Black History, Black Present

I.

I am in the New South in a building that was once used as the cotton warehouse for the local plantations.  The host tells us that in the 1840s farmers brought cotton here to be sold and shipped.  I wonder what the enslaved who farmed the cotton would have thought of this benign title–farmers.  I wonder where in this town they were brought to be sold and shipped.

There is healing happening.  Young and old people are coming together to face the racism that persists in the schools.  They are swapping stories, trying to piece together a picture of the place they live in. Verbal violence and exclusion, rules about which door you could use and texts in the group chat about killing niggers. They struggle with making meaning of the broken things, of the silences and the southern hospitality.

What is this? Are the jagged edges of my world racist? Is my suspicion correct? Is my pain justified?

“Sure we had segregation, but that doesn’t mean it was racism.” That’s a quote.

We are a circle of black folk asking if the violence and oppression we experience is racism in a room where they stored cotton picked by our enslaved ancestors. 

That night I see a story on the local news.  A white boy uses an iPhone app to make whipping noises at a black classmate. They are not friends.

The year is 2020.

II.

The lesson Black History has to teach an America trembling on the edge of dictatorship is that history is not over.  The same white supremacy battled by all the heroes and sheroes of black history still burns hot at the heart of America.

It is both original sin and existential threat.

The last person who toiled in antebellum slavery died in my lifetime.  The last person likely to be caught in the school to prison pipeline hasn’t been born yet.

Not past, but a continuous line that leads to me, to you, and to our current state of affairs.

III.

Trump rolls out a line of hats and t-shirts for Black Trump supporters.  The word WOKE is stitched in huge black letters across the front of a white hat.  The man who rode a wave of racism into office and installed known white supremacists as his close advisors is taking the word used to describe the increased consciousness of racism and the need to fight for black liberation as his slogan to attract black people to support his election.

I used to end my blog posts with stay woke.  It was a whisper, a call to action, a reminder to look closely at the levers of power working around you.

He took my words.

IV.

Power never rests. Black history can attest to the kind of work needed to change systemic racism. Pull the chain of Black history and you will find a long line of people who remained unbowed under the behemoth system of racism designed to break them.  Those people still live today amongst us.  Malcolm’s fire burns in Alicia Garza.  Rosa sat, Colin knelt, and the conversation has changed little in the meantime. Those people are us. On the streets of Ferguson and dozens of other cities, hundreds of young people picked up history’s chain to move it forward into political office and sustained action.  Pick a day and hit twitter to see still people calling out the Oscars, the Democratic leadership and all the Karens of the world. Resistance takes sustained coordinated effort in the big and small places, hammering at the levers of power. And time. Like, glacial time.

V.

I am in the liberal north, black and free and buying expensive dog food on a Sunday.  A large black Ford F450 has parked next to me, the kind of truck that makes me feel like a rabbit seeing a hound.  He has backed into this spot and we come face to face as I get in my little truck.  I call my mini-SUV Panther because it is black and small and fierce and fast. His window is open and I can hear LL Cool J bumping out of his stereo.  I relax a little, I make eye contact and smile, laughing at my own stereotyping of him.

He scowls and winds up his window.

Disengage.  Don’t act nervous. Is he getting out? Don’t turn around. He’s behind me. I put my dog food in the back next to my big dog. He is waiting for me.  The dog, and the man.

I have to close my door to let him pass. For a moment we stand next to each other.

We appraise each other.

He is wearing a camo Baseball cap and a sweatshirt emblazoned with Trump 2020 The Sequel Make Liberals Cry Again.  I am wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt and a Dashiki jacket with a pair of shiny white Adidas. Wrapped in ideology ordered from online t-shirt shops we don’t have to say a word. We exchange a million ideas in a single glare. 

Fuck your LL Cool J listening Trump-supporting self.

If I had to guess he probably only thought one word. And it ended with an er.

We go our separate ways; it is dinnertime and we have hungry dogs to feed.

