Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Melania Moment

Melania Trump at the RNC: Read the Full Transcript of Her Speech Side-by-Side with Michelle Obama's| 2016 Presidential Elections, Politics, Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Michelle Obama
photo courtesy of

True confession: I enjoyed the Melania/Michelle memes. I laughed out loud and shared a few on Facebook. But I also know that plagiarism is really no laughing matter. An accusation of plagiarism has serious consequences.  It can result in expulsion if the accused is in school and termination if employed. I know because it happened to me.

It was my final year of undergrad. I was a journalism major finishing my B.A. I had been awarded a scholarship in exchange for working on the school newspaper. I enjoyed finding and writing stories. I liked editing and laying out the paper.  Life was good until I made a huge mistake.

It was about 2:00 am and the newspaper had a hole in it, and we didn't have a story to fill it. Dead tired, we ready to call it a night, but there are no blank pages in a news paper. We couldn’t come up with any ideas to fill it. Then I remembered that I done this paper for my science writing class on being left handed. I got it and showed it to the editor. She gave me the thumbs up. We put it in the blank space and it was a perfect fit. There was a God! We put the paper to bed and went home.

A few days later, I was in the newspaper office, when a call came in for me to report to the head of the journalism department’s office. The head of the department was also my science writing teacher. The girl who answered the phone said he sounded upset. I headed to his office clueless as to what he might be mad about. When I arrived to his office, he was five shades darker than the pink shirt he was wearing. Butterflies fluttered around in my stomach. 

“Sit down, Stephanie.” His tone frightened me. What had I done? He had a copy of the school newspaper. My story was on the back page. It was highlighted in various places. I still didn’t know what was going on. “You plagiarized this story.” How could he say I plagiarized the story? What I had used from the Reader’s Digest article was in quotes and I had mentioned in the story where the quote came from. That’s what I had been trained to do: use direct quotes and attribute the source.

I tried to explain this to my professor.  But he told me two things: one that I had quoted too much from the Reader’s Digest article and that I had stolen the writer’s idea. In the original story, the writer had compared being left handed to Alice in Wonderland and I also used that in my story explaining what it felt like to be left handed. I didn’t know that I couldn’t do that. I really didn’t know that I had done anything wrong. I mean who volunteers to put their head on the chopping block? I t was my idea to run the story!

A student had read the article in Reader’s Digest and also read my article. Seeing the similarities, he went to see the head of the journalism department. My professor explained that I would have to go before an expulsion hearing. The editor of the newspaper said regardless of the outcome of the hearing, she would vote against me keeping my scholarship. She seemed to take as a personal assault on her. I tried talking to her, but to no avail. (But that’s another story.)

In the end, I lost my scholarship, but I was able to stay in school and finish my degree. The professor testified that he did not think the plagiarism was intentional. I was put on probation. I went on to graduate, but I was scarred by the incident. For a long time, I wouldn’t write. The fear of plagiarism had paralyzed my pen. I eventually began writing again. 

Plagiarism is not something to be taken lightly. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like Melania fully understands the ramifications of her actions. But the Trump camp should have known better. They goofed big time, and what should have been a shining moment for Melania has turned into a big gaffe for her, her husband and the Republican National Convention. 

I feel bad for Melania. I can imagine how she feels. My incident in college was one of the most humiliating and hurtful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. But mine did not play out on a national stage and on TV with millions of people watching. The fallout has been relentless. But this too shall pass; it did for me. I learned some valuable lessons from my experience as will Melania from hers.                                               

Monday, July 4, 2016

Jesse Williams: The Pain of the Light Skinned Black Man

photo from LA Times

I waited for it; I knew the backlash against actor and activist Jesse Williams would be hard and fast. I watched his speech, and like many I applauded his bravery. He did what many of us are afraid to do: bite the hand that feeds us.

When he was given the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award, he seized the moment to speak out against the injustices and inequities that African Americans face in America. It was a great speech.  What difference does it make that he didn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said? As long as the problems exist, the message bears repeating again and again.

I’m not surprised at the folks on Fox who criticized Williams. I am inclined to agree with Jane Elliott that racism is a mental illness. Tomi Lahren’s rant and subsequent response to the Black Twitter beating she took, was nothing more than her making a name for herself—again!--on the back of Black pain. There are some people who simply cannot help themselves. She is one of one of them as is her partner in crime Stacy Dash. Dash has sold her soul to the devil to stay relevant. And she had the audacity to call Williams a plantation Negro! She too, is a non issue.

But what burns my grits is that some of these so-called conscious people who are doing the most complaining just woke up. We know that light skinned people have been favored, and some of us still long for what they have. How many times have we talked about good hair, being mixed or having Indian in our family? How many of us think pretty eyes are anything other than dark brown?  Black folks quick to claim everything but African, but now we mad?

We speak of skin color bias as something that happened in the past when enslaved Africans worked in the field and in the house. Even today we continue to use this as a marker to divide us as evidenced by some of the posts that I read following the speech. The first two posts I read in opposition to Williams both mentioned his appearance: . . .you got this grey eyed Man say a couple of words and all of a sudden He’s the “New Face”???” a dark skinned woman wrote on Facebook. I look at the Jesse Williams speech for what it is, entertainment. . . I try not to take it seriously, but some of y’all be pushing a pretty bitch to do just that. Ugh, okay. This was the opening of a long post by a non pretty, average looking Black man. Am I saying that Willams is above being criticized? Not at all, but I do take issue with those who attempt to discredit what he said based on how he looks and who his mother is.

The notion that his bi racial background and European-like appearance disqualifies him from speaking for the masses is rooted in colorism and sexism--something that we are not willing to talk about. But looking at the role of complexion and how it relates to our definition of Blackness will explain some of the discontent and/or ambivalence with Williams’ comments.

It is well documented that lighter skinned Blacks do benefit from a culture that is steeped in a Eurocentric esthetic. Those of mixed-race backgrounds or lighter coloring have had advantages since the days of slavery, but it has not come without a price. Many of our leaders and firsts have been fair in complexion carrying the burden of race and color. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm shared his conflicted feelings about his complexion—thinking it was a status symbol, but feeling his mother’s pain of being a child of rape.  

Malcolm’s father, though dark skinned, was not immune to the effects of colorism. “Father was belligerent toward all the children except me. . .I actually believe that as anti white as my father was, he was subconsciously so afflicted with the white man's brainwashing of Negroes that he inclined to favor the light ones and I was his lightest child." (excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X).

I have had numerous conversations with people whose preference in a partner is in part based on their complexion. To deny that color does not play a role in our interactions with another is to deny a part of our reality.

The pendulum of colorism swings both ways. Colorism is the discrimination of others within a race based on skin tone, hair texture and facial features, so those questioning someone’s blackness based on the lightness of their skin, need to come into the light. Wake up.
We have a racist and sexist perception of what a “real” Black man is, and a light-skinned Black man ain’t a man at all, let some of us tell it.  We live in a society that doesn’t even acknowledge Black men as men. We refer to them as boys and/or males. And then when we want a Black man to “man up”, we want him to be the stereotypical Big Scary Black (dark) Man.
Light skinned men might be pretty, but we don’t think they’re manly.

This continued stereotyping based on lightness or darkness of skin and facial features hurts everybody. The pain of dark skinned people is real. But we have to stop measuring pain. At some point, pain is pain. Now we need to start the healing process.  From the lightest to the darkest we’re all Black. It’s time to be united, not divided in overcoming the challenges facing us.