Licensed to Deal – An American Parable

Theatre II – Hard Racial Truth

One of the largest and wealthiest drug dealers in a certain American city was finally arrested after years of peddling.  At the news of the dealer’s arrest, the good people of the city rejoiced.

“The authorities have done a great job,” said the people.  “That evil man has killed many of our sons and daughters with his evil drugs, and many more are tormented by addiction but not yet dead.  They are walking dead, thanks to that terrible man.  Now that he’s behind bars where he belongs, he can’t kill anymore.  Finally, we will have some peace.”

At the dealer’s trial there were dozens of witnesses for the prosecution, hours of damning surveillance video, even detailed records of every customer; what they bought, how much they bought and how much they paid.  Due to the overwhelming evidence, observers knew that a guilty verdict was a forgone conclusion, and they eagerly awaited both the verdict and the multiple life prison sentences which would surely follow.

Being wealthy, the drug dealer had retained a Dream Team of the very best attorneys in the land.  To everyone’s surprise, the defense never cross-examined a single prosecution witness, nor did it call a single witness of its own.  Day after day, as the evidence piled up against its client, the Dream Team sat calmly at the criminal’s side, seldom speaking a word.

When the time for final arguments arrived, the lead defense attorney stood before an outraged jury, faced with the seemingly impossible task of changing their minds.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he began, “why is this court wasting your valuable time and the taxpayers’-hard-earned money harassing my innocent client?  Granted, my client sold millions of dollars’ worth of drugs.  Granted, many have died from ingesting those drugs.  And granted, many more are enslaved in addiction and agony because of my client’s deliberate acts.  Yet my client, I tell you and intend to persuade you, is innocent!”

As the jury and gallery alike gasped in outrage, the brilliant attorney continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, my client is indeed a merchant of drugs.  As a matter of fact, he is a very successful merchant.  He owns two houses and several fine automobiles.  He has a personal wealth manager—not a mere broker, mind you, but a custom wealth manager—and his investment portfolio is impressive.

“Yes, my client is a drug dealer, but you must understand that he is not like other drug dealers.  He is special, and you all must understand just how special he is.”

At this, the mother of a young man who had died from a lethal cocktail of the dealer’s drugs stood up in the gallery, shook her fist at the lawyer and shrieked, “He’s a killer!  He’s a killer!  And you are a dirty liar.”  As the judge pounded his gavel and called for order, the woman’s husband gently restrained her and lowered her, ashen-faced, back into her seat.

The lawyer continued, “Yes, my client is special.  First and foremost, my client deals during regular business hours, not in the middle of the night like some common pusher.  He also deals out of a nice, clean office in the professional park, not on street corners or back alleys as some rancid duplex over on Curtis Avenue.  On top of that, he places a warning label on every bag of weed, every vial of crack, every bottle of pills, in fact every powder, potion and pill that he peddles!

And what do these labels say?  I’ll tell you what they say because I happen to have one in my hand right now.  They say, “Warning!”  Do you hear that?  They say, “Warning!”  Then, as if that’s not sufficient, they go on to say, “Don’t use too much of this stuff at one time.  Don’t mix this stuff with other stuff.  Don’t go to other drug dealers and buy different stuff unless you tell me first, because their stuff and my stuff might not go well together.  And finally, whatever you do, don’t get hooked.  If you do get hooked, just call me and tell me and I will stop selling you drugs.  Not only will I stop selling you drugs but I will give you some free advice!  I will advise you to use your own willpower to get unhooked, and then I will leave you alone and let you get unhooked all by yourself.” Continue reading

Ghetto Extract

Theatre II – Hard Racial Truth

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

In cooking, an extract is “a preparation containing the essential ingredient of a substance in concentrated form.”  For example, you may be familiar with vanilla extract, condensed milk and concentrated orange juice.  All are extracts because they contain the essential ingredient in concentrated form.

In most large American cities today we have Ghetto Extracts.  Ghetto Extracts contain the essential ghetto “ingredient”—poor people without hope—in a concentrated area.  We call these Ghetto Extracts “weekly motels.”

Weekly motels—Ghetto Extracts—pack hopelessness, poverty, addiction, insecurity, sadness, violence and (yes) laziness into an amazingly small and efficient space.  For many, Ghetto Extracts are the last stop before jail or a sleeping bag under the bridge.

If you’re a Christian who’s come under the spell of Cocoonianity—that is, the illusion that since there are no serious racial problems in your world there are no serious racial problems in the world—you do not have to go far to break out of your cocoon.  All you have to do is walk a lap or two around the grounds of a Ghetto Extract.

