After Charlottesville violence, Virginia football players see a role to play on and off the field They present a model for different people to work as a team

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Steps from the Robert E. Lee statue downtown, two white people on a bench call out to a stranger. It’s been two months since the former Lee Park was renamed Emancipation Park, and 150 years of Confederate history again came up for debate. Two days since the latest reconsideration of Confederate totems had again ended in death.

“Who are you with?” the pair demand of a black reporter, and it seems an immediate proxy for more freighted questions of history and allegiance — What side are you on? and Are you with me?

Questions hang over the city, the South, the nation, since white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally Saturday clashed with counterprotesters and a Nazi sympathizer allegedly plowed into activists, killing one young woman and injuring 19 others. Two police officers monitoring the protests also died when a mechanical failure sent their helicopter crashing to the ground. Rallies have continued around the country, and demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina, toppled a Confederate soldier’s statue.

Here, flowers and candles mark the makeshift memorial where Heather Heyer, 32, was struck, and a crowd of mourners stand close by to pay homage. Others sit, silent and staring. “Forgive us, Rest in Power, Love Always Wins,” read the messages in chalk.

But like the questions from the people on the bench, they feel incomplete to the moment — like people reckoning with the immediate aftermath of trauma while everyday instances of racism and privilege exist in plain sight. On the first workday since the tragedy, black men in brown delivery truck uniforms are unloading boxes and white men in summer suits visit the growing dedications to the fallen over lunch hour. Then everyone returns to their separate understandings of the world and how something like this could happen.

The questions don’t stay downtown, of course. The University of Virginia football team was at practice when they heard about the violence a few miles away. Team members are grappling with their own conceptions of race and hatred. It’s a moment for them to set an example, they say, and especially for the myriad lessons of football to come into play.

Daniel Hamm, an African-American tailback raised in a predominantly white community near the Blue Ridge Mountains, says he was taught not to see color, but Saturday’s violence had widened his eyes. “As student-athletes we know that we have a voice, and I think it’s time for us to put out a strong united message from the football program,” Hamm said. Racial hatred “is not welcome here — not welcome in this university, in this community, and it shouldn’t be welcome in this nation.”

Daniel Hamm, Kirk Garner and Micah Kiser

Lonnae O'Neal/The Undefeated

That’s something “the ultimate team sport” teaches, he says. In football, “you can’t do anything without your brothers being right there, doing their job right beside you.” No matter your position, everyone plays a role. You have “different races, religions, different political beliefs, so you have all these different kinds of people. There’s so much diversity you have to learn to work with. You have to put that aside for one common goal, and it really allows you to see that everyone is equal, everyone is valuable to society.”

Kirk Garner, a cornerback from Baltimore, says his faith teaches him to treat hate with love. “If there’s one true message I can give out to the youth, it’s just to not always be angry at these type of situations. There’s always other ways to overcome.” Garner cites Colin Kaepernick: “He’s a man that’s been given a platform, and he used his position to bring up the problems that are going on in America. And not only has he continued, but he’s stayed true to his word. I really respect what he’s doing, using his power to make change in the world.”

Hamm and Garner credit All-American linebacker Micah Kiser, a team leader who is from Baltimore, for urging the team to come up with a display of unity after the unrest. This football team is one of the most diverse groups they’ll ever be part of, Kiser said. “There are Polynesian kids, Asian kids, black, white, Latino, and we want to show we can come together for one common goal, to set an example for the city.” They’re taking a picture to send out over social media and working on the message. “By staying together, we can show and we can prove that that is stronger than whatever hate might be out there.”

People have to talk across racial lines in a democracy, said Kiser. “We’ve talked a lot about removals of statues and what does it mean. From my understanding and how I see it, you can’t erase history. But, at the same time, there needs to be a conversation. … Well, what does slavery mean at UVA? What did the Civil War mean to the state of Virginia? How did that affect us? How does this connect us?”

They want to play hard because they’re not just representing the school, “we’re representing Charlottesville,” Kiser said. And that extends past the UVA grounds. “Once you go down Main Street a little bit past campus, [the city] becomes a lot more black, and a lot of times a lot of people in Charlottesville might not feel that connection to the University of Virginia,” Kiser said. And they can change that.

In the office of second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall, there’s a book of quotations from the school’s founder and the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder, who in his treatise Notes on the State of Virginia wrote that “blacks […] are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” Mendenhall notes the contradictions of Jefferson’s legacy.

“Growth does not happen when you’re comfortable, and the surface is not where growth is,” he said. “It’s only at the depths and in sincere dialogue.”

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s violence, the team focused on safety, routine and making sure players felt like they could talk about how they were feeling — some of the Nazi protesters were staying on the first two floors of their team hotel. Longer term, Mendenhall calls it an opportunity for character building.

