Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Montgomery, Alabama: Then and Now

Mural at Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial Center 

Another Martin Luther King, Jr., Day has come and gone. There was a time on this blog when I posted on every holiday or historical point of interest related to the socially-constructed political notion of "race." There was a time I just "had to" weigh in on every news story featuring a Black person, especially a Black person victimized by White Supremacy. But after 571 posts, it occurs to me now that I've pretty much said a lot of what I have to say. And the same shit keep happening over and over. Other people will cover that stuff and, by and large, I just comment on it on Facebook. Today, I have options. That doesn't mean I'm done as a blogger (obviously). It just means I've come to realize that this process has morphed (as everything does) and I have developed my own little niche in the blogosphere. Or at least that's the way I see it.

Sometimes, I'm busy (as most of us are). Sometimes, I'm going through something (as everybody does from time to time, some of us more often than others). Regardless, if you want to know what I think about some aspect of "race," a summary perusal of this site can help you find it on here somewhere.

But since I think about oppression rather a lot and oppression related to "race" more than most -- especially more than most folks that look like me -- I do still (and probably always will) find things I feel the urge to write about in this manner. Recently (January 18th, to be exact), I found myself in Montgomery, Alabama, and made it a point to tear myself away from the business at hand long enough to make my own little civil rights tour in honor of Martin and all the other predecessors in this on-going struggle for justice. This post is the result.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Akua Taylor: Approve

There's a difference between affirmation and denial. People that go around announcing statements they wish were true but that aren't are in denial. On the other hand, people that announce (to themselves or others, verbally or in writing) statements that are true release a power to make those truths visible. It's seeing the big picture. But it's work to learn the difference. You have to develop the ability to be honest with yourself. And that took me a while.

Take me, for example. If I say over and over that I'm in perfect physical health, knowing I have diabetes, I'm in denial. Yet, when my son died two weeks before his 23rd birthday, I wrote: "Every ending is a beautiful new beginning." Which is a true statement. And a completely different perspective than is the average way of looking at things.

Similarly, many of us have been infected with psychological viruses that make us believe we are worthless, ugly, and incapable. These destructive viruses keep us in denial about our true worth and our ability to recognize it. Year after year, layers of negativity form throughout our bodies, minds, souls, and spirits, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy of helplessness, hopelessness, and shame that hides what lies at the center of our being. Akua Taylor has an app for that.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Step Up! Be the Change!

Sniffing around on YouTube, I found this by Amir Bilal and the Pakistan Youth Parliament. The desire for a better world. It's everywhere. It's everywhere.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hopeful Note #2: Guerilla Gardening

Creative thinkers like Ron Finley are prepared to lead us to a different world. A world I can hardly wait to see. Even if it's in another life.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hopeful Note #1: The Election of Chokwe Lumumba

I'm opening my ninth year blogging on White Supremacy and the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," by referencing some truly hopeful notes at this point in our history. The first hopeful note is that Chokwe Lumumba, former Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika and co-founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, was elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, last June. The event registered not only nationally, but around the world. And The Jackson Plan is now capturing the interest of a wide range of knowledgeable people -- experts and otherwise -- who want to imagine the possibility of forward motion to a better community and a better world for everybody.

Posted above is a YouTube video of Larry Hales of the Workers World Party offering his take on the historical context and the importance of Lumumba winning the election and the possibilities inherent within the Jackson Plan.

Monday, January 13, 2014

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors

The handout on "28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors" to which I'm linking here was developed and written by Debra Leigh, an organizer with the Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative at St Cloud State University in Minnesota. If you find yourself arguing with Leigh's list, saying (or even thinking) things such as appear on the bingo card above that shows us how White folks typically derail the conversation on White Supremacy, that's not good. In fact, if you are winning at Derailment Bingo, you're losing at life.

