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.

Just a Guy: How Whiteness Fuels Terror

For white men, acts of extreme violence are ubiquitous, they are normalized, and they are celebrated.  This makes sense in a country where we read perpetrating genocide as brave.  This ideology trickles down to individuals, loading them like weapons and unleashing them in a world full of potential victims.

A 64-year-old white man, retired from gainful employment, living in a retirement community sprayed a country music concert with automatic rifle fire, killing 59 and injuring more than 500 people. The news is describing him as nondescript.  Retired detectives and police chiefs clog up the pundits’ chair in cable news, assuring us there is nothing about this man that would cause suspicion. His brother, at a lost to shed any light on his motives, calls him, “Just a guy.” This guy had 34 guns.  He had ammonium nitrate, often used in bombmaking, in his car.  He had tannerite, another explosive material in his home. This is not like any guy I know.

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A round-up of news reporting from the left and the right details the methodical attack, they describe a killer that planned from his room for days while he brought guns in in no less than 10 pieces of luggage and conclude with “we can’t know why he did it.”  Some are already asking about his mental health, his Asian girlfriend.  Everyone is looking at everything but his whiteness.  He’s not crazy, he is living out the tenets of whiteness.

Across the internet, good writers of conscience are pointing out that white men are the primary perpetrators of terror in America.  Facts.  Authorities claim we need more information to know what motivated him.  But do we? White supremacy is at the heart of the “lone wolf” terror attacks perpetrated by white men in America.  This is not just about avowed Nazis and the alt-right.  The ideas central to whiteness are contributing factors to rising violence in our country.  It’s not just that white privilege allows the shooter to face fewer consequences or receive better media coverage.  Before the first victim is harmed, these ideas central to white supremacy encourage and embolden evil men to rain terror, yes terror, on America. Whatever we find in the coming days and hours, these ideas, central to whiteness in America are contributing factors

GettyImages-2669226-E.jpgIndividualism

The myth of America is centered on the rugged individual. The narrative of white supremacy erases the contributions of people of color and centers the cis white male at the center of every story. Taking the law into one’s own hands, ignoring the rights of others and doing whatever you want whenever you want even if it results in genocide or homicide is totally acceptable. Davey Crocket, John Wayne, Batman–all lone wolves celebrated for doing what they think is right, no matter what the natives thought.  The focus in America on the individual instead of the community encourages extremists to think they have every right to willfully affect the lives of many others.  Recall when Trump “boasted he and he alone” could fix America.  Can you remember the last time a Superhero held a town hall to make sure everyone was heard before deciding on a course of action?

8a01c503df8d5625f7be3a6ac78d58cc--gender-issues-social-justice.jpgToxic masculinity

This (country) is a man’s world. America has any number of problems related to our outdated ideas about men–rape culture, the wage gap and massive numbers of domestic violence to name a few.  Toxic masculinity tells us boys don’t cry and men don’t show emotions.  Men who are unable to navigate their emotional response to a changing world are acting out that anger. Not only are men engaging in toxic masculinity as individuals, but that anger is being stoked nationally by our Angry White-Guy-in-Cheif and results, time after time, in violent attacks: think Charlottesville, think post-election violence. America has long encouraged its men to solve problems with violence instead of diplomacy. And they do.  According to the Washington Post, all but three of the mass shootings since 1966 have been perpetrated by men.

NEIJKFnIjoyVMO_1_a.jpgWhite Violence As Solution

White supremacy is enforced with violence.  Slaves didn’t remain enslaved because they wanted to.  Lynchings weren’t suicides. Civil rights leaders didn’t shoot themselves.  Native Americans,  Japanese Americans, women–anytime someone steps out of line, white supremacy claps back with violence.  Those in power use violence to maintain it.  Even in the movies, your white savior kills his way to peace–Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Every Cop Movie.  The message is clear: violence is your birthright. For white men, acts of extreme violence are ubiquitous, they are normalized, and they are celebrated. Trump’s easy assertions that he will wipe North Korea off the map is so what less than alarming, dismissed as bravado.   This makes sense in a country where we read perpetrating genocide as brave.  This ideology trickles down to individuals, loading them like weapons and unleashing them in a world full of potential victims.

t-caroline-taylor-mar-a-lago-donald-trump-florida-hotel.jpgEntitlement to Excess

Mexicans are taking your jobs.  Black men are taking your women. Chinese are taking everything else–these complaints, the Mein Kamph of whiteness is the story fueling white anger.  The idea sometimes unspoken is that whiteness believes it is entitled to all the jobs, all the women and everything else that life has to offer in an endless individualized pursuit to conquer happiness.   Want to put countless mom and pop shops out of business to build an empire?  Sure. Want 5 houses and 10 cars? You got that.  Want a team of humans to dedicate their lives to serving you? Coming right up, sir.

If you can take what you want in life then certainly you can do the same in death. Stockpiling guns, collecting the highest body count and a dream of going out in a blaze of glory isn’t typical behavior for the mentally ill, it is a disease of entitlement. Entitlement is believing it is your right as a hypermasculine rugged individual to take the lives of as many people in the pursuit of your own end as you like.

WebThese ideas are not the markers of mental illness, these are ideological positions: beliefs and values at the heart of white supremacy.  It is the pathology of a culture, not the pathology of the individual that stokes this violence.  The skewed news coverage and the claims that he is mentally ill are a dodge to avoid deeper examination of whiteness, the culture that spawns such killings.

If this had been a Muslim shooter, airwaves would have been filled with pundits debating “radical terror”.  Instead, we are focusing on the uplifting stories of people helping people.  While these stories celebrating the heroism of first responders make us feel better, and rightfully so, we also need to take the time for honest critique. Until we start calling our own homegrown terror out, we will face more mass shootings.  So let’s call it out, let’s fill the airwaves and your social media feed with a deeper examination of the dangerous ideas of whiteness.  Let’s identify terrorists no matter their color.  Let’s critique ideology, no matter the origin, so we can all be a little safer.

 

 

Call It War

I see a line of armed militia invade an American street; khaki clad men with pith helmets and pepper spray;  I see Klan members and skins heads–young men, a new generation marching with torches–with torches; a car runs into a crowd. I watch. I watch it again. I watch it over and over and over–new angles, overhead shots, bloody money-shots. I don’t cry.  I don’t feel surprised.  I barely feel sad.  I am outraged. I am weary of outrage. This is how war strips you of your humanity.  Atrocities surround you, good times become tense, tense times become terrorizing: is this it?  will this be the shot that starts a race war?

tcp_virginia-protests__tcp_large We are already at war. The hammer claps of racist cops’ nines punctuate the tension, gun sales are up, lynching’s making a comeback. Over and over we see violence motivated by ideology, a battle determined to take and hold territory on both the earth and in the heart of America.

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Before you say this doesn’t look like any war you know, consider the face of war in our time.  Gone are the days of massive mobilizations–instead, our wars are made of terror, skirmishes to seize and hold territory, battles for political power, and most of all bombs of narrative, payloads of ideology exploding in breaking news blasts and streamed live. The violence goes nuclear as stories rain down on you weekly, daily, hourly.  Your phone is the front line, your television battle-weary from images of black and brown death.

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Charlottesville was an organized attack, powered by 4chan and Info Wars and the dark corners of Twitter. Armed militias lined the streets, the air full of tension.  Cops held back even as things started to get violent right in front of them. They had a permit for this.  This was a legal gathering.  These were people wearing U. S. marine uniforms, armed with pistols and long guns, chanting heil trump yelling at blacks and Jews.  This is not a gathering of bigoted individuals, this is a battle of ideologies. There is nothing new about a battle in a centuries long string of battles that defines the worst of who we are and hides the promise of the best we may become. America has been waging this race war since enslaved Africans first arrived in 1619.

Official silence in the face of this fight does not mean it is not already happening.  We are at war in Afghanistan.  When was the last time you thought about it?  When did it last force you to make a different choice, to sacrifice or suffer to support the war effort?  When was the last time you checked on combatants and citizens who are collateral damage in America’s longest war?

The fact is it is not difficult to hide a war in plain sight, buried beneath a flurry of headlines, and clouds of chaos unleashed in twitter storm after twitter storm.  This “skirmish” is not new or mysterious or worthy of a second of questioning.  The events in Charlottesville are nothing less than acts of war on our streets, being fought by servers from Top Dog and college boys in polo shirts, grinding up your daughters and sons.  There is blood on the streets from a Nice style attack.  A terror attack. There is no question here.

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In war, we don’t debate if there are simply two sides equally wrong or equally valid–no one on the allied side was saying Nazism was merely a difference of opinion.  In war you take an ideological stance; we as a nation-state pick a side and organize our systems and institutions in the service of that ideology, mobilizing all parts of our society under its principles.  Will those principles be hate and division, white supremacy–the sickness that has plagued our country for years–or will we finally heal ourselves and embrace the healthy diverse nation we are striving to become?

