Monday, December 31, 2007

And The Beat Goes On

I was going to post this later this evening, just before I go out to dance the new year in around a bonfire, but I made the mistake of playing it again and got so worked up, I can't wait. So if you're already in the mood for a jam featuring B.B., Bo, Ray, James, Fats, Jerry Lee, and a host of others, here it is. It's even better the second time. And if you can stay in your seat through this one, you need new speakers!


Year's end. How can that be? I read a poem this morning that used the image of the hourglass to talk about how we watch the moments of our lives slip through the tiny hole that is time, into "the past," leaving an ever smaller supply of moments to expend.

As I get older, that decreasing supply becomes mesmorizing. It moves whether I move or not. It threatens to leave me staring fixated as I lose all opportunity to finish what I imagine is "my work." I only see the back of the tapestry and it is not a pretty sight, albeit colorful.

The end of a year always makes me melacholy now. Time speeds so ridiculously past me that I've long since stopped trying to grab it as it shoots by. There is so much to do, so much that's wrong. And I am so helplessly befuddled (yet) by those elements of existence that could have but didn't ultimately shatter my ability to function at all. I work so hard at trying to keep the edges from unraveling, too often taking myself FAR too seriously. But maybe this mark of the tormented soul is what opens a window on a deeper consciousness. Yes?

Am I tormented? I certainly used to be and sometimes still find myself in that space. But now, increasingly, my torment is for others rather than mySelf. It hurts me deeply how little I have been able to do to make a difference in the world, no matter how diligent I have tried to be, no matter what I do accomplish. I spend so much of the little time I have doing what amounts to pleasuring myself. Yet is not the joyous exhale, too, part of healing a world gone wrong?

You, dear members of the Blogosphere, whether you are readers or writers or both, have held me to the earth another year. And for that I am most positively grateful. Let us shake off the past and celebrate the breath that we are given. Let us trust the process to end up where it will. Let our voices rise like the scent of many flowers in the darkness that seems so deep, but can only be followed by the coming of the light. Come, Light. I pray you find us still prepared and ready to do our part.
The photo above was taken by my good friend Ed, a fellow struggler on this path we call life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Please Help Save New Orleans

Tomorrow, the City Council of New Orleans will vote on whether or not to allow HUD to begin demolishing 4500 units of affordable public housing. I moved to Louisiana to be a part of the re-building of New Orleans back into the beautiful, historical, multi-cultural and heavily diverse city that it is famous all over the world for being. We have enough White-bread gentrified playgrounds in the U.S. In the end, they are boring, at best. If the City Council backs the forces of corporate development and allows New Orleans to turn into just another same old thing, everybody will lose in the end. Many of the residents who want to return to these housing units--and have not been allowed to do so--were the low income workers on which New Orleans culture and tourist trade have been based. Shutting them out will change not only the face of New Orleans, but eventually, its finances, as well.

If you've ever been to New Orleans, then you know what I mean and you will want to act immediately to stop this process by signing the petition at Color of Change. If you've never been to New Orleans, but someday hope to see for yourself the magic that you've heard so much about, then you must act, as well, or lose your opportunity forever. The damage of Katrina and the collapsed levy didn't end two years ago. It is still occurring, one day at a time. Are your fingers in the dike?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Word To The Wise

In line with my recent theme of connecting the past to the present and, if we're not careful, to an foreboding and unavoidable future, I really must link to The Unapologetic Mexican's post on how we are haunted by the spectre of slavery in the United States. He features, besides his extraordinary and poetic description of our haunted land, a piece by Cynthia Boaz that appeared recently on Boaz writes:

"[T]he institutionalized ownership of one human being by another - is arguably the most disempowering system ever created by humans. It is intended to degrade and humiliate to the point that a person no longer feels agency over his own life. Like other systems of injustice, its effects can run so deep that when the institution is removed, the sense of indignity continues for members of the formerly repressed group until there is an open and comprehensive addressing of past injustices and the pain caused by the systematic abuse. In the last 25 years, in countries recovering from severe oppression, "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions" have been set up to accomplish these tasks. Peru, South Africa, Morocco and East Timor are just a few of the places where TRCs have helped their societies heal and have facilitated reform by acknowledging past wrongs and ensuring that the horrors of history will not be repeated.

"Because there has been no significant attempt to deal with the history of slavery in this country, it is as though our collective mind has been asked to exist in a state of cognitive dissonance. There are no national monuments in the US to former slaves, although they exist for almost every other group who has sacrificed for the "vital interests" of the nation. As a country, we prefer to pretend that slavery never happened, or that it existed too long ago to be relevant to our lives today. This historical amnesia comes easier to some than to others, and it may be that those who have the hardest time reconciling some sense of injustice with the legal rights afforded to every American are young black men. They know that they should feel powerful - after all, they are young and living in the "world's greatest democracy." But for many there must also be (what I imagine as) a constant, gnawing sense of indignity whose source may be vague, and which is easily manifested in rage, aggression, and other substitutes for true empowerment. To a young, misguided and righteously indignant person, a gun equals power."

Ignore this truth, if you want to, but over at The Free Slave earlier today, I ran across a quote by Lao-Tzu: “To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.” And to pretend you're asleep when you're not asleep is not only stupid, but can be very, very dangerous.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jena One Plus Five -- And So It Goes

I heard it from another blogger on the telephone a couple of nights ago. Word is that Mychal Bell beat up his girlfriend, resulting in the prior charges he had on his record. Even if this is true, I commented that it's typical of the racist criminal "justice" system in this country that a Black man beating up a Black woman wouldn't be treated as strongly as it probably should be. For the longest time, a European-American woman who crossed the color line and was beaten up by her boyfriend was as good as told that that's what she got. And in his best-selling memoir, Makes Me Wanna Holler, Nathan McCall points out the graphic sentencing differences between how Black-on-Black crime (even murder) was dealt with as compared to, say, Black-on-White crimes.

But for those who've been around the just-us system for a while, one of the slickest tricks commonly used (besides the plea bargain, which has turned into an art form) is the practice -- particularly against juveniles -- of "saving" charges for later. In other words, it's as if the prosecutors say, "We don't really care about this situation right now because, you know, this is just the way they are, so we'll just put this one up here on the shelf in case we need it for leverage later." Leverage. Such as in the case of the Jena Six, which may after all have really only been the Jena Five in the first place since there's reason to believe that one of the young men charged didn't even arrive on the scene until the deed was already done.

So the prosecution:
  • slam dunks Mychal Bell,

  • turns him from a victim into a weapon against not only himself, but against his team mates,

  • destroys six young lives while protecting the White racist instigator who most certainly was supportive of the noose-hangers, if not a noose-hanger himself,

  • circumvents and then neutralizes community support for the Jena Six,

  • and teaches those who don't know better that The Man always has the power, just as he threatened the Jena Six from the beginning.
Carmen D. at All About Race tipped me to all of this. Check it out. And tuck this away for future reference: Carmen's right. We dropped the ball, high-fivin' each other for the march when we needed to be vigilent. This bob-and-weave strategy has been around longer than Br'er Rabbit. Better recognize. And don't be too quick to villainize Bell. If what he did wasn't worth locking him up over when it first came up, why is it worth locking him up over now? Given just the right circumstances, it could be any of us. Even the ones that look like me. If you don't think so, hide and watch what happens now that the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 has passed. The key word in that title is "Prevention" and just how do you suppose the Powers-That-Be intend to accomplish that...hmmm?

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Song For Humans And Their Rights

When I get tired, my head works differently. More negative. Depressed. Sinking into some dark torpor. Swirling into a space I normally try to avoid.

Most of the time, however, when someone asks me how I am, I reply "Peachy!" And they laugh.

On Sunday, a cashier asked me how I was, and I quietly replied, out of nowhere, distracted and not even looking up, "Happy." We were both suprised.

