What are you thoughts about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the white cop who killed him?

Dear Dwonna:

I’ve been patiently awaiting your comments about the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson not to indict the white officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American.


Alysha Lewis


Dear Alysha,

For those who have been asleep the last few weeks, here’s a brief synopsis of what has happened.

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 11:51 a.m., Michael Brown, 18, and his friend Dorian Johnson, 22, went to the Ferguson Market and Liquor, where surveillance video captured one of the two men pushing a clerk before walking out of the store with a box of cigarillos. Someone at the convenience store called 911 to report a “strong arm robbery.” (Dorian Johnson’s lawyer said that his client told investigators about the “situation involving Bike Mike taking the cigarillos.” “This is not a theft,” the lawyer said, “it’s more of a shoplifting situation.”)

As they walked down the middle of Canfield Drive toward Johnson’s house, a Ferguson police officer confronted the two men. According to Johnson, Officer Darrin Wilson told the two to “Get the fuck on the sidewalk” or “Get the fuck out of the street.” They replied that they were “not but a minute away from our destination” and that they “would be shortly out of the street.” According to Officer Wilson, when he encountered the two men, he rolled down his window and asked Brown and Johnson to get out of the street but that the two men refused and “were yelling back, saying we’re almost where we’re going and there was some cussing involved.” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has said that Wilson originally approached Brown because he was “walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic.” Then the situation got physical.

Officer Wilson drove away, but then he quickly put his car in reverse and backed up. This is where the stories of the witnesses and Officer Wilson diverge. Johnson said that Wilson’s car was so close that he almost hit them and that when he “aggressively” tried to open the car door it “ricocheted both off me and Big Mike’s body and closed back on the officer.” Officer Wilson said that he thinks it was Brown who “violently” slammed his car door when he tried to open it, then “bum rushed” him, “shoved” him back into his car, and punched him in the face. Wilson said he went for his gun, and Brown grabbed it, causing the gun to go off. Brown ran; Wilson pursued him, shooting his gun at least nine more times.

Johnson said that Brown had his hands up and was indicating to Wilson that he was unarmed. “He was running for his life and just got shot and turned around and didn’t try to reach for anything. He put his hands in the air being compliant and he still got shot down like a dog,” Johnson said. Wilson said that Brown “just kept coming” at him full speed and that’s why he just kept shooting. Wilson was treated at a local hospital for a swollen face; at least six bullets hit Michael Brown, including a fatal shot to the head. One bullet hit the top of Brown’s head. Michael Brown’s body laid in the street, uncovered, for hours while Ferguson police officers investigated the shooting of this unarmed, black 18-year-old.

More than two weeks of rioting began shortly after news of Brown’s shooting was heard, and violent protests began anew on Monday night after a grand jury—made up of 9 whites and 3 blacks—decided “that there was not enough probable cause to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.” “The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact and fiction,” said Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney. “After weighing the evidence, at least 9 of the 12 members of the grand jury decided that Wilson acted within the limits of the lethal-force law.”

For those who question the wisdom of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson, keep in mind that they perused more than a thousand pages of documents and listened to some 70 witnesses testify over the course of three months. Many people believe that the grand jury’s decision came down to finding a definitive answer to the following question: was Brown surrendering or was he charging when Wilson shot him? One grand jury witness at first claimed that Brown was “defenseless, hands up, he was trying to stay on his feet and you could see that his knees were beginning to buckle and he was going down.” Investigators got this witness to later say that Brown was “moving toward Officer Wilson, who was screaming ‘Stop,’ as he fired his weapon.”

In his grand jury testimony, Wilson said that during the physical confrontation with the much bigger Michael Brown—Brown was 6’ 5” and 290 pounds compared to Wilson, who is 6’ 4” and 210 pounds—he feared for his life. After already taking two blows to the head, Wilson said that he feared that a third punch “could knock me out or worse.” “I mean it was, he’s obviously bigger than I was and stronger and the, I’ve already taken two to the face, and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.”

After the verdict to not indict him on charges of murder and manslaughter was announced, Darrin Wilson broke his silence in an interview with ABC George Stephanopoulos. He told Stephanopoulos that he would have “acted that same way if circumstances were repeated.” “The reason I have a clean conscience is I know I did my job right,” Wilson said, adding that he would have made the same decisions had Brown “been a white man. Wilson also said that the incident was the first time he had ever fired his gun in the line of duty and that the witness accounts that Brown “held up his hands to signal his surrender were ‘incorrect.’” He also said that he was sorry that Brown’s parents had lost their son.

Many people simply don’t believe Officer Wilson’s narrative of what happened. In fact, many pontificators have suggested that Wilson’s detailed accounting of the August 9th events is a complete fabrication (some have called it a fairy tale) and that those events could not have unfolded in the way he has described, and they believe that he acted in haste, with careless and reckless abandon for Michael Brown’s life, or with racist intent (or some combination thereof). I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a police officer in today’s society and to have to make a split-second decision about whether or not to shoot or be shot. As Charles Barkley said, “[We] have to be really careful with the cops, because if it wasn’t for the cops we would be living in the Wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods…. We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad.”

I wasn’t there when Brown and Wilson’s paths collided on that day in August on that street in Ferguson; I don’t know what happened and will never know no matter how much I read. An 18-year-old black kid is dead, and the white police officer who killed him will not face any criminal charges and has since resigned from the force. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to sit on the jury that was charged with judging Wilson’s guilt or innocence. It seems fairly clear from the conflicting testimonies that the events that led to Michael Brown’s death are not as black and white as some on each side of the debate would like the other side to believe. Being a white cop in a mostly-black neighborhood is probably really, really difficult, and it’s a mostly thankless job.

To the white people who want to make Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent rioting, looting, and violence in Ferguson a banal and overblown racial issue (you know, the ones who say things like, “This looting would never happen if Michael Brown had been white….” or “White people didn’t loot when OJ was acquitted….”), STOP, and open your high school U.S. history textbook. There is no historical legacy of black police officers systematically shooting and killing unarmed white Americans, so your comparison is nonsensical. There is, however, a disturbing record of white cops shooting black folks. Between 2005 and 2012, on the average of about twice a week, a white police officer shot and killed a black man. A black man is 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white man. It’s not just a myth that white cops too often kill black men.

Still, a more salient issue that former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich noted on his Facebook page needs to be addressed—that “poor, minority communities deserve community policing that builds trust, including minority police officers, rather than law enforcement that’s viewed by a community as repressive.” Sadly, the original scuffle between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown is symbolic of the disconnect that too often exists between blacks and whites in American society—that race (still) matters when it matters, but sometimes it’s difficult to decipher when it doesn’t.

Let’s get back to these protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and in other cities throughout the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that is a descending spiral,

begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.

Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar,

but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you murder the hater,

but you do not murder hate.

In fact, violence merely increases hate.

So it goes.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,

adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I’m certainly not saying anything provocative when I suggest that looting and burning down businesses and attacking the police and the Missouri National Guard are not constructive behaviors for those who really want to see changes in the way police interact with the black community. Looting and burning down buildings and all the other tomfoolery that’s happening in Ferguson simply gives more fuel to the white folks who already think that black folks don’t know how to behave. Said Bill O’Reilly of Fox News: “The non-violent protesters are just as guilty as the looters and the rioters, and they should be arrested for aiding and abetting. They have set Blacks back years now.” Borrowing from the chants of the protesters who yelled “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” during the August protests, Don Alexander of Brentwood, Tennessee, used the Indiegogo crowdfunding page to raise money for a billboard in the Ferguson, Missouri, area, that simply said: #PantsUPDontLOOT. And, after watching the recent chaos and violence unfold in Ferguson, a 51-year-old white man said to me, “See, those black people say that they want equality, but they don’t want any accountability for their actions.” I highly doubt that he’s the only white guy who thinks this.