Call it a race war, not a war between races but a war against racism, where we all take the side of America, the land of we the people, and take aim squarely at the rot that eats at the foundation of our country.  The casualties of this war are not just minorities–this weekend they were white, and they bled blue. Heather Heyer. Lt. H. Jay Cullen. Trooper Berke M. M. Bates.

The truth is that the racism negatively affects everyone in this country.  The same systems that disadvantage minorities also met out class and gender oppression, as well as a kick-ass sleeping potion of culture that keeps many people fighting against their own interests.  Racism hurts everyone…no not in an anti-white-racism-is-real way, but in the way that three victims are dead and they had white faces.  The fight does not neatly divide along racial lines.  This fight, in the end, is about power. To be clear this is not a war against white people, but against systems of racial oppression and inequality. There is nothing anti-white about wanting our country to deliver the equity promised in our founding.013-large

Don’t be alarmed to call it a war.  America knows how to wage war.  Wars mobilize resources. War requires coordinated and cohesive narratives to win hearts and minds. They engage our government in taking sides for the people it is sworn to represent. A declaration of war makes sure our military and homeland security are vigilant, prioritizing white hate groups as the deadly threat that they are.  This administration already knows how to do this: they rolled out a blueprint in the war it declared on MS-13 just two weeks ago. Copy, paste–wage war on the criminals and thugs that spatter our streets with blood: white nationalists. No challenge has so plagued America as race. No foe is no more worthy of eradication than racism.ZZ0D9BDB29Too late for it to have any real meaning, Trump calls white nationalist thugs and criminals–not the same language used for terrorists like Isis.  Be clear though, these hate groups are terrorist organizations.  They are not motivated by drug money or bad parenting: they are motivated by ideology, an ideology of hate and evil that has had too much of a hand on the wheel of America for years.  A century ago members of the Klan wore hoods in the evening and suits, badges and campaign buttons in the day.  In 2017 they still do.  People who espouse this ideology are not just outliers, they are people with White House badges like Stephen Miller and Steve Banon, founder of ultra-racist Breitbart News.  It is past time for this administration to oust these hatemongers from the government payroll.

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Don’t be fooled by a foot dragging weak response.  Like any addiction, acknowledging you have a problem is only the first step. That 45 could force the words from his mouth is meaningless as his policies and inner circle cheer on white supremacy.   The administration is far from declaring war on racism. But that doesn’t stop you–yes you–from speaking up, speaking out and getting involved wherever you are and however you can.

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I’m done with outrage. I am outraged again.   I’m not done fighting–I’m a soldier in this fight and you are too.  I conscript you.  I need you to destroy this mad brute of White supremacy. You cried for London, you prayed for Nice; now, fight for America.

 

 

 

The Truth Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

It’s true that the Oxford dictionary added the word post fact his year, and of course, our current administration acts like that is a goal rather than a problem, but that doesn’t mean that facts and evidence cease to exist.  Post-truthers are more than liars–they are propagandists that carefully craft narratives, leaving out facts in evidence for their own gain.  This is dangerous behavior whether you are the president or a professor.  Maybe even more so for a professor–aren’t we supposed to be professing the truth as best we know it?

So it goes with two colleagues of mine who are again peddling a concerning tale of antisemitism at Wheelock College, an institution I love–and work at.  These celebrated Professors craft a narrative so egregious it’s almost unbelievable–a single email asking for a seat at the table unleashed a storm of antisemitism that destroyed their careers and reputations.  As a lover of justice, this should alarm you, right?

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But like Donald Trump and his post fact inauguration, there is some information that throws this narrative into question.   Their story claims their email about Jewish life is what triggered retaliation from the administration, not the complaints from black students about racism in the classroom.  Oh, shit, there isn’t even the mention of the accusations of anti-black racism in my colleague’s post–strange. The pair maintains that student complaints were manufactured by an antisemitic (black) president and that black students, faculty, and administrators somehow colluded to use fake complaints in an antisemitic plot to ouster just these two Jewish professors (and not other Jewish faculty).

This tale ignores a funny part of this story–I have met real students who have complained repeatedly about the professors’ approach to teaching race and gender studies–and not just one or two. More than a handful.  Over years.  Students have posted a screen shot where one professor wrote the “word he does not utter”.

So you don’t say it but you write it.  You ask students to explore if it’s okay to say the word–so it is part of writing assignments, but like Voldemort, it’s cool as long as you don’t say it out loud.  Okay, cool, so how did you create a classroom environment where this activity allowed students to engage and learn, where students felt heard and could themselves express oppositional views? This activity is not unheard of, but in the era of black lives matter, concurrent with days where these same students laid on the hard grass in the snow in a die in to bring attention to “racial divides many refuse to acknowledge exist”, it’s time to update your pedagogy. We’re way beyond the N word. Students need real tools for the very-real-and-not-at-all-theoretical revolution.

I want to be clear–this is not a defense of snowflakes.  I believe strongly in academic freedom and the importance of tenure to protect this freedom.  I push students to think and grapple with difficult ideas and these same colleagues of mine also have.  These are not easy times for good liberal professors, and so I do not lightly enter this conversation. Exploring complex, controversial and unpopular ideas is a key part of a good education. This isn’t about over-sensitivity to hearing the N-word, or a single incident.  It is that these students had a right to have a functioning relationship with the professors they pay thousands of dollars to teach them.  It is that when there are complaints they can and should be handled with conversation that helps learning happen, not lawsuits that shut down discussion and make everybody–even me, right now–afraid to speak publicly. It is that for hard ideas to take hold they need to be fertilized by faculty inside classrooms crafted from respect, current pedagogy, and historical context.  Structural analysis is key, and as structures and the communities they structure change, we need to update what we say and how we say it.

While student complaints will need to be adjudicated as part of the pairs’ upcoming multimillion dollar lawsuit, I can tell you I have heard multiple complaints from multiple students, multiple semesters in public forums.  I have to ask, are they all lying?  I witnessed students bring forth these complaints in many town halls and open discussions with clear voices and weeping eyes.  Were they all faking it?  Students were not trying to burn down the school.  They were asking for professors to update and adapt their pedagogy in a rapidly changing world.  They were asking to be prepared to work in the social justice field with the most current understanding of critical race and gender theory. These last few years have seen a seismic shift in race and gender studies, something that shouldn’t be ignored by the top race and gender scholars.  Dickering about nigga vs nigger when police brutality was the top story in the news is not just tone-deaf, it’s irresponsible for good liberal professors.

Students spoke out in class, a class where they were allegedly reminded–theoretically of course–that tenure would protect a professor who graded all the students of color unfairly. Undeterred, students elevated their complaints through available formal channels. As scholars of race, both professors are well aware of the importance of conversation and reconciliation, but instead of participating in dialog directly with students protesting their actions they used their position to avoid engaging, and then their power as successful academics to sue the school and amplify their narrative in blog posts like this latest one and in public lectures at other institutions, flaming the school and harming the school’s good reputation. All this without a legal judgment to support their narrative and free from the voices of the students involved.

Over the past year and a half, I have witnessed students of color and allies try bravely to hold these individuals to account, asking for dialogue, and when that failed, holding town halls that the two professors didn’t attend, except for one after the lawsuit was filed where they took notes on students statements(for the lawsuit?). Students protested. They wrote demands.  For some, their studies suffered as they grappled to succeed in an institution whose commitment to racial justice was shaken.  Many staff and faculty of color faced the same emotional pain as students, and a number left at the end of last academic year. The incident had the potential to be the worst kind of oppression Olympics, lining up complaints of antisemitism against complaints of racism–dividing the very groups who were working together to create a culturally adept community. All of us worked hard to try to keep the incident and its fallout from pulling our beloved community apart.

For those of us that remained, we have worked hard to be a part of a healing institution. The two professors so wrongly aggrieved have had a full year off of work with full pay– a move made by a new President to help settle the waters while the lawsuit was filed. And it’s working.  The new administration and faculty and student groups have supported and created events, activities, committees and community days to help us grow as an institution.  This is the way forward.  It feels good to go to work again, and I trust the people I work with to prepare our future social justice warriors.  Students, faculty, staff and the new administration know it’s not easy because we’re doing the hard work to walk our talk.  We’re in a better place.  The courts will have the final say, deciding once and for all who was right and who was wronged. In the meantime, I’m more afraid of injustice than shade–I’m going to focus on strengthening students and an institution trying to make the world better.  We’re not post fact–but you can act like it if you want to.

 

 

 

 

T(rump) Minus 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End scene.

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

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

The Divided States of Play

Man, we love our guns–and why shouldn’t we?  We have a right to love our guns up like new puppies.  Guns are everywhere in our culture, and since we want our kids to grow up with the full American experience, we love guns for kids.  We even love kids with guns!  Unless they’re black…then, no gun for you.

This week, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio after police chased him following a report of an armed robbery.  Cornered in an alley, police report King leveled a pistol at them, prompting them to shoot him dead [though another boy arrested in the case contradicts the police story].  Turns out, the pistol was a replica BB gun, no more dangerous to the cops than an easy bake oven.

But toy guns have proven to be dangerous to toy-gun-toting black boys.  Tamir Rice was committing no crime when Chicago police rolled up on him and killed him in a matter of seconds, even though dispatch had passed on that the gun Rice head may not be real.  John Crawford didn’t even have a chance to pay for the toy gun that got him killed: police shot him in Dayton Ohio while he was still shopping in Wal-mart with the toy after a fellow shopper called 911.  The pattern was so disturbing that California Governor Jerry Brown pushed legislation to address such fatalities following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.  The law aimed at manufacturers to halt the sale of toy guns unless the entire exterior was white of a color–but in a world of pink pistols(yes that’s a real Hello Kitty gun) and 3D printed guns this measure is likely to face future problems.

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If a toy could be just cause for police to kill your child, then why have these toys at all? Outside city streets where cops are engaged in urban warfare is a whole world where kids with guns are good clean fun. According to an article in the Injury Prevention Journal, 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the US each year. BB guns are available for purchase without a licence or age restriction in most states. They may well show up at a Christmas party or wrapped in birthday finery in a home you care about.  In this parallel place of play, children pine for tons of guns.  Adults concern over supplying these toys revolves primarily around the danger of putting someone’s eye out, as famously captured by the movie A Christmas Story.

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I had the great pleasure of spending some family time up in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We had campfires and barbeques, went to the lake and of course the local attractions–Zeb’s Candy store and the army navy store.  As long as I can remember, from the mountains to the Cape, a trip the Army Navy store was always on my brother’s agenda.  Now with three kids of his own, they too can’t wait to get there.   This year they wanted their favorite Aunt to come too.

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So off we went to the war store.  Now, I love me a good post-apocalyptic smack down series, but in real life, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m not naive to the ways of the world, but I also believe that nearly all problems can be solved nonviolently.  I was struck first that this is America–we glorify war, death, and violence even as we play cop to those worldwide who would use violence for their own ends.  Here at home, we have stores full of fake guns, then use those same fake guns to justify the death of young black and brown boys. Our heroes are all drenched in blood and stores like this are their preschools.  Let’s shop!

Does your baby coo for law and order?  How about this fabulous onesie, complete with a fake truncheon.  Don’t worry about outgrowing those  blues–you can just size up to the full toy kit so they can keep toddling at their local protests.  PS Get Parent of the Year for wearing the matching full body riot suit!

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Game of Thrones play more your style?  Strap on these knuckle knives for a fun time.  I’m sure these sharpened brass knifeckles are super safe and not for violence of any kind.  The same goes for this wall of swords and battle axes.  Strictly decorative.  For people who want to decorate their home with lethal weapons.  It’s a look.

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Ahh, the heart of the fun–the Airsoft BB gun wall.  Here is a shot of the long guns of fun–just a part of the 30-foot wall covered with toy guns, all looking completely real except for a small (removable for the resourceful) orange tip.   Not only do they look real, they are also real expensive$150 to $250+.  These are no five dollar cap gun–they look like the real deal and they shoot little plastic balls that don’t worry are no problem for the environment.

Truncheons and knifeckles and guns, oh my, what a toy store!  In case you have trouble reading the room, you can read a few books to help you have even more fun doing things like surviving a societal meltdown or building bombs with butane lighters.

So if the Army Navy store, which that day was doing brisk business full of sunburned vacationers out looking for a souvenir of summer family time, is considered a family friendly activity, full of games and toys to bring your family together, then why do young boys keep getting shot by the police for playing with these toys?

Why are guns and weapons good clean fun for my white nieces and nephews, but deadly play for my students of color? What could possibly be the difference between the patrons of the gun aisle and Tamir Rice, or John Crawford?

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Play is the work of children, Piaget said.  Play is how they learn about the way the world works, what the limits are and what their place within it is.  Some children in our country are privileged to play with weapons and wield violence with no consequences.  Parents stand by proudly as children learn to shoot with no sense of the fear parents of color face preparing their boys to face a culture too often cocked and loaded. Some children get killed for playing the same games their white counterparts play with impunity. Some children think a toy gun will look like a toy to cops, thinking it will keep them safe from lethal trouble at least. They don’t realize that in their small black hand cops will see only a deadly weapon with a criminal attached.

If a child is a child, and a toy is a toy, then we are left with race-again-as the factor determining who lives and plays versus who dies at the hands of the state.  It’s time for common-sense gun legislation to extend to the guns we buy for kids:  it’s common sense to keep all our kids safe.

 

 

 

 

Hold Tight, Let Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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