Why Blackface is Wrong (Annual Installment)

your intentions do not change the meaning of culturally established stereotypes; you alone don’t get to decide to wash history clean and declare post-racial victory. When you put on the costume found in the toolbox of white supremacy, you do the work it takes to keep the narratives of antiblackness alive.

It’s almost Halloween and that means it’s blackface season–that special time of year when white celebrities declare their love for black people by dressing as their favorite racist stereotype.  This year Megyn Kelly declared it open blackface season in a segment on her show that laments when she was a child–probably back when America was great again the first time–blackface costumes were okay.  And besides, what’s the harm?

By afternoon, Kelly had issued an apology citing a difficult political history to blackface that she must have momentarily forgotten in her dream dress as her favorite Supreme.  Blackface season closed.  But with a week left to Halloween and so many dope black people to stereotype, it will be hard for the masses of asses to resist the siren song of sweet, sweet blackface.  Twitter, and thankfully Padma, are here to remind the Megyn Kellys of the world that blackface is deeply offensive and finds its roots in America’s dark early days.

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In Kelly’s not-so-surprise apology, she says that we need to be more sensitive these days and that the wounds around blackface were “too deep”.  Her apology positions blackface as offensive to individuals because of past representations during minstrelsy.  She’s basically saying too soon for Jim Crow jokes with the snowflakes.  Blackface is deeply offensive–it always hurt my soul to show students the hurtful and racist origins of blackface–but feelings aren’t the only important reason to refuse to black it up for Halloween.

Blackface is skin blackening, and it is also a host of small symbolic elements that combined make up the projection of blackness through the white gaze.  Physical features like darkened skin, engorged or red lips, “nappy” hair, big white eyes, hypersexualized bodies, and big hands and feet.  Blackface also includes character traits like lazy, stupid, horny, animalistic, and backward, as well as status markers like class, education (always lack thereof) or citizenship.  Blackface characters are poor or pretending to be wealthy, criminal or threatening, here to steal your chickens, your girl, or your country.  Even today’s celebrity-wanna-look-alike blackface costumes often emphasize the stereotypical aspect of black stars.

In short, blackface isn’t a black person, it is a stereotype of blackness, a symbolic construction, a representation of blackness weaponized by white supremacy and used to perpetuate antiblackness in political, economic and social spheres. These negative portrayals of black people constructed out of white supremacist talking points are rhetorical weapons used to teach audiences what black people are like and what they deserve.  The ubiquity of blackface-based portrayals reinforces the normalcy of antiblackness and anti-black policy. The purpose of blackface is to stoke support for the oppression of blacks.

Early minstrel shows traveled the country reinforcing the idea that blacks were wild and terrible. Black characters were stupid and brutish, criminal and childlike.  These depictions encouraged audiences to support the system of slavery.  In the time before movies and TV, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America. Anyone with a penny to pay to see the show would know that enslaving those animal-like black people was what any good, Christian would do to protect our budding country.

Blackface imagery during Jim Crow encouraged white audiences to see blacks as the enemy, ape-y tricksters that had to be kept in line.  White audiences would see blackface all around them, from their darkie toothpaste to their little Sambo children’s books to early movies depicting barely-human blackface characters.  These characters were whistling at white women, stealing from the white man, and making America not-so-great. In a world of racist representations like this, lynching seems like a natural and logical response to protect whiteness.

A hundred years on from Birth of a Nation and negative stereotypes of black people have barely changed. Despite the New Black Renaissance flooding our timelines and televisions with Black magic, negative stereotyping of black people remains remarkably consistent: the Jezebel, the brute, the uppity negro, the magical negro.  Still today negative stereotypes of black people support dominant cultural narratives around what black people deserve.  And still today those stereotypes are cited as fact by racists: the alphabet soup of white women calling 911 on black people,  Colin Kaepernick haters, the thin blue-liners.

