To Assimilate or Infiltrate: The War for (and Against) Being Undeniably Black

When I was in the 9th grade I wrote a cartoon strip where the heroine’s name was Daphne. A white male classmate of mine who enjoyed reading my stories immediately complained that I’d give the girl a weird “black” name. I, politely, explained to him that the name was pronounced “Daff-nee” and that Daphne was a name from Greek mythology. Or, if that was too deep for him, a white female character from the cartoon “Scooby Doo.”

No matter, to my “it’s all black names” to me friend. It was a weird name with a weird spelling, so it was a weird “black name.”

Born in 1977, before I went to the “integrated” school, I went to a mostly black elementary school full of students with a wide variety of names. Some unique and some as plain as mine was. Keisha, or some form of Keisha was, by far, one of the more popular names. There were also girls with the names Precious, Tamara, Myla, Richelle, Tamika and much more creative spellings of my own name, Danielle. There were girls more conventionally named Michelle, Tara, Yolanda, Marla and Alicia. Nothing was wrong with any of these names. So I was mildly horrified with one young woman named Keisha, in 2013, chose to legally change her name to Kylie due to teasing by her white peers.

Keisha, by the time I was in high school in 1992, was such a common name one of my younger, white teachers actually considered naming her daughter it until her husband argued her down not to. No doubt, Keisha being a “black name” probably had something to do with that, but this was how “ordinary” Keisha had become. But apparently for some, “Keisha” is still controversial, something worth teasing over. But if “Keisha” can’t make it, what chance do names like LaTavia, Towanda or Quvenzhané have?

Sure, your resume may end up in the garbage. But you almost might end up singing with Beyonce and Toni Braxton respectively, while getting nominated for an Oscar at nine years old.

My parents named me Danielle the same reason why many other black parents chose to name their daughters Unique or Heaven – they were madly in love with and proud of their baby and wanted the world to know it by naming her something special. My mother told me she didn’t know anyone named Danielle growing up and found the French name “beautiful” and “unique.” She said I was born and she looked at me and I just “looked” like a Danielle. But at the same time, my parents didn’t want my name to potentially hinder any success that might come my way. They felt I’d stand out enough being a black girl in an integrated world. I didn’t need a more elaborate name to go with it. But obviously, many other black parents beg to differ. They’re proud and they wear that pride in their names. It used to be that former slaves wanting to shirk the yoke of their past life dumped the last name of their masters and called themselves “Freeman” or adopted the more aspirational, “presidential” last names of Jefferson, Washington and Jackson.

How was naming your daughter Alexus any different?

This is a continuing dilemma for African Americans, even today. Do you chose to be more conservative in how you name and raise your children in hopes they will advance further in society? That they will be less likely to encounter certain types of discrimination with an English first name, classical piano lessons and a household that forbids slang like the one I grew up in? Or do you simply swing for the fences and go, “I’m naming my kid Barack Hussein Obama Jr. and Condoleeza Rice anyway?”

There is this belief that to make it as a black person in a racist society that you must give up part of yourself in order to succeed, but I don’t think that is any longer true … if it ever was. At the end of the day, no matter your name, choice of speech patterns or dress, you are still black. You still must travel the same path of those before you and find your own way, your own identity. By denying parts of your heritage or running away from a name like “Keisha,” it doesn’t change your lineage or what you must tackle day-to-day.

Being Kylie, again, might keep your resume from being thrown in the trash, but only you being the true to who you are will get you to where you want to go.

Post-Obama: The Future of the Black Body Politic After the Age of Obama

When then Senator Barack Obama turned into President Barack Obama after his historic 2008 election it had all the pageantry, zeal and aura of a religious revelation for many. It was something a long time coming — a win after a war that has been on-going for decades, centuries. But for all the pomp and excitement, it was short-lived. Once the party was over, on came the political hangover.

People who thought American had overcome a legacy of racial animus and entered some “post-racial” America learned they’d simply entered a new phase. Partisan political posturing and obfuscation turned into irreversible gridlock and an eventual government shutdown. Seeing a black family living at the most famous address in the United States prompted racist outliers to create visions of the White House front lawn with rows of watermelons.