If the shoe fits, admit it. If it pinches, celebrate the fact that you noticed and take. the shoe. off.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Some Ducks Are Decoys

At first glance, this post may not seem to be about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" at all. But I think it is. It's about the "Duck Dynasty" meltdown in recent weeks and the family behind the show. And what could be "Whiter" than "Duck Dynasty"?

Keep in mind that I was born in a house where White women in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky went to have their babies if they could afford it. My mother's family had lived on the same mountain for two hundred years and had owned most of the region for much of that period. I'm a bonafide, dyed-in-the-wool hillbilly. So when I moved to Louisiana six and one-half years ago, I understood immediately what I was looking at. The racist culture, the "good ole boys" driving trucks, the gun fetish, the local power being passed down in families from generation to generation, the rampant political corruption. The whole nine yards.

But another thing I understood was that "outsiders" think "rednecks" are stupid. And I know better.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

We Can Make This World A Better Place

I don't know about you, but I could use a little musical interlude about now. I don't know what it is about Saturday mornings. Growing up under a capitalist economy, maybe, where most folks are beating their brains out Monday through Friday and those who aren't wish they were. But whatever it is, I feel like dancing. I posted this back in December of 2012. I loved it then (for all the same reasons) and I love it now. Come on, we can do this. Let's make the world a better place.

A Note to My Faithful Readers

As I prepare to enter my ninth year of blogging in this space, I decided to do an inventory of the site and discovered that half of the listings on my blog roll (to the right) were defunct or had not been posted on for quite a while. (Sorry about that.)

This prompted me to check on the list of permanent features I call "Some Basics" (also to the right) and (no surprise) I learned that some of them had disappeared, as well. Phooey.

So. I deleted the blog links that either didn't connect to a blog or connected to one that hadn't had a post in more than six months. And I deleted the "basics" links that went nowhere.

Then I added a bunch of cool new links to the blog roll after coming across them one way or the other (often on other bloggers' blog lists). A number of the new links are to blogs written by and addressing issues important to women of color and, therefore, important to women (and the human race), in general. Also represented among the new links are blogs I used to list but which changed to a different url and some blogs new to me that emanate from Africa.

I encourage you to scan down the new Blog Roll and take a look at what's there. I also welcome suggestions for other blogs you think I (and my Faithful Readers) should know about. After all, I am, whatever you may think, your humble servant.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Conversation Between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry

Old Guard meets New Guard. Crone embraces Vanguard. Intelligence and Spirit blends with Intelligence and Spirit. And we get to witness the result. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Rest in Power, Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka has passed to the other side. A brilliant writer and thinker, Baraka left much work behind him to guide and inspire those who will come after. Above, we hear him present an excerpt from his poem, "Why Is We American?" Below, we read another one.

by Amiri Baraka

A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.

Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air.

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.

We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new

Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be

the sacred word?

SpectraSpeaks: "Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists (and Other Labels That Mean Nothing to Me)"

I'm taking a risk here. I very much want to follow up yesterday's re-post of Shenita Ann McLean's essay on "Politics of Black Superwoman Otherness" with this piece by Spectra of SpectraSpeaks.com. But I haven't yet been able to reach her. So I'm going to do it anyway. If Spectra comes forward and is unhappy, I will apologize and replace this with a link to the original post on her blog. In fact, I think what Spectra has to say here is so important on several levels (and with a nod to intersectionality) related to several forms of oppression, that I'm going to link to this post on her blog as part of "Some Basics" on the right.

The term "ally" is not new, of course. As a general concept, it's been around since the formation of the English language, I guess. But since the 1960's and 1970's (ahhhh, I remember them fondly and well), the word has developed into such an amorphous concept that almost anyone with vaguely good intentions can wear it like a t-shirt bought off a rack at Goodwill. They don't have to have any real consciousness. They don't have to actually do anything to make change. They don't have to take any serious risks. And when challenged, they can get all huffy and wounded and claim that as an excuse to continue being disengaged from the process for social change that begins with and absolutely requires personal change.