With very little substantive and reflective dialogue between black and white people, media portrayals of black people serve to teach white audiences who black people are and what they deserve.  White audiences too often see new versions of the same of old step and fetchit stereotypes with no black people to provide a real-world counter-narrative. A white person’s blackface costume may be the closest some people get to talking to a black person all year and the story that blackface costume will tell is a lie.

C’mon, killjoy, Megan asks, what if you just looooove Diana Ross?! If you didn’t know blackface was racist then I’m going to guess you don’t love black people as much as you claim you do.  Drunk white people dressed in Afro wigs are generally not talking about the recent spike in black women earning Ph.D.’s or the rise in black homeownership. Besides, your intentions do not change the meaning of culturally established stereotypes; you alone don’t get to decide to wash history clean and declare post-racial victory. When you put on the costume found in the toolbox of white supremacy, you are doing the work it takes to keep the narratives of antiblackness alive.

Blackface was born in the stories told by white people to other white people to make sense out of the barbaric economic system they relied on.  Like Hitler’s depiction of Jewish people and Trump’s depiction of Mexican people, Blackface’s stereotypical (mis)characterization is used to justify and encourage the violent and oppressive treatment of black people. Blackface is problematic because is it a cultural tool that encourages people to ACT: vote to support slavery, fight for the south, enforce Jim Crow, lynch, fight desegregation, vote against civil rights, hate Obama, support stop and frisk, support police brutality, gerrymander, call 911, regentrify, disregard BLM.  There are real consequences from the continued use of blackface representations.

So yes, its too soon for Jim Crow jokes, and no you can’t wear blackface now or ever. Ever. There is too much at stake for us to have to have the blackface argument anymore.  We can’t afford you ghouls out here this year trying to scare up votes based on fear. We won’t tolerate your costumeized cultural assassinations. We see under your mask. And hood.

Privilege: Kavanaugh’s Cloak of Invisibility

America is gripped this week by the Supreme Court hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, a salacious episode of reality TV involving sex, power, and privilege. Tomorrow, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford will testify that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when the pair were in high school in 1982.  Even as more accusers come forward–two three five as of this writing–tomorrow’s testimony is set up to be a battle of the he-said-she-said–but there is a third element to this story we can’t ignore: the power of privilege.

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Watch any crime show and you will see the weight we put on the world of the perpetrator to mold their criminal ways.  Shoot up a school? Let’s see what video games you played.  Black criminal? a product of the streets.   It’s not unusual–and in fact is too often standard to replace evidence with character and culture when adjudicating criminals. That is until it comes to those prep school boys and their boys-will-be-boys antics. The prep school of Kavanaugh’s narrative is a virginal version of academic heaven; surely no harm can happen there? The violence of power and control that is shaped by a competitive environment where privilege protects bad behavior could not possibly have any bearing on a man 30 years after, right?

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The world of frat boys gone bad is a familiar trope in American culture. Movies like Skull and Bones, Animal House, and Private School (released in 1983 during Kavanaugh’s school days) and TV shows feature a world where boyish behavior crimes are common but consequences and parents are absent.  Hidden behind the Ivies, violence becomes tradition and assault becomes kidding around.  This rapey frat boy thing is not mere fiction: a long litany of actual news events feature young men who used their power and privilege to get out of the consequences of sexual assault, their lives deemed more important to not disrupt than that of victims, forever disrupted by a justice system that refuses to let their wounds heal.  We are surrounded with a long tradition of tales that stage whisper to us that sexual assault is a normal, if not a traditional part of private school that frat boys believe are part of their rites of passage into toxic masculinity–also know as the old boy’s network.

Neither the overreliance on environmental factors–like the Marilyn Manson theory of school shooters–nor the erasure of anything from the past as some would like to see in Kavanaugh’s hearing provides for the complex factors that make any person who they are. When we examine someone’s integrity, the past is a part of who they are.  When we are validating accusations, circumstances matter. Brett Kavanaugh’s environment in addition to Ford’s testimony should factor into verifying–or denying–her claim. We should hear from others who were there and who say they are familiar with the incident.  Hmm, we need some way to gather all this information.  Wish we had an FBI–oh we do!  A full investigation will make sure that all voices are heard and we have a tapestry of voices, not just two.