Seriously, do it!  Pick a nice day, lace up your sneakers and go stroll the grounds of one of the thousands of motels that once upon a time were Best Westerns or Holiday Inns and now are Ghetto Extracts.  If you don’t live in or near a large city, put “Ghetto Extract Tour” on your itinerary for your next visit to your favorite American metropolis.

Think of it as a pilgrimette—a miniature pilgrimage—a field trip for the purpose of racial sensitizing and enlightenment.

On your “tour,” perhaps you’ll see a child’s bicycle chained to a third-floor railing.  Maybe you’ll see a few men sitting at a picnic table in the courtyard, smoking cigarettes or weed and gazing at the green slime at the bottom of what was once a swimming pool.  Or a few patrol cars.  Certainly you’ll take in some interesting graffiti, and if your timing is just right you’ll see a room or two cordoned off with crime scene tape.  At the front desk you’ll see people handing over cash for another week’s rent and trading last week’s sheets and towels for this week’s sheets and towels.  At the Ghetto Extract, this weekly trading of towels and sheets is what is known as, “housekeeping.” Continue reading

Reaching Racial POW’s

Theatre II – Hard Racial Truth

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

In the War on Racial Dissonance there are already hundreds of thousands of men being held prisoner by the enemy, and they are almost all young, black men.  This is not to say that all young black men are racial POW’s, but rather that virtually all racial POW’s are young black men.  Take a look at this amazing nugget about a famous POW, then we’ll be in position to discuss the timely and amazing parallels between the crippled man at the pool and the discouraged young black man in America.

“Here (by the Bethesda Pool) a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.  One man who was there had been an invalid for 38 years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.  While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked (Jn. 5:1-8).”

The words of the man at the pool are the words of a spiritual prisoner of war.  They are the words of an imprisoned man who can no longer fight, the words of a man who is so far down that he will stay down until and unless someone comes to his rescue.  They are the words not only of the man at the pool but of uncountable young black men in America today.

When Jesus asks the crippled man, “Do you want to get well?” we expect the man’s answer to be an excited, “Yes!”  But that is not the man’s answer, is it?  Instead, the answer is a pitiful excuse:  “I have no one to help me.”

Does Jesus tell this crippled excuse-maker to pull himself up by his bootstraps?  No.  Does Jesus call this guy a quitter?  No.  Does Jesus tell the disabled man that his disability is his own fault?  No.  Does Jesus judge the man as having a victim mentality?  No.

Jesus recognizes a POW when he sees one, so he says to this particular man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  With few exceptions throughout the gospels, Jesus responds to reach rather than need.  But in this case he responds to need because the man cannot reach.  Jesus rescues the POW because rescue is the POW’s only way out.
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Strategic Sucking Up

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

To review, the Sucking up Nugget (1 Peter 5:6) reads as follows:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, and He will lift you up in due time.”

Harlem is understandably suspicious of the Sucking Up Nugget.  Harlem Reality is that the term, “Under God’s mighty hand,” has been forever preached to Harlem as, “Under Whitey’s thumb.”  Further, Harlem Reality is that the term, “in due time” has been forever preached to Harlem as “”when you get to heaven.”  Combining the two terms, Harlem Reality is that the preaching it has received on the subject of Strategic Sucking Up is, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the white man’s thumb, and you’ll get your deluxe apartment in the sky when you get to heaven.”  Naturally, Harlem is highly resistant to this message, just as it should be.

Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and crossed over from Christianity to Islam at about the same time that Malcolm’s Complaint was gaining popularity.  Ever since, young blacks have been abandoning the Christian faith.  That exodus has been largely due to a very reasonable objection to irresponsible preaching on the subject of Christian humility.

Black or white, we would all do well to get up to speed on what Jesus actually teaches about humility.  Since that subject is too big for this li’l ol’ book, let’s just blow the fog and confusion off The Sucking Up Nugget.

The racial reality of the Sucking Up Nugget is that because people are insecure and want comfort and security for themselves, we must scratch their insecurity itch in order to get what we want for ourselves.  The Sucking Up Nugget has powerful implications for the here and now, not just the hereafter.

Strategic Sucking Up—humility—is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.  Strategic Sucking Up is our ticket to that “Dee-lux apartment in the sky.”  Strategic sucking up is how we leverage others’ insecurities for our benefit and theirs.

Black or white, the friendly shuttle bus driver’s tip jar is always bulging with bills, while the surly driver’s tip jar always has three dimes and a lonely quarter rattling around at the bottom.  One driver understands that Strategic Sucking Up is everything, while the other driver either doesn’t understand or has foolishly chosen poverty over prosperity and victimhood over victory.

Black or white, the courteous and reliable burger joint cashier will soon be assistant manager.  Meanwhile, the cashier with a constant chip on her shoulder will soon be looking for yet another grunt job and lying yet again about her employment history.

