The Black History Month that Changed the Game

By Kyva Holman, Interdisciplinary Studies student at Naropa University

If, perchance, there is another 500 or 1000 years of human habitation of this planet, and we are not at all assured there will be, February 2019 will go down in history as a pivotal year for black politics, culture, awareness, and excellence.

Living in this very white town has led me to deep-dive into the state of Black America. Long, tortured story short: I was once a politically motivated black nationalist rapper who tried over decades to get put on by a music industry more interested in stupidity, corruption, and harm than anything else. After ‘sudden awakening’ during a ten day Vipassana retreat, I gradually relinquished my dreams of Hip-Hop superstardom, entering the Buddhist sangha literally needing refuge, and ended up at Naropa University, monitoring the situation from a fifteen-inch screen.

The movement is turning out to be exemplary company. Social media is facilitating a field of black engagement I could never have imagined in my wildest flights of uprising fancy. Much of the conversation pivots around the newly minted term ‘ADOS’, or American Descendants of Slaves, and the implications of such a designation across all domains of human activity. The movement received its first energetic pulse when it was lambasted out the gate by old guard African American mainstream media personalities.  These stalwart operatives of the Democratic Party immediately dismissed the creators of the term as “Russian bots” of all things… and the Democrats have been in full meltdown ever since.

Black people have of course en masse voted the Democratic ticket for decades of American politics. After eight years of the first black president, it was decided that blacks vote Democratic much too reflexively, and for too long. The ‘Black Trump Supporter’ was the first wave of a tremendous political backlash that is now keenly focused on two presumptive Democratic presidential nominees, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Clearly, somebody assumed that a fresh round of caramel-complexioned, half-baked overtures to ‘black culture’ would mechanically secure African American support. This Barack Obama 2.0 strategy, however, grossly underestimated the level of disappointment blacks felt with Obama’s two terms in office. A discussion of why could and will fill books, and I touch on the matter from a black Buddhist perspective in my book, A B-Boy Buddhist in Boulder.

What happened is that a grassroots cabal of woke black activists took to their social media platforms and pushed aside Harris and Booker’s ill-conceived cultural pandering for devastatingly exacting analyses of each’s legislative record.  Found severely wanting, the ADOS community declared the candidacies dead-in-the-water from the African American voter point-of-view and forwarded the need for a definitive agenda to articulate and address the multiple, systemic, interrelated crises of enduring black injury, injustice, and disenfranchisement.   

And so, ‘hashtag tangibles2020’: or substantive, non-cosmetic remedies for black America, unsealed a Pandora’s Box of outing, exposing, and shaming of ‘capers’ and ‘coons’, opportunistic covert and overt supporters of white supremacy.  Well… not exactly. That process, truthfully speaking, has probably been running online since the Internet’s inception.  BUT. As I write this—in February 2019, Black History Month—American Descendants of Slaves are making history with a cleansing, if inundating, torrent of diagnoses on every conceivable calamity of black society imaginable: from staggering wealth disparities between blacks and whites despite blacks having an estimated 1.2 trillion-dollar spending power, to reparations for slavery and Jim Crow, to “scammers” making blacks lose confidence in doing business with each other, to toxic masculinity, to ‘thots’ and ‘gold diggers’,  to  geriatric political representation, to wealthy black gatekeepers (A.K.A. ‘the Boule’), to rappers selling out for The Bag, conflict and competition with African immigrants, ongoing targeting by law enforcement, clashing religious identities, marginalization of black LGBTQI voices, irresponsible celebrities, lack of schools, lack of control over media images… and beyond.

As you can probably tell, each of these issues could fill volumes. Conveniently, if tragicomically, many of them converge in a single incident: the bizarre case of Jussie Smollett.  Smollett is a gay, black male star of Empire, the controversial, former-hit television show about a dynastic but dysfunctional black family-owned urban entertainment conglomerate. The program itself poses a host of problems. Last month, Smollett reported going out for a sandwich at two o’clock in the morning in below-freezing Chicago and being attacked by two ski-masked white men wearing Make America Great Again hats and carrying bleach. After shouting racist and homophobic slurs at him (Smollett plays a gay character on the show), the two men beat him severely and hung a noose around his neck.

