#AshWednesday and the Toxicity of Hotep Culture

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Courtesy of Son of Baldwin/Facebook

 

Leave it to Black nerds on social media to tell the truth.

About two weeks ago, I joined Nerds of Color (NoC), a Facebook haven exclusively for radical people of color who merge politics with nerd culture.  Besides posting Steven Universe fan art and comic strips, the page also displays social commentary pertaining to injustice affecting the Black community. This is also where I stumbled upon the brilliance that is #AshWednesday.

Spearheaded by NoC veteran Zahra Tahirah, #AshWednesday is a weekly segment where members post material highlighting subjects that center Black people (women in particular) and the vast spectrum of oppression we experience.  Though the focus of the hashtag has since expanded, Tahirah and other collaborators has initially created it to generate discussions around the toxicity of Hotep Culture.

Blogger/Activist Janaya “J” Khan describes a Hotep as “A person who promotes a quasi-religious, quasi-intellectual set of beliefs based in obscure and dramatically inaccurate historical references to ancient Egypt while ignoring the rest of Africa, obsession with food modification, conspiracy theories, the regulation of Black women and their bodies, and the ’emasculation’ of Black men.” Hotep culture itself consists of Black men and women who not only adhere to these fallacious ideologies, but tend to use numerous forms of media to propagate it.  The term Hotep is an Egyptian for ‘peace,’ but the rhetoric prevalent among the HC demographic is the complete opposite.  In fact, it reeks of internalized hatred, White superiority, and anti-Blackness.

Think about it:  hoteps claim to love themselves and the Black community, yet interwoven with their loquacious declarations for Black unity are denouncements of non cis-heterosexual able-bodied Black males.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen leaders like Umar Johnson claim that White people introduce homosexuality to Black boys or that Black female activists use feminism to destroy the community.  For one, matriarchy and same-sex relationships were commonplace in African culture for centuries until Europeans introduced Christianity to the continent. Hotep Culture, however, dismiss this part of African history and instead accuse Black women of succumbing to Second Wave Feminist ideals “disemboweling” the spiritual/financial/political foundation of the Black family and the entire community.

Come to think of it, much of the disarray occurring within the Black community somehow falls on the shoulders of the women.  Black women (female activists/organizers especially) are consistently blamed for the son’s sensitivity, the daughter’s sexual assault and/or disrespectful attitude towards men.  There are numerous instances where women risk their safety, freedom, and lives for the community, yet men who’ve adopted Hotep philosophy believe otherwise. Lesbians, transpeople, and gender non-conforming folks are often the target of this nonsense by being told that sexual trauma and hatred towards men is why they “choose the lifestyle.”  Meanwhile, these folks endure harassment, sexual and physical violence and death at an alarming rate.

Then there those who support abusive Black men, preaching about the importance of keeping the Black family together—regardless of the severity of harm he imposed upon his victims.  This right here is why most female and male victims rarely report their perpetrator, which unfortunately fuels the family loyalty narrative.

While reading the #AshWednesday memes posted on the NoC page, I notice something else:  the consistent message that Black folks are mentally/emotionally/spiritually/socially impaired.  If a man fails to be the breadwinner for his family or girlfriend and expresses his dissatisfaction, then he lacks masculinity.  If the woman is too opinionated or independent, then she is adhering to White Feminist logic.  Even our anatomy and neurobiology is questionable to the hotep who claim that man-made foods like broccoli or cauliflower is hazardous to our Black bodies. This untruthfulness infused with internalized self-hatred has unfortunately created capitalistic opportunists within the hotep community.  Yada, for example, is generating an income with an accelerated version of the late Dr. Sebi’s alkaline diet, telling Black women that menstruation isn’t natural.

Even as I write this article, I wonder why hotep culture exists in the first place.  Why Black men and women are choosing this philosophy that’s devoid of common sense.  I truly believe that it’s because many of them desperately yearn for a connection to the Motherland.  Against our will, our ancestors have been separated from authentic African life and forced to restart in regions where we are denied our entire culture.  Fast forward to the Radical Black Power movement, the Black is Beautiful/Black and Proud campaign, which introduces young radicals to an Americanized account of African pride.   This sets the foundation for the hotep culture we have to deal with today.

