Why We Must Call The Charleston Shooting Terror

The story that we tell is the life that we live.  Each word is a critical building block in what we come to regard as truth, a truth so massive and all encompassing that we have a hard time imaging the giants hands that build these cities of words.  But we build them.  We tell the story of America every day in a million voices, some soft, passed from mouth to ear while others squawk at us for hours across the airwaves.  The loudest voice tell us what we believe, what we saw.  The tell us what to know–with or without the facts.  So it matters if we call the Charleston Church massacre terrorism–or not.  Here’s why we should.

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What we know is that on the evening of June 17th in one of the most historically significant black churches in Charleston, South Carolina, a room full of people came together in peaceful worship and prayer, welcoming into their midst without a second thought one who would, moments later, shoot nine people in cold blood.  What we know is that the killer intentionally and with great malice and forethought chose to kill those people because they were black.  What we know is he has made this clear with a manifesto of deep racial hate fed by the crop of white supremacy that is marked by segregation, feeds “bad” cops and grows inequality in all of our systems.  Fact: this is an act motivated and expressing hate of black people, intended to inflict fear and terror.

Have no doubt that what happened in Charleston is an act of terrorism.  According to who?  How about the US department of defense:

 The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Or perhaps you prefer the FBI’s definition:

Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Still don’t believe me?  Well neither did the FBI–they have yet to declare the attack terror, though the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into what they term a terror attack.  It’s not just these agencies that disagree.  In fact, there is ample debate in the mainstream media about what to call this act–hate crime?  terrorism?  Rising above the debate and cries of mourning–is the steady drumbeat of apologists:  he was a quite boy.  he was a good boy. this is a lone wolf.   Don’t make this about race.  Define racist.  Define hate.  Define humanity–and then we’ll decide if he violated yours.

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Now it the time to push for crimes against black bodies rooted in racist ideology to be called terrorism.  Far from purely academic, calling the Charleston shooting terrorism recognizes that this attack is one of a larger battle–one we are loathe to admit exists–against the ideology of white supremacy.   A war on terror requires us to root out the very ideology at play–in this case the white supremacy that has been fueling violence across our country since its birth.  Calling it terrorism requires us to use time, and money and human capital to cut off the legs of supremacist groups to stop them from spreading a net of propaganda to lure in the hateful and the violent.

Calling it terror means we won’t stop at prosecuting Roof, but we’ll also go after the organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens who helped radicalize him.  We will be able to use the considerable resources of the FBI and the department of Homeland security to go after white supremacist radicalized hate as stridently as we go after radicalized islamic hate groups.

Calling it terrorism would keep presidential candidates from taking money from hate groups to assure political support free from the eyes of their constituency.  This war on terror could cut off funding streams that fuel hate groups and their supporters. I’m looking at you  Rick, Ted and Rand…and Mitt, in case you return.

Hate group campaign donation recipient Rick Santorum sitting next to activist DeRay McKesson. No,Rick, this does not absolve you.

Calling it terror will make clear to all Americans that a black man shot by a white man over ideology will receive the same justice as a white man killed by a muslim over ideology.  Calling the Charleston massacre terror won’t politicize it–it will depoliticize our one-note approach to terror so we can finally begin to attack it.  Assuming that all terror is committed by radicalized muslim extremists ignores that most victims of ideologically motivated hate crimes are victims of racial hate. And Blacks are more likely to be the victims of a hate crime than any other racial group.

Calling it terror requires us to remove the ideological roots of the hate–like  recent calls for removing the rebel battle flag flying by law over the South Carolina state capital and removing it from official government items like the Texas license plate.  Before we celebrate these most recent victories, the SCOTUS decision was 5-4 and the flag will only come down after 9 (more) deaths and (another round of) protest. We’ll have to be vigilant about being honest with the remains of racism that still permeate the symbolic life of America.

Roof’s manifesto–available on the internet in case any investigators had been tracking him–reveals a deep complex narrative of hatred for blacks, not one created by Roof alone, but one that is the heart of white supremacist ideology for hundreds of years.  Have no doubt these statements are weaving the same old story that has sanctioned violence against blacks in this country since the days of the lash–a continuous story that says blacks are not human, that violence is required by those policing whiteness to keep black bodies in check.  Refusing to call the attack terror and searching for mitigating factors to excuse the killer’s evil intent are salt in an already painful open wound.  This resistance to recognizing and acknowledging this incident as terror is an indicator of white supremacy’s chilling effect on racial dialogue.

