American Experiment: Peaceful Transition

In June 2020, the 45th President of the United States felt the need to reassure the country that he would, in fact, leave office if he lost the election. It was an extraordinary statement, an acknowledgment perhaps of the deep distrust many Americans have toward him.

I didn’t believe him.

I didn’t believe that our insecure, inept, impotent “leader,” the one who fawns over North Korea’s “Dear Leader”, who shrinks in the presence of Putin’s perceived power, and who has publicly “joked” multiple times and in multiple ways about his desire to extend his presidency, had suddenly given up his delusions of dictatorship.

Nope…I wasn’t buying it.

So I wasn’t surprised to learn that in a bizarre interview with Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, the president walked back his previous statement. When pressed about his acceptance of results from the 2020 Presidential election, the current occupant refused to commit, saying it was “too early to make such an ironclad guarantee” that he would uphold our peaceful power transition tradition, a hallmark of the United States’ version of democracy.

It’s not surprising that this president who has never behaved as if he cares about Americans, who has dismantled many government offices (like the National Security office responsible for pandemic preparedness) and who has supported removal of regulations that would protect individuals, would refuse to uphold American traditions like the right to peaceful protest.

I can’t even say I’ve been surprised by the on-the-ground reports from Portland that the secret forces deployed against peaceful demonstrators have instigated the violence.

And I certainly wasn’t surprised when he repeated his unsubstantiated theory of the “danger” of voting by mail as a reason to delay the November election.

He has diminished the leadership of the United States on the global stage and his lack of leadership during the pandemic has resulted in deaths of U.S. citizens, deepened the distrust toward the U.S. government
and led to the destruction of the economy.

Now, even as he acknowledges the deep dislike Americans have for him, and in anticipation of losing his power, he is increasing his rhetoric to sow seeds of doubt about our own election process.

He has to go. And everything this president has done indicates his departure will be disruptive, divisive…even destructive to our democracy. We must be ready.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Pushed Off Center

This week an older, White, male member of the House of Representatives, sought to dehumanize a fellow elected member of Congress, a younger Latino woman, by calling her…well you know what he called her.

Within her earshot.

In front of at least one reporter.

Apparently, Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida disagreed so vehemently with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) for linking poverty with crime, he felt he needed to discredit her by calling her “disgusting.” But that wasn’t enough degradation so he added the specific slur used by men in the US especially since the 1920s suffrage movement, to suggest a woman who is straying from her designated place.

In his “apology” Rep. Yoho emotionally and audaciously attributed his slur to his passion and “love of my God, my family and my country.” Then, similar to the way White people invoke proximity to Black people as proof they are not racist, Rep. Yoho implied that his roles of husband and father made him immune to misogyny.

He concluded with a curious comment about being cognizant of his words.

My interpretation is he knew exactly what he was doing when he accosted AOC; he understood the power of the words he chose, and was conscious of the impact he hoped they would make.

It was a failed attempt to marginalize this remarkable young woman, and a public example of the way many husbands, fathers, brothers and sons disrespect, diminish and dismiss wives, daughters, sisters and mothers for daring to exist in what they consider male spaces…male spaces like Congress or even conversations.

It reminded me of the “good men” who willfully refuse to see men in the Black Lives Matter organization’s manifesto “that all Black lives matter” because it “centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.”

It triggered memories of “stand up guys” who speak over, ignore or interrupt when women are in charge or just speaking, because they can’t seem to imagine not being at the center of every human experience.

It brought to mind “decent men” who use their anger to shut down women when we dare to center ourselves to tell truths that men haven’t experienced or opinions that men don’t share.

It was another exhausting example of how the violent verbal, emotional, mental and physical abuse of women is an accepted part of patriarchy in this country.

Of course, prompted less by Rep. Yoho’s epithet and more by his attempt to refuse responsibility for his actions, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez delivered a calm, thoughtful denouncement of the specific assault, non-apology and general abuse, then proclaimed herself a Bad, Boss…you know.

And I was revived.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

“You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain (you’re so vain)
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you?
Don’t you?” ~ Carly Simon

American Experiment: Legacy

I watched young people protest this weekend. I saw them heading determinedly to their destination, their signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” or “Defund the Police.” I wondered where they were going and watched them join a growing group gathering near Buckingham Fountain.

The next day I heard the young people before I saw them. From my balcony I watched as they made the turn on the street in front of my building. There were less than one hundred; their efforts to responsibly maintain a safe social distance made them easy to count. They were almost outnumbered by the police.

In the tradition of protest in this country since its inception, the leaders of the 2020 protests have been young, impatient and passionate. For me, their protests were fitting tributes honoring two civil rights icons who started their activism as young men.

Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian participated in his first nonviolent protest, a lunch counter sit-in as a young man of 24.

John Lewis was 23 when spoke at the March on Washington (which he helped organize), the youngest to do so.

These trailblazers deliberately, intentionally and continuously put their bodies in harm’s way with the full knowledge that, though they protested peacefully, violence would possibly be visited on them. They participated in “good trouble” and their legacy is the generations of young people currently leading the fight for freedom from the frontlines. I pray that Generations Y and Z are encouraged by their examples of courage.