Consequently, I give you Spectra, with delight. She's about to explain it to you.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Shenita Ann McLean: "Politics of Black Superwoman Otherness"

After focusing on the plight and struggle of Black men this past week, I'm going to spend the next few days focusing on Black women. This is not a topic I've addressed specifically on this blog as much. It's not because I don't think about and teach about it. I'm aware that Black women -- and women of color, in general -- have two burdens: White Supremacy and the patriarchy (the system that puts men in the dominant power position in the world on the premise that men deserve it). I teach entire separate courses in gender and sexuality, as well as race. And in doing that, I often bounce back and forth to demonstrate that oppression is oppression.

But the intersectionality that will ever bind race, class, gender, sexuality and all other forms of oppression makes the situation of women of color so painful and so nuanced and so close to my woman's heart that I haven't felt confident to present it as fully as it deserves to be presented. I have to change this and the way to do so is to give women of color and Black women, in particular, more regular and specific attention on this blog. The only way I feel able to adequately do this is by taking the opportunity to give Black women the space to make their own voices heard. This has been too long in coming and for that I apologize.

For starters, I'm re-posting (with permission) Shenita Ann McLean's essay entitled, "Politics of Black Superwoman Otherness." It was originally posted on January 1, 2014, at RedSociology.com. Buckle up. This one's gonna take you for a ride.

Justice for Albert Woodfox!

Couldn't resist posting this photo of just a few of the hundred or so supporters who packed the courtroom, spilling over into an overflow room yesterday for Albert Woodfox' appellate hearing. The yellow scarves read: "Stop solitary!" because our struggle and our commitment is much larger than the tragedy and travesty of one man's stolen life. It's about all the men and women anywhere in the world held in closed cells for long-term and indeterminate periods. This struggle will go on even after they free Albert Woodfox -- and they will. They freed Robert King. They freed Herman Wallace. And they will free Albert Woodfox.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Freedom? Now!

For the past few days, I've been examining how the criminal not-just, not-legal system is used against people of color, with special attention to how it targets young Black men. At 9:30 a.m. this morning, a panel of three judges will be hearing arguments related to the case of Albert "Shaka" Woodfox. Albert has been held in solitary confinement for 42 years because he was convicted of killing a White guard at Angola Prison in 1972.

He didn't do it. Prison administrators disappeared bloody footprint and fingerprint evidence so that the real killer wouldn't be identified, making it possible for them to railroad and persecute Albert and two other men, all of whom were active and effective members of the Black Panther Party. They are now world renowned as the Angola 3.

Robert King was released from prison in 2001. Herman Wallace died in October, shortly after being released as a result of a habeus corpus ruling. And Albert's conviction was overturned for the third time last year. He should have been released immediately, of course, but State's Attorney Buddy Caldwell has made it abundantly clear in the international mainstream media that he takes this case personally and will ride it to the bitter end.

Thus, the three judge panel must decide how things will unfold from here.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of The Parts

When I talk about what happens to Black boys and men in this country or how oppression works related to any group in the world (women of color? White women? poor people? immigrants? you name it...), I try to keep the focus on the system rather than "a few bad apples." Are there some crazed predators out there stalking about among us, individuals who would scare the pants off anybody? Oh, yeah. No question. Do I think they should be identified and isolated so they're not a threat to themselves or the rest of us? Absolutely.

But individuals are relatively easy to deal with once we recognize them if they're not given a get-out-of-jail-free card by a system that co-signs what they do because it maintains the system's power. That's where the rubber meets the road. Knowing that Black boys and men are being rounded up like cattle and herded into prisons (many of which are now privately-owned and solid investments on Wall Street) is one thing. Realizing that this is not the consequence of combining Black males' "natural" propensity for crime with the actions of a "few bad apples" in uniform is something else entirely. And it's systemic.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Case In Point: Jamil Joyner