The fight against terrorism is a multibillion dollar effort in the United States and around the world waged with American tax dollars.   But terror lives among us, too.  If you believe black lives matter, if you want to live in a world where we can all truly be human, then it’s time to strap on your helmet and turn our resources and our minds to the terror at home. To acknowledge the violence perpetrated against a select group of humans doesn’t take away from our humanity–it ensures it.  It ensures that we see where inequality exists so we can cut out the disease and begin to heal.

Pass to Power: What is Race and Passing?

Update: I posted this 666 days ago but blue eyed devil Rachael Dolezal is back in the news with her snake oil version of racial identity.  She got a book deal and all I have is this blog so I’m reposting this in hopes someone may share it with her and read educate this white woman-Rachel, please have several seats, and be humble.

Busted: Rachel Dolezal, Howard Graduate, Head of the NAACP in Spokane, and outspoken black community activist is white.  Outed by a local reporter and mercilessly–and hilariously–taken down on twitter Rachel has sparked lots of chatter about what is race and who can be which one.  Passing points to the essential function of race–that it structures power, not color.  People who pass are not trying to look different, they are trying to change their status.

Race is not in our DNA, it’s a social construct.  That means, despite what your eyes see, there are not different races of people.  In fact, there is no gene for race in the human genome.  Biologically, humans are all part of one family.

So, if race isn’t real, then we can just say racism is dead, yell, “Black President!” and get on with it right?  Wrong.  I mean, have you read this blog before?  Since the birth of America, race has been used to structure, economic and political relationships.  Prior to the 1600’s race really wasn’t a thing.  People had and still have different cultures, but not different racial categories.  The first time the word race even appears in the English language is 1508, so the Ancient world did not  have the concept of different races.

With the conquest of the Americas and a fresh addiction to sugar, European conquerers needs many hands to make the hard work of sugar, tobacco and cotton farming light.  But, since the America’s were little more than a handful of rough outposts, they couldn’t attract a voluntary workforce with crazy benefits like being allowed to live free and get paid.  Thus begins the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest events in all of human history.

slave trade map

Race as a social construct was created essentially to protect this labor force.   Many laws–not just one–over hundreds of years were used to keep one class of people–black people–enslaved.  Politicians traded power for allowing the perpetuation of the institution of slavery, even our conflicted founding father Thomas Jefferson.  He wrote all men were created equal, but could not build the country he desired without those free hands to do the work.

What would get good God fearing people to support the systematic violent oppression of their human brothers and sister? A story, a narrative that normalizes terror as truth.  At the center of the narrative was the concept that blacks were not humans, and therefore did not deserve human rights.  While the institution of slavery ended 7 generations ago, America still struggles to shake this narrative.

Racism is supported by personal prejudice.  Individual beliefs about different groups of people perpetuate the kind of thinking that allows police to kill young people unchecked by the electorate.  But even if every person in America woke up tomorrow firmly antiracist in their heart, the laws that structure education, housing, economics, justice and other systems would still have racial bias in them.  Like a zombie–we may be the body, but if the zombie brain of racism lives, terror ensues.

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Over the centuries, hundreds if not thousands of people have tried to game the system by “passing”–taking on the identity of a race other than their own–mostly white.  Whites were able to be free, vote, own land–and slaves–and a host of other privileges that came with whiteness.  These privileges–which still exist in different ways today–helped keep people bought in to systems of oppression.  Black people willing to give up their culture and their ancestry could take on all the benefits of whiteness as long as they stayed hidden.

Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in oredr to attend Vassar in 1897
Anita Florence Hemmings passed as white in order to attend Vassar in 1897
Given our history of race and racism, and ignoring the self-hate of abdicating your culture, there were some legal and societal benefits people gained by passing as white–not the least of which was freedom.  But what could Rachel Dolezal possibly gain by passing as black?  Everything.

In a country where whiteness is too often invisible to white people, Rachel wouldn’t be the first white girl to long to have a (different) culture.  No boring suburbia for her, Rachel takes cultural appropriation to a whole new level. No matter how many Mileys and Iggys try to beg ignorance, appropriation is real–and real simple to understand.

iceberg of culture

Imagine culture is an iceberg.  Certain parts of it are visible–food, dance, dress, festivals–while the foundation of what makes a culture are buried deep below the surface–beliefs, values rituals, shared lived realities and ways of being.  Millions of people of African decent, shipped abroad during the slave trade or settled here in America carved out a way of surviving , a way of being in the face of unstoppable cruelty, a way of thriving within a system built to destroy them.  The soul food, and the blues and the style and hip hop are the visible parts of the legacy of this ongoing struggle, but the deeper elements are essential to making sense of those expressions. Cultural appropriation is when you break off the top of the iceberg and wear it around like a costume.  You can dress up, dance, and even bite the rhymes of a culture….