Could these protesters not have found a more peaceful and a more proactive way to demonstrate against what they saw as an unjust grand jury decision? Do these same protesters get this angry when they see generations of young black men and women drop out of high school or forgo college or a post-secondary education in favor of an uncertain life in and on the streets? Do they get this angry when they hear about the shooting death of an African American at the hands of another African American? Do they get this angry when they see black mothers and fathers partying and drinking and engaging in shenanigans rather than staying home and taking care of their children? Do they get this angry when they see so few parents participating in their child’s PTA or attending school functions? Do they get this angry when they see a black teenage mother getting pregnant, again, while the black teenage father walks away from his responsibility? Do they get this angry and organize the folks in their local neighborhoods when they see the state of the public schools in their communities? Do they get this angry when they see so few African Americans voting in midterm or presidential elections? Do they get this angry when they turn on the television and see black folks being exploited—and exploiting themselves—on the Maury Povich show, as they try to figure out which of the men they brought to the show is their baby’s father?

Michael Brown—despite the fact that he didn’t behave well at all on that August 9th day when he pushed that store clerk and stole those cigarillos and then was shot and killed by Officer Darrin Brown—could have ultimately created a life that mattered to the city of Ferguson or wherever he ended up residing and earning a living. Let’s do all we can to make his tragic death matter. What, specifically, are these protesters doing to make sure that other young black men and women are creating lives that matter? Protesting and getting yourselves arrested is hardly a recipe for changing communities and how the police interact with non-white people. As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others’?” What, really, are these protesters doing for others?

Instead of organizing protests and burning crap down, perhaps they could organize book drives so that parents will have books to read to their children before bedtime. They could organize book clubs, so that black folks will read and engage in intellectual activities rather than sit on Facebook and Twitter and talk about the latest episode of “Scandal” or “How to Get Away with Murder.” They could organize and volunteer at their local school. Organize and volunteer to teach young women to respect themselves and their bodies and to do positive and uplifting things with their lives and for other people so that they will not look for a man or a baby to love them. Organize and teach folks how to garden so that they can eat a more holistic and organic diet. Organize and teach folks how to care for their body and to be more judicious about what they eat. Organize walking groups or exercise clubs so that folks can be better stewards of their body.

Listen. Lying down in the street to recreate and to remind folks how Michael Brown died is dramatic, but it isn’t constructive and is hardly a long-term solution to what ails the black community. As Charles Barkley said about the miscreants who were burning down and looting buildings in Ferguson: “Those aren’t real black people; those are scumbags. Real black people aren’t out there looting.” The “real black people” need to find constructive things to do that will REALLY help the communities who most need it.

Keith Myers, my friend from the University of Iowa, wrote this on his Facebook page the day before Thanksgiving: “Biggest tragedy about Ferguson? A mother lost her child. Maybe WE ALL should remember that when we break bread with our friends and loved ones tomorrow.”

Let us remember the sorrow of Michael Brown’s family, let us go into the holiday season spreading cheer and good will to each other, and let us always carry with us what the Dalai Lama said: “We all have to live together, so we might as well live together happily.” Let us all of us do better at living together happily.


On Death, Dying with Dignity, and Brittany Maynard

Dear Dwonna:

I believe that suicide is wrong, but the 29-year-old woman in Oregon who chose to end her life last week has made me question my rigid belief. What are your thoughts about this?




Dear Reuben:

Here’s a little bit of background for those who don’t know the story of Brittany Maynard.

On New Year’s Day of 2014, doctors diagnosed 29-year-old Brittany Maynard with “a likely stage 4 glioblastoma,” a terminal brain cancer “for which there was no cure or life saving measures available.” Doctors gave Maynard just six months to live. After “careful assessment of her prognosis and end-of-life choices,” Maynard and her husband “reluctantly decided to move” from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is one of five states (Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico are the other four) that allows physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients. “My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control,” Maynard told People magazine. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

In September, Maynard announced that she would end her life by taking a “fatal dose of barbiturates” on November 1, 2014, a decision that reignited the national debate about physician-assisted suicide. In the last weeks of her life, Maynard became an advocate for “access for death with dignity in California and nationwide,” and on October 6, she launched an online-video campaign with Compassion & Choices, a non-profit organization that is “committed to helping everyone have the best death possible.” “The freedom is in the choice,” Maynard said. “If the option of DWD [death with dignity] is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it.”

Maynard said that her family accepted her decision to end her life with dignity, telling People: “I think in the beginning my family members wanted a miracle; they wanted a cure for my cancer,” she said. “When we all sat down and looked at the facts, there isn’t a single person that loves me that wishes me more pain and more suffering.” An only child, Maynard said that she hoped her mother did not “break down” or “suffer from any kind of depression.” She also said that she hoped her husband “moves on and becomes a father.” “There’s no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife,” she said. For Maynard, what mattered the most was “the way I’m remembered by my family and my husband as a good woman who did my best to be a good wife and a good daughter.”

On October 29, Maynard posted a video in which she said that she still felt “good enough” and that “I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time now.” Many people expected (hoped?) that she would postpone her November 1 suicide. However, Maynard “suffered increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms.” “As the symptoms grew more severe,” a statement released by Compassion & Choice said, Maynard chose to “abbreviate the dying process by taking the aid-in-dying medication she had received months ago.” She died “peacefully on Saturday, November 1 in her Portland home, surrounded by family and friends.”

Not everyone agreed with the 29-year-old woman’s decision to end her life. Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life, said in a statement after hearing about Maynard’s death:

“We are saddened by the fact that his young woman gave up hope, and now our concern is for other people with terminal illnesses who may contemplate following her example. Our prayer is that these people will find the courage to live every day to the fullest until God calls them home. Brittany’s death was not a victory for a political cause. It was a tragedy, hastened by despair and aided by the culture of death invading our country.”

In an article for Religion News Service, Joni Eareckson Tada—an evangelical inspirational speaker and Catholic seminarian who also has brain cancer—wrote, “I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.”

Janet Morana, Joni Eareckson Tada, and everyone else who believe that people with painful and terminal illnesses should “find the courage to live” are just plain wrong, and these people should spend more time helping the terminally ill “die with dignity” rather than suggesting that they stay around for a painful life. Who are these women to suggest that Brittany Maynard should suffer because Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act makes them uncomfortable? Who are Morana and Tada to decide that someone they have never met should “live every day to the fullest until God calls them home” when they may not be the ones suffering? Does the God Morana and Tada worship really want people like Brittany Maynard to suffer? Why would this God they worship let Maynard suffer so without providing the tools for her to end her suffering and die peacefully on her own terms? “For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me,” Maynard said. “They try to mix it up with suicide and that’s really unfair, because there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I’m dying.”

