What Black Lives Matter Means:  Rochester’s Black Lives Matter at School and The Importance of Education

blm-at-school
Courtesy of WHEC Rochester

 

 

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.
—George Washington Carver

 

On February 17, 2017, history unfolded in schools throughout the Rochester City School District when students were introduced to Black Lives Matter at School, an educational initiative dedicated to generating discussions about Black lives.

BLM at School was the social justice brainchild of parent/activist Mahreen Mustafa George, local organizer Afro-Latinx Queen, Rochester city activists, and teachers.  “I got involved after our varsity boys’ soccer team took a knee during the playing of the national anthem during one of their games,” explained George, whose children are RCSD students. “A few weeks later, schools and educators in Seattle Public schools took steps to affirm and understand that Black Lives Matter and they garnered national news coverage. Myself and the other founding members talked about this action and it led to us saying that we needed to sit down together and see if we could do something similar here in the RCSD, given that our community was already taking part in actions supporting racial justice.”

“BLM at School,” stated Afro Latinx Queen, “is about having the opportunity to have difficult conversations in the classroom and guiding the dialogue for it to be more productive and not traumatizing for either party and learning about restorative practice.”

The organizers reached out to schools such as World of Inquiry School to introduce BLM at School into the classrooms.  Teachers, parents, community members, and even former students participated in this initiative, using peace circles to connect with pupils about a wide range of topics pertaining to Black empowerment. Those involved also had the opportunity to discuss oppression, how it affects people of color, and solutions to eradicate it.   In the Black Lives Matter at School Facebook group, participants proudly uploaded footage of students actively listening, engaging with one another and the volunteers while discussing the politics affecting Black people regularly.

The BLM at School committee studied various resources and curriculums, including the BLM at School Week in Philadelphia.  In early 2017, many teachers in the city’s schools incorporated activities into their lessons throughout the week, introducing everything from “science lessons about the biology of skin color for high schoolers” to “The Revolution Is Always Now” coloring pages for very young students.”  Unlike the initiative here in Rochester, the one in Philly was neither sponsored by the school district.  However, it opened the door for a much-needed discussion about the importance of Black liberation.

As groundbreaking (and well meaning) as BLM at School is, it was also considered controversial.  Like any incentive focused on social justice, BLM at School experienced some resistance from some educators, administrators, and even the members of the Rochester community.  Many White parents expressed their concerns or overall distain about BLM at School, arguing that 1) it was associated with the national movement and 2) that the event itself would promote violence—particularly against law enforcement.  It was furthermore considered divisive by alienating White people, who proposed an “All Lives Matter at School” Day.

And while a cluster of city schools openly embraced BLM at School, there were some who did not.  In fact, one school was so resistant to the activity that threatened the educational future of its students.  Brenda Pacheco, principal of Rochester’s School of the Arts, issued a statement threatening to suspend students who participated in a planned walk-out.  When the notification reached social media, members of the community inundated the school’s administration with emails, phone calls, and resistance.  Meanwhile, SOTA students exercised their right to peacefully protest by walking out minutes before dismissal, chanting alongside supportive community organizers.

As I watch the protest live on social media, I realized that the crux of the Black Lives Matter at School was to emphasize the importance of education.  The majority of schools in the United States do not properly teach the history of Black people or non-Black people of color.  In fact, students will more likely read some skewed version of how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.  Black students are rarely exposed to their own history, identity, and culture in the classroom, this exclusion of information deliberate on the part of the administration.

And the authority figures in urban school further play a significant role in how Black children view themselves.  It is no coincidence that most of the educators in city schools are White and uneducated about the systematic oppression inflicted upon the Black students they teach.  Many of these students reside in impoverished neighborhoods and live in unhealthy environments, not learning the coping skills necessary to overcome adversity—let alone their own history.  While struggling with adversity in their immediate environment, these students enter the classroom to consume information about people dissimilar to them.

Contributing to the disconnect is that these White educators often dismiss the intellect of their Black students.  White educators who do so compare these children to that of their White counterparts—possibly due to scientific racism.  Conversely, studies have shown that Black students benefit from engaging with Black teachers because the latter understands them and will more likely recognize their potential.

“A lot of our children of color are misunderstood,” explained Afro Latinx Queen, “mostly due to staff not knowing how to deal with our kids because they are uneducated about trauma within our communities. Instead they turn to feelings such as intimidation or fear.”

This is why I firmly believe that personal/political and even spiritual empowerment is the crux of systematic change.  When members of a disenfranchised group acknowledge their worth, they will employ every source within themselves to resist anyone, anything that states otherwise.  The SOTA students were educated enough to acknowledge the bullshit Pacheco tried to pull on them.  By studying on their own, researching Black Lives Matter and the incident that spearheaded the movement to begin with—on top of internalizing their own significance, they practiced their right to state that they mattered by engaging in civil disobedience.  But most importantly, these students also need supporters in the community to validate their efforts in regards to achieving empowerment.  It is paramount for educators, community members, parents, and even former students to collaborate with one another to ensure that BLM at School continues to thrive in the RCSD.

Black Lives Matter at School, to me, is an initiative that was a long time coming.  Black children need to know the accomplishments of their elders and contemporaries.  Because if our children knew their history, they will then become educated.  They would then inquire about the structure of their surroundings and who truly benefits.  And, once realizing the truth, the pupils become empowered to the point of wanting to challenge the various industrial complexes that oppress them.

The Revolution Will Be Revolutionized

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, it’s quite evident that the world is going to Hell in huge plastic totes.

Political disasters are bombarding people simultaneously: the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the appointment of Betsy DeVos, the defunding of more than seventeen federal programs that greatly benefit the working class, and most recently the immigration ban that prevents even documented immigrants and refugees from returning to the United States for 90 days. While anti-Trump protestors target the newly appointed president, it is later revealed that Chief Strategist/Ex-Nazi Promoter Steven Bannon is the co-author of these executive orders.

The Left responds in drones, protesting major airlines while taxis driven by immigrants refuse to provide services in solidarity.  Most of us crowded the streets with signs, posted articles on our blogs and updates on our statuses.  When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick becomes a member of Trump’s Advisory Council, the response is a boycott that costs the transportation company millions, making Kalanick drop out of the council.  The resistance is powerful, beautiful to witness and—in some cases—be a part of.

Yet while reading updates about the immigration ban resistance on my computer screen, I’ve become increasingly numb and irritable, mentally and emotionally shutting down when scrolling down my newsfeed.  Eventually, I’d exit out of my browser, feeling psychologically jarred by statues about the Islamophobic executive orders Trump placed into motion with a stroke of a pen. I’ve since reduced my Facebook usage by only using it to either schedule social outings, post a few articles, or to write a status.

Another reason is the infighting among Leftists in all factions. The debates between and vague statuses about radicals, liberals, Democrats, Anarchists, and Socialists have become increasingly acidic.  Though I blame this behavior on Call-out culture and intellectual elitism, I also believe that elevating uncertainties for the world’s future triggers the recent disputes.  The intensity of the drama unfolding on my Facebook feed has affected my writing to a certain extent.  I was a day away from completing an article about the Liberal/Radical divide, but had difficulty even looking at it.

It has taken me distancing myself from social media to realize the reason behind my reaction:  we Leftists remain discordant towards one another, the distrust elevating to near-critical levels. Many of us can’t even have a political discussion on social media (or in person) without it resorting to a battle of wills. And this petty shit needs to cease effective immediately—especially if we are to revolutionize this world.

Because let’s be real:  To obtain political power, we must realize that none of us has the Ultimate Answer to dismantle this system.  This requires all Leftists to thoroughly evaluate, question, and challenge their assumptions and ideologies about one another.  Are all Democrats or Liberals unwilling to distance themselves from their privilege?  Are most of them White people who only chant “Black Lives Matter” to earn ally points?  Is it accurate for Leftists who believe in the system to brand Anarchists or other radicals as violent towards entire establishments?  In fact, from where did these stereotypes derive and what purpose do they serve other than to cause unnecessary division?

The mainstream and some independent media outlets play a role publicizing the detrimental assumptions about Leftists.  They observe the actions of certain factions, magnify it, and report on the dramatic moments exclusively.  We verify these generalizations by using some of our personal interactions with one another as evidence.  This is the reason why radical groups like the Black Bloc are considered destructive while Liberals and Democrats are deemed spineless.  When focusing on differences, we Leftists fail to establish the trust necessary to collaborate on innovative tactics to resist oppressive industrial complexes.

Forming trust among each other also involves inner reflection and the ability to accept constructive criticism.  I remember the backlash people of color and/or transwomen received after critiquing the National Women’s March. The former rightfully argue that the nationwide campaign have excluded them by adhering to White cis-female feminism.  Instead of hearing them out, many of the participants (mostly White women) accuse these marginalized demographics of divisiveness—a tactic often used to silence.  Even here in Rochester, organizers of the Solidarity March have come under scrutiny when one of them gave a shout out to the city’s police department. Some of the commentators (White folks) defend this status, stating that the cops have provided services worth noting.

Journalist Jake Fuentes writes “stop believing that protests alone do much good. Protests galvanize groups and display strong opposition, but they’re not sufficient. Not only are they relatively ineffective at changing policy, they’re also falsely cathartic to those protesting. Protesters get all kinds of feel-good that they’re among fellow believers and standing up for what’s right, and they go home feeling like they’ve done their part. Even if protesters gain mild, symbolic concessions, the fact that their anger has an outlet is useful to the other side. Do protest, but be very wary of going home feeling like you’ve done your job. You haven’t.”

Though he is referring to those protesting the immigration ban, his statement is very fitting for those who support oppressive organizations.  What some of the Solidarity March folks don’t understand is that their Whiteness protects them from being harassed and/or murdered by law enforcement during a peaceful demonstration.  Unlike Black and non-Black activists (and even our White accomplices), many of the participants will return home safely with the feeling of accomplishment and without the fear of police brutality. So if these particular individuals feel too obligated to study the history of law enforcement and the mistrust towards this industrial complex, they are not worth fucking with.

However, not all liberals (regardless of ethnicity) aren’t blinded by the system and second-wave feminism.  In fact, many of us radical Leftists fail to recognize the Liberals that are down for what we do.  These folks who attend our rallies or organizational meetings, but cannot devote themselves fully for whatever reason.  These are also the ones who check their White friends (without the hope to earn cookies), incorporate intersectionality into their political and personal work.  In fact, some of them have agreed with the radicals who’ve confronted the Liberals and Democrats thanking the police on the Solidarity March page.  So if we are staunchly against working alongside these radicalized liberals, we have to ask ourselves why and what is hindering our ability to do so.

Trust also involves the acceptance of non-traditional forms of activism such as online, radio, and literary activism, slam poetry—among others.  Many Leftists (regardless of age or generation) often dismiss non-traditional activism because it doesn’t involve able-bodied direct action.  “Please stop acting like social media activists ain’t shit,” states online activist/Ratchet Feminist Fiyah Angelou.  “Those are the ones that give your movements additional momentum. They use their platforms to support you and in return you foolishly minimize their contributions. These are the ones that share your shit and encourage people to be active in this movement these folks keep your street activism relevant. Stop that ableist shit!! The revolution will be accessible. The revolution will be revolutionized!!”

Angelou is absolutely correct in her assessment regarding non-traditional activism.  Many activists with hectic work/school schedules, family duties, issues with trauma and/or disabled cannot (or will not) engage in direct action.  They instead exercise other means to remain involved in their communities as well as the general population.  Activists such as Love Life of An Asian Guy, AO Anderson, and Fiyah Angelou use their Facebook pages to serve as a platform to educate and engage their audiences. To completely disregard the influence of non-traditional activism by deeming it a waste of effort is not only insulting but ableist.

Why am I writing this?  Because, as a Black Radical, I’m wanting my fellow Leftists to pull themselves together and function as a collective juggernaut. I want us to become more radicalized—if not shove our ideological differences aside to shut down the government and the industrial complexes employed by it.  And from where I’m sitting, we Leftists really don’t have much of a choice.

We Gon Be Alright:  What to Do Now That Trump is President

 

It happened.

On Tuesday, November 8, Donald J. Trump was declared the President of the United States of America.  Though Hillary Clinton dominated the popular vote, the electoral college handed Trump the White House.  And, of course, nearly the entire world is confused, shocked, livid, and understandably terrified.

Unfortunately, I predicted this in a Facebook status a few months prior—before the election was a complete circus.  Granted, the status was a semi-political science fiction narrative, but there was also an element of truth.  Even legendary science fiction genius Octavia E. Butler foresaw an oppressive American government in her Parable series. In The Parables of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, the Earthseed community (and others who are considered heathens) are targeted, traumatized, and even murdered by the supporters of the President Andrew Steele Jarret.

Like the fictional presidential candidate, Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” for White citizens while scapegoating the disenfranchised groups.  Black folks and non-Black people of color, women, the undocumented, the disabled, LGBTIQAs, Muslims, immigrants and refugees were immediately fell under the scrutiny of racist White people who feared having resources snatched from them.  Young women and girls were traumatized after finding out that Trump openly admitted to sexually assaulting women and young girls.  And like that of Jarret’s, Trump’s followers resorted to violence against non-White, non-Christian folks,  becoming increasing audacious as the months passed.

These facts alone are some of the reasons why people were so devastated about this man’s victory.  Why non-voters and third-party voters are feeling the wrath of those who voted for Clinton.  And why people are drawing lines in the sand, taking to social media to force Trump supporters off their Facebook pages due to his (supposed) anti-LGBTIQA rhetoric.

In the mist of the post-Election chaos, there was a glimmer of hope in Rochester that week.  On Thursday, November 10, I and many others in Rochester had the opportunity to meet Dr. Angela Davis, former Black Panther Party member, author, and professor.  Courtesy of MJS Productions, Dr. Davis blessed the entire East High School Auditorium with her kindness, wisdom, poise, and respect.  She not only critiqued the 2016 election, but understood that the government system (and the current party structure) never represented the people—the oppressed groups in particular.

“We have to reimagine politics,” she proposed, “to imagine a political party that represents the oppressed.”  She further emphasized that those who choose to participate in the voting process to work towards a multi-party system and a party that incorporates intersectional feminist politics.

I walked away from the event energized and validated as a literary activist and Radical in regards to my misgivings about this election.  A non-registered voter for eight years, I wasn’t going to have anyone place the blame on me simply because I didn’t hand Clinton a struggle vote.  Dr. Davis’s suggestion to reimagine politics resonated with me; another world is possible, but many of us seem hesitant to even envision themselves dismantling the current system to create a new one.  So I wondered what actions Radicals and liberals—especially comrades of color—can take from this moment forward. What can marginalized groups do to combat a fascist government at this point?

For starters, we (meaning Radicals) need to check those scapegoating non-voters and third-party voters.  We are not the reason why Trump won and Clinton has yet to represent anyone but corporate America.  And let’s not forget that the majority voted for Senator Bernie Sanders, who could have easily won the Presidency had the Democratic National Committee not sabotaged his campaign. The DNC’s intervention and the non-existence of true democracy left a bad taste in the month of many of his supporters, so their decision to Netflix and chill on Election Day is understandable. Also, voters pointing the fingers at those who refused to support Clinton are ultimately blaming the latter for the hate crimes erupting throughout the country.  What they don’t understand, however, is that these post-election assaults against marginalized groups would have occurred regardless of who moved into the White House.

Which is why I also urge Liberals and Radicals to genuinely recognize each other’s political efforts—especially those who choose not to vote or vote for a third-party candidate. The latter uses direct action, literally activism, online activism, protesting, and other effective, peaceful tactics.  Our initiatives are just as important as the Liberal’s right to vote, their trips to their state capitals, or petitions to their local representatives.  One of the many reasons why the Leftist contingent isn’t a political juggernaut is because of the division among us.  As we fight over ideologies and the corniness of John Lennon quotes, the Ult-Right disregard their differences to execute their oppressive agendas.  With so much at stake this time around, it is the duty of us Leftists to collectively organize, strategize, and implement our initiatives without hesitation.

In addition, we need to educate ourselves and each other on government laws so we are equipped with the knowledge to protect ourselves legally.  What I’ve learned as an activist and writer is that education is paramount to fight for one’s liberation.  In fact, education is the very foundation of our freedom and oppressors acknowledge this.  So, the more we Leftists know the more strategic our contingent can be as we organize.   I have comrades who are often recommending literature such as The Privacy Law and the USA Patriot Act and The New Jim Crow.  Folks can also Google information about protections against unlawful arrests, state and national anti-discrimination laws, how to shield your personal information from government officials and so forth.  If one cannot afford certain books, PDF versions are often available via the interwebs.

While organizing, we have got to learn how to protect ourselves physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually.  Trump’s victory granted racists the permission to traumatize/dehumanize at will, attacking the marginalized online and in public with impunity.  Assaults against Muslims have increased since Trump’s win while Black folks, children of immigrants and/or undocumented adults, women, and others face harassment through social media.  Therefore, we must take initiatives to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and those being targeted.  I plan on investing in various forms of self-defense because, as a Black woman, I’m more likely have a White Supremacist mistakenly run up on me.  Knowing that, I need to take all kinds of precautions.

And due to the elevating brutality and need for significant changes within the political system, we Leftists need to heavily lean on one another.  This is not the time to fight over tactics, political ideologies, and which organization possesses the most knowledge.  This is also not the time to place minorities in the position to wipe away White Liberals or give in to White guilt.  We’re now required to respect one another, for allies to listen to the pain, struggles, and solutions of the groups who are greatly affected by the outcome of this shit show.  Members of marginalized groups also need the space to support one another.  I went to a Building Leadership and Community Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) meeting on Friday night and I felt nothing but love, validation, and liberation at that moment.  I didn’t have to explain myself, my views on the election, or why I didn’t vote.  I was surrounded by Black people who heard my frustrations while allowing me to support them in return.  I needed that.  Now imagine if everyone had a squad such as mine.

The election triggered an arousal in people politically, forcing many to recognize that the current system is not only broken, but needs to be completely bulldozed and rebuilt.  Conversely, strong radical movements such as Black Lives Matter play an important part in pushing for the reimagining of political system that supports the social, physical, spiritual, and even nutritional concerns of its citizens—especially the disenfranchised.

 

Recharging is Just as Radical: Using Self-Care to Heal from Race Baiting

On September 16, the Black community mourned another hashtag.

Terence Crutcher was gunned down in the middle of the highway in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He was on his way from class when his van stalled on the road.  His story was actually one of a few regarding the deaths of innocent Black people.

Like many others, I expressed outrage over his unfortunate death and that of other innocent Black men on Facebook and Twitter. Just as a few friends began commenting on my post, an acquaintance of mine named Kelli—a White woman—responded that the dispatchers and helicopter reporters told an entire different story.

The first thought that crossed my mind was not now…not today.  For one, the dispatchers and the pilots involved constructed the false narrative of Crutcher “exhibiting strange behavior.”  Not only did the father of four acted completely rational, he also cooperated (his hands were raised nearly the entire time as shown in the video). And did I mention that he was unarmed?  Even if he wasn’t, that alone didn’t warrant the cop’s response considering the many instances when armed White people were spared.

Despite me and other commentators pointing out these facts (and posting compelling evidence), Kelli continued to justify the cop’s violent actions towards Crutcher.  That and the lack of proof angered those who grieved over the man and the other Black lives that perished.  What broke the camel’s back for me, though, was her blaming Crutcher for his own death.  In a roundabout fashion, she used the dispatcher’s misleading assessment to maintain that Officer Betty Shelby had a legitimate reason to shoot him.

The online altercation ended when I unfriended Kelli for being completely out of pocket.

Though inappropriate, her response to attempted race-based genocide is nothing new.  Regardless of the collection of videos of Black people (and other people of color) being targeted by law enforcement, many White folks remain unconvinced. They claim we overreact, mocking us online and in the break room at our jobs, telling us that those killed by cops initiated the response.  This continuous exposure to unconcealed disregard for Black lives—and our assessment—resembles an abusive relationship from which we can’t escape.

The willful ignorance many White people display is deliberate.  In fact, it contributes to a much larger issue affecting the Black community:  race baiting.

According to the Merrien-Webster dictionary, race baiting “is the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people or “the makings of verbal attacks against members of a racial group.” An example is a White internet troll’s comments supporting law enforcement for ridding society of a “thug.”  Another is InfoWars creator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones publishing false propaganda about the Black Lives Matter movement. Or a supposed ally posting racist content on your page justifying the government sanctioned murder of Black people.  Shit, race baiting is the foundation of Trump’s entire presidential campaign.  Whatever the case, this tactic always results in us reacting negatively to racist statements—which awards these bigots the undeserved attention they already receive.

Because they don’t have the physical ability to traumatize all Black folks simultaneously, many of these fine American patriots do so through the “Comments” section of various social media sites. While news coverage pertaining to the racism often encourages sympathy or infuriation, it also attracts bigoted White people who thrive off the sorrow of Black folks.  They deliberately center themselves in the discussion by posting some All Lives Matter-type statements or playing “Devil’s Advocate. Both conjure unnecessary what-if scenarios that place the onus on those victimized by law enforcement. So instead of having thought-provoking dialogue about systematic oppression or paying their respects to lives lost, commentators are now cussing out an internet troll hiding behind a Pikachu photo.

This nonsense is one of the many reasons why self-care for Black folks is so vital.  Actually, here are a few ways we can protect ourselves against race baiting.

 

  • Know Thyself

Knowing yourself is byfar the most important step of practicing self-care. Self-knowledge keeps you aware of your own threshold:  your level of patience, acceptance, tolerance, and temperament. During my 12-Step program days, I learned about an acronym called HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  I know that if I haven’t eaten in five hours, been awake for longer than that last night, and angry about an innocent Black student being physically assaulted by White counterparts, please believe that I’m emotionally vulnerable.  Therefore, that’s an indication that I need to disengage from reality until I get myself situated.  I only know that much because I’m familiar with my own limits.

 

  • Unfriend and unfollow

Blogger and hip-hop producer Johnny Silvercloud writes that a form of self-care is calling people out on their racism.  You know what, though?  So is unfriending and/or unfollowing someone who’s sloppy like that.  Listen. Kelli had somehow deemed it kosher to post a bullshit “news” publication in a thread where folks are grieving Crutcher’s death. She then has the audacity to not only dispute factual evidence presented, but uncaringly centers herself to shine attention on her lowkey racist ideologies and White tears. The irony is that’s she’s trans and wearing a pride pen in her profile picture. And since I’m aware of my level of patience (which is significantly low these days), she is soon removed from my friends list.  I say that because we, the Black people, are not obligated to educate/debate with White folks who should already know what’s good (Google exists to get folks together). Nor should we not be automatically assigned to fight that one “friend” who only materializes when we post a police brutality video on our Facebook page.  I don’t need the aggravation and neither do you.

 

  • Reach out to fellow comrades

Please know that, in this campaign for justice, you’re never alone.  So reach out to your squad.  Let me say that one more time:  Reach.  Out.  To. Your. Squad.  Race baiters utilize a plethora of tactics to get at us–private messages, micro-aggressions, verbal intimidation and so forth.  They also tend to initiate the last two at a moment when we are at our most vulnerable–at our place of employment.   I’ve heard many stories about Black folks enduring racism on the clock, but couldn’t retaliate because they needed their bread and butter.  Therefore, when they come at you like that, reach out to your people in every way, shape, and form.  Having a squad is especially important if you’re working in a hostile work environment.

 

  • Stay away from the damn “Comments” section

Cyber racism, a phrase coined by Les Back in 2002, refers to the racism prevalent in the “Comments” sections throughout the interwebs.  It’s basically an online abyss for those who bask in the glow of trauma porn—especially that involving Black folks.  Enter that horror show if so desire, but you will never leave mentally/spiritually/emotionally unscathed.  And because the race baiter’s assessment of Black people is solidified, you’re literally wasting your energy, time, and words, y’all.  You can’t argue sympathy and understanding out of racist trolls who ridicule the deaths of our innocent.  So do yourself a favor:  don’t go down into the basement because we all know what happens to the Black folks who do.

 

  • Disconnect from social media

This is one of the reasons why self-awareness is paramount—especially if you’ve been diagnosed with mental/emotional health issues.  Inundated with news coverage featuring the deaths of Black people, we (those struggling with mental/emotional issues) are more likely to develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I myself struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  Whenever I watch a video of Black people being murdered in cold blood, it’s as if I’m standing at the crime scene witnessing a death.  I can’t intervene because the victim is completely unreachable.  Now imagine this sense of helplessness, infuriation, anguish, and fear replaying in your brain repeatedly and there’s no “Stop” button. Imagine yourself reacting as if the scene in the video is happening to you.  Imagine yourself being silenced by constant race baiting and All Lives Matter rhetoric. All this is the why I don’t view the footage.  So as important as it is to stay current politically, you’re also allowed to shut off your device of choice and decompress.

 

  • Allow yourself to grieve

We deserve to grieve the loss of our people, to weep on a comrade’s shoulder, express an array of emotions.  We’re allowed to construct a safe space for ourselves without having to deal with the hostility of racist White people.  A few nights after Crutcher’s murder and a few other victims, members of Building Leadership and Community Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) hold a candlelight vigil at the Rochester Liberty Pole.  As our White allies guard the area, we gather in a circle and verbalize our pain, fears, anger, and overall confusion about why Black folks are continuously walking targets in 2016.  People of color needed that moment to support other Black people and each other. For us, the candlelight vigil is a mental, emotional, and spiritual respite from the deceitful, yet hurtful message that Black lives are disposable.

 

Blogger Jasmine is right when they declare: “I love Black people. I love us so much…I worry for our wellbeing when we are inundated with racism.  Continuing to engage in confronting racism in the online space can mean taking a risk with your brain and psychological wellbeing. All of the interactions and conversations in the online space, can be received as micro-aggressions and race-based traumas.”  Like her, I love my people and everything about us.  We are an elite group of lit individuals that continue to contribute to this society.  Race baiters attempt to erase our history with over-generalizations and racist ideologies instigated by false propaganda.  Granted, those who acknowledge our worth can combat the comments, but it’s also discouraging and exhausting.  So please take care of yourself because recharging is just as radical as fighting for equity.

When Will Y’all Say Her Name? The Near-Erasure of Black Women

This week, a Black teacher was under social media scrutiny.

Fourth grade paraprofessional Patrice Brown was reprimanded for wearing attire the Georgia school administration deemed questionable.  In the photos distributed throughout Facebook and Twitter, Brown smiled confidently while she donned outfits accentuating her hourglass figure.  This, of course, resulted in semi-epic debates involving the teaching assistant’s appropriateness (or lack thereof), accusations of body envy, and the unnecessary sexualization of a woman just doing her damn job.

While all that nonsense went down, though, I admit that my main concern wasn’t what she looked like (shit—as long she performed her duties correctly while treating those babies with respect, her wearing a tight dress and heels were the least of my worries).

I was actually worried about Brown’s overall safety.

Since gaining attention for her “sexy clothes,” #teacherbae’s Instagram following increased to 160,000.  She recently had to make the account private because of the recent jump in popularity.  After reading about her instant fame, I lowkey wondered about the hoard of basic ass fuckboys who flooded her inbox with unsolicited sexual advances.  How some of them recognized Brown on the street and yelled “Ay, Baby Girl.  Let me get that autograph” while trying to walk beside her, but spat “Oh you can’t speak?  Fuck you, Bitch—you ugly anyway” while she continued to ignore her admirer.

Those thoughts traveled through my brain—especially when, while attending a Brooklyn festival, a graduate student named Tiarah Poyau was shot in the face by Reginald Moise after she told him to not grind against her.  Or when 25-year-old Dee Whigham was stabbed 119 times by sailor trainee Dwanya Hickerson in a hotel room back in August.  And then there was Rae’Lynn Thomas, a 28-year-old transwoman who was shot by her mother’s ex-boyfriend while being called Satan.  And Renisha McBride. Aiyann Stanley-Jones. Lynaya Griffin.

The Black women and young girls I just named unfortunately fell victim to violence and death at the hands of abusive men or racist police officers. Black women are more likely than their White counterparts to succumb to this form of injustice.  Despite this fact, there is very little coverage about violence against Black female victims and the Black activist organizations are just as silent.