New paradigms ran into old prejudices. But the progress of African Americans has always been met with some form of regression as those most resistant to changed attempted to force blacks back into their status quo position of silent servitude.

For the most part, that effort – in the long-term – has been unsuccessful.

Barrier-breaking started early with hundreds of black men being freely elected to local and state offices in the South during Reconstruction. Unfortunately, their legislative rule was marred with racist rumors of power run amuck and gross money-mismanagement. These lies were used as justification to deny African Americans their natural-born right to vote in the form of punitive Jim Crow laws and voting loopholes. Terrorists, in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, drove these individuals from their office through a campaign of violence and unconstitutionality that was so detrimental it would be nearly a century before any African Americans would return to those offices, freely elected once again.

We are no longer in a place where the election of a black man or woman could cause a negative reaction so bad that it results in no black person being elected to office for another near 100 years. And while it’s unlikely that 2016 will bring us another black president, the legacy of President Obama’s historic 2008 election and 2012 election cannot be undone. We have progressed. Today’s acts of regression are in the familiar forms of restrictive voting laws and racist dog-whistle name-calling.

From Deval Patrick to Cory Booker to Kamala Harris, well-known, respected black political figures are regular Sunday talk show guests, points of conversation and part of “business as usual” in our political landscape. We’ve gone from the majority of our politicians coming from the realms of activism and the pulpit to Ivy Leaguers and scholars. They are not simply men and women fighting to subvert a system, they have become part of it. And in many ways, that’s the next and final stage.

As blacks representing higher and more numerous offices becomes normal and as restrictive voting laws are defeated, the debate will be more about the relationship between these political leaders – in positions where they must represent all Americans and not just Black Americans – and the African American base who elects them. With issues like social justice, education, unemployment and our punitive drug laws, there is still a need for activists and individuals fighting for black interests, but if a politician has to be part of the system, not an outsider attacking it, what we expect of our politicians versus our social activists may separate completely. Both the fighter and lawmaker are needed, but our days of expecting a black politician to be both are over.

She’s An Icon: Top 10 Black Women Who Are Making Black History Today

We all (hopefully) know the stellar history of our fore-mothers like Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hammer, Dorothy Height and Lena Horne. But there are black women making moves today who are likely to join those names in our history books and become legends in their own right.

Here are ten black women who are making “history” today.

Kamala Harris, Attorney General in the state of California

Kamala Harris, Attorney General in the state of California

Kamala Harris

Born in Oakland, Calif. of an Indian mother and a Jamaican American father, Kamala Harris made history in four years ago when she became the first person of both Asian-American and African-American decent to become attorney general in the state of California.

Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Michelle Obama

There’s no way you could make a list like this and not put the first ever African American First Lady of the United States on it. A transcendent figure already, Obama quickly rose to the status of role model, healthy living advocate and fashion icon after her husband, Barack Obama’s win for the presidency in 2008.

Susan Rice

Currently the National Security Advisor for the United States, Susan Rice was former the ambassador for the United Nations for the Obama Administration. While in her position at the U.N. she was the second-youngest person and the first African American to serve in the position.

Serena Williams

She’s won four Olympic gold medals, is the current no. 1 woman ranked in tennis and has a total of 17 Grand Slam titles. But at 32, Serena Williams shows no signs of stopping. She seems to be ascending at a point in her career when other tennis players have long since peaked. She didn’t just make it into history, she served up an “ace” and slammed into it.

Joan Morgan

A leading voice on black women, feminism and Hip Hop, Joan Morgan coined the term “Hip Hop Feminism” in her well-regarded 1999 book “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.” Today, Morgan continues to speak out on issues regarding popular culture and gender, misogyny and homophobia.


bell hooks, American author, feminist, and social activist

bell hooks

A “post-modern” feminist and social activist, author bell hooks is known for her provocative tomes and essays that work to subvert oppressive structures that thrive in the intersection of racism, sexism and capitalism. She’s published more than 30 books and is a sought after public speaker, tackling how race, gender and class affect our media, history, sexuality and art.

