I Swanni!

A while ago I learned that many of the idioms that I heard regularly down south in my youth were merely obscure forms of english, even old english (or Olde English, if you please).

Peep the 2nd meaning of the verb form below. I used to hear folks say “I swan…” or “I swanni” (sp) all the time growing up.

I had decided that it was a prudish attempt to avoid saying “I swear”. Because, I reasoned, some folks took the biblical admonition against swearing, or even using the word “swear”, very seriously.

Looks like I had that all wrong.


noun: 1. Any of various long-necked large waterbirds, usually in white plumage.
2. Someone or something of unusual beauty, grace, purity, etc.

verb intr.: 1. To move about in an idle, aimless way.
2. To declare or to swear.


It’s always ambivalence.

That’s the general feeling I associate with America. Take “General Order Number 3”, the official document associated with Juneteenth which says in part: "The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

There’s always that parting shot,

“…they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

It’s the loophole that Jim Crow and The Black Codes ride through.

And remember, The Emancipation Proclamation freed the enslaved of the Confederacy on January 1, 1863. Also keep in mind that there were Union states where black citizens remained enslaved until the passage of the 13th Amendment.

So, let’s recap: Two and a half years after The Emancipation Proclamation which preserved slavery in Union territory, the enslaved of Texas were informed that they had been freed, conditional on a broad interpretation of their “good behavior” (check out that other loophole in the 13th Amendment).

Hence the source of my ambivalence.

My daughter has a Juneteenth poster somewhere around here inscribed with the tag #freeish

Here’s to a day when we’re all free.


It May Be Time to Shake Off the Dust

Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah,[c] because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. – Genesis: 31:48-49

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. – Matthew 10:14

A bit of drama from the Michigan state senate gained the national spotlight recently. In a campaign mailing, Lana Theis, the state senator from Brighton, implied that state senator Mallory McMorrow, of Royal Oak, was involved in “sexually grooming” children for a supposed pedophile ring and that furthermore, Senator McMorrow is supporting something called the “raced based” education of our children.

The first accusation carries serious legal implications and should not be taken lightly. One would think that an accusation of this magnitude, with dire implications for our children’s safety, should be shared with local, federal, state authorities rather than be included in a fundraising email.

The second accusation, that of supporting “raced based education”, is overly broad and open to interpretation covering a potential spectrum between The Honorable Elijah Mohammed and The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The major focus of the life’s work of both men had to do with race, yet from entirely different angles of approach.

Senator McMorrow did not take these accusations lying down. She stood in the Michigan chamber and delivered a powerful speech refuting Senator Theis’s lies and innuendo. Furthermore, McMorrow boldly stood up for the rights of citizens who are marginalized by Theis’s stance. The speech only lasted five minutes but it resounded around the globe as a long overdue response to the increasingly fascist, authoritarian, and racist public stance of the Republican party. Senator McMorrow has been rightly celebrated for the principles, passion and integrity exemplified in her comments. But her speech is not what I’d like to focus on today. It’s what she said after the speech. When asked if she would continue to work with Senator Theis in the senate, McMorrow stated that she had no interest in working with her further.

This would seem to run counter to the orthodoxy of a lot of politicians, including our current president, and many in the media, who urge Americans to find compromise with those with whom we disagree.

I’m here to suggest that it may be time to “shake the dust off our feet”.

When I was a teenager, we used to close our Baptist Youth Fellowship meetings at my home church in St. Louis with words taken our Old Testament text: “May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we’re absent, one from another.” We discontinued the practice after someone reviewed the text leading up to that scripture and put it in proper context. In short, it’s the story of the dissolution of the relationship between Jacob, the Patriarch, and his cousin, Laban, for whom Jacob had worked for 20 years. Jacob felt that Laban had not dealt fairly with him. In fact, Jacob had been ordered by God to take his household, consisting of two of Laban’s daughters, and his share of Laban’s flock – that he’d worked for – and leave. Once he’d learned of Jacob’s surreptitious departure, Laban pursued him.

He eventually caught up with Jacob and after a lot of back and forth and rehashing of grievances, we come to what amounts to a covenant between the two men that signifies the dissolution of their relationship. However, I do not interpret this as an amicable parting. For in verse 52 and 53 Laban further states: 52 “This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

These men will not be visiting each other for the holidays. They have irreconcilable differences. Jacob has taken a stand for himself and for what is right. To continue to associate with Laban would be foolhardy. Likewise, rightly, or wrongly Laban feels that he is the aggrieved party. For him to continue to ally with Jacob is pointless.

Turning to our New Testament scripture, we find Jesus instructing the disciples as he sends them out to preach and heal in his name. He has been very specific in his instructions, as one would think he’d be. These are his representatives. What strikes me is that Jesus makes the disciples completely reliant on the people they will be ministering to. He instructs them to take no coin with them, to not even take any extra clothes. “… for the worker is worth his keep,” he says.