Yes, doctors told Brittany Maynard that there was no cure for what she had and that she was going to die, and she had every right to decide for herself to die with dignity sooner rather than wait for a painful—but natural—death later. I pray to God, Jesus, Mother Mary, Buddha, and all of my guardian angels that I am never so sick as to have to make the kind of decision that Brittany Maynard did. I am grateful that I am healthy, and I pray that I always stay this way. I’m not willing to judge Maynard’s decision to end her life surrounded by her loved ones when the pain became too much because I’m not the one dying of brain cancer.

Some organizations criticized Compassion & Choices for “exploiting” Brittany Maynard, saying that they used her story to “politicize” the debate about right-to-die issues. The National Right to Life called them “ghoulish,” saying that they were “angry that Compassion & Choices would exploit her tragedy for its own malevolent purposes.” Maynard would disagree. In her own blog, she wrote:

“I made my decisions based on my wishes, clinical research, choices, discussions with physicians, and logic,” she wrote. “I am not depressed or suicidal or on a ‘slippery slope.’ I have been in charge of this choice, gaining control of a terrifying terminal disease through the application of my own humane logic.”

Throughout the last month of her life, Maynard said that was the reason for her campaign—“to fight for other terminally-ill patients in states without protections.” Neither the Catholic Church, nor federal or state governments, nor the National Right to Life should have a say in whether or not a terminally-ill person chooses to die with dignity. Let each person suffering from a terminal illness figure out his or her own best way to “die well.”

In God is No Laughing Matter, Julia Cameron writes, “Sometimes the dying live more fiercely and wisely than the rest of us.” This seems to have been true for Brittany Maynard, whose last words to the world before she ended her life on November 1 were “Spread good energy. Pay it forward!” Although she only lived for 29 years, Maynard made us all think about what it means to live, and what it means to die. “It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest,” Maynard said. “If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all.”

May we all have the courage to die with the grace and dignity that Brittany Maynard had, and may she now rest in peace.

Brittany M


Why We’re Pro-Choice and Voting Against Amendment 1

Dear Dwonna:

What are your views on Amendment 1? I’ve read that it is not an anti-abortion bill and that it will ultimately protect women’s health.




Dear Johnquetta:

Thanks for asking.

On November 4, voters in Tennessee will cast their ballots on “Amendment 1,” which states:

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statues regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Contrary to what supporters of “Amendment 1” are telling their followers, the long-term goal of the amendment is to completely outlaw all abortions in the State of Tennessee. Furthermore, while these “pro-life” folks argue that this law will protect women’s health, notice that this amendment makes NO exceptions for a “pregnancy resulting from rape or incest” or to “save the life of the mother.”

Regardless of what your personal beliefs about abortion are, it is not reasonable to expect every woman to continue a pregnancy if she has been the victim of a rape or incest, nor is it reasonable for Tennessee to pass a law that declares that a fetus is more important than the health and the life of a mother. No woman should be forced to place her long-term health and/or her life in jeopardy simply because someone who has never met her has decided that her fetus is more important than her own existence. Let women make these decisions for themselves, please, and if you are against abortion, just don’t have one. It really is that simple.

Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired Ob/GYN, said last week at a press conference at a Planned Parenthood health center in Nashville that “Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman’s fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care.” Yes, a decision on whether or not to continue a pregnancy should be one that a woman makes with her doctor, her husband or boyfriend (if she has one), her conscience, and her god (if she has a belief in one). I’m bored with the “pro-life” crowd who simply want to make decisions for women they do not know and will probably never know. In fact, it’s quite arrogant for them to think that they unilaterally know what’s in the best interest of that woman and her fetus. I can’t help but wonder if this debate about abortion is not so much about “protecting an innocent baby” but instead is about regulating—and controlling—what women do with their bodies.

For those who want people to vote “Yes” for Amendment 1 under the guise of “protecting the innocent babies,” I have several questions: Why is the fetus more valued and more valuable than the woman? Isn’t the woman who carries this fetus valuable, too? Why do so many “pro-life” folks think of women as incubators who must carry a fetus to term just because abortion goes against their beliefs? Can we please stop with these “personhood” laws that give the fetus more precedence than the woman who carries said fetus? Why can’t people leave these women alone so that they can make an informed choice without any interference from governmental bodies?

No politician—and most especially no male politician—should be working to pass any law that restricts a woman’s right AND access to an abortion. As Wendy Davis said last year during a filibuster of a Texas anti-abortion bill, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business, or go to medical school.” As my students can attest, I often have great difficulty managing my own life, and I am in absolutely no position to tell another woman how she should manage hers. A decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a private one, and it must ultimately remain with the women who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, as only they understand what their long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are. Can the so-called “pro-life” crowd please stop playing OB/GYNs and let women they do not know make whatever decisions are right for them?

I do not presume to know the lives of other women and what is best for them, and I wish others would embrace the fact that most women will make the best choice for their own lives, too. It is a woman’s body, and it should be her choice whether or not to terminate—or continue to full-term—a pregnancy. Unlike the “pro-life” crowd, I trust that women can and will make the choice that is appropriate for her and for her circumstance. To borrow a saying from a 1990s bumper sticker: if you can’t trust her with a choice, how can you trust her with a baby?

Moreover, if these so-called “pro-life” folks really are more than just “pro-birth” (since it seems like they only care about the fetus until a child is born), then they should be working to pass laws that will improve the lives of the children who are already here, too many of whom live in poverty and in dire life circumstances. As former Surgeon General of the United States Joycelyn Elders once said, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

I think George Carlin said it even better:

“Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.”

Listen. Let’s stop trying to regulate what women do with their bodies, and let’s spend more time in loving service to those who need us. Let’s go out into the world and be a blessing to those who are already here. Vote “No” on Amendment 1, and let each woman decide on her own what’s best for her, her body, and her life.


Here’s what Jaya Martin, one of my favorite Austin Peay students, wrote in response to the proposed amendment:

As both a woman and a Christian, I value that everyone has different beliefs and opinions. However, I also value my right as a woman to choose what happens to my own body. In November, citizens will vote on Amendment One, a bill that could eventually lead to the abolishment of all abortions in Tennessee and will make NO EXCEPTIONS in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. This is the main danger of this amendment passing.

Abortion is not an easy subject, and I have struggled to find the courage to voice these words. However, I believe in my heart of hearts that there are instances when a woman should have a choice instead of being forced by the government to have a child she didn’t ask for nor want. I consider myself a protector of women, especially young girls who are victims of rape or incest and who are not physiologically ready to be mothers.

It is vital to remember that every situation is delicate and different. It is also important to keep in mind that if this bill passes, it will not prevent abortions from happening. It will simply get rid of safe, sterile clinics and put women at a greater health risk.

In November I will be voting NO on Amendment One. I highly encourage anyone who is on the fence to thoroughly research the topic and make an educated decision before they vote. Remember, this isn’t about being “pro-choice” or “pro-life”—it’s about defending our right to make private decisions free from government interference. Even if we all don’t agree on abortion, we can all agree that government has no place in our private medical decisions.

old woman

Should I stay with my boyfriend of seven years?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 22-year-old college graduate, and I’m thinking about moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school in another part of the country. I’ve been dating the same guy for seven years, and I’m not sure what to do since he can’t move with me. What do you think I should do?




