I recently read this July 2020 article written by David Waldstein about whether racial slur words should be officially banned from Scrabble tournament play, and while some black Scrabble players want the ban, others do not. (There are supposedly 225 offensive terms on the chopping block.)

Proponents (those in favor) of the ban say words matter. Opponents disagree, one of which being Noel Livermore who says that he refuses to lose a game for not using a slur. If a word exists that will win him the game, he’ll use it. I surmise that he’s more of a “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” kind of guy, which leads me to think he’s drinking his own Kool-Aid.

I don’t believe there’s any half-reasonable person who sincerely believes words don’t matter. In fact, Rudy Kipling once said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

If words didn’t matter, why then are people bedazzled by books, poets and playwrights? Why then do people spend hours and hours playing Scrabble? Furthermore, sociology and psychology have long established that the negative impacts of verbal abuse are far more damaging and last much longer than physical abuse.

A Scrabble player myself, I believe it’s obvious why Livermore wants to leave the slur words. I’ve played many guys like him. Unfortunately, they’re willing to win at all costs and by all means. They’re more interested in the accolades of winning than the impact words have on others. They’re egocentric and lack “Wintegrity” (i.e., grossly lacking in game-winning integrity).

When I play guys, sometimes there isn’t a dictionary handy to challenge one another’s words. So I tell them I’ll do my best to inform them on the correct and incorrect words. They look at me sideways and say why should I believe you? I tell them that I’m fallible, but also that I’d rather lose one game to them rather than raise doubts as to my winning reputation that took me years to build.

I literally caught guys cheating during games in just about every way imaginable. I never made a big deal out of it because I understand that the desire to win compels people to compromise their wintegrity. In fact, I see opponents’ cheating as a compliment to my stellar gameplay — I must be good if my opponent feels he or she has to cheat to win.

This issue is far from black and white. For example, John Chew, a nonblack chief executive of the National American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA), said he was told by black players that it wasn’t his fight. And John McWhorter, a black professor of linguistics at Columbia University, says the matter should be decided by Livermore and players like him.

But this issue CAN be decided by someone not black. Deciding this issue has more to do with rightness than blackness. McWhorter’s suggestion is patently erroneous because Livermore’s “blackness” doesn’t qualify him to speak for black people and how they feel. In addition, it’s clear that Livermore is an outlier, a one-off who speaks for himself and disregards the feelings and thoughts of the majority. Indeed, Livermore admitted that he once apologized to a woman for using a female slur but used it anyway to win.

I’m offended by McWhorter’s suggestion that Livermore (and black people like him), a self-centered player who is virtually devoid of wintegrity, should speak on behalf of black Scrabble players. Too often, we blindly assume that an expert’s mastery of one field constitutes his or her good judgment in another. It’s like assuming a psychologist makes excellent parenting decisions.

I’d rather have Chew decide the matter based on his internal rightness than Livermore decide it based on his external blackness. Although the matter makes considerations based on race and color, it doesn’t necessarily require the decision-maker or fact-trier to be a person of color. Judges and jurors — white, black, and otherwise — make just and equitable decisions regarding race and color all the time.

Chew needs to push back against the nonsensical deterrences of those who say it isn’t his fight. Undoubtedly, it’s his duty to ensure that NASPA respects the race and ethnicity of all Scrabble players. If it does not, then he should act swiftly and with full license to stamp out those shameful, offensive embers of the past.

Scrabble is not only a game. It’s also a crucible for testing the integrity of those who engage in a war of words and do so according to the rules of “ethical” engagement. How you win “always” dictates whether you ultimately win in the game of life.


Roseanne Barred

Roseanne Barred

I won’t lie, I was shocked to see ABC cancel their highest-rated sitcom over its star Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet against former Barack Obama cabinet member Valerie Jarrett. In this day and age, where money seems to rule the day, it was both courageous and refreshing to see a Hollywood entity that is in business to make gazillions of dollars actually sacrifice the Almighty Dollar to uphold its principles.

Roseanne Barr is a staunch supporter of the current president — that’s her business. She has aligned herself with many of his views on race; again, that’s her prerogative. She has peddled in racism and bigotry for years before this costly tweet and has gotten away with it because, well, she made a lot of money for the networks she worked for. She then re-established her larger than life character with the reboot of her record-breaking sitcom this year and received a boost of support from the president the day after her relaunch success. Roseanne was untouchable — or so she thought.

