The City a Safe Space

Boston has a reputation: cold, unfriendly, racist and hard–not all undeserved.  But in case everything you know about Boston you learned from a Matt Damon movie, rest assured that there is something else here.

As home to over 70 Colleges and Universities, including some of the world’s best, Boston is a place that has a close relationship with reason–eve if it doesn’t alway win.  We love freedom and liberty–we created it here, no matter what Philly says.  We love a good protest and most importantly–we don’t like to take shit from anyone, especially someone that hasn’t read a book lately, Cheeto boy.  This doesn’t look like a Whitey Bulger movie.  It looks like this:

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is doing the most to be an ideal sanctuary city.  He makes a safe space for all kinds of people attacked, targeted and affected by the Trump administration’s solution to Make America a Police State Again. He not just paying lip service either. He’s going to tuck you in, dude. So when Marty says he’s got you, he does.

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This city may still bear challenges–we’re a rough bunch, just ask Roger Goodell. Still no matter what Ben Affleck tells you, you should know that this is my Boston.

T(rump) Minus 6

We landed in Washington D.C. yesterday, a gaggle of activist students, their queer polis-sci professor and me, afro flying my flag of blackness above my airplane seat.  The airports, the streets are awash with pink pussy hats and red white and blue patriotic chic.  The air contains just a hint of pep rally. The grim reality gives off a scent more like that Aztec ballgame where the losers are decapitated.

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In just six hours, a few miles from here Donald J Trump and his creep squad cabinet will take over the country that I have lived in and loved my whole life.  He has promised to enact policies that will hurt the people I love and care about, including each of the students with us on this trip.  The pink hats are so cute (thanks, Aunt Kathie!) but make no mistake this is a fight.

Scene: Interior, day before the inauguration, hotel lobby. Beneath the altar of CNN on the big screen a bunch of liberals from Boston–identifiable by our Boston swag and the girls’ Olivia Pope outfits, and in that corner three women painted in stars and stripes.  The hotel staff watch the action like tourists on safari.

Hotel manager:  Ha ha, hope there’s not going to be a rumble!

Trumpette: grumbling loud enough for all to hear. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.

Me: Ha, ha…You don’t want to catch these hands.

Trumpette: Let’s be peaceful….(to her cronies.)  I hope they remember to be peaceful on Saturday [for the anticipated Women’s March]

Me: (to students) Saturday you’ll get to see the amazing tradition of nonviolent protest that is such an important part of our country.

End scene.

Would I have rumbled with an older lady in the hotel lobby?  In the rarefied air of the inauguration, the hate and division are real and palpable as my anger hurt and fear over this election and the 4 years to come. yesterday evening I replayed the scene in my mind–how easy it was for me and a stranger to escalate to threats lightly veiled in laughter in just seconds. These past few years have required me to swallow more than a little anger and hurt. I had to admit that it is too easy to slide into the playground taunting.  But in a quiet moment, I remembered that I’m not about that, no matter how much they spoil for a fight. In the land of the walking dead, its is key to remember that you are not them.

So, old lady, you may not catch these hands, but I am coming for you with the full force of resistance and that really packs a punch.  And the fight is just about to start.

This Is Why We Fight

In trying to make sense like so many of you today, I looked into this moment for an opportunity–and I found one. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are no longer the monster under the bed or hidden beneath napkins and polite conversation at dinner.  These insidious beasts that  have stalked our nation are now out in the open.  This past year’s contentious election has shown us all who wants to stand with us, and who doesn’t.  Maybe this isn’t a moment we can’t imagine.  Tonight I saw mass protests of women and men and trans people and whites and blacks and Latino and disabled people and people that love all those people unified together with clear and common purpose. Maybe this is the moment we find our common purpose and rise to meet it.

This moment is not about Donald Trump or 2016 or the Republican Party.  No, this moment is a long time coming, the moment when the immovable object of white supremacy comes face to face  with the unstoppable force of the demographic shifts that will make American a minority-majority country.  This moment isn’t the first  battle but could very well the last stand of white supremacy against the truth of the multicultural coutry we already are.