"Happy?!" she exclaimed, startled. "As long as I've worked here, I don't believe I've ever heard a customer answer that way. Happy...humph."

But honestly, that's where I try to live. I mean, with people all over the world starving and being bombed by weapons of mass destruction and eating coca leaves to stave off the pangs of an empty stomach and snorting glue to kill the hopelessness; with people all over the world dying of infected mosquito bites and the result of drinking water that should not -- but must -- be drunk; with people all over the world being forced to make their bodies a sexual receptacle either because they do not have the power to resist or will not eat otherwise; with people -- even children -- all over the world fighting wars they never started and cannot win, despairing of ever again being free of the nightmares that have been deposited in their minds; how could I dare whine about my condition?

I eat, have health insurance, know my job (paying a living wage) will last at least until May. No one is subject to bomb my town tonight. I talked to my mother today on my daytime minutes and wasn't even worried about it. I have -- thanks to a lot of work and a lot of help -- bested most of the demons that were visited on me as a child. I do work I love. I no longer resent being born a woman. And overall, I do expect that, for the time being at least, my human rights are more or less protected. Looking like I look, living in the nation in which I live, having enough money to live on and having the support of others who care about me and know I dance well over the line sometimes, having been taught the skills of articulation and argumentation, having been granted the grace to finally stop apologizing for my existence, I am -- most of the time -- when I'm not tired, peachy.

But I am incredibly conscious of those who are not being allowed to exercise their basic human rights. The right to dignity, safety, privacy, and health, for example; the right to a decent education and meaningful work for a living wage; the right to express their views without being threatened, to worship the way they choose without harassment, and to participate in governing themselves without intervention; the right not to be locked up unjustly or tortured under any circumstances; and possibly above all, the right to equal treatment no matter what.

Last Friday, while starting my day in prayer and meditation, I suddenly began to cry. I couldn't stop the tears. I beseeched the Higher Power I call God to please save us from ourselves, to protect those who are powerless, to comfort those who are suffering for any reason, and to move on those who think they are the only ones who matter. I was a bit unnerved. The episode (as it were) came unexpectedly. And while it wasn't by a long shot the first time I've despaired of our human condition, its effect -- or the effect of what caused it -- has lingered.

And now here it is Human Rights Day. And I've been thinking about the death of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was killed by the police on December 4th, 1969, for such heinous crimes as coming up with the first school breakfast program.
And I've been thinking about Joseph Conrad, whose book, Heart of Darkness, recounted the story of what Belgian King Leopold II did in the Congo between 1880 and 1920, killing, it is said, as much as half the population of the country in what Conrad called "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of the human conscience." Conrad spent four months piloting a steamboat up the Congo River until he couldn't stand it any more, but it was ten years later before he could finally write down what he had seen, including the stuffed heads of Africans jammed onto stakes around a Belgian trading post. "The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary;" wrote Conrad, "men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."

And I've been thinking about how what Conrad saw and what Hampton experienced laid the ground work for the dual consciousness of my current students of color, who have been socialized to carry the belief in their hearts that they are inferior to people who look like me and that it is hopeless to imagine that they will ever be allowed to assume that their human rights -- the rights they OWN as citizens of the world -- will be respected.

My White students will write in a heartbeat how happy they are to live in a country where everybody's human rights are protected and how terrible it would be to live in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan where people are denied those rights. And my stomach turns. And my heart breaks a little more. And I become a little sadder.

Then I remember what Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: "I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality."

And I become a lot more resolute.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Connections Between Then and Now

Much more often than I can bear sometimes, a White person will kick off one of the standard scripts on race with the line, "I'm really tired of hearing all about the history of slavery. I never owned any slaves. My father never owned any slaves. Why do Black people keep using history as an excuse not to go on with their lives?" Or some other similar more or less developed rendition of this thought. It's so common that I feel my brain immediately shift over, lock onto the file of standard addressals, and put my mouth in gear to respond. It's not history that's making African-Americans crazy, I say, it's the present (duh!) By the time we finish, they seem to have gotten it without a meltdown, but I have learned that sometimes they have and sometimes, by twenty minutes later, White Supremacy being what it is, they've lost it again. Frustrating.

Anyway, this is crunch time in an already overwhelming semester, but I've been walking around with a headful of thoughts lately on how neatly history connects to the present. Here are a few of those:

1) Eric Stoller hosted the newest Erase Racism Blog Carnival here. It's all about White Supremacy and much of it focuses on Thanksgiving, which was a wonderful idea considering the fact that most folks in the U.S. still "celebrate" that holiday without a backward glance at what it ultimately meant to the indigenous people who made the first feast possible. Eric's choice of topic inspired me to write my own post about Thanksgiving by the day itself.

2) Yesterday marked the anniversary of two important historical events: Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus in 1955 and Abraham Lincoln's State of the Union address in 1862. I see them connected, of course. Lincoln's address is what took the Civil War from being about State's Rights to being about slavery, though the only reason Lincoln took it in this direction was because he was trying to win the war and preserve the nation as one cohesive whole. He had emancipated the slaves in the seceeded states just 10 weeks before so that African-Americans could legally join the Union forces and take up arms against their former "masters." And he only did this because northern White men were becoming seriously disinterested in fighting the war themselves, at least partly because most of them didn't mind slavery all that much, if at all. Lincoln was smelling defeat, so he clutched at a straw, saying: "In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free... We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth." Thus, he enlisted (literally) the aid of nearly two hundred thousand former slaves to put a finish to the war -- and they did. But, while this released them from the bonds of legal slavery, it did not institute either justice or parity for U.S. citizens of color. So Rosa Parks, nearly one hundred years later, still had to plan and implement a personal self-destruction of her individual right to privacy, employment, or peace by challenging the practice of keeping African-Americans "in their place." The final irony: both events, while defining moments in their respective ages and successful in their immediate results, have only changed the surface of our social milieu, leaving it to us to dig up the roots of racial oppression in the United States and free ourselves -- finally -- from the toxic poison that still and maybe even more effectively threatens our nation's survival yet.

3) For those who need more "proof" that Lincoln did not lay slavery to rest in all its manifestations, Kirshan Murphy over at Nubian Waves relates a story that will leave you staring at the floor.

4) Last, but far from least, a few days ago, I was reminded that forty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a Poor People's Campaign against those whose interests require the continued oppression of all who work to make this country rich without being allowed to share fully in that abundance. An example of what he was saying: "...There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life..." It's most interesting to note that King was a major power player in the civil rights movement for more than four years prior to this new evolution, but the minute he started talking about poor Whites and poor Blacks organizing themselves as one unit in their collective interests, it took only four months for some individual (acting entirely alone, of course) to kill him. Catch just a whiff of the power that was on the move in this video clip. Can't help but wonder if that kind of power could be lurking just under the surface if poor people today would pick up the thread of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last thought...

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Massacre at Thibodaux

I've been writing about African-American resistance of late and always like to remind my readers that African-Americans and European-Americans have throughout U.S. history joined together to fight injustice. One such story unfolded in 1887 when sugar cane cutters tried to organize a union in St. Mary, Terrebonne, and Lafourche Parishes in Louisiana, better known to some as "the sugar bowl."

At the time, most cane cutters were being paid $13 per month in script which could only be spent at the company store. Goods at the company store, of course, were marked up on average as much as 100% or more over retail value which typically meant that most of the workers wound up and often stayed in the red. And local lawmakers did their part by making it illegal for workers to leave the sugar plantation owners' land until their debt was paid. Uh-huh.

On the first day of the crucial harvest period in November of 1887, ten thousand workers--one thousand of them White--let it be known that they were NOT going to harvest the crop and they were NOT going to vacate their plantation-owned cabins. In fear that their valuable crop was going to get caught by a freeze, plantation owners turned to Governor McEnery (a plantation owner himself), who quickly sent in troops to "resolve" the issue.

