Tag Archives: Boston

This Is Why We Fight

In trying to make sense like so many of you today, I looked into this moment for an opportunity–and I found one. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are no longer the monster under the bed or hidden beneath napkins and polite conversation at dinner.  These insidious beasts that  have stalked our nation are now out in the open.  This past year’s contentious election has shown us all who wants to stand with us, and who doesn’t.  Maybe this isn’t a moment we can’t imagine.  Tonight I saw mass protests of women and men and trans people and whites and blacks and Latino and disabled people and people that love all those people unified together with clear and common purpose. Maybe this is the moment we find our common purpose and rise to meet it.

This moment is not about Donald Trump or 2016 or the Republican Party.  No, this moment is a long time coming, the moment when the immovable object of white supremacy comes face to face  with the unstoppable force of the demographic shifts that will make American a minority-majority country.  This moment isn’t the first  battle but could very well the last stand of white supremacy against the truth of the multicultural coutry we already are.

Is: the present tense. Not was, the word of the past.  Not will be, a magical future that is always the day after tomorrow and never the now.  Is. Present . Right now. If you weren’t an ally before, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve been fighting and you’re tired and you want to give up, that was before.   If you think it will be better in two four or eight years, so what? This is now. Focus on the present.

Why is more important that what or how. What justice looks like and how it arrives requires a multitude of views, a flock of answers, a riot of solutions, more ways up the mountain.  But the why is steadfast, unchanged and still the goal even extending into the future.  To form a more perfect union.  That was why  in the past  and will be why in the future but most importantly is the why now.  In a world that makes you feel like you are drowning this why is your life raft.

We feel new feelings. We have never in our lives felt more threatened, or been more ready to fight.  We have spent these last years mobilizing activating, networking an connecting.  You were the left hand.  You were the right foot.  Parts of the giant of the electorate have shaken themselves from slumber. We were woke separately by issues specific to important aspects of our identity. We are awake together now.  We have been building the will and skill to organize, maybe in preparation for this very moment.

Fight: that is what comes next.  Fight is what ancestors who lived and died in slavery did even with no end in sight.   Fight is what women did who secured the vote and the right to choice. Fight is what we did when police shot our brothers and sisters in the streets. Fight is what they are doing tonight at Standing Rock.We don’t play, guess, plead or wish. We fight.  We fight hard and clean and often and together and separate in big and small ways.  We raise our fists and our signs and our voices and our children to fight.

When you want to know how this could be, when you cry tears to make room in you to keep going, when you ask what we should tell the children I offer you my unconditional love, and a mantra.  This is why we fight.

image credit: Samuel Mitchell, from the Boston Trump protest march 11.9.16

When Your Choices Are Someone Else’s

Recently I had the pleasure of taking a helicopter ride over Boston. Apart from being super fun, the trip, riding high above my usual haunts, gave me a different perspective on the world I live in every day. In my normal existence, I do things you might do: I go to work, I get the items I need to eat and live, and I make an effort to get off the beaten path and enjoy nature.

What I saw from the air was that every livable space was designed, pre-planned. Every place where I could take a step had been planned and designed for the movement of humans and human activity. There was no “free” space, no place that I could go that someone else–a thousand some one else’s–hadn’t already gone. I experienced my day to day world as a place where I decided where I would go, but in fact, my space, like my activities are programmed and structured by any number of systems and institutions around me. What I experience as freedom is really just a very large maze designed to engage me in pro-social choices, like going to work, buying consumer goods, and contributing to the tax base.

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It was with this fresh in my mind that I read an article about black women’s bodies by the fab Gail Dines. The article is a solid review of the “issue” of the black booty, placing hypersexual images of black women’s backsides in a historical context.  But Gail reports that the push back to her article comes from third wave feminists– women who care deeply about women’s rights and who believe it is a woman’s choice to use her body freely in any way she chooses, including using it in hypersexual displays, pornography, commodification, etc. Women do have the right to express themselves as they see fit. But critical thinking requires that we examine the result of that expression–especially when done in public for money.

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Can’t you just break out it of the chains of narrative and do what you like? Of course you can. You can do anything that you want. But while you are yelling, “Yolo!” and waving your shirt over your head–why not? you have the right to!–consider that if you do it in public–say, on camera–and you do it for money you have gone from just expressing your self to being a part of the massive chain of production that is media. And you don’t get to decide alone how people who see your tape will make sense of it. Mass media uses all kinds of visual and verbal codes to tell stories, frequently shuffling out old ideas from history dressed in new duds. Just like those paths I saw from the sky, we should understand that media messages travel along lines planned out before we were even here, referencing–and reinforcing– history, symbolic codes and dominant ideology.

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When it comes to Nicki Minaj, or any other recording artist for that matter, we have to remember that “she” is not simply the human born as Onkia Maraj , she is the commodified, processed version of herself, created by a multi-pronged corporate team and packaged for mass consumption in order to make a profit. Sure Onika is some part of that construction, but she and hundreds of other pop stars are part of a very large system, one designed for the primary purpose to make cash.

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The surest way for the pop industry to make money is to stick to the low-hanging fruit–sex, scandal, salaciousness. We are cheeky monkeys after all. When we see Nicki posing butt out, its not because her label said, “We want you to explore the deeper aspects of your sexuality in a way that gives voice to your womanhood.” They said, “Sex sells.”

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Her displays are calculated business maneuvers designed not by Minaj alone but by a team, one which she herself has said is mostly male. In fact, when the initial cover for her latest single Anaconda was released many were shocked, and Minaj tweeted out that the cover art would be changed. Hmmm, just like when Kanye West leaked his Monster video–where Minaj guest-spit–only to add a disclaimer to it after everyone was shocked by the content. Artistic freedom? Nope, just a clever marketing strategy to drive eyeballs pre-release.

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No doubt Nicki is an interesting artist and we can’t dismiss all of what she makes as sheer profiteering–but that Roman phase, tho, dismiss dismiss!  She is not always bubble gum barbie, and love her or hate her she is engaging to watch and super creative.  Beyond the mass marketed hits we occasionally glimpse other dimensions to the character Nicki Minaj, some unexpected, like this sweet video off her upcoming album The Pink Print with The Game.

Most of what we see from Minaj, though is hip-pop designed to reach a massive audience for maximum profit complete with wild outfits and an over the top persona.  What makes her popular is her mashed up expression of contemporary cultural tropes–sex, barbie and bubble gum raps

Think of this horrible idea for comedy: Russell Simmons produced this sketch where Harriet Tubman agrees to sleep with master in trade for cash. Hey, it was just an humorous expression playing with the narrative of slavery and redefining it, right? Nah. The skit was roundly condemned, and even Hustle had to apologize.

Propagating idea that slaves had agency in their own oppression via mass media is tricky to say the least:  even if you have the artistic right to play on old tropes, to do so for mass entertainment in a era still so rife with racism, keeping the old narrative alive in new clothes, is calculated profiteering at best and racist at worst.

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Leaving slavery days behind, we can look at our own post racial still racist world. Black women are free, have the vote, and are the fastest growing demo in college. Sounds pretty free right? The legacy of racial oppression in this country persists, despite the good news.  Nickki Minaj is popular in part because she represents typical media representation of black women–hyper sexual, wild and unpredictable.

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Few casual fans will even dig deep enough to find a more complex expressions of Nicki Minaj, leaving us simply with her most visible incarnation-a new era Jezebel.  Even as she talks about her new natural look, she reveals the calculated way that she thinks about her image, and that her previous incarnations are not a reflection of her playing with power, but masking insecurities.

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We black women are treading paths that have been set up in this country for centuries. Even as we choose new destinations, and walk with more power in our stride, we still live in a country rife with racial inequity. While many of us as individuals may have freed ourselves from slave mind, we live in a country where the image of blacks has been deeply carved in a fresco of oppression from slavery, through Jim Crow to our own modern, sublimated Jim Crow 2.0. We’re individuals and we live in a culture and are a part of democratic and capitalist systems at the same time. We can’t ignore the ways those levels constantly interact.  While the power of the individual has primacy in our culture, taking the macro view to better understand the paths that we’re treading will allow us to move off the paths of the past and blaze a truly new future.

Boston Strong: Remembering the Whole City

This week Boston prepares to mark the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Boston has had its share of tragic events and shocking situations.  Like many other cities around the world, we can, sadly, add bombing to that list.  Just one year ago four people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured, many of them losing limbs,  when a bomb was detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

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When the perpetrators surfaced just days after the bombing, the city responded in true Boston fashion.  In a city famous for traffic snarls and a less than friendly attitude, we showed that when we must work together, we will.  The major metropolis essentially closed itself while SWAT teams chased the Tsarnaev brothers across the city.  We spent the day inside, watching the news and watching our own streets, a hive mind hunting down those who injured our people and our beautiful city.

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When the perpetrators were caught–one killed–the city collectively gathered to state our allegiance and grieve our loss.   Born in this fire was the phrase Boston Strong–two words that encapsulate the Yankee-born never-say-die prideful energy of this hard city.

Now, a year later, the city prepares to commemorate this tragic time.  There are conferences, news specials, grief counselors available to all, charity drives and every other form of ritual respect rightfully due this day.   Next Monday, the city will reclaim the fallen in an outpouring of love.

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While we speak the names of the victims, allow me to add some loved ones to the list.  There were 40 homicides in the city of Boston last year.  This does represent a  sharp drop in the rate of homicides, but if your loved one was  killed what does that matter?  These 40 victims shared the same dream for happiness and a healthy family that the victims of the bombing did.  40 lives, gone.

A map of 2013 homicides, showing most outside of the downtown area.  From Universal Hub
A map of 2013 homicides, showing most outside of the downtown area. From Universal Hub

Please don’t forget to send a prayer up for the first responders who gave their lives fighting fire in Back Bay .  Remember the police killed in the line of duty this year.

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And let’s also honor the mothers fathers husbands and wives whose lives were cut short suddenly on the streets of Boston this year.  Killed on their way home while their loved ones set their plate for dinner.

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Brianna Morales was killed by a alleged drunk driver while walking near her home with her mom in November, 2013

What about those most hidden of victims? We can also add victims of domestic violence.  Though these women weren’t killed in the light of day at the finish line, their lives were just as valuable and and lost just the same.

Fist, stick, gun, knife, bomb, car, flame:  whatever end one meets, loved ones are left behind in desperate need of support and love to heal from loss.  This week our city will show the powerful healing love that comes from the collective mourning of commemorating our own.  As we say those names, lets remember the list of lost loved ones since the marathon is long.  Every life, whether it ends on the marathon’s finish line, the streets of the inner city, or the halls of a home, deserves the love and compassion contained in Boston Strong.