In the words of another civil rights icon, Coretta Scott King “Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in each generation.”

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Systemic Racism

I prefer to read versus watch the news…less repetition, and reduces the chance that I will hear the ramblings of the current occupant of the Office of President of the United States. I made an exception to watch Rachel Maddow’s interview with Mary L. Trump, author of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” and the niece of said occupant.

I actually recorded the it with a plan to watch it later on the night it aired. But before I had a chance to tune in, I saw that the “breaking news” from the interview was that the 45th president of these United States has used racial slurs. I found it a curious revelation that the use of the N-word by a man who has overtly and consistently demonstrated his racism since he came to the national consciousness, would be considered news.

So when I watched the interview, I was interested in, even fascinated by Maddow’s insistent questioning about whether Trump, the author, had witnessed specific instances of Trump, the president, using racial slurs.

The author’s affirmation was not surprising or breaking or even more troubling than any other racist thing the occupant has done. I have no expectation that those who still stubbornly support him will suddenly see the light…or in his case, the darkness and divisiveness.

What was troubling was the focus on the words and the individual.

This emphasis on individual actions as the primary evidence of racism negates the systemic nature of America’s original sin. Because racism is more than individual acts of bias, prejudice or discrimination. Racism is when the full authority of institutions, like the criminal justice system, support the racist behavior of individuals. Racism is imbedded in every system in the United States and every system in the United States maintains the status quo of racial inequality through processes that give advantages to Whites.

On the same day George Floyd was asphyxiated by the full weight of the criminal justice system on his neck, Amy Cooper sought to use that same system to punish an unarmed Black man for having the audacity to ask her to follow the rules. That these White people were motivated by their bias against Black people is obvious; their lack of compassion for another human is chilling. But that they both acted with the full knowledge they were being recorded, clearly reflect their understanding of America’s racial hierarchy and their belief there would be little to no consequences for their action. They both believed the criminal justice system would protect their criminal behavior because that is how systemic racism operates in this country.

Back to the president. We already knew…and apparently many of us are okay, even good with his personal prejudices. But his bias comes with the highest authority in the land and seems unencumbered by the constitutionally created balances that should keep him in check. And that is a danger to every American, regardless of race.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Happy Interdependence Day*

Today I honor those pursuing the call of freedom…

Those in uniform who have raised their hands and committed to sacrificing their lives, if necessary, to uphold our country’s freedom from tyranny…

Those at the forefront of our internal struggle to realize our country’s commitment to freedom who have endured threats to their lives…

Those resisting the daily assault on the freedoms so concisely declared by our founders so many years ago…

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And I pray that those who believe they are not impacted by oppression in this country, realize their beliefs do not mean they are not being impacted by oppression in this country…

That the privileged in this country are complicit in and culpable for the continuation of racist institutions that systemically oppress the less privileged…

That in order to maintain our individual freedoms, we are required to collectively recognize the humanity of each individual…

That until all of us are free, none of us are free…

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

*Interdependence Day coined by Reesheda Graham Washington

American Experiment: Police State?

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Many people in the United States seem to only be capable of empathy toward family or people who look like them… like the anti-LGTBQ politician who softens his stance when his daughter reveals her homosexuality or the white suburban mom crusading against drug addiction who suddenly calls for treatment versus incarceration when the heroin addicts look like her kids.

So it’s been interesting to watch the eruption of protests in the U.S. (and the world) in the wake of the violent murder of George Floyd by police. I’ve been fascinated by the nuanced perspective toward the destruction which occurred in the initial protests as investigations reveal some of the violence was perpetrated by provocateurs. I’ve been surprised that those who have previously seemed unable to empathize with the videoed violence against black and brown bodies, are joining voices with those calling for police reform.

Maybe more citizens have discovered their empathy muscle. Or maybe they are waking up the realization that in a militarized police state, the brutality will eventually impact everyone…

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemöller

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: The Descendants

Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage”. ~ Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, from the movie “Black Panther.”

We might never know the exact country or tribe of our origins.

We will never be given full throated permission to participate fully in the rituals of those native to the African continent.

We are never going to be viewed the same as native Africans by the descendants of those who kidnapped, tortured and enslaved our ancestors.

We are the descendants of those who chose to live … fated to share the choices of our oppressors … fighting to exist in the country we have called home. We have no choice now but to fight for its existence.

“If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah, the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!” ~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Never Have I Ever

I have never been brutalized by the police. Most of the police encounters I’ve had have been the result of my tendency to drive too fast, especially on the open road.

I shared this in response to a question from a young activist who asked a group of young activists, mostly millennials, to share their brutal encounters with the Chicago police.

I was the oldest person there and the only one to not have a story of police abuse.

So I listened to their hard-to-hear stories and marveled at their resilience and their willingness to risk additional mistreatment in protest of the state-sanctioned brutality against black and brown bodies.