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But when you do, you leave behind the larger, more important part of culture: the deeply help beliefs, shared experiences, values, ancestry and destiny-the truth of what it means to be part of that group.  This part of the iceberg can’t be pulled out of the water and worn to the VMA’s.  They can’t be weaved onto your ends like Hawaiian silky.  They can’t belong to you, Rachel, or you either, Iggy.

All of these women cover themselves in a carcass they call blackness made out of stereotypes, stolen hairstyles and narratives that they’ve nicked to make themselves feel cool, beautiful, feel like they are a part of something. At the same time their white privilege gives them entrance into public spheres often denied actual black women, taking their voice and supplanting it with a white fantasy version.

And Rachel was a teacher, someone paid to tell other people how to think about and construct black femininity.  This is not how you love a culture–this is how you erase it.  Far from helping the community as some–including the NAACP–have suggested, her actions show the worst kind of white privilege–the privilege to define blackness with a white voice.

(Be sure to read upcoming part 2 about the difference between transgender and transracial)

Cops’ Lies and Videotape

TRIGGER WARNING: this article uses links to police brutality.  Videos are used here to emphasize the graphic nature of available video content that has yet to result in widespread radical police reforms.  It is my experience as a professor that many students have not seen the videos included here.

Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing South Carolina police officer Michael Slanger who now faces charges of murder.  What made this case so different from ones before it?  When Walter Scott ran for his life, fearing quite rightly the cop who fired 8 times across 15-20 yards, Feidin Santana turned his cell phone on and started taping. Clear video evidence of Slanger shooting the victim, then apparently planing a taser nearby to support the official report he filed that sounds like a broken record of police abuse:  “He was a threat to public safety. I was in fear for my life. I had to shoot him.”    The video Santana shot gave lie to the official version of events, resulting in murder charges again Slanger, and renewed calls for cameras on cops.

No doubt the constant cascade of black lives culled down at the hands of the state can leave us hopeless, wondering what it will take and what can be done.  The power of Santana’s video in this case, and the importance of its incontrovertible evidence in forcing the process to bend toward accountability cannot be overstated.  Justice in this case was on its way to being denied before the video surfaced. So can video be the answer?

After  each of several recent high profile police shootings, much attention has been focused on putting cameras on cops.  Body cameras are already being used in many police departments across the country.  The logic goes that if there are cameras on cops, then there is a record that will allow us to see first hand what cops are up to.  And for those few bad apples, the camera will act as a deterrent from their crimes.  In fact, stats show that officer aggression is down when cops are equipped with rolling a/v. Though sometimes those apples shut the cameras off…..one report places officers’ compliance with camera policies as low as 30%.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes that bad police shootings are simply a function of a few bad cops gone rogue.  The root of police brutality, however, lies not just on the individual “bad cops”, but on the justice system that they represent, and the racism that has been a part of that system since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown.

Increasing the visibility of police brutality ignores the deep roots of systemic racism. The police are the pitbull and the end of the leash of the state.  Police are charged to serve and protect, but the state is responsible for training, monitoring and disciplining the police.

After video of Rodney King surfaced in 1991, it seemed certain that police brutality’s days were numbered.  After all, if you watched the video, you couldn’t deny what you were seeing was wrong, right?  But then those cops got off, and the killing of black people by police continued.

In August, we watched heartbreaking death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD.  We watched him die in front of our eyes.  The video couldn’t be clearer.  There was no way justice could be denied.  But those cops got off, and the killing of black people continued.

official combined mug shot of Slager, charged with murder

Now in South Carolina it looks like their trying to get it right…only four days after, when Santana was prompted to bring the video to light because the police were lying, blaming Walter Scott for his own death.  Video is forcing them to come correct.  The default setting, though was a police force eager to cover up the death of an unarmed black man.  Video can make them come clean, but it doesn’t challenge the dark heart of their policing practices.

Video evidence can no doubt help get justice, but only after the crime has occurred.  Cameras on cops?  Absolutely.  But the presence–or absence–of videotaping does not cause, merely captures, police brutality.  A longstanding history of police brutality in the black community needs a complex solution including increased political access as we saw in Ferguson’s recent city council win.

Citizen accountability boards and community groups looking can provide a feedback loop to help nip problems in the bud, and make sure the community can trust those charged with their safety.

To do the heavy lifting ahead, we need an educated and culturally competent electorate that leaves denial behind to chase our dreams of all being equal.  Unless the many people that still blame blacks for their own victimization rejoin the all too real world of rampant racial injustice it will be hard to have the kind of electorate that will hold the Sate and local governments to heel aggressive police tactics.

Putting cameras on cops will end police brutality no more than cameras in every connivence store have stopped armed robbery.  Video didn’t stop sexual assault, instead it created a whole new platform for degradation.  Even now videos of blacks being attacked by police play as both tragedy and trope.

Video won’t bring Walter Scott, or Eric Garner back. Video alone is not enough.

Too, Black

It always starts with the question, first in the eyes, hesitating on the way to the lips but determined to come out:  what are you?  Every mixed race person say amen.  For as long as I can remember, people have puzzled over my features, my hair, my skin color to piece together my race.  The question, and the response we arrive at together has more to do with the questioner than you may think.  And that interaction tells us more about race in America how far we’ve come and the morass ahead.

At the risk of dating myself, as little background is necessary.  I was born in November 1969– a child of the summer of love in Boston, when only a few years later the bus riots would mar forever this city’s already checkered racial history. I was adopted as a baby, but adoption then was a different animal.  A closed adoption, like mine, meant that my (now adopted) parents never met or knew anything about my birth parents–other than the fact that one was black.

Me and my three brothers
Me and my three brothers

Trans racial adoption was uncommon then, and the story is one for another time.  Suffice it to say, I grew up in a white family in towns with almost no diversity at the time I was growing up there.  Identifying my race was not as simple as hauling out the family album or even looking around at my community.  Most of the time, this is how we decide what race we are.  We look at Mom and Dad and do the math.  Simple.

Except its not so simple.  If you look like you might be walking the line between two race you have probably been asked the question on more than one occasion. From the time I was little, people asked.  The question itself is an indicator of the times:  in the 70’s the question was whispered, or more often sneered by nasty children in the playground.  in the 80’s it was asked with curiosity, or occasionally a spark of interest in the days when light skinned was in; in the 90’s when the best berries were blacker it was a test of authenticity.  And now in an era when we debate the end of race, being asked my race reminds me that race, and racism, isn’t going anywhere.

For some mixed race people the answer becomes one of complex math–a half this (which half?), a quarter that (leg piece or breast meat?)–where the family tree is examined and loyalties to each side are weighed.  Sometimes, back up family and community members are referenced to break any stalemate.  For others, embracing all parts of their lineage is the key, living as a testament to the dream of a land where all people live together, integrated fully and culturally complex.

More often than you would image, people argue with the answer you provide.    How often have people thrown the white mother card on President Obama?  Rarely is it said to spark an honest conversation of how race is constructed.  Mostly it’s said in a snarky way, or a weapon to shoot at the authenticity of his blackness.

Giuliani__Obama_Had_a_White_Mother__So_I_m_Not_a_Racist_-_First_Draft__Political_News__Now__-_NYTimes_comPeople squint their eyes and appraise your flesh–how light is white?  How much brown equals black?  but it doesn’t stop there.  They weigh your words–talking white or just educated? they judge your body–are your hips black in nature? they question your knowledge of perceived black culture.  In addition to judge they play other roles as well: now fashion blogger, now genealogist, next professor, sometimes confessor.

Free from a pedigree and family tree, I find people more likely to debate my racial identity with me.  I think this tells us that race is not just about what we think we are but is also significantly about what society says.  The conversation reveals how we divide people into racial categories: do you really think you’re black?  but you’re light skinned, so you’re not all black.  How did you decide you were black? how do you know that you’re not (insert nation here)? Do you even know what you are?  Over the years, I have been called a mulatta (stubborn mule!) a half bread, mixed, light, red, mutt, black bitch, nigger.  The names, they also are like a timeline of race in America.

When I was little–maybe 4–I was watching Bugs Bunny with a friend of mine.  We were watching the episode where Bugs is being chased by a witch doctor .  To escape Bugs put plates in his mouth to make big lips so he can blend in with the African ladies passing by.  My friend looked at at the TV  and then pointed to me.

“That’s what you are.”

I was shocked.  But I wasn’t.  I had seen the way my friend looked at me mirrored in the eyes of of other children–and adults. The easy way that my friend made a connection between the fake African stereotypes on the TV and me puzzled me.  I had been unaware of my race until then.  Later I wondered what everyone could see in me that made them know I was different when I looked so normal to me. My journey from that afternoon watching cartoons to here—not so coincidentally teaching about race and media–has been a complex conversation about race with my environment.  Through my teen angst, my reeducation into a wider historical narrative, a hundred conversations that start with the question and not a few moments years decades of deep introspection, I can tell you one thing I have never been: white.

You see, race is a social construct, and one that has only been around for a few hundred years.  Race, as a marker of identity, was created to structure power relationships–most markedly between whites and enslaved blacks, then later blacks suffering under Jim Crow, and even today blacks struggling with systemic racism in our post Obama age.  Beyond black and white, race decided who has to go to the Japanese interment camps, who was forced onto reservations when the slaughter was over. Race decided who could own property, who could marry, who could move into a neighborhood and who could go to school where.  Still today with the voting rights act being dismantled race is a factor in who can vote and who has to show their papers, please.

You may have noticed that it didn’t matter how light your skin or your lineage, race is decided in the halls of power.  The categories of race do a poor job describing the human and a great job describing the lines of power and privilege.  Ask one of the 6.5 million american who are mixed race, 1.8 million alone who identify as black and white–we are a living testament to the fuzzy lines that mark race in America. The math doesn’t make sense.  What looks like a solid divide in those check boxes on forms is a wide foggy boundary, a gray area that mixed-race people navigate every time you ask them the question.

The journey is not over.  America is marching slowly but surely to a tipping point where white will no longer be the majority. You can bet that the construct of whiteness will make us pry privilege from it’s cold dead hands.  Like all times when race was used as a tool to divide working class and poor whites and black, we see racial rhetoric and racial tension on the rise.  We see overt systemic racism in all our systems.  We see anger between people in the streets.

We African Americans with light skin, brown skin, mixed race, never-white-enough-skin walk the front lines in these battles.  We are the lie of race being a real way to divide people.  We are the truth of  the race that is human, all of us mixed from our birth in the womb of Africa.  We are victimized by systems of privilege that clearly label us non white. We are the witnesses to all the ugliness too scared to confront our darker sisters and brothers.  We sit in the rooms when they think we’re not there, forced to confront the casual racism that happens behind closed doors.  We are questioned by both sides–papers, please–as we navigate the borderland between the poles of black and white.

We, too, are black.

So for my black brothers and sisters, and others from different mothers in the struggle, don’t forget that racism is a tricky animal that takes more than one shape.  Don’t assume that life light-skinned is carefree.  We, too experience racism, which can be compounded when the people who understand that pain best won’t acknowledge it might be happening.  To dismiss our lived experiences with race is to perpetuate a divisiveness that is part of our painful past, but not bred in our blood.   Race is a recent construct, but all people of the African diaspora share deeper, older roots, roots that matter to all of us, no matter where we landed or what shade we bore.  We are family, and we need to be…..and you know, it’s never a good look when your charges of racism are summarily dismissed just because of the color of your skin.

To our white allies, respect our right to self identify.  Respect our right to be black.  Judging my blackness by my shade ignores the long and complex history of race, and my lived realities of which you are wholley unaware.  If you want to ask the question, do it with respect and listen with an open mind, not a snap answer.

Dear Starbucks, this counting exercise definitely didn’t help…like at all

And to America, race isn’t going anywhere.  Seeing systemic racism isn’t enough. We need the political and social will to make fundamental changes to how we treat each other in the halls of power, not just in the Starbucks streets.  As long as systemic practices reproduce racism, it will always be with us, no matter how many of us wish it away.  Having an uncomfortable conversation isn’t enough; We need to act in ways that dismantle racism at its core.

There are no easy answers, and there isn’t one way.  Culture is complex–ask one of us, we know.  We definitely do not have all the answers but we stand in challenge to race as usual.  We live past the coming tipping point  We don’t know what lies ahead to end racism, but those of us in the fog are finding a way to move forward, ever forward.

Scandal, Selma and a Black President

In the round up of 2014’s mass media themes, many critics pointed to an increase in diversity. Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal magic, lovely Lupita and Selma marching into theaters it seems like a flood of great media representations of black, right?

36_Shonda_Rhimes_Cover_Embed Sure it’s great to see characters from all different back grounds displayed across network TV and in the wondrous world of scripted cable drama. Yea. But if it sounds like I’m doing the slow clap its because I can’t help but feel like our forward progress may be an illusion at best, and at worst? Well, keep reading.

BN-BD772_zamata_E_20140119084301The past year has seen its share of memorable milestones towards a more diverse media: SNL cast its first woman of color in seven years; the major networks aired shows with minority lead characters—like ABC’s Blackish and How To Get Away With Murder, NBC’s crime drama ensembles and even Fox’s Octavia Spenser drama.

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Directors and show runners like the ubiquitous Shonda Rhimes, rising star Tim Story (Think Like a Man) and Hollywood heavyweight Tyler Perry proved that there is even some color behind the camera. With these high-visibility success stories, audiences may increasingly feeling like they already see a post racial America on their screens at home.

Except, its not true.

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Remember when we elected a black president and believed that this would magically bring about racial harmony and understanding? It did’t. In the same way, seeing a few black faces on your screens may make you think that we are entering a post racial Hollywood. The truth is, it won’t.

People of color continue to be woefully underrepresented and misrepresented in media. A comprehensive survey of mass Media published last year out of UCLA showed that minorities are underrepresented in Hollywood films by a factor of 3, and in TV by a factor of anywhere from 2 to 7 .  Behind the camera of your favorite TV show is even worse with minorities directing on 4.2% of all broadcast comedies and dramas.

Selma-special-VIP-screening-6When it comes to the best films—those that take home Oscar gold—100% of winning directors are white. That’s right, in the Academy Award’s 85 years a person of color has never won for best director.  If the Selma snub at last nights Golden Globes is any indication we are unlikely to break the streak this year either.

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Underrepresentation is just half the story. Accurate voice and representation is about number in front of and behind the camera, but its also about the quality of representation. Even if the number of minorities on TV were a dead match for census numbers, if those stories continue to reinforce old stereotypes, then we can’t call it progress.

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On the quality front, 2014 was looking more like 1974—a black woman serving up sex for her powerful master, happy faces shucking and jiving to a laugh track, and Queen B twerking for the teens. And these aren’t the B and C-listers—this is what A-list black stars do to get that check.

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The illusion of progress that we toasted at the end of the year masks the steady restabilization of racist narratives of the past. We end up celebrating just a fiercer crop of mammys and jezebels. Don’t settle just for Scandal.  We need a diverse media that reflects out increasingly diverse country, but unless the industry starts making some changes in front of the camera and behind—especially in those writing rooms—we might find ourselves raising a glass to the same old same old.

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Before you trash the idea of better media with your resolution to hit the gym, there is a glimmer of hope. You see, the same UCLA study that put numbers to the lack of diversity also showed that shows with more diverse casts are more profitable. Media is made by for profit companies, so listen up suits! It seems that more color equals more green.

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Supporting media that celebrates diversity make sense. Vote for better media with your dollars. Go see Selma, and rent those series that get it right. Finally a New Year’s resolution you can keep? Watch TV and movies with diverse casts!

Rape Jokes. Super Funny.

Bill Cosby, TV’s former favorite father has been spiraling down from his pedestal on the Cosby show as numerous rape allegations, whispered in secret for years, have finally taken hold in the court of public opinion.

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Nearly everyone has weighed in.  25+ victims have come forward, including some well known celebs like Beverly Johnson.  Industry insiders and a gaggle of commentators have come out for this side or that.   Cosby’s former costars have also made the rounds to give him a good character reference–we can’t hold that against them; sociopaths and other offenders can be quite charming, that’s part of their cover.    But not a word from Bill himself–until now.

Last night at a comedy show in Ontario, Cosby played to an adoring crowd of 2599–and 1 heckler that shouted at Cosby during the show.  He said nothing in response to being called a rapist….but when a woman got up from her seat during the show, Cosby asked her where she was going.  When the woman replied she was going to get a drink Cosby reportedly quipped, “You have to be careful drinking around me.”

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Really, Bill?  After weeks of saying nothing, you decided a flippant flirty rufie joke was the way to go?   Even the loyal fans gasped before some applauded the accused-rapist’s rape jokes.

Hope someone checked to make sure that woman made it back to her seat.

 

 

No Justice: Killer Cop Walks, Prosecutor Blames the Media

Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon  August 9th.  While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man.    The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.

Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.

Mike Borwn's stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.
Mike Brown’s stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.

Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”

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First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control.  In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government.  That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something.  After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”

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Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case.  While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest,  Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit.  Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th.  Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force.  That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.

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You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred.  Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.

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In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible.  Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused.  Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied.  Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.

And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted.  Don’t get mad, they say.  Don’t act out, they cajole.  James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”  

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To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog.  To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves.  To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.

Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together.   Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible.  Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. .  Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.

Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically.  Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches.  Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ”  The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart.  Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist.   We as a nation must do better.  Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.

After The Tear Gas, Before The Next Victim

It’s been 22 days since Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson and left to lie in the street like a dog.  For the first time in three weeks, the story of the shooting, the protests that followed it and the insane military police response is slipping down the news cast and out of the spotlight.

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Much has been said in the last three weeks about the case, about race in America and what we should or shouldn’t do about it. A lot of what has been said is important and thoughtful, from addressing the systemic racism inherent to the case to exploring a wide range of activist responses for black people and white allies.

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There has been a provocative and valuable outcry against media representation of black people, particularly #iftheygunnedmedown, which paired two pictures of a young person: one more socially acceptable and one stereotypical. The hashtag asks which picture is like to accompany a story of them being shot by police.

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I haven’t yet said anything about the case. I’ve written to you a thousand times only to crumple up the web page and throw it at the wall. I’ve written through all the stages of grief, though admittedly too much from anger. In the end I am left feeling that there is little worth saying that has not been said a thousand times already. I don’t mean that I want an idea that stands out, I mean only that this seems too much like a script from beginning to end that I’ve heard before: the incident, the outcry, the authoritative denial, the protests, the smack down, the prayers, all devolving into an argument about whether racism exists.

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And here is where I get stuck–in the face of a case that throws systemic racism into clear view, the dialog still trends to denial. I find my writing has been a defense, a plea that this is racism, that what the people protesting in the streets are saying is true. That black life matters.

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In a Pew Research Center poll, less than half of respondents thought that the Michael Brown case raised important issues about race, and 40% thought that race was getting more attention than it deserved.  The division deepens when broken down by the race of respondent.

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Despite a million tweets and a thousand blog posts that clearly outline how and why the police shooting of unarmed black men is a problem, the public response, especially from non-black people is one of doubt.  It reminds me of this scene from color of fear, a documentary about race when a group of men participated in a long dialog to untangle issues, and this happened:

Despite the wail of protesters, despite the avalanche of facts of he activists, despite the dead bodies of black men lying cold in the ground, still people choose not to believe.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Police kill black people with impunity. Race is the issue. Please imagine a summer when a young white mother of five was choked to death going to the store, when a recent white high school grad was shot in broad daylight, when a laid back young lady was shot while browsing Walmart with a sporting good sold in the store under her arm. You must imagine it because 5 white women weren’t gunned down by police this month.

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had to find a stock photo–try searching white woman shot by police

This is the heart of white privilege. It’s not just accumulated wealth or housing or education or even political access; it is the power to deny the very existence of others and to negate their experiences even as they unfold before your eyes. It is the power to turn public discourse from the facts-in-evidence to your feelings while looking for the truth. It is the power to not see it, and therefore deny others see it. It is the power to think that others deserve what you do not for reasons that amount to little more than victim blaming and denial of overwhelming evidence.

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In a country where some people are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, there must exist a similar bias for people of the dominant group. Too often, we get mired in discussion about where the white whale of privilege exists–it does–and if this means all white people are living the dream– they’re not. But let’s not get sidelined by a conversation about white privilege.

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The debate about white privilege masks an even deeper truth, one that may just draw us together. We are all–black, white, latino and asian–disadvantaged by a system of racial privilege.  No matter your race, the shooting of Mike Brown matters to you and the ability of your family to life a happy life.  Denying racism keeps the country dependent on a broken system.  A country that is unfair to millions, that has laws legitimizing marginalization a and criminalization of some humans, while providing others economic and political immunity can never be safe, can never be just, and therefore can never be stable.

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While we argue if blacks are full humans– they are– or whether all whites are personally to blame–they’re not– the elite of this country continue to amass both wealth and power. We already know they have a lock on resources; less than 1% holds 23% of our nations wealth.  Research to be released in the upcoming Perspectives on Politics shows clear evidence that a very small group of people int his country also controls a vast amount of political power.

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The massive militarization of American police forces was very profitable for the military industrial complex. Continued conflict between working- and middle-class whites and working- and middle-class blacks, stoked by a racist, fear-mongering mass media, diverts attention from the real economic challenges both races face in an increasingly corporatized culture. Since the recession, we’re all more aware of how close we could come to ruin.  The politics of division don’t serve us.  Fighting each other, and killing innocents when we have real villains lurking behind unfair tax laws and politicians’ pockets is madness.

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Black, brown, female, poor, working class, elderly, disabled: isn’t a person on this list in your family? We can’t allow our national dialogue to run like a broken record every time evidence of inequity surfaces. We can’t stall out the conversation in “if it is”, or how to feel, and we can’t allow you to feel like you don’t have some skin in the games. No matter the color, your skin is a part of this system of privilege and disadvantage. You live in this game.

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It’s time to end racism so we can unite to fight our greater challenges, like economic injustice and resource management.  It’s not communist to want America to provide opportunities for upward mobility– currently we are 22 on the list of developed nations. It’s not un American to want our police and our politicians to represent people not super pacs. It’s not revolutionary to demand safety on your own street–it’s time.

Get Down with OPP: Other People’s Progeny

The last week has been a never-ending loop of two terrible stories filling the news channels: the crisis at the American Border and the violence between Israel and Hamas. I know it’s summer, and hopefully you’re out catching fireflies, but it’s my job to let you know its time to pay attention here. Give me 5 minutes, and I’ll help keep you human.

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Already this year 57,525 unaccompanied minors have been detained crossing the US’s Southwest border. This large flow of children into the US has created a crisis at the border, with a steady flow of minors being detained and warehoused in poor conditions as they await deportation with no independent adult representative.

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Many of these children are fleeing violence in their home countries. Honduras is the current murder capital of the world, with a murder rate of nearly 91 per 100,000 people, compared to the United States overall murder rate of 4.2 per 100,000. Honduras is six times more deadly than Chicago, our own violent nightmare.  The number of murders in all three countries is actually higher than the rate of Iraqi civilian casualties during the Iraq war.  Escalating gang violence coupled with police corruption mean families must choose between fighting or flight.

61-15-AbdR-A-04What would you do if children were being killed on the streets of your city? What if you thought your child would be admitted to the United States, their very lives saved if you could just get them over the border? What if your other choice was waiting for the local gunmen to mow your child down in cold blood?

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-ATTACKHalfway across the globe, Israel and Palestine are going toe to toe in the Gaza Strip. The feud is not new, but violence has intensified since the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, with shelling happening on both sides. Hamas has fired over 1200 rockets into Israel with 38 falling in built up areas, and Israel’s Iron Dome defense system stopping over 200. But not all, with one death of an uninvolved Israeli citizen.

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Israel has been doing plenty of shelling of their own with more than 1800 rockets fired. Don’t worry, even though Gaza has no Iron Dome missile defense system, Israel is kind enough to “knock on the door” to warn people before they bomb–and when they say knock on the door, they mean dropping a few rocket-propelled dummy shells on your roof. I guess not everyone got the memo, as 214 of people have been killed by Israel, including 77 women, children and elderly.  Things reached another more terrible level today when 4 young boys were killed by a rocket while playing on a Gaza beach .

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What would you do if they were shelling your neighborhood, with your baby crying and the power cut off?
In America, we shout about how much we love our kids. We even love other kids, like these kids:

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And we even love these kids!

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Hmmm, so we love our kids, and cute kids, and even kids in need….as long as they don’t come here.


“Not our kids, not our problem,” can be no less than the first step on the road to losing our humanity. Caring for the youngest and most vulnerable of the species is a fundamental part of the human animal and seems like the least that we in the US, strongest and richest country in the world, can do.

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Or we could just wrap them in Red Cross blankets and let them sleep on overcrowded floors until we put them on a plane back to countries in crisis. Or we could defend the right of countries to perpetrate political violence even if it is sure to result in the death of innocent civilians.

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To be sure, both of these situations are complex, long ranging with no easy answer. We cannot simply sweep in as dysfunctional rescuers and airlift kids into paradise. But one universal human truth is that we all care about our offspring, no matter where we live or the circumstances of our lives. When we see kids in crisis, we need to ask how to support not just them but their parents and their communities that want, like us, to keep their kids safe, and give them a chance at becoming an adult.

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One more thought if you still think it’s not your problem: climate change is real. Severe storms are on the rise. Scientists estimate hundreds of millions climate refugees worldwide in the next century. Can we be sure that we will never need a place to go? Can we be sure that our great-grandchildren, like some of our great-grandfathers who immigrated to this country, won’t be fleeing towards life?

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Whatever your stance on immigration, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remember you are human first. You live in a world more connected than you may think, and your survival, depends on humanity. Don’t give yours away for politics or for partisanship.

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So while you are at the beach this weekend, unafraid of rockets falling and smiling at the toddler tottering across the sand, think of a toddler trekking through the Mexican heat, or waiting fearfully for a “knock on the door”. They’re all our kids. Get involved, tell your friends, call your senator and remind people that other people’s progeny are part of our human family.