Over the next couple of weeks, tension continued to build until on this day in 1887, somewhere between thirty and three hundred workers were rounded up and shot to death after being told to run for their lives. To read the whole story, go here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thinking About "Thanksgiving"...

I've been trying to figure out what it is we celebrate on Thanksgiving. "A bountiful harvest," we're told. A bountiful harvest the Europeans would not have had, had the indigenous "savages" of the Western Hemisphere not taught them how to produce it before the Europeans decided the continent wasn't big enough for all of us.

This has, unfortunately for millions in the world over the past four centuries, become the pattern of the United States as a culture and as a nation. We come smiling (most of the time) and then strike mercilessly and without, it would seem, conscience of any kind. What kind of people, one wonders, has NO conscience? And what might be the eventual destiny of such a people?

European capitalists snatched North America from the native civilizations that had lived here for thousands of years and, in a matter of only two centuries, have all but destroyed it, building cities that even many of us now seek to abandon. The process of laying waste to all of the beauty and abundance that had sustained itself for millions of years has now unapologetically poisoned the soil, polluted the air and waters, and exterminated the wildlife to the point of extinction. But first had to come the genocide of the indigenous human protectors of all the natural magnificence the Europeans so coveted and then so destroyed.

So we will belly up to the table today -- those of us who can afford to do so (and the statistics tell us that we are fewer than ever this year, with one out of ten in the U.S. not having enough to eat, many of these being children) -- and we will eat our way into a stupor. This "celebration" is to thank whoever we thank that we have much at the expense of others, that we are "safe" in a world where we support making others unsafe, that we have a "right" to do whatever we must to maintain our strangle-hold on the resources of every other people in the world, even our "allies," and to maintain that strangle-hold by any means necessary, knowing full well the ultimate result of such a plan for mass collective suicide.

What we need to be grateful for is that we have not, as yet, met our demise as a nation and as a people, that we can yet set a different course. There are repeated examples throughout history of populations who lived long in bondage and then struck out on their own for a promised land with no idea of where that was or what it would look like. Perhaps we, too, need to set our hearts toward the highway, as it were, to opt to survive and flourish rather than struggle and waste away, in bondage to a way of life that increasingly bewilders and reduces us. As more and more of us are touched by the cancer of our addiction to fear and materialism, more and more of us will come to imagine (as John Lennon once suggested) a different, better world, where we can be proud of something besides our credit limit and our military might.

In the meantime, we might want to be grateful, as well, that there are still remnants of the indigenous peoples we so summarily decimated. Their history is long. Their wisdom is deep. And if we learn to honor what is true over what is illusion, if we look inside our hearts instead spending all our resources decorating our social and physical outsides, if we ask for the guidance we so desperately need from those who have lasted so very long even in the face of ruthless attack on every level, perhaps there is hope for us yet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Remember To Buy Nothing On Friday

Supporting the consumer culture that encourages spending money we often do not have to buy things we typically do not need to buy supports globalization, White supremacy, sexism, addiction, and low self esteem. In fact, nobody wins but the rich guy. Is that the world you want to support? Buy nothing on Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chiquita Banana Update

Thanks to, I learned the following:

The American fruit giant Chiquita has been hit with a new lawsuit on behalf of victims of Colombian paramilitaries. Earlier this year Chiquita admitted to paying one point seven million dollars to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. terrorist watch list. On Wednesday, nearly four hundred Colombian plaintiffs filed a civil suit seeking almost eight billion dollars in damages. Plaintiff attorney Jonathan Reiter said Chiquita should be held accountable for the killings it helped fund: "The principle on which this lawsuit has been brought is that when you put money into the hands of terrorists, when you put guns into the hands of terrorists, then you are legally responsible for the atrocities, the murders and the tortures which those terrorists commit."

Chiquita says it fell victim to an extortion attempt and made the payments only to protect its employees. But a private investigator hired by the plaintiffs disputed Chiquita’s denials. The investigator, William Acosta, says his findings leave no doubt over Chiquita’s complicity: "Most of the victims during our interviews in Colombia always mention Chiquita as being the party which sends people to threaten them."

Chiquita is already facing another lawsuit from relatives of one-hundred forty-four people killed by Colombian paramilities. The company has paid a twenty-five million dollar fine to the U.S. government, but none of the money has gone to the victims’ families.
Why am I not surprised?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Looooooong Road Home To New Orleans

I got a notice today from Color of Change asking me to support a bill intended to help poor people return to their homes in New Orleans. Many of them are African-American. Besides signing the petition in favor of the bill, I decided to post their email and its accompanying video from Brave New Films (above):

New Orleans public housing residents have been fighting for over two years to return to their homes. Many of their units were minimally damaged by the storm, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has shut them out. HUD plans to demolish most available public housing units and replace them with mixed-income housing. While there are good arguments for mixed-income housing, HUD's plan calls for far fewer total units of affordable public housing, and it completely ignores short-term housing needs. The inevitable result will be thousands of low-income residents--most of whom are Black--pushed out of the city.

S.1668 honors the right to return of all New Orleans public housing residents and takes steps to preserve affordable housing in New Orleans. It requires the re-opening of at least 3,000 public housing units and ensures that there is no net loss of units available and affordable to public housing residents. The bill quickly passed in the House earlier this year, and after thousands of members pushed for the Senate to take action, the bill was introduced to the Senate by Senators Landrieu and Dodd. Now the bill is in danger of dying.

Last month, the Bush administration came out against the idea of reopening public housing units in New Orleans, with a HUD representative making the dubious claim that HUD "can't get people into" existing housing units because "they won't come home." Louisiana Senator David Vitter opposed the plan on the grounds that it would "re-create the New Orleans housing projects exactly as they were," which is simply not true. What no one can dispute is that the failure to provide affordable housing for low-income residents has contributed to the huge drop in the Black population in the city. Whether they'll admit it or not, opponents of S.1668 are working to reinforce this trend.

The Gulf Coast needs a housing policy that welcomes all citizens home, not just those who are wealthy, privileged, or White. The Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act is the last great hope for New Orleans public housing residents who want to come home. But it won't pass if we don't fight for it. Please join Color of Change in demanding that your senators support S.1668.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Little? White Lies

This has been a hectic and somewhat disconcerting week, during which I have received some information with which I have not been able to come to grips as yet. There are many whisperings, some quite frightening, frankly. But there are many people--both African-American and European-American--who stand strong in their commitment to make this a better world. I simply don't trust myself to write about this stuff yet. So, rather than leave you hanging, I post this Barry Deutsch cartoon* about the stuff White people tell themselves to rationalize and justify their clinging to the sickness of racism. Joe Feagin calls these "sincere fictions." I would argue that they're FAR from sincere.

James Baldwin once said, "You can find out everything you need to know about race in the United States by asking a White person would they like to be Black." And that's what I'm talkin' about.
*Click on the cartoon to make it large enough to see clearly or print out.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Short Reading List On Black Resistance

After I wrote a recent post on Black resistance to White oppression, a commentator mentioned a couple of books worth reading and inspired me to create the following list of a few books I commonly recommend on the topic. The list is in no particular order and is in NO way comprehensive. In fact, I'm hoping that readers will add to the list in the comments section. But this will give those who are interested some options with which to begin.