*Thanks to my pal Cati Montgomery for writing most of this.*

Dear Dina:

First, talk to your boyfriend about what he thinks the future holds for the two of you and whether or not you might want to commit to shifting this to a long-distance relationship. Although long-distance relationships can be very tricky and are oftentimes difficult, today’s technology—the Internet, Skype, and FaceTime, for example—can make them bearable for the times in between visits. Do have a plan for when you will see each other and how—and how often—you will keep in contact while you’re apart. If you do opt for trying the long-distance relationship thing, keep in mind that your interactions will change since you won’t get to see each other daily, but if you put in some extra effort, you just might make it work.

However, since you are moving to a different part of the country, you are bound to meet lots of fun and interesting new people. If you do meet someone in your graduate program who might pique your interest, what will happen to your seven-year relationship? You need to ponder this scenario so that you’re not dishonest with your boyfriend and a future “friend.” Still, don’t cut yourself off from meeting new people while you and your boyfriend are apart. Create and maintain a life that is separate from your boyfriend and then figure out how to merge your two lives when he comes to visit. At the end of the day, you will have to trust your boyfriend and yourself to not stray, and only you know whether you can remain faithful to him and whether he can remain faithful to you.

The second thing to think about is a long-term commitment and/or marriage. If you have already been dating this long and you have not had a serious conversation about your longer-term future together, you may need to pause to reconsider the value of this relationship. Are you holding on to him because he is safe and this relationship is what you have known since you were 15? What common goals and values do you share should you decide to stay together and get married? Does your boyfriend support your educational goals and talk about a future together? You’re only 22, and that’s really young to be getting married to someone you’ve known since you were in 9th or 10th grade. You’re probably too young to make that kind of long-term commitment.

Third, graduate school is a whole different level of commitment—to your work, to the students in your graduate school cohort, and to your professors. It will most likely require a much bigger time investment to study, to produce classwork and papers, and to perform original research. You will be learning about things at a pace you probably did not experience as an undergraduate, and sometimes the coursework and expectations of your professors can be overwhelming.

Graduate school may just be the time that YOU need to discover who you are, exactly, on your own. Your 20s are a time of growth and maturity, and you are just now beginning to evolve into the person you will be in your 30s and beyond. Perhaps you’ll want to take this next two years at grad school just to develop who you are as a person, without depending on the boy you’ve known since you were 15. You may discover some fairly interesting things about yourself.

Good luck!

Cati M

What say you about the ABC show “Black-ish”?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think of the new show “Black-ish”?




Dear Patrick:

Here’s how ABC has described “Black-ish” a new comedy series that airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 eastern time: “Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow, four kids, and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family?” Executive producer Larry Wilmore—who is leaving “Black-ish” to headline a new Comedy Central late-night show that will replace The Colbert Report—says that the show “celebrates black more as a culture than a race” and that “At heart it’s a family show.” “Black-ish” also has a noteworthy and fairly impressive cast—Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross (yes, Diana Ross’s daughter), and Laurence Fishburne, among others.

When I first saw a billboard advertising “Black-ish,” my sometimes (well, oftentimes) hypersensitive racial guard immediately went up, and I have to admit that I was kind of offended. What does it mean to be “black-ish,” I wondered? Who gets to decide who is black and who isn’t? What does it even mean to be black? Why are the television networks producing another “comedy” with a mostly all-black cast whose job it seems is to make white folks laugh at their dumb racial jokes? Isn’t “Black-ish” kind of a racist name for a television show anyway?

When asked about the title of the show, ABC executives have said that the show is “not about race but about class and family.” Laurence Fishburne agreed, telling a reporter that “it’s about the Johnson family, and in that regard, it’s about your family, and my family, and everybody’s family.” I’m not really sure how a television show titled “Black-ish” suggests in any way, shape, or form that it’s about everybody’s family, so I don’t really think they’re telling us the truth. I think ABC just wanted to shock viewers into watching this so-called comedy.

When I goggled “Black-ish” and “commentary,” I stumbled upon this Donald Trump tweet:

Donald Trump

Look. This should not come as a surprise to those who know me, but I’m no Donald Trump fan. I mean, this is a guy with a ludicrous toupee (if that is, in fact, his “real” hair, he should tell people that it is a toupee) who has convinced many a white racist that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim whose Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake. Moreover, Trump’s proclamation that there would be a “furor” over a show named “Whitesh” and that “‘black-ish’” is “racism at [its] highest level” is gibberish. Racism, Mr. Trump, would be you insisting that President Obama is a socialist Kenyan Muslim with a fake birth certificate who hates America and who is trying to take away white people’s guns.

Besides, there are lots of “white” shows on network television that seem to celebrate everything about “white” culture—“2 Broke Girls,” “Mike and Molly,” “Nashville,” “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” and “Game of Thrones” come to mind—and few white people seem to find any “furor” over that. White people like Donald Trump kind of need to get over this “reverse racism” claim since there is no show called “Whitesh,” and except for Shonda Rhimes and a few other black writers and producers, white folks are still the ones who frequently decide what’s on network television most of the time.

Nonetheless, Trump is right to question the logic and the rationale of the show’s title, though I largely disagree with his assessment that the title is, in and of itself, racist. “Black-ish” is mostly just offensive, and it trivializes the struggle(s) that many African Americans have faced as they negotiate and navigate their way into the white world while trying not to lose a sense of their black selves. Even Laurence Fishburne thinks that the show’s title is funny, as he told an interviewer: “Our title is a little bit of a wink. It’s a bit of a joke because, ultimately, if you live in America and you’ve been in America, let’s say for the last 10, 15, 20 years, you’re probably a little Black-ish anyway.” Tell that foolishness to the Donald Trumps of the world who interact only with people who look like they do and whose interactions with black folks is usually in a subordinate and/or subservient role. The title just isn’t very funny.

Having grown up in Moline, Illinois—the home of the John Deere Tractor and a predominately white town on the Mississippi River—I can say with much certainty that being one of the few black students at Butterworth Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Junior High, and Moline Senior High School was hardly a laughing matter. There were white teachers who didn’t think I would amount to much simply because of my skin color, and the white students who thought it was funny to call me a Nigger just because they could made me sad, mad, and a few times ashamed of my brown skin and kinky hair. No, Mr. Fishburne—we’re not all a little “Black-ish.” Some of us black folks are just trying to find our way—without losing our sanity or, ironically, our sense of humor—in a sometimes hostile white man’s world.

The day after “Black-ish” made its debut on ABC, I happened to be teaching W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk in my “Critical Studies in African American Literature” class. First published in 1903, DuBois’s book gave me a perfect opportunity to talk about his concept of double consciousness and this foolish show called “Black-ish.” In Chapter 1, titled “Our Spiritual Strivings,” DuBois writes:

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

My students said that they wished that the writers and producers of “Black-ish” had used this show to address DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness” in a more serious and in a more sincere manner, especially now that we have a black president who often finds himself having to negotiate between being an “African American president” and just being the “President of the United States of America.” As more black folks move into the middle and upper class and thus find themselves straddling and engaging with at least two cultures, this notion of double consciousness has become a day-to-day struggle for many of us, and it would have been nice if “Black-ish” had taken the lead in discussing these struggles without the laughter and without the vapid silliness that the title suggests.

In her review of Baratunde Thurston’s 2012 book How to Be Black, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry writes that his book—which she says is “part autobiography, part stand-up routine, [and] part contemporary political analysis—might “do more to expose and explore the shifting dynamics of race in America than all the Pew data of the past decade ever can.” In this very astute and incredibly witty book, Thurston makes his readers “both laugh and weep with poignant recognition.” Few would ever say this about “‘Black-ish,” a show whose only goal seems to be to make its viewers weep with embarrassment and shame at the tomfoolery of the characters and their incessant (and not very funny) jokes about their new life in the ‘burbs.