But what the hoteps don’t realize is that their misinformation actually perpetuates White superiority and the oppression that maintains it.  Black males especially gravitate towards this propaganda, truly believing that they are sharing viable knowledge when they’re excluding the demographics that require the most support. This alone makes Hotep philosophy one of contradiction as it proliferates White Christian ideologies in regards to homosexuality and the societal roles of women, children, and the family structure. So when Umar Johnson is on the Breakfast Club slinging that bullshit about homosexuality being a European concept introduced to Black boys, please note that this fool isn’t even telling the truth.

Long story short, NoC’s #AshWednesday is weekly commentary displaying Hotep fuckery in all its greatest glory.  Though I laugh at the “Eye see you, my Queen” memes flooding the group’s main page, the discussions they initiate has me thinking about how we Black folks (especially activists and organizers) interact with one another. Hotepism is not only a detriment to the Black community, but highlights the dangers, hypocrisy, and overall failure of Hotep ideology itself. We must do away with it in order to thrive as a people.

 

 

 

Violence in Radical Clothing: Sexual Misconduct Towards Black Women Within Radical Organizations

“In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing:  anti-humanism.”

—Shirley Chisholm

Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100 Co-Chair and Organizer Malcolm London stepped down after his arrest for aggravated assault.

While his supporters consider him a hero for his work within the community, others conveyed a completely different narrative.  A woman identified as “Kyra” wrote an open letter to the BYP 100 organization and Chicago activists about how London sexually assaulted her and his reaction when confronted.  Though the letter itself was composed in 2015, the offense itself occurred three years prior.  Kyra only came forward when her newsfeed was “bombarded with images of the person who harmed me accompanied by descriptions of him as a hero and upstanding human” which “was nothing short of traumatizing.”

Unfortunately, Kyra’s experience with London and the retraumatization she endured is nothing new.  Sexual misconduct towards women within the Black radical community is prevalent, but rarely discussed.  Prominent Black male organizers like London often receive protection from the organization while the victims are encouraged to remain silent to “help the movement.”  Meanwhile, the male leader targets yet another innocent woman member of the organization with the knowledge that they will not be held accountable for their crimes.

So why do organizations such as BYP 100 work diligently to defend these predators?  For one, respectability politics plays a significant role. Young men like London present themselves appropriately enough to establish trust within the community.  They don’t patrol the streets with pants sagging, spewing street slang (which is perfectly fine if they did).  These charismatic personalities package themselves as quintessential Black male radicals: their speaking voices woven with articulation and queer feminist vocabulary as they speak highly of Black women.  They are the hype men at marches who always volunteer their time and bodies for an arrest, the sensitive professors who quote Assata Shakur like they’re free-styling.

These men exude superstardom while doing the work necessary to promote the organization’s mission through the mainstream media, a tool needed to attract potential White allies. Besides White demonstrators reducing the White demonstrators reduce the likelihood of Black deaths at protests, the participation of White folks makes the organization look “less threatening” to the White community in general.  The beloved Black leader is essential for recruitment, so any controversy regarding sexual assault reflects poorly on the organization.

The organization’s disregard for the safety of Black women also perpetuates anti-Black Woman ideologies.  In his autobiography, late Black Panther Party member Elderidge Cleaver speaks candidly about his hatred for Black women and how he sexually assaulted them.  He admitted that he and other members of the BPP dated light skinned women primarily because of their resemblance to Whiteness.  Regardless of their complexion, the female members were  berated into silence about the mistreatment they endured while forced to promote “Black Unity.”  The abuse wasn’t even disclosed until years after the original party was disbanded.

This brings me to the conclusion that these male-dominated organizations resent Black women. Though we’re branded as a detriment to the Black community, these organizations recognize that female presentation is also crucial to pushing their political agenda.   So in hopes to recruit Black women, the Black male leader is used to promote the illusion of a safe environment.

“The worst part of it all,” points out Vichina Austin when critiquing the Chicago-based organization, “is that BYP uses feminist/womanist language in order to attract Black women to their “movement”. This not only creates hunting ground for predators like Malcolm London and Timothy Bradford, but teaches them the language so that they become master manipulators. And this is the same language that they “re-teach” during these “restorative justice” processes.”

They impress us with Black Womanist ideologies, befriending many of us though something seems a little off about them.  Unbeknownst to us, they are lowkey grooming what they consider the most vulnerable demographic, earning our trust and secrets to seem dissimilar from the cis-heteronomative Black men who normally hate us.  In actuality, however, these so-called worshipers of Black women are just basic ass misogynists who studied the right literature and followed the right feminist bloggers.

