When They Tell You Who They Are

The looming approval of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination comes barely a week after he raged and yelled and cried in front of a Senate committee, half of whom were drawing hearts with “B.K.” and their initials in it when his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford presented her case. The FBI, who has enough resources find all the lost socks in the world, presented the findings of an investigation where neither accuser nor many others interested in offering information were interviewed.  For a representative government, this seems like a good time to ask who they really represent.

Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.” That is good advice in another week when women some women people who care about sexual assault victims are pleading to be heard and have their experience recognized.  Kavanaugh supporters have spent the last weeks dragging out every reason to minimize, dismiss and silence sexual assault victims. Thousands of victims shared raw powerful stories of their own experiences to try to help senators and their supporters understand.

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Stop.  Stop sharing your feelings and your deepest pain with the people who care more about power than people.  Stop trying to help those whose spirits are set on sleeping, illiterate in their own humanity.  No carefully crafted explanation you give will make them change their beliefs. They are not seeking to understand. They do not want your help.  They want to be insulated by their hate and ignorance.  More than anything, they want to rule the world, at any cost. They demand to keep living in their nostalgic America–the America of Big Dan’s and sexual abuse in the back rooms of churches, days when a woman who wanted a voice just needed to be reminded of her place.

While it is true and important that the #MeToo movement has brought important conversations about rape culture to a wider audience, the senators who will vote to support Blackout Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination are uninterested in cultural transformation. The question raised by an enraged constituency–would you confirm a bellicose liar (31 lies and counting) who also is a potential sex offender–is answered with a simple yea.  The end game for them is power, a court that will lean conservative for years to come.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation won’t take years to pay off, though.  While lots of people are thinking the rush is on to beat the midterms, there is another, bigger fish on the line.  The Supreme Court will hear a case on double jeopardy that has potentially massive consequences for Trump and the Mueller investigation according to the Congressional Research Service:

The Gamble case may nevertheless have significant collateral legal effects … A win for Gamble could also indirectly strengthen the President’s pardon power, by precluding a state from prosecuting an already-pardoned defendant who has gone to trial on an overlapping offense.

And there it is: save the supreme court nominee, save Trump’s world. Looks like Trump and Kavanaugh have more than sexual assault allegations in common.  Their conservative leaning on this case have them in la-la-love and rushing to get to the spicy part where Trump helps tank the FBI investigation and Kavanaugh ensures Trump’s pardon powers.

In these days of change, we rightfully resist.  We demand that previously marginalized voices be heard. We work to create space for new ways of being that foreground compassion, humanity, and empathy.  We think we can appeal to the humanity in others–if we just say the right thing, show them our wounds, beg them to remember we are family they will finally see the light and usher in utopia with us.  We all want the same thing: to be safe, to be free, to have a healthy family that can thrive, and the resources we need in the pursuit of happiness.

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But we have a blind spot. We forget that there are people who are wholly willing to kill for safety, to enslave others to create their own freedom.  There are people invested in keeping the narrow definition of family in order to center their traditions. There are whole systems set up to funnel resources from the many to the few.  This is not a drill–this is really who they are and no amount of tragic personal narrative will stop them from working against everything we believe in. We can’t reason with them; we can only remove them.

The Black Lives Matter movement has gone through these growing pains. While many massive peaceful protests did focus attention and grow the movement it was only the beginning. After Trayvone Martin’s killer walked free, and video after video showed cops kill people with no subsequent consequences, after die-ins and marches and the occupation of Ferguson, there was no come to Jesus moment when America suddenly recognized the humanity of black people and called for widespread change.  You can’t win systemic transformation by appealing to people who are invested financially and ideologically in your oppression.

Working with community members to solve problems seen as the most effective tactic to help blacks achieve equality

The tactics of the BLM movement didn’t stop at protests alone. Our liberation was never going to be born the love child of white supremacy and our demands for justice. Instead of begging our oppressors, we are building ourselves. In fact, there is a solid case to make that we are in the midst of an unprecedented black renaissance.  Our activists are moving from the streets to the halls of power, becoming elected officials with the ability to make change Our artists are creating a vision of the new world in film and TV, illuminating our path. Millions of black people are doing what they can with what they have where they are: starting businesses, growing community, getting educated. Most importantly, black people are talking to each other, working to create unity and help our sleeping brothers and sisters wake up. This is how we get free.

Whatever the result of Kavanaugh’s nomination, the past few weeks have shown us who the right is.  Conservative men AND women have dismissed sexual assault as just a teenage rite of passage or a privilege of prep school boys who later rule the world. They do not care about women’s equality.  They do not care about holding men accountable.  They will not change their mind even when they find your case compelling.

It’s time to stop begging and keep building.  Lingering on your anger over Kavanaugh will not help.  Instead, take stock of what you can do and do it.  Vote, create, build and talk.  Talk to the people that matter, and work with the willing.  Work to get the fence sitters to come to the right side of history. Remind them there are many more of us than there are of them.  Numbers are on our side and the stakes are sky high. Tell them as you tell yourself: none of us is free until all of us are free.  Stay woke.

Prelude to a Lynching: Crying Black in Colonized Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncivil, Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Jemele Hill’s Fearless Twitter Fingers

Sportswriter Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks from ESPN this afternoon for the cardinal offense of tweeting.  Let the irony of that sink in: suspended for tweeting.  Did she tweet that she was going to start a nuclear war with North Korea? Did she tweet antagonistic messages at the mayor of San Juan Puerto Rico?  Even worse:

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Jemel Hill encouraged people to boycott Dallas Cowboys’ advertisers in response to the team’s owners promise to censure players who choose to kneel for the anthem. It’s not like she was marching around Charlottesville with torches again just a month after a young woman was killed by a terrorist.  She didn’t stockpile weapons and bomb-making materials. Nonetheless, her tweet represented a ‘dangerous’ breach of the ESPN social media policy. A statement from ESPN concluded “all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision.” She didn’t threaten human life, but NFL money.

This suspension is just the latest case of employment sanctions against a black person for defending their right to peacefully protest during the NFL’s opening ceremony.  No matter how much fans boo, how many beers they throw on protesting players and fans, how many tweets they fire at the ‘snowflakes’standing up to the week after week, the right to peaceful protest remains enshrined in the constitution. Trump inserted himself into the fray and shifted the narrative to be a fight over patriotism–classic authoritarian move.

The NFL is a television rating juggernaut.  Three games on Sunday, Monday night, Thursday night, 32 teams, nevermind replays, and streaming.  There are few stages in the US bigger than the NFL.  America’s greatest show is now overshadowed on that stage from the sidelines by a handful of athletes protesting police brutality. This alone is enough to make white supremacy burn all its jerseys.  For Jemele Hill to argue that it is also people’s right to not watch the big show is nothing less than a knife to the neck of America’s golden goose.

We’re over a year into the NFL protests.  With a volley of a million tweets, an army of think pieces and a raging battle on everybody’s news feed the mainstream narrative of the protests is even muddier than ever.  Black people, however, are clear as day.  Colin Kaepernick is clear, swatting down reports that he was willing to cave on protesting if he secured a contract.

Jemele Hill was clear when she reminded fans that they are valued customers of the NFL who’s boycotting hold power.  She was clear that systemic racism is a problem not just in the streets, but also in the boardrooms of America.  She knew that NFL owner Jerry Jones was more likely to capitulate to a boycott that hit his pockets for punishing protesting players than the protests of his own players.

You should be clear:  the extrajudicial killing of black people in this country continues unabated.  Even worse, the last few year have shored up the courts and public opinion against fixing our unjust justice system.  Racism is arguably the worst it has been since slavery.  Yet, despite the best efforts of the right, Nazis with torches and the racist tweets of the actual President of the United States, the quest for racial justice and equity for black people in America continues.  Don’t let ESPN contribute to silencing black voices with this unfair suspension-sign. Don’t let the lies about Kaepernick go unanswered-share. And of course, as always, stay woke.

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.

 

 

 

Five Sips of Lemonade

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.

Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents.  She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.

By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal.  A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts.  After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.

The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way.  It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.

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What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story.  Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.

Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies.  This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was.  Pop culture is a dish best served cold.

Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom.  She is a talented singer and dancer.  Her albums celebrated independent women, then she  became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and  turned into Mrs. Carter in that order.  Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.

  1. Lemonade is for Black women

Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences.  When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices.  Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.

Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album.  The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg.  Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.

That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women.  It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people.  If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.

2. It takes a village to make lemonade

The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives.  remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone.  While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here.   On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.

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In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album.  I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind.  Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.

Let’s not forget the fashion that made the video a feast for the eyes.

From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay…..as long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.

Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight.  While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style  her own.  Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–

Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown.  While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.

3. Lemonade isn’t cheap

As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you.  Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z.  Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal.  Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year.   The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record.  Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.

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The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows.  Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show?  She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line.  All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years.  Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?

Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge.  Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z  will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal.  Who said cheaters never win?

4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)

I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same.  The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world.  The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story.  Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call  up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned.   Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.

Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.

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In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry).  But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay.  All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance.  If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.

For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation.  They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles.  Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free.  Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?

5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite

Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long.  How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film?  Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie?  Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”?  That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.

Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending.  Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free.  If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place.  If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed.  As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.

Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.  Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500.  Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.

 

Self Care in 5 Easy Steps

These times, these times.  We will look back and know that these were the times that changed everything.  The moment is now, but don’t let that stop you from taking a moment to reconnect with the now inside of you.

These times are hard: if you’re woke and paying attention, each day brings its own two-day sized dose of pain and heartache.  The good news is that that feeling that you’re feeling is a side effect of revolution.  But while you wait for the revolution to not be televised, how do you keep from dissolving into a puddle of woke up tears and anger?  Smntks has a few tips to keep you in the struggle, no matter how real it gets.

Breathe: the first go to for some chill is surrounding that big heart of yours.  Use those lungs to expel the poisonous energy we drink when we engage in spiritual battle with injustice.  There’s a  reason that yogis, sufi and puppies all expel breathe to reach maximum zen.

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The conscious regulation of your breath calms your mind and floods your body with what it needs to make it to the next breath.  String those breaths together and wha-la you’re meditating.  Meditation is shown to increase all kinds of good things without the side effects of oh say Xanax and wine.  Most importantly, give us a big dose of connection and empathy that can help us love our way through this crazy world. So take a breath–one that fills your lungs until you feel your own potential, and then push it out with all the fight I know you have in spades.  Take five minutes of breaths. Take 500.  They’re free.

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Disconnect: You’re conscious.  Me too.  We’re not alone in this fight.  It’s okay for you to take a break from the battlefield.  There are a million of us here, so when you feel like you can’t take it anymore you have permission to exit, stage left, until you’re ready to reload. Sometimes the pressure–and the injustice itself makes us feel like we can never rest, but that is a sure recipe for failure.  Shut off your media for a few days–studies say a three-day media detox can help you feel more balanced.  Time away from the struggle can also help us remember what it is we are fighting for.

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Find something nice to look at:  What is your favorite thing to see?  Kitties? Beaches? laughing children holding balloons?  Go seek those things out and fill your eyes as deeply as you’ve filled your lungs.  Research show that just looking at a large body of water can reset your inner workings. Besides, if eyes are the window to the soul, then our windows have surely been tainted by all we have been witnessing these last years.  Clean your window with beautiful visions.  Somewhere in your soul must reside the template of the utopic world you want to make.  Every once in while, recharge that vision.

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Make something:  Fighting chaos and destruction can make us lose our way from the creator inside of us.  Making something beautiful–whether it is a sock or a meal or an arrangement of flowers–can remind us of the power we have to complete copacetic constructions.  Craft projects, unlike race and class, are constructions that you can control on your own.  Making something–sock or society–is a process: slaying at the micro process of crafting will have you ready to slay the bigger beast of social process.  You also might make something awesome for the battlefield!

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Reconnect:  Family and friends are not just for Facebook.  Go see people that you love and who love you.  Touch them (appropriately, please, unless they’re into it!), talk to them. look at how awesome the people that you know are.  Ask the kids in your life about the future–and believe them.  Talk about springtime, and spaceships and the time you laughed so hard milk came out of your nose. Give them something you made, and let them give you some love so you can top off for the next time the struggle gets too real.

These times, these times.  We will look back and know that these were the times that changed everything.  The moment is now, but don’t let that stop you from taking a moment to reconnect with the now inside of you.  We need you–yes, you– to be a healthy conscious happy warrior for justice.  So take a break.  The fight will be here when you get back.

P.S. If you make something post a pic in the comments and I’ll share it out!

Formation: For Nation, For Self

This weekend in an increasingly unsurprising surprise-move, Beyonce dropped a surprise single, “Formation” which was surprisingly woke and, unsurprisingly, Black twitter’s collective head exploded.  The video is a beautifully unapologetic apologia of black feminism, full of the trappings of contemporary blackness.  And it is dope.

The video is full enough of symbols to bang out a media criticism master’s thesis, but you don’t have all night and I’m not paying tuition so I’ll try to hit the highlights.

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The video starts out with Beyonce perched atop a New Orleans police car in a flooded out Nola neighborhood–throughout the song she references her family pedigree so often a video viewer might be forgiven for thinking that she is claiming Nola as her own.  A few more establishing shots firmly establish that you are in the world of post Katrina New Orleans–and not the one where people celebrated the rebuilding of the city on the recent 10-year anniversary of the storm but the real New Orleans  where both the storm and the regentrified rebuilding continue to slay local residents.

The video pays homage to today’s black radical feminists: born in the wake of a storm, splattered with the blood shaken from cops hands, awake, agitating, unafraid.  Unlike Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood fantasy of women who slay, Beyonce shows us how real women slay in a world realer than anyone should want.  She shows us sisters with real black bodies moving with power and agency.  She shows us flashes of black culture unrecognizable to middle america–not the smiling coontastic network black, or the tear gassed protesters–but a black that exists where white America is not.  She showcases a range of black beauty that is existing not in opposition or response to, but out beyond the ideal of white beauty.  The press, the illuminuts, the haters, the cops all get zero fucks from the queen.

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In the midst of times full of racial tension music has been both call to arms and therapist couch.  Questlove’s call to artists to respond to the political realities of black America have seen a Wu-Tang-crew-sized response with artists from Talib Kweli and Killer Mike, to J. Cole and, of course Kendrick Lamar all providing soundtrack to the revolution.  With so many women at the center of the movement for black lives, it seems only fitting that the ladies get their own black lives banger, special for the sisters.

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Not only did Beyonce make this banging song, and this blazing video, but she also marched out onto the field during the Superbowl halftime show with a team of black dancers complete with raised gloved fists and afros tucked into beret a la black panthers.  Yup, sandwiched in between Coldplay and Bruno Mars was a little slice of go-ahead-and-lose-your-mind-white-supremacists. Fox news dragged Rudy Giuliani out storage so he could yell about inciting cop-hate, despite the fact that Beyonce didn’t once reference cop hating–or 9/11, so this is really none of Giuliani’s business.

Beyonce has not typically been one to tread a political path in her music, but these times are making us all more woke than ever.  She should be applauded for using her significant celebrity to highlight black women, especially in such a powerful and authentic way. As a mother to a beautiful baby-afro-wearing Blue, who does her own slaying in the video, Beyonce’s evolving black feminism is powerful modeling–of the cultural sense–for women both inside and outside of the black community.

The video to the song is rich with complex and layered symbolism.  We see Beyonce in places all cut from the new southern gothic–row houses and interiors cramped with golden southern sunlight and old bookcases, a porch fit for Madame Levaux’s coven of witches in New Orleans. Natural hair, and white lace, Gucci body suits and second line–Beyonce’s evocative imagery represents America’s troubled waters as a proving ground for black girl magic where she is high priestess here to share with you her prodigious power to make America love black women.  Like the culture of New Orleans itself, the story of black America she shows us is a layered petticoat of culture and of history.

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So right about now, you should be feeling pretty good.  Maybe ready to buy the song–but you’ll need to download Tidal because the song is only available via Bey boo’s music streaming service, which last we heard was costing the couple money.  But it’s a great song!  Maybe you’re ready to go see the Queen herself.  Lucky for you, she-surprise!-announced a 40-city Formation stadium tour. Okay, no Tidal, no tickets, maybe just a little merch!  We got that too:

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At Shop.Beyonce you can cop any of the latest must have accessories to the struggle–perhaps a bag that lets others know hot sauce is inside-cute!-or would you prefer a phone case that says that you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.  You can even get a sweat shirt that warns you will Twirl on Haters (wonder how long before Kenya Moore want her piece of the honeypie).  Hey, what if you want to be Bey? You can even go to Vogue for a lookbook of Beyonce’s Formation styles.

It all starts to seem like an awful lot of commodification for a protest song.  I mean no one’s rocking a Kendrick Lamar Aight trucker hat at martini-brunch. Is this video an authentic expression of Blackness or a carefully crafted product that commodifies the very images of resistance to sell back to the people its meant to uplift?

Last year, Beyonce and her Boo planned a summer tour together–the On the Run tour.  The tour materials, complete with Bey in a Vogue-ish ski mask harken back to the old Bonnie and Clyde that had worked so well for the pair in the past.  This time, tickets were a tough sell.  In the time of Black Lives Matter, thuggin’ it out in between parties at the Met didn’t seem to get the same street cred that it used to.  Nor could she go back in time to the Mrs. Carter tour, drenched in Eurocentric finery, and expect the very woke sisters of today to spend their hard earned cash on $100.00 tickets.  Embracing the political issues her young fan base faces worked well for her on songs like Pretty, so sprinkling some #blackgirlmagic on her new work was no risk.

If the song pays homage to Beys own blackness and love affair with her people, why not use the more poignant imagery on the merchadise?  Instead of having more realty tv twirlers, why not have any one of a number of powerful images from the video the shirts?  Black hat middle finger up?  First raised (in aGucci dress) on a cop car? Instead, the Formation money shot if you will is of her hanging out of a car window.  It seems to beg a who did it better between her and Kendrick Lamar–and the joker.

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Berets, afros, gothic, Nola, second line, cop cars, graffiti, flood, black hoodies, hot sauce, big frieda, ghanian chiefs, hot pants, police lines, black boys, hair shops, parasols–it starts to feel a bit like Bey collected everything running through the dreams and nightmares of black women and arranged it–artfully, elegantly–to conjure a sisterhood…and to sell sweatshirts.  When she calls on us to fight, I’m not sure we agree on the end game.  I think the best revenge would be justice, or maybe a culture shift, even a hint of equity but all she wants to slay for is paper.  In fact, she strenuously defends her right to operate as a capitalist in free market economy:  you can do that, but I though we were on some black power shit?

And before you tell me what they donate, know that Beyonce has a reported net worth of $250 million dollars.  Peeling off bail money is laudable, but not considered to put them up among the ranks of active black philanthropists.  It is good to see the couple helping out more after the long standing beef with Harry Belafonte ended just this past fall.  The beef started when Belafonte called out Jay Z for his lack of activism.  Jay Z’s recent pledge of $1.5 million from Tidal is a step in the right direction, but again, not enough to make them stand out in a field of philanthropists with smaller net worths.

About this time in my love affair with this song, I start to feel little over-committed. Oaky, so it wasn’t really this oh-hey-look-a-song-I-made-! since the world of Formation is way to formed from song to video and tour and live performance and even merch. The song-as-product takes lots of planning, and this one seems like it was carefully planned to push the very buyable world of Formation. It makes me wonder if the perfectly timed Superbowl controversy was about black bodies or green backs. Nothing makes teens loves something more that Fox declaring it demonic.

Is it possible for something to be both amazing and problematic? Yeah, symbolic constructions are often like that.  Best believe this song and its video have earned the title instant classic.  But the hyper commodification of black power imagery is selling a lot of product–something we are right to be watchful of.  In these times we have little more than our own sense of self–we’ve got to guard that–even against Mr. and Mrs. Carter.

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But its not too late, Bey, to be that black Bill Gates in the making–remember he quit the business to devote himself fully to charitable work and social change.  Think of how amazing you’ll look slaying systemic racism in that Gucci.  We’re here waiting for you, in formation.

 

 

For People of Color Witnessing Police Homicides When the Body Cameras are Not Enough

Ockham’s razor tells us that the simplest answer is the best answer.  Just under a year ago, there was a massive push to get cameras on cops after the Mike Brown shooting.  But this simple answer has not been enough.  What cameras have given us, instead, is a front row seat to police violence. We can watch and judge for ourselves what is happening.  We can point to the murderous truth of bad police shootings.  Still it keeps happening.

The recently released footage of the stops of Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose  are shocking only in the scope of tragedies contained in their footage. Those who already know Black lives matter are heartbroken again.  What the police video assures us is that if we step out of line, some cops will not hesitate to hurt or kill us.  That if you speak out, your rights will mean nothing.  That if you hesitate, they will not.  That if you run, you are as good as dead.  No matter if you are a man, woman, young, old, wholly innocent or unadjudicated suspect.

We watched them kill Tamir Rice.  We saw Sandra Bland’s bad stop before her death in police custody. Poised for reaction, Cincinati officals released the the footage of Sam Dubose murder along with a warrent for the killer cop.  What these incidents tell us is that cameras are not enough.  The video in none of these cases helped to preserve the lives of the victims of police violence.  While two of these three cases will lead to charges against the officers involved, the introduction of video into policing has not stopped officers from taking the law into their own hands.

The fact that cameras alone have not stopped extrajudicial police killings means that there are deeper issues at play.  So, what are the other blocks in this justice jenga?Implicit bias in individual and the system, and a public slow to condemn  violence against blacks (even as they weep about Cecil the lion).  Camera are giving us the data we need to acknowledge some of these deeper issues so the real work can begin.

Why would a cop murder someone knowing he is wearing a body cam?  Perhaps he doesn’t care–he is a true “bad apple”  lacking conscience  or control.  He’s a socipath.  Maybe the murder of Sam Dubose was so out of control that he didn’t care what the tape caught.  In this case, the body cam could prevent future crimes against citizens now that he is behind bars, but the broader fix is to address hiring and training of police to prevent disturbed individuals from holding rank.

a t-shirt from a cop supply shop.

Maybe a cop would act out on tape because he believes his partners and fellow cops will hold the thin blue line and cover for him or her.  Crazy? Like a fox.  We’ve seen countless cases this year when the official story was a cover job to keep a bad cop from facing deserved justice.  In this case, we need an overhaul of our justice systems, a radical reimagining that creates checks and balances, systems that ensure that law enforcement is accountable and responsible to those whom they are hired to protect and serve.

Think about your job.  How many of your customers could die at your hands before you would be fired and policies would be reviewed?  I’m a teacher–the answer is 0.  If a student dies in the care of a school, or a customer dies while eating at a restaurant, the public cries for justice and reform.  If a citizen dies at the hands of the police, the public may ask what he  or she did to deserve it.  Racism has pervaded American culture since the introduction of enslaved Africans at Jamestown.  The bias against people of color must first be acknowledged and then addressed before we can celebrate the achievement that is the America of the Declaration of Independence.

I remind you that the police have no legal justification for shooting unarmed citizens. but our discourse languishes in the relative culpability of the victims.   For those of us who value black bodies, these videos traumatizes us.  We are watching people die time and time again, people who look like us, like the people we love, people that are us.  Just as a fabulous commercial with your favorite celeb is engineered to make you think that you too can be that, so too do dash cams remind us, like a burning cross, to stay in our place or be executed.  I say to you don’t despair, don’t give up, don’t believe the hype.  Black lives matter isn’t a slogan, it’s a simple truth and a siren song that has guided us from slavery and jim crow to civil rights and the white house.   As protesters in Cinicinati chanting Kendrick Lamar’s words last night reminded us–we gonna be all right.

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.