Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bein' Bold, Bein' Red

This is a few of the nearly fifty students that wore red today on our campus in solidarity with women of color in their fight against violence. Good bunch, huh?

Be Bold! Be Red! This and Every Day!

Be Bold! Be Red! is one year old today. Let us dance in our red dresses. Let us dip and sway to our own internal music. For every woman of color who was ever raped or spit upon or struck or taught not to believe in herself or told she was ugly. For every girl child or woman of color who was disregarded as worthless. For every girl child or woman of color anywhere in the world today who is suffering for no other reason than that she was born female, let us rise and rise and shout.

My students get extra credit today for wearing red. The sociology club I advise will wear red. And the grad student I mentor (a male) intends to wear a t-shirt with a big red circle and the words "this is what a feminist looks like" inside it. Me? I'm wearing a long red coat and a red striped sweater and red underwear (just in case I decide to throw down for real).

Come join us, Universe. And may the many of us who have been wounded stand together with women and girls of color this day in great joy because our blood will NEVER signify defeat and our hearts will EVER sing our solidarity.

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
NOTE: The women in the photo above are Nepalese women Maoists, the vanguard of change in that violence beleaguered country.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Don't Forget: Wear Red Tomorrow

I gave you a heads-up last week about the Be Bold! Be Red! campaign that kicked off a year ago and will be observed again tomorrow. Its point: to stop violence against women of color and to support women of color as they stand up for their basic human rights.

So read up on the campaign and tomorrow, please wear red.

And as a way to get us geared up for tomorrow's activities, I'm posting a video in two parts about the Gulabi Gang, a group of women in India who have donned bright pink saris (since pink is the color that celebrates life in India). The members of this ferocious group of women move among their fellow citizens like real live super-heroes, addressing wrongs and defending the rights of themselves and their sisters in a nation where women have been traditionally seen and treated as second-class citizens. The sociology club I advise have gotten all excited of late about these women and what they do as an example of what it looks like and what happens when people organize in their own best interests.

It works for me.

"The Gulabi Gang" (Part 1)

"The Gulabi Gang (Part 2)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Am I Not Human?

Thanks to Electronic Village and Roots of Humanity, there is a new movement on the internet. It's a campaign inviting bloggers to hold forth on the 27th of every month on the theme of human rights violations. It's called "Am I Not Human?" and from now on till I hear otherwise, I'll be doing this. Unfortunately, it won't be hard to find material.

The human rights violation I'm featuring today is the case of Brandon McClelland, which has been all over the news the last few weeks. Brother Jesse of The Final Call has weighed in. Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune has thrown in his two cents. Even the Associated Press is on the story by now. And I first read about it thanks to Sokari over at Black Looks emanating all the way from South Africa.

The story unfolded in Paris, Texas, (why am I not surprised?) and is a LOT messier than some, but still clearly marked by indicators that the crime in question was committed the way it was committed because of the skin tone of the victim. Further, the way it's being persued by law enforcement officials has all the overtones at this point of a racist cover-up.

The backstory (where most of the messiness occurs) is that long-time criminal Shannon Finley, who is a European-American (that's "White" for those of you new to my blog), killed one of his "friends" five years ago, getting off with a manslaughter conviction because he shot the guy three times in the head by accident...? Uh-huh! (Oh, those Texans!) The conviction resulted in a four-year bit in prison.

During the trial, Brandon McClelland, an African-American who was just a teenager at the time and another "friend" of Finley's, originally testified under oath that Finley was with him when the killing occurred, but since that turned out to be a lie, he wound up doing two years in prison for perjury. Sound funny? It does to me. I mean, I'm wondering why this kid would be willing to lie on the stand for a guy with a long record who just shot somebody in the head three times. You wonder, too? I would guess so.

Anyway, time passed, the two men were released and life went on. Then, in the wee hours of September 16th, after Finley, McClelland, and another man named Charles Ryan Crostley made a late night beer run to Oklahoma, McClelland somehow wound up on foot on the road in front of the truck Finley was driving. The short form is that (again) somehow, McClelland ended up under the truck and dragged as much as 70 feet, a process that dismembered and mutilated his body. Finley and Crostley then left the body parts in the road and proceeded to a carwash where they attempted to clean McClelland's blood and brains from the truck before they went home to sleep it off.