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One trait of this trope that you may notice is that this is a long list of white men.  While the GOP is bending over backward to avoid investigating old accusations about Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby is sentenced to 3-10 years in prison and is labeled a sexual predator.  As powerful as Bill Cosby once was, it was not impossible for the court and the court of public opinion to see past years of Cosby’s family-friendly work and find him guilty:  he was after all a black man, and America has a long legal tradition of finding black men guilty of being sexual predators.  Cosby lacked a prep school to blame his behavior on.  Black fame without white privilege gave his accusers a chance to be heard, and, after enormous effort, justice will finally be done as Cosby enters jail.

There is no such legal legacy when it comes to white men.  Too often white men win in the court of public opinion long before they are held to legal account. Before a word of testimony regarding the Kavanaugh’s situation is heard under oath Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising to “get through this.” Kavanaugh’s accusers are denied an FBI investigation that would examine evidence related to their claims.  The best they can hope for is that the man that perpetrated their alleged assaults doesn’t also decide their healthcare rights. The cloak of whiteness protects the old boy’s network from scrutiny; crime is redefined as horseplay, jokes, hazing. It’s easy to bend the rules in favor of the old boys’ network because the old boys are by and large the ones who get to make and interpret the laws.

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Neither the age of the allegations nor Cosby’s massive fame and fortune stopped the accusations from negatively affecting his life–as justice would require.  To be clear, this is not a defense of Cosby. He is now a convicted sex offender, while Kavanaugh will not have any judgment rendered regarding the allegations themselves.  Instead, this is a chance to point out the often invisible way that privilege works to advantage those in power.  Even as Cosby was being labeled a sexual predator for drugging women and sexually assaulting them, Trump told the media that Ramirez’s accusations of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault are not to be believed because she was inebriated. The difference between the narratives surrounding one case and another highlights the privilege protecting wealthy white men accused of sexual assault that prevents them from the scrutiny–and just process–of a trial.

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Look carefully not at the sordid details themselves, but the falling action, where boys lives are deemed relics of a past to be forgotten, where their behavior becomes an inconsequential drop in an ocean of what-boys-do.  Not only are these acts normalized by their sheer frequency, but they are excused with weak slaps, or condoned, simply a nod to tradition that remains unquestioned and un-consequenced.  We can and must do better.

America is designed to be a nation of laws, not (white) men. What’s good for the comedian is good for the supreme court judge who will make decisions that will affect women for years to come. Let Cosby’s conviction be tomorrow’s lesson: ignore the privileges that come with power. Believe the women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sisterhood of The Unraveling Rants

This weekend saw plenty of black girl anger on display from Serena’s throw down on the court to Cardi B’s blow up at Nikki Minaj during fashion week.  Seems like everywhere you turn a black woman is getting kicked out or called out for being angry. Before you start with some respectability politics a-la-well-calm-down, remember Black women are often stereotyped as out of control, but with a world on fire, acting nice is a privilege they can ill afford.  I’m not saying you should start ripping off wigs but beyond soundbites and stereotypes, anger has a place in every black girl’s arsenal. 

Serena Williams’ journey to capture her 24th Grand Slam title stopped short when she received a game violation for verbal abuse, effectively ceding the match to first time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka.  The high drama played out on the court with Williams accusing a judge of sexism for issuing a rarely-called penalty for coaching.  Unlike her brooding and unrepentant male counterparts who made screaming at refs their brand, she was penalized for her verbal outburst, costing her any remaining focus she had and the game. 

She complained bitterly that the rules were being applied differently for her versus her male counterparts–textbook sexism–and has been supported by many of her peers from Chris Everett, covering the Open as it happened to tennis and sexism expert Billie Jean King.