American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker
Black Consciousness in South Africa by Steve Biko
Garvey and Garveyism by Amy Jacques Garvey
The Negro Revolution by Robert Goldston
Runaway Slaves by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
Black Students by Harry Edwards
We Want Freedom by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Antislavery by Dwight Lowell Dumond
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin
The Making of Black Revolutionaries by James Forman
Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas by Richard Price
Here I Stand by Paul Robeson
A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Hailey
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton

As I have already stated, there are many, many more such books. And I have only listed books, though there are some essays (such as "Dynamite Growing Out of Their Skulls" by Calvin C. Hernton, ") and even some letters (such as "The Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, "Letter to a Farm Boy" by Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin's "if they take you in the morning" letter to Angela Davis in the 1970's) that are so classic on the topic that they stand alone on their own merit. And it could be argued that many of the poems, fictional stories and plays written by African-Americans since the 1700's have been couched in either recounting, defending, explaining, or inciting Black resistance in one way or the other. You will have to find out that on your own (and I hope you will, no matter what your skin tone).

In any case, I just listed here the first few that came to mind. What books on African and African-American resistance would you add?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Don't Be Confused -- Hate Spills Over

There has been much in the media of late reporting the hanging of nooses and other reactions in apparent response to a September 20th march of more than 50,000 people against institutionalized racism in the United States as manifested in Jena, Louisiana, over the past year. Some want to claim that the nooses hung in a tree in Jena a year ago were a "prank," even though I would argue that White people in general do not for one moment perceive the hanging of nooses as a prank. They know very well what nooses mean not only to African-Americans, but to White people in the U.S., as well.

There's nothing "prankish" about the torturous murders of innocent people of color over a period of five hundred years. According to the statistics, 3811 incidents were officially labeled lynchings between 1889 and 1942 alone. That averages out to one every five days for fifty-three years. They occurred all over the country. That figure doesn't even count the incidents involving a body that never surfaced or a "suicide" such as Malcolm X's father's wherein he hit himself in the head and put himself on a railroad track to die. And, needless to say, lynchings didn't stop in 1942. In fact, anyone that doesn't recognize what happened to Megan Williams this summer in West Virginia as a slow-motion lynching is just quibbling over details.

But I would like to remind my readers that the mindset that hangs nooses is a dangerous one to many European-Americans in this country, as well. On this date in 1979, a group made up of both African-Americans and European-Americans gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina, to protest against the Ku Klux Klan. Before they could even get started, however, forty KKK members and American Nazis drove into the crowd, got out of their vehicles, pulled out their automatic weapons and opened fire, killing five and wounding ten others. The massacre was filmed by four television stations. Nevertheless, after two trials, two all-White juries acquitted all defendents and no one has ever served a day in jail for these cold-blooded killings in broad daylight while law enforcement officers looked on. The five who died were a nurse and two doctors, a graduate of the Harvard divinity school, and a Cuban immigrant who graduated magna cum laude from Duke University. None were African-American, though all were active in union organizing, poverty programs, and the push for racial parity.

True, in 1985, a civil jury found the city, the Nazi Party, and the Klan guilty of violating the civil rights of the demonstrators, resulting in a payment of $350,000 total to include all parties. This is one of the only times a police department has been held accountable for cooperating with a hate group in the matter of a wrongful death. Still, when a grassroots movement demanded the seating of a 2-day Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005 to investigate the matter, White Mayor Keith Holliday and some of the city council voted along racial lines NOT to support the Commission's work.

My point? If you look like me and have ever had a date or even dinner with an African-American; if anyone in your extended family is married to, living with, or has had a child with an African-American; if you hire an African-American to work for you; if you invite an African-American to visit you in your home or visit one in theirs; if African-Americans go to your church; or even if you think in the most vague and generalistic terms that African-Americans are citizens of the United States and therefore have the absolute right to every privilege and protection under the U.S. Constitution, then YOU could be accused of being the enemy of those who see you as a threat to the future of "White" America and will tell you so in no uncertain terms. There is no gray area with these folks. Just thought you would want to think about that the next time you hear somebody say hanging a noose is "just" a "prank." And just in case you're wondering, the photo above was taken in 2003.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Quote of the Week

This Ricardo Levins Morales poster is available from Northland Poster Collective, a wonderful source of posters, buttons, bumper stickers, calendars, gifts for the holidays, and so forth, ad infinitum.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Be Bold/Be Red Today!

Today is the day women of color document the silence. Today is the day they get to talk about the violence that is so much a part of their lives. Violence without apology. Violence without repercussions for the perpetrators. Violence without recourse for the victims.

And to make sure people listen, they will be wearing red. To make people sit up and pay attention, they will be flaunting their redness. To make people notice. And so will I. "Listen to my sisters," I will demand. Listen to my sisters who have been silent for too long. I will stand beside them while they document their silence. I will make my own broken body a wall for my sisters so that no one can rise against them wherever we are together.

We will cry with one voice, my sisters and I. We will sing together and croon our nightmares to sleep. We will grant no space to ignorance, no space to fear. We will link arms and stride into a new day. Like long-legged horses, we will run over hills that hold up a sky full of crimson clouds full of tears of joy that women of color will be silent no more.

At 8:00 p.m. (CST), women of color and their allies all over the United States will read the following litany aloud. Feel free to don red and join us and report to the organizers of this national action that you have done so here. And then, whatever else you decide to do, you might choose to watch the film above about Samburu women in Kenya who created a village named Umoja (Unity) after they were cast out of their families because they had been raped. Maybe you would like to share it with others who would appreciate knowing that this is really not just a national movement, but is the dawning of a new sun. Around the world. And it is red.

Out of the Silence, We Come: A Litany

Out of the silence, we come
In the name of nuestras abuelas,
In honor of our mamas
In the spirit of our petit fils,
In tribute to ourselves
We come crying out
Documenting the torture
We come wailing
Reporting the rape
We come singing
Testifying to the abuse
We come knowing
Knowing that the silence has not protected us from
the racism
the sexism
the homophobia
the physical pain
the emotional shame
the auction block

Once immobilized by silence
We come now, mobilized by collective voice
Dancing in harmonious move-ment to the thick drumbeat of la lucha, the struggle
We come indicting those who claim to love us, but violate us
We come prosecuting those who are paid to protect us, but harass us
We come sentencing those who say they represent us, but render
us invisible

Out of the Silence, we come
Naming ourselves
Telling our stories
Fighting for our lives
Refusing to accept that we were never meant to survive

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remember To Wear Red Tomorrow

This is a reminder that many women of color and their allies will be wearing red tomorrow. Lipstick, cherry, candy apple, knock-your-eyes-out, hope-ya-don't-like-it (or hope-ya-do), menstrual blood red. No more silence. Let those who suffer and have suffered cry, scream, holler, shriek, and moan as they choose. Let the violence be over. Let the dancing begin. In beautiful red dresses. And never stop.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Passin' It On

It's been a while since I was able to spend the better part of a day in the blogosphere. Whew! Heady stuff. So much out there to read and watch and think about and chew over. The question of the hour seems to be whether or not racial tensions have gotten worse of late. After forty-four years of looking at the topic and twenty-two months blogging on race, my sense is that it's not worse. It's been this bad all along. It's just getting more visible...again. One might surmise this as a good thing, oddly enough, though scary at best and dangerous at worst.

Here's a bunch of links I came across today related to this topic. I strongly recommend checking out:

1) what Rachel at Rachel's Tavern had to say to the New York Times about the plethora of nooses popping up everywhere we look these days;

2) what Nezua (The Unapologetic Mexican) posted about what's going on in San Diego where people that look like me get help after their houses burn down and people that look like him get threatened with jail;

3) the story at Model Minority relates about Nicholas Bounds, a homeless but high achieving African-American high school kid and how all we ever hear about are the bummers that Black folks ought to fix (even though White folks started them and keep them going);

4) woc phd's warning about Blackwater setting up shop in California now that they've been kicked out of Iraq for shooting civilians in cold blood; and finally

5) Professor Zero's confession about how those who have known privilege have responsibilities to the rest of the human race and those who have risen out of the dust and pain of lack need to be respected for it.

The photo? That's a Chinese woman smelting a computer.