In his final chapter, “The Future of Blackness,” Thurston writes about a “New Black History Course” that will teach people a “more complete and honest history of black people and, thus, America in far more interesting ways.” A “sampling” of this course, Thurston says, will be a “broader story of the Diaspora with a special focus on the Americanness of black people in America.” “In addition to what we pass on to each generation,” Thurston writes, “it’s also important to change how we teach these lessons.”

“The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992, did a wonderful job of teaching its viewers that a black, upper-class family could peacefully co-exist in (white) American society, and although the show rarely delved into issues of racism or social injustice, it did present two successful black parents (he was an OB/GYN, she was a lawyer) who personified most of our hopes for achieving the American dream for ourselves and for our families. “Black-ish,” on the other hand, is mostly a 30-minute tale of buffoonery that could have used its stature in its prime-time Wednesday night slot to enlighten viewers of all hues that DuBois’s notion of “double consciousness” is a still perpetual reality for those of us who move between two worlds each and every day of our lives.

My hope is that “Black-ish”—in spite of its silly name—will evolve into a show that no longer trivializes the black middle- and upper-class experience in America and instead will expose viewers to the multiplicities of blackness. Baratunde Thurston suggests that he and other African Americans must “discover” their own blackness by “embracing the new, the different, the uncommon, and simply, yourself.” I think the producers and the stars of “Black-ish” attempted to do this, but they failed. If viewers are lucky, ABC will give the show’s writers and producers time to correct this, and the Johnsons will become a family that astutely and cleverly teaches America the joys, the trials, and the tribulations of black life in 2014.

Are leggings pants?

Dear Dwonna:

What does it mean when a guy tells you that “you look pretty…sometimes”?




Dear Cara:

*My pal and former student, Cati Montgomery, has answered this question for me.*

He’s a jerk, and don’t date him. If he can’t see that you are a beautiful PERSON all the time, then he’s not worth looking pretty for any time. Any person in any relationship—straight, gay, whatever—has external (and internal) flaws. Part of being in a relationship is being able to see the person, or the soul, if you will, within, rather than seeing someone through their wig, their Maybelline, their bling, their Jordans, or whatever else….

Dear Dwonna:

Last week, I was sitting on a bench on Austin Peay’s campus in between classes, and a young woman walked by in see-through pink leggings. I could see her polka dot “granny pants” underwear. Should I have said something to her?




Dear Tyler:

Something similar happened to me when I was in my PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin. I had bought this very cute and very short shirt, and I decided to wear it to my study date at the library. I sashayed my way through UT’s campus thinking that I was hot stuff when this young black woman approached me and put her arm around my shoulder.

I can only imagine the perplexed and/or hostile look I gave her as I wondered why this strange woman was so close to me. She then whispered in my ear, “Um, your skirt has come up in the back, and we can all see your underwear.” I smiled, thanked her profusely, moved my skirt down over my big booty and then continued my walk to the library with one hand holding down the back of my skirt.

I still appreciate this young woman telling me this, and I have tried to “pay it forward” when I see other young women who are guilty of similarly embarrassing fashion faux pas. So, I think that you should have said something to this young woman so that she wasn’t walking around campus showing everyone her polka dot “granny pants.”

Ladies, do only wear leggings when you are going to the gym to workout or when you’re wearing a tunic, and in both cases, do make sure that your t-shirt or tunic is long enough to cover your buttocks. Let this story of this student walking around campus in her see-through leggings be a fair warning for all of those who are reading this—LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.


Adrian Peterson & black folks & whipping kids

Dear Dwonna:

Do you have any comments about Adrian Peterson or the seemingly sorry state of the NFL?




Dear Roger:

Yes, I do. Thanks for asking. I’m going to focus my answer on Adrian Peterson because, given the popularity of the NFL, I imagine that they will rebound from this recent rash of bad behavior from too many players and owners of the National Football League.

For those who have been napping for the past two weeks, here’s some background information on Adrian Peterson, a 29-year-old running back for the Minnesota Vikings who was charged with beating his young son.

On September 11, 2014, a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury indicted Peterson and an arrest warrant was issued for “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” According to a police report, Peterson admitted that he had “whooped” his four-year-old son with a “branch from a tree” while the boy was visiting him in Houston. When the four-year-old boy returned to his home in Minnesota, his mother took him to a doctor because the child had “a number of lacerations on his thighs, along with bruise-like marks on his lower back and buttocks and cuts on his hand.” One doctor described some of the marks “as open wounds” and termed them “child abuse,” and another examiner agreed, calling the cuts on the boy’s body “extensive.”

According to one report, Adrian Peterson’s beatings of his four-year-old son “allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands.” After the beating—which Peterson said occurred because his son had been mean to another child—Peterson texted the boy’s mother and told her that “one wound in particular would make her mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”

When investigators first spoke with Peterson, he told them that he regarded his discipline as “normal spanking and not excessive,” even though he had earlier texted the boy’s mother and wrote that his son “got about five more pops than normal. He didn’t drop one tear! So that was another indicator I’ll have to try another system with him. SMH he’s tough as nails…” The mother replied: “Well you can’t hit him til he cries! That’s just mean. He’s trying to be strong for you. He’s afraid of you. He’s 4, he’s not playing mind games with you…”

Here are images of the injuries that Peterson left on his four-year-old son; these pictures were taken at least a week after he “disciplined” him.


After the arrest warrant was issued, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated Peterson, who flew to Houston and later posted $15,000 bond. Afterwards Rusty Hardin, Peterson’s lawyer, released the following statement:

“Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline which his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas. Adrian has never hidden from what happened. He has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours….”

Peterson then posted the following statement to his Instagram:

peterson instagram

Peterson and other famous and not-so-famous black folks have taken to the airwaves to tout the long-term benefits of whipping children, with many of these black folks using the Bible to support their position while simultaneously arguing that that was how they were raised and that they turned out fine. “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed,” Peterson said in defending his use of corporal punishment with his six or seven children (by several different women).

Charles Barkley, a former NBA player and a co-host of “Inside the NBA” on TNT Television, told radio and television sports host Jim Rome, “I’m from the South. Whippings—we do that all the time…. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances. I’ve gotten beat with switches. When the media talks about it, ‘beating a child’—We called it ‘spanking’ or ‘whipping’ our kids.” Not surprisingly, Charles Barkley has become the archetype and the favorite sound bite for all those who wish to defend corporal punishment, the “southern” and the “African American way for raising children.”

When Jim Rome suggested that there was no “fine line” in the Peterson situation—that that was clearly a case of “child abuse” and not of “child rearing,” Barkley said, “I think there’s a fine line, Jim. I’ve had many welts on my legs.” No, Charles Barkley—and all the other black folks who keep bumping their gums on the airwaves telling anyone and everyone who will listen to them—there is no “fine line” between spanking and/or whipping your kids and child abuse. I’m completely bored with these folks who justify beating/abusing their children with switches and belts with the nonsense of “well, that’s how I was raised, and I turned out ok.” Since when is this the standard by which we measure what’s appropriate when raising children?