In the current climate, some people now feel empowered to spew bigoted comments — once reserved for private conversations — publicly on social media. The impetus for this can be debated — but not with me. The point I’m making is although people, especially those in the highest positions, feel they can unleash their intolerance and hatred toward others without consequence, they may want to think again. Our society still has much work to do, obviously, but due to the evolution of race relations and treatment of people in general, there are now many in high positions that will not tolerate such primitive behavior. With this in mind, I don’t think it was a coincidence that this groundbreaking decision was made under the watch of Channing Dungey, the first African-American (woman) to head programming at a major broadcast network. The more diversity there is in powerful positions, the more we will see unambiguous messages sent that intolerance of people based on race, religion or other biasses will not be tolerated – even if it costs millions of dollars. This was not about political correctness, it was about values over money, right over wrong.

I made the case in a recent blog post that the NFL’s decision to ban its players from kneeling during the national anthem was not a First Amendment violation. The same is true in this case, but what we say and do in public can have severe consequences. If you post something on social media that your employer deems offensive and antithetical to the company’s values, he or she has every right to fire you without recourse. In the same way, Roseanne found out the hard way she is not above others who espouse such rhetoric on social media. The only difference is she had more to lose – a lot more! Many will inevitably complain that her First Amendment rights were violated — good luck with that argument. The fact of the matter is she exhibited abhorrent behavior that violated her company’s model of inclusion, equality, and values of diversity.

So, what does this mean for our culture going forward? Does it mean people will now carefully consider the consequences of their actions and refrain from publicly stating their personal views about others? Does it mean we will collectively demand a higher standard from those with large public platforms? I don’t know the answer to either of these, nor does it matter. The most important thing I took from this news is that no amount of celebrity or money justified such intolerable behavior. In the past this may have been acceptable; and had there been someone else heading ABC today, perhaps Roseanne would still be employed. But she crossed the line. She and those who choose to publicly espouse their offensive opinions about race and religion will likewise have to live with the consequences. I strongly applaud this decision as it was great for ABC, reflective of America, and well deserved for Roseanne.

Review of Black Privilege by Charlamagne Tha God

Review of Black Privilege by Charlamagne Tha God

What a name, right? When I intially read this title I thought to myself, “There’s no way there’s any truth to this statement!” Then I began to read and was quickly proven wrong.

If you’re familar with comedian, brash in-your-face radio personality Charlamagne, you already know he speaks authentically about what’s on his mind, telling his audience not what they want to hear but what he believes to be true — period! In this book he stays true to his personality and this principle.

This is easily one of the most honest memoirs I’ve ever read. Charlamagne is not afraid to reveal his many insecurities, criticisms from the media and other prominent people he’s faced, and the most difficult and darkest times he encountered on his way to stardom and national fame. Black Privilege is not what you might think it means: it is not asserting that black people have an inherent privilage in society that is not available for non-black people. Instead, he espouses the notion that regardless of who you are — black, gay, disabled, etc. — you must first own who you are and, in spite of it, become a “privileged” person by pressing forward to evolve into the best version of yourself you can be. He illustrates the importance of not allowing whatever your insecurities or shortcomings are to inhibit your potential and success is. He conveys this strong message through his own story of triumph.

Charlamagne delivers his usual comedy that is so unfiltered and politically incorrect that you’re almost afraid to laugh out loud. He reveals the names of his rivals and provides insights into some of his most infamous moments and feuds with celebrities in the music industry; he simply doesn’t care. He tells his audience how he feels about those confrontations and why he’s grateful for having faced them throughout his career. Although he uses this platform to air his frustrations with people he’s encountered along the way, he’s not merely gossiping to sell books — there’s an underlying principle, life lesson in them.

The entire time I read this book, I felt as though he was not the celebrity that has become a household name, but rather a guy I could have easily known and hung out with in my neighborhood growing up. He speaks honestly and candidly about the hardships he encountered growing up, encouraging his readers to not allow their difficult circumstances to suppress their self-confidence and ultimately the pursuit of their goals.

What is especially easy to relate to and grab ahold of in Charlamagne’s story are the nuggets of wisdom that he offers in the form of colorful language. Again, staying true to his comedic roots, he touts principles to live by with semi-humorous yet keenly astute phrases that he has relied on to overcome his circumstances and attain impressive success. If you’re one of those who appreciates quotes to live by, you certainly will not be disappointed with this book.

Black Privilege is inspirational, refreshingly honest, very easy and entertaining to read, and well written. It speaks to the kid who grew up in rural South Carolina and the kid who hailed from the metropolis of New York City. I found myself laughing out loud at times, while, surprisingly, feeling very sympathetic at other times. This book resonated with me because it could have been my story or anyone else’s I know. I firmly believe you will come away feeling the same after you’ve read it.

Change Starts With You

Change Starts With You

“How am I racist? I’m Black!”

Racism is something I never gave much thought to for most of my life, I just didn’t ascribe to the unconscious practice even before I began waking up. My opening quandary is an actual, honest-to-God exchange between an inmate and a corrections officer. The officer was white, the inmate black and they were joking each other; mostly. But it brought clarity to something I had been feeling for a long time during my incarceration but wasn’t able to identify. Racism, directed toward me!

When I heard this statement, it dawned on me, there are actually some people who truly don’t know what racism is. The American Heritage Dictionary defines racism as 1) the belief that a particular race is superior to others, and 2) Discrimination or prejudice based on race. I think it’s important to note that although the numbers are balancing out some, the prison population is predominantly black. Debating the reasons behind this fact is not my goal here. Reaching out to my brothers in blues (Fla D.O.C. has blue uniforms for inmates), is my goal, to let them know that I can feel racially discriminated against too. Not just by my fellow inmates who believe their conversations overheard are their right, but also by the direct use of some of the terms like white boy, cracker and other disparaging words intended to hurt and propel one race over another. And by the staff who have to be hyper vigilant in not committing any professional or political snafus by making any kind of a disparaging comment because of the ignorance that white people don’t or can’t feel discriminated against. How do we fix it?

I have to admit that after my last question, I felt a little overwhelmed at the enormity of the vastness of that query and had to put my pen down, not to return for a week. My pulling away from the subject felt like a real dilemma as to whether or not I could continue without an answer as how to make things “right” after so many years of static thinking from the two primary races that make up America. I should also mention that in 2015, the Spanish population outgrew the black population to claim the dubious title of the largest minority in the U.S. But the Spanish prison population is still third place.

Most people perceive prisons to be some sort of separate entity; a body of its own, distinct from the “it won’t happen to me” crowd. That mistake in thinking has left most people without any concrete ideas about prisons, prisoners, and race relations in prison. Prison is essentially a microcosm of what our society has become, not a representation of the people that make it up but for the ideals that have been propagated by an idealistic group of a few people with a vision that is actually limited in scope and context.

I have concluded that the problem with race relations is not a problem of a few, but of epic proportions plaguing the human race. Maybe I’m showing my own worldly ignorance, speaking out of place for cultures I’ve had minimal experience with, but when millions of people have to seek refuge from their homes because of internal strife, and then have to deal with not being able to find a safe place because of the ability of a few demagogues, spewing poisonous rhetoric to the masses, creates a false sense of separateness…and there’s nothing tenable about human suffering…nothing. Ah, but I digress on a global scale.

Let me scale back a bit. Ethnically speaking, it’s up to prisoners themselves to make their lives better; more equitable. How can they do this when there is absolutely no model for selfless thinking; inside or outside these fences.

Say your two year old hits another child like kids sometimes do. Do you then hit your child as punishment and hope they learn it’s not okay to hit? Some do! How counterproductive is that. It’s not a mixed message you’re sending. It’s Unequivocal…it’s okay to hurt people, period. We as thinking beings, cognizant and emotional, are in a state of shock about how we treat each other and the excuses we make to do it are as numerous and tenuous as the differences we think give us the right to be prejudicially racist. Greed, as opposed to need, is no different in prison than it is outside of prison. Somehow we have convinced entire generations that they need to be materially superior in order to have a sense of self. We spend endless resources and energy on teaching self esteem in a society full of ego maniacal, undereducated and dissociative people who have no understanding what it means to treat each other with equality. So maybe my dilemma is not so remote as it relates to prisoners, but there has to be a starting point for everything, even the beginning of the end of something as destructive as racism. No matter who it is against or who it’s from. How much more evident could it be that our method of dealing with what we consider our criminal element just doesn’t work. Is it our goal to perpetuate our children hitting each other? Because the message we’re sending by taking all human dignity from someone we perceive as having done harm to our fellow beings is doing just that.

A couple of modern prison systems who got this message loud and clear are two relatively unlikely to be thought of as progressive, Germany and Norway. The message they are sending to those who infringe on the dignity and security of their fellow citizens is a simple one. There is another way.

Through wonderful folks and organizations like AI, we too can stop the proverbial hitting of our kids. But it has to come from the top down. I’m not saying we need to rid ourselves of the justice system, but if we want it to reflect our goals of justice and equality so our citizens can treat each other without prejudice due to anyone’s race, the American prison system is a great place to start.