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Despite having a point about sexism in tennis, Williams lost the match and of course faced the usual hateful representation as an angry ape/child. Oh, and she was fined for her outburst about unfair treatment of women–she’ll pay $17,000.  Also textbook sexism

DmjIAJSV4AEJHku.jpgAcross town in a less athletic display of rage, Cardi B threw a shoe at Nikki Minaj in a scuffle best described as rap beef with great dresses.  In a scene right out of Love and Hip Hop, Cardi B pulled up on Minaj at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons party at New York Fashion Week.  The fight garnered lots of buzz throughout the weekend with bloggers turning history professors as they run down the back and forth between the self-proclaimed Queen of rap and the newcomer for the throne. 

But it wasn’t an episode of reality TV–it was two women who have more in common with each other than they have with many of the other party goers.  Both are entrepreneurs doing their best to ride the wave of celebrity before time and the next big starlet leaves them on the shore.   While their public beef will help drive records sales and blog hits this week, this is just another chapter in the ho-hum tale of ghetto girls acting badly.  Their out-of-control anger over some she-tweet-she-said is exactly what is expected out of both stars and out of angry black women in general.  This didn’t happen backstage at a Migos show–this was a show they put on for the international fashion crowd-tres boughetto. What ever happened to go high, ladies?

Before we chalk up this weekend to the same ole angry black women story we always hear, let’s not.  When we talk about how angry black women are, we ignore that black women, in reality, are not angrier than their white counterparts.  What we are repeating is an old stereotype that was used to justify oppressive practices to keep black women in check. Black women do–and have a right to–respond to attacks on their community and character with anger.  But the conflation of their temporary mood and their permanent color is classic racism, providing an easy excuse to invalidate any given black woman’s righteous anger as just a character flaw of the race.

 

In fact, recent studies show that white people are more likely to describe themselves as angry than members of other racial groups. The poll should come as no surprise: everywhere we look we see internet videos of white women going off at Starbucks, on the street, at Michael’s–and let’s face it, if crafting makes you angry you really need help.  But we don’t call them angry white women–we refer to them as Barbeque Becky, or the lady freaking out at Michaels, but their whiteness is not a key descriptor in their internet moniker like it is for Serena.  Go google angry white women, and then angry black woman–what difference do you notice in the results?

It’s not just the women who are mad as hell–there was no shortage of male violence competing for airtime this weekend–from real stories of shootings, rape, and murder to hours of news with men yelling at each other in silk suits or a day reserved for men running full speed at each other and knocking each other’s memories out of their heads on the football field. Male aggression is nothing less than the great American pass time. The consequence for men who act aggressively is winning.  They are rewarded on the field, in the workplace, and in the White House for acting aggressively, threatening and pushing, dominating and snarling.

We are a sharply competitive nation who prizes the flash of sharp teeth and the rule of the bone.   To give up your anger is to put down one of the most powerful tools in American culture, and to silence your own voice in the face of oppression.   Still, public displays of anger by black women have little benefit for them beyond being weekend clickbait and conversely carry the consequences of hundreds of years of history.  What’s a black woman to do?

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Anger is a valid and valuable human emotion.  Like any weapon, you have to be careful with it: using it to try to right the wrongs of the world is a solid move, even if you don’t always land you blow.  But using your anger to slide into a petty feud best left in subtweets is like bringing a knife to a fist fight.

Screen-Shot-2018-09-08-at-11.49.05-AM.pngUnlike Cardi B, never, never let them see you sweat over the next b.  Cardi B has been riding a wave of love for her plucky weird vibe from bump reveals to Met Gala Virgin Mary glam.  Being something other than a wild rapper is what’s getting her invited everywhere.  Don’t lose your seat at the table fighting over scraps.  There’s no black girl magic in playing out the same tired trope of hood chicks who don’t know how to act.  Best to keep your knives virtual and your bag–and your plus 1–secure.