Is: the present tense. Not was, the word of the past.  Not will be, a magical future that is always the day after tomorrow and never the now.  Is. Present . Right now. If you weren’t an ally before, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve been fighting and you’re tired and you want to give up, that was before.   If you think it will be better in two four or eight years, so what? This is now. Focus on the present.

Why is more important that what or how. What justice looks like and how it arrives requires a multitude of views, a flock of answers, a riot of solutions, more ways up the mountain.  But the why is steadfast, unchanged and still the goal even extending into the future.  To form a more perfect union.  That was why  in the past  and will be why in the future but most importantly is the why now.  In a world that makes you feel like you are drowning this why is your life raft.

We feel new feelings. We have never in our lives felt more threatened, or been more ready to fight.  We have spent these last years mobilizing activating, networking an connecting.  You were the left hand.  You were the right foot.  Parts of the giant of the electorate have shaken themselves from slumber. We were woke separately by issues specific to important aspects of our identity. We are awake together now.  We have been building the will and skill to organize, maybe in preparation for this very moment.

Fight: that is what comes next.  Fight is what ancestors who lived and died in slavery did even with no end in sight.   Fight is what women did who secured the vote and the right to choice. Fight is what we did when police shot our brothers and sisters in the streets. Fight is what they are doing tonight at Standing Rock.We don’t play, guess, plead or wish. We fight.  We fight hard and clean and often and together and separate in big and small ways.  We raise our fists and our signs and our voices and our children to fight.

When you want to know how this could be, when you cry tears to make room in you to keep going, when you ask what we should tell the children I offer you my unconditional love, and a mantra.  This is why we fight.

image credit: Samuel Mitchell, from the Boston Trump protest march 11.9.16

Is This Sand Sculpture Racist?

Can you make a sandcastle racist? I didn’t think so, but then I went to the beach to see the amazing sand sculptures at Revere beach and I saw this one:

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Titled The Color’s In the Mind,Red Orange Green Blue Shiny Yellow Purple Too, it depicts an artist pallet of colors with an object for each color.  So cute, look at the frog and the–wait, what is that?

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Tucked between the fruit is the head of a policeman.  Okay, pretty odd to have a policeman’s head representing blue instead of fruit. And next to the cop’s head is an eggplant, sometimes used to symbolize black people in not so nice ways.

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A cop’s head and an eggplant.  Color’s in the mind.  I see a backhanded comment on BLM.  Is it me? Leave it in the comments!

New Times Call for New Stereotypes

In case you haven’t noticed, black people are really slaying these days.  From music to art to literature knowledge and activism and of course fashion.  There’s even new language to describe the fabulosity of black people: lit, melanin poppin’ and now, TNS.

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TNS stand for the new stereotype, and it is an intentional move by artists to create new ways of seeing– and therefore thinking–about black people.  It all started with this photo shoot by artist Marqulle Turner showing black men far from the brutes who populate the evening newsreel.  These black men are diverse, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fresh.

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Marqulle Turner

Not to be left behind these womyn showed how to get into formation.

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photos from MArqulleturner.com/tns

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TNS seeks to challenge and provide an alternative to the stereotypes of black people that we look at all the time here at smntks.  TNS reminds me a bit of the Sapeurs, the elegantly dressed members of this Congolese fashion club.

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Guinness: Sapeurs in their finery walk among the cattle

Stereotypes are formed in the machine of culture, rarely owned by one person, so can you create a new one on your own? My answer would typically be a no, but these images of TNS come at a time when they are reinforced by amazing images of blacks as thoughtful, creative complex and conscious, from the Sapeurs, to Lemonade to black twitter.  Taken together there is a widespread pattern of a new image of blacks in our culture.

photo by Washington Ave Styles,  www.washingtonavestyles.etsy.com
photo by Washington Ave Styles, http://www.washingtonavestyles.etsy.com

So get your crew, get your melanin poppin’ and add your images to the new stereotype.

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Hold Tight, Let Go

You probably never thought about what happens to teenagers after they get in trouble but before they go to jail:  some end up in residential treatment facilities, kind of like a jail with therapy.  I used to work at a residential for boys on a unit that treated boys with trauma histories and adhd. Boys would spend up to a year living there:  going to school, spending downtime in the dorm units and participating in group therapy.  Though the school was a place for them to heal get help with their issues, the truth was it was often a rough place to be, from bad facilities and roaches to violence between students and sometimes with staff.  The facility was called “staff secure”, which meant that if anything popped off, staff handled it: breaking up fights, restraining out of control students and chasing runaways.  We didn’t use drugs, pepper spray or handcuffs–just bodies.

Boys on my unit came in with a whole host of issues and behaviors.  It was not unusual on any given day to find yourself in a restraint, struggling with coworkers to subdue a student acting out–smashing things, fighting and the like.  Restraints were intense, sometimes indistinguishable from a wrestling match, other times more like a group hug for a kid out of control.

I remember one kid in particular, Jacks.  He was a little guy, barely four feet tall with pants that were too long and would drag on the floor behind him like octopus tentacles.  His parents were on drugs and would often physically and emotionally abuse poor Jacks.  He learned early to turn this violence around on others, getting into fights and lashing out at staff.  Despite his small stature, he was out of control most of the time, a little Tasmanian devil with a mean left hook.  Few days went by that didn’t involve a restraint with Jacks.

One day, predictably, lying on the floor holding onto Jacks’ ankles to keep him from kicking my coworker Cy in the back, we listened to a vile stream of cussing Jacks directed at us.  He was telling me about myself, my mamma and my whole life.  The closer we listened a story started to emerge–and one that didn’t include anything going on in that room. While we held him on that floor he kicked and spat,  screamed at his mother, at his father at a world that left his little body to beat on.  We let go and sat back only to see him continue to twist as if still in the fight. It dawned on me that he wasn’t fighting us, it was us that stood between him and his demons.  He loved the restraints because it was the closest he had to some protection, a hug. He was so haunted by his past that he fought those of us trying to offer him a future.

Are we not also like this?  Like Jacks, haunted by our past, unable to make peace with what has happened, lashing out violently against what is yet to come? Like me, trying to hold on, trying to love my brother back to reality even as he kicks and spits at me. Like a system, locking away hurt young boys rather than help then, warehousing them until they become a number jails can earn from?

That afternoon on the floor, Jacks writhed in pain for a while. Only slowly he realized that we didn’t hold him, he held himself.  He laid there, tear streaked face, taking deep breaths looking across the floor at me not touching him, not holding him, not the one hurting him.  I hadn’t caused this problem but I was still there, still bearing witness for him.

I’d like to tell you everything got better, but that’s never the case.  Jacks got better.  He began to fight the demons in his mind instead of fighting me and Cy.  Responsibility was the only way through, owning his issues and dealing with them instead of bubbling with hurt and hate.  The system got more broke, turning teen placements into cash cows, feeding the prison pipeline with a steady drip of little Jacks.

I don’t work in juvenile justice anymore–I couldn’t find enough justice to justify the treatment of teens tied to profit.  Afterward, I worked with youth in youth organizing, and now I teach young people who will go do work like that.  But still, I feel too often like I I did on that floor, holding onto to my brothers’ ankles trying to love him back to life.  It is a feeling of both helplessness and hope.  This work is hard and sweaty and I’m sick of the hatred and I want to let go of the haters and I can’t heal anyone but myself anyways but I’m stuck, still believing that we can get better, that we can do and be better. But I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m learning to hold on tighter. I’m learning to let go better.

 

 

 

WTF Did He Say?

With the Republican convention under way there are tons of speeches from the podium to pick apart–not least of which is Michelle Obabm’s Melania Trump’s opening night speech. With all that political rhetoric it can be hard to know what the party really thinks.  But Congressman Steve King wants to lay it out plainly for you: Whites rule, the rest of you subhumans drool.

Just in case the shock was too much to hear it all, it went a little like this:

King: This whole “white people business” does get a little tired, Charlie.  I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these categories of people you’re talking about .  Where did any  sub group of people contribute more to civilization?

Hayes: Than white people?

King: Than western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe Eastern Europe and the United States of America and everyplace where the footprint of christianity settled the world.

Look, if you have an old drunk uncle that wants to spout that from a broken down recliner after Thanksgiving dinner, this kind of claptrap may be expected.  Let’s be clear, though, this guy is a sitting congressman–he makes decisions about how our country will run, and he just laid out White Supremacy Theory #1 live on TV with no shame to his game. The only appropriate reaction may be this:

He seems ignorant to the fact that writing, law, math, science, architecture and all other civilization was born on the continent of Africa, and was well in evidence in the advanced civilizations of the Chinese, Egyptians, Incan, Phoenicians and others.  Even the Greeks he credits with civilization were studying in the great libraries of Timbuktu in Mali before Europe was Europe.

So while the mainstream media is chewing up Melania Trump, this little gem of racism goes largely noticed by the people this man is sworn to serve. That’s a good reminder that just when you are least expecting it, if you listen close, the GOP will tell you exactly who they are.

No, You Can’t Say N*%%r, and P.S. Your Former Employer Profited From Slavery

Christine Lindgren really thinkS she should be able to use the n word, and she’s hopping mad about it.  So mad that she penned an open letter went apeshit on Facebook to express herself.

  
Lovely.  Thank you. And thanks for the lesson in African slave trading.  Yes, Africans did participate in the capture of people’s later traded in the transatlantic slave trade.  And who funded those ships? Banks. Like the bank you used to work for, little Christine.  

Perhaps, Miss Lindgren, you can research Americs darkest chapter now that you have been fired–even former slavers don’t want to be racist anymore.  Maybe you could check out Roots with Kwiku Dog.

Roots: Still Relevant, Kwiku Dog

Snoop Dog.  Snoop Doggy Dog. Snoop Lion.  DJ Snoopadelic.  Snoopzilla.  Big Snoop Dog. Snoop Scorcese. Over the course of his career, Calvin Broadous has worked under 7 different names. At the age of 45, he has been a rapper, actor, kids coach and rasta lion.

On the other hand, Kunta Kinte has always been and shall remain Kunta.  Please DO NOT ask him to call himself Toby.

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This week four channels under the A & E network will run the 2016 remake of the miniseries based on Alex Haley ‘s family history. The remake is well made, and as moving a story as before with an all-star team: Forrest Whitaker as Fiddler, and is executive produced by Lavar Burton.  The remake is one of a handful of recent productions focusing on America’s darkest chapter of history including Underground, 12 years a Slave and Nate Parkers much anticipated Birth of a Nation.

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But Snoop Whatever says these stories are no longer relevant.  Is Snoop right about all these slave shows?  Is America ignoring today’s racial tension in favor of whiteness’  walk down memory lane? Do these shows about the past keep us from moving forward?

Past present and future and bound together in an eternal equation. Toggling one part of the equation helps you solve for the rest.  Snoop’s right when he says black people are still suffering today.  Why not then see how those who rebalanced the equation before you did what they could?  A lesson history teaches us is that your wokeness is not enough.  Fighting, protests and even the changing will of many people has not resulted in equity for blacks–or any other group for that matter.

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Watching Kunta take that whipping reminded me of the absolute power and strength that comes from being grounded in home and ancestry.  But, at the end, he whispers Toby.  This tiny whisper I used to think of as a sigh of defeat.   When I was a child I wanted him to never give in. Now I know giving in is not giving up.  That you can take a beating and live to fight another day with integrity intact.

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As an adult traveling Americas treacherous waters of race, I was moved to see that he was willing to do whatever it takes to live and to keep fighting.  That to whisper your slave name is not to be a slave.  That Kunta–like me–could always carry his real name on the inside, no matter how the battle beats us down from day to day. Maybe that is what Snoop is missing.

Roots

Roots is not a slave story–it is the story of Africans enslaved who never laid down, who never gave up even when they wouldn’t see the fight finished in their lifetime.  Roots shows black people in revolt, measuring their subversion for the greatest success, and building a life where there is none. They are not slaves, they are survivors.  We are right be reminded that we are the children born of such power.

For young millennials who are hellbent on changing the world, watching Roots may seem like an old folks’ history lesson, but it is their history too.  You’re wearing your hair natural, rocking dashikis and wax prints–why not a little throwback history too? When things get intense, its good to know your bloodline fought harder than a hashtag.

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That is why Roots is still relevant.  Snoop, your African name is still on the inside, too.  You’ve referenced Italian directors, Japanese monsters, and Jamaican prophets in your name; maybe it’s time you found your Roots.  You’re a child born on Wednesday:  we’ll call you Kwiku Dog.

 

 

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