Whenever Black women are victimized by a male member (a leader especially), the organization (and its members) encourages the female victim to remain silent for the sake of the movement. When she refuses, she is met with the burden of proof and receives no support from the organization.  “BYP hasn’t stopped at using a rapist as the face of their organization,” Austin continues. “When several women came forward about another abuser and BYP member, Timothy Bradford, the so-called pro-Black organization was (and still is) silent. Recently, another woman came forward about being abused by this person, and still no word from BYP or their chair, Charlene Carruthers.”

Bradford (a.k.a. Phade Wayze) is a prominent organizer/activist in the Chicago area—one known for his knowledge of Black history and African politics.  According to his victims (or people put off by him), he employed his intelligence to befriend fellow female activists, only to eventually sexually abuse them.  Unfortunately, two of those women are friends of mine who trusted him enough to consider him a brother and comrade, so even when I write these words I’m thinking about all the various ways he will catch these hands.

But I digress.

The fucked up (and unsurprising) part involves the army of Bradford Bots that shot from all corners to defend him.  This squad placed the burden of proof on the victims, questioning their motives, credibility, and even the validity of the evidence presented.  In turn, the latter is defending themselves on social media and through private messages, becoming more triggered by the backlash received from semi-complete strangers.  Luckily, these wonderful, strong survivors also have supporters who go to bat for them at the drop of a hot.  But that’s only if they are brave enough to disclose, given the statistics.

What’s even more traumatizing is that the severity of the male perpetrator’s manipulation is unrecognized until they’ve gained access to our houses, our thoughts, and in some cases, our bodies.  Because most women within the radical community are trauma survivors, we blame ourselves for “falling” for the bullshit again or disregarding our intuition.  However, it is not our fault that these men adhere to White supremacist standards regarding women.  Nor is it our fault that these organizations have a house slave mentality, kissing the boots of a demographic that ain’t paying attention in the first place.  By placing their reputation above women victimized by their leaders, organizations like BYP 100 are no different from the Catholic churches that transferred priests who targeted innocent children.

In Dear Sister, Disability Justice Activist Mia Mingus writes, “Many of us envision the kind of coordinated community capacity that could hold healing circles and develop safety plans for survivors; work to build deeper emotional capacity and educate community members so that they can confidently intervene in instances of violence and support each other to do so; and train folks in accountability processes and healing for people who have caused harm or perpetuated violence, who oftentimes have been victims of violence themselves…for example, not just the healing and safety of survivors, but also accountability, knowing the very real history we have of responses to violence that have resulted in harmful legislation and criminalization.”

We envision Black-operated organizations being a safe space for all Black people—especially women and gender non-conforming people. For those who’ve experience various forms of trauma and discrimination simply for having the audacity to speak.  But the reality is that organizations like BYP 100, the former Black Panther Party, and Black Lives Matter tend to support violent Black male leaders who aren’t trying to hold themselves accountable.  As a result, these violent predators are given permission to utilize their political power and popularity to victimize Black female/gender non-conforming radicals.

If that’s the case, what will it take for them to do so?  What would make them stop protecting predatory Black men disguised as leaders simply to keep up appearances?  Shaming Black women into silence backfires (and rightfully so) as they turn to social media to put on blast these men and the organizations harboring them.  Black women risk their lives for the Black community at large. That fact alone is why we are owed a safe space that guarantees protection and support from violent males in radical clothing.

 

 

 

 

Speaking from Experience: A Black Woman’s Take on Boundaries

 

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About a couple of months ago, my friend Michelle proposed that I write a piece about how to establish boundaries for yourself and to respect that of others.

Honestly, I have no advice for my friend or my fellow readers as I can only speak from my perspective and personal experiences. As a Black female abuse survivor with mental illness and neurodivergence, the very concept of boundaries is dissimilar to that of the next individual.  For one, I had to find out and understand were boundaries were. The term itself is defined as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent,” meaning that a barrier (invisible or otherwise) is employed to preserve something significantly important.

But for countless Black women and young girls, boundaries within their immediate environment are nonexistent.  Writer Nneka M. Okona accurately describes the typical role of the Black woman within the family structure when she writes: “We do not belong to ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our spiritual state. Our emotional labor is prescribed and expected.”  I grew up in a household where healthy boundaries were not exactly established—let alone enforced. In addition to rarely having my own space in our little home on 19th Street (as I shared it with my brothers or visiting cousins), my body, ideologies, creative expression, and even my voice was under what seemed like constant scrutiny. My aspirations and need for self-identity were dismissed because they didn’t involve my mother’s Christian God.  When I attempted to defend myself, I was punished even further as I was not allowed express any emotion towards being mistreated.