Just one more thing to think about...

On Black Resistance

From time to time, I meet a person who sees people of color as victims, as people who have lain miserably on the ground while they have been walked on by people who look like me, as people who have waited helplessly for deliverance engineered by either Jesus or someone else other than themselves. A modification of this type of person is the one who thinks Black people accepted their "fate" under White Supremacy until they "suddenly" leapt to action in the 1960's. And I do not under any circumstances want to reduce or disparage in any way the amazing onslaught against institutional racism that was conducted during that period.

But the fact is that wherever you find oppression, you will find social conflict. No people simply "allows" themselves to be oppressed forever. As a matter of fact, not only did Africans rise up against their European oppressors at every available opportunity from the earliest imaginable beginnings of the organized European attack on African peoples and cultures, but Africans assisted Native Americans in their own resistance against the taking of their lands, as well. (If you want to know more about all this, you might see, among other works, American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker.)

And there are, of course, African-Americans who have absorbed the White Supremacist mentality to the point that they have sold their "soul" (pun intended), if not to the Devil, then to the blue-eyed holder of the power in this country. People that look like me routinely use these folks as "proof" that "Black" people can be successful in our (racist) society or at least can stay out of jail or at least can stop going there eventually when they get their mind "right." Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote more than one hundred years ago about the "dual consciousness" that the paradigm of White Supremacy visits on people of color, telling them they are inferior so early, so loud, and so long, some come to believe it and then act out of that belief.

But none of this can deny the long-standing resistance by people of color against this immoral, unethical, unjust, and horrifically hypocritical system that continues to thrive economically and politically on the suffering of virtually all people of color in general (in one way or the other) and African-Americans in particular. Charles Dickens wrote of traveling through the southern states in the U.S. in the 1800's that it was like visiting a place in a state of siege, that the dark power White people were using to maintain their control over their so-called "property" was heavily laced with the terror they felt that their property was subject at any moment to rise up and take them to task for their evil. And this fear was based on the fact of permanent and on-going Black resistance--in the form of poisoned "Masters," burned down barns, trickery of the cleverest order, and so forth.

After my presentation on "What is Racism and How Do I Know If I Have It?" last week, I received an email from a Latina student who wrote that all her life, she has believed she was inferior to White people. She didn't know why she was supposedly inferior to White people. She just understood this idea as the truth. After my one hour presentation, she realized that this is a lie, that White Supremacy is an institutional manipulation of culture to maintain a strangle-hold on the power (and the money) in the United States, and that it is not personal. She is not automatically inferior to anyone for any reason and certainly not because she has been born with a particular skin tone or ethnic heritage.

In any case, this week-end, I have been caused to come across a couple of very exciting and very energizing examples of African-American resistance. The first came when I attended a local meeting of a national organization. Now, I've sat in meetings for decades off and on, some fairly meaningful, but often hamstrung by lack of funding, lack of direction, lack of leadership, or whatever. The intelligence and commitment in the room yesterday, however, was so remarkable, I was dumbstruck (not an easy thing to do, as you can imagine). In a matter of ninety minutes, I was asking how I could be of service and was told.

Then, this morning, on my usual rounds of the blogosphere, I dropped in over at Automatic Preference and watched a piece of video that knocked my lights out--or on, as it were. It shows Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota grilling the federal prosecutor who created the Jena Six disaster.

If you happen to look like me and are unapologetically racist or even suspect that people of color are somehow inferior to you, if you are a person of color and you have been taught to believe that you are inferior to "White" people, or if you are feeling as an anti-racist individual that you are fighting a losing battle alone without the necessary ammunition, I strongly encourage you to watch this bit of film. And then watch it again. And then pass it on. It ain't over till it's over. However long it takes.

You Can Kill The Act, But Not The Dream

Those of you who hate the idea of bright and energetic young people of talent and ability who want to make this a better, more prosperous place for everybody to live will be delighted to know that the DREAM Act was voted down. The DREAM Act attempted to establish a process under which youthful immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a substantial period of time and shown special promise could go to college and become productive and legal residents of this nation.

But the DREAM Act would have made it impossible for youth who are already U.S. citizens to go to college. No, that's not right.

The DREAM Act would have made young people all over the world leave their homes just to go to school at U.S. colleges. No, that's not right.

Um...the DREAM Act would have given "undeserving" and "undereducated" farm workers a "free ride" into college. No, that's not right.

Well, what was the problem with the DREAM Act?

Oh, yeah. It would have documented (pun intended) that immigrant children are a wealth of intelligence and energy that makes a lie out of the claim that "White" people are superior and that migrating peoples are bad for the United States as a nation.

If you didn't know about the DREAM Act or if you didn't realize that it has been pushed off the table for another year, at least, or if you just want to read about how it was defeated and by whom (for future reference), you can visit kyledeb at his fancy new blog, Citizen Orange, dna at Too Sense, and XicanoPwr at Para Justicia y Libertad!.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Genarlow Wilson Freed

Genarlow Wilson, who has served two years in prison for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was 17 was released today after the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled that the ten-year sentence he was given for committing this heinous crime was cruel and unusual. The Court noted that the Georgia legislature has reduced this crime to misdemeanor status since Wilson's sentencing, but even so, the vote to overturn the sentence was 4 to 3. That means (lest we forget for even a minute) that Genarlow Wilson came within one vote of sleeping in a cell tonight, even though a poll of nearly 13,000 Atlanta Constitution readers found that 95.5% of them agreed that Wilson should be freed.

Congratulations, Genarlow. One down, God only knows how many to go.

Across The Lines

Over the past nine days, I've done ten presentations about the socially-constructed, political notion of race in the United States beginning with one entitled "What is Racism and How Do I Know If I Have It?" that I gave before 85 people in the Student Union on the 17th. Yesterday, a young European-American man came to me after class and said flatly, "You've just convinced me that I've been right all along."

"About what?" I asked.

"That there's definitely going to be a Civil War in this country over race," he responded.

"But we could change that if we want to," I countered.

"But we won't," he continued.

I searched his face, looking for something, anything, I could pin hope to.

"Kennedy said, 'Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.' That suggests that we have a choice. We don't have to make peaceful change impossible..." I said quietly.

But he was already gone, his back passing through the door of my classroom on his way to tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Goodnight, Moon

I drove up to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola today to check out their craft fair, buy a few things, make some contacts, and fill up on prisoner-prepared food. Now I'm home, getting ready for the week, and thinking about the fact that, from what I've been told, 90% of the prisoners at Angola will die there. One man I spoke with told me he's already "done" forty years. If it has cost (very conservatively speaking) $18,000 per year to keep him locked up, that means we've already spent more than $700,000--on this one prisoner--to make sure we're "safe" and he's "punished." Further, if he lives as long as it looks like he might, I expect we'll spend over a million dollars on him before it's over. I fear him less than I fear George Bush and I think there are better ways to spend the $1,000,000.

Good night, new friends. Sleep well.
The poster featured here is another one by Ricardo Levins Morales and is available from Northland Poster Collective. It's a take-off on the very popular children's book entitled "Goodnight, Moon."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Red October 31st

A few weeks ago, I got involved with something that deserves waaaaaay more attention than I have been able to give it. It's a campaign to bring attention to the fact that in a society full of madness, where violence has become a language of its own, women of color as a group, as the most vulnerable among us, have become scapegoats for every kind of frustration.

Women and girls in general are attacked so routinely in the United States as to make it a national tragedy, but women of color are a disproportionate and disproportionately unprotected body within that reality.

Similarly, people of color in general are regularly insulted, offended, and attacked by people that look like me, ridiculously often without any kind of repercussions or recourse for the victims. In fact, if the person of color takes issue with the treatment, they are said to be "over-reacting." And within this group, sometimes even at the hands of men of color who may be themselves reacting out of their own frustration, Black and Brown women, in particular, appear far too often to have no hiding place.

