Look for Power in All Things | #OYRchallenge

The OYR Challenge has been picked up from Alaska to Brazil, California to Luxembourg, by all peoples in all states of oppression. So what do they derive from these  daily and minute to minute recreations of language, icons, and medium? POWER! #OYRchallenge

Changing Minds (changingminds.org) posts the six stages of personal power taken from Janet Hagberg‘s book, Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations. Interestingly enough, I researched this subject back in 1990, when I suffered a physical and debilitating race-based attack during my employment with a major corporation. I had relocated from a large city to a smaller enclave where African Americans had few prospects other than state employment and menial positions. It was a time of layoffs and transfers throughout the national private business environment. African American employees, as well as everyone else, of large businesses relocated in order to keep their positions or afford those unable to relocate the opportunity to remain employed.

There was a catch. Small cities with a tighter grip on designated white-only positions were not far from the lynching crowds depicted in photos of the old South. My first day on the job, four white co-workers surrounded me as I entered the office and told me to, “Go back where you come from. You are taking the job of a white man with a family.” Few African American professionals picture this happening in offices where their piers have middle-class incomes, boats in the water, private planes at the airport, etc. So yes, I took it as foolishness, until the threats against myself and my family became daily and my vehicle was struck on the way to work only to have my co-workers bluster when I able to arrive at the office that day; then cheered as I was taken to the hospital as my throat began to close. I found out a year later, at a company meeting, that the culprit was one of their associates from another company.

This fight went on for seven years, with me spending most of those seven years recuperating from the vehicle accident, subsequent surgeries for the resulting injuries (ruptured neck vertebra, torn rotator cuff, crushed carpal tunnel), and another physical attack in 1997. One rainy day in 1992, I met a man, almost a decade younger than myself, pacing the doorway of a local coffee shop. He looked wild-eyed, disheveled, but through this mess it was apparent he kept his body manicured, almost metro-sexual. I grabbed a coffee from inside and we both stood in the doorway, each glaring out into the deluge the weather had now become. It is not clear who spoke first, but as he proclaimed his wish to end his life, we began to share our stories. It turns out, we both were transplants. Him from a sub-company of my parent company. He was an architect. His chin jutted at the power of that statement. My chest also heaved in response. We empowered each other simply in recognizing our value beneath our brown-skins. We compared notes … no church, NAACP, community, or other non-profit response to the deadly employment race discrimination in the area. Check! No response from long-time residents unless you were a recovering drug addict, prostitute, alcoholic, or destitute. Check! We were on our own. Check! We had the power to live or die, depending on how much we empowered ourselves. Check!

I do not know what happened to that young man after our communion, but my life changed drastically. Acknowledging you are alone in a fight you are bent on winning is the first step to empowerment. So I researched power, and therefore empowered myself to, no matter what, always remember and increase my value.  It is not an easy journey, but well worth it. So now I co-opt Hagberg’s six stages of power gathered from ‘Changing Minds’ for you to remember and utilize in your OYR Challenge. My favorite is ‘Power by Wisdom.’ I am sure you will find your own among the list.

1. Powerlessness
We start from a position of powerlessness. When we join an organization we know nobody and are totally dependent on others for initial assistance in understanding how things work, how to influence others and how to get things done.

2. Power by association
Power by association is the power we gain by being able to utilize the power that others already have.

As we get to know people and gain their respect and trust, we may leverage their power, for example in asking them to ask others to do things or asking them for introductions. The secret of gaining associative power is hence in being able to create bonds and draw on relationships.

We can also join teams, clubs and form other associations and coalitions, thereby gaining the power of the group.

3. Power by achievement
Power by acquisition is that power which we gain through what we do and the persuasive evidence that others perceive in this.

Achievement leads to achievement. If we do well at work then we are given more important work and may also get promoted. The power we get from this multiplies, as people cede power to those who prove their ability, which then allows them to achieve further still.

4. Power by reflection
In a curious reversal of depending on others for power, we can gain power through internal reflection and realizing we have all personal power on which we can draw.

A person at this stage is competent and has sound integrity. They are widely respected and this strength draws others to them, on whose ability and power they may consequently depend. Paradoxically, as they let go of their ego, they gain more power.

5. Power by purpose
People at this stage are driven by their purpose. Their power comes from within. Their inner power is so much greater than the power of those around them, they can influence decisions of many others.

Great leaders show this purpose in stirring speeches and powerful and symbolic action. They succeed because they believe in a greater purpose beyond themselves. They are visionary and self-accepting, humble and spiritual.

6. Power by wisdom
Stage six people feel a deep connection to the greater universe. They may often spend time in solitude, connecting and reflecting. They may have been through great pain and crisis on more than one occasion, yet have used these events to learn and grow.

They have found contentment and live on an ‘even keel’. The purpose they work to is very high. The know and accept powerlessness and in doing so find ultimate power. They embrace paradox and do not need to take sides.

Changingminds.org #OYRchallenge Click the link to get started: OYR Challenge

The “Own Your Racist” Challenge #OYRchallenge

What is the OYR challenge?

African Americans have been at war – mentally, physically, economically, and socially ever since the first African was dragged from a slave ship onto the American shores. The volumes of histories (European and African American), movies, television series, news reports, studies, and other publications serve as qualitative evidence to support this claim. It has always been the strategy of Racist and their racist collaborators (African American pseudo-intellectuals) to present the resulting body count as isolated or individual incidents to be argued within the confines of the criminal justice system, race discussion forums, and/or the same models used to maintain White Supremacy. Truth-be-told, these systems have eroded and the people lax into comfort that the myth of Black powerlessness is firmly in place. They have secured the veil with a 21stcentury Bi-racial President of their choosing, replacing the Civil Rights icons. Every playbook must be revised. Our young are inundated with slave songs, yet no one drills them with the principals that created Black Wall Street and other past ultra-wealthy and sound communities. There are only so many times African American children can attend the funeral of a murdered/lynched family member, friend or neighbor, buried with Amazing Grace and “I Have A Dream,” before they stop listening.

21st century African American youths acknowledge that they are human and know that humans are fallible. In a 1992 televised panel discussion, The Issue is Race, Sister Souljah points to the need for Black empowerment and business. She also points out that every municipality has their game in place to crush African American businesses much more easily now than with the attack on Black Wall St. Crime in the African American community, the most readily used silencing cue in the racist toolbox, reflects that humanity and the substantive pressures placed on that humanity. Our young in 2014 Ferguson, MI reformed the messages of African American history that racist and African American collaborators use to teach them powerlessness. Yet, take a look at how school systems are now trying to formulate a methodology to discuss the current events in Ferguson and other cities. Why control the conversation? For the same reason our children in African American venues are taught slave songs instead of empowering verse? Our dialogue needs to be controlled to include silencing, powerless training. Some HBCU institutions provide tools to exude our power, along with that the history lesson. The intelligent heed the message, the fearful and mediocre cite statistics, the European face of government, and class conscious models of respectability politics to quell their cognitive dissonance. But that dissonance also creates race-collaborators. This is also human. Fear is human.

To get you through this challenge, we need to revisit and establish in our lives how we accommodate, participate, and sometimes instigate our own demise. Here is the catch, if your town has no industry that will support your degree as well as your Africanism, there are always government positions available. And those who become a part of the machine (thinking they can make change from within), soon become THE MACHINE, despite their good intentions. Get over them … but do not give them a pass. Racist tactics are methodical complete with literature and verbal cues that African Americans are trained to absorb and respond to appropriately. Within this context, we must not forget that on an individual level, racist are confident that whatever their mistakes, there is a cue (crazy toolbox) to combat African American claims to racist attack and the victim will disregard their rights within that transaction. Add an insecure, incompetent collaborator and you have a cocktail for a now seemingly powerless victim.