So, by the time I stumbled into young adulthood, I’ve concluded that my very identity was spoken for by others.  Whenever I was asked to do something, I complied despite my misgivings about the people and situation at hand.  The main objective, I justified, was to keep everyone calm to avoid an altercation that would involve me being violated. It wasn’t until I moved to Rochester, New York in 2005 and began my personal journey towards sobriety that I gave myself the permission to feel.  While I was a newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous, my first sponsor informed me that expressing anger was allowed—a foreign concept to me.  Nevertheless, that invitation stuck with me and, after years of taming it to some extent, my fury groomed me into the passionate, opinionated Radical creative I am today.

And who I am at this moment is one of the reasons I decided to not marginalize myself in regards to my capabilities.  Throughout the education system, Black children with learning disabilities are often labeled incompetent and unteachable while associated with negative stereotypes constructed by systematic racism.  Already branded as an “Other,” the result is that many of us place limitations on ourselves psychologically as adults, resigning to the false narrative that we’ll never make it. For more than a decade, I unknowingly struggled with Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder or Inattentive ADD.  Because I was untreated the majority of the time, I literally navigated through this society believing that I was unintelligent (being called “stupid” by family members and bullies only seemed to solidify this perception).

But once I realized what I was struggling with, I had to learn to overcome the psychological, emotional, and intellectually boundaries I placed on myself and my capabilities. This White dominated society thrives on neurotypical induced ableism infused with supremacy.  Since it refuses to support me and my learning needs, my only alternative was to discover ways to manage my symptoms. I can’t retain information, so I write everything down—most of the time—and read aloud so I remember.  I’m a visual learner who loves to read, which is why I watch programs with closed captions to catch every word. I have “To Do” sticky notes on my computer to stay on track.  My doctor will reinstate the prescription for Adderal due to my high blood pressure, so strong coffee works as a substitute.

But above all, I refuse to allow intellectual elitists of any shade plant the seed that I am incapable. If anyone even attempts to take there, I exercise right to aggressively vocalize my disdain with exemption.   Too many people have crossed my boundaries because I did not have the courage to speak up in the past.  I even considered the feelings of the other person above my own believing that I’ve done something wrong. At this point in my life, however, I have neither patience for assholes nor for their aspiration to do the absolute most.

And I now expect a similar response from others when I myself become a line-stepper.  Until recently, I often thought that many people (particularly Radical Leftists) shared similar ideologies regarding sex. As a sexual abuse survivor, my views on relationships and intimacy are skewed for the most part. So I went through my early 20s/early 30s chasing partners, sexualizing friendships by only viewing them to as a means to an end—which involved getting into their bed.  If there was an “initial session,” I treated that person as if they owed me companionship and became infuriated when affection was not reciprocated. I’ve burned entire bridges due to my unhealthy conduct towards unhealthy people.

Though I’m gradually embracing my sexual expression, I had to understand that not all minds think alike in regards to sex and relationships.  In retrospect, my behavior was very similar to that of my perpetrator and those who’ve sexual assaulted me as an adult.  The power and control inflicted upon me throughout the years—the emotional manipulation, feigned compassion, intimidation, and infuriation—I’ve imposed onto potential partners.  Beneath the shield toxicity was the yearning for the unconditional love and respect I barely experienced as a child.  Unfortunately, my story is nothing new, considering that Black women and young girls are more likely raped and/or sexually abused before the age of eighteen.  And many of us, searching for validation, often use sex to obtain it by violating the borderlines of others.

That fact alone forced me to realize that not every individual I shake hands with is a friend for life.  I learned that I’ve no right to hold someone hostage simply because we had coffee a few times.  No one owes me eternal friendship.  People have the liberty to tell me “No,” “Not right now,” and multiple versions of that response.  My fear of rejection and loneliness is not an excuse to step over someone’s line in the sand.  If anything, I deserve to have my feelings hurt if the situation calls for it—especially if I’m not acquainted with the individual or group in question.

And yes, I naturally want to assist folks—especially friends and family members for when I care about deeply.  But not everyone needs me caping for them when they are more capable of defending themselves.  Besides being a Captain Saveaho causing me humiliation and stress on numerous occasions, it further perpetuates the Mammy stereotype associated with protective Black women.  I’m not insinuating that I’m going to cease supporting folks, but unless the situation is dire and the person is in imminent danger, I only intervene when asked.