A movement to address this terrible whorl of injustice has begun and is marking its first action by calling for women of color and their allies to wear red on October 31st. I was so moved by the language in some of the material I have received on this, that I am featuring it verbatim here. An entire group of women has set this in motion, but I received this from Fallon:

"Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year, women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

*The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia, who was held by six assailants for a month.

*Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.

*A 13-year-old native American girl who was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling "white power" outside of her home.

*Seven black lesbian girls who attempted to stop an attacker and were later charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11-year prison sentences.

"In A Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, 'When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive.' These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color's stories of violence. We are asking for community groups, grass-root organizations, college campus students and groups, communities of faith, online communities, and individuals to join us in speaking out against violence against women of color. If we speak, we cannot be invisible.

"On September 20th, I wore black. I wore black, as many Black people did, in solidarity with the Jena 6, who are quickly becoming the 21st century’s Scottsboro Boys. I am wearing black, even though I have the profound urge and desire to wear red, a Maoist, seductive, bold red – on this, the possible new dawn, of what Al Sharpton has begun calling the 'Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century.' I am wearing black, even as I have conflicting thoughts and emotions. I am eager for this moment of solidarity - a chance to acknowledge the injustice of inequitable sentencing. So, for today, it is my lipstick that is crimson.

"But on Wednesday, October 31, 2007, I will be wearing red; that uncomfortably womanish shade of scarlet that suggests a certain looseness, appreciation of blues, likelihood to walk the streets at night, willingness to be loud, dedication to self, and a deep refusal to be rendered invisible. Red, the color so many of us are told to avoid because of its Western association with the marked, fallen woman; red, that rich, rapturous, full, so-bright-it-looks-as-if-it’s-had-a-good-meal ruby color, red so intense, it’s nearly purple. Yes, that color – that’s the one I want to mark my outrage at the rape and torture of Megan Williams, a 20-year-old woman in West Virginia; the sexual assault of a Haitian woman and her son in West Palm Beach, Florida; and the continued violence visited upon women of color.

"Red is the color I choose, because I am not interested in being invisible. I am not interested in being forgotten. I am not interested in being a sidebar conversation. I am not interested, because I will be the womyn who walks into the room wearing the color red, who makes the conversation stop, and gently suggests another topic – the role of violence and abuse in women’s lives perhaps? I am interested in being seen. I am interested in hearing what communities of color, so recently outfitted in black to mark the injustice done to the Jena 6, will do to mark the violence and injustice done to Megan Williams.

"For me, the color red is about boldness. It is a vibrant color that cannot be ignored. Beyond the pink of feminism, and even the purple of womanism, red is a color that says, “stop and see.” On October 31st, we ask women of color and their allies, to break the silence and invisibility surrounding violence against women of color, by choosing to be seen. By choosing to be vocal, to be brave, to be bold and work to stop violence against women.

be bold / be brave / be red / stop the violence

"We are asking organizations and individuals to host rallies and speak outs on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at various monumental sites (i.e. The Lincoln Memorial, Seattle’s Arch, Chicago’s Bean, Atlanta’s MLK memorial, etc.) located in their cities or to host rallies and speak outs at locations that represent the political, economic, and/or social power of their cities such as the local court house, the local chamber of commerce, the local police department, and the local city council. Groups can also consider rallying in sites where specific violence against women of color occurred.

"Hosting a rally dedicated to eradicating violence against women of color at the locations where business is conducted, where laws are made, and where justice is rendered is revolutionary. It demands that laws be written specifically to protect women of color from violence. It demands funding to be made available to women of color organizations who work to end violence against women of color. It demands that justice be served by compelling city leaders to create spaces in the city where women of color are safe."

If you want to get on the band wagon (and of course, you do), you may contact the organizers here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's Predictable And I Told You So!

A lot of folks -- even folks who marched in Jena, Louisiana, on September 20th -- probably winced when Mychal Bell was unceremoniously re-arrested when he showed up for a "routine" hearing in court last Tuesday.

"Oh, dear," you could almost hear many of his supporters mumble. "That's really a shame."

But there was little outrage in the response.

See, for more than a few, this new arrest put a different spin on Mychal's railroading and the infamous schoolyard brawl.

"Gosh," they seemed to sigh. "He's been in trouble before. Maybe..." and their voices trail off.

I was busy myself and didn't have time to check into the situation at that moment, but I know better than to assume the new arrest meant much except that the Prosecutor (remember him?) and the Judge (remember him?) were really pissed off when Rev. Al Sharpton et al met with the Governor and got Mychal released a couple of weeks ago. Still, I felt a little forlorn and wondered how I would approach what needed to be written about this. Until Friday, that is.

On Friday, eight guards and a nurse were acquitted in Panama City, Florida, of manslaughter or any other charges in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a fourteen-year-old African-American kid with no previous criminal record who had been sent to a juvenile "boot camp" after his conviction for the heinous crime of "stealing" his grandmother's car and going on school property while he was suspended. On the day he arrived at the "camp," Anderson was forced to run laps until he collapsed. Then, the eight guards were filmed punching him, kicking him, dragging him around the yard, covering his mouth with their hands and forcing him to inhale ammonia capsules up his nose until he suffocated. During the trial, they testified that these were all approved procedures used to deal with youth who "feigned" illness. And the whole process was perpetrated under the watchful eye of a nurse, who apparently got her training at Dachau.

The all-White jury in the home town of the guards only needed ninety minutes to determine that no crime at all had been committed by these grown men who from where I sit killed a fourteen-year-old boy without a backward look. The physician who originally ruled that Anderson died because of a latent Sickle Cell trait (in spite of the film) and whose determination was ultimately over-ridden by that of a real doctor, went out to celebrate with the guards after the verdict was read.

Special Investigator Mark Ober from Tampa was quoted as saying that he was "disappointed," but that, because the "boot camp" was subsequently closed and "reforms" were implemented in the juvenile justice system, "Martin Lee Anderson did not die in vain." I would suggest to Mr. Ober that Martin did not die in vain; he died in FACT. And therein, as I am wont to say, lies the rub.

Mychal Bell's previous convictions covered four charges. The first two were simple battery ("non-concensual, insulting or harmful contact, regardless of harm done," most often prosecuted as a misdemeanor). I've seen simple battery charges result from as little as a push or tripping another kid as a joke. The other two charges had to do with destruction of property, which I've seen result from as little as kicking a door on the way out of a classroom or breaking a pencil that belongs to someone else. I'm not saying that Bell's charges were that minor, but they could have been and it would have read the same way. And as far as his "violation of probation" is concerned, my guess is that it's not difficult for an African-American boy in Jena, Louisiana, to wind up on probation for doing little more than having skin. And once they're on probation, it's a short trip to the big house, as Mychal Bell has already seen -- twice.

Coming from the man who wrote a commentary for the New York Times claiming that only Jesus kept the rabid Black people from tearing Jena apart, Prosecutor Reed Walters' claim that this newest legal assault on Bell, resulting in a sentence of eighteen months in addition to the nine he's already done for no reason, is "unrelated" to the earlier issue is ludicrous.

So what we have here is two cases. In one, eight trained professionals caused a fourteen-year-old boy to suffocate and they didn't even get a spanking. While in the other, a seventeen-year-old boy whose life has been threatened by everybody from the Prosecutor on down over the past year and who was -- according to the courts -- unjustly incarcerated for nine months in an adult jail already this year is doing eighteen more months for simple battery and destruction of something as yet unnamed. In the first case, the boy who died was Black. In the second case, the boy who was convicted was Black.

Do. You. Get. It?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quote of the Week

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

I've been teaching for nineteen years. In grad school, when I decided to go on for a Ph.D. (which has been very long in coming, as it turns out), I was asked if that meant that I wanted to teach.