Kids get messages about their physical gifts from a young age, he said, and “those are not lasting values in terms of contributing to society, making a living or giving of oneself to the community. I’m looking to creating amazing young people in their homes and communities and the world at large, rather than thinking of them only as football players. That to me is not enough of an identity to be lasting or sustainable.”

There may be a trial for the killing and injuries Saturday, and the white nationalists said they’ll return to Charlottesville, so the players will be contending with these crosscurrents for a long time.

“Here’s conflict and here’s hate and here are these other issues with free speech ironed in there somewhere, and here are these young people who really would like to do something. They don’t want to sit on their hands; they want to act appropriately, but also they want to make a difference,” Mendenhall said. They want to model unity and tolerance, something he said they’ve worked on as a team.

It’s hard to call what happened a blessing, but “the chance for outreach and a teachable moment in a program that’s new, under this backdrop, is almost perfect for the chance to do good,” said Mendenhall. And if they have success on the field, that will make their message all the more powerful.

Kiser calls the upcoming season and their mission on the football field a rallying point. “When you’re doing a lot of hard work together, nobody is worried about where you’re from. … I always say if the world could be more like a football team, we’d be better off.”

They have an opportunity to do something, Garner agrees. And if we “let this opportunity pass us, we’d be failing.”

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

Foundation honors Nearest Green, the slave who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey Author Fawn Weaver is determined to keep the distiller’s legacy alive

Nathan “Nearest” Green, the slave responsible for teaching Jack Daniel the art of whiskey distilling, is being honored by a foundation that is building a memorial park and creating a college scholarship fund for his descendants.

The Nearest Green Foundation was launched by best-selling author Fawn Weaver. “Here was this incredible story of a slave who was the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, who taught one of the world’s most recognizable men and then following slavery became the first master distiller for what is now one of the top whiskey brands in the world,” Weaver wrote on the foundation’s website. “So little of the details had been passed down beyond the first few generations that the story of Nearest Green had turned into a bit of folklore.”

She first learned about Green from a New York Times article last year. The seldom-told story piqued Weaver’s curiosity enough to tell the complete story of Green and his descendants.

The first mention of Green in the Jack Daniel’s timeline begins in 1864. As a young man, Daniel left home to live and work on a farm that belonged to Rev. Dan Call, a Lutheran minister who lived a few miles from Lynchburg, Tennessee. Green, a slave at the time, was tasked with watching and caring for Call. Daniel and Green worked closely together. Although Call was credited for teaching Daniel the tricks of whiskey distilling, it was Green who spent the time and effort to carefully walk Daniel through the process.

According to the site, Call would have to make a tough decision after the Civil War. His congregation and wife urged Call to either walk away from the whiskey business or leave his post as a minister. Call chose to sell his whiskey business to Daniel. As a thank you to Green, Daniel hired the now-free man as his first head distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery. Green worked with Daniel until 1881, when Daniel moved the operation to the Cave Spring Hollow location. Green’s sons, George and Eli, and grandsons Ott, Jesse and Charlie all worked at the new location to keep the family tradition alive.

Since last year, Weaver has gathered more than 20 historians, archaeologists, archivists, genealogists, researchers and conservators to help bring Green’s story together in its entirety. More than 10,000 original documents and artifacts passed down through generations have been offered to Weaver, with help from the Lynchburg community.

“When I met with the descendants of George Green, the son most known for helping his father, Nearest, and Jack Daniel in the whiskey business, I asked them what they thought was the best way to honor Nearest,” Weaver told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “Their response was, ‘No one owes us anything. We know that. But putting his name on a bottle, letting people know what he did, would be great.’ ”

‘Queen Sugar’s’ second season explores a fraught mix of family and historical legacy Halfway through season two, we’re wondering what happens when the Bordelons fight back

Family legacy and the legacy of race in the South are the compelling — and intermingling — themes midway through the second season of Queen Sugar.

That’s an ambitious load, especially considering a series of adjustments for the widely lauded OWN drama: There’s a new showrunner in Monica Macer to free up day-to-day obligations for executive producer Ava DuVernay. And the show is now wandering farther away from the Natalie Baszile novel that inspired it.

Last week’s episode gave us one big startling revelation, but there’s plenty of unresolved conflict still simmering. So far, we’ve witnessed Charley Bordelon (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) powering through some serious upheaval. She’s divorcing her husband, she’s opened the first black-owned mill in the fictional St. Josephine’s Parish, and she’s struggling to help her teenage son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), after a harrowing encounter with a police officer. Meanwhile, her sister Nova (Rutina Wesley) is second-guessing how much their late father accepted her decision to eschew a husband and children to throw herself into journalism. Their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), has been desperately trying to grasp some independence for himself now that he and the rest of the family know their father, Earnest, intended to leave the Bordelon farm solely to him, thanks to a letter Earnest left that contradicts his will.