As I said before, everyone has their own set of boundaries so there are many answers to this universal question of where to draw the line.  But by the end of the day, establishing one’s threshold includes constant self-reflection and learning from personal experiences.  It involves being mindful of how I am treated as a Black woman with a traumatic history, what I myself have allowed to occur, and why.  It’s understanding and respecting the limitations of others and their tolerance for my behavior—even though my bruised ego may not agree.  But most importantly, it’s about knowing what my boundaries are to begin with and living by those convictions to maintain a meaningful quality of life.

Her Word Against His:  How the Azealia Banks’ Past is Being Used Against Her

 

When I initially heard about Azealia Banks/Russel Crowe controversy on Facebook, the thought that popped in my head was What the fuck did she do now?

According to TMZ, actor Russel Crowe was forced to remove the 25-year-old rapper from his private party after she threatened physical violence. But Banks’s tweet told a whole account of that night when she stated that the actor choked her, called a her a n****r, and spat on her as he threw her out of the hotel room.  She has since deleted the status, but it sparked a plethora of online discussions about what transpired that night.

Black folks were somewhat polarized about the alleged attack on Banks. There were folks argued that Banks was lying and, due to her offensive language against members of the LGBTIQA community and dark Black women, she was undeserving of sympathy.  But then I and other commentators felt the complete opposite.  As I much as I don’t care for Banks, I truly believe that she was victim of violence and White superiority in this case. Not only that, but that her mental illness and past transgressions are being used against her.

I’ve come to that conclusion while reading the witnesses’ account.  They claimed the trouble was initiated when Banks laughed at Crowe’s music selection and called him an “old White man.”  When a female guest told her to settle down, Banks allegedly responded “You would love it if I broke my glass, stabbed you guys in the throat, and blood would squirt everywhere,” before reaching for glass and drawing it back. Though Crowe supposedly remained calm, it was her violent gesture that prompted him to throw her out of his party.

Now, Banks is notorious for launching verbal assaults at dark-skinned femmes and fellow artists via Twitter. But she had yet to go beyond this form of abuse because, believe it or not, Banks is aware of her limitations as a Black woman.   I can’t even imagine her getting irate to the point of shanking someone in the neck…at an all White gathering. So, to me, the witness’s assessment of Banks was out of character and unrealistic.

So is her lying on a random White celebrity. In the past, Banks often expressed frustration, infuriation, and even oppressive slurs describing disenfranchised groups on her social media account.  She promoted lightening her skin and her ideologies regarding shadeism.  But not once had the artist fabricated entire experiences to portray herself as a victim of violence. She had never fixed her fingers to accuse anyone of harming her unless an altercation actually occurred.  And if she were lying, why would she file a police report on Crowe—risking what little social capital she has left? Falsifying a case against Crowe will be a detriment to Banks because of her past behavior.

Meanwhile, Crowe’s history of inflicting physical violence at random was rarely mentioned in regards to this latest controversy. Though him attacking Banks for knocking on his Muzak playlist wouldn’t surprise me, I’m bothered by the fact that his false sense of entitlement encouraged him to dehumanize this young Black woman.  He used his White privilege and superiority to encourage his other guests to weave an outlandish tale about this “mentally unstable” woman threatening to stab him, knowing that the press would believe him. In Crowe’s mind, no one will question (or challenge) the story because his skin color allows him to avoid personal responsibility and accountability. And due to Banks’ past behavior and mental illness, it was basically her word against his.

And unfortunately, the actor was right.

Those not taking the time to analyze the situation quickly dismissed Banks’ accusation, forgetting that the White-dominated media employed the “Crazy Black woman” stereotype to discredit her.  Online commentators (mostly Black folks) used her history of mental and emotional instability to determine that she must’ve done something to provoke the attack. I’m not surprised, though, because whenever Black women are assaulted, our behavior is the reason behind the provocation.  In the case of Banks, it was RZA (who invited Banks to the party) who claimed that she was acting out, which is why she was tossed from the party.

Long story short, Azealia Banks’s past behavior and mental illness is being used against her. Crowe put his hands on her and everyone at the party knows he did. But due to her past actions and political ideologies, no one (RZA included) isn’t even attempting to come forward and tell the truth.

Granted, I’m not a Banks fan. Until she was banned from Twitter, she continuously went after people for little to know reason with no desire to hold herself accountable. But she doesn’t deserve to be attacked, called a n****r, choked, and spat on. What happened to her isn’t about “karma” coming back at her tenfold. What happened is that a violent, racist, ego-maniacal White man using his privilege and social status to dehumanize a Black woman for “not knowing her place.”

Let’s be real.

Black Realism in Marvel’s Luke Cage

So let’s talk about Black television for a minute.

In an industry saturated with shows featuring predominately White cast-members, Black audiences are finally enjoying an influx of Black prime-time entertainment. Courtesy of powerhouses such as filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Writer/Producer Shonda Rhimes, programs like How to Get Away with Murder, Empire, Queen Sugar, Being Mary Jane are discussed on social media threads.  Among these dramas, though, is one caught and retained my attention:

Luke Cage.

Based on the Marvel comic book series, The show chronicles Luke Cage, a reserved, elusive, thoughtful Black man with unbreakable skin and immortality.  Before the groundbreaking web series debuted on Netflix on September 30, activists and comic book geeks anticipated its arrival. While many folks discussed the differences between the comic and more modernized version of the characters, others focused on the show’s political significance.  I myself shared the official trailer on my Facebook page, geeking out while watching actor Michael Colter calmly approached his adversaries as bullets ricocheted off his chest.

Yet when I was finally able to watch the series (Netflix crashed on the day Luke Cage debuted), I wasn’t ready for the pro-Blackness that played on my laptop screen.  Everything from the Black political literature to the music spoke to me.  Its blaxplotation-que references apologizes for the actual 1970s films that caricatured us and African culture.  Luke’s strength and immortality represents the resilience of Black people in general (and with the current political climate, I needed that reminder that we are survivors).  But what I truly appreciate is how the storylines in Luke Cage parallels the reality of Black people.

Let’s start with the origin of Luke’s abilities—how and where he gains them.  Known as Carl Lucas, Luke is imprisoned for a crime he hasn’t committed.  And while locked up, he obtains super powers when a cellular regeneration experiment goes horribly awry.  The fact that Luke’s in jail for absolutely nothing accurately reflects how the judicial and prison system targets Black people. According to the recent Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics, Black men are 5.1 more times likely than their male counterparts to be incarcerated in a federal prison.  As far as Black women, the number of Black women prison has increased to 700% between the years 1980 and 2014.  In fact, they are most likely to be placed behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice.

There’s also the fact that Luke is experimented on against his will. In the episode “Step in the Arena,” Dr. Reva Connors assures Luke and the other inmates in her support group that no experimentations are being conducted at Seagate Penitentiary.   However, that turns out not to be the case.  In reality, government regulations prohibit prisoners and other vulnerable populations from being experimented on without written consent.  Until well into the 1970s, however, Black prisoners and mental health patients are used as test subjects, usually given false information by White researchers conducting these experiments.  This has caused the deaths of many poor Black people who’ve been injected with cancer cells and other deceases.  This is one of the many reasons why—to this day—Black folks distrusts the medical profession.

Speaking of professions, this brings me to the portrayal of law enforcement on the show. And just the cops on the show, there are those in real life who are secretly employed by crime lords.  If y’all watch documentaries like “Mr. Untouchable” and “Cocaine Cowboys,” there are numerous accounts of officers getting paid for doing everything from tampering with evidence to murdering witnesses willing to testify in court.  And because they’re “blue,” they’re more likely going to get away with it.  Furthermore, corrupt officers and crime lords attempt to break the will of Black folks who challenge corruption by targeting their support system. The majority of the officers Luke encounter, for instance, utilize their resources and information against the superhero’s support system. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes exercises similar tactics when Luke dismantles his business.  If he remains silent about Cottonmouth’s crimes or dismantle his support system by framing him either murder or vandalism, the powers that be would ultimately break his spirit.

This incessant need to control Luke’s personal power is one of the reasons why the NYPD harass young Black and Brown men in “Take It Personal.”  In that episode, Luke is framed for a cop’s murder and the cops go off and shake down every single person who might look like a Luke Cage supporter. This is similar to the stop and frisk program that once went down in New York City some years back. Black and Brown people (mainly young Black and Latino men) are stopped at random and frisk by officers.  The said officers would then claim that the person “looked suspicious” though there is no proof.  This discriminatory practice continued until it is considered unconstitutional by Judge Shira Scheindlin in 2014.

And I bring up stop and frisk because knowing our rights against law enforcement and other industrial complexes is yet another precaution we Black folks have to take.  We’re often targeted and/or murdered by various industrial complexes, so being armed with information needs to be a requirement in order to stay alive.  Do you know you’re not obligated to speak to the police?  Or allow them to search your property without a warrant? Or even let them hold your attention?  If you said “No,” unfortunately, you’re not alone because it’s common.

The cops acknowledge that many folks aren’t aware of their legal rights, so the former employs intimidation to invoke fear and compliance.  But if those apprehended know the necessary information, then the fear tactics will be ineffective. This is why I love the interaction between a detective and Lonnie—the son of Patricia, a single mother going to law school to become a lawyer. While being interrogated at the precinct by the officer, the teen informs him of the illegalities of him being detained without the presence of his mother, which is illegal.

And did so with confidence (Thanks Patricia!).

That scene is important because the writers are demonstrating for the Black audience how to use knowledge against government-sanctioned oppressors. Not everyone is blessed with a parent who’s an aspiring attorney, so please educate yourself as much as possible. The more you know, the more confident you are when dealing with law enforcement.  And confidence reduces anxiety. Long story short, not only will self-education save your life, but it’s actually a form of self-care.

So is acknowledging sexual abuse and intergenerational trauma—another issue that the Luke Cage series covers very well.  Councilwoman Mariah Dillard is not only the member of a known crime family, but is a survivor of child sexual abuse. As a young girl, she is molested by her Uncle Pete, who still has access to her and Mama Mabel’s business until he is killed by teenage Cornell.

If y’all been watching the show, notice that Mariah’s offender isn’t punished on her behalf.  In fact, her molestation is swept under the rug as she’s sent off to a boarding school. On the surface Mama Mabel was trying to keep her safe. But by not removing Pete from the home and business, however, she basically blames Mariah for her perpetrator’s behavior. In real life, young Black women and young girls are usually held responsible for the sexual violence inflicted upon them.  And the offender is someone they know most likely, so they are going to show up at the house with impunity. Which is what happens to Mariah.  The moment Pete glances at her seductively, she averts her eyes away from his uncomfortably. Her body language suggests to the viewers that she wants nothing to do with her uncle’s advances, yet is most likely blamed her the man’s behavior thus receiving very little to adequate support. So it’s no wonder she snaps when her cousin Cottonmouth accuses her of enjoying her abuse.

Despite all she went through, Mariah is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever known.  There are many think pieces about Luke and his political significance, but the women in the series are just as important.  Characters like Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight, Claire Temple (my absolute favorite), Inspector Priscilla Ridley, and others are strong, intelligent, independent, resilient, street smart and so forth, utilizing their skills and inner resources as survival mechanisms (some of them work alongside Luke are accomplices in their own way).  These characters are no different from the real Black and Brown female activists who sacrifice their time, energy, freedom, and even their lives for the cause and their male comrades.

And, like real life female freedom fighters, these characters are accomplices to a fault. There’s this notion that women (Black women in particular) are to master their emotions at all times.  While pride is a wonderful trait to have, wearing an emotional shield continuously can also be our undoing.  The reason why Detective Knight almost loses her mind is because she thinks her vulnerability is the equivalent of lacking control–which places her in harm’s way psychologically.  Her mentality is a prime example of the Strong Black Woman stereotype that’s been forced upon Black women.  Again, there’s this reasoning that we’re strong, therefore we can handle anything thrown at us.  But that’s not true and it’s extremely tiring—as Detective Knight demonstrates.

As you can see, I love Luke Cage.  Its realism, complex characters, obvious admiration of Harlem for its identity and culture enriches the series.  For me, it’s more than a show about a Black superhero with unbreakable skin.  It mirrors the injustices Black people endure as a people and how corrupt industrial complexes attempt to annihilate our spirits—all to no avail.

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 Politics Behind #ICanBeBoth

Hey all.  Because I’m working on the B.L.A.C.K. newsletter this week, I won’t have time to write a new piece.  However, I still have something for you for this coming Wednesday. This is a piece I published in one my other blogs, The Possible World called “The Politics Behind #ICanBeBoth.”  It’s about the online campaign that celebrated both the professional and informal personalities of Black women.  

Enjoy.

 

“Pride…If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it.  If you got, you can’t hide it.”

–Zora Neale Hurston, Author

 

Recently, I’ve been noticing the hashtag #icanbeboth popping up in my newfeed.

For those who don’t know, #icanbeboth refers to the fact that women of color can be sexual, sexy and fun loving one day and professional in every way, shape and form the next.  Those who participate in the online campaign post comparison photos: one of themselves in the club, at a party or wearing a cocktail dress with heels and the other of them in casual or professional attire while on the job.

Hence “I can be both.”

I’m going to tell y’all right now that I love every minute of this campaign, Dear Readers.  For one, women are coming together to celebrate everything about their individual personalities and interests without throwing shade.  This can’t make me any prouder because we know how much the media loves featuring Black women slapping the shit out of each other or feuding on Instagram.  Major networks and social media sites stay making us look outrageous in the negative fashion, so I stan for anything that show us celebrating our magic.

But I also immediately recognize the politics behind the hashtag and how it can encourage us to have a much needed conversation about why #Icanbeboth exists to begin with.  There’s so much I can touch on so much here, but I’m going to focus on three main issues that:  White supremacy, respectability politics, and Black male privilege.

White supremacy is the idea that people of European descent are superior to people of color—Black people especially.  It’s the reason why all the negative “isms” exist: racism, sexism, ableism, lookism, ageism and so forth. It is also created the male privilege and systematic oppression that Black women endure in the labor force, the education system, the religious community and other environments that shape the individualism of Black women.  Furthermore, White supremacy perpetuates their ideologies pertaining to European standards of beauty and social etiquette.  So while White women are deemed beautiful and pure (even to this day), Black women are seen as ugly, classless, uneducated and promiscuous.

Now keep that in mind as we move on to respectability politics. There’s this notion that Black people are to present themselves a certain way in order to be accepted by mainstream society.  In many cases, it is the Black woman who is spoon fed this message by both the media and her community.  Unlike our White female counterparts, Black women are not given the liberty to disclose their entire self without the risk of criticism or losing a necessary resource such as employment.

But the main focus is often the sexuality and sexual expression of the Black woman. Even in 2016, women are placed in the position to explain themselves when they promote and profit from their sexuality or sex positivity in general.  Celebrities like Amber Rose is a prime example.  Though she’s known for her Instagram presence and relationship with rapper Kanye West, Amber Rose is known for her sex politics (In 2015, she has organized Slut Walk LA and campaigns for sexual consent).  But she begins to pique my attention when bluntly explains consent to entertainers Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson on their show It’s Not You, It’s Men.  Yes, ladies and gentlecats.  Amber Rose has to explain to these two grown ass men that not only is it ok for us to be sexually provocative, but that we have the right to say “No.”  This is the same woman who is criticized by both the media and members of the Black community for being comfortable in her own body.   And like many Black women, I notice that our biggest detractors are Black men.  Case in point: Louis Farrakhan.

Which brings me to my last point about the politics of #icanbeboth:  the hashtag and the women who take part are pushing back against Black male patriarchy—and rightfully so.  Most Black men tend to erroneously assume that Black women should somehow fit into some vision of what we should be—whatever that may be.  And when we don’t meet their standard of whatever the hell, then they claim that that’s the MAIN reason why they started dating White women (no shade towards interracial relationships, but there are so many Black men who have only date outside their race because they’ve internalized the negative Black woman stereotypes). But what these men don’t realize is that this type of nonsense feeds into the very negativity that #icanbeboth is rallying against.

Why am I writing about this, Readers?  Because as a Black Pansexual woman, I am growing very tired of women of color having their intelligence, integrity and very existence questioned and their whole entire selves compartmentalized just so someone else can be comfortable. It’s this type of pigeon holing that contributes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It can furthermore play into the Impostor Syndrome, the belief that they don’t belong in an academic and/or professional setting.

But most of all, it’s a full-on attack on the human spirit.  When society and members of the very community that supposedly promotes unity and safety criticizes the Black woman’s individuality, it is she who feels every word piercing through her.  And when we can’t find refuge within our own environment or negatively affected by the people in it, it can lead to issues such PTSD or Complex PTSD as well as this sense of disappointment.  And due to the current political climate, feeling displaced due to simply celebrating every part of ourselves is the last issue we need.

So, yes!  I’m extremely stoked about the very existence of #icandbeboth because 1) it brings together a tribe of women who embrace (or wish to embrace) their individuality and 2) it challenges and claps back at respectability politics and patriarchy by showing that women of all ethnicities and ages can be both ratchet and classy.  At the same time, I do hope that the hashtag generates a discussion about White supremacy and how it’s being used against women of color in the forms of respectability politics and Black male privilege and how we can all work together to cut the monster off at the head.