"Oh, no!" I declared immediately. "I want to run something, preferably something international!"

The fact is that, at that point, I was beginning to talk with people from around the world about setting up an International Economic Exchange Organization -- a barter network for member nations to rival the world bank.

Then, one day, the professor I was charged with assisting asked me to take one of his classes for a couple of days while he was gone and the rest is history. What I discovered was a roomful of possibilities, a sea (or at least a pond) of life on the verge of spreading everywhere, life unfolding.

In nineteen years, as a direct result of being in constant contact with the vitality of people engaged in learning processes of all kinds, I have grown and changed in ways I could not have imagined in that now long distant classroom where I first spoke about gender and work. Many of the men and women I have taught and learned from and counseled and encouraged may have gained little more than a passing grasp of sociological principles, but there have been more than a goodly number whose lives, they have told me, changed radically under my tutelage. And from time to time, they come forward to remind me so.

Recently, I have been contacted by several who caused me to consider once again that there was a time I wanted to run something international, but I have consciously chosen instead to engage myself in opening up that world to other, often younger, souls with great heart and great energy. Angela in Paris, Samantha in China, and Marc in the blogosphere honor me. I have made a difference. I am changing the world. I stand grateful.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Rev. Al Sharpton Takes 'Em To Church

In the African-American community, when somebody in a crowd hollers, "Take 'em to church!" it means there's an emotional connection between the speaker and the audience that's producing a crucial response. All the listeners are...well, listening. The speaker is bulldozing the walls that most folks hide behind and downloading a hefty dose of whatever will wake them up, set them on fire, and remind them what it is to be alive.

I got taken to church today. In a church. And the Rev. Al Sharpton did the taking.

The good Reverend, whose National Action Network was a driving force in Jena, Louisiana, recently when twenty to fifty thousand people descended on that town in a show of solidarity not seen in decades over a single incident, looked introspective as he waited in a row of ministers for his turn in the pulpit. But from the time he adjusted the microphone until he whirled abruptly, with perfect timing, and retook his seat, Sharpton was totally in control. And he knew it. He displayed the savvy of a man who, as the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church minister and host, Rev. Moses Gordon put it, has reached "his season." But there was no arrogance. No grandstanding. In fact, none of the stuff I was prepared to see--and forgive him for.

I told myself I wouldn't take notes, even though I know Sharpton is a master of the turned phrase and I knew I would be blogging about the service. In fact, I let the first couple of zingers go by before I jerked out my pen and began hastily jotting down all I could, considering the speed with which he spoke and the way he went from point to point like a man who is paying by the minute to do so.

During his introduction, Rev. Gordon said that he had told his visiting counterpart that he could speak or he could preach, but that he should deliver whatever he perceived as necessary and the end result was electrifying. For a man who has been mercilessly castigated and ridiculed, Rev. Al Sharpton is not only a formidable orator, but an unapologetically inspiring man and I, for one, was inspired. I hooted. I wept. I applauded. I jumped to my feet so many times, I was hard-put to keep track of my pen.

"People talk about what happened back in the day," he started out. "But this is the day! Some folks go to church and don't do anything out in the world where the work is waiting to be done. Going to church is supposed to prepare you to DO that work! The reason I went to Jena is that those could have been MY sons. That could have been MY daughter calling me up to tell me she got into a fight at school and was sentenced to twenty-two years."

Then, in response to those who have criticized the mass mobilization in Jena, he declared, "You can't cause pain and then tell people how to holler. Hanging nooses -- the symbol that's been used to threaten our lives for over one hundred years -- is not a prank. If it was only a prank, how come it didn't happen until after African-American boys sat under that tree?"

In the dark, he explained, roaches will come out to eat a six-course meal, but when you turn the lights on, they all scatter. "The march wasn't designed as a solution," he went on. "but to expose the problem. On September 20th, we turned the lights on. If you don't want the lights on, you must be hiding something."

Addressing the rangling for position so often highlighted in and encouraged by the media between the more well-known African-American leaders and organizers, Rev. Sharpton euphemized, "If I'm drowning, then I want whoever's got a branch to help me. We can argue when I get to shore about who gets the headline, but right now, get me out of the water!"

By now, he was systematically attacking every possible excuse a person could have for laying low in the face of institutionalized oppression. "If you expect the ones who knocked you down to lift you up, it won't happen!" he warned. "If they wanted you lifted up, they wouldn't have knocked you down in the first place!"

He had chosen as the framework for his presentation the story from the Old Testament in the Bible about a powerful meglomaniac by the name of Nebuchadnezzar who threw three young men into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to him. It was not hard to follow the analogy. And the end of the story, of course, is that, when the men are thrown into the flames, they don't die. But Rev. Sharpton didn't even mention that. It wasn't the point he was going for. The point he was going for was that, in the face of the flames, they didn't bow down.

"If you're scared, say you're scared!" he bellowed. "And then sit down and shut up and let somebody else stand up and talk who isn't scared!"

I came unglued. I yelled and applauded so long with tears streaming down my face, I became convinced that the wall to wall crowd, virtually entirely African-American, must surely think I was nuts. But I didn't care.

See, I've been edgy the last few days since I committed to do a campus presentation on "What is Racism and How Do I Know I Have It?" You know how I write. Well, imagine this stuff coming out of my mouth, complete with inflections and expressions, face to face with my listeners. It can create some emotion, let alone I'm talking to folks who sport "Proud Redneck" bumper stickers on their F-150's. So, yeah, I was scared. I know I've been doing this for decades, but this is a new venue. And while I absolutely believe I'm here "on assignment," it doesn't mean I don't feel the pinch. The pinch, in fact, was all over Al Sharpton's face when he left the building, escorted by huge African-American sheriffs to his vehicle, though he had earlier quipped light-heartedly, "I want to meet Jesus, but not today. I still have work to do."

So I was afraid. But three days ago, I found out Sharpton was coming to my little town. So I went to hear him, of course.

My mother swears that I wasn't more than four when I was riding down the highway with my parents one afternoon, stuck my head out the window and screamed into the rushing wind, "Look out, world, here I come!" That was a long, long time ago, but that little girl's still in there. She took me to see Al Sharpton today. He took us all to church. And now I'm ready to do the work that's waiting.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"We All Live In Jena"

Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Common, M1, Talib Kweli, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Sankofa Community Empowerment, Change the Game, the National Hip Hop Political Convention, Color of Change and student leaders from over 100 high schools and colleges have called for National Action on Monday, October 1 at 12:30pm to support the Jena 6. Mos Def, who spearheaded the call, said "This is the time for Black people to support the Jena 6, and call attention to the unequal treatment the criminal justice system is dishing out not only in Jena, Louisiana, but across this nation...We all live in Jena."

Okay, boys and girls, you heard the man. Act.

And incidentally, you don't need to go to the streets to act. Talk to your co-workers, your fellow students, your boss or your boss's boss. Start a discussion on institutionalized racism over lunch. Tell your family members. Write a letter to an editor. Or to Reed Walters (now, there's a thought!). Email the New York Times and let them know what you think of their giving Walters a platform to bash Black folks with Jesus, no less. Tell the Kansas City Star what you think of Jason Whitlock's "commentaries." Support your local Black and Latin@ cultural programs. Volunteer to mentor a poor kid in a poor school. Speak up and speak out. Because we all live in Jena and that's a fact, Jack!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"The Big Sexy" Strikes Out

It would be nice if I could get to my emails this morning. I just KEEP running across things I MUST post about. Modi (of both Kill Bigotry! and, more lately, fame -- both fine blogs by a truly fine writer) tipped me yesterday to his piece on Jason Whitlock.

