A House On Fire

Imagine a world where there are 5 Parkland School shootings every day.  Imagine a world where there is a 9/11 every month. Now open your eyes to a country where 45,000 people a day die by suicide every year.  The suicide of two high profile celebrities–designer Kate Spade and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain–along with recent information released by the CDC have cast light on a subject that frequently goes unaddressed. Suicide–the 10 leading cause of death– claims more lives than school shootings and terrorist acts combined.

Graphic: Suicide rates rose across the US from 1999 to 2016

Kate Spade was a wildly successful fashion designer who built an empire on whimsy.  Healthy, beautiful, successful.  Anthony Bourdain was if nothing else a lover of life, taking us with him to connect with humanity over a bowl of food.  Again, wildly successful by any measures of our culture.  While we are familiar with the dark face of school shooters and struggling addicts dying from mental health issues, what does it say when those who live the lives we all fantasize about no longer want to live their lives?

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The airwaves and interwebs are full of messages about what to do if you are in crisis, ways to combat depression, helplines that are lifelines, and exhortations to check on your friend.  This is important.  Destigmatizing mental health and providing adequate supports is awesome and helpful.

Lurking beneath this mountain of advice is the subtle blame that problems with mental health occur because individuals are not maintaining their own shit.  But how can one be mentally healthy in culture so permeated with hate and violence?  How can one rise above crisis when crisis is the soup of the day every day?  What role do our wildly unstable world and crumbling communities hold in this uptick in mental health issues?

Despite the myth of the American dream, beneath the sheen of instagram feeds are lives of anxiety, sadness and loneliness.  While we can acquire the goods that mark a good life–our systems are calibrated to help us achieve the material success–we work long hours, and often end up with stuff but no satisfaction. Exhausted at the end of the day we have little energy for putting in work to sustain the relationships that sustain us.  Our communities  seem to be drifting away from an orientation of connection–people lost in their own virtual worlds building bridges online instead of next door. Our heads are bent over screens instead of lovers. And all around us, chaos and a deconstructed democracy.

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If we are a developed nation, what have we developed? Our country is permeated with sadness that sits just at the edge of our culture, a borderland on our beautiful dream, a place that some people journey to more than others, but a location available to everybody in this automated world of separation.  Mental health is a problem not just of individuals, but for the nation.  The National Suicide helpline and other organizations are important resources for people in crisis, but no call center can shift our damaged culture to create a space where more people feel safe and held and connected.

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There is a deep malaise at the heart of America. you might say that the dream has become a nightmare, but it always has been.  This is a country literally built on a Native American burial ground. If you’ve even seen a horror movie, you know that this is not good. With high rates of suicide, massive amounts of anxiety, rampant addiction to pain killers and drowning even at the highest levels of success–maybe especially at the highest levels– the lie is exposed for all its terribleness. Sadness and loneliness and racism and sexism and capitalism and this unattainable life: we eat and are consumed.

David Foster Wallace compared suicide to jumping out of a burning building:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

A quick trip through the headlines is enough to see that America for all it offers is a house on fire. To live in a home that is burning is bad for all the inhabitants, not just people with identified mental health issues.   The culture is not good for any of us.  Those that are struggling are an alarm– it’s past time to respond.

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If suicide is people jumping from burning buildings, then we have to start to knock down the fire in order to create healthy environments to support healing.  We cannot always know or understand the inner lives of those we love, but we can be firefighters helping to battle the flames that threaten them. We need to care about each other.  We need to check on each other. We live here in this home together, and the roof, the roof is on fire.

 

While we wait to rebuild our culture is you or someone you know is struggling please know that there is help.  Check on all your friends.

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Departures

Her I’m in line at the airport. The woman in front of me is shepherding a flock of four kids in tropical board shorts dancing excitedly through the security
line. Her brightly lettered bag declares “life’s a beach!” I wonder if it is. I have no doubt that if I cross paths with this happy brood in a week at this same airport they will be a little sunburned, the girls with cornrows, the boys swaggering drunk with adventure. The mother will be slightly less harried, the ghost of the woman she was before motherhood peeking out of her sandals between French manicured toes.

Me I’m going to the south. I’m going to Atlanta and Selma and Montgomery to trace the path of civil rights, winding through slavery, through
Jim Crow, through a motel room where a movement staggered beneath the weight of assassination. I’m going to the opening of the Lynching museum, to a place that will commemorate the dark legacy of strange fruit, that will put faces and stories to the burned bodies hanging like picnic decorations in old postcards.
What will I come back with?

Us If that mother sees me a week from now, what souvenir will she she me carrying back from my trip? What trophy can I claim from this visit? Maybe only the names, all the names. Maybe I will need to buy a suitcase while I am there to carry back the memory of so much black pain. Maybe she will see me in the airport, walking slowly, a dark look on my face dragging a club behind me to smash white supremacy followed at an unsafe distance by wary TSA agents. She might notice my eyes bloodshot from bearing witness to all that America is. She might see my hair dull from restless sleep, my whole being hollow from seeing what has happened to my kin. Her kids will push past me at the baggage claim, pulling luggage and bright colored duty free parcels while I stare blankly, processing all that there is to see when one looks at the heart of race in America.

Or maybe she won’t see me at all. What a beach.

Uncivil, Rights

Today mark 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  While his name glosses the lips of Americans every time the struggle for racial equity comes up, his legacy and his work atrophy even as we speed towards a majority-minority population.  It has been a lifetime since King bespoke his famous dream–my lifetime in fact.  Born after the civil rights act was signed, I was supposed to be a child of a new era.  New era same as the old era, though.

I know of a time, not unlike our own, when black people wore dashikis, embraced Africa and put their fists up to the sound of black power coming from a thousand lips. I remember Malcolm X jackets, red gold and green everything and an army of babies with African names. I see today pure joy as people greet each other with ‘Wakanda forever’.  But in none of these eras did I see racism eradicated.  Instead, each time black people have endeavored to rise up above the thorny ugliness of racism, I see too the right rise up in arms ready to beat back the forces working to dismantle systemic racism.

Laws, practices, policies, and norms are all biased to maintain the system of white supremacy that is the very foundation of this country. The goal of these laws is to conserve wealth and power among a few, rather than make it equally available to all, as the framer’s documents promised.   Dred Scott, the 13th amendment, The Voting Rights Act, sentencing laws and the prosecution of police brutality cases–there is an America-sized line of laws that continue even now to restrict, dehumanize and delegitimize black people in America. Hard work by many hands has pulled at these very real social structures for half a century. And yet they still stand.

Fifty years after we passed the Civil Rights Act to address racial inequity in housing, employment education, and economics, we are worse off in every one of those areas. Evidence from a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute confirms that Black America has seen losses in the 50 years since King’s death, contrary to many Americans’ belief that we are post-racial.

Our own time finds many people more disposed to engage in activism–marching for gun reform, fighting the #MeToo battle, donning pussy hats in droves.   The students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas were able to raise 3.7 million dollars in just a few days. There is energy and excitement around making change in the face of chaos. Activism is as common as yoga.

But students supporting Black Lives Matter have been labeled terrorists by the FBI. The Voting Rights Act is under assault. Police killings continue unabated. White supremacy today recites the words of Dr. King while still standing on the neck of Black America.

Each year America at large likes to acknowledge the dream, but forgets the radical spirit of King’s vision.Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tenents– fighting poverty, securing equal voting rights, and achieving racial equity–are lost in the exuberant activism of this moment. It is long past time for the whole of America to put real energy and commitment to do the hard work dismantling the system of white supremacy his dream requires.  The need for real solutions to poverty and inequality is more important now than ever.  The need to heal America’s Black and White problem is urgent for all Americans. Don’t put away your marching shoes and your GoFund me funds yet.  Don’t let the silos of old keep our movements apart.

Don’t forget none of us is free until all of us are free.

 

 

 

 

Black Panther is for the Kids

Kids love superheroes.  Though recent decades have found superheroes skewing older with the explosion of comic cons and an indistry hungry for hot characters in barely-there costumes kicking ass and laying waste, let’s not forget that superheroes are also the bread and butter of childhood dreams.  We already know that Black Panther is for black people, a love letter of ancestry.  But did you know Black Panther is for the [age appropriate]children (Please read that in your best Old Dirty Bastard voice)?

Unlike lots of other superhero movies, Black Panther doesn’t include massive violence or hot chicks with their boobs out.  There are a few intense scenes, but nothing as frightening as what your kids are seeing in an active shooter drill.  More importantly, Black Panther challenges all sorts of stereotypes, giving viewers a different way of looking at blackness than we have seen in a mainstream American production.  My sister in law is taking my niece and nephews this weekend, and I’m here to help with smntks Black Panther movie FAQ kids edition.

Alert: major spoilers.  Please watch the movie first.

Overview

Black Panther is a movie about T’Challa’s rise to the throne of a fictional country Wakanda.  Along the way, T’Challa must learn about what it means to be a good man and a good king.  He learns about the mistake his father made and struggles to make a different choice.  The film is set in Wakanda, a fictional African country that was never colonized by another country, and lives in peace and isolation.  The country has a military–the Dora Milaje which is comprised of women. The country is made up of five different tribes, each unique, with their own skills, geographies, and styles, but these groups live in relative harmony under a king.  The country’s well being is based on its possession of vibranium an extraterrestrial material hidden in a mountain in Wakanda.  When outside forces conspire to sell some stolen vibranium, T’Challa must respond, but that opens the door to an unexpected challenge to the throne from Eric Killmonger, his long-lost cousin.  The result of their conflict changes T’Challah, and Wakanda forever.

Why is everyone saying this movie is special?

Black Panther is different from other major American movies:  for the first time in a Disney movie, Africans are represented as intelligent technologically skilled modern humans.  Most representations of black people are very stereotypical, casting them as criminals, super sexy singers and athletes, gang members, and reality stars.

In the movie, Black Panther black people are royalty, technologists, generals, and activists.  This is the first action movie with a majority black cast set in Africa.  This is the first time an American film has shown an African country that was not colonized.

Why is everyone black?

The film takes place in Africa.  The majority of the population of African is what we would in America consider black.  There are millions of European, Indian, and Chinese people in African, but with a population of nearly two billion people, it is safe to say they are a minority in every country.  Most countries have a white population that is under 10%, 1 out of 10.  That doesn’t mean that all Africans are alike.

There are over 3000 different ethnic groups across 60 countries in Africa.  Just like the people of Wakanda, there are many different groups of people in Africa with their own ideas, culture, and ways.

Is it racist to have a movie with all black people?

No.  Racism is when one race has power over a group of people from a different race. Racism is about unequal power, not just unequal numbers. Black Panther does not end inequality in our country. Black Panther does not give black people power over white people.

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Roughly Three-Quarters of Film Actors Were White in 2014 SOURCE: USC ANNENBERG’S MDSC INITIATIVE

Having a movie with a mostly black cast is unusual.  This movie will not stop other movies with white people being made.  This movie does not try to focus on white people or disrespect them.

What’s a colonizer?

A colonizer is a person who takes over another country in order to steal their resources for their own profit.  England, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal all colonized large parts of Africa.  They shipped people, gold, rubber and other natural resources and sent them to their home countries to build wealth and power.  Colonizers controlled the countries they took over with violence. While colonization ended for most African Countries 60 years ago, the effects of having their resources a stolen and many people killed still linger today.

 

Is Wakanda real?

While the country of Wakanda is (sadly) not real, a lot of what you see in the film is.  The fashion in the film is drawn from the whole continent of Africa.

Lip plates, neck rings, textiles, and hairstyles are based on real looks that originate all across the massive continent of Africa.

Is Vibranium a real thing?

No, there is no vibranium, but like the style in the movie, the idea is based on something real.  African is rich in material resources: gold, minerals, oil, rubber, diamonds and more occur naturally in Africa.  While these materials may not seem very modern, other lesser known resources are actually what fuels all our technology. Our wireless devices require a material called coltan mined primarily in the Congo.  Like vibranium, this element powers all sorts of technological devices.

Like vibranium, many western companies would like to get their hands on it and are willing to go into the Congo to retrieve it for themselves.  T’Challa is not wrong in worrying what will happen if they open up to the world.  Many countries in African are still trying to ensure their natural resources are not stolen.

Can you really fly a spaceship or drive a car from far away like in the movie?

Sort of.  While we don’t have vibranium models to navigate–yet–there are lots of ways that people use tools across distance using the internet.  The internet of things allows you to close a garage door, feed the dog or turn on a light from your phone.

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We can also use the internet to control robotic medical tools that will allow surgeons to operate on someone from another location.  So we can control some things from far away.

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Self-driving cars, like the one T’Challa rode, are also something inventors like Tesla and Google are working on now.  Experts predict we will have self-driving cars on the road in the next 10 years, by the time my nephews can drive.  Look out, T’Challa!

Why did they let the girls fight?

Women are able to do anything that men are able to do, and that includes fighting in the military.  In America, women are barred from combat positions.  Other countries, like Israel, allow women to be soldiers just like men.

Across the continent of Africa, there are lots of women who have fought in battles.  Here is Yaa Asantewaa who fought colonialists in Ghana

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Here are the Dahomey Amazons, an all-female fighting force that the movie’s Dora Milaje was modeled after. Like the Dora Milaje, they acted as security forces.

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Why is the scientist a girl?  Princesses can’t do computer stuff.

Girls and women can do anything they want.  There are lots of women scientists who invent technology, map the stars, and fly to space.  Girls don’t need to worry about their looks or chase boys.  girls are smart and strong and want to do amazing things, just like boys. People of every gender and every orientation can choose any job, goal or friends that they want.

That means that people will have the best and brightest person doing work, like Shuri.  Imagine if she wasn’t allowed to do tech because she was a girl:  there would be no suit, not car driving from far away, no way to save Wakanda.  That’s why it important to let all genders and races work in all the fields, especially science, math, and technology.

Why did T’Challa’s dad kill his own brother?

d54acb32c933fb149a1de56baf67333e.jpgBecause it is hard for a good man to be king.  T’Chaka had to choose between caring for his baby brother and putting the people he led at risk.  Knowing the history of colonization, T’Chaka chose to keep his country a secret so no one would know what they had.  His brother had good intentions–to help back people struggling with racism, and police brutality–but his decision to use vibranium to commit violence was a way that T’Chaka thought would create more problems for Wakanda.  It was a difficult choice, and even though he was a king that doesn’t mean he made the right choice.  Leaders are not always right.  We need to hold leaders accountable when they do the wrong thing.

If it was wrong for T’Chaka to kill his brother then why did T’Challa kill his cousin?

5a8a11342000003900eaf3a0.jpgBecause it is hard for a good man to be king.  T’Challa is a king, but also a human.  Like all humans, he sometimes has to make hard choices, choices where you aren’t sure what is right.  He did not agree with Eric that they should use vibranium to start a war around the world.  Eric was determined to use their technology as a weapon, and use violence to end racism.  T’Challa removed him from the throne to stop him from doing this.  But Eric was right that T’Challa had a responsibility to try hard to help black people all around the world.  Eric reminded T’Challa that even though Wakanda was amazing, their black brothers and sister around the world still faced serious racism and need to be free. That is why T’Challa ended the film by opening up Wakanda to the world, to help all black people around the world who were his brothers and sisters be free.

What did Eric mean about the ocean?

In the end, Eric said:

Nah, just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.

During the transatlantic slave trade, slave ships carried Africans into slavery in the United Staes and the Caribbean.  Slaves were chained below deck in torturous conditions.  Rather than be turned into slaves, some Africans Jumped overboard while the ship was at sea.

This sad event tells us that the conditions that Africans were kept in were very very bad, and they chose death over imprisonment.  Eric too decides he does not want to be imprisoned for trying to kill T’Challa and take over Wakanda to start a war.  While Eric was trying to use violence, he still was T’Challas family.  He cared about justice and hopefully, he will be back in the sequel.

Have a question you’d like added?  Throw it in the comments! Hope you enjoyed the movie Ebin, Kaden, Seba, and Kelton!

 

 

 

 

One Day

1 Its cold and traffic is terrible as the Uber inches ahead toward the light. I look out the left-hand side window and see row houses, thin, stacked up against each other, some remodeled, others older and decaying, their history in plain sight. Row houses in Georgetown were created to house the slaves and free blacks who came to Washington D.C. to build the nation’s capital. All day streams of tourists milled about the monuments, gazing up at the great men credited with creating our great nation but here too is a memorial, small broken down houses, now caught up in a storm of regentrification with tiny rooms going for $800 per square foot.

The light changes, we inch forward and then break free around a corner. Outside the cold air whips at my legs, and at the dashikis and Ankara skirts the crowd is wearing to go see Black Panther. Inside, movie-goers in yoga pants and flannels are heavily seasoned with a crowd dressed to go see the crowning of an African Prince. Their bright shirts and pants, carefully curated outfits that only hours earlier were laid out on beds, hanging in closets, waiting patiently for a moment—this moment—to be rocked in all their glory. Inside, the bright colors are invisible in the darkened theater, full to capacity for this one of five or more showing the theater had. The lights go down and we go home.

2 She is on the ramp from the first floor to the second, starring out from a wide cotton field half the length of a football field. Her face is tilted slightly, with the sun shining in the reflection of her dark skin. Her head is wrapped in white, and a bag for the cotton she picks is slung across one shoulder. The whisper of a smile or a smirk plays on her lips. Is she smiling? I have seen faces like this before—in the Ghanaian auntie sitting on the stoop of the house in Accra, in the face of a woman waiting for a train in Boston.  I feel like she is looking right at me. I look back. I know she can’t see me, but for some reason still, I feel like she can. I have seen her here before; well, of course, she is here every day, posted up in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in this huge photographic mural.  

I was here a year ago, on the day of the women’s march. Then too, in this place housing perhaps millions of black faces, her face alone stuck out to me. I stood on the ramp, arrested by her looking at me. Did she know, or even hope that one day her kinfolk would fly through the sky to come to this copper memorial to her suffering and the triumph of the enduring hope for freedom? Could she ever have imagined that we would stand here, face to face, two women across centuries living in different worlds who are no less than relations? I want to talk to her. I want to tell her we made it. I want to tell her we have so far to go. I want to ask her about the story written on her face. I want to know if I am doing all she hoped we would. Is she looking at me?

Now back at the museum, I thought maybe her impact would be different this time. Maybe the intensity of her gaze was a projection, my mind racing to find connection amidst the painful history inscribed on the lower levels of the museum. But she is here waiting for me. I feel her before I see her, waiting patiently for me to process up the ramp towards her. I stop and we connect. People pass behind me—after all, this big photograph has no label, is not carefully lit so as to encourage viewers to stop and look more closely, but still, she is what draws me. I stand for a while. I wish there was a bench right here. She is nameless, an unknown slave lost in a wash of history, but right now we are together. I want to tell her I couldn’t wait to see her, that she is my favorite. I want her to know that I love her. I want to know her wildest dream: I want her to know that I am trying to make her proud.

3 I need to buy a suit. I need to buy a suit so I can get a new job. I have been a professor for such a long time that I don’t own a suit anymore. I want a black suit because I love black. He tells me it should be blue. I think he is wrong but I don’t really have any evidence. He has been in financing and corporate America for decades while I have been in the ivory tower so I cannot be completely sure that he is wrong. What do I know? I try on the navy blue and look at myself in the mirror. Who is that? I don’t look like me. I tell him that and he shakes his head. “ It is what it is.” We have had this conversation before. I know he is trying to help me; I know I don’t like what he is saying. I call over the attendant and plead my case. She agree, tells him ladies like black. I am vindicated and try on a black blazer while they chat about my suit choices.

Her: Ladies do love to wear black and its different for women than it is for men.

Him: But she is going to have to pay the tax

There is a beat. She is remembering. Her face, now serious and a little regretful turns to me.

Her: He’s right honey; you can’t just wear what you want. You’re going to have to be better.

I don’t want them to be right. I want to be able to choose. I want to be myself. To be myself and to be in white spaces is to be black, to be at a disadvantage that I can only overcome if I do more, tow the line. I have to be better if I want any chance of being equal. The suit will cost me $500. It will cost me $500 just so I can walk in the door and not be mistaken for the maid, for a cleaning lady, or an uneducated negro who doesn’t know what color suit to wear to a corporate job interview. I do not buy the suit. I buy instead an emerald green dress.

I will buy the suit next week.

Black Movie Ticket Sales Matter

Marvel’s much anticipated Black Panther is set to open February 16, but if you haven’t gotten your ticket yet you may find yourself out of luck.  Movie tickets went on sale this week and soon after began to sell out.  Even Black Panther star Lupita N’yongo found herself ticketless for opening night.

Set in part in an African country, Wakanda, untouched by colonialism, Black Panther promises to be all kinds of black excellence–from the costumes and set to the music. Kendrick Lamar is set to release a Black Panther album and contributes a theme song in the trailer below.  Black movie audiences are so here for it that groups are buying out theaters for black audience watch parties, and donating tickets in several cities to make sure no black boy or girl will be left out of having a ticket. What’s all the fuss about?

The importance of the representation of blackness in Black Panther is significant, too much to be stated in this small post, but before the movie is already released, advance ticket sales help open the door for future productions. Major movies are, after all, made not just for art, but for profit.  The more tickets sold, the better an investment that artist, director or a similar movie may be in the future.

If all these ticket presales result in a huge box office win for Black Panther opening weekend, the film will be in good company.  Last year, both Girls Trip and Get Out proved to be not only good filmmaking but great money making.  Girls Trip was the first black-led movie to make over $100 million.  Get Out, with an original budget of only 4.5 million was the most profitable movie of 2017.  Films like these, and potentially Black Panther show that films centering Black characters and themes can be extremely lucrative as well.

Hollywood has a bad track record when it comes to supporting films and filmmakers of color. Amazing films from directors like Ava DuVarney, Ryan Coogler, and  Barry Jenkins are paving the way for more films to be made by and about Black stories. Ticket sales like we’ve seen with Girl’s Trip, Get Out and now Black Panther help to break down the old myth that black movies aren’t profitable. So if you haven’t already gotten your tickets, get them now–those tickets are more than a night at the movies, they are part of a movement.

Evil in Real Time

On the West Coast of Africa sits a gleaming white castle where over 300,000 Africans were tortured, raped and broken before being shipped to the Americas to work until they died. I anticipated I would be moved when I visited there, and even so was unprepared for the pulsating energy of this place, the feeling of a wound that would never heal.  The outside was so bright it hurt your eyes, but the dark dungeons where slaves waited months to be shipped overseas still smelled of blood and death and human fear.  The tiny window that afforded Africans their last view of home before enslavement–called the door of no return–was a heartbreakingly small sliver of Ghana’s riotous beauty beyond the iron bars.

What I remember most is a staircase.  It was a steep wooden staircase that was just outside of the door to the women’s dungeon.  At the top of the stairs a door through which you could directly access the Governer’s bedroom.  The Governor of the castle would call down to have women sent up the stairs to be raped, and then returned to the dungeon below.  The dungeon was cavern-like, windowless and low ceilinged where women were sometimes stacked like wood so the slavers could fit more in.  The sweat and piss and shit and fear of women leaked into the soil floor, and prisoners suffered in the squalor.  From this hell, a woman would have to climb the stairs.  To be raped. To be raped and returned to a dungeon.

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Standing at the bottom of the stairs I could see clearly how simple the evil at the heart of slavery was.  All the narratives I had been taught in school that framed slavery as a complicated economic transaction, born of naive ignorance of the humanity of Africans, or better still a Christian desire to help the less fortunate Africans live right in Christ was bullshit.  It simply was not possible for the people who held slaves to not know the brutal violence they were perpetrating–they lived in intimate quarters with the results of their evil actions.  They could see and hear and smell the suffering of their victims. They chose to redefine it instead of recognizing it. Every day they chose to watch death blossom around them–they were the gardeners after all.  It was not possible for the governor to open that door without hearing and smelling the suffering in the dungeon below.  It was not possible for him to rape captive Africans without feeling the humanity of his victims as he crushed them beneath his body, then sent them broken and battered back down to be stacked awaiting death. This evil is pure and palpable.

The great travesties of history seem unbelievable in their sheer monstrosity.  How could people of good conscious watch for hundreds of years as 400,000,000 Africans were enslaved and brutalized?  How could 6,000,000 Jews be shipped to concentration camps while villagers watched trains just roll by? How could 400,000 Syrians be slaughtered by their own government while the world stood down to a dictator?  We could add a handful, a dozen, a hundred events to this list where people watch brutal regimes destroy their own human brethren. There is no excusing these atrocities, no reason to wonder if slavery or genocide was anything other than just evil.  It is difficult looking back to accept bystanders who bore witness were innocents, free from guilt for not intervening. This seems so clear when we look at the past, but markedly less clear in our own time.

For months now Ameria has been a swirling cauldron of chaos, racism and rape allegations, North Korea nuclear brinksmanship and Trump tweets; the tweets, the tweets.  Hate crimes, gun sales, and taxes on the poor are all rising.  Each day brings a new attack: news media, protestors and every minority group in a never-ending rotating succession.  Each day there is a new topic worthy of debate at best, outrage at worst.  You could set your news cycle to fresh controversy like setting a watch.

While Trump feeds the chaos machine, the GOP has been busy trying to dismantle what we commonly think of as our democratic country: trying to repeal health care with no replacement, stacking government agencies with people on record for wanting to abolish said agencies, looming tax reform sure to line the pockets of the rich while the poor and middle class suffer and a deep recession is all but inevitable, and of course, Russia.

Remember when people thought Trump might pivot?  Do you recall people saying he needed time to learn, that Trump just didn’t know what he was doing because he was, after all, a businessman?  Have you listened to the mind-bending juggernaut of deception Sarah Huckabee Sanders redefine reality every day, telling us that what we have seen and heard in the observable physical world did not happen? It time to call a thing a thing.

This administration is evil.  Trump and the Senate and the House are willfully and intentionally dismantling our democracy.  They know what they are doing.  They know how bad it is,  Watch them twitch and swallow as they speak lies into the camera.  Watch them bend like contortionists twisting logic to support a child predator. See how they vote, quickly, without so much as a round of town halls in their districts for the constituents that this tax bill will affect most.

We are spending our time trying to figure out why. We put them on cable news panels to hear their point of view. We have magazine profiles to learn to sympathize with the Nazi next door, and the torch-wielding all-Americans willing to blame Mexicans rather that modernization for their unemployment.  We are hearing them out while they are burning our country to the ground.

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The blitz of bullshit is nearly impossible to ignore–how can the President of the United States use a racial slur in front of Native American vets without us responding?  We have to talk about it, there has to be a response.  At the same time, we are exhausted from responding to the barrage of crises.  Instead, I recommend you pick your battles.  You don’t have to respond to everything. Go hard on the issues, you care about most–dig deep to research, organize activities or events and write, share and speak about what you learn. Do the easy things you can do to support people when they need a signature, an attendee, a quick phone call or a share on an issue they’re staying up on.  In this way, we can build a community that can collectively address a broad array of issues and leave ourselves enough room for serious self-care and recovery time.

Be mindful of speaking the truth and calling out lies and attempts to redefine what is real.  The White House’s mania for deception seems bizarre in an era with so much fact-checking, but you may not be the target of their tall tales. Their dogged lies and their undermining of legitimate reporting leave Trump supporters in the Fox bubble completely misinformed and dangerous–both in the streets and at the polls.  Thirty percent of the Republican voting electorate is basically immune to reason or information, ready to rock with even the craziest and cruelest policies.  You may not be able to convince your drunk uncle at Christmas, but make sure you keep yourself convinced.  These days the path to truth is sometimes hard to find; better leave a breadcrumb trail so you don’t get turned around.

But most difficult of all, do not negotiate with their terror.  Resist the urge to make sense of any of it. Do not accept the narrative that this evil aimed at women and minorities and immigrants is merely a position that is equal, just different, from your own. This is not normal.  The destruction brought on by regulation rollbacks, tax breaks for the rich, and possible military intervention in North Korea will be real.  Real people will be hurt.  People have already died as a result of this administration’s policies. Lasting damage will happen to our nation. Someday someone will stand in the broken castle we leave behind and will see so clearly that it was simply evil that that plunged our nation into chaos, nothing more or less.  They will wonder about you and me, wonder how we felt watching this attack on our nation. They will wonder what we did.

I hope they will wonder, too, at the courage of our voice, at the thousand ways we resisted, we fought back, until we built a shining city on the hill of what could have been our darkest hour.