When the crime was reported, law enforcement officers called it a "hit and run by an unknown driver," but since the three had been seen together and since the underbelly of the truck still bore the evidence of McClelland's dna, Finley and Crostley were eventually arrested. It is still unclear what the actual charge will be. Family members, the New Black Panther Party, and the Nation of Islam are calling for the incident's designation as a hate crime. But thanks to the history of the men and the history of the area, this may or may not occur.

You see, Paris, Texas, was the location of last year's hot story about Shaquanda Cotton, the 14-year-old African-American girl who was sentenced to seven years in a juvenile prison for pushing a hall monitor at her school while a 14-year-old European-American girl was given probation for purposely setting the fire that burned down her parents' house. And here we are, back in Paris again just a year later, so despite their assurances that this is NOT a cover-up, one would be, I assume, forgiven for wondering.

Supposedly, investigators are looking for any sign on what's left of Brandon McClelland's body that he was tied to the truck, the way James Byrd, Jr., was ten years ago in Jasper, Texas, just two hundred miles south of Paris. But, as one community activist put it, "What's the difference between dragging behind a truck or dragging under it?" Besides, though Finley admits that McClelland was "walking" in front of the truck and told someone else he "bumped" McClelland a few times before the man went down, I can't believe a Black man, however drunk, would "walk" casually down a road in front of two White guys in a truck -- especially in Texas.

Additionally, there is considerable discussion related to Finley's palling around with White Supremacists while he was in prison. And rumor has it, as well, that Finley took a dim view of McClelland's recent interest in a European-American woman.

There will unquestionably be much more to read about this story in coming weeks and months. Because Brandon McClelland is asking, "Am I not human?"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Quote of the Week

"People say, 'What is the sense of our small effort?' They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time." ~ Dorothy Day

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Appeal to the World

On this day in 1947, W.E.B. DuBois stood before the United Nations General Assembly and presented his now famous address, "An Appeal to the World: a Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress." He had been dedicating both his personal and professional life for over fifty years at that point to the struggle of his people to be treated as full citizens in their own country. He obviously felt that he had exhausted all avenues without success and that it was, therefore, necessary to ask the United Nations to bring to bear whatever influence it had to pressure the U.S. to fulfill its democratic principles and its moral responsibilities.

The Appeal was a factual study of the denial of the right to vote, and also outlined grievances related to educational and other types of discrimination, as well as the withholding of other basic human rights. As a result, President Harry Truman subsequently created the first civil rights commission.

One can only imagine what Du Bois would think today of seeing Barack Obama, his fellow Harvard graduate, hung in effigy even while being the frontrunner in the race for the U.S. Presidency. One thing's for sure, Du Bois never stopped -- no matter what. And we ain't stoppin' either.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Be Bold! Be Red! on October 30th

Thanks to The Unapologetic Mexican, I was reminded this week that a year ago (and it hardly seems possible that it could have been that long already), the Be Bold! Be Red! campaign called on men and women from coast to coast to organize to fight violence against women of color. Since that time, we have seen publicized multiple cases of such violence, a ridiculous number of them involving women in Iraq, such as Pvt. LaVena Johnson, brutally beaten before being murdered and disfigured in an attempt to hide the identity of the perpetrator(s). The official ruling on the case from the Army? Suicide.

And so it goes.

So we will return. We will blog, we will gather, we will sing, we will wear red, and we will talk about why. Last year, one of my Latino students who had spoken with me about her own difficulties only a couple of days before, came walking into my classroom on Be Bold! Be Red! Day wearing red and I almost wept right there in front of God and everybody.

Last week, when the sociology club I advise chose to co-sponsor a Discussion Forum on violence against women (in one of the busiest locations on campus), a beautiful young African-American woman who had admitted to me only days before that she has been beaten by her husband for years, chose to step up and tell her story to the group. With tears running down her face, she talked of how the fear of leaving involved not just fear for her safety, but fear of what her friends and family would think of her for allowing this abuse to go on for so long. She told of how talking to me had given her the courage to tell her family and how, in spite of the fact that she still bears the marks of her latest attack, she is now -- finally -- living alone and going to therapy and doing so with the support of those who love her. I'll wear red for and with her on October 30th. And in memory of LaVena Johnson who did not commit suicide, no matter what the records say. And for the victims who will be suffering even as we wear red and gather and blog.

