disillusioned By The Power And Convenience Of Social Media

It takes very little effort to make a public statement these days. With a simple tweet, Facebook update or blog post, we throw our opinion into the air for the world to see. Since it has become increasingly easy to speak publicly, people feel entitled to being heard. Here’s the truth, the vast majority of people don’t care about the vast majority of your opinions and no one is required to listen to you. Sure people in the public eye put themselves out there in a way that makes them vulnerable to criticism. But who died and gave you the authority to slam them? News flash: a seven year old with a cell phone has an opinion, but that doesn’t make the opinion worth hearing. Step down from your tweet horse on high.

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Turning Inward, The Next Chapter of Activism

As a result of my work and personal networks, I frequently meet teachers, scholars, lawyers, and non-profit leaders who consider themselves activists in some fashion. Focusing on topics from educational inequity to LGBTQ rights, they are keenly aware of issues of race, class, gender and socioeconomic status that influence the lives of the people for whom they claim to be advocates. Like any good activist, these folks are consistently focused on and, some might say, uniquely sensitive to social, cultural and political statements and policies that carry any level of bias based on a variety of identities and are fervently outspoken when they are standing guard as watchdogs and find the slightest infraction in action or rhetoric.

Regardless of how loud you might think they are, we need activists today, just as we needed them fifty years ago. They hold our nation and our world accountable for ensuring that we are progressing in a way that is truly meaningful for all people and they force us to avoid resting on our laurels because things are simply better than they once were.

Anyone who reads my work or engages in a one hour conversation with me about politics might call me an activist. Though I'm not opposed to assigning that word to my role in some capacity, I feel that the term has been terribly abused and misused and needs redefining.

What I have concluded based on my own personal reflections, is that those of us who have been called or dare to call ourselves activists must prepare to move into the next and perhaps most spiritually radical phase of activism: turning inward.

Yes I am an advocate concerned about the state of Black boys in the American education system and the humanity of Black men in the criminal justice system. I'm also a critically thinking brother of three Black women concerned with the systemic forms of racism and sexism that influence their life opportunities. All of these things are indeed parts of who I am as a writer and thinker, but while I hold views about the external factors that impact conditions for these specific populations, I also hold internal racial and patriarchal views that I need to wrestle with in my own journey.

As someone who is deeply concerned about the biases and hetero-normative policies that shape the experiences of queer Americans, I also struggle to reconcile my own ideas about masculinity and gender roles, just as I see the results of classicism in my own community while still holding what others can reasonably consider classist perspectives.

I can tell you from personal experience, that turning my focus from the external analysis of what bell hooks describes as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy” and seeing all of the mess I’ve been conditioned to hold within me has been painful. It can be heartbreaking if your identity is partially or fully wrapped up in the views you hold of yourself as anti-something only to discover that you are to some extent, no matter how small, also breathing life into the very thing you seek to eliminate.

It can be haunting when you realize that not only do you hold contradictory views and experiences but that you also have no clear understanding of how to reconcile them and what it might mean for your work if the enemy on which you have held a laser-like focus is indeed a part of your very being. Still we must interrogate our own identities in an effort to save both ourselves and others from the social ills we believe to be detrimental to our people.

Who and what are you when you strip away your activist robes? Who and what are you when you step off the stage? When the day is done and you take off every pin and button with some sarcastic, witty political statement written in a color designed to catch the eyes and provoke the minds of others, what can you say for and about yourself? Where is it that you stand when no one is watching or listening?

When the cameras are not near, when your phone is dead and you are walking through what most would consider to be a “dangerous” neighborhood and you hear a little voice in your head begin to speak, what does it have to say?

Activists must continue to be outspoken, but in this time, in the this place, where we find ourselves battling for equality an ever changing world, leaders and thinkers, of all walks, must move from just being outspoken to also being "inspoken," that is we must learn to speak to and from the raw and imperfect person within us who is not concerned with what others on the outside might think about our own terrifying truths.

We have to be courageous enough to see ourselves with the same critical eye we have cultivated to see the world. This is the next phase of activism. It’s the intimate and deeply disrupting act of looking inward and asking ourselves what diseases we carry in our own bodies for which we are also working tirelessly to create a cure. When we fight we, must fight to save ourselves.

A Note on Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer

  “I don’t do that. I don’t tell people what they should get out of a film.” This was Spike Lee’s response last Friday evening when I asked him what he wanted his audience to take away from his latest work Red Hook Summer.

 Like many of Lee’s films, this newest addition to the Brooklyn filmmaker’s repertoire is filled with many themes and lessons on which any conscious viewer could walk away reflecting.

From confronting the devastating realities of one American ghetto to debating the viability of traditional methods for rearing children through religion in a rapidly evolving culture, characters in the film meet a number of complex situations that force their mindsets to shift a bit as the audience receives powerful tokens of wisdom and profoundly gripping images that rattle the mind in between moments of laughter.

An uncompromising Brooklynite, Lee crafted a film that explores the realities of Red Hook which is presently fraught with gang activity and sobering levels of economic disparity, while, as some sources indicate, it is on the path to becoming Brooklyn’s latest gentrified area.

Despite some of the changing tides we hear about in the film, the main characters in Red Hook Summer are not at all shy about the challenges they face. Among many arguments concerning the economic state of both our nation and his small piece of Brooklyn, the film’s Deacon Zee, played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd unabashedly reminds viewers that Red Hook has 80% unemployment.

In addition to the state of Red Hook, the minds of viewers are stretched far enough to be exposed to both the realities of the community as well as the troubling experiences of Lee's key characters.

In the film we see the violent product of one former church-going boy’s transformation into a member of the gang, The Bloods as well as the struggle of the film’s lead character, Flik Royale, who—like many young Black men—is missing the presence of a man in his life after the death of his own father. Most riveting perhaps, is the emergence of a man who visits the local church and knows the congregation’s bishop through a dark past.

Regardless of what Lee intended, this film is not a break from his tradition of creating thought-provoking work.

With a little help from Clarke Peters who plays a well-known minster in Red Hook and the grandfather of the film’s protagonist Flik Royale, played by Brooklyn’s own Jules Brown—who was discovered by Lee in the eighth grade—Red Hook Summer is sure to leave audiences with a great deal to think about with universal themes including forgiveness, friendship and love.

Just don't ask Lee what you should learn from all that he offers in this film. If the 55 year old actor has some concrete ideas, he's not sharing them and like many artists, is living the work open for interpretation and understanding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LksGNgOgLsY]

When Functionality Beats Aesthetics

Among the list of things that push me to practice my highest level of anger management, readers will notice an asterisk next to poorly designed products. In our ever-evolving world of technology, designers across the globe have to be committed to giving consumers the latest and the best products they can get their hands on. Whether they're cell phones, clothing or—as in my case—website themes, designers have to find new and creative ways to produce highly engaging products that both capture and sustain consumer interest. It's not easy to stand out in this competitive world that can very well be an oyster for highly effective designers from all areas of expertise, but there are a few things that must remain constant as we continue to see thousands of new toys and trinkets emerge.

Funky colors, uniquely manipulated structures, interactive features, smoothly cut edges; you name it and you'll find all of these characteristics in the products pushed in front of us at every turn. Who doesn't want a product that fits with the times and stands out?

The one concern I have as a consumer is that there's one characteristic I see being ignored far too frequently—functionality. Who gives a damn if you design a futuristic can opener made with platinum and colorful glass if it can't cut paper let alone a can of tuna?

The less mechanical but more technical products are no better. Anyone who has purchased a theme for a website in the past six months because of the cool ways you can manipulate images and provide an interactive feel for your viewers will tell you that some designers have a top secret competition to create the most obscure and confusing buttons you have to press to make anything work.

The point of technology is to make life easier and though beauty is of great value, if it ever came down to it and the two clashed in a back alley somewhere in Brooklyn at 2 a.m., functionality would pimp slap aesthetics.

If we're not careful, we'll all end up living in homes where doors look like they should be pushed or pulled when in actuality they slide, surrounded by products that were supposed to serve some function but in fact sit on tables and hang on walls as a new form of "art" which consists of dysfunctional reasons we spent our hard-earned money.

3 Ways That Minding Your Damn Business Can Change Your Life

As I was walking through my apartment last night, I was wrestling with the complexities of a friendship I'm currently managing. The details of the situation aren't at all significant so I'll save you some time and energy and jump to the point which is that this most recent complexity has made me reflect on past relationships (using this term in the most general sense, not exclusively romantic) and I discovered that in many ways the problems I've experienced—whether they've been insecurities, frustration, anxiety, anger, or regret—have often came about because I wasn't minding my damn business. Chances are if this aha moment (thanks Oprah) is true for me it's true for other people as well. So as I continue to reflect on what this all means for me, I thought I'd take a moment to share with you just how minding your damn business more often may change your life.

1. Gossip: You can pretend to be a saint if you want to, but let's be real. At some point in your life you too have participated in gossip. Either you were talking about someone behind their back or passing on a story you heard about someone. In some cases you yourself may have been the subject of gossip which, understandably so, put you in an awkward situation in which you felt obligated to address the issue/defend yourself. These circumstances typically bring about drama and distract us from the far more important things that are or could be happening in our lives. It seems that no matter what you do or where you go, someone will always have something to say about you so why waste your time worrying about and/or creating the nonsense? Next time you are the subject or facilitator of gossip, just think of the headache and potential heartbreak you could save yourself if you decide to take a rain check and mind your damn business.

2. Waiting for permission to heal: I'll given you a break from the honesty and ground this one in my own experience.  So I have been in a few relationships that didn't work out. Someone disappeared. They stopped calling. They suddenly weren't sure if they were ready for a relationship although I'm "amazing" and "brilliant" and "beautiful" and my favorite "You're everything that I have ever wanted. I'm just not sure I deserve you yet..." Can you believe this? Of course you can! You've heard it too! Oh wait, we're focusing on me. Oops. Right. So when these situations have emerged in the past, I've searched for an explanation. I wanted to know what happened. What did I do wrong? Was it something I said? Was there someone else? Well you know what? I never actually got any answers and instead of moving forward and healing, I harbored anger toward romance and often times when someone else came along tugging on my legs—even if gently—I wasn't willing to take a step forward because I was standing still waiting for closure to come. Guess what; It never showed up... Often times people don't give you an explanation because they don't believe they should have to or that you at least deserve one. Want closure and permission to heal from these situations? I have a tip. Mind your damn business. Why they didn't want you ain't none of your business.

3. If it isn't your life, don't live it: Here's a tough one. Love...it's a tricky bastard because when you love someone you give them a space in your life from which their actions and words can cause you pain and worry. Many of us have friends and family members for whom we care very deeply and occasionally someone will come into your life for whom you want the very best. Sometimes the problem is that what we want for others is more than what they want for themselves. So what do we do? We lose sleep. We sacrifice money, time, energy, care and sometimes even our well-being to ensure that we do all we can to convince them to live the life that we believe they deserve. But in trying to force our horses to drink the water to which we have led them, we typically hurt ourselves and in many cases we damage our relationships with those we love. By all means we should care for others, but when our care for them begins to diminish our care of ourselves we have to pause and ask ourselves if we are pouring our precious wine into a porous barrel and hoping each time that it will stay. Sometimes when you neglect your life because you're busy trying to live someone else's, you have to learn how to mind your damn business.

Can you imagine other ways in which minding your business might be helpful? If so, please share below! You never know who might benefit from your thoughts.