This is vital because I believe it leads to the admonition to “shake off the dust.” If the people you are ministering to and working with don’t recognize your worth – and by extension, the worth of the God in you – move on. They aren’t worth the time. In similar fashion, Jacob, God’s anointed, had labored faithfully in Laban’s household. His worth was not reciprocated in kind, so God instructed Jacob to move on. When Laban caught up with Jacob after seven days, he chastised Jacob in bad faith for “abandoning” him. When it was obviously Jacob who had been mistreated.

All of this presumes that what one is trying to accomplish aligns with the will and purpose of God. But beloved, God does not want us to waste our efforts in alliance with those who would abuse us. We are to use discernment in our alliances. And while we are not to think too highly of ourselves, this is his mission after all, we are not allowed to waste God’s time. In verse sixteen Christ admonishes his disciples to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

So, I think Senator McMorrow was in order when she declared that she no longer intended to work with Senator Theis. There is an oft quoted epigram of Maya Angelou that says, “When people show you who they are the first time believe them.” Consider that the line is part of a larger quote that reads in part, “Live your life in truth. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You will survive anything if you live your life from the point of view of truth.” Or again, again, as the Savior said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”


“However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, & cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking a same language, governed in similar forms, & by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.” Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, November 24, 1801

“… nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on the surface.” Ironic, right? Because based on not so recent scholarship, Thomas Jefferson had little reservation about mixing with at least one of the “blots” on at least six different occasions.

As much as we like to believe the origins of the American character are forged in democracy & fraternity, we’d be negligent if we didn’t consider the very strong impulses toward imperialism and white supremacy ably carried by the vessel of “Manifest Destiny.” Jefferson’s letter to James Monroe, excerpted above, was written roughly three years before he commissioned Lewis and Clark to map the Northwest Territory which he’d just bought from France, ignoring the sovereignty of the many nations of indigenous people who’d already live on this continent for centuries.

Lewis & Clark set out from St. Louis, the very site of the Cahokians, the “Mound Builders” who had established a vast civilization some 800 years prior. They built a network of at least 70 mounds used for festivals, religious rituals, and observing the stars. I camped in the state park near the few remaining mounds as a Boy Scout. We were told that they were crude burial grounds. The area surrounding the park has been zoned for industrial and commercial use. The nearby exits look like just about every other off-ramp in America, a mixture of gas stations, big box stores, and fast food franchises. Which is, what it is, right? The new always supplants the old. Every city is built over the bones of earlier attempts at civilization.

But consider that Cahokia and the rest of the continental U.S. weren’t “settled” as much as taken by force. The civilizations already established on the land weren’t supplanted. They were obliterated. The bones of their prior cities ground to dust, or, as in the case of the Cahokia mounds, used to backfill the foundations of the new cities.

Tertium Quid

Black citizens have been a “problem to be solved” since the inception of this country. The Founders never intended to include black Americans as American citizens. This is not a shock to anyone paying attention. During the Constitutional Convention, the nature of the problem had nothing to do with the humanity of black citizens – the morality of which, had already been decided – but whether to classify us as “property” or include us as members of households.

Property could not be counted for the purposes of congressional representation. On the other hand, male members of households could potentially be afforded the right to vote. Southern states had a vested interest in maximizing their overall representation and in suppressing the black vote. The northern states interests were diametrically opposed to augmenting the southern vote and there were some calls among northern Abolitionists to grant full citizenship to the enslaved.

What to do?

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution states:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxedthree fifths of all other Persons.”

“…three fifths of all other Persons”… they couldn’t even say it with their full chest. The Three-Fifths clause simultaneously increased the representation of southern states while it reduced the corresponding tax burden. Classic having your cake and eating it too.

How did representatives from northern states agree to selling out the masses of black humanity held in bondage in the south? I think it was for the sake of unity, the same principle that continues to betray black citizens to this day, and since black people aren’t considered fully human, it’s easier to betray us.

In “The Souls of Black Folk”, W.E.B DuBois described black humanity as a “third thing” or tertium quid:

The second thought streaming from the death-ship and the curving river is the thought of the older South,–the sincere and passionate belief that somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro,–a clownish, simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations, but straitly foreordained to walk within the Veil. To be sure, behind the thought lurks the afterthought,–some of them with favoring chance might become men, but in sheer self-defence we dare not let them, and we build about them walls so high, and hang between them and the light a veil so thick, that they shall not even think of breaking through.