Please go to Document the Silence and then consider what you might do to commemorate the struggle of women of color to be free of the idea that they don't matter, the idea that they should remain silent, and the idea that we won't stand with them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's the Little Things

Yesterday, I attended one of those institutional "affairs" that you're not required to go to unless you want to be seen as a "team player" who "goes the extra mile" (a perception that has a way of winding up on departmental evaluations that help you keep your job or get a raise or whatever). I don't really mind that much. They don't come along all that often. And our department was celebrating the establishment of a scholarship in the name of one of our own who just retired, so we proceeded to a little soiree afterward where the food was excellent and it was just "us" in rather high spirits.

The ceremony, of course, had been boring, with a whole list of names being called and individuals -- most of them little old people -- receiving plaques they then placed in their respective spots on the display board. It was homecoming, you know, and these were the folks that had distinguished themselves with their giving, a veeeeery important role at universities who count on this money in many ways. The amounts were impressive. The bottom rung was ten thousand dollars and the ladder kept rising until two gentleman representing their deceased sister's estate were recognized for a "gift" of three and a half million. I don't mean to be flip. And once when I was in my twenties and received an insurance settlement after being in a horrified car wreck, I gave the bulk of the settlement of seven thousand dollars to an organization I was attached to at the time. Money is, after all, only money. But three and a half million? How much would you have to have to let go of THAT much and nobody freak out?

Anyway, it reminded me of a comment left on my last post by Sorrow the other day, tipping me to a post at Soaring Impulse. The post, beautifully written by Maithri Goonetilleke and featuring a YouTube video showing Patti LaBelle singing to the woman herself, is about Osceola McCarty, the African-American washer woman who dropped out of the sixth grade in Wayne County, Mississippi, in the early 1900's and spent a long, long life scrubbing other people's laundry for $1.50 a bundle. Then, in 1995, at the age of 87, Osceola McCarty walked into the University of Southern Mississippi with a check for $150,000 and told them she wanted to endow scholarships for needy students. This selfless act was so inspiring that others jumped on the bandwagon, as well, bringing the Osceola McCarty Scholarship Fund to over half a million dollars!

Sometimes, when I'm tired, I don't know if I can keep on keepin' on. I do SO much I don't have to do and don't "have time" to do. I choose to spend frankly interminable hours encouraging, counseling and comforting students one on one and in small cadres. I'm only paid to provide intellectual stimulus and I love to do that, too, but a person can't wrestle ideas when they're wrestling drug addiction or emotional traumas or psychological sorrows or unresolved pain or confusion. And while there are therapists and counselors and ministers and relatives, sometimes they come to me instead and I just don't have what it takes to say, the way many of my colleagues do, "I'm not trained to deal with your problem. You failed the exam and if you don't buckle down, you're going to flunk the course. Now, what's it gonna be?"

I read a story years ago about a man who told exhausted, unlovely women they were beautiful in such a convincing way that, he said, sometimes they transformed right before his very eyes. Osceola McCarty scrubbed clothes with her bare hands and lived as a pauper to be able to change the lives of others who would follow behind her. I am much less sacrificial, but I do drive a funky car and buy my clothes at thrift stores so I can help to feed street kids in Haiti and support local legal battles against organized racist institutions. And I do often forego time to "relax" to give a struggling student a safe place to reconnect with their own sense of hope. I'm not trying to suggest that I'm in her category because that would be far from true, I'm sure.

