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.

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

 

do-not-cross

 

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.

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.

 

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.

Feeding the Monster: How Lena Dunham Manipulated the Black Media

 

Last week, my newsfeed was flooded with articles about Lena Dunham’s latest fuckery.
In her Lenny Letters, the actress and author accused New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. of completely ignoring her at the Met Gala. Pouring her sexual frustrations to fellow White Feminist BFF Amy Schumer, Dunham wrote:

lena-dunham

While reading that letter, I immediately noticed her accusation derived from an encounter with Beckham that actually never occurred. The assumption that the athlete considered her a “dog” “child” and an “unfuckable It wearing a tux” was all a figment of Dunham’s imagination interwoven with deep-seeded insecurities.  Dunham’s foolishness was the hot topic throughout the Black media. For at least a week or longer, Black feminist journalists and bloggers composed extensive thinkpieces about her, her White feminist ideologies, how they perpetuate racism as she used them to play the helpless White female victim. Online activists dragged her for filth for being uneducated about the history of Black men and boys losing their lives due to false accusations made by White women.

I myself followed the controversy and even recorded an opinion video about it on YouTube. To be honest, I usually don’t fuck with Dunham because her creepy antics make my entire spirit break out into hives. Like, for real, my stomach cramped the entire time I wrote this piece. But the nonsense she pulled this past week exposed her lack of sincerity and usual tactics to gain exposure from the media—this time it being the Black media.

When Blavity posted an article argued that Dunham’s apology should matter (regardless of her intentions), I was too through and so were a few others. Quite frankly, it doesn’t and it never will. This past debacle was not the first time Dunham did or said something out of pocket. Fact, if y’all examine her relationship with the media, y’all notice a disturbing yet consistent pattern:

  1. Dunham does/says something she ain’t got no business saying/doing
  2. People catch Dunham doing something she ain’t got no business saying/doing
  3. She posts a “Sorry for fucking up/it was just a joke” type of statement on one of her websites
  4. Said statement is then redistributed by various media outlets,
  5. Articles about Dunham oversaturate the media for a certain period
  6. Media attention dies down
  7. Dunham gets bored and does/says something stupid
  8. Repeat

This sequence alone is one of many reasons Dunham’s apology to Beckham means nothing to me. She clearly thrives on negative publicity because her mediocrity doesn’t generate the public’s interest. Therefore, she resorts to starting some unnecessary bullshit. Think about it: Since the debut of her HBO hit, “Girls,” Dunham was featured on the cover of magazines, newspaper articles, feminist blogs hailing her as the “New Face of Feminism.” In exchange, she gobbled up the attention while using her fame as an opportunity to promote her definition of feminism, body politics, male privilege, and the right for women to embrace their weirdness. Her Euro-centric rhetoric soon earned her the admiration of young White women and second wave feminists. She eventually befriended Taylor Swift and Amy Schumer and the three joined forces to form the Becky Squad.

After a while, though, the media’s interest slowly began waning and eventually it traveled on the next shiny. And like most attention mongers, Dunham discovered a logical solution to her dilemma: Controversy.

And plenty of it.

Hence the circuses involving her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl and other exhibitions of inappropriate behavior—the infamous Odell Beckham Lenny Letter included.

To be honest, this recent stunt was the worst Dunham pulled in a good while. Considering the social climate involving racism and Black liberation, it was only fair for Black journalists to drag her all up and down these streets. But by directing all this attention on Dunham, I also wonder if we did our outlets and target audience a great disservice. She was the topic of discussion for an entire week, which was more than enough time. And since drama is her life’s blood, Black media publications unknowingly supplied Dunham with the negative, yet bountiful attention she survives on. Please note that I’m not saying that we shouldn’t express outrage when one of our own is disrespected. I’m only pointing out that, by focusing on her for as long as we have, we literally deprived well-deserving Black folks of media exposure from which they could’ve benefited.

Long story short, Dunham is a delusional, mediocre, self-centered, mayo-skinned, Euro-centric, attention-seeking parasite constantly feeding off self-inflicted drama. An emotional manipulator who attempts to mask her racism with humor and forced quirkiness. When called out on her bullshit by those who know better, Dunham immediately composes some half-baked, self-absorbed apology statement for the world to swallow. In reality, she has no intention of checking her privilege, let alone hold herself accountable for her disturbing behavior.  She really deserves nothing else from us–extended periods of media from Black journalists.

That’s why I cease feeding the monster that is Lena Dunham after this article. She’s doing nothing to earn redemption from those she’s harmed (her sister Grace especially) and had attempted to dehumanize people of color more than once. She influences Schumer and Swift to use their fame to present themselves as targets for angry Black men. So for me to throw any additional attention towards that human waste of everything would deplete my time, energy, and intelligence. And if we all stop paying attention to her, then maybe she’ll wither and disappear.
And rightfully so.

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.