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But anger has a place and black women have the right to display anger, to call people out with their anger, to wield their anger like everyone else in America.  We know that sexism is unlikely to disappear with a whispered “excuse me, please.” Like Serena, don’t let them talk you down when you are busy pointing out systemic inequality.  Serena may have lost the Grand Slam but she proved herself a superhero in a tutu scoring again in a match against sexism.  She kept her anger directed at a system that wasn’t treating her fair. Instead of attacking her young opponent she lifted up her sister with grace and love, despite her being all the way in her feelings.   She showed us rage done right: a new play that has room both for fierce competition and for grace and respect for the winners.

 

Prelude to a Lynching: Crying Black in Colonized Spaces

In the Black Lives Matter era, knowing that black people are frequently suffering violence at the hands of the police, these women play executioner for their own petty whims. Like the lynchings of the past, these police calls cannot be dismissed as a misunderstandings or misspoken accusations. These women call fully expecting that the police will be on their side

BBQ Beckie, Depressed Debbie, and Permit Patty rocketed to internet fame when they called the police on unsuspecting black people just trying to live their best Obama life. We’ve seen a disturbing trend of white people calling the police on black people in public spaces: BBQ Becky stayed on the phone over an hour to try to get a police response on what she thought was a park permit issue.  Depressed Debbie called the police on black people at a pool who refused to talk to her.  While their police-calling behavior is meme gold, the real-life trend of using police to enforce dominance is a dangerous game where black people have a history of being the loser.

This weekend Permit Patty called the police on a young girl selling water to baseball fans.  When pressed, she admitted that she wasn’t really on the phone with the police and she was not concerned about the permit: she wanted the little girl to be quiet. So there it is.  This white woman, like others before her, consciously purposefully used the threat of police–arrest and potential violence–against an 8-year-old little black girl in order to control a public space to her liking.

Permit Patty, outed as being Alison Ettel, who makes a living making medical marijuana for dogs without a permit–I shit you not, claims that race had nothing to do with her threat. But she lives in Oakland, the city of Oscar Grant and the Black Panthers and ground zero of Black Lives Matter.  It’s certain that she knew the kind of threat calling the police on black people is and used that threat against a girl with a water stand. That’s the reason why she did it: to play terrorist to an 8-year-old she knew would be afraid of the police.

A Documented History Of the Massacre which occured at Rosewood, Florida, in January 1923.

Permit Patty is the last in a continuous line of white people, who have used police to control black bodies–from slave catchers through Jim Crow to today’s police state. Sure we’ve come a long way from the bad old days of lynchings, right?  Times were when False Accusation Fanny called rape on a black man the whole town of Rosewood went up in flames.  Or the dozens of white women rendered nameless and blameless in history whose interactions with black people–from an exchange of letters to and exchange of look–resulted in one of the thousands of lynchings during Jim Crow.

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But lynching–extrajudicial killing, or killing of one outside the law, especially based on group identity– continues.  It continues in a variety of forms . Old school lynchings still pop up like unwanted blemishes across the south.  A recent study of interracial crime confirms black people are more likely to be killed by white people than white people are likely to be killed by a black person.  On top of that, the terror of extrajudicial police killing continues in the era of cell phone video. We find ourselves in 2018 with the boundaries between black and white as fraught as ever.

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In the Black Lives Matter era, knowing that black people are frequently suffering violence at the hands of the police, these women play executioner for their own petty whims. Like the lynchings of the past, these police calls cannot be dismissed as misunderstandings or misspoken accusations. These women call fully expecting that the police will be on their side–literally relying on their white privilege for the situation to go their way even as they water the streets and later the airwaves with their tears.

