Look Away, Dixie Land
(The Bitter Southerner, June 2015)
Maybe it’s because I don’t have a traceable accent (or so some people say; my mother would argue differently) that I feel compelled to let people know, to remove any doubt, that I am, in fact, a Southerner. And not just a Southerner — a proud Southerner. This means many things, among them: Coke, never Pepsi, is practically a commandment. No, I would not like unsweetened tea, ever. Always real bacon. Always. Sometimes boiled peanuts. Oh, and do not plan anything on the last Saturday in October if you expect me to attend. I grew up eating muscadines. I believe wraparound porches are God’s living room. My play clothes all had red-clay stains on the knees. I ate watermelon — with my white playmates, in our front yard. There are different ways to be Southern. Clinging to the rebel flag and the ugly past it represents should not be one of them.
Choosing to Be Black Is the Epitome of White Privilege
(POLITICOMagazine.com, June 2015)
Being black is not a lifestyle or a choice. One can no more choose to be black than we can choose our age or height. Unlike my gender identity, which I could alter by cutting my hair and wearing different clothes, asking people to address me with a male pronoun or even undergoing gender reassignment surgery, I cannot change the color of my skin, the trails of my ancestors or the way that a majority-white country still very much invested in the concept of racial identity will always perceive me. Rachel Dolezal wants it to be simple. But there is simply no such thing as one’s “preferred” race. To be American is to be fiercely protective of our even our most trivial varied identities: Whether we are Southern or Midwestern or root for the Bears or the Packers. Race is even more emotional and personal, and unlike with some other identities, when it comes to race, fellowship is not kinship.
The Underwoods: A Less Perfect Union
(TIME.com, March 2015)
The Underwood union is a central theme of ‘House of Cards,’ and is among its most compelling, as it gives us as viewers a cultural lens through which to explore the show’s broader questions about the acquisition and exercise of power. For Frank and Claire, marriage and politics are tightly intertwined; one does not exist without the other. This seemingly unlikely combination is what makes this couple’s relationship unique, but what also threatens to prove its undoing. Though they may not seem a likely pair, marriage and politics need some of the same ingredients to work. Some elements—like respect, diplomacy and pragmatism—are more readily acknowledged, while others—like strategy, bargaining and persuasion—we might be less willing to admit are necessary. And connotation matters: compromise and manipulation are two sides of the same coin, viewed from different perspectives. Frank and Claire Underwood bring new meaning to Otto von Bismarck’s famous definition of politics as “the art of the possible.”
Growing Up in Atlanta, Every Day Was MLK Day
(TIME.com, January 2015)
To grow up in Atlanta is to be always aware of the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and to see it intertwine with your own fate. I was born there in 1978, less than a mile from the house where King grew up. As a schoolchild, I like others, visited Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue—the street where King was born, worked, died, and is honored. To see King’s neighborhood, and the home he was born in, humanized him for us children, letting us know that he was once young like us, wrestling with classes and playing with siblings. We went to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King declared, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” and to the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization he led until his death in 1968. We visited the King Center built by his widow to spread King’s nonviolent doctrine, and saw the eternal flame that burns near his tomb and reminds us that his work endures.
Ferguson Needs More Black Business Owners and City Leaders
(TIME.com, September 2014)
For most of my life, the mayor of my hometown—Fairburn, Georgia—was Betty Hannah, a white woman. But since Fairburn is about 20 miles outside of Atlanta, that seemed bound to change eventually: Black residents like my mother and I could always look down the road to a major American capital that has, for more than a generation, been run by a black mayor, district attorney, police chief, and city council. In 2009, the year I turned 31, Mario Avery was elected Fairburn’s first black mayor. Ferguson, Mo., too, is a town with a history of white-only governance, and in close proximity to a place where black residents do have political power: Country Club Hills, a city with a black mayor, black police chief and predominantly black city council. And so, while I reported on the Michael Brown shooting and unrest in Ferguson this summer, I wondered how a place that looked so similar to my hometown could be so different – how the black people who make up a majority of the city of Ferguson could wield so little power. The story of how Fairburn managed to take similar historical ingredients and cook up an entirely different future could hold lessons for Ferguson – and all of the other towns like it across the country.
The Atlanta Hawks' Audience Problem Is That It Isn't Black Enough
(BuzzFeed, September 2014)
Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson wasn’t wrong when he wrote that “racist” 2012 email to his staff laying out the problems the Hawks were having selling season tickets to white people. His hypothesis: Middle-aged white men, who are the league’s primary season ticket holders, were frightened by the arena’s “scary” urban atmosphere; the games are set against a hip-hop soundtrack; and the audience is overwhelmingly African-American. But Levenson’s comments weren’t racist. They were observant. But he wasn’t very perceptive. And what he saw as a problem with white audiences was actually a missed opportunity to build the black audience.
This is America in 2014? What I witnessed last night in Ferguson was appalling
(Fusion, August 2014)
I can still hardly believe what happened just a few hours ago. I was scrambling to outrun a cloud of tear gas as it moved into a well-manicured subdivision in America’s heartland, while my friend and fellow journalist, Wesley Lowery, was being slammed up against a soda machine by police and detained nearby. I came to Ferguson on assignment for Fusion to find answers in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a local police officer. Since arriving here, I’ve sought to gain an understanding of the dynamics between the community and local authorities, hoping any insights might help explain the tragedy. Tonight, I witnessed those dynamics firsthand.