Alfonso Bresciani/ ©2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment

On its face, it’s easy to identify how Queen Sugar is wrestling with ideas of legacy. In the wake of Earnest’s death, Charley poured her energy into opening the Queen Sugar mill as a way to honor him. But that’s a bit of a ruse. After Ralph Angel confronts the family with Earnest’s letter, which leaves the family farm entirely to him rather than split between the three siblings, Charley is reeling. She tells a magazine reporter profiling her that she honestly doesn’t know what Earnest would think of her efforts. Opening the mill has provided Charley with an escape from having to deal with her divorce, her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder and her burgeoning relationship with Remy Newell (Dondre Whitfield).

There’s another legacy Queen Sugar is examining, one that’s less obvious than the land and independence Earnest left his family and far more compelling. Remember, the Bordelon farmland used to belong to a white family, the Landrys, who are eager to buy it back. The Bordelon ancestors used to belong to the Landrys too. DuVernay uses the antebellum connection between the two families to explore legacies of slavery, racial terrorism and emotional violence wrought against black people in Louisiana. Since it debuted, Queen Sugar has repeatedly revisited the concept of invasion into black spaces, whether it’s the repo man who comes to take Earnest’s tractor, police coming to search Bordelon property at night, or showing up again to question the ownership of a rifle, which Ralph Angel can’t have because he’s been convicted of a crime, or Landry deploying a drone to the Bordelon farm.

The Landrys and law enforcement are the two most obvious remnants of the Jim Crow-era South. That’s why the scenes of hostile white people showing up to Bordelon land to take something that’s not theirs — either people, property or both — engender the same feelings of panic and tension you get from watching night riders or the Klan accosting black people on TV and film.

Skip Bolen / @2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The feud with the Landrys is fertile ground, and not just because of the echoes of racial implications that still ring true in Louisiana today. The parts of the show that set me most on edge are the ones with Samuel Landry (David Jensen), even as the two-dimensional villain he is. Because of the enormous wealth the Landrys possess, they effectively control the St. Jo’s sugar market. With the only mill in the parish, they have a monopoly on grinding cane, and they use that monopoly to financially subjugate the area’s black farmers.

Charley and the Queen Sugar mill hold out the promise of a better deal for the farmers. Landry doesn’t take it well and deploys a drone to spy on the Bordelon farm. Ralph Angel discovered it when it crashed into his young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison). The scene was deeply unnerving, both because of Blue’s already-established vulnerability and because the drone’s presence was such a contumelious intrusion of privacy. It was such an effective disruption of the calm, quiet and relative safety that rural living can provide that I wondered if it was fair to designate its use a form of high-tech terrorism. Who needs white hoods and burning crosses when you’ve got unmanned cameras and a private prison system eager to make money off the missteps of black people?

Ralph Angel’s status as a parolee continues to hang over his head — one wrong move and he’s back in prison, a weakness Landry is happy to exploit. For now he’s safe, but I have a feeling the second half of the season will get even more difficult for Ralph Angel.

But perhaps nothing is as awful as the revelation of what happened to Micah after a police officer pulled him over as he was driving his new Porsche.

In a gut-wrenching eighth-episode scene with his father, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett), Micah reveals that the officer who stopped him didn’t take him directly to the parish lockup. Instead, he drove past it, pulled into a darkened alley, forced the barrel of his gun into Micah’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Micah left jail without so much as a scratch on his body, but he was so shaken by the experience that he’s barely been recognizable to his parents since he was arrested. That’s how Queen Sugar examines a legacy of emotional violence and terrorism. The white people of St. Josephine’s Parish like their power, and they don’t want to let it go. But they’re smart, too, and their relationship to the black people of the parish can resemble that of an abuser toying with a victim. Sometimes it’s enough to simply flex the power that you have to send someone’s life off course, without ever firing a bullet. That’s something that the Landrys and the officer who arrested Micah know and are happy to exploit.

The midpoint of season two leaves us wondering: What happens when the Bordelons fight back?

O.J. Simpson gets parole and other news of the week The Week That Was July 17-21

Monday 07.17.17

Country rock artist Kid Rock is still pretending to run for U.S. Senate. Professional model Jeremy Meeks, better known as viral star “Prison Bae,” offered this advice to former football star O.J. Simpson: “Stay out of trouble.” The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Dave Gettleman, and instead of receiving heartfelt messages from his former players, Gettleman was laughed at, given the side-eye emoji, and called a “snake.” An American Airlines spokesperson clarified that it was mechanical issues and not a passenger’s passing gas that forced the evacuation of a plane the day before. Walmart apologized for a third-party vendor describing the color of a wig cap on the company’s website as “n—– brown.” A D.C. crime robot drowned itself. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who is hated by many despite rocking a fade haircut, said the first thing embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs to do to repair his image is to “cut his hair” and “try to be presentable.”

