COVID is the Battle; White Supremacy is the War

Black people make up a mere 14% of the American population but they make up 60% of cases and fatalities under COVID. Heat maps of the virus’s attack clearly outline working-class communities packed with black and brown people who cannot afford the luxury of staying home. Instead, workers on the front lines in health and service industries are pushed by a homicidal federal government to staff the reopening of the economy knowing the cost this will have, knowing that cost will be born by communities that Trump says have nothing to lose, and who, in fact, have everything to lose, balanced precariously at the edge of American safety nets not designed to catch them.

And still that’s not enough.

Black people are 14% of the population but make up 100 percent of the videos I’ve seen of people hunted down by klansmen and their modern boss-hog-hat-wearing descendants,  assailants who go uncharged and are ultimately unconvicted, avoiding altogether the prisons where COVID spreads among unadjudicated people awaiting trial, people who are overwhelmingly poor, and, you guessed it, POC.  And as soon as one killer walks free there is another and another. Some assailants wear uniforms are are paid by the communities they terrorize. Sometimes they laugh over the still-warm bodies they hunt down; they laugh about killing people they are sworn to protect on video broadcast live and return to work the next day.

And still that’s not enough.

Science says that we are months, perhaps a year or two away from vanquishing this virus. Any story that we can rapidly return to our already bubblicious economy of 2019 is a lie.  Already we’re seeing 20% unemployment.  The old adage says when White America catches a cold, Black America catches Coronavirus. The economic inequity, set up in antiquity is scheduled to continue, the next tsunami on an already ominous horizon. 

Death by health inequities and by cop,  and by hunger by the heartbreak of racism: where does the overlap of COVID and death at the hands of white supremacit systems add up to genocide? We are there; we are living in the time of the black death and if I didn’t know we had survived the violence of white supremacy before I might think it impossible to survive this moment.

The counter-narrative to the Black Lives Matter protests said that if only black people would respect the law, the law would respect us.  That is a lie that only those willfully ignoring white supremacy can believe. Obeying the law is only mandatory for some Americans. No face of our government is smiling on us. There is no system that reciprocates our compliance. There is no social contract enforcing the empty promise of all of us being created equal. 

So no we’re not #AloneTogether, unless you’re in your house watching this horrible spectacle of Black death in every corner and wondering which flavor of death your country will serve you. We can’t all #StayHomeStaySafe. We can’t all get some exercise while social distancing. We can’t all expect the law or the leadership to protect us. 

Coronavirus US: Why have there been protests against the lockdown ...

How about a new motto, or perhaps we can just repurpose a great American motto for our new time: Live Free or Die.  A two-part motto for our tiered and racist society.  Let this be the clarion call for 2020, a moment of honesty where the world no longer allows us the comfort of ignorance of who we are, or who we have always been.   

Some Americans are free to carry assault rifles while marching on our statehouses.  Some Americans are free to sunbathe in the park while flouting recommendations to stem the virus. Some Americans can shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and get away with it.

But not you, Black America. Die but deliver my Instacart first, Die, but do it quickly so my hair doesn’t grow in the meantime. Die but make the hunt thrilling. Die, but make it fun.

The officer in the video has been placed on modified desk duty and stripped of his gun and badge, according to police sources.

Fuck that.

People showed up this week to call for justice and run in memory of Ahmud Abery. Many people recognize, thanks to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, the injustice involved in the justice system, and are ready to step in when we need the community to show up and demand justice.  The trickier part is demanding racial justice when doing so requires more skin in the game.  As states lift stay at home orders knowing that black and brown communities are being decimated by the disease, will the same Americans who ran for Ahmud demand that black people be protected from calls to return to unsafe workplaces, overwhelmingly staffed by people of color?  When the economy pits us against each other will we fight for ways to lift all boats?

Being in this together requires real solidarity. We all must stand up and demand better testing and tracing. We all must support access to vital support services in the communities of color and poverty hit hardest by this disease.  You can contribute in big or small ways to the economic support and recovery that will be needed in the weeks, months, and years ahead in communities that will face unemployment at the highest rates.  Be where you are, help where you can, don’t stop.  

We continue the 400-year-old war.  This is the war that we’ve always been in in America, and COVID is the battle, lynching is the battle, economic harvesting is the battle, and still, there are battles yet to come.  But we’re fighting back better, we’re masking up and dapping with feet to protect each other.  We’re all we got and we refuse to live free or die.  We are the truth in #StayTogether.  It is the only way we can live.

Victim Blaming: COVID-19 Edition

The Rona is getting real: on Friday the U.S. Surgeon general warned that Black people are “socially predisposed” to catching and dying of the Coronavirus, going on to name preexisting health conditions, whipping out his own inhaler, and finishing up by telling us to stay off drugs and alcohol.  TL;Dr–stop getting fat, breathing hard and getting high, Black America, or expect to die. Don’t let the messenger fool you: this is classic Trump racism coming from a Black mouth right into America’s living rooms, conflating complex aspects of systemic racism into bite-size blame of the black community.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 3.02.38 PM

When we see large disparities in the outcomes between people of different races for diseases that do not biologically discriminate, we are seeing the shadow of structural and institutional policies practices and procedures pulling the puppet strings of individual behavior.  If this virus is to be an apocalypse revealing truth, then one truth is that racism kills black people.  Let the virus map out structural inequality:

Exposure

Who gets the Rona? Biologically, the virus does not discriminate, going more places than Kim K nudes and will rock with anyone on any continent. The disease spread first in environments that aided its spread–lots of people in close contact.  Cities have been hit the hardest, particularly on the East Coast, as well as Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit.  All of these places have high concentrations of black people living in densely populated areas.  Further from work and services, Black people are consigned to using public transit at higher rates, increasing risk on their way to jobs or shopping. These areas have living arrangements shaped by years of systemic racism.  From Jim Crow to redlining, to gentrification, and regentrification, and re-regentrification, Black communities have been forcibly corraled by both government and economic policy into densely populated spaces lacking the same access to daily needs, health centers and hospitals as wealthier communities.

While there are plenty of white people in communities affected by the virus, stay-at-home orders have allowed many middle-class and professional people to move their life indoors, empowered in their ability to stop the virus by doing nothing all while ordering delivery of everything from meals to merch. Who is out fulfilling those orders, delivering those packages and dropping off food?  Front line workers are working class, working poor and poor people–a disproportionate number of whom are black and brown. Decades of policies around education, job force discrimination and old fashioned bias and interpersonal racism have economically disenfranchised black people, corralling them economically.

drake raise their

It seems almost patriotic–ordering take-out and keeping your local restaurant alive.  We certainly need to support local businesses.  Where other countries have stepped in to prop up business during national shut-downs, American small biz is left to the hunger games of the SBA relief funds. And it would have been lovely before all this started to have a more equitable economy so the people in your neighborhood didn’t have to choose between risking a quick death by COVID-19 or a slow death from hunger and poverty. In the short run, it would be great if the federal government we pay for would step in to prioritize providing wages and grants to our local peeps instead of paying Boeing to buy back stock. This could support our fav restaurants and their workers.  But if we support restaurant and delivery workers to stay home, then you can’t have delivery. Or, we could just make videos about our everyday heroes with slow fades between poignant pictures of smiling UPS drivers and speedy delivery guys. Yeah, that.

Testing and Treatment

While Trump is still downplaying the seriousness of the disease, we knew because Dr. Cardi B told us on March 11 that, and I quote, “this shit is really real.” While there were plenty of memes about the Rona circulating on Black Twitter and social media before most states shut down, Corona tests are more difficult to come by in communities of color.  Longstanding inequities in the distribution of health care services and resources have affected health outcomes forever in the Black community, and this age of COVID-19 is no different.

Interestingly, even though the government has been slow to roll out widespread testing in black and brown communities, they have been quick to suggest going to black communities to test experimental drug treatments.  A drug that has a high incidence of heart-related side effects is being tested in Detroit.  African leaders are reportedly resisting pressure to be guinea pigs for emerging vaccines.  Treatment for the virus should be proportionate to the problem, ensuring that the communities of color who are hardest hit get the resources they need stat.  The burden of testing should be shared by all communities, spreading the risk of side effects among the groups who stand to benefit.

Preexisting Conditions

Large numbers of people in the black community have underlying health conditions that contribute to bad outcomes for those who contract COVID-19.  An uninformed (cough cough Fox cough) news viewer may be left with the familiar stereotype that black people don’t take care of themselves, instead of understanding the complex structural and historic factors that have created such high numbers of poor health conditions. There is a lot of subtle blame in repeating the narrative that obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are factors without acknowledging that health care disparities, food deserts in urban areas and hereditary factors contribute to these underlying conditions.  In addition to environmental and biological factors, studies have shown that being black in America is itself a preexisting condition.  The stress of racism is not just psychological, but also physical.  Racism is quite literally heartbreaking for Black people. Preexisting conditions matter, but so does putting the prevalence of them in context.

One for the Road

Speaking of dog whistles, the Surgeon general threw a parting shot in asking Black people to refrain from drinking and doing drugs.  This is pretty rich since he is well aware that America is currently ravaged by the opioid crisis, largely affecting white people.  He also knows that white people use drugs at higher rates than Black people.  I didn’t hear him ask white people to lay off the wine and gallon-sized cosmopolitans.  In fact, drinking away the pandemic is a laughable trope for the well to do in meme after meme.

ina drinks

The Surgeon Generals comments on race and COVID-19 seemed designed to sound the old racist dog whistles of blame and attack to Donald Trump’s supporters, rather than to help the American public understand the risk faced by Black people.  The factors that make Black people “socially predisposed” to COVID-19 can be addressed not pithy by reminders for Pop-pop, but though racial justice.  Coronavirus has revealed anew racial health inequities, and we don’t need to return to a normal that perpetuates them.

 

 

 

 

Life with Coronovirus: Come Together, Stay Apart

Sure you’ve seen every virus movie known to man, but now its time to truly prepare for the new normal

In the matter of a few short weeks, life, as we know it, has ground to a halt, the world is going into lockdown, markets have flipped from bull to bear as mother nature issues her own correction in the form of Covid 19.  Millions of Americans are stuck in the house binge-eating, binge-watching and trying not to kill family–Like an endless Thanksgiving without the turkey and colonization.

Welcome to the apocalypse.  Yup, you are officially here–though for readers of this blog we know the signs of the times have been on full display for quite a while.  That doesn’t mean its time to dig your Mad Max uniform out of the trunk and ride out.  Apocalypse comes from the Greek, translating loosely to an unveiling.  It is the end of the illusion, not the end of time. Apocalypses are the moments where the truth of our world is revealed beneath the shiny bullshit veneer of the simulation we’ve been living in.  Welcome to the desert of the real.

The Covid crisis is revealing the limitations of capitalism to sustain people in a world increasingly marked by crisis, just a single symptom of climate change.  In a matter of months, a virus has shown us what we have willfully ignored for too long:  we are one, a human organism connected globally, a mass of cells moving in solidarity whether we want to or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. Your latte-drinking lash-wearing tik tok dancing life has been rendered obsolete.  There is no star status that will protect you from the virus, but we see too, that our systems of inequality are already making the crisis worse.  Unequal distribution of resources and racism, xenophobia, and sexism will mean those traditionally marginalized will be the hardest hit.

How can you shelter in place if you have no shelter?  How can you call your health care provider if you don’t have one? When we have to choose who gets what they need and who doesn’t who will stand up for those without a seat at the table?

But before we can parse the dissembling power structures, we have to survive the collapse. Now this, my Apocalyptic America fans, is something we have been preparing for.  Time for all the lessons of all those movies of the end time to guide your pandemic plays.  Let’s start with these to get you through the weekend:

 No Gas, All Break

Daily White House Press briefings are important sources of news, but if you’re not careful you might forget that this is the president with over 15,000 recorded lies during his time in office.  Avoid the gaslighting that everything is okay, nothing to see here. Gaslighting is a real and dangerous communication dynamic.  After months of the Trump Administration telling us that truth isn’t truth, you may find your ability to trust your own sense of what is real is not as strong as the pandemic coverage requires.  Trust scientists.  Trust the data.  Err on the side of caution.

Take regular news breaks with credible sources.  The New York Times has comprehensive and well-researched coverage, and have removed their paywall, giving everyone access to their up to date reporting.  The Washington Post, likewise, is using its big newsroom resources to provide coverage.  Local press is likely to be telling the stories no one else is and to give you the skinny on what is happening in your area. Check out your hometown paper and look for independent reporting on twitter and online.  Spread your news sources around, but avoid opinion pieces that lack evidence and conspiracy posts with fear-inducing clickbait titles.  As always, snopes.com and factcheck.org are good places to vet what you’re reading before you decide to share.

Pace Your Panic

Okay, you have enough toilet paper. With over a week of panic shopping behind us, its time to stop freaking out and settle in for the long haul.  Early reports that prepared us for just a couple of weeks without school are giving way to warnings that this pandemic could lead to 12 to 18 months of disruption.  Even when the threat of the virus passes, we know that we will be returning to an economy in shambles, and many people in dire need of support. You cannot keep up toilet-paper-hoarding levels of panic for months: your mental and physical health simply cannot sustain that.  We need you healthy for the recovery, so please, pace your panic.  Yes, shit is scary as fuck so set aside a little time to let it all in so you are rooted in the seriousness of the moment. Balance that awareness with healthy levels of self-care, seclusion, and emotional management.  Read- draw- create- play- eat- move- drink- dance- this mess around on the daily, and keep your mind sharp and body ready for the long term challenges ahead.

Connect Without Commerce

Shelter in place orders and social distancing mean stores, bars, restaurants, and other public gathering spots are closed. Don’t let capitalism’s pause keep you from getting the social connection you need so much in this stressful time.   This is a chance for us to make space in our lives for connection without commerce.  This is the time when we can leverage the very best of social media to bring us together, lift us up, and find new ways of spending time together apart.  Internet–do you meme thing to keep us laughing; video chat apps, time to show us the lovely faces of our people in virtual family visits, work yoga groups, happy hour hangouts for singles, or mommy homeschool wine and support groups; Text, talk, post and crosspost to build a net of connection across the physical distance between us.

Since everything–or nearly everything–is closed, many of us suddenly have the time we haven’t been able to give to our loved ones.  Yeah, your kids may be yelling or your spouse underfoot or your dog barking nonstop, but if they are driving you crazy, that means they are still here, and that is a blessing you will be all too grateful for in the days ahead. Schedules are a little clearer, our time together more dear than ever.  Have that conversation you’ve been meaning to have.  Reach out and tell those you love what they mean to you.   We will need more love than facemasks or hospital beds, so make love in every way you can-in cookies and games and hugs and words and kisses and kisses and kisses if you are lucky enough to have your loved one in your containment zone.

We will survive as an organism but not without damage to the very fabric of our lives.  Things will not be the same, and that may be okay.  It is time to build a new world anyways. Hunker down for the hard road ahead. Build your resilience to support your people and your community. Connect, connect, connect.  Now more than ever, it is solidarity or nothing.

Every End A New Beginning

Dear Students of Wheelock

We find ourselves this week in a mini-apocalypse of sorts. Wheelock will merge with Boston University, and the school in its current format will come to an end. With it, the Communications and Media Literacy program will close after a 9-year run where I had the pleasure to teach many of you. Full disclosure, I learned as much as I taught. In the time since I started teaching Media and Race in 2006, the world has changed. The work we did in class around media and the way it shapes our society, particularly around race, was grounded in theory but splashed across the headlines more times than I would have liked—I taught through attacks on Muslims, the Occupy Movement, the birth of Black Lives Matter and the Rise of the Alt-right to the White House. As the world seems to descend into chaos I have been blessed to see the shining hope that each of you represents to the world. In our darkest hours, I have assured people around me that the next generation—your generation—are truly the heroes that we need to navigate these treacherous times. Your own hopefulness in the face of pain, your development of a deep knowledge of injustice and the systems that support it, your tireless persistence in chanting down those who would oppress the marginalized makes me believe that the apocalypse will find us in a brave new world, one that truly manifests the most beautiful of American ideals—equality and justice for all.

I want to thank each of you for allowing me the honor of being your professor, your advisor, and your mentor. I stand in awe of your collective power. I am moved by the hundreds of personal stories where you have overcome hardship to work for an education. I am grateful to bear witness to the thousand times you struggled to learn and to grow to prepare for the singular purpose of making the world a better place. I will forever hold the memories of you in your pivotal moments at Wheelock—times that you stood up and pushed back, the hard times where we all grew the most, and the fun times from battle rapping in class to dancing with Xclusive.

I am eternally grateful to have the chance to touch so many of your lives, and I hope only that you will remember and pass on the knowledge that we built and shared together. We know that the apocalypse is never an end, only an unveiling of the truth, of the world as it is, though perhaps not what we want it to be. But it is only in the cold light of truth that we can see clearly enough to build.  I feel I armed each of you with the weapons I have to share to fight injustice. I hope you will use them to carve out the new worlds we have imagined together.

I love you all.

SXJ

 

It’s 2018: You Survived the Apocalypse

As a kid, I had problems–bullying, a little racism, typical teen drama.  Sometimes when I would complain to my Dad he would impassively ruffle the pages of his newspaper and ask:

“Are you dead?”

Was he not listening to the blow by blow I just sobbed out?  What does being dead have to do with anything?  I would always spit out, “No,” with a pout.  I knew what came next.

“Then you’re fine.” He would offer from behind his paper.  Case closed.

What kind of bullshit was this?  Could he not see the angst and pain my personal battles were causing me? Didn’t he care?  I remember feeling that the simplicity of his answer was cold in light of the hard world outside our home.  As with all good lessons, only later I came to see I had it backward: the world was cold and he was helping me create a hardness inside me to protect against its chill.

Later, in my room, gnashing my teeth in anger at the exchange, what would make me most mad is that I could not deny that he was right.  No matter what anybody had said to me, no matter what emotional knots I tied myself up in over my battles, I was in fact, not dead, I was still here.  In the end, when I got out of my feelings, I found myself still alive.

859880_10151786375266375_2018643187_o.jpg

Over time this taught me no one’s taunts had the power to kill me, only to weaken me by pushing me off my mark, bending me out of integrity. Bullies were strongest when I let them push my buttons when I tried to go tit for tat.  The fear and anger I felt as a result of their harassment only clouded my ability to respond. Acknowledging that I survived each challenge I faced helped me see I could not control the actions of other people but I could control myself.  I could know that I was strong enough to face whatever was put in my way.  It was not really about being fine, it was about knowing that I had the power and fortitude to keep going and keep moving, motivated by a deep faith that I would persist.  I learned could thrive amongst difficulty.  Knowing this gave me the control I needed to face my bullies with courage and composure.

Over time, I began to ask myself that same question in times of difficulty.  When I thought I could not go on when the pain and misery of the world bent me out of integrity I would perform a quick gut check: am I dead? No? Then keep it pushing. I cannot control every monster but over time I learned I could control my own demons. This is the key to staying in the fight, to living to fight another day.

2017-01-21t02-05-17-166z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600.jpg

Sometimes the world seems too much to bear.  I remember this time last year, seized with fear and uncertainty at the prospect of a Trump presidency,  at a country set to explode.  And then 2017 came. And we did blow up.

This year was a raging dumpster fire beginning to end.  A year of Trump driving America right over a cliff–killing Obamacare and net neutrality, defunding science, tax breaks for the rich, the immigration ban, appointing unqualified judges and championing racism and sexism and classism as patriotic values.  The country I love is on fire. The world is teetering on the brink of chaos. Our best hope seems to be a man with a rocket ship to Mars.   The details of 2017 read like a list of signs of the apocalypse right out of several Hollywood movies.

cannibals.jpg

And yet, we are not dead.

Even stranger, I feel wildly optimistic. The ground is razed and I’m in a mood to build. See, here’s a little secret I learned about the apocalypse.  The end is never the end, only a new beginning. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek apo–un and kaluptein–to cover–to uncover, to reveal.  An apocalypse isn’t an end, it’s an unveiling.

In the purest sense of the word, 2017 was a true apocalypse.  America had long slumbered in a self-congratulatory slump, shoving a big foam we’re-number-one-finger in the world’s face while racism and sexism seethed unseen beneath the mainstream’s gaze.  Globalization turned us into a nation of consumers, too proud to realize we were slipping behind in the knowledge economy. The untreated virus of white supremacy weakened our country for centuries and the only treatments rendered were to deny, destroy and disempower communities of color. Patriarchy kept one boot squarely on half the population, capitalism kept both boots on us all.  With all that going on, we were too busy buying shit and numbing out to the pap of spoon-fed pop culture to notice.

Then came 2017: the rise of the alt-right. The blossoming of the new black civil rights movement.  #Me Too. And Trump, Trump a pimple that exploded in all the ugliness beneath America’s skin. There are no more secrets here.

As a wise man once said, “if you don’t know, now you know…”

152051-full.jpg

The scabby underbelly has revealed itself, disallowing us the ability to ignore the contradictions at the heart of our country, contradictions that threaten to tear us all apart:  if we are the land of the free, why are we chained in debt? if this is the home of the brave, why have we ignored those who stand up to speak truth to power? if we are all created equal, then why are we so unequal? Can we ever be a more perfect union?

As painful as this year has been, we can see plainly what our country is.  Gone are our rose-colored glasses, numbness turned to rage and fear. The trick now is to not let the emotions of these times cloud our ability to think clearly, act cooperatively and build towards a new vision, not just defend against the daily onslaught. As difficult as it is to be woke, it is the only way forward.

The apocalypse is an end only to the status quo.  The upheaval is real, the chaos of old structures shaking to their core terrifying, but hush your fear and look for the opportunities to build.  Channel your anger to weather the upheaval. The apocalypse ushers in a new time, the next paradigm.  Don’t get lost in the distractions while new powerbrokers make new rules. The resistance is working, too, each of us in our own way. We have the knowledge, the technology, and–I know with every fiber of my being–the human compassion needed to build a better world, more perfect than our forefathers could imagine.

SpaceX1.jpg

So on this first day of 2018, I offer you this gut check:  if you are reading this, you’re not dead.  You’re still here. And 2017 was a bitch, so that’s really saying something. Strap on your helmet. Like Elon Musk’s rockets, we have explosions at each stage, shedding a firey ball of flame across the sky, but I assure you we are ascending. As we jettison the lies we had come to depend on, we will be free to evolve past our imperfect past.  As long as we don’t burn up in the process, we are entering the wider universe. We are transforming into something more.

 

 

 

When Not To Tweet

Social media–we love it, we live on it, we can’t do without it. With tweets clocking in under 140 characters, Twitter is the quickest high out there, with regular users sending dozens of tweets daily.  But like all fun things, you really have to have some limits.  Too much ice cream? Diarrhea.  Too much tweeting? Same result.  So even the most “expert” tweeter in chief should remember when not to tweet. Here are four tips for anybody, really, but especially anybody ruining this country with his tweets:

In the Midst of Tragedy

travel ban.jpg

When crisis strikes in our too fragile world, Twitter can be an important tool to get out information quickly, check in to find people in harm’s way and to offer prayer and solidarity to bolster hearts and minds in the moments after a catastrophe.  Tweeting in these times requires all the gravitas and sensitivity you can muster–to tweet otherwise can be disastrous for careers and reputations (of nations, even). This is not the moment to drop a flaming tweet to stir people up.  That is irresponsible and uncaring, showing your weakness as a leader.

RT-obama-legacy-newtown-presser-ps-170103_16x9_992.jpg

Protip: be like Obama–he knew how to send a tweet that calmed and uplifted in dark times.  Bonus protip: that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

Late at night

comey tweet

Bae acting up and you can’t sleep, all in your feelings? Do not tweet about them.  You are vulnerable.  It’s dark out.  Maybe you’re listening to Lil Uzi Vert walking around the White House in your bathrobe alone with only your wounds and some ice cream.  Do not pour out your pain on Twitter.  Some pain is supposed to be private, some anger is not righteous and only reveals the small minded self-pity that humans tend to in these late nights weeping sessions.

Protip: Put the phone–and the ice cream–away and go the fuck to bed.  Better yet, leave your phone at the office and switch up your playlist until you can be trusted after hours.

When you don’t know what you’re talking about

global warming

Look, if you tweet some ignorant shit, you most definitely will be in good company–a solid portion of tweets are ignorant, tweeted by people who are beyond ignorant. Some make a living at it.  There are even robotweeters programmed to tweet out ignorant shit all day long. But, as your mom used to always say, just because all your friends are destroying the internet with a bunch of fuckery and false facts that doesn’t mean you have to, too. In fact, if you are a professional of any kind—any kind, Don–you recognize your Twitter feed as an extension of your professional reputation.   Tweet stupid, look stupid.

foxwarmingover630_1.jpg

Protip: If you’re about to tweet, run a quick fact check, just a little google action.  Level up–Breitbart, Info Wars and Fox Commentary are not independent fact checkers.  Please do better.

When your friends and family (and country) are concerned

fake media make me not tweet

We have friends and family so someone will tell us the truth when we get out of line. Unlike vodka bottles under the couch or pill bottles hidden in a purse, your Twitter habit is out there for all to see.  I mean everyone can see you up saying crazy talk late at night (and can totally picture aforementioned bathrobe and ice cream). We noticed that you have to tweet foolishness just to get out of bed in the morning.  Even when you’re away on a great trip you can’t help tweeting bullshit. Everyone knows your tweeting is out of control.  You doubling down and saying tweeting is cool because all your friends like it when you tweet just sounds like the last defense before they load you onto a plane for rehab.  When Kellyanne Conway, whose tie to reality is tenuous at best, tells you to chill, chill.  But when her husband has to get in on it along with all your advisors and a few friends?  Time to put the phone down.  Don’t listen to Don Jr.  He’s enabling.

Protip: Listen to the people that care about.  The love you like crazy and they feel like they’re losing you.  The rest of us hear your cry for help and a good 65% percent support you packing up today and going away till you–and this country–recover.

There you have it: four good times not to tweet, whether you’re a Twitter newbie, or whether you are the leader of the free world President of the United States and should be running the country and fighting your impending impeachment instead of tweeting like a petulant teenager. Now go tweet responsibly, or, maybe, 45, not at all!

 

Get Out: What it Really is (and Why it Really Matters)

(warning: major spoilers) Get Out, Jordan Peele’s hugely successful directorial debut is killing it–box office bonanza, critics’ favorite, thinkpiece heaven and somewhere, I promise you, some doctoral student is burning out an iMac writing a thesis about it. Main character Chris, ensnared in a modern day coon hunt with a twist, has stumbled on a mini market of black zombies.  That’s right. This is a zombie movie.

Get Out trades on all sorts of movie tropes and motifs, as good filmmaking does, connecting us not only to a new story but also a new way of looking at ourselves.  At its heart lies a surprisingly familiar undead corpse–the zombie.  While the word zombie may give you visions of decomposing walkers or World War Z‘s running meat bags, Get Out returns us to the original body of the zombie story. The keys to the zombie story are mind control and bodily manipulation, a focus not on head shots but on enslavement. What’s more, looking at Get Out as a zombie movie helps audiences regain an empathetic lens to see black pain.

Like all good monsters, zombies, and zombie stories, are outsiders. They come from somewhere else–in the case of the zombie story, Africa.  The origins of the idea of the zombie come from West and Central Africa.  In West African spirituality, Orishas may ride devotees: possession not like the exorcist but more like catching the holy spirit, so one individual controlling another has spiritual precident. Possesion and control are also potential outcomes of rituals and spells. Powerful spiritual practitioners may control both living creatures and also unliving entities using the practices that are a small part of the religion  of Vodun.  The idea of using spiritual methods to control others’ bodies manifests in a complex and quite different way in Benin than the brain eaters clogging up the streets of Atlanta in the Walking Dead.  Of course, the original story was dragged onto ships and enslaved along with millions of Africans, landing in Haiti. Like the Africans themselves, the story of what a zombie was and how we should feel about it was transformed under the crushing pressure of whiteness.

Imagine you are newly enslaved, shocked by the brutal middle passage and blistering in the sun of the new world being worked to death to grow sugar for the tables of the European elite.  Thes people are going to beat you to work until you die as you have seen happen to so many around you .  You are exhausted, malnourished, tortured, traumatized and caught between fighting to live and wanting to die.  But you cannot die. Your body now belongs to the master, and death seems to be exclusivley controlled by the evil who weild power. It’s not a far leap to invoke the story of possession from home to create the Haitian zombie: this is no brain craving corpse, but a sentient being, enslaved and brutalized that needs to be freed, not stabbed in the head.

Enter Clarvius Narcissus.  Poor Clarvius was just minding his own business when he was turned into a zombie using a powder of plant-based toxins and made to work on a sugar plantation for decades before eventually getting away and returning home, ragged and brain damaged but still Clarvius.  His was not the only documented case of real life zombies, and there was even some evidence of a market for people drugged into compliance who could be forced to work for free. Again, the three keys are mind control, bodily manipulation and enslavement–in both real and imagined places.

Shifting to America’s silver screen, we find at first that the origins persist.  White Zombie, a Bela Lugosi classic horror tale features a sugar plantation of enslaved blacks–and one white woman who of course does not belong there and must be saved.  Even George A Romero, the father to the modern American zombie craze originally featured a black lead in Night of the Living Dead, maintaining the black gaze–the story was his.

The scary thing in these kinds of zombie movies was that it could happen to you. The empathy in the story lay not with the person who enslaved the zombie, or even those that may fear the zombie.  The empathy in zombie stories is supposed to lay with the zombie. The enslaved Africans were the victim, not the monster, The trafficked laborers, like Clarvius, were the victim.  Zombie movies were about seeing and sharing black pain. Until the Walking Dead.

The modern obsession with zombies in this century started with the cultural explosion that is the Walking Dead.   The show is excellent has been excellent, and I count myself a fan. But unlike the zombie story which asks us to throw our lot in with the oppressed, The Walking Dead returns white people, free people and zombie haters to the center of the story.  Rick, our flawed hero, reminds everyone that they need to stick together–so nice.  But early seasons of the show find him repeatedly refusing to entertain any lasting interest in curing the walkers or even caring about them.  Zombie myth reformed.

Get Out, though, reclaims the zombie genre.  I know, I know- you probably didn’t think it was a zombie movie when you saw it.  No wandering corpses, no hoards chasing down brains.  But in the sweet sunshine of the Armitage plantation, the whites are commodifying black bodies, enslaving them using neurological means–toxic powders replaced with a scalpel.  Catherine sends Chris to the Sunken Place, and like poor Narcissus, he is still conscious, but cannot overcome the spell he is under to take agency and get free.  We see those that steal the brains are the real villains– different than Georgina, Andrew or Walter: the victims, their bodies ground up in a system that wants only their skills and not their souls. Mind control, bodily manipulation, enslavement to the extreme: zombies.

Understanding the creatures that we have been taught to fear is an important function of monster movies, especially when they are monster mash ups.  Anne Rice and True Blood’s vampires, Penny Dreadfuls Frankenstein’s monster, even Twilight’s teams give us alternative readings of monster life, helping us to care about creatures living at the edges, to see that those that are hurt and broken are still deserving of love, perhaps even moreso.  Returning the zombie to its rightful place as sympathetic victim, and reconnecting the zombie with its critique of whiteness makes Get Out not just a good movie, but an important movie.  Diversifying Hollywood has to include pushing and challenging narratives to help us see what is too often rendered invisible.

Eyes play a major role in the film, from the key shot of Chris’s face seen in the movie to Chris’s photography to the planned transplant to “get your eyes, man”.  The film asks us to see out through the eyes of the ensnared, to feel the terror of being trapped.  Where the Walking Dead teaches us a thousand ways to kill a zombie,  Get Out brings us to the sunken place where the zombies get stuck.  We see Chris stabbed with the pain of his lost mother, falling, silenced.  This is black pain separated from any of the usual stereotypical symbols of black pain like a crack pipe, gang flag or welfare check.  This is a place where Chis suffers with his humanity intact, wanting not brains (he has plenty of those) but freedom.

What is it to fall into a zombie state and witness your own brutalization?  Like having them love your body, but not you. Like watching others being rewarded for what you are penalized for. Like working yourself to death for minimum wage while being blocked from having any of the accouterments of your own labor and being blamed for wanting Jordans. Like having to choose when to speak up because you are just. so. fucking. tired. Like police videos. Like when there are so many police videos that you stop seeing them. Like protesters being pepper sprayed. Like watching the Clan take the White House.

Get Out makes black pain, as conceived of and acted by black people, visible.  Far from the sunken place, the film gives voice here in the real world to the complex nuanced nature of racism in2017.  It gives viewers of every race a story that requires them to empathize with black pain–which is too often abstracted to sell records, clothes or policies.  The vast majority of movies and TV shows frame blackness as a problem to be quashed by white supremacy.  The few films that cast blacks as innocent victims frequently require that whites still be the heroes. This film gives us neither slaves nor gangbangers and in their absence, we get a lens into a more authentic, relatable and human understanding of race and racism.  If we are ever to evolve past systems of privilege we must first make them visible.

In the end, Chirs’s woke friend Rod is the only hero that can save him, and he’s got plenty of lessons for us to remember. If you wait on the state to save you, you’re in trouble but when the ensnared work together, they can get free.   Rod’s concerns at first seem overblown, but he trusted his own understanding of racism even when others denied it. You’ve got to refuse to ignore evidence that supports what you know to be true.  Rod gave a shit, and not just because he was dogsitting.  Commitment to your brothers and sisters is key.   We too, have to keep looking.  It’s too easy to hear the clink of white supremacy and feel ourselves falling into the sunken place. Stay woke.

 

 

Ripped from the Movies: Five Films Explain Trumpland

Movies are more than just a tumble of images to fill our time; they are stories crafted from human ideas, fears and longing.  To look into a movie is to look into the human animal. These days the wildest animal around is the marmoset that’s running the country:

How to make sense of these times run by a tiny-handed (look he can barely hold a piece of apple!) comb-over-wearing primate hellbent on dismantling our democratic institutions? Let’s go to the movies! Much has been made of the connection between Trump and George Orwell’s 1984, so much so that the book has been flying off the shelves since the election. But what about other films featuring a world gone mad? These five films shed light on the devious nature of humans and the horror that we create when we let the worst of us be the first (family).

Manchurian Candidate

This 1962 thriller tells the story of a President controlled by a foreign administration–China in this case, or “Gyyna,” as Trump would say.  In the film, the Manchurian candidate is brainwashed after being captured in war.  In the Trump tale, the candidate was pee-washed in a Russian hotel room and paid off by Putin and his cronies.  With the film character, at least there was some hope of breaking through the brainwashing, but in our own sad story, we can only work to wake ourselves up from brainwashing.  Without a closer look at Trump’s taxes, it will be hard to find the financial connections purported to exist.  And if congress–Trump’s loyal lackey so far–get’s its way you’ll never get to see his taxes. Sidenote, the Manchurian candidate was easily controlled for a few reasons, one being he was not the cleverest guy in the room: looking at you, Don.

Children of Men

This is a tale of a world facing the ultimate decline–no more babies.  Before I make a joke about seeing Trump every day and a failing libido, let’s look deeper.  In the world of the movie, an undiagnosed infertility slowly takes hold till the world’s youngest person is 7 years old.  Trump’s plan to gut Planned Parenthood and restructure health care will leave women’s reproductive care underfunded and unmandated.  It’s a bad look to ignore the care of our human-making machines, especially in an age when infertility, just like in Children of Men, is on the rise for unknown reasons.  Also in the film, the government responds to the crisis by beefing up a police state at war with immigrants because of course when the country is crashing, a safe distraction is mass deportation…..insert side-eye here.

Elysium

Speaking of treating whole groups of people horribly while the elite watch the world burn from their castle, Elysium takes the wall of Trump’s dream to astronomical proportions. Like our own real and fragile earth, in this film, the Earth can no longer support our fabulous way of life as is, so the elite make sure everyone has a new home say fuck y’all and build a space station where they hog all the good stuff, including life-saving medical care.  Elysium helps us see why health care has to be a human right if we truly hope to retain our humanity. Members of the Trump administration and their cronies, including associates of Peter Thiel, have no problem creating health interventions that will only be available to the wealthy. Meanwhile, Trump is busy trashing Obamacare with no viable replacement plan in sight. it seems like former representative Alan Grayson’s prediction is coming to pass.

If you don’t want to have to steal a space ship to get an MRI, you better keep an eye on the fast-moving health care bill and the fallout sure to follow.

Idiocracy

The world is full of stupid people, controlled by corporations, dominated by an absurd media environment, where intelligence is attacked, and sensible responses to climate change are demonized.  That’s the movie.  Wait, no, that’s now.  Hmm, maybe this movie, as bizarre as it is, is too close to today to be impossible. Similar to Brave New World–and different from 1984–people in this dystopian future are controlled not with fear but with pleasure, full of food and mindless distractions until they are simply dumb downed fodder to be controlled by the corporatocracy.  So don’t let the promise of America’s glorious past, the GMO’s and the tweets lull you to sheep–stay woke.

Gaslight

Much has been made of Trump’s use of a psychological manipulation technique referred to as gaslighting, named for the 1944 Ingmar Bergman movie Gaslight.  The term refers to someone–in this case our marmoset-in-chief– trying to make you think that you are losing your mind a la I-never-said-that-even-though-you-have-a-tape-of-me-mocking-a-disabled-guy.  I went back and watched Gaslight, and found even more alarming connections: not only does Gregory the Gaslight villain try to make poor Paula (Bergman) think she’s losing it, he plans to scam her before they even fall in love.  It’s not casual manipulation, it’s a planned conspiracy to defraud and destroy a person he would pretend to love–feeling the burn yet Trump voters?  Like our own Cheif Cheeto, Greg the gaslighter is a con man, pretending to take on a role he is ill-suited to so he can swindle poor Paul out of her estate.  In the end, caught dead to rights and confronted by Paula, the con man simply cannot acknowledge the truth.  A con to the very end.  Let’s not wait 4 years to expose the con man in our own story.

So build a watchlist for this weekend–and keep you thinking hat on. We’ve seen this movie before, but this time we’ve got to rewrite the ending.

 

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.

img_3896

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

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.

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