You may have read my response to a recent Whitlock column posted last Sunday. Not being familiar with "The Big Sexy" -- what Whitlock calls himself (see photo above) -- and his meteoric rise as a writer in this country, I was fairly low key in my presentation. In his post, on the other hand, Modi knows and tells the backstory. This is one you really don't want to miss. It's worth reading for the writing alone. But it also describes in graphic detail a classic example of the effects of institutionalized oppression in the name of racism in this society.


Jesus Would Have "Looted"

I wouldn't normally post an advertisement. But sipping juice and browsing my early morning internet stops, I came across a video on BBC (the British television channel) that features Grammy-winning New Orleans blues man and actor Chris Thomas King talking about "Rise," the cd he released last year on the Katrina disaster. Going from there to King's website, I listened to one of the songs, "What Would Jesus Do?" about the kinds of decisions survivors were forced to make. New Orleans musicians were demonstrating this week for better pay in a city that depends on them for its legend. I hope they get what they deserve because New Orleans wouldn't be New Orleans without them. I'm buying "Rise" this morning. Maybe you'd like to check it out as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quote of the Week

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." -- Samuel Adams

From what I understand, only about one out of ten of the early European colonists wanted to overthrow Great Britain and establish the United States. Which means that the vast majority (90%) of the population were just fine with the way things were. Whatever you think of the revolutionaries' motives (such as wanting to be The Power instead of cow-tow to it); whatever you think of their hypocrisy (such as keeping slaves and having sex with them while talking and writing about "freedom"); whatever you think of their practices (such as shooting uniformed soldiers in the back from behind trees), they were ultimately successful in casting Great Britain adrift. While it's true that they had MASSIVE help from Poland and France, among others, they did not have the internet...
The poster featured above is available from Northland Poster Collective.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Prevention or Correction?

W.E.B. DuBois, an early sociological theorist who was ignored for most of his life because, even though he was Harvard-trained, he was African-American, called it "dual-consciousness." What he was referring to was the split perspective that African-Americans wind up with as a result of being raised in a society where White makes right and Black must step back. It's not hard to find examples or even to find agonizing critical analyses of the phenomenon written by people of color who struggle on a daily basis with looking through two pairs of psychic and cultural eyes.

White people don't get it. They only have one consciousness: White supremacy. They are born into a society (and yes, even a world) wherein they can expect certain reassurance of their right to privilege. Some White people argue that because they are now or came up poor, they experience the same problems as people of color, which is, frankly, so lacking in grasp of the reality of the situation as to be simultaneously heart-wrenching and ludicrous.

It's true, poverty is never fun. And poor people suffer in multiple ways. But to imagine that poor people of color have no more problems than poor people that look like me is to be ignorant of the truth. Even a Black doctor in this country is a Black doctor and better never forget it, let alone not having the protections of social class.

When an African-American, out of this dual-consciousness, mouths either lies or part truth and part falsehood because he or she cannot unwind the threads of the complicated and racially-charged mental processes under which they have been socialized, the White power structure and those in agreement with it rush to applaud. "You see," they chortle, "Even 'they' admit what we've been saying all along. It's all their own fault..." (whatever "it" is).

Sometimes the person of color is just trying to suck up to Whitey because that's the prudent thing to do in this society. Sometimes their socialization has been so effective, ruthless, and deeply skewed as to leave them clueless as to their own oppression. Sometimes they've had to retreat into a system of denial just to keep from slapping somebody, even if the denial is often accompanied by a profound sense of their own inadequacy. But probably most of the time, they simply get caught in and deliver without realizing it a stew of confusion that serves White supremacy well.

After a week of media reports on the happenings related to the on-going three-ring circus Jena, Louisiana has become, someone sent me a commentary by columnist Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City (Kansas) Star. Whitlock is Black and is bemoaning the fact -- with which we all could agree, I might add -- that it would have been to the point for the community (Black and White) to be there for Mychal Bell when he was young before all this mess unfolded. All boys need their dads, writes Whitlock, and Bell's dad was not there until after he went to jail. In fact, Whitlock appears to relish reporting, Bell has been before the bench three times for assault in the last two years, including the most recent incident. Doesn't that prove, he seems to be suggesting, that it's a personal problem; that it's his father's fault; that it's a shortcoming in the Black community where men don't volunteer to be Big Brothers for boys like Mychal?

He calls the fight a "beatdown" (how Black of him). He castigates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for being prone to serve up a "kernal of truth on a mountain of lies" because they demand racial parity. He dangles "true American liberation, equality and power" in front of his readers as if none of these requires any realization of who precisely is sitting on top of all three making sure they are NOT shared.

Whitlock points out that the Black U.S. Attorney said the attack had "absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before" and that because the defense attorney who called NO witnesses was Black, his poor performance couldn't possibly have had anything to do with Mychal's race. By the time he finishes his piece, declaring that the Black community needs to practice "preventive medicine" so that other boys of color will not throw away their futures, his assertion that these boys "deserve to be punished" comes across more as a man concerned than a man who, at least in this case, like so many others with dual-consciousness, unfortunately helps those with the Power-to-Define maintain the paradigm that incubated this situation and then threw it in the laps of the clean-up crew.

Who can argue with the idea that all children need loving parents and a supportive community? But many live-in dads do more damage than their absence would. And "Talley's Corner" (a famous sociological study in the 1970's) found a long time ago that Black men who are FOUR TIMES more likely to be unemployed than European-American men at every educational level in the U.S. are often discouraged about their inabilities to support their families financially and therefore walk away. Is discrimination in the job market their fault?

White men leave their families in the lurch. too. And there's been plenty written about how "deadbeat dads" are the cause of all manner of ills in this country. But the fact is that, while children in other industrialized nations (especially in Europe) are routinely covered by programmatic assistance that ensures their eating and having medical care and receiving truly adequate educations, this society does not find that important enough to outweigh the war du jour. What I mean is, does this society give a crap about its kids in general or not? You want to fault Black men for the norms to which the whole society is apparently committed?

Additionally, young Black men are the fodder for the cash cow that the prison-industrial complex has become in this country. The Federal Bureau of Prisons alone is now the biggest industry in the U.S. and with the workers making pennies (sometimes literally), a magical mystery tour of capitalistic endeavor it has become. With three-fourths of those now "doing time" incarcerated for non-violent crimes or no crimes at all (such as drinking on probation), those who pay attention know how many of those young men have been prepared for their fate and then helped to fulfill it just as the Jena Six have.

Finally, how in the sam hill (as my mother used to say) can we continue to wolf about making Black boys "accountable" when we do not make our racist society at least equally accountable for its wrongs? How can a U.S. Attorney (apparently an "educated" man) say there's no connection between the nooses and the fight when they both came straight out of the ugly, vicious, White-driven violence of U.S. history which is still living out its twisted agendas today? How can a Black public defender who needs a job in a town of three thousand people where only White kids deserve shade be assumed to be unscathed by race in his defense of a Black boy who cold-cocked a White one?

When, in the same region of Louisiana as Jena, three White boys beat another White boy so badly that he wound up in the hospital for two weeks with bleeding and swelling of the brain, the attackers were charged were simple battery -- a misdemeanor. No jail. No felony record. No interruption of their school year. But when Mychal Bell and his friends -- after being threatened with lynching (a practice that still occurs, Mr. Whitlock, and not just in the South), attacked physically on another occasion, threatened by a Prosecutor with having their lives "disappear," turned away by the School Board when they attempted to be heard about their concerns as young African-Americans, threatened with a shotgun and then charged with robbery for disarming the White man who was threatening them and who was NOT charged with anything -- finally had a bellyful of standing alone in the face of such a display of unmitigated Whiteness arrayed against them and jumped somebody for mocking them, they deserve to be punished.

You want to know where the preventive medicine is, Mr. Whitlock? It marched in Jena last Thursday. Where were you?