Tuesday 07.18.17

Kaepernick posted the definition of “Stockholm syndrome” to his personal Twitter account. According to a new poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would still support President Donald Trump if he “shot someone on 5th Avenue.” Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whiteside was reunited with his dog by Texas rapper Boogotti Kasino; in a profanity-laden video posted to his Twitter account, Kasino, who’d previously made a video demanding $20,000 for the dog’s safe return asked, “F— I look like stealing a god damn dog, bro?” In gentrification news, a new “Instagrammable” New York City restaurant sells $12 cocktails alongside a “bullet hole-ridden wall,” a supposed remnant of the “rumored backroom illegal gun shop” of the previous ownership (the bullet holes are not real). A Republican mayoral candidate in Florida told an opponent, who is white, and “your people” that if they want reparations they should “go back to Africa.” Chipotle is getting people sick again.

Wednesday 07.19.17

Wu-Tang Clan member RZA was tapped as Chipotle’s newest spokesman in the face of the company’s latest food safety crisis. Rats fell from the ceiling at one of the company’s Dallas restaurants. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the top-selling jersey in 14 states, including South Dakota and Alaska. In one of WWE’s most daring stunts since “blowing up” CEO Vince McMahon’s limousine in 2007, the wrestling executive’s son, Shane, was in a helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Inmates at a Florida correctional facility are being denied toilet paper. In the name of science, FiveThirtyEight, who forgot to send an invite, got drunk off of margaritas. The showrunners of Game of Thrones, a show that has more computer-generated dragons than black people, have been tapped to create a Civil War-era series that “takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal.” Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron “loves holding my hand.”

Thursday 07.20.17

Former O.J. Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey is now broke, lives with a 62-year-old hairstylist and works as a consultant upstairs from his girlfriend’s salon. O.J. was paroled. A Texas woman, who is about to snitch, was caught with $2 million worth of liquid crystal methamphetamine after she thought it would be a good idea to drive over the speed limit. New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown, who has a career 18-42 record, said the “future is bright” for the team, which went 5-11 last season. “Despacito,” the most streamed song in music history, was banned in Malaysia because of raunchy lyrics like “you’re the magnet and I’m the metal.” Rapper Meek Mill said he was “off the s—s” when he ignited his beef with Drake back in 2015. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned from the school after it was revealed he used a university-provided cellphone to dial a number associated with a female escort service; four days earlier, Freeze tweeted, “Dear God, I worship You today for the forgiveness of my sins, a love like no other, grace and acceptance, and the blessing of life!!”

Friday 07.21.17

Freeze was offered “lifetime access” to adult-themed webcasting website CamSoda (Warning: NSFW); the site said “camming is a healthy alternative to escorts and the next best thing.” Leonardo DiCaprio, a courageous, humble and common man, will take a commercial flight instead of a private jet to his environmental foundation’s gala. A tweet by R&B singer SZA that simply read “Lol nah” received 20,000 retweets and nearly 27,000 likes. In a move that will prove most damaging to Saturday Night Live, White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned. Thirty years after Spanish artist Salvador Dalí’s death, his famous mustache was still intact after his body was exhumed to perform a paternity test. Professional golfer Sergio Garcia, competing at the British Open, sent his tee shot near some bushes and hurt his shoulder after swinging his club at the offending shrubbery. A Chicago Cubs writer tweeted that Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana “took LSD into work today and said he wasn’t even sure where the players’ entrance was to Wrigley.” LSD is also a Chicago street.

Don’t join the rush to condemn ‘Game of Thrones’ team behind HBO’s ‘Confederate’ Whiteness does not prevent wokeness

There are as many reasons to worry about the next project from the Game of Thrones showrunners — an HBO series called Confederate, about an America where slavery still exists — as Queen Cersei has reasons to worry about her head staying attached to her neck.

But let’s give David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a chance. Whiteness does not prevent wokeness. And fiction can be more penetrating than fact, particularly in this era when too many people argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.

On Wednesday, HBO announced the forthcoming drama, written and executive produced by Benioff and Weiss, who turned the Thrones fantasy novels into a global phenomenon. Confederate is set in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War. “Slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution,” HBO said in a statement. “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone  —  freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

The biggest reason to worry about Confederate is Game of Thrones’ troublesome relationship with race.

Benioff and Weiss’ show is almost devoid of blackness. Only two minor characters had African features, and they’re both long gone. Two current minor characters appear biracial: Grey Worm, who has no testicles, and Missandei, an ex-slave doomed to love Grey Worm when she’s not busy as Daenerys’ servant. The brown-skinned Dothraki are a stereotypical savage horde, reveling in public sex and the consumption of raw animal organs — and they worshipped fair Daenerys, of course. Overall, Thrones is so Eurocentric, even a dude named Shagga is white.

