race

Here

I am here on the precipice
looking out on work to be done
diving finding ground on which to walk
my voice is not my own is owned
is owned and it is I who do the owning
of my voice now

I am here on my own
holding your hand
discarding my clothes
together we turn to see the land
see it and taste it and walk on
on the ground we are finding

I am here with you
with your skin close to mine
I am afraid of all we must see
but the bare grass on my feet
and the music we speak
reminds me of youth

I am here on my own
owning a maturity a fruit
hard earned I am here
with you with your skin
close to mine I am sorry
for loss for the loss of life

I am here I own sorrow
but that is not all you say
and I affirm that we will be
more after all you have endured
and I say I cannot fathom
how you thrive

I am here and I cannot
choose to ignore any longer
the losses they have inflicted
and I am not complicit
in the blind rush to the precipice
but I watch the future fall

I am there with my sons
the extension of my flesh my thought
my love I am there with my sons
who are there coming to terms
with what has been done
and the work to be done

I am here which is nowhere
and I search for a place to stand
I see that the ground must be made
must be made of words of love
that will nurture the future
to blossom over the fire of the past

I am here I am not burning
am I burning who am I here
the television is telling us it is not us
it is telling us so much by
what it refuses to say
by its inability to hear

I am here demanding with you
that the present be accountable to the past
that our language be precise and authentic
that our technology serve us
that we serve the earth
I demand respect each other

I am here overstanding history
I have come to terms
I have come to shape the future
with words of love that nurture
skin and flesh and ground that blossoms
and demands that we be more basic

we are here and we must thrive
or we will die as we have died
and kill as we have killed we must stop
we must learn to bear fruit
we must learn to tend roots
we must learn we are here

We Must Abolish White Supremacy

“Is it racist to be proud of your own heritage? Is it racist to want to keep your own heritage pure? Racist is when you hate somebody so much that you want to destroy them.” Those are the words of Roan Garcia-Quintana, a national board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Institution for Research & Education on Human Rights describes as a “white nationalist” organization. I think most people would agree that it’s not racist to be proud of your own heritage. When you begin advocating for keeping heritage pure, and your “heritage” has consistently oppressed people for centuries, you begin to seem like a racist.

If we take his questions and their implications at face value, Garcia-Quintana may not want to “destroy” other races, but the Ku Klux Klan explicitly does, and they are recruiting, as documented in “The Fourth Wave of the Ku Klux Klan,” a three-part video series published by Vice. Steven Howard, the Imperial Wizard of the North Mississippi White Knights, who appears also to be active in the National Socialist Movement, describes his White Knights as “Christian extremists” and draws parallels between his group and “Islamic extremists”. “They’re fighting a holy war and so are we,” Howard states in his interview with Vice. The series highlights the violent, explicitly white supremacist ideology of the Mississippi chapter as well as its tactic of recruiting veterans traumatized by war.

As “The Fourth Wave” suggests, writing off the KKK as a ridiculous relic of southern American culture may be foolhardy. On April 14, 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller was arrested in Kansas City after shooting at five and killing three people. Miller, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, was instrumental in two white supremacist organizations, the Carolina KKK and the White Patriot Party.

Miller’s history with the criminal justice system highlights questions of sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project has found “excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.” The New Jim Crow highlights the racially biased nature of the War on Drugs and how its policies, including mandatory minimum sentences of five or ten years for federal drug convictions, disproportionately target African-Americans. The point to be made here is that the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for first-time non-violent drug offenders contrasts starkly against the six-month sentence that Miller served for founding the White Patriot Party, his second hate group.

This illustrates more than misplaced priorities; seen in the larger context of the American criminal justice system, the disparity between Miller’s sentence and non-violent drug offenders illustrates white supremacy at work. Miller, an avowed white supremacist, later took a plea deal for “plotting to obtain stolen military weapons, and for planning robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees,” and served only three years of a five-year sentence. Contrast this to the systemic injustice of African-Americans being coerced into plea bargains, sometimes for crimes they did not commit. According to Human Rights Watch, “Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain,” and “97 percent of them decide to plead guilty,” since “drug defendants rarely prevail at trial.” Human Rights Watch cites the case of Sandra Avery, one among hundreds reviewed, who refused a plea bargain. At trial, she was found guilty of “possessing 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver” and sentenced to life without parole. Writing about Avery’s case, Jamie Fellner described it as a “misuse of power.” The European court of human rights has ruled that life without parole constitutes “inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Beyond the disparity of white supremacist terror contrasted to non-violent drug offenses, the recent plea deal taken by Marissa Alexander is worth examining. She rejected the offered plea bargain of three years’ imprisonment and maintained her right to defend her life against her estranged husband, invoking Florida’s stand-your-ground law — the same law that Florida police cited as the reason for not initially charging George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. In consequence of rejecting the plea bargain, State Prosecutor Angela Corey sought a 20 year sentence, “in part due to the state’s mandatory sentencing laws.” The jury deliberated for 12 minutes and convicted Alexander on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm. Alexander appealed that conviction and the guilty verdict was overturned. She was then presented with an amplification of the plea deal: she could accept three years of detention, including time served, plus an additional two years of probation while wearing a surveillance monitor, or face charges again, with a mandatory sentence this time of 60 years. As Michelle Alexander has documented in The New Jim Crow, coercive plea deals such as this are routinely used by prosecutors against non-violent drug offenders.

The case of Assata Shakur is also worth review in considering the role of white supremacy in the routine operation of the criminal justice system. Shakur was unsuccessfully prosecuted nine times before she was convicted of a murder charge and six assault charges in the state of New Jersey in 1977. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Angela Davis has written incisively about how the “racist state of America persists“, stating that police killings of African-Americans “represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes.” Like Davis, Assata Shakur was active in the 1970s in the struggle for black liberation. Like Davis, she was targeted by government agencies and imprisoned. Davis gained her release from prison through the legal system; Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.

Some may point to Shakur’s escape, which involved Black Liberation Army members holding prison guards hostage, and cite violence. Those who do are missing the larger context of the violence of America. There was a reason that Malcolm X called for freedom and justice “by any means necessary.” That reason was white supremacy.

Some may point out that in his speech, Malcolm X called for “black nationalism”, and make a fallacious argument that we must condemn black nationalism if we condemn white nationalism. But again, context; oppression is exercised by groups with power over groups without power. When a society’s history, legal system, and culture oppress a group, morality compels us to condemn the oppression; hence, white nationalism needs to be condemned. When an oppressed people struggle against oppression, morality compels us to support the struggle. Black nationalism, like other aspects of black unrest, can perhaps best be viewed as a response against oppression.

The current wave of black unrest bears striking similarities to the mass movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Many white people feel threatened by black unrest. They must realize that black unrest is a product of white supremacy, and the only way to calm black unrest is to abolish white supremacy. This is the task before America.

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.