I want to give you an example of using your power effectively within this context. The necessary back story is that in our region, African Americans rarely challenge the most minute situations, so racist have an exceptional comfort zone (no visible support for Trayvon Martin in public view). As the city fell into economic decline, the mayor initiated a campaign to bring a specific immigrant ethnicity to the area from New York City (I will not name the specific population; it is not about them) to purchase property and strengthen the communities. The specific ethnicity bought into the American slovenly African American stereotype for their benefit, and similar to Rwandan (Hutu/Tutsi) conflict, they assumed a position in our communities as a buffer and caste between the racist White population and the African American community. This actually occurred right after the 1994 Rwandan genocide and subsequent literature highlighting the European strategy that set the immigrant against the indigenous population (Mamdani, 2001)

While in college, I cashed my student loan checks at a local branch of the University’s banking institution, as I had done many semester previously. I approached the teller window, and handed her the check, along with my driver’s photo ID. The teller, immigrant woman, scowled at ID, turned it over, scowled again, then asked for a second form of ID. I then gave her my University photo ID bearing the same name and insignia as on the check. Her reaction was the same as with my driver’s license. She sighed and continued to scowl, leaning on her elbow on the counter, with no movement to either decline or process my transaction. I then grew impatient and asked for the bank manager. The teller was aghast. Apparently, she felt a stool in the bank afforded her power that I had no right to challenge. I reiterated, “I have no more to say to you.  It is obvious that you are not familiar with US identifications and should not hold this position. Please call the manager.” When the bank manager arrived, I informed her of the teller’s inability to read legal documents and that such deficiencies should have been addressed at her job interview. Furthermore, her behaviors may open the bank up to future lawsuits and other damages. The red-faced bank manager “shoved” the teller aside and promptly completed my transaction. By the way, said teller is now working at McDonalds. A brightly smiling young black male has taken her place on the stool.

So here is your challenge. There are two parts.

Part I: At least once per day, approach your racial encounters with power. Inner power. Victories, no matter how small, are the key to this challenge – no hubris, retaliations, pettiness, or abuses exude power or is the aim of this challenge (put away your crazy toolbox; not needed here). This can only be done if you follow principles that we ourselves will create during this adventure. There are a few listed to get you started.

  • We are human.
  • In our humanity, we fail, but as humans we are resilient and rise stronger.
  • Remember, racist gain their power in OUR acceptance of dehumanizing media, literature, slurs, and behaviors on their part.
  • We must know the laws and devices used to counter those laws that work in our benefit, during ANY transaction.
  • We must examine, in any situation, where and how we must exude our power effectively, and when racist malaise will cause them to empower YOU.
  • Recognize oppressive methodology, no matter who attempts it – these 4 indicators may help: Insult, Deny, Threaten, and Attack (these are all a part of the verbal cues). Find them in yourself first, and then you will recognize these tactics in others.
  • Act with a sound, still mind. If you become flustered, BREATHE, SING, or whatever you have to do to get back on track. It may seem crazy to the offender or allow them to feel momentarily “uber” empowered, but the whopper you will deliver will soon change that.
  • Most importantly, never, ever take your failure to control any situation as defeat. Remember, you were trained how to be powerless (regardless of how much Black literature you read or education). Regroup and fortify yourself for the next encounter, and you will recognize more of them as you learn to live as a citizen, instead of props in someone else’s theater.

Part II: You MUST develop your own strategies through these contacts and expand on these few lines with posts using the hashtag, #OYRchallenge. Your stories are important as they energize those too weak to accept this challenge. Start with the meager crumbs I have put before you and together we will create a banquet.

The alternative to this challenge is this – continue doing what you are doing expecting different results. Hence, buy a scooter to carry your crazy toolbox. It will only get heavier.

Mahmood Mamdani. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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