Such whiteness is somewhat to be expected, given that George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire books that are the basis of Game of Thrones, says his world of Westeros is a fantasy analogue of the British Isles. “There weren’t many Asians in Yorkish England either,” Martin told a mournful fan in 2014. And Thrones delivers equal-opportunity barbarism, with white characters perpetrating an enormous variety of depraved and disturbing crimes.

But still. Dragons are born of a human mother in Game of Thrones. People return from the dead. Undead ice-fiends are marching south. But we can’t get a brother up in King’s Landing? C’mon, y’all.

Folks on Twitter predictably trashed the Confederate press release, questioning whether white writers could be trusted with such a deeply black story. In a more nuanced critique, David Perry, a writer and professor of history at Dominican University in suburban Chicago, expressed concern over Thrones’ treatment not only of race but of sexual violence as well.

“The showrunners have been defensive when engaged on these issues,” Perry, a Thrones fan, said by email. “Their decisions have been troubling here, and we’re only dealing with a medievalish fantasy world. … I am skeptical that they have the listening skills and humility to adeptly handle the even more tense subject matter of American slavery.

“You can’t do a show about American slavery without engaging the history of rape of enslaved women,” Perry continued. “Can we trust the people who decided to make the rape of Sansa about Theon’s emotions to portray that kind of trauma? I am always willing to be proved wrong. I always want to believe artists can develop and improve. But I’m deeply skeptical.”

But Cheo Hodari Coker, showrunner for the Netflix series Luke Cage, dismissed the critiques of “armchair Twitter cultural nationalists” and cautioned against judging a TV concept by its press release — or even by the creators’ previous work. Coker also expressed confidence that the involvement of black executive producer/writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who have worked on shows such as Empire and The Good Wife, will ensure that the explosive premise is handled with sensitivity.

“You can’t always apply someone’s previous creative track record to the work that hasn’t been done yet,” said Coker, who is friends with Benioff and Malcolm Spellman. “The Ice Cube of Straight Outta Compton is different from the Ice Cube that collaborated with the Bomb Squad, and different from the Ice Cube that made Are We There Yet? Just because there were elements of the Dothraki and some of these things that were problematic on Game of Thrones, does that mean this new concept will be equally problematic? No. You have to see it first.”

Responding to the criticism in an interview with Vulture, Weiss said, “It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama.”

Despite America’s long history of white storytellers seizing and misrepresenting black life, white writers have inhabited many authentic and classic black characters. Langston Hughes called Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin a “moral battle cry for freedom.” Richard Price illuminated the world of corner crack hustlers in Clockers. David Simon created some of the greatest (quasi) fictional black characters in American history with The Wire (which could actually be the most realistic depiction of an America where slavery never died).

The recent best-selling novel Underground Airlines explores the same premise as Confederate — what if slavery never ended? — in powerful and thought-provoking ways. It was written by a white author, Ben E. Winters. His protagonist is a black escaped slave, trapped into tracking down other fugitives. Winters’ research included reading slave narratives, contemporary and classic African-American literature, histories of slavery and the generations after slavery, and just talking to regular black folks about their modern lives.

“As we all know, our country has a long literary history of white people telling black stories and writing in black voices, and a lot of it is pretty gross,” Winters told me last year. “It was my aim from the outset to not be one of those. To bring empathy and intelligence to a work of speculative fiction that was also engaged with the great social issue of our time.

“The novel rose out of my powerful and sad sense of all the ways the shadow of slavery hangs over our country,” Winter said. “All the institutions and attitudes that were shaped during those centuries are still with us.”

They will be with us again when Confederate hits HBO, undoubtedly under great scrutiny. Game of Thrones is one of the towering achievements of this golden television age, largely because of the immense talents of Benioff and Weiss. Let’s see how they apply those talents to the great social issue of our time. Let them make their art, and then let them win or die. There is no middle ground.

Daily Dose: 7/20/17 The nation’s eyes are on O.J. Simpson yet again

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you can feel a crazy news day in your bones. At least at this stage of my life I can. Thursday is going to be one of those days, I think.

So, where to start with the president. First off, there was the interview with The New York Times. Rambling doesn’t even begin to describe how all over the place that conversation was, just on balance. Then he said he would have never hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he knew he’d recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which is a staggering admission. There’s also a story circulating that the White House is using funds designed to promote the Affordable Care Act to denigrate it.

O.J. Simpson is legitimately back in the news. We all knew this was coming, but it’s somehow still surreal to think that we’re going to be looking at Orenthal, once again, in a courtroom, rapt to find out what his fate will be. It clearly won’t have the same social impact as The Verdict, but this is straight-up huge news across every network. This scenario is obviously opening up some very old wounds for a lot of people, so whatever the parole verdict may be, it will be extremely emotional.

Some ideas are so misguided that you often wonder how they got so far. Such is the case over at HBO, where apparently the adapters of Game of Thrones are going to create another show called Confederate. And it sounds like it plans to be exactly what you might imagine: a world in which slavery is still legal and the South succeeded in breaking away. We need not point out how instantly awful this might become. But the risk of letting someone run wild with an ahistorical reimagining of our past is just one that few of us will trust, overall.