I don’t have to experience the trauma to be able to empathize with those who have been traumatized. I don’t have to witness the brutalization to be able to see the devastation created. I don’t have to feel the particular confusion of unexpectedly being accused of wrong doing by someone with the state-sanctioned power to kill me to understand the disorientation and mental anguish of those who have.

I can bear witness. I can be a safe, soft landing space for those who seek to alleviate their suffering by sharing their pain. I can amplify their stories in the spaces I occupy.

Most importantly, I can accept their truth as true for them. And I can refrain from voicing doubt or even denying their experience just because it wasn’t MY experience.

“I ain’t going nowhere. If you brave enough to live it, the least I can do is listen.” ~ Cynthia Bond, Ruby

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Toxic Relationship

As the body count of unarmed Black Americans murdered by state-sanctioned violence continues to rise, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the United States and its citizens of color.

America is like a parent who tells you “you ain’t nothing, you ain’t never gonna be nothing” and when you prove them wrong by building your city, your Greenwood, or your Rosewood, they burn it down and leave you to fend for yourself.

America is like a sibling in denial about their status as “favorite” who insists if you would just call Mom and Dad more often but refrain from pointing out the disparities between your treatment in the education, housing, employment, healthcare, and justice systems, they just might treat you better.

America is like the grandparent who gives your cousins free land, free housing, access to better education and jobs, who looks the other way when they are committing crimes and then wonders why you aren’t as successful.

America is like a fiancé who asks you to work three jobs to support his medical internship or be lover and secretary while he builds a business then when he gains success, has an affair with a white girl.

America is like a spouse who asks you to show your love and preserve your union by serving in the War of Rebellion, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, etc. and then when you get home, denies your existence.

America is like your family who, after adopting some children from Europe, takes your room and makes your other sibling do all the chores.

The United States wants love and loyalty from a population to which it has primarily offered hate. I’m sure a relationship expert would point out the toxicity and probably advise any client experiencing this kind of abuse to leave.

But what if the toxic relationship is with your country of birth? What do you do then?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: The Re-education of the United States

If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.” ~ Carter Godwin Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

Let me say up front that this only marginally about Candace Owens (Farmer). In case you aren’t familiar with Owens, she is a former anti-conservative, turned conservative and enjoys “approved-Negro” status among Trump supporters. In her latest self-proclaimed rant, she seems to mis-read an entire world erupting in protest after the government-sanctioned death of George Floyd, to declare him a “violent criminal” who should not be depicted as a martyr or a hero by the media. Her words have earned her the wrath of her many detractors who consistently deride her as, among other things, an attention seeker, a self-hating troll, a white supremacist or an apologist for white supremacy.

I don’t know that anyone has depicted Floyd as anything other than someone who did not deserve to die in the manner and for the reason he died. He wasn’t a martyr in that he did not choose to die; in fact he begged for his life and was met with indifference.

I also don’t know that Owens is an adherent of white supremacy which is defined as “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” I don’t know how she feels about herself or about being a black women in this country.

I do know she is not the only descendant of the enslaved, brought to this country in chains, who seems aligned with the dominant culture beliefs of this country, namely white supremacy. That shouldn’t be surprising; white supremacy permeates ALL U.S. systems and ALL U.S. citizens have been indoctrinated through those systems and socialization to believe in the superiority of white people and the inferiority of non white people, especially black people.

The United States’ education system, in particular, continues to perpetuate a whitewashed version of our history that elevates whites as heroic, while ignoring the violence of whites toward non whites. As noted teacher, lecturer, and diversity trainer Jane Elliott says, “If you participated in the U. S. education system and don’t believe in white supremacy, you weren’t paying attention.”

The lessons learned in the education system are reinforced by the housing system which has historically made homeownership more difficult and less beneficial for blacks people; by employment and healthcare systems that have kept many black people underemployed and unhealthy; and by a “justice” system that has criminalized black and brown skin.

The resulting disparities are misrepresented as evidence supporting white supremacy instead of what they really are — the consequences of systems intent on maintaining the status quo.

Even when black people overcome systemic oppression, according to Robin DiAngelo author of White Fragility, their success only reinforces America’s belief in the myths of individualism (which says that we are each unique and stand apart from others), and meritocracy (anyone can succeed if he or she works hard) and “obscures the reality of ongoing institutional white control.”

Candace Owens may really believe what she says or she may be taking advantage of an opportunity to boost her profile and conservative bonafides. I’m not going to expend any additional energy her or anyone else stuck on dominant culture beliefs about superiority of inferiority. Instead, I’m going to focus my energy on encouraging those who have felt or feel inferior or superior to recognize that the systems intent on generating those feelings and outcomes prevent the U.S. from achieving its ideal and educate themselves accordingly.

As the U.S. demographics shift and the majority white population declines, change is inevitable. That change is already reflected in the youngest generations; the huge protests we’ve seen in this country are less about one person and reflect the dissatisfaction many, especially the increasingly diverse Generations Y and Z, feel with the status quo. And we will either be a country led by a minority or we can create a country where all are seen equally and treated equitably.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked