Month: December 2014

There’s Something Happenin Here

Marcus Garvey

The United States of America was founded on racism  and does not practice the values that it preaches. Writers are writing that. Racism infects all of us. Preachers are preaching and confessing that. Bearing witness.

The city of Chicago spent $20 million defending John Burge and his cohort; Burge is the police officer responsible for the torture of over 100 African-Americans between the years of 1972 and 1991. That’s nineteen years. Twenty-three years later, the United Nations Committee Against Torture has “called on the U.S. Government to provide redress to the Burge torture survivors”. The Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Torture Survivors is gaining the support of more alderpeople today as a result of on-the-ground and social media action publicizing this atrocity. This is one example of a shift in consciousness and intent that is occurring throughout the nation, being led by grassroots organizations. This movement, like the Occupy movement before it, is an incarnation of direct democracy. While direct democracy tactics may have limits on the national stage, we are witnessing a groundswell of activity that intends to challenge those limits.

Speaking of her time with the Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur has said: “Criticism and self-criticism were not encouraged.” Let me note that she left the party for this reason; however, I bring out the quote to apply it to mainstream America, not the Black Panthers. In America, despite our rhetoric of freedom of speech, individualism, and justice, criticism and self-criticism are not cultural values. This needs to change.

In the climate of state-sanctioned torture, the United States government has branded Assata Shakur a terrorist. And in the face of that, black youth are proudly wearing hoodies proclaiming ASSATA TAUGHT ME. There will be various interpretations of this choice of clothing. It appears to me an act of courage against overwhelming forces. Inside a nation where Assata Shakur has noted, “It was obvious I didn’t have one chance in a million of receiving any kind of justice” due to the color of her skin and the history of terror directed at people with that color of skin, and due to the biases of the legal system; in a nation which was founded and endures on white supremacy, these young activists are standing up, proclaiming themselves ready to “get free”, and not backing down. America owes them an immense debt for that.

But we don’t need to be running up any more moral debts in America. We are beyond morally bankrupt, and it is beyond time for those of us with white privilege and moral conscience to act as well. As Deray McKesson has stated, “Everybody has a role to play in the fight for social justice.”

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That Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense at All: American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy are Incompatible with Justice

For anyone who still believes that police departments are not infected by racism, this on-the-ground account of the divergent experiences of two men–one white, one black–over the weekend at a protest in New York City may be helpful in getting a clear view. For anyone unfamiliar with excessive force and police corruption, watching this six-minute news clip about the beating of a suspected Latino drug dealer and the undocumented police action against the citizen that filmed the encounter should be informative. Please do note that the news clip is violent and includes police violence against a pregnant woman; those who may be disturbed by the video are advised to read the story instead. And for elucidation of the problems that the African American community has faced and continues to face from the non-African American community, I recommend this video of Angela Davis (prison interview footage starts at about 1:00 in).

Because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life, and walk out on the street every day, seeing white policemen surrounding you… …when you live under a situation like that constantly… um, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Those are the words of Angela Davis from over forty years ago. Yet, despite any advances that may be cited regarding civil and human rights in this country, they apply to our contemporary situation. Let me be clear: none of this is to condone violence. Violence exists. The state is violent. America is violent. Our society has always been violent. That we have been able to overcome the prejudice that we have, that we have been able to make any social progress at all through non-violent means situated in a historical and systemic matrix of violence attests to the power of non-violence.

Yet we have Dick Cheney telling media, “I’d do it again in a minute,” in regards to torture, which has once again been brought into the media spotlight with the release of a redacted version of the Senate’s 6,000 page torture report. This is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, the notion that, because we are America, we do not have to play by the rules. There is no room for justice in that doctrine. There is no room for dissent, which makes it an extremely poor doctrine for a nation founded on dissent and revolution. It boils down to the simple words of George W. Bush, “Either you are with us… or you are with the enemy.”

As calls for police accountability continue across the nation in the form of protests and non-violent #ShutItDown actions, I notice that mainstream white culture remains silent. I stopped paying attention to mainstream media a long time ago, so I’m unable to say definitively whether mainstream media continues with business as usual, though I have my impressions. There is a large segment of white America that simply doesn’t get it; “it” being the entrenched, historic, systemic violence against people of color, especially black people.

What will it take for America to become the just and free nation that it aggressively advertises itself to be? I humbly suggest less posturing, less defensiveness, less violence, the cultivation of empathy and the ability to listen, the demotion of individualism as a cultural value. More to the point: less American exceptionalism, less white supremacy.

An Open Letter of Love to Black Students

I love this. I learned from it. I’m saddened by it. I’m strengthened by it.

Black Space

IMG_5465 Black students and professors, Beaumont Tower, Michigan State University, December 6, 2014. photo by Darryl Quinton Evans

We are Black professors.

We are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, and mothers.

We’re writing to tell you we see you and hear you.

We know the stories of dolls hanging by nooses, nigger written on dry erase boards and walls, stories of nigger said casually at parties by White students too drunk to know their own names but who know their place well enough to know nothing will happen if they call you out your name, stories of nigger said stone sober, stories of them calling you nigger using every other word except what they really mean to call you, stories of you having to explain your experience in classrooms—your language, your dress, your hair, your music, your skin—yourself, of you having to fight for all…

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Have Some Compassion

I am filled with pride and hope for this country as I watch the protests led by young African-Americans in New York City, San Francisco, and elsewhere. The moral courage displayed is astounding; to stand so visibly against the society that has oppressed your people for centuries takes great courage and great certainty, a conviction that most white Americans cannot muster. Many white Americans seem not even to be aware of the dehumanization inherent in being black in America–the daily marginalization, the micro-aggressions that pile up, the fear for safety and the safety of loved ones that comes with being #AliveWhileBlack in America. How acute this fear and desperation must be in the wake of the non-indictment of Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.

It would have been very easy to get an indictment in both cases. The grand jury system is suspect; why not skip the indictment process and send cases straight to trial? Cost? What is the cost of one human life? What is the cost of thousands? What is the cost of an ethnic race of people? America needs to reckon with that. America needs to stop treating black lives as disposable lives.

Americans need to work together to advance the American project. That is what democracy is about. That we even have a juxtaposition of Christmas-tree privilege and people marching for the lives of innocents should give us more than a brief pause; it should cause serious national soul-searching. Far too many consider it a disruption of business as usual.

Quotation-William-Faulkner-past-Meetville-Quotes-170152

Not to say that we are not searching in recent days. We are, and the ones searching most of all are black, especially black youth. And they are acting. And I love them so much for it.

“This is not just a black problem. This is your problem!” –Amber Rose, Tufts University Organizer

But white people in America need to do more. White people in America need to stop being complacent and become accountable to their history, which, by the way, is very fucking violent. No more excuses about, “that was all a long time ago.” No more pointing to Affirmative Action and talking about how whites are getting passed over for jobs or college (and certainly don’t reference The Bell Curve when you make your specious argument). People are being murdered and the murderers are not being held accountable. Empathize with your fellow Americans. Have some compassion.

Violence and repression, subjugation of entire communities of color, is happening now and will continue to happen. What are we going to do about it? What does it say about us, white people, that we won’t — apparently collectively cannot — honestly confront our history?

Black and brown and other non-white-looking people know about racial profiling and the miscarriage of justice first hand. Too many white people remain ignorant, often willfully so. I say this as a white person, from my experiences with other white people, my friends and family. That I have to go out of my way to learn about Operation Pipeline (read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, please) and find incredible statistics like “98.2 percent of the stops in New York City yielded no illegal weapon or drugs” is indicative of my white privilege. Those Americans who get stopped for Driving While Black or Brown don’t need to hunt statistics and read books; they experience the reality that I, in my middle class, white life, am removed from.

This must stop. Persecution and repression must stop. Everyone should feel safe. Everyone should feel free. And when people are murdered, the murderers most certainly need to be held accountable.

Fellow White People, Let’s Acknowledge America’s Endemic Racism

The below infographic is making the rounds on social media and, on December 2nd, made its appearance in the homes and public spaces of Americans.

O'Reilly Factor Infographic

Leave aside for the moment that it aired on the O’Reilly Factor and, without challenging the veracity of such statistics, let’s stop and think a minute, contextually, about what is wrong with this picture. Context is important.

Let’s back up and get a wider view. Isabel Wilkerson can help us get oriented; in August, she wrote in the Guardian, “the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.” She’s referring to the extra-judicial killings of black people–I almost wrote men, but I’m not at all certain that lynching was gender exclusive–by mobs of white people in the Jim Crow era. Wilkerson’s article offers insight that should make any intelligent American feel shame that the Fox infographic exists. That it was aired on network TV and embraced by many white Americans should be stunning; unfortunately it is not. Because this is simply the way America operates.

So let’s back up further and acknowledge that America was built by slave labor. Without slavery, we would have had no industrial revolution. Think on that. Let’s acknowledge that the black people who built the country, both physically and economically, were treated as property. Let’s acknowledge that we’ve never addressed slavery in a meaningful way as a country, that the descendents of those slaves have never been even economically compensated for their ancestor’s labors. Let’s acknowledge that by the time slavery was formally abolished, the racist structure was solidly in place, and that the brief period of Reconstruction did not correct the structural inequities, nor did the 20th century’s Civil Rights Era.

Let’s acknowledge that all Americans have a lot of work to do before we arrive at a just society.

Still Separate, Still Not Equal

I spend almost all my waking hours around my young sons. What happened to Tamir Rice will never happen to them, because they are white. White children simply do not get shot by police for having toy guns.

When I was a teenager and young adult, I walked in public spaces, drunk or high, sometimes a mix of the two. When I was in college, I routinely possessed drugs. I did not get arrested and sentenced to prison, as black men routinely are. During a particularly bad chapter of my youth, I caused a station wagon full of my friends to be pulled over by a police officer when I shouted “Officer Bacon”. The officer intimidated and berated me. He did not arrest me. He did not touch me. He did not even ask me to get out of the car. He did not taze me. I am still alive.

The deaths that black people routinely die are not the deaths that white people routinely die. And this shit has been going on FOR CENTURIES, since the first African captives were sold in Jamestown in 1619. Deep Southern slave culture arrived from Barbados in 1670. The justice that black people receive is both a lesser and harsher justice than that which white people receive. This racism is central to our economic system. Slavery built America.

I do not understand how so many of my fellow melanin-deficient brothers and sisters fail to understand this. This is our nation’s history. Wake up. Read. Have some empathy. History informs the present.

The only explanation for not understanding is willful blindness.