Betrayal is very common occurrence among peers, a staple theme running through all literature. How simpler then to betray a class of people who aren’t even considered fully human? In point of fact, the purpose of the Three-Fifths compromise for the northern states was to blunt the effect of the larger populations of the southern states. However, had the north pressed to declare enslaved black Americans as “property” the south would have been allotted 33 representatives in the House of Representatives. But with the Compromise, that number rose to 47.

Ironically, Frederick Douglass defends the Three-Fifths Compromise in a speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860:

A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at is worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.

I’d note however that he implicitly acknowledges the innate humanity of black citizens and, in my view, provides an intention toward black freedom that the drafters never really intended. At first glance, a “left-handed compliment” at best, or perhaps, the ultimate expression of “finding the silver lining.” However, I believe, in fact, that it’s a brilliant use of rhetoric. Douglass plainly states that freedom is superior to slavery and “obviously” the aim of the Constitution. Furthermore, nowhere in the Constitution is there an abolition against the black vote. So, therefore…

The south hasn’t needed masses of black labor for quite some time which is increasingly the issue with labor in general.

What do you do with people you no longer need?

If said people aren’t recognized as fully human in the first place, it’s fairly easy for the institutions which have historically exploited them to dispose of them by the most expedient (and often profitable) means possible and for historical “allies” to look the other way.


I cannot begin to explain how infuriating I find the current Senate spectacle.
No job is worth this.
To be publicly debased for a Senator’s political cred is beyond the pale.
But black citizens have it almost encoded in our DNA that this is “the price of the ticket.” That our qualifications and our behavior have to be absolutely immaculate to even be considered for anything that whites have historically dominated, and that this is somehow a good thing.
I’ve said elsewhere that “I don’t hate America but some says I’m tempted.”

Today is one of those days.

We’re Lying to You Most of The Time

“‘You’re acting all the time when you’re black’.” And it’s true. Black people are acting out roles every day in this country just to keep on getting by. If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” – Miles Davis, from “Miles – The Autobiography”

I offer this as an exhibit for anyone concerned about impediments to free speech as I believe the Times Editorial Board characterized it. I use it to remind myself once again that the concept of “cancel culture” is another tool of white supremacy. For black citizens it could mean your life. I’m thinking of Fred Hampton, MLK, & Malcolm X. They were “canceled” for just speaking the truth. For having the nerve to suggest that that full citizenship for black Americans, for the poor and marginalized, was long overdue. For just suggesting that America needed to change.

“If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” And when white people get scared, black people die. That’s why “lying to white folks” comes as natural to black people as breathing.

To be able to speak your mind without the threat of criticism, or even shame, is a privilege enjoyed at the expense of others. If the only threat to your ability to speak freely is criticism and shame, you’re still privileged.

When you assume…

Some comments:

1. Black people have consistently been roughly 12% of the U.S. population for quite some time. I would like to see the scholarship around this. I’m sure some of it centers around “how *black* is defined.”

2. The amount of power granted “leaders” who gin up fear around Muslim & LGBTQ Americans, given their extraordinarily small numbers, is frightening. Fear and Loathing of the “other” has become a monstrous feature of the American operating system.

3. Y’all ain’t never gonna get rich. And rich people ain’t sharing.

4. We love guns. That’s 100 million guns folks. And note that roughly one-third of Americans own enough weapons to arm every man woman and child in this country.


Why, Black History

“The story of the master never wanted for narrators” – Frederick Douglass. My stock answer for whenever anybody comes after black history from now on.

The epigram, “History is written by the victors,” is often attributed to Churchill, which I’ve learned is not entirely true. For my part, I find that history is frequently misread as it is continually being re-intrerpreted and uncovered. History is like self discovery. It’s messy and often painful and, if you spend enough time with it, you realize that you cannot tell one pain from the other.

History is not a fixed point in time. It’s never really “settled”. It is a story that never finishes.

You’re Welcome, Senator

So rather than, the “black women save America again” narrative, how about “black women again voted in their own best interests, like everyone else does? ”

And don’t forget that black people are often left with the choice of voting for the candidate that will do them the least amount of harm.

While generally being ignored at best.

And at worst, scapegoated.

This has nothing to do with “love of country.” Love America, hate it, or likely, feel generally ambivalent about it, for black residents, voting is about self preservation.

Beyond his conviction of the Birmingham bombers – which was significant (but also his job) – I know little about Doug Jones. I supported his candidacy because he was not Roy Moore.

I have it on good authority that, among white progressives, Jones is considered the real deal, the diametric opposite of Moore. I hope that Jones works to bring black constituents around to the same enthusiastic view.

I hope that Jones truly understands that there is rarely any enthusiasm behind a black person’s ballot. But there is usually much at risk. Little promise and much to lose. ‎And usually, just the act of voting comes with difficulty, in the face of interference and even intimidation.

Black voters don’t get much from our votes, generally. Yet we keep showing up.

It’s past time we received something for it.