If race is not a factor in these stories, then why are we not seeing a large number of videotaped events where white people inform on other white people?  Since white people are the majority of the American population, it stands to reason that these incidents should overwhelmingly involve white people.  But they don’t by and large involve white people informing on other white people at all.  Hmmmm.  Though to be sure, the police did show up in force to this young white boy’s permit-less lemonade stand

In 2013, George Zimmerman played both Permit Patty and the PD when he killed Trayvon Martin. Stephon Clark was seconds from safety when he was killed in his grandmother’s backyard.  In the space in between lies hundreds of names of people killed because of a casual encounter with police.  Think about that–calling black can result in death. All of these names, this pattern that infects our country’s soul all hangs in the balance when white people call the police on black people.  Cars and cops with guns come, just like they did when black people sought to desegregate private businesses during the civil rights movement of the 60’s.

White people, I argue, know that interactions between black people and the police can be deadly and they call the police anyways.  Afterward, full of apologies and sheepish excuses, they retreat behind their own ignorance, safe from consequences–and sometimes receiving coddling and forgiveness, ignoring their complicity in creating a potentially deadly encounter.

Let’s call these 911 calls what they are: preludes to a lynching. It’s time to hold people accountable for their racism.  It’s time to admit that if you are calling the police because a person of color is making you nervous, being too quiet, being loud, or otherwise occupying public spaces then you may be okay with the death of that person by your word.  Like the women who’s interactions and accusations led to lynchings under Jim Crow, refusal to acknowledge your privilege to activate state violence to protect you does not leave you innocent of a hate crime.  Think about that before you call the police, or don’t be surprised when you get dragged by Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Wrong with Kanye?

Just days before his new album drops. Kanye West has been trolling the world with a series of provocative tweets, comments, and hat choices. Whyyyy? First, in case he hasn’t been able to reach you with his blankets of bullshit, here are some highlights.  He started off professing love and shared dragon energy with Donald Trump. This sounds like something Stormy Daniels’ lawyer should be in on, but Kanye promises us the love is real. Looking back, this really is some expert-level clickbait
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His comments about Trump were enough to prompt Questlove of the Roots to wear a shirt that says “Kanye West Doesn’t Care About Black People,” a take off  Kanye’s own comments about George Bush during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Questlove sported the shirt this weekend in Montgomery, Alabama at the Concert for Peace and Justice celebrating the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice commemorating lynching in America–peak black excellence. Kanye’s cookout privileges have been revoked.
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Not to be denied the right to scream from the sunken place, Kanye told a TMZ reporter that slavery was a choice.

Wooooooooooooow. At this point, it seems like his Brittany Spears level meltdown is too crazy to be anything but an act, right? I mean he went to TMZ. He’s breaking the internet without even taking his pants off. Can it be that the person who called out George Bush and Taylor Swift has become race traitor numero uno?
There is another explanation, maybe less interesting but also more insidious. Kanye has been drinking the elite Kool-Aid and it has scrambled his brain. A lot of the hoopla is about these crazy words coming out of the mouth of Kanye West who, in case he forgot, is a black man in America. When so much of the black community is trying to get their passport stamped for Wakanda, Kanye West seems to have bought a one-way bus ticket to the heart of white supremacy.
Here’s the thing, being woke isn’t automatic. When someone *cough Kanye cough* is disconnected from their community and buys into the hegemonic ideas that the elite chomp on all day, they start to believe some crazy shit. Like a lot of other people in the 1% Kanye is driven to amass wealth knowing their business directly contributes to rising income inequality, especially among their target consumers. Kanye has no problem exploiting cheap labor to manufacture his overpriced clothes. Kanye has no problem marketing said clothes to young people who can ill afford it but are enamored of the lifestyle marketing he employs. The mindset that feeds on exploitation and degradation is the same mindset that ignored the brutality of slavery as profits piled up. It’s the same mindset today that ignores the demands of the resistance as the rich and powerful continue to reshape our democracy into an oligarchy for their own profit. Its the mindset that says sure Trump is a nightmare but hey, my taxes are great!
There were black slave owners. There are black people today who continue to believe in the ideology of white supremacy even though their skin is black. This small but real group remind us of the power of the lies the elite tell to maintain their ability to manipulate others for profit. You don’t have to be white to believe in white supremacy. Hmmm, maybe that’s what Kanye meant when he declared his right to free thought.  He’s right–he has the right to believe in white supremacy and the lies it tells about black people and their history.  He won’t be the first black person to believe it, and maybe not the last so check your cousins and them.
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When I say stay woke, I recognize that staying woke is an intentional act, a place not of race but choice. A place anyone can decide to stand when they stop believing the lie that some people deserve more than others. So stay woke, no matter who you are. We’ll be here when you’re ready, Kanye