The fact of the matter is that black folks probably should stay away from the “but that’s how I was raised card” when arguing whether something like corporal punishment is a beneficial tool to rearing happy and productive citizens of the world. The reality is that “beating” and “whipping” black children is hardly helping these kids leap to the pinnacle of success. According to federal statistics, some 73 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock, which often translates into a life of poverty and a substandard educational experience; approximately 38 percent of black children under the age of 18 live in poverty; almost 27 percent of black folks have an income below the poverty line; 38 percent of the prison population is comprised of black folks even though we only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population; and young black men are more likely to be a part of the criminal justice system than they are to be in college. Proverbs 13:24 says: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Lots of black folks turn to this Bible scripture when defending, explaining, or simply justifying why they whip their children, but if we honestly look at the state of black America in 2014, perhaps we will see that whipping children with switches from a tree in the backyard isn’t working as well as some black folks want to believe it is.

As a full disclosure, I should say that I was one of those black folks whose father “whooped” her and her siblings for both minor and major transgressions. My father kept a tattered black belt—one that was too old and too beaten up for him to continue wearing—on the top shelf of the kitchen’s broom closet, and he summoned us to quickly retrieve “black betty” at the very moment he believed that talking to us was no longer getting through to us. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson—an African American professor of sociology at Georgetown University—writes that children who are beaten often have “feelings of sadness and worthlessness, difficulties sleeping, suicidal thoughts, bouts of anxiety, outbursts of aggression, diminished concentration, intense dislike of authority, frayed relations with peers, and negative high-risk behaviors.”

Although I probably seem well-adjusted and successful to most people who meet me, I have, unfortunately, suffered from some of those aforementioned effects of corporal punishment. I know that my father did not want this for his children, and I know that he did not expect that I would suffer so much into my adulthood. I also know that my father was simply replicating how he had been raised and that he was simply trying to raise black children who would grow up to be productive and prosperous members of a sometimes racist and oftentimes hostile white society. Still, those whippings left scars that took lots of time—and years of therapy—to heal. Did my father’s whippings make me a more disciplined person? Maybe. Did they make me think twice before I did something that violated my father’s rules for behavior in and out of the house? Probably. I guess I turned out “ok” once the physical scars healed—I’m an English professor with a PhD from the University of Texas who has written a book and lots of articles on race and gender. However, the emotional scars have taken much, much longer to heal.

In their 1968 book Black Rage, African American psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.” Does the continued use of violence when disciplining black children foster the misconception that African Americans have to use physical strength rather than intellectual strength just like slavemasters did with their slaves? I don’t know. Clearly folks like Adrian Peterson, Charles Barkley, and too many other African Americans continue to embrace—and justify—what should be considered an antiquated and mostly ineffective way of child rearing. Although corporal punishment may make children obey a parent’s immediate request, it rarely teaches long-term self-control or self-respect.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician and one of the world’s most preeminent authorities on child rearing, once said, “If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” We do need a world with kinder and more compassionate children, and perhaps it’s time for black folks to evolve into the 21st century and find alternative methods for disciplining their children. Leaving scars and welts may have been how their parents disciplined them, but it shouldn’t be how black parents—or any parents—discipline their children today.



Why does Janay Rice stay?

Dear Dwonna:

I heard you make a passing comment in our world lit class about Ray and Janay Rice and criticizing him for hitting her and her for staying. Could you elaborate on this, please?




Dear Cara:

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I have gone back and forth about what I think about Janay Rice since the day she sat by her husband at a news conference in March and announced to those who would listen that she “deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

For those of you who have been asleep for the last seven months, Janay (Palmer) Rice is the wife of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. After TMZ released a second video showing Mr. Rice delivering an uppercut to Janay and subsequently knocking out his then fiancée in an elevator (the first video only showed Rice dispassionately and nonchalantly dragging her unconscious body from the elevator), the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract. Shortly afterwards, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, after originally only suspending him for two games.

The Baltimore Ravens, the NFL, and Roger Goodell have all been criticized for how they first handled Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Rice, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter has called the subsequent fallout “arguably the biggest black eye the league has ever had.” Roger Goodell is still telling the world that he never saw that second video of what happened between Ray and Janay Rice in that casino elevator, though many people question the veracity of that statement, including someone who says that he personally delivered the video to the NFL offices. However, did Roger Goodell really need to actually see Ray Rice deliver an uppercut to Janay Rice as if she were Mike Tyson to know that something terribly awful had happened before those elevator doors opened showing an unconscious Janay Rice being dragged from it?

Less than 24 hours after the Baltimore Ravens fired Ray Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him, Janay Rice posted the following statement to her Instagram:

 “I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” Janay Rice wrote. “But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that [the] media & unwanted opinions from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Many people have questioned Janay Rice’s vociferous and sometimes defiant defense of her husband, and some have even argued that those of us who question Janay Rice’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship are simply re-victimizing her and “forcing her deeper into a bunker where she blames herself,” writes ESPN’s Jason Whitlock. Others have (rightfully) pointed out that the continued re-airing of the two videos simply makes Janay’s “private shame” a “public spectacle,” and so she is “angry with the media.”

It is difficult for me to understand why Janay Rice has not only stayed with her husband but has also taken on a Perry Mason-like defense of his behavior. I also don’t want to believe that a woman whose partner knocked her out like she was Floyd Mayweather’s sparring partner could then stand by and loudly defend what most of us would consider to be defenseless behavior. Is Janay Palmer afraid but still feeling a lot of love for her “wronged” husband? Is she really a victim because she chooses to stay? Why are we now focusing on her and not on her husband who put her in this situation by knocking her out cold in an elevator on that February evening?

I want to stand in judgment of Janay Rice, and I want to question her motives for staying with—and then marrying—her abuser. Like my friend Brenda Ford, I, too, wondered if Janay Rice defended her husband only because she didn’t want to give up the money and fame that go along with being “the wife of a super bowl champion.” “Really, though,” Brenda told me, “Janay Rice has some sort of responsibility to other abused women to get out.” Whether or not Janay has a responsibility to other women is debatable, but she certainly has some to herself and to her daughter. If you’re wondering why women stay in abusive relationships, just search the Twitter hashtag #whyistayed, and your eyes will be widely opened like mine were.

The fact of the matter is that lots of women stay in abusive relationships for reasons that many of us will never be able to fathom, and I hope this terrible situation causes society to more deeply examine why women stay with abusive men and how to help them leave when domestic violence happens. The sad reality is that we (still) live in a patriarchal society that tells too many women that it’s better to stay in an abusive relationship than to be alone, and we need to do a better job of showing women that being alone is better than being with a man who hits you.

So, we can continue to blame Roger Goodell for originally only suspending Ray Rice for two games and the Baltimore Ravens for not suspending him at all until TMZ released the second video, and we can continue focusing our efforts on what Roger Goodell knew and when he knew it and whether or not he should be fired from his job as NFL commissioner. When we do this, however, we simply deflect from the real issues at hand—that there are too many instances of domestic violence in the NFL and in our own communities and that too many people minimize these incidents by making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.

One of my former students wrote on his Facebook wall that he hoped Ray Rice wins his appeal of the NFL’s indefinite suspension because Rice has “already admitted to his wrongs, told the commissioner about the incident, cooperated with the authorities and the league as well as entered an intervention program.” I probably don’t have to tell you that the person who wrote this is a man. I suggested to my student that he would be fired from his job if he did that to his wife, and another woman commented that Ray Rice had simply sown the consequences of his actions.