Beverly Bond, Founder of the nonprofit Black Girls Rock

Beverly Bond, Founder of the nonprofit Black Girls Rock

Beverly Bond

The founder of the nonprofit “Black Girls Rock,” Beverly Bond started out as a fashion model for New York agency Wilhelmina when she was 17, but later branched out into the world of music, becoming a DJ. Today, along with the organization she founded, Bond focuses on enriching the lives of young black women through mentoring, music, education and analysis of how black women are portrayed in the media.

Donna Edwards

Congresswoman Donna Edwards is a lawyer and community activist who became the first African American woman to represent the state of Maryland in 2008. Edwards has a background in advocating against domestic violence, including helping get the 1994 Violence Against Women Act passed. Since joining Congress she has worked to improve our environmental health and was arrested in 2009 while protesting against genocide in Darfur.

Cathy Hughes,  Founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc.

Cathy Hughes, Founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc.

Cathy Hughes

A media mogul, Cathy Hughes is the founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc., a multimedia company that owns online venture Interactive One. Radio One is one of the largest radio broadcast networks in the U.S. with 69 stations. Hughes was also behind the launch of cable TV network TVOne, which is currently broadcast in 57 million American households.

Shonda Rhimes, American screenwriter, director and producer

Shonda Rhimes, American screenwriter, director and producer

Shonda Rhimes

The reason why millions crave insane love triangles and high stakes drama every Thursday night, Shonda Rhimes is the thrice Emmy Award-nominated creator of the addictively popular ABC Network drama “Scandal.” The writer and show-runner is also the mind behind equally habit-inducing shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.” In a TV Land dominated by white male voices, Rhimes is the rare black woman who gets to have her say and get all the ratings too.

Voting Rights: Under Threat Then, Still Under Threat Now

Georgia resident Dorothy Cooper had been voting for more than 50 years with no problem, but in 2012 she almost couldn’t.

It was all due to the new voter ID law Georgia had passed under the guise of fighting voter fraud, but critics of the law said its real purpose was to make it harder for individuals like Cooper – the black, the poor and the elderly – to vote.

Although Cooper had her birth certificate, proof of her address, a voter registration card and other materials, she didn’t have a copy of her marriage license, so she was initially denied her state identification card. Cooper, now 98, eventually got her ID card and was able to vote in time for the 2012 presidential election, but her plight did not deter voter ID law proponents. In fact, restrictive voters laws have only spread further and wider since the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama. This is thanks in part to the Supreme Court striking down key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the summer of 2013.

The dismantling of these key portions caused a flood of restrictive laws to flow into states like Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin and others. In nearly every case, Republican legislators said it was about making sure voting fraud was minimal, when the reality was more about the GOP’s ability to count.

Demographics in Southern and Midwestern states were shifting.

Whether it’s from immigration and a greying of the white population like in Texas and Alabama or revitalized urban centers attracting more “liberal-minded” young professionals like in North Carolina and Virginia, the more conservative members of the Republican Party saw that the white vote was becoming less and less an indicator of whether or not an election would go one way or another.

Wrote Chris Cillizza and John Coen in the Washington Post after Obama’s re-election: “The white vote accounted for significantly less of the overall electorate in 2012 than it did in either 1984 or 1980. In fact, the white vote as a percentage of the overall electorate has declined in every election since 1992.”

Unfortunately, rather than use this as an opportunity to widen the GOP brand and make a play for the votes of black people, Latinos, young people and women, they doubled down on the aging white suburban voter.

It’s a pretty familiar response.

During Reconstruction, around 2,000 back men served in elective office, including two who served as senators and 15 others who were members of the House. In many former slave states, such as Mississippi, there were large black majorities and now these former slaves were voting. For the former slave owners, rather than find a way to work together to rebuild the war torn South, they chose the familiar path of oppression and regression. Restrictive voting laws were created, Jim Crow laws popped up all over the South enforcing racial segregation and violent domestic terrorist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan and others began a reign of lynchings and terror to keep freed men and women “in their place.”

While we’re not facing the Klan, we are facing a resurgence of laws that have the potential to undo decades of voting progress. It is important to make it clear to the GOP that if they aren’t willing to try to appeal to voters of color, they can’t expect voters of color to stand by idly while their vote is under attack. We’re here in this country and we have always been here. This pushback will not stop the ongoing march of progress.