My Beef With Bias Training

Just when I learned to order my venti-hot-soy-chai-two-extra-pumps-no-foam-no-water in a single breath, Starbucks joins the list of companies I have to boycott because racism. Bad enough that my Sundays are spent football free, now every morning will be an exercise in fuming on all black people are left out of in America–peace, justice, Starbucks single stall bathrooms and lemon loaf.  Unlike the NFL, Starbucks is already hard at work to win back my daily $7.65.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/b1e1ebee-403a-11e8-955b-7d2e19b79966

Starbuck CEO announced in an earnest apology video that they will be closing stores on the afternoon of May 29th to train all of the employees in the whole company with a mandatory “implicit bias and conscious inclusion training”  He describes below that this is the first step in trying to live out their company values.  Ahh, back to chai heaven, right?

Wrong.  While I applaud the company’s willingness to respond and respond big with a company-wide shutdown, I wonder if this reactionary-proactive-action will have the desired result.  As someone that frequently engages in racial dialogues and trainings, I have lots of questions.  The massive scale of this concurrent training sounds grand, but I wonder about how you could effect such a training with consistent results at 8,000 stores in different geographic areas and different local contexts, with thousands of different trainers of varying experience and tens of thousands of people with varying lived experiences and beliefs.  (I picture an army of facilitators armed with lattes and flip charts deployed en mass–but from where? ) And what will they learn?  And if they discover they have implicit bias, will this trigger any work on company policies and practices?  After the training, how will we know if they’ll arrest us if we go there if we don’t go there anymore?

My other question is aimed not at Starbucks alone:  is implicit bias the tool we need to help private companies address racism in their practices and customer interaction?  There can be no doubt that implicit bias training is all the rage these days–and it is an important and eye-opening first step for people unaware that humans carry biases.  When discussing race, it can be a helpful entry point for conversations–we all carry around ideas that we are not in control of, some of which relate to race and dominant cultural ideas about race.  We all have implicit biases– it’s important to know that and think about where we each may have an inclination to shut down or react strongly.

But the thing about implicit bias is that you are not in control of it–it is operating unconsciously, ticking away in your brain with no help from you.    Racism, however, is not something lurking beneath our id waiting to stir our sleepwalking self to acts of discrimination.  Racism is systemic, embedded in principles, practices, policies, and actions of institutions and the individuals who work in them.  People not only have implicit bias BUT ALSO act out on subjective ideas and beliefs about race.  Learned behaviors and attitudes about race are conscious parts of how people interact with each other, how they make decisions–conscious decisions–about how and when to enforce policies.  Acknowledging and taking responsibility for the ways that we reproduce racism in our own environments takes more agency and deeper engagement than acknowledging implicit bias alone.

Implicit bias is one of the few places where we can measure the trace of racism or sexism in the brain. Since implicit bias is data-driven and testable, it appears to be a “more scientific” approach to talking about racism than examining history or acknowledging the political significance of race.  But race is a social construct, and years of social science, political science, and historical research has afforded us deeper, more nuanced and more complete ways of talking about and addressing race.  While implicit bias training is a nice start for an afternoon, it lacks the depth needed to address racism in all its complexity.  Well begun is not half done in this case.  If we really want to go there, Starbucks and our country would be well served to look at the many conscious ways discriminitory practices are enforced, reconcile them with their company values and build a new more equitable relationship with the communities they serve.

When they do, I’ll take a venti soy chai with two extra pumps, no foam, no water, no racism.