Though my student did acknowledge that Rice was “wrong” for what he did to his wife, he believes that Rice has “paid his debt to society.” Unfortunately, too many men think that an NFL player simply apologizing for knocking a woman out and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator and then entering a deferred adjudication program after being arrested means that his “debt to society” has been paid. While I am not in charge of deciding when Ray Rice has been punished enough (though I’d gladly take on this role), losing his job as a running back for the Baltimore Ravens and being indefinitely suspended from the NFL seems to be a judicious and fair beginning.

It perplexes me, too, that so many women support Ray Rice and that they also believe that he has been punished “too much,” and perhaps this says more about the bizarre and/or curious state of male and female relationships in this nation than most of us realized. Before TMZ released the second video, two female students in two different classes argued that perhaps Janay Rice had hit Ray Rice first and “that’s why he responded the way he did.” One black female student even said, “You know how crazy and out of control we black women can get, and if it means he has to hit us to make us stop, oh well.” When I suggested to her that a real man would NEVER hit a woman even if that woman hit him first, my student said, “Well, if she comes at him like a man, he has a right to hit her like a man.” For one of the few times in my teaching career, I was left speechless. It makes me sad that some black women believe this.

Has domestic violence become so normalized in American culture that people are not embarrassed to defend a man who has been caught on video beating, knocking unconscious, and then dragging his fiancée from an elevator? Why has so much of folks’ antipathy for what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer shifted to the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Rice and whether or not Roger Goodell is fit to continue his job as NFL commissioner? Why is there ever an instance where it’s “permissible” for a man to hit a woman, especially when that man is a strong and muscular NFL running back?

Anne C. Osborne, co-author of the forthcoming book Female Fans of the NFL: Taking Their Place in the Stands, said that the Ravens’ decision to cut Ray Rice was “good for the team, good for the league, and good for women.” “They are taking a stand, and he is a valuable player to lose,” Osborne said. “That is good news for everybody. It’s not just good news for women. That culture of violence, everyone loses. Good for them.”

What will really be good for society is the day when women no longer feel the need to stay in a relationship after domestic violence has occurred. This isn’t so much about Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens; it’s about empowering women like Janay Rice to leave the men who brutalize them. It’s about not defending the indefensible, even when the batterer apologizes and says he’s going to get help. Statistics show that one in four women will be victims of domestic abuse; it’s time we teach women to respect themselves enough to walk away without apologizing for the abuser or for leaving.

Last Thursday night, before the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers football game, CBS’s James Brown—host of “The NFL Today” on CBS and “Inside the NFL” on Showtime—looked directly into the camera and asked viewers in a 90-second monologue if it “wouldn’t be more productive if this collective outrage…could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women.” “And as they said,” he continued, “do something about it? Like an on-going education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is about.”

Indeed, a real man never hits a woman no matter what that woman might first do to him, and although Janay Rice may not consider herself a victim, millions of women in this country are.

ray and janay

On Death and Dying and Joan Rivers

Dear Dwonna:

I heard you say that you weren’t sad about Joan Rivers’s death. Why? She was a trailblazer for female comedians, and she should be remembered as such.




Dear Stephanie:

Yes, it’s true that I was not one of the ones who mourned Joan Rivers’s death, though of course I was not “happy” that she had died. (CAVAET: I don’t really mourn any celebrity death, as I don’t actually know these people and do not feel the loss like a close family member might. In fact, I think it’s weird that people get upset about a celebrity death, sometimes behaving like it’s their mother who died.) Not to state the obvious, death is more than likely permanent (unless you believe that we’re reincarnated until we get it “right”), and even Joan Rivers did not deserve to die so suddenly and so seemingly tragically.

Yes, Rivers was a pioneer in comedy, and she was the first female to serve as a permanent guest host for Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. Yet, even Johnny Carson did not like her (for reasons neither has ever disclosed). “Our friendship existed entirely on-camera in front of America, and even then, during the commercial breaks, when the red light went off, we had nothing to say to each other” Rivers said in a 1986 op-ed in People magazine.

Rivers became famous for saying nasty and vile things, and for her, no one was off limits. She and her daughter Melissa Rivers hosted “Fashion Police,” a show on E! Entertainment, and their goal seemed to be to say the nastiest things about what the stars were wearing. (“Who are you wearing?” would become one of her signature catch phrases.) Though many people found their crude and insulting comments funny, I did not. Joan and Melissa Rivers (but mostly Joan) often went beyond making illuminating commentaries about famous people’s clothing to just making vicious and downright degrading remarks that often had nothing to do with what a person was wearing. In fact, Joan Rivers seemed to take much pleasure when people got angry at what she always claimed was just her “sense of humor.”

On “The Today Show” in April, Joan Rivers talked about her living situation with her daughter on the WEtv series “Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” and she said that “those women in the basement in Cleveland had more room.” Not surprisingly, her comments “prompted a sharp response” from the attorneys of Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, two of the three women who had escaped from a home where Ariel Castro had held and tortured them for ten years. When asked to apologize, Rivers said, “I’m a comedienne. I know what those girls went through. It was a little, stupid joke. There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke. That’s what I do. Calm down. Calm fucking down. I’m a comedienne. They’re free, so let’s move on.”

When asked again to apologize, Rivers suggested that The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer should stop writing about her “stupidity” and instead shift their focus to government leaders. “They got to live rent free for more than a decade,” she told TMZ. “One of them has a book deal. Neither are in a psych ward. They’re okay. I bet you within three years one of them will be on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’” She even suggested that the women lacked a sense of humor, saying that “the TV the guy gave them must not have had SNL.”

Stay classy, Ms. Rivers.

When I was in high school, a guy who used to call my brother and me a “Nigger” whenever the moment struck him was struck and killed by lightening while playing golf, and while I wanted to feel some sadness for his untimely death like all the others at Moline High School did, I couldn’t help but think he deserved what had happened to him. When my Catholic guilt kicked in and I was unable to reconcile my feelings of disgust with wanting to feel pity for him, my mom tried to comfort me by telling me that death didn’t change a person and if someone was a jerk in life, his death could not change who he was in life. I think she was right.

In her 2012 book, I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me, Joan Rivers wrote that she hoped that her funeral would be a “huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action” and “Hollywood all the way.” She also wanted Meryl Streep to cry “in five different accents” and a “wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.” Her wishes were printed in the funeral program, and Howard Stern—probably the only person more vile and more repulsive than Joan Rivers—delivered the eulogy. Few should be surprised that Joan Rivers made sure that her funeral was as ostentatious (and as tacky) as she was.

Indeed, Joan Rivers was a pioneer for female comediennes, and she paved the way for the Wanda Sykes’s and the Kathy Griffith’s of the comedy world. She also handled her husband Edgar’s suicide with such grace and class that I actually liked her, if only for a brief moment. However, Rivers’s death does not change the fact that she was a nasty and oftentimes spiteful and hateful woman who claimed that she was just “being funny” when she was putting people down with her profane and boorish comments, and in many ways she is simply a symbol for what’s wrong in this culture. Joan Rivers was just another negative, nasty person with power and an audience who felt the constant need to say negative and nasty things about other people, too many of whom were unable to defend themselves from her vitriol.

Mother Theresa once said, “Let no one every come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” Perhaps if Joan Rivers had embodied and fostered this philosophy, she might have been remembered for more than having been a catty, punitive, nasty, vile, and vindictive woman. Life in America is difficult enough for far too many people, and we need fewer women like Joan Rivers and more kind and compassionate women like Mother Theresa. There’s enough meanness in the world; let’s infuse more love into it.

British Academy Television Awards - Arrivals

Ray Rice and the NFL’s policy on domestic violence

Dear Dwonna:

I know you’re a lifelong sports fan and that you’re a big fan of the Chicago Bears. You’ve been really quiet on the Ray Rice situation, and now that Roger Goodell has announced stiffer penalties for players who are convicted of domestic violence, I would like to know your opinions on this.




Dear Vicki:

Here’s a little background for those who are unfamiliar with Ray Rice and his assault on Janay (Palmer) Rice, his fiancée at the time.

On February 15, 2014, a surveillance video captured Ray Rice—a running back for the Baltimore Ravens—dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator at Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A “sparse” arrest summons charged Ray with committing an assault by “attempting to cause bodily injury to J. Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” Neither Palmer nor Rice requested medical attention, and both were arrested and charged with simple assault. It’s not clear why police arrested Palmer, and Ray Rice’s attorney described the incident as a “minor physical altercation.”

Although the video TMZ obtained four days later only showed the aftermath of the incident between the couple, viewers could see Rice lifting and dragging an unconscious Palmer by her arms out of the elevator and “laying her on the floor.” One witness to the assault said that Rice threw an “uppercut,” and another person said that Rice hit Palmer “like he [would punch] a guy.”

On March 27, 2014, a grand jury indicted Ray Rice for third-degree aggravated assault for “allegedly striking Palmer unconscious.” The two married the following day, and according to the Baltimore Sun, the couple had planned a summer wedding before “moving the date up without a public explanation.” Another source said that the March ceremony “had been planned for a couple of weeks.”

On May 23—almost two months after the assault at the casino—Ray Rice and Janay Palmer Rice publically spoke for the first time on what happened in Atlantic City. Appearing at a news conference with his mother and their daughter, and Ray Rice apologized for “the situation my wife and I were in,” and he promised that he was “working every day to be a father, a better husband and a better role model.” “I failed miserably,” Ray Rice said. “but I wouldn’t call myself a failure cause I’m working myself back up.” Janay Rice, too, apologized “for her role in that night,” though simple assault charges against her were eventually dropped.

Prosecutors eventually offered Ray Rice a plea deal that would have spared him jail time, placed him on probation for one year, and required him to attend anger management counseling. Rice rejected this deal, and instead he pleaded not guilty and was accepted into a diversionary program for a first-time offenders program that could allow him to clear his record of charges “in as few as six months.” Rice’s attorney told reporters that Rice must also stay out of trouble for the next year and continue to receive family counseling with his wife, who had written a letter in support of him. “We’re very happy with the result,” Rice’s attorney said. Rice “will now be able to move forward with his life, and he and Janay are looking forward to putting this behind them.”

On July 24, the NFL announced that it was suspending Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season under the league’s personal conduct policy, telling Rice that the punishment “comes with the expectation” that he will “continue with his counseling.” “I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in his letter to Rice. “I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.”

Many people were, rightfully so, outraged at the light punishment that Roger Goodell meted out to Rice, who said in response to criticism that the NFL has a “very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL and that there will be consequences for that.” In contrast, the NFL suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for one year for his third violation of the NFL’s drug policy for smoking pot, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker was suspended for four games for testing positive for amphetamines, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsey was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. Get caught smoking pot for the third time? One year. Knocking out cold and then dragging your unconscious fiancée from an elevator? Two games. The NFL should have used more common sense when meting out punishments so that smoking pot didn’t warrant a stiffer punishment than beating up your woman.

Even ESPN seems to have more sense than the NFL, as the company suspended “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith for a week after saying on his show—in response to the Ray Rice incident—that women should make sure that they “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” from a man who might later abuse them. No matter how much a woman might “provoke” her significant other, a REAL man never puts his hands on a woman. Ever. A REAL man walks away. Every. Single. Time. That’s what Stephen A. Smith should have been telling listeners.

After weeks of criticism—mostly because of the apparent discrepancy between “suspensions that result from violations of the league’s drug policy, versus those incurred through the code of personal conduct”—Commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping changes to the Personal Conduct Policy. In a letter to NFL owners last week, Goodell said that violations of the Personal Conduct Policy “regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense.” A second offense, Goodell announced, will “result in banishment from the NFL for at least one year,” and although a person can petition for reinstatement after one year, “there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted.” This policy applies to all NFL personnel and not just players.

Goodell then apologized for how the NFL handled Ray Rice’s punishment, acknowledging that the league had “allowed” their “standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue.” The commissioner also admitted that his “disciplinary decision” led many people to “question…whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.” “I didn’t get it right,” Goodell writes, “Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

New York Giants president Jim Mara said that he was “100 percent supportive of the new policy” and that the NFL needed to “make a stand and be much tougher on domestic violence.” Some people questioned whether or not Goodell had changed his stance because of the public outcry, but it really does not matter why he decided to toughen the NFL’s punishment for those who commit acts of domestic violence. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that although she was “personally disappointed in the Rice suspension,” her goal was to “figure out how to make it right.” “I think that whatever moves a business or an entity in the right direction on this issue is good movement,” she said.

I agree with Kim Bundy that any time an organization does the right thing it is a good thing, and it’s not necessarily our job to question their motives. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.” In a sport where violence is epidemic and where players often have difficulty turning off this violence when they walk off the field at the end of a game, we should applaud the NFL for establishing stricter punishments for those who are involved in domestic violence incidents.

The NFL has appropriately articulated to its players and employees that domestic violence will no longer be tolerated and that incidents will be swiftly adjudicated, and I hope that they will also establish programs that teach players how to avoid domestic violence situations so that the public never has to witness a Ray Rice-like incident again. May the NFL’s bungling of the Ray Rice situation and the public’s subsequent outcry at his paltry suspension be the beginning of a more candid dialogue about the violence that too often happens between men and women because domestic violence is everyone’s problem, and love should never hurt.



On Monday, September 8, 2014, TMZ released the video that showed what happened in the elevator BEFORE Ray Rice dragged an unconscious Janay Palmer out of it. Here is a link to the video: http://digg.com/video/tmz-releases-video-of-ray-rice-knocking-out-his-fiancee.

Saying that the video is disturbing fails to capture the horror of what happened in that elevator, and hours after its release, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Ray Rice’s contract, thereby making the running back a free agent. Although the NFL says that they requested to see the video before ultimately suspending Rice for two games–many people question the veracity of this statement–once the video became public, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, leaving many to wonder if this is the end of Ray Rice’s NFL career.

Though it is easy to criticize Janay (Palmer) Rice for standing by–and one month later marrying–a man who would so brutally assault her, I applaud the Baltimore Ravens for loudly (albeit a little late) declaring that the organization will neither tolerate nor condone domestic violence.

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “As players we must speak up. Stand up for what’s right. I don’t give a damn who u are or how much money you make. No place for this.” Many thanks to the Baltimore Ravens for finally doing what the NFL didn’t have the testicles to do in February when the video first became public–to protect those who are battered by the men who say they love them.


ray rice