Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Must Be Examined

Tonight marks one week since the massacre of the nine innocent South Carolinians who were sitting in peaceful worship at the space of black spirituality.

The trauma is real and devastating. It is demanding and commanding an answer.  It will not get over itself quickly. It is perhaps more than the lynching of black men and women at the hand the nation's police, perhaps more than the moder-day-slavery that continues as black bodies languish in the private prison system, sold on the auction block for corporate entities; it is perhaps more than the ten-plus months of shouting that black lives matter; it is more than the destruction of the inner-city neighborhoods and school systems that support young minds; it is the soul strike of an institution that dared to be free.

Black churches across this country are connected to Mother Emanuel, the nation's oldest black church in the south, the place where Denmark Vesey spoke of freedom, the sanctuary where countless black boy and girls learned their first history lessons. The AME church is the spine of black worship, the liberation sought and taught after slaves were literally pulled from their knees in 1787 after they dared to worship the God introduced to them by their slave masters. The same churches were their minister masters were in pulpits telling them that God commanded them to obey, but they soon discovered the identity with a savior who suffered at the hands of an evil system. It was the place were resistance was supported and training was demanded. It was more than a building, it was a soul space in a deeply segregated place.

The attack on that black church was not by accident. It was purposeful, intentional, it was meant to send a message.

What the terrorist coward didn't realize however, was the history of that same church was one born of resistance, of standing up to the face of evil murderous cowards and declaring liberation, that this same church born of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones' quest to live as fully actualized beings, this same place would not close the doors in petrified fear, would not stop speaking, teaching, and yes, even welcoming the stranger into the gates.  The cowards did not win.

In the week that has ensued since the slaughter of innocents, there have been calles for gun control, commentary on the segregation of the nation, the place of the black church, the systemic racism that still pervades the country, the confederate symbol that remains on the flags of the southern states deeply entrenched in their hurt pride from losing war 150 years ago. There will continue to be an examination of what was uncovered and what is yet to do. It ended the hand wringing questions of if racism still existed, the killer said it was about race, period, point blank, like the gun he aimed first at the men and then at the women,

Perhaps now there will be an examination of the systems and an imagination of what a more perfect union could be if all men were treated as equal, if the land of opportunity was truly that for the sunkissed 13%. As the naiton prepares for the funerals, the conversation must continue, in a much deeper way than even the ones that began after Ferguson.

It is past time.

Otherwise, the nation will perish at the hands of ignorant fools like the young terrorist who got to have it his way on the way to jail.

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Do I Write About This? Thoughts on Charleston, Race, Hate, and the Place of Privilege in America

It felt like the collective fears of black people came to fruition on Wednesday night, June 17, 2015.

The evils of Jim Crow history were relived in vicereal ways for those who were alive during those tumultous days of hot hate and for those of us who were born the year of the Civil Rights Act's signing. This simply was unthinkable.

Yet, it wasn't.

The Black Church is a symbol, an institution of many denominations that is the keeper of the black soul space.

Through the last thirty years, this institution has had ebbs and flows as new spiritual practices entered the lives of African Americans. Worship became more contemporary in some denominations and staunchly traditional in others. There were some shifts in leadership with more women behind the pulpit and not just on the front row in white suits or standing stoically in aisles with gloved hands waiting to wisk away that chewing gum from a child's mouth. The institution has weathered declines in attendance, attention-shifting-weekends, and the emergence of media to compete with how worship is delivered.

Yet, the revered place of the black church remains.

The welcoming place with the familiar older deacons and mothers who always had a peppermint in her purse. The promising young minister who understood the modern times and the connection between a liberating theology and the urban struggles of today's millennial generation. There would be the little kids practicing their oratory skills and more than one vocalist or musician polishing their craft on Sunday morning.

It would be a place filled with women, black women, some of the most spiritual in the country, according to Barna research. These women would be the ones who would be teaching Sunday School, would be there for midweek service or Bible study, sitting in the pews for a moment of silent repose. The backbone of the church, the keepers of the history, the ones who were there on that fateful night.

The scene plays out over and over like a movie reel, imagination every bit as awful as the sinister darkness that filled the historic building late on Wednesday night.

Charleston, South Carolina is not a stranger to racism and the ensuing fear that grows from one side staunchly holding onto a dated propaganda about the other side that simply wants to live fully and free.

The young man who walked into that historic church, Mother Emanuel AME, knew about the war between the sides, He had steeped himself in it, became a victim and proponent of that further divide, his own imagination of the evils of one side much greater than a 21st century reality.

He had filled his young life, barely twenty-one, with as much right-wing, nationalistic, supremacist propaganda as his brain could hold. For months he planned his action, he had photos of himself in as much of the symbols of domestic terror as he could find. His young life was one as a reposit of everything that has been wrong with a segment of America since 911, no, since President Obama, no, since Mike Brown, no since Charleston, since, since, since.

I am not alone in my anger and pain in the mass murder that included professional blacks across industries It was an assassination of an elected official, it was the murder of mothers and fathers, ministers, librarians. It was unconsciouble and an act that was greater than the Boston Marathon Massacre and one that instantly had historians remembering another attack at another southern church, the Birmingham bombing in 1963.

Surly we were not returning to the times my father taught me about and hoped we would never revisit.

The questions and comments, the discussions and debates, the peril and pain felt by so many was on full display on twitter, Facebook, in articles, blog posts, essays, and news shows.

White power proponents were applauding the work of the 21-year-old white man whose name I refuse to write. Other white people were awakened to what many of us activists have been consistently talking about for years. Their eyes were opened in a very real way and some of them immediately took action to demand that Governor Nikki Haley remove the confederate flag that was still hanging on the state capital. Others in cities across the country had prayer vigils, led marches, one of the largest one was in Charleston with people of all races, faiths, and ages. There were discussions of his supposed mental illness from white people who refused to admit that what he did was racial. There was analysis after analysis and still, we sit here, less than a week later truly traumatized and forced to deal with the nation's original sin.

All of this, their clinging to a flag, the young man being captured alive and walked out in a bullet-proof vest, even the police treating him to Burger King, are all remnants of the white privilege that pervades the society. It is the difference in an unarmed twelve-year-old victim called a thug and a twenty-one-year-old terrorist called a boy. It smacks of the most egregious racialized terror that has been a part of the country since Denmark Vesey met at Mother Emanuel to plan an insurrection.

The man said to the people in the church, after sitting in Bible study and prayer for an hour, that he "had" to do it because they "rape our women and are taking over our country." The speech he gave, even sparing the life of one of the women to "go and tell what I did" was filled with the hyper-patriotic rhetoric that has swept the airwaves since 9-11. Surely he listened to fox news and talk radio and his membership in hate groups further expanded evil in his vacuum of a drop-out-mind.

I examined what could have possibly filled this young man with so much hate in his short life. He is barely one month older than my own twenty-one-year-old son.

Whiteness is commodity in the United States. Frankly, in the world, as the events in the Dominican Republic, Palestine, and continued mistreatment of darker skinned peoples in Indian, South Africa, and Europe attest.

When did this happen?

My mind did a rewind to all my readings, my history lessons, my studies, and it boils down to fear.

White people, period, fear being washed out, eliminated as an "aryan." That was Hitler's fear, the same paranoia that he drove into the hearts and minds of young people in the decade before WWII. The "purity" of their blood and the "protection" they needed to provide to their women. Racism was the vehile used to drive home this unrelenting terror of elimination. They then used weapons of fear - war, guns, rations - to create mindless drones who would blindly follow the one they thought would save them from the "savages."

Perhaps it is the fear that drove him, the so many of the hims that are either poor and white or working class and white.

I may be wrong, but rarely do I see the affluent whites waving the confederate flag or storming churches to kill black people, they leave that up to their lesser bretheren, while using the tools of economic segregation to make their point. It is the same now as it was almost four hundred years ago when race laws and codes began to seep into the books of our not-even-a-country-yet culture.

Fear is a monster that demands to be bed.

That boy ate from its teet for yeras. All the ones that fed his impressionable mind are just as guilty as he is of pulling the trigger. All the ones who tried to find reasons other than race, when he said it himself that it was race that motivated him, are just as guilty. The police that handled him with kit gloves and a Burger King meal, are just as guilty. The monster was nourished from the table of hate, division, racism, class, privilege, and sexism.

There must be a recognition of the part every white American played in the creation of this murderer. Reparations are the least of what needs to be addressed. The very lives of black people are not valued in this country. Excuse after excuse is given, pathology assigned to blacks, reasons why the 13% of the country are the downfall of the 87% are given over and over to justify the redlining, the destruction of inner city neighborhoods, the removal of programs, pools, and playgrounds, the elimination of safetynets and jobs, the continued assault by the polie. All of it is so that the middle and uppper middle class white folks can walk in their privilege and feel safe, all so the poorest of the poor whites can support their policies as long as they get to still hold onto whiteness and the now 400 year old lie that their whiteness made them exceptional. There must be a recognition.

Charleston was like a shock to the system and a scab pulled off an unhealed wound. It reminded those of us who have been writing and speaking about race issues for years that we are not post-racial or post-racism, that we are steeped knee-deep in the muck like the red clay southern soil filled with the blood of black people. It was validation, in a way, that we were not crazy for saying these hate groups were out there, plentious. This boy had been on the FBI radar for years and they did nothing about it. It was also a reminder of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and the countless other names that held onto their faith and took up their stance to fight back. It was a reminder of the chants of the Ferguson front line. Charleston now truly means we must fight back by any and all means necessary, economic boycott, calls for the flag to be removed, marches, protests, vigils, black men utilizing their second amendment rights to protect their communities from more boys like this, white folks waking up and speaking up to their cousins, elected officials truly acting for the people and pulling apart the systems that cause division and gaining some courage along the way. It will take all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Whiteness and the Issue of Female Privilege in the Aftermath of Rachel: A Real Black Woman's Perspective

 There was something about the month of May and thus far, the first half of June, that seems to have brought out the worse in white female fragility, racism, and appropriation.

The news tumbled out as fast as the toys in my daughter's closet, faster than I could grab them all, tumultous in the landing on her bedroom floor, sprawled out for a thorough examination. I had to sit back and consider the space of whiteness and the accompanying fragility, privilege, and audacity that comes with it when connected in black spaces.

In it, I am unapologetically black and not wiping any white female tears of manipulation.

Space and expectation of the rights of control are what connected the white female encounters. From one trying to always tell black women what to do to another deciding a black woman's dedication to one deciding to be a black woman, all of them came from a place of overwhelming privilege and the assumption of power.

On numerous facebook posts, I and others dissected the lies of Rachel Dolezal as connected to black women. No one really cared that she loved black culture, as she claimed, almost everyone cared that she lied and that lie likely cost real black women an opportunity to speak up for their own people. '

Black women and black culture are not a costume to put on, no matter how many butt injections, lip plumping, perms, and orange spray tans one decided they can grab. This is a lived experience that can not be bought.

It took me a while to absorb the news and my personal experience with some white women.

Another life ago, I worked in a corporate setting for a tiny bullyish white woman whose only power came from being the privileged daughter of the first female artist of the company. She wielded that power in a foul-mouthed way with no one standing up to her. All it meant was years and years of her presence saw many promoted over her, bitterness wrapping her soul, and her bullying becoming more intense. A lot of black women encounter white female bullies that are a threat to their careers and livlihood. Rachel and Jeannette shared this in common.

Fast forward to this woman in the news and we see the same pattern of bullying behavior. She never gave a straight answer, positioned herself in a state with less than 2% black population and used that lack of exposure to create in herself a persona that was as fake as a three dollar bill. She was an opportunist, an obstructionist, and obstacle for her students.

The larger problem with this woman is that it makes a mockery of the last ten months that the issues of race has been discussed. She had an opportunity to use her professorship and her positions with the police commission as well as the NAACP to speak to the larger condition of black people. Her motives, as proven through her numerous interviews as a student's research subject and now, as a reality-wanna-be-celebrity, has been to be praised, not to be purposeful for black women. Even in her interviews, she was not a champion of social justice, she was justifying her blackface. Her twitter accounts were filled with her stereotyped responses to real black people (and some white) who were calling her out on her con. She became transracial and told Matt Lauer she identified with being black, nothing wrong with loving our culture, everything wrong about lying, stealing, and appropriating.

In the middle of the distractions that her media circus created, the cop from McKinney was placed on administrative leave, the other white woman, Tracy, is now on her interview loop trying to justify her racist rant against children. She was terminated from her position as a Bank of America contractor hired to manage home loan applications. The woman's power to decide is the backdrop of her "go back to your Section 8" racial slur against the black children who lived in the ranch subdivision. While Rachel was happening, the Dominican Republic decided to dust off an ugly part of its history and mass deport hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent in an attempt to white-wash it's population. Rachel missed talking about those black people, who have a direct tie to the United States (read about the Haitian Revolution and about Truillo, a mulatto dictator of the island). There was also another pool incident, much worse than McKinney, that an Ohio police officer broke the jaw of a bathing-suit clad twelve-year-old child. News about Tamir, continued discussion about the Kalif Browder suicide at 22 (he was of Haitian descent, by-the-way), and the tweets about the Charleston shooter and the murders in church were all noteworthy and missed because of the media fascination with this masquerading white woman.

There are lessons, however, in every disappointment, in every lie, in every narcassistic con artist.

Through Rachel, it forced a conversation of what it really means to be black in America. We are the only nation that rules that one drop (1/16th) black makes one black, that this drop kept countless fairskinned Americans in chattle slavery. It created the colorism issues that still resonate in parts of the country, it forced a division that should never have been there through the raped miscegnation of a people to create more product for their fields. It fulfilled the Law of Maternal Descent of 1662 and further castigated a shadow upon a people forced to be ignorant of their origins. Did we honor our French forefathers (mine was three steps from the French Crown and sent by Napolean to rule in Hispaniola before the Haitian Revolution), did we honor our African foremothers' heritage (mine was a mulatto from Santo Domingo, a free woman, tricked by a trader onto a ship promising silks from the Orient for little Hester's (a quadroon) birthday, instead, she was kidnapped to America - New Orleans - and forced into a placage or be threatened for the notorious market). Heritage is complicated, in America, it is a matter of that drop.

Lessons also included the place and plight of professional black (real, one drop, thousand drops) women who through time (this writer include) forced to withdraw, tone down, Europeanize, or diminish Africanness. The  hair was pressed or permed to appear more "professional" and those of us who decided to be natural were then seen as a militant, an other, a threat, a danger, despite our designer couture and well-spoken nature. Countless black women have been sabatoged by white women, their ideas and product designs stolen, their opportunities thwarted by tiny bullies like Jeannette. In the midst of the  Great Recession that remains for the larger part of black America,black women have been left behind, especially those of us of the Jones Generation, Gen X, and even a few Boomer IIs. We learned of the women with a touch more gray in our un-permed natural hair that are unable to gain the $90K gigs to talk about social justice, race, equity, gender, and inclusion because we are not the right shade (even our light, bright, and nearly white black women are underemployed, those with degrees and experience) or the right age (it is noted that Rachel, at thirty-seven, is of that entitled generation born just before the Millennials,the ignorant white one who still talked about First Nation people being born in tee-pees, her history the imagined fabrication of stereotypes).

History and place matters, that is also a lesson learned from the Rachel situation. The "sons" adopted by her family are of Haitian descent, The very same beleagured island that the European nations and the United States of North America decided to eternally punish because the enslaved blacks and Creoles said no more to the punishing plantation sugar canes, they rose up and defeated France (study the Haitian Revolution). Their punishment has been ongoing since declaring Independence in 1804. The children of Haiti suffered humiliation, hunger, and hopelessness. Many were raped by aid workers who came after the earthquake, many remain in squaller after the promise of houses with millions donated for that cause, many are uneducated as the continued quest for power remains a part of living in Hispaniola. The ones who live in the Dominican Republic now face nationlessness as many generations know nothing of Haiti. This writer, while very proud of my Haitian ancestry and proudly have my l'union fait la force flag hanging in my home, know that I would be devastated if I was suddenly nationless and deported to a land where we have not lived for generations. Even though the move for them is essentially over a mountain or crossing a road, it is a difference in language, many only speak Spanish, and a difference in customs, one side is very Latin, the other side, very African, Creole, and French. What a voice that Rachel could have raised to these issues, instead, she used the platform and  missed a learning opportunity for the nation, something a true professor would not have done.

Another lesson is in the very real work of white people to own the system it developed and the Rachels it created. Tim Wise has always written of race in America and the need for white folks to wake up to their privilege, he weighed in on Rachel. The Ferguson, Staten Island, Oakland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and now, McKinney protests communities have all raised the topic of white privilege and the white betrayal of silence. It was a lesson that could have been taught to the nation through the place of protected whiteness (after all, history teaches us it is the supposed virtue of white women that countless black men were lynched).

The lessons of Rachel Dolezal and the occurrences from May through the middle of June, will continue to bring forth the ah-ha moment and the pause to reflect. In it I learned about the dangers of female narcissists, demanding to command females, bullies, opportunists, racismcultural appropriation and definitely that the feminist movement is not a safe place for this black woman. We have also learned that everyone will have a day of rekoning if their motives are to deceive. Rachel certainly is having her's, she was forced to resign from the NAACP and the police commission is investigating her#blacktwitter went in on her, Goldie Taylor had a mock interview of her farce, even rappers are taking to the story because while she thought it would go unnoticed and that black people would remain forgiving, we can't, Charleston just proved that to us

 I learned that the only ones who will truly speak up for us are us and that at least for this one writer, I will keep speaking, writing, and advocating for our place, even if the seat at the table is not mine, but my future daughter's. I have to, otherwise, there will be more Rachel's shoving their way into a story that is not their's, garnering unearned opportunity and attention, and further complicating an already centuries old conundrum.