So society in the United States stereotypes young Black men from birth, constantly reinforcing those stereotypes with low expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies of their trajectory along the pipeline straight out of school and into prison. No matter how hard the young man works, no matter what he achieves, no matter how committed he is to living up to the best of his potential, the young Black man always knows he's just one chance encounter away from a cell. There are millions of such stories. One of them is Jamil Joyner.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Stop And Frisk Isn't A Program; It's A Pogram

Yesterday's video demonstrated that Black boys are presumed guilty until proven innocent (ass-backwards to the way the U.S. Constitution reads) and the part about being proven innocent is often given short shrift, if anyone bothers to consider the possibility at all. So a Black youth messing with a bicycle (or a world famous Black Harvard professor in his 70's like Henry Louis Gates trying to loosen his own front door when it's stuck) is likely to be arrested when a White youth wouldn't get a second look.

Today's YouTube video takes the subject one step farther, demonstrating that Black boys don't have to be doing anything except...well...being Black to get rousted repeatedly, terrorized without warning, roughed up (sometimes horrifically), or even accidentally(?) killed by officers of the law (as it were). What's a Black kid to do?
"Stop and Frisk," for those of you who have never been on the internet before today, is a policy abused in New York City for the past decade or so and more recently castigated for its style of implementation. Duh.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Where Are the Black Boys?

Yesterday, I posted a video of Cornel West talking about where Black people are. Today, I'm posting a photo. Just a photo. I don't think a post is necessary to make this point. In fact, I think a post would be inappropriate because it would take away the time we should spend just looking at the photo.

This photo of a young Black boy standing in a cell in Mississippi was taken by Richard Ross for his photo-survey entitled Juvenile-in-Justice published as a book in 2012 and turned into a project website more recently.

Do all young Black boys go to jail? Of course not. Do far, far too many wind up there? Absolutely. Why? I have looked at that many times on this blog and will continue to do so, including again tomorrow.

In the meantime, spend some time with this photo.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Cornel West: "Where Are All the Black People?"

On January 14, 2006, I sat down at a computer and wrote my first post on this blog. I was responding to the requests of students who were committed to wearing me out on the topic of race. They kept me after class for hours, standing under the street lights in the parking lot. They emailed me intense and complicated questions that could only be answered by lengthy and carefully thought out and constructed missives. And they begged me without pause to meet with them outside of class to talk about it more. So -- with the most cavalier possible lack of appropriate respect for the journey I was setting out on -- I embarked on a future endeavor I couldn't and didn't actually or fully imagine.

Eight years later, here I am, older, wiser, and much, much less cavalier. It occurred to me this morning, as another new year dawned, that this blog has been (as much as anything else) a process of my own continued learning about race. It has made me notice more, think more, struggle with issues more, and arm wrestle my own demons more relentlessly than I ever would have done without its overarching presence in my life, so that it has changed me and continues to change me into the deepest reaches of my very soul.

I would not be who I am if it wasn't for this blog. I could not stop writing it if I wanted to. It teaches me and hones me and crafts me and refines my thinking and my understanding and my perspectives as only a committed and long-standing writing project can. So, since it has turned out to be about my own learning so I could pass along what I have so newly discovered, I'm going to post something everyday until the 8th anniversary of Why Am I Not Surprised? The posts will consist primarily of items, articles, videos, and links I came across in the past year, learned from, and wanted to share, but didn't as yet.

To kick us off, I'm posting a three-part YouTube video featuring Cornel West delivering the keynote address at a conference last September. It's low key and casual and even irritating when someone in the audience asks a long question we can't hear. But West beguiles with references to music and literature and historical moments, dropping gems of wisdom delivered without fanfare, as if in conversation while waiting for a late-arriving bus. Don't be fooled by his folksy tone. He's a professor of philosophy and a man committed to consciousness-raising.

Happy New Year, faithful readers. Thank you for refusing to take no for an answer, for coming back again and again, so that I would feel compelled, as well, to come back again and again myself. Who knew we would become so bonded?