Beyond the Sunken Place: Get Out and the Realities Regarding the Black Body

 

 

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Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) in the Sunken Place

 

When I heard about Jordon Peele’s Get Out in 2016, I seriously thought it was a satire.

It was natural for me to go there, considering that Peele is known for his comedy work on shows like Mad TV and the hit television series Key and Peele.  But then I begin seeing the think pieces about the film funnel through my News Feed, thought-provoking commentary dissecting every moment, character, and the symbolism interwoven throughout the storyline.  On top of being hailed as a cinematic masterpiece, Get Out seemed to have the majority of my squad shook. Its authentic illustration of Black life exacerbates a deep-seeded resentment many of us have towards White Liberalism and the colorblindness that it accompanies.

But when I finally see Get Out, I am not only shaken, but triggered by the manipulation and trauma the Armitage clan inflict upon Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya).   For nearly a week, my mind ruminates on the film’s symbolism regarding slavery and the treatment of Black people.  But I especially pay attention to how the bodies of the Black characters are treated and utilized by the White people in this unidentified neighborhood. Human trafficking, organ harvesting, and even the sexualization of the Black body is evident throughout the entire film.  In fact, I notice that:

  • Black bodies are categorized as superhuman.

Throughout the entire film, the bodies of the Black folks are characterized as superhuman.  For instance, Rose’s father Dean and brother Jeremy comment on Chris’s physical strength by not only asking about his supposed involvement in sports, but refer to him as a beast.  Jeremy actually challenges the main character to a wrestling match during dinner before attempting to place him in a head lock.  At the family’s annual gathering, the White attendees touch Chris without his consent while asking invasive questions regarding his physical state.

This behavior towards Chris is reflective of the reality Black men and women have experienced historically.  Black men and women—particularly dark-skinned ones—have been described as subhuman, animalistic, violent, uneducated, unattractive.  At the same time, their bodies are deemed physically superior to that of Whites to the point of possessing a high pain tolerance and supernatural strength.   Perhaps this is sole reason why, during the Slave era, Black Africans are considered suitable for chattel slavery by White plantation owners due to the belief that they could withstand the back-breaking labor. Even in the 21st Century, the body of Black men and women are utilized to generate profit for White capitalists. Whether it be through the sports industry or human services profession, the bodies of Black people are deemed stronger than that of White folks (“hired help” Walter and Georgina are prime examples of this).  Perhaps this is why Rose and her family target people with a darker complexion.

  • The sexualization/fetishization of Black bodies.

More than once, the bodies of the Black characters are sexualized and fetishized in some manner. Towards of the end of Get Out, viewers discover that Rose Armitage use sex and the idea of intimacy to lure her victims to her parents’ home.  As mentioned previously, Chris is inundated with inappropriate questions about his body and strength as complete strangers touch him without consent.  In one scene, an older White woman squeezes and caresses his bicep while asking him “Is it true what they say about Black men?”  She was obviously referring to his size of his genitals, insinuating that he’s “big,” so to speak.

In the real world, they not only perpetuate the stereotype that all Black men have big dicks, but that is this the main reason why many White women would even consider being intimate with them.  I don’t have enough limbs to count the many memes and comments made about that particular physical attribute on Black men—as if their worth is tucked inside their pants. This ideology is nothing new as Black men are categorized as animalistic—one of many stereotypes introduced through scientific racism. The unfortunate part is that many Black men internalized those messages about their bodies over time. At one point, Chris jokes with Rose about being regarded as a beast by her father—referring to being pleasurable in bed.

Logan King (formally known as Andre Hayworth), the young Black man who is abducted during the opening scene of Get Out, is another example of the sexualization of the Black male body.  He appears as a guest of an older White woman whose behavior towards him suggests that she is utilizing him as a sex slave.  Rod Williams, Chris’s best friend and comic relief, mentions the possibility a few times to Chris while warning him of imminent danger. The suspicion regarding Logan is nowhere near surprising:  Human trafficking of Black people—women especially—has often been a problem in the United States and internationally.  Many are either taken from their homes or leave voluntarily in hopes of obtaining better opportunities.  Unfortunately, these folks are often forced into sex, domestic, or other variations of labor.

Speaking of bodies, those belonging of Black women are often fetishized/sexualized by many White men as their perceptions of us are also skewed.  Sex with a Black woman (a dark-skinned woman especially) is considered exotic and erotic, a phenomenon that is deemed impious, yet intriguing as if our vaginas are somehow dissimilar to that of White women.  This type of mentality is steeped in the racism and colorism that tends to go unchecked even among our own people.

  • The mistreatment of the Black body/mind among many medical and mental health professionals.

Get Out highlights how the mental health and medical profession either disregards the emotional wellbeing of Black people or utilize parts of our bodies for profit.  Though there is an increasing number of us seeking professional help, there are still many of us who refuse to deal with therapists and medical doctors.  The distrust from the Black community is extremely real and stems from a history of nonconsensual medical experimentations on impoverished Black people.

In the case of Get Out, organ harvesting is the purpose behind the Armitage family’s annual gathering. Jeremy and Dean remove certain organs of Black bodies to either implant them into White bodies or steal the Black body to insert into it the brain of an Armitage family member. This again reflects reality as Black people are often abducted and murdered for organs that are then sold through the black market.  In 2014, for instance, the body of 24-year-old Ryan Singleton was found in a California desert with his organs removed.  The death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson is hauntingly similar—his demise gruesome.  Many of these cases involving organ harvesting become cold cases that receive minimal media coverage. The entire concept of people being kidnapped and murdered for their organs is dismissed as a conspiracy theory concocted by hoteps.  However, the stories of Black bodies being violated by medical facilities is historical fact (i.e. The Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, the creation of gynecology).  So it would not be surprising if these so-called conspiracy theories are revealed to be true.

In regards to the mental health profession, there are various reasons why the majority of Black folks decline assistance from those in the field.  Besides the stigma associated with a having a diagnosis, there is the fear of disclosing their deepest fears to a complete stranger—especially if that person is White.  Missy is a psychiatrist who uses her skill as a hypnotist to control Chris, Georgina, Walter, and Logan, robbing all four of them of their emotional/physical autonomy and ability to consent. Though Chris denies her services initially (I’m assuming it’s because he does not trust this White women with whom he has no connection), she deceives him anyway by hypnotizing him under the guise of wanting to converse with him.  Just based on his reaction to what is called the Sunken Place, however, the main character rarely discloses his deepest trauma.  Many of us do not in real life, in fear of having those same devastating experiences used to emotionally and mentally control us. Chris’s trauma is utilized as a weapon against him, his body paralyzed and controlled whenever Missy taps her spoon against a tea cup.

Yet there is the difference between Chris and the other Black characters trapped by the Armitages. While Georgina, Logan, and Walter represent the ones who remain controlled by White supremacy, Chris represents every Black person who resists it and regains regaining his physical autonomy.  Chris speaks up and is in-tuned to the racism surrounding him, taking note of the strangeness of the people.  And though bamboozled to a certain extent, he eventually regains control of his own body and mind, thus reclaiming his overall freedom.

 

 

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

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Courtesy of WHEC Rochester

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revolution Will Be Revolutionized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Same Fight: The Parallels Between Standing Rock and the Flint Water Crisis

 

About a couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I suddenly stopped on this:

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Right next to it was the question “Why aren’t we talking about this anymore?”

This was a reasonable questioning considering the consequences of the city government’s negligence.  Michigan Governor Rick Snyder issued an apology promising to provide a solution, but a significant amount of damage had already occurred. Even after a state of emergency was declared on both the state and federal level, Michigan state officials attempted to block efforts to switch the water supply from the Flint River.  Though they switched the water back to the Huron River this year, Flint residents still reside without suitable drinking water. They continuously rely on bottled water for basic necessities like showering and cooking.

Unsurprisingly, the tribulations inflicted upon the citizens of Flint greatly resembled that of the water protectors at the Standing Rock.  Since April 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The tribe argued the pipeline threatened to pollute the reservation’s water supply and ancient burial grounds.  Despite possessing an 1891 treaty, the United States Army Corps of Engineers planned to construct a pipeline in Lake Oahe.  What followed was #NoDAPL, a grassroots movement resisting the government’s efforts to damage the reservation’s only water source.

The more I researched the demonstration in Standing Rock and #NoDAPL, the more I discovered that the parallels with the Flint Water crisis was uncanny:

 

  • Capitalism involving a basic necessity

Capitalism was the foundation of the initiatives that affected both areas and its use of water.  In Flint, city government officials claimed Flint could no longer afford to purchase water from Detroit Water and Sewer Department.  Thus, to save $5 million over less than two years, the water supply was switched from Huron Lake to the heavily polluted Flint River, knowing it was contaminated with high levels of lead.  The irony was that the city ended up spending more money in the long run:  Governor Snyder sent $28 million to Flint for supplies, medical expenses, and infrastructure upgrades.  He also budgeted an additional $30 million to the city of Flint towards bill credits and local businesses. The City government officials also had to hire attorneys to combat the ongoing lawsuit pending against them.

As far as Standing Rock, the pipeline was nearly completed when the efforts were halted by the Sioux tribe, neighboring Native tribes, and protesters.  Though the Energy Transfer Partners and federal government officials claimed the supposed quality of the DAPL, history showed otherwise.  Numerous publications reported that these oil pipelines tended to burst and pollute the water source, leaving the water completely unusable.  In fact, The Huffington Post reported that the North Dakota oil pipeline exploded, leaking approximately 150 miles into the Ash Coulee Creek near Belfield.

 

  • Intentional Exclusion of the Citizens

In both controversies, the marginalized groups affected were deliberately excluded from the decision-making process.  The folks in Flint received no notification from city officials about the termination of Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s services, the change in water source, or the circumstances leading to their erroneous decision.  If anything, it wasn’t until brown water rushed from the tap that residents suspected that something was amiss. Despite outcry from the residents, Governor Snider and city officials insisted for two years that the water was safe to consume. Yet that was untrue and they were forced to admit that Flint River was contaminated. The City of Flint is predominately Black, so accusations of environmental racism soon surfaced. Considering the absence of urgency displayed and the assumption that the impoverished neighborhoods lacked the inner resources to protest, it is safe to conclude that this would have never gone down in the suburbs.

Historical, generational, and environmental oppression was prevalent throughout Standing Rock.  Not only were the Sