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.

Marqulle Turner
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.

Sapeur+Congo++kid+chair

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.