Much of what many blacks perceive as a “racial thing,” then, is not a racial thing at all but a capitalism thing:  If you want to move up, you’ve got to suck up!

In business, I’ve learned the hard way that there are times—many times—when my opinion just doesn’t matter.  Even now, as a comfortable, white business owner who’s been practicing for over 30 years, I spend most of my time sucking up to clients of all races.  Why?  Because I want to be king of my castle, not theirs.  When I’m a guest in their castle, I’m as quiet as a mouse walking around in sweat socks.  I address them as “Ma’am” and “Sir” even though most of them are younger than me.  I work around their schedule, not mine.  They say, “Jump!” and I say, “How High?”  In business, like all successful business people, I have a healthy streak of Larry Tate in me.

In conducting business this way I am not “selling out” or selling my soul.  I am merely cooperating with the universal law, “There is a season for everything (Ecc. 3:1),” and I have resigned myself to the fact that the season for airing my opinions and oozing attitude is not when I am trying to close a deal.

Strategic Sucking Up is not something that only blacks are expected to do.  Let me offer just one example of a white man who, because of his stubborn refusal to suck up, bit off his nose to spite his face.

Recently, I had occasion to hire an attorney.  I called one I had worked with in the past and explained the details of the new case.  He told me he would be happy to take the case and that his fee, win or lose, would be $10,000, with $5,000 due up front and $5,000 due in 30 days.  I agreed to his terms.

About 10 minutes later I received an email from this lawyer in which he stated, “I will need the $5,000 retainer, in the form of a cashier’s check, in my office by noon Monday.”  At the time I received this email, it was Friday afternoon and I was over 1,000 miles away.  I was not due to return to Atlanta until Monday evening and couldn’t get the money to him until Tuesday, a day after his deadline.  Besides the difficulty of meeting his deadline, I was offended by his pushy attitude, especially because he is only half my age.  I replied to his email as follows:

“I cannot have a cashier’s check in your office by Monday noon but will drop off a company check sometime Tuesday.  It’s a waste of my time to stand in line at the bank for a cashier’s check.  My company check is just as good as a cashier’s check.”

The young lawyer instantly replied, “You have my terms.  Take it or leave it.”

Now, this lawyer is not some whiz kid.  He doesn’t have great online reviews.  His law degree is not from a prestigious school.  He is not a partner in a big, powerful firm.  He is just a feisty upstart who works out of a modest office and, as far as I can tell, could use more work.

Take it or leave it?  I left it.  Then I went and found a better lawyer for $7,000, won the case and saved myself $3,000.  Meanwhile, that young white lawyer, who could have earned $10,000 for doing next to nothing, ended up with diddly-squat.  Why?  Because he refused to SUCK UP!

That lawyer made me angry, didn’t he?  He hurt my itty-bitty feelings.  He tried to raise himself by lowering me.  So what did I do?  I voted with my checkbook, and I voted with total disregard for the color of that lawyer’s skin.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Scenarios like this play out millions of times every day in the American marketplace, and if you are not getting your piece of the pie, it is not because you are black.  Rather, it is because you have gathered around you a great number of role models who teach you stupid stuff.  It is because you refuse to suck up.

“Unbought and unbossed” may be a cool tattoo but it backfires big-time in job interviews.  Leading with the chip on your shoulder is a sure-fire way to get knocked down over and over.  Those who refuse to engage in Strategic Sucking Up will never move up; they’ll just keep getting knocked down until they are too punch-drunk to stand up and fight any more.

To drive this point home, I’ve penned a little parody to remind us of the importance of Strategic Sucking Up.  Try practicing this song’s principle in the marketplace and I guarantee you’ll break the chains of economic slavery!

“Suckin’ On Up”

(to the tune of The Jeffersons’ “Movin’ On Up”)

Well, I’m suckin’ on up

(suckin’ on up)

Time to dee-side

On a dee-lux apartment in the sky!

I’m suckin’ on up

(suckin’ on up)

Time to dee-cide

To get myself a piece o’ the pie!

Sass don’t work in the workplace,

A mean mug don’t pay the bills.

Took a whole lot o’ “yes, sirs,”

Just to get up that hill.

Set my course for the Big Leagues,

Save my turn at the bat,

‘Long as I live

It’s me an’ my smile

Ain’t nothin’ wrong widdat!

(Cuz) I’m suckin’ on up

(suckin’ on up)

Time to dee-cide,

On that jaw-droppin’ condo in the sky!

I’m suckin’ on up

(suckin’ on up)

Time to dee-cide,

To have myself a piece o’…the…

Pie – I – I – I!


Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace

Next:  An Urban Parable


The Day I Worked for Trump

(Note:  This week we take a break from “Harlem Meets Mayberry” to have a little fun with The Donald.  HMM will be back next Monday.)

 Months before Donald Trump showed any particular interest in the black vote, I had a feeling he would make blacks his #1 priority in the 2016 campaign.  Sho ‘nuff, in the past few weeks he’s gone and done just that.  And even though it looks like a risky move so far (he has the lowest black approval rating of any presidential finalist ever), it could turn out to be a stroke of genius—provided that under the blowhard Trump hood hums a sincere Trump engine.

Where did my feeling about The Donald’s strategy come from?  Maybe it was a lucky hunch.  Maybe it was because the math makes so much sense.  Maybe it was because, having just spent two years working on Harlem Meets Mayberry, my racial antennae are way up.  Who knows?  Who cares?

I care.  I care because if Trump decides to throw most of his eggs in the Black Vote Basket, we’ll have front row seats to the most fascinating political experiment—and one of the most fascinating social experiments—in American history.  I care because if he’s got the nerve to finish this experiment (and he is nothing if not nervy), he can do this country more good—even if he loses—than almost any candidate ever.

So while I’m not all that interested in most elections because I believe that most of our big problems are spiritual rather than political, I’m interested enough in this election to indulge in a bit of make-believe.  Specifically, I can’t resist pretending that, for just one day, I’ve been hired as a consultant to the Trump campaign on its Black Vote Strategy.  So here goes:

I arrive a Trump HQ at 6 a.m. and am greeted by one of Trump’s toadies.  He hands me a briefcase containing $1 million in cash, my pre-arranged fee for this day of racial consultation.  I withdraw $1,500 for a hotel room, a Broadway show, a nice meal and a plane ticket back to the ATL.  Then I hand the briefcase back to the toady along with a note containing instructions on how the rest of the money should be spent:

  • $200,000 to the First Tee.
  • $200,000 to the Tiger Woods Foundation on its 20th anniversary (Tiger? 20 years?    We’re all burning daylight).
  • $200,000 to a charity of Richard Sherman’s choice (Smart like Trump, outspoken like Trump, black unlike Trump).
  • $200,000 to Kanye West (since that miser, Mark Zuckerberg, wouldn’t help him out. LOL!).
  • $150,000 to Darryl Strawberry’s ministry (The man has big demons but a bigger heart. Gotta love him).
  • $48,500 to distribute a copy of “Harlem Meets Mayberry” to every A.M.E. church and every HBCU in the United States.

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Pedro and Paulo

difference-between-stepbrother-half-brother_a6390cfe897c2709(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Theatre II – Hard Racial Truth

Pedro was a handsome, cheerful boy in my son’s Cub Scout den.  His parents, Christiano and Ana, were from Brazil.  Pedro and his little brother Paulo had been born in the States.  At home the whole family spoke Portuguese.  Everywhere else they spoke English.  Both boys, ages seven and five when I met them, were perfectly comfortable with both languages, and they spoke each with no trace of a “second language” accent.

Maybe you’ve seen a similar phenomenon; the wonder of a child completely and comfortably bi-lingual, in command of his ancestral language because of where he comes from and in command of his environmental language because of where he is and where he’s going.

Similarly, you and I have a default racial reality, a “native” racial perspective, because of where we come from.  But there is another racial reality all around us, a reality that is not new but may be new to us, and we must choose whether or not to learn it and embrace it.  That reality is as old as Jesus, and it is the reality we must embrace in order to live well where we are and in order to go where we want to go.

To stubbornly cling to a flawed ancestral reality—Harlem Reality or Mayberry Reality—is to walk blindly and stupidly into the trap Paul warns us about in 2 Timothy 4:13: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears long to hear.”

The antidote to the poisonous racial message bombarding us today is the message of actual racial reality.  Actual racial reality is the “second racial language” we all must learn in addition to the Harlem or Mayberry reality we grew up with and with which we are comfortable.  It is the racial reality we must teach our children by frequent repetition.  It is the racial reality we as individuals must teach and it is the racial reality our “villages” must teach.

Actual racial reality–let’s just call it racial reality from now on—is built upon two simple truths.  The first is that the desire to hold other people down is almost never motivated by race.  It is motivated by insecurity and manifests itself in that color-blind trait which is common to all humanity; the self-absorbed desire for comfort and security.  Again, the desire to hold another person down is almost always motivated by insecurity, almost never by race.

The second fundamental truth of racial reality is that while the War on RD is winnable, a war against insecurity in others is not.  Since we cannot win, and thus would be foolish to fight, any war against others’ insecurities, we must learn to live at peace with those insecurities.

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