The Internet blew up, naturally, and heterosexual black men were skewered in short order for not being more supportive. He wowed an L.A. audience with how he fought back, declaring himself, in fact, the ‘New Gay Tupac.’ At the time of this writing, the entire story has pitifully decomposed, and Smollett is in custody. The Chicago police department, no paragon of justice for black residents of the city, apparently did quick due diligence and questioned two persons of interest for the attack. They were not Trump supporting bigots, but, get this… Nigerian bodybuilders, one of whom was an extra on Empire. I love my African family, no question—but the ‘Nigerian scammer’ is well-known in American black society as problematic. Seems Smollett paid the two immigrant brothers $3500 for their brutal services.

When Smollett first reported the attack, the mainstream media assumed the story to be factual and the LGBT community went ballistic. However, the new grassroots black (social) media were not only calling bullshit from the very beginning but building a case for a much broader possible agenda with the stunt, partly based on the detail of Smollett being on the phone at the moment of the alleged attack with the gay black male activist creator of the Empire series, Lee Daniels. Daniels rose to prominence through his hit movies, Monster’s Ball and Precious, two profoundly troubling films for African Americans that some insist are part of a personal axe Daniels has to grind against heterosexual black society. But WAIT… because the responses of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to the alleged attack raise the specter of political skullduggery. Both referred to the incident as a “modern day lynching,” highly incendiary language for American Descendants of Slaves, while simultaneously supporting anti-lynching legislation in Congress—often promoting it with the term ‘LGBT’ before the term ‘African Americans.’ Now that the whole absurd affair has been exposed as fake news, as well as potentially a felony false report, grassroots black media is demanding an apology from the LGBT community, jail time for Smollett, repercussions of some sort for Lee Daniels; and they are wondering how deep the rabbit-hole goes in terms of Democratic Party collusion.  

As stupendously strange as all this is, Jussie Smollett is only one of a veritable galaxy of characters deemed troublesome to the remediation of conditions for American Descendants of Slaves: a cast ranging from the former president and his wife Michelle, to Dame Dash, 21 Savage, Angela Rye, Bill Cosby, Cardi B, R. Kelly, Robin Roberts, Steve Harvey, Terry Crews, and far too many others to name. And somehow, out of the clamor and rancor of multiple staked out positions, we are charged with producing a coherent and comprehensive agenda of our own—one that will finally adjudicate properly and righteously for those whose ancestors literally bore this nation on their backs. Please believe though, that one will be articulated, by and by.

The Internet has equipped black people worldwide with something they’ve never had before… a forum for indescribably deep, collective self-administered group therapy. Everybody’s talking. About everything. Nobody’s cultural, political, or financial status puts them beyond the reach of the discussion. That’s unprecedented. Rappers are talking to policy analysists, who are talking to single mothers, who are talking to scientists, who are talking to veterans. The online conversation being had by diasporic Africans lies somewhere between virtual family reunion from Hell, and Afrofuturist think-tank. In a way, black people are a dysfunctional dynasty, an Empire in exile laboring valiantly to map a strategy to better tomorrows. For whatever criticisms we may lob at the former president and/or the blockbuster film Black Panther, vague, tantalizing notions of actualized black excellence, a real Wakanda to come, are now among us.  Perhaps, in some inconceivable future, a healthier, happier, more empowered people will look back to our present moment as the one in which we achieved that elusive, seductive stage: critical mass.


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Naropa Campuses Closed on Friday, March 15, 2024

Due to adverse weather conditions, all Naropa campuses will be closed Friday, March 15, 2024.  All classes that require a physical presence on campus will be canceled. All online and low-residency programs are to meet as scheduled.

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