But I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I make the world a better place for somebody every single day. Osceola did her part. I'm doing mine. And there are millions around the globe who also work for change, which entails not only huge considerations, but individual ones, as well. Sometimes, I forget how many there are. Sometimes when I think about the men in the gulag at Guantanamo Bay or the families trying to run the gauntlet at the Mexican-American border or children huffing glue or people being bombed or women being raped for profit, I think we might be helplessly careening toward ultimate extinction. Then, I watch a little band of budding sociologists sprouting their wings and singing of social change. Or somebody drops by my blog and reminds me of a woman who quietly modeled love. And I know that love conquers all; that even as I warn of how crucial it is for us to face reality and quit causing pain; that even as I threaten us all with the possibility of our social demise; that I believe in the power of love. And I love being loved and loving. The rest is just bugs on a windshield, a momentary inconvenience, a challenge to address, making it hard to see where we're going, but never, never stopping us from getting there.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Black and Green

Van Jones has started a revolution and it WILL be televised. In fact, it already has been and it's all over YouTube. Jones, a Yale-graduated lawyer, developed the Green For All movement as the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights out of Oakland, California, and if you don't know about him and his work already, you've been hiding at the back of the cave, my friend. His new book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, suggests that we need to train low income and disenfranchised youth in the United States how to carry us into a more sustainable future as a nation and as a race (as in, the human). This would keep us from destroying ourselves using the non-green practices of the past and keep us from destroying a whole generation (or more) of U.S. citizens who are presently languishing in frustration at the bottom of a barrel that is getting deeper all the time.

Like dust, wrote Maya Angelou, African-Americans rise and rise and rise. And ain't that the truth?

I can't help but think about the misguided young man who was captured by the media this week saying that his wife is pregnant and the thought of Barack Obama being the President of the United States scares him. He would, we must assume, feel "safe" with a White guy who is widely known in Washington for flying off the handle at a moment's notice when he doesn't get his way. He would, I suppose, be comfortable with a back-up plan in the person of a woman who has been officially found to abuse her power even as Governor of a state having fewer residents than the city of New Orleans. But he's AFRAID of Obama. And Jones? And Martin Luther King, Jr.? And Angelou? And...?

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Kind Of Amazing Grace?

This is the new one by Ian Rhett, the guy who wrote and performed "(Didn't Know I Was) UnAmerican" a few years ago. Great talent. Pass it on.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Where are the children, Denver?

Looking for films to show during the Childrens' Rights Film Festival the Amnesty International chapter at our university intends to host next month, I came across a video produced by a group of young people in a Denver, Colorado program called Arts Street. The video, entitled "Where are the children, Denver?", is about the struggle of many young people to make it through their day, let alone to stay in school. It's about the hard core realities of family poverty and addiction. It's about going without food and being locked in closets and despairing of life. And it's about the pain of walking alone with no one to tell.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to get very involved with a Truancy Task Force in Broward County/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where at that time, on any given day, 10,000 children would not be where they belonged -- in school. Multiple professionals, offices and agencies spent months compiling information and arm-wrestling issues only to find that many of those children were dealing with heart-breaking levels of abuse and neglect. We learned that racism (especially by teachers and administrators), fear of bullies, and plain old hard core depression haunted the schoolday experiences of hundreds of youth. And we learned that the attitudes of too many over-loaded, ill-prepared teachers and overworked, overwhelmed social workers was to try to hold the children responsible (somehow) for problems that were far to heavy for their young shoulders.

One California study found that every dollar spent on keeping kids in school reduces crime by FIVE TIMES the amount of every dollar spent to lock them up. But where do we put the bulk of our funding? Into locking them up, of course. I've said for years that, as far as I'm concerned, if you know how to change something and you choose not to do it, then you don't really want change.

A mentor, an adult who cares, who lights up when they see the young person, can literally make the difference between that youth staying alive and dying a little every day until they are, for all practical purposes, beyond the vale. I have seen a student come back from the brink of disaster on the basis of a sixty-minute encounter. And yet many adults, though busy they may be, are bored out of their minds for want of doing anything that brings real satisfaction.

Is that television program, that football game, that shopping trip, that hour with the newspaper so valuable to you that you can't EVER change it out for a few minutes with a kid who has no one? Are you sure? Why not try watching "Where are the children, Denver?" and asking yourself again?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Two White Men Hugging

Some folks think I never have anything good to say about White people (despite the way I look and the fact that I like myself and others like me just fine, thank you). So here's a photo of two White men hugging. Now, that's positive, right?