In the past five years, the NBA has made real efforts to expand its footprint globally. Since the Dream Team in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the league’s popularity has blown up and the league continues to push. The NBA Africa Game, a matchup that began in 2015, takes place Aug. 5. Now they’re heading to one of the biggest nations on Earth: India. The Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant will be the face of that tour. While there isn’t a full game yet, he will be holding camp and basically acting as an ambassador. Very cool.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I don’t typically freak out over every single leaked still shot from a set or makeup room, but in the case of Star Wars, I’ll make an exception. We’ve finally got a visual of Donald Glover playing a young Lando Calrissian, which is a very tough role to tackle for so many reasons, namely Billy Dee Williams.

Snack Time: Speaking of bad ideas, Atari is putting out a new product that puts speakers in the bill of a baseball cap, meaning the notion of private listening on, say, public transportation is one step closer to complete oblivion.

Dessert: This song blew me away.

 

Prodigy dies at 42 and other news of the week The week that was June 19-June 23

Monday 06.19.17

The state of North Carolina, that bastion of civil rights, had a law barring sex offenders from using social media sites, such as Facebook, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also ruled that rejecting trademarks that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment; the Washington Redskins, locked in their own legal battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wasn’t a party in the current case but supported the decision, which ruled in favor of Asian-American band The Slants. New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, when learning of the decision, referred to The Slants’ members as “Oriental Americans,” and when told that phrase was offensive, he asked, “You’re telling me that using the word ‘Oriental American’ is a slight?” The 47-year-old husband of Beyoncé announced a new, stream-only album available exclusively to the hundreds of Tidal and Sprint customers. In honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, President Donald Trump released a statement praising two white men (President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger), and a sportswriter questioned the history of American police and slave patrols. A heady reporter tried Lyft Shuttle, the ride-sharing company’s beta-stage commuter option, which allows riders to “walk to a nearby pickup spot, get in a shared car that follows a predesignated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop” — or, in other words, a bus. A data firm hired by the Republican National Committee left sensitive information — including names, dates of birth and home addresses — of nearly 200 million registered voters exposed to the internet; the company responsible, Deep Root Analytics, calls itself “the most experienced group of targeters in Republican politics.”

The Philadelphia 76ers officially acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, paving the way for the team to draft yet another player with past leg issues. Markelle Fultz, the first pick in Thursday’s draft, not only was traded from 53-win team to one that won just 28 games last season but also briefly considered signing with LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand over Nike. A Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin resident who, for some reason, has Chicago Bears season tickets, sued the Chicago franchise for not allowing him to wear Packers gear on the sideline at Soldier Field; the Wisconsin man told the court that the Bears “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience.” In other bear news, three New Hampshire teenagers are being investigated for potential hate crimes for assaulting and yelling a racial slur at costumed Boston street musician Keytar Bear, who is black.

Tuesday 06.20.17

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t appear on camera as much because “Sean got fatter.” Former five-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard offered UFC fighter Conor McGregor one piece of advice for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August: “Duck.” FBI director nominee Christopher Wray once represented an American energy executive who was being criminally investigated by the Russian government, but Wray deleted that information from his official online biography sometime in 2017. Mattel diversified its Barbie and Ken doll lines, offering different sizes, skin tones and hairstyles, including man buns, cornrows and Afros. For the new heavyset Ken dolls, Mattel originally wanted to market them as “husky,” but, “A lot [of guys] were really traumatized by that — as a child, shopping in a husky section.” Twitter was in an uproar after it was reported that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for her role in the critically acclaimed, $500 million movie, compared with $14 million for Man of Steel’s leading man, Henry Cavill; the latter figure was not true. Imprisoned former football player O.J. Simpson, who is up for parole for burglary and assault next month, spends his time in prison watching his daughter’s show Keeping Up With the Kardashians; “He likes to keep up with all the gossip with them,” a former prison guard said. NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, last heard fighting prostitutes in Arizona, has decided to donate his brain to scientists when he dies; Sapp said his memory “ain’t what it used to be.” New York rapper Prodigy, real name Albert Johnson, died at the age of 42; Prodigy, one half of acclaimed duo Mobb Deep, had recently been hospitalized because of sickle cell anemia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top lawyer, hired his own lawyer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catching up to the 20th century, signed a bill that raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18. An Algerian man was sentenced to two years in prison for dangling a baby out a 15th-floor window on Facebook, instructing his followers “1,000 likes or I will drop him.” A Canadian man stole a mummified toe that had been used as an ingredient in a hotel bar drink for more than 40 years; an employee said the hotel was “furious” because “toes are very hard to come by.” To test the performative advantages of the microbiome Prevotella, a Connecticut scientist performed a fecal transplant on herself, telling a news outlet: “It’s not fun, but it’s pretty basic.” Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, at 8:55 p.m. ET, tweeted, “Ok Twitter Fans ,, give me your thoughts , trades or otherwise & Remember 2B-Nice”; five minutes later, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

Wednesday 06.21.17

The Pentagon paid $28 million for “forest”-colored uniforms for the Afghan Army, yet “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area.” White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault signs her name as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” despite not being a high-ranking federal official or judge. Despite President Trump once valuing his Westchester, New York, golf course at $50 million, the Trump Organization valued the property at $7.5 million on tax forms, half of the town assessor’s valuation of $15.1 million, to pay less in property taxes. The Russian government, accused by U.S. authorities of spreading fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election, said it will “raise the issue of fake news” at the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling it “a problem that should be defined and addressed collectively.” Although terrorism is defined as using violence for political reasons, the FBI said the shooting at a baseball practice for the Congressional Baseball Game by a white man had “no terrorism involved.” Meanwhile in Flint, Michigan, the stabbing of a police officer at an airport by a man who reportedly yelled, “Allahu Akbar” is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism. A group of CIA contractors were fired from the agency for hacking a vending machine and stealing over $3,000 worth of snacks. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), best known for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last month, was sworn in to the House; the Democratic Party of Montana sent Gianforte an orange jumpsuit for his first day in office. The daughter of two dentists who had enough education to teach their children about stocks and investments, and who, herself, owns a multimillion-dollar company, was taught to save and now plans to retire at 40. In shocking news, a new study found that films with diverse casts outperform films that are overwhelmingly white. A police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting a black man. An auto insurance industry-funded study found that states with legalized recreational marijuana laws had a higher frequency of auto collision claims than states without such laws. Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert E. Murray sued comedian John Oliver for defamation after the HBO host used his weekly TV program to mock the energy executive, at one point calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil”; Oliver predicted on his show June 18 that Murray would sue him. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, known for calling women’s breasts “puppies” and other sexist remarks, said even he hated the finish of a historic all-women’s match that ended with a man winning. In response to the new American craze fidget spinners, Chinese companies have started selling the Toothpick Crossbow, a small, $1 handheld crossbow that can fire toothpicks 65 feet; parents worry the crossbows could blind young children, and Chinese state media fear iron nails could be swapped in for the toothpicks. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said he is willing to trade 21-year-old center Kristaps Porizingis, who is 21, with the “future” of the team in mind.

Thursday 06.22.17

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, still visibly upset over the recent actions of Phil Jackson, pointed out that the Knicks president’s first front office deal back in 2014 was signing forward Lamar Odom, “who was on crack”; Odom was released from the team three months later. Meanwhile, an NBA prospect said Jackson was “falling in and out of sleep” during the prospect’s workout. Knicks owner James Dolan skipped out on the NBA draft to perform with his band, JD & The Straight Shot, at a local winery-music venue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week said U.S. presidents “cannot obstruct justice,” said President Trump alleged he had tapes of former FBI director James Comey to “rattle” him. The president, who in May insinuated that he had “tapes” of conversations with Comey, tweeted that he, in fact, does not have any such tapes. The lack of diversity at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is so dire that some reporters have taken to calling the newspaper “White Castle.” In another example of “life comes at you fast,” Chicago Cubs outfielder and World Series hero Kyle Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after batting just .171 through the first 71 games of the season. The trainer for former Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, in response to his client being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, said he’s met “drug dealers with better morals” than Bulls general manager Gar Forman. Hip-hop artist Shock G, best known for his seminal 1990s hit “Humpty Dance,” was arrested in Wisconsin on suspicion of drug paraphernalia possession; there was no mention of whether or not the arrest took place at a Burger King restaurant. Just days after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the company amid hostile work environment allegations, some company employees began circulating a petition to have Kalanick reinstated, stating “[Travis Kalanick], no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen.” Montgomery County, Maryland, police are using DNA evidence to help create composite sketches of those suspected of sexual assault; the DNA, described as “bodily fluids,” is assumed to be male semen. A New York woman who traveled to the Dominican Republic to get reduced breast implants and liposuction developed an infection and now has a hole in one of her breasts; the woman, who traveled to the Caribbean island for a cheaper $5,000 procedure, will now pay over $10,000 in recovery costs. Famed comedian Bill Cosby is planning a series of town halls aimed at young people, specifically athletes, on how to avoid sexual assault allegations. After nearly three months of secrecy, Republican senators publicly released their version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In unrelated news, only 38 percent of Americans want the president and Congress to repeal and replace the ACA.

FRIDAY 06.23.17

A Trump administration official once filed for bankruptcy because of his wife’s medical bills for treating her chronic Lyme disease. President Trump all but confirmed his former tweets about alleged “tapes” of former FBI director James Comey were an attempt to influence the director’s Senate testimony. Comey, who announced the reopening of an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, refused three weeks earlier to attach his name to a statement on Russia’s involvement in that election because “it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.” A North Korea spokesman said the death of American college student Otto Warmbier just days after he was released from imprisonment in the country is a “mystery to us as well.” NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea around the same time Warmbier was released last week, said dictator Kim Jong-Un is a “friendly guy,” and the two sing karaoke and ride horses together. Zola, a gorilla at the Dallas Zoo, danced to (a dubbed-over version of) Michael Sembello’s 1996 hit “Maniac.” The St. Louis Cardinals announced their first Pride Night celebration at Busch Stadium; a disgruntled fan demanded that the team “stop forcing this down my throat.” Great Britain, loser of the Revolutionary War, is now putting chocolate in its chili. In response to Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp asking an English crowd “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” a White House spokesperson condemned the remarks: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead.” Hours later, New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser, visited the White House; last year, Baldasaro said Hillary Clinton “should be shot in a firing squad for treason.” Five-foot-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said if he were taller he’d be “the best player in the world.” Nearly 500 Syrian civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against two provinces in the Middle Eastern country. Former MTV Jersey Shore star Ronnie Magro-Ortiz, describing his breakup with fellow reality TV star Malika Haqq, said he and Haqq were like “oil and water.” He added: “It tastes good with bread, but it’s just not mixing.” A jury deadlocked for the second time in the case of a police officer killing a black man. After less-than-stellar reviews from critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, and a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me is being sued for copyright infringement by veteran journalist Kevin Powell.

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

Why’d it take so long for some of us to find out about Juneteenth? Some people think that it should be independence day for black Americans

I’ve been celebrating July Fourth for as long as I can remember, but I only learned about Juneteenth last year. Before you ask for my black card, hear me out.

1. Why social media is necessary

It takes a few hours for President Donald Trump’s tweet about a fake word to go viral, but it took almost 20 years for me to learn about a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

What’s more, I’m not alone. Nine out of 10 college students I know learned about the holiday just within the past five years.

We as a people are lacking education on a holiday that’s supposed to be ours in our classrooms and in our communities. “There’s so much vital history that school textbooks leave out, especially when it’s about African-Americans,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a junior at Hampton University. “Growing up, all I knew was that we were slaves and about Martin Luther King Jr.”

2. Holidays need branding too

The description of Juneteenth is not consistent. The San Diego Union Tribune described it as “a combination of June and nineteenth, the day in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they were free. Although emancipation had taken place more than two years earlier, federal troops were sent June 19, 1865, to tell slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom after that news had been kept from them.” The Tribune called it the day slavery ended in America.

The Post Newspaper of Galveston County said it was the day “enslaved people were freed after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was ‘read on a harbor pier in Galveston.’ ”

Al.com says the day commemorates the abolition of slavery.

As a result, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people even observe Juneteenth or whether they know exactly what they are celebrating. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says 40 states around the country host official commemorations.

3. Now that we know, what do we do?

The NAACP hosts annual Juneteenth gatherings to teach new generations about the day.

“Throughout my undergraduate career, I performed annually at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration,” said Alexjandria Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “Each year, I performed Negro spirituals while other artists, traditional folk storytellers, dancers and designers displayed varying forms of black excellence.”

Lyndsay Archer, a junior from Wayne State University, said, “In order for black people around the world and people of color to progress, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace our past history, learn from those experiences, and gain a sense of both pride and humility in our rich narratives.”

Come to find out, many African-Americans have mixed emotions about celebrating July Fourth. After all, blacks weren’t free in 1776.

Lauren Smith, a junior at Howard University, is one.

“I celebrate the Fourth of July because we built this country for free, so every holiday belongs to us.”

Robbie Osborne, a sophomore at Hampton University, doesn’t celebrate July Fourth as a holiday at all. “I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July because it doesn’t represent the liberation and freedom of all races in America.”

I’ve been debating whether I should look at Juneteenth as the true independence day for black people.

I’m aware that the slaves were officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but I’m in solidarity with some of the last black folks to find out. I hate being the last to find out about anything important.

I will still celebrate July Fourth because it provides my family a chance to take a break from work, to celebrate each other, eat great food and watch fireworks. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as an American citizen, but Juneteenth as independence day resonates more strongly for me.

Juneteenth is the celebration of black freedom from slavery in the U.S., so why is it 2017 and so many black Americans are just learning about the holiday?

Perhaps the answer is connected to why freedom, as it was intended by the Founding Fathers, feels like an impossibility for black folks. Given all of the black people in prison, the numerous unarmed black men and women who are killed by police, the wage gap between blacks and whites and all the black girls who are discouraged from rocking their natural hair in schools or at work, I’m dubious about how free we are today.

I have only known freedom, but there are still so many black people who don’t. Like the Solomon Burke song says, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”