To be honest, I take issue with organizations such as Black Lives Matter and how they handle the attacks on Black women.  Though I don’t expect them to fight every single battle, I did notice they are disturbingly quiet about the recent murders of our innocent sisters.  When prominent BLM activist Daryl Seale was found shot to death in a car set ablaze, entire squads demanded answers through all kinds of media sources.  Black independent and national publications investigated Seale’s murder for more than a week.  Yet when 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen was found dead in a juvenile detention cell while awaiting trial, the outrage was non-existent even after it was discovered that an employee watched her die.

When women do get a sliver of media attention, we are often blamed for whatever consequence we face.  Remember when Korryn Gaines was gunned down by the Baltimore County police this past summer? Well, I hope y’all also recall the army of Black men saying she deserved to lose her life for “pointing a loaded gun at the S.W.A.T. team.”  But these Twitter judges were nowhere to be found when the Baltimore County Police Department later admitted that officers fabricated most of the information reported to the press.

Speaking of the media, this industrial complex often contributes to the semi-erasure of Black women.  We stay losing our lives and freedom out here for petty reasons, but Black journalists would rather squander their time reporting on Lena “ The Garbage Pail Kid” Dunham for two weeks for lying on a Black male athlete.  Mother Tanya McDowell faced jail time for “stealing education,” yet we’re reading the 100th story on Colin Kaepernick.  Cherelle Locklear committed suicide a year after William Paterson University failed to investigate her rape and her mother filed a lawsuit against the college.  Keep in mind that Locklear’s tragedy paralleled that of Nate Parker’s victim, who took her own life in 2012.  But because the majority of the Black media caped for this asshole, many folks in the community took his “I’m working on becoming a new man” nonsense as the truth.

Look. So many y’all Black folks offered him a chance at redemption—even though he used the media to manipulate y’all into thinking he’s trying to right his wrongs.  Meanwhile, his fans won’t even acknowledge the fact that he penned a rape fantasy involving Turner’s wife into “Birth of a Nation.” Knowing that, please don’t be shocked when I read his apologists for filth. Especially after I found out about Locklear.

So much shit happens to Black women.  For centuries, we underwent trials and tribulations on behalf of others, risking our entire souls for our community while receiving next to nothing in return.  The dead ones might be the center of a candlelight vigil or a political demonstration.  The lives ones tend to gain recognition for either committing a crime or becoming a victim of one.  Whichever the case may be, most of the stories reported on/shared about us are rarely positive.

And it’s easy for me and other frustrated women to suggest having more discussions about toxic masculinity, to hold fuckboys and Noteps accountable for their anti-Black woman rhetoric.  We can even put the Black media on blast for neglecting us women and our experiences (both positive or negative).  But what good would any of those suggestions be if the community as a whole is unwilling to acknowledge the power that Black women possess?  Until the entire collective wakes up, the hatred towards Black women is never going to dissipate.  And in turn, our erasure will only continue.

 

 

The Dangers of Storytelling: How the Industrial Complexes Target Black People with False Propaganda

I wrote this piece for The Possible World a couple of months ago, but I feel it applies here.  I promise that I’ll have an original piece next week.

 

On June 9, 2016, the day of the Shut This Shit Down: Black Lives Matter Rally organized by Building Leadership and Community Knowledge or B.L.A.C.K. went into effect.

The event was a response to the brutal murder of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was gunned down by a Baton Rouge police officer because he was suspected of pointing a gun at someone (Sterling was armed, but Louisiana is an Open Carry state, so his death was completely unwarranted).  The Shut This Shit Down event here in Rochester was one of the plethora of Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place throughout the country and internationally.

I arrived at the rally a little after 4:00 p.m., joining the massive crowd of protesters at the Liberty Pole.  I instantly felt the positive vibe of those around me, straining to hear the slam poets and activists speaking into a weak microphone.

When the pep rally came to a close, we headed towards the street, our spirits high while chanting “Black Lives Matter” and some others to maintain the momentum.  As we turned the corner, however, I and a few others beside me immediately spotted a swarm of police cars settled near the curb, occupied by officers in full riot gear. We made comments about how unnecessary the riot gear was, considering that we were peacefully protesting, and moved on. We continued to march down our designated route, crowding the street during rush hour, hyping up the drivers that believed in the cause.  We then headed towards Monroe Avenue, the synergy increasing and evident…

Until we were met with a line of riot cops near the Strong Museum of Play.

They were silently waiting for us, batons in hand.  We approached them, determined yet peaceful while chanting for them to hold themselves accountable for working for a corrupt industrial complex founded to target the disenfranchised.  It wasn’t long before members of the SWAT Team began charging at us in a militarized formation.

I grabbed the arm of one of my friends and frantically informed him that we needed to leave the scene effective immediately.  Neither of us can afford to be arrested, as I have mental health issues and he is a trans man who had just had knee surgery not too long ago.  Plus, his son was graduating and he was not going to miss the opportunity to see his baby walk across the stage.  There were folks who stayed to continue to protest the heavy presence of law enforcement, but I didn’t know what happened to them until I eventually returned home, where I watched footage that was uploaded on Facebook by protesters.  Those who confronted the cops at the Strong Museum were shoved by the latter, even though the former did nothing physically to provoke violence.

There were also videos of protesters on East Avenue area doing a peaceful sit-in being physically assaulted by riot police.  I watched angrily as one cop lunged at one of the demonstrators (a friend of mine) and punched him in the face before one of his partners pulled him away.  Remember that the Black Lives Matter rally was nonviolent from beginning to end, yet the heavy cop presence resulted in seventy-four protesters being detained and taken into custody—many of them being friends of mine.

So when Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief Mike Cimerelli expressed support for the cops and declaring that protesters weren’t physically harmed (even though two people were hospitalized while some others suffered injuries), when East End business owners complemented law enforcements’ conduct towards those who did nothing, when both local and national media portrayed the Black Lives Matter rallies as violent and disruptive (while broadcasting heavily edited footage of protesters shouting at law enforcement), I was infuriated, frustrated, and completely through.

I knew what occurred because I was there.  I witnessed with my own eyes the police’s aggressive behavior toward us.  I watched the unofficial footage protesters posted on social media, which further discredited what was being reported.  So I shouted at the live news report reeling on my computer screen, updated Facebook statuses with my thoughts on the aftermath of the rally, and corresponded with friends and follow activists who knew what the fuck was up.  But what bothered (and triggered) me the most were the lies that compounded the issue at hand.

Of course, this is nothing new—we Black people have been battling for our liberation for over 600 years and counting, often dying unjustly due to the various industrial complexes propagating falsehood.  But in the 21st century, modern technology made it easier for the local, national, and even independent press to report misleading information about Black people (educated ones in particular) as 1) we become the majority in the United States and internationally and 2) we challenge White supremacy and how it affects everyone (White folks included) through our right to peacefully assemble. These facts and many others are the reasons why we are frequently targeted by oppressive industrial complexes (law enforcement being one) to the point to losing our lives.

Since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, more the 1,134 Black men were murdered by cops in 2015 alone.  Over 500 Black men lost their lives in 2016 and the year is only halfway over.  And these numbers don’t even include the trans men and women who were killed while either in police custody or harassed by them.  I myself had had run ins with the police—one of those incidents involving my former housemate, Kelliegh.  She called 911 because she thought I attempted to physically assault her when I did not.  Her erroneous accusation literally placed me at risk of being killed by the two officers that responded to her call. And since law enforcement aren’t properly trained to handle those who’ve been previously mental health arrested, the risk of death would’ve increased had I not been medicated.

This is why I am extremely antagonistic towards both the so-called Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter campaigns.  Besides their utter ridiculousness, they are used by the press and uninformed people to spread more lies about Black people and Black Lives Matter in general.  Y’all, I can’t even tell you how many White and non-Black people of color I’ve dragged for filth because of them defending these campaigns.  For one, those entering law enforcement chose to participate in that industrial complex and wear the required uniform.  My skin, however, is not a uniform I can unbutton, step out of, and hang in my closet with the rest of my coats.  I am Black all day, every day and there is no reprieve from the negative stereotypes associated with being so.

In regards to All Lives Matter, it doesn’t ring true because it isn’t.  Let’s be honest here:  if all lives mattered, why aren’t these folks organizing or working alongside people of color?  Why aren’t they fighting for the liberation of prisoners, the safety of sex workers (most of them being transwomen of color), victims of sex abuse or untreated mental illness and so forth? They will swiftly accuse Black Lives Matter activists of “reverse racism,” homophobia, and divisiveness, not even acknowledging the members of the LGBTIQA+ community involved in BLM (regardless of ethnicity).  I also want to point that when a 16-year-old White boy was killed by a cop, it was Black Lives Matter who not only protested on this young man’s behalf, but launched a fundraiser for his family.  Meanwhile, the All Lives Matter people were completely silent as they ALWAYS are when injustice occurs.  And when they are speaking out, it’s always in the form of perpetuating dangerous misinformation rooted in the very racist ideologies designed to dehumanize and annihilate Black people.

So, long story short, the Rochester Black Lives Matter rally and the events following forced me to fully recognize the extent that oppressive industrial complexes will go to fabricate stories about the disenfranchised—even when the truth is documented on film.  It further demonstrated how many White and non-Black people of color blindly give credence to the false information the media broadcasts about a movement they choose not to research. But more importantly, I refuse to ignore the high level of trauma these industrial complexes inflict on Black people by not only internalizing the misinformation associated with us, but becoming increasing desensitized to our suffering by utilizing their resources (and our tax dollars) to commit acts of abuse that usually results in a senseless death.

 

 

 

 

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The Foundation of Being Woke: How Black Intellectual Elitism is Ruining the Politically Conscious Movement

This past week, I made the usual rounds on Facebook when my attention (and cursor) stopped on one of my friend’s statuses:

Asan and the word woke

A couple of days later, I found this status on another friend’s page:

Being woke

I was relieved. In so many words, both posts they said exactly what I was thinking in regards to the Woke Era. To piggyback on Siete’s perspective, the word “woke,” its meaning, and its importance was significant initially because there was an influx of Black youth educating themselves on how oppression affected their communities, thus deciding to get involved. The Black Lives Matter movement plays a role as it encouraged Black people—women in particular—to demand equality and equity for our people and future generations. As the year wore on, though, the connotation of the word eventually lost its originality due to cultural appropriation. But what’s most unfortunate is the fact that being politically aware developed a negative reputation by breeding intellectual elitism within the Black radical community.

To place the matter into perspective, it’s important to understand what the term “woke” means. According to Raven Cras, it’s defined as “a cultural push to challenge problematic norms, systemic injustices and the overall status quo through complete awareness.” She further explains that Being woke refers to “a person being aware of the theoretical ins and outs of the world they inhabit. Becoming woke, or staying woke, is the acknowledgment that everything we’ve been taught is a lie (kind of/mostly).”  In other words, being woke is about being knowledgeable politically—especially as a person of color (Black folks in particular).

This trend of being woke—or doing the work to earn the label occurred in the beginning of 2016. Facebook newsfeeds were inundated with Black radical blogs, opinion articles, memes, videos, other forms of media. Black women used politically correct one liners to clap back at fuck boys and hoteps for their misogyny, homophobia, and disregard for them. There was footage of young Black, Brown, and White activists shutting down entire highways during rush hour to protest on behalf of Black people murdered by corrupt cops. We all rooted for Baltimore Public Defender Marilyn Mosby when she vowed to fight for Freddie Gray by prosecuting the six police officers who severed his spine.

Many of us began to finally recognize that we as Black people mattered. Our pain and struggles mattered. Some activists such as Jasmine Richards rose to dominance in the BLM movement, earning accolades for their work on the street. Online activists earned Woke points as well by using their social media pages as a political platform. It seemed that a quarter of the year was a Black Liberation Renaissance during which educating one’s self became increasingly commonplace.

Yet with self-education came this unspoken requirement to continuously display knowledge about Black struggle, to know and understand terms such as heteronormative, intersectionality, colorism and what they entail—which is important if you are a Leftist activist. The problems arose, however, when knowledge was eventually used to determine a person’s level of intelligence, when politically conscious radicals began throwing the side eye to anyone who either failed to grasp the concepts of political discussions, challenged the ideologies of a radical Leftist organization or asked a question the group assumed the person should already have the answer to.

The latter actually happened to me. A Facebook friend posted an article featuring a video of actress and comedienne Leslie Jones embracing Kate McKinnon. The majority of the commentators stated that Jones desired White acceptance as a dark skinned woman. Out of interest, I asked why dark skinned people strive for White acceptance– particular dark skinned women. I truly wanted to understand, considering that I’m surrounded by dark skinned women who appreciate and love themselves. A commentator mentioned colorism and how she herself experienced it as a light skinned person. I pointed out that I knew what colorism is and what in involves, but wanted to know what it was about White acceptance that was so desirable among dark-skinned women.

I was hoping for a thought-provoking conversation about colorism and learn information that I didn’t realize. Instead, it was assumed I don’t know what it is because of the question I asked. I was told by another commentator that my responses were “veering all over the place.” Even when I attempted to clarify, my explanation was met with unjustified animosity. So I ended up deleting my thread attached to the response because I wasn’t in the mood to argue on someone else’s personal page.

Looking back on that exchange, I was pissed off for a few reasons. For one, the commentators are light-skinned, so the question wasn’t theirs to answer (in fact, that’s like a White person intervening in a conversation about Black folks and saying “Well we are oppressed too!”). Secondly, I retreated knowing that my question and comments were coherent enough for them to understand, so I shouldn’t have backed down. But it’s the ASSUMPTION that I don’t know or understand something that bothered me. This is what many White teachers, students, and professors have done, writing me off as unintelligent and unteachable. When other Black people try to do this, it’s even more jarring because I expect the intellectual elitist attitude from White people and not from members of my own community.

Which is why it’s safe to argue that the two commentators placed my identity as a Black woman under scrutiny. Intellectual elitism made the level of “wokeness” synonymous with Black identity and overall worthiness of the self, to comrades, and to the community. If I can’t quote Assata Shakur verbatim or were to disagree with the political tactics of Black Lives Matter activists, does that mean I’m coonish? If I bop my head to Mumford & Sons, but don’t know the words of Erykah Badu’s “Call Tyrone,” does that mean that I’m not supportive of socially conscious Black creatives? Because I don’t sport a dashiki with a matching head scarf or not completely educated on African history, does this imply that I am simply too colonized to stay in the Woke Squad (I’ve had Black intellectuals whom I considered friends literally stop talking to me because I wasn’t smart enough for them)?

I know these questions seem ridiculous, but they’ve crossed my mind every time I interact with Black people. My Imposter Syndrome tends to reveal itself psychologically due to the feeling of “not being Black enough.” Intellectual elitism within Black radical circles further compounds my anxiety because it reminded me of my grad school days when I had to deal with White professors questioning my intelligence.

And I’m not alone in my assessment. Canadian freelance writer Septembre Anderson  argues that intellectual elitism actually reflects White superiority. Using Black Lives Matter-Toronto’s Freedom School as an example. Anderson writes:

Septembre Anderson

Though Anderson speaks for Toronto, the substantial importance on intellectualism is also evident within the Black radical environments in the United States. Most Black radicals (myself included) are either college students or alumni with access to a wealth of information available through university libraries and research databases. While some Black scholars use these resources, they tend to overlook the fact that not everyone in the community is an academic. Inviting folks to a reading group to study and discuss Feminism is for Everybody is awesome, but it’s not going to help an impoverished family maintain even the most basic necessities. No offense but bell hooks’ quotes cannot pay the electric bill, so non-academic Black folks not participating in a reading group doesn’t indicate disinterest or lack of intelligence. It just means that their highest priority is keeping the lights so Momma, the partner and the baby ain’t sitting in a dark house.

And not every Black person is neurotypical, either. Neurodivergents with Attention Deficit Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia or other types of learning disabilities process complex information much more differently and  that sometimes involves reading a paragraph numerous times, reading slowly, needing assistance with understanding the material and so on before it registers. Though normal to the neurodivergent, the non-disabled radical could (or would) misinterpret those learning methods as an inability to learn. However, that is not the case and neurodivergents employed skills that bring innovation to the cause. So to display any impatience and frustration towards someone with a disability—especially a person of color—for not quickly understanding the literature presented is both elitist and extremely ableist.

It also perpetuates scientific racist ideologies introduced in the 1800s. White psuedo-scientist Samuel George Morton argued that the brains of Black Africans were smaller than those of their White counterparts, concluding that the former were unintelligent and incapable of learning. Though this theory has since been disproved, the intelligence of Black people continues to be rejected by White-dominated educational institutions, corporations, and even the greater society.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that every Black activist is an intellectual elitist or that Black Lives Matter is the foundation of it. And knowledge is extremely important for radical Leftist work. But being “woke” is not some pat on the back or a badge of honor earned for memorizing an Audre Lorde poem.  It’s about continuous self-education and using the knowledge to uplift and empower oneself while working alongside fellow comrades.  I therefore hold accountable the Black folks in the radical scene who use intellectualism to measure a fellow activist’s worth as a human being.  To do so is the antithesis of the BLM movement and the equity we activists are fighting for. And if this snobbery continues, it will eventually annihilate us as a political collective.