Dear Mr. Madison,
I’ve been a fan of yours for many years. That is, I was one until I saw this picture on your Facebook timeline this week.
I have to say that I wasn’t only saddened to see it, but deeply disappointed that someone so literate, so steeped in Black history and its meaning, would engage in a campaign that plays right into the supremacist narrative.
I was saddened to see that you, too, are buying into “respectability” as an answer to the heartache of the Black community. I was non-plussed that, of all people, you might fail to grasp the history and intent behind the baggy pants. I was appalled that, at a time when we are finding out the true brutal extent of institutional racism’s oppressive urban economic policies in cities like Baltimore, you would stoop so low as to call for oppressed and deprived brothers to “man up,” when you know the impossible barriers they have in front on them. It hurt to notice that you completely passed on the opportunity to support your sisters on a day everyone made sure to SayHerName.
The Great Recession hit the African American community the hardest and the longest, yet it is the least-discussed. I wrote about it here in the context of what Martin Luther King tried to achieve. Black unemployment figures are still shockingly high today. Whatever recovery America has experienced these last few years, it hasn’t made any of its benefits felt in Black America. Not yet.
Clothes don’t make the man, Mr. Madison. Shakespeare was criticizing those for whom appearance alone is the measure by which man or woman is judged. In today’s America, there is nothing that a suit will add to a Black person’s skillset that is diminished by low-riding pants. There is no added respectability when the wearer of a suit happens to be African American.
I would see a dentist who wears low-riding jeans under his smock. I would buy my prescriptions from a pharmacist who wears her hair in cornrows. I would go see a neuroscientist who wears his hair in dreadlocks. I gladly listen and learn from that Harvard professor whose long and beautiful gray dreadlocks detract not one word from his teachings.
And then, there is supporting our sisters, Black women. Black women, grief-stricken by the attacks on their bodies and the silence in which they suffer their pain, marched this week. Where was your support for them on the day you told your brothers to pull up their pants and man up? Isn’t their grief at least important to you?
In, Our Brothers Can Do Better: The Black Woman Activist’s Struggle for Reciprocity, Candace Simpson writes:
“I’m not surprised the rally in honor of Rekia Boyd’s in New York’s Union Square last month had significantly less attendees than we’ve seen at rallies for male victims of state violence. I’m not surprised the St. Louis-based organizers of Millennial Activists United experienced low turnout for their recent #BlackWomensLivesMatter protest.
But I’m angry that the same folks who couldn’t make it to Rekia’s march last month were moving hell and earth to get to Baltimore. I’m speaking specifically to my NYC based brothers. It took a car with snacks and a full tank of gas, as well as extra clothes, vacation days, and a toothbrush to go to Baltimore. It only cost $2.75 to get to Union Square for Rekia’s protest. Where were you? And why are you so eager to support movements that require interstate travel when sisters in your own community have been calling on you for the longest?
She has a right to be angry. I am angry and sad with her. In these troubled times, we all have to support each other. Black men, Black women, older, middle-aged younger, and however many conscious white people we can enlist. Brutality is all around us. Institutional racism is found in every single one of our institutions. Progressive voices for change aren’t being listened to and the iron grasp of the oppressive state is closing tighter.
I spoke out when Common said some things during a public appearance. I wrote him as a white mother who is doing her best to properly raise her white child. That task becomes far more difficult when, added to all the implied racism around us, criticism of those who are most in need of support is added by public figures like you. This isn’t a time to bolster the false arguments of those who blame the victims at every turn. This isn’t a time to look down upon those who differ from us in some way, whether it is in appearance, belief, or means. This is a time to appreciate, cherish, and support every life, and demand justice for all.
I’ve taken James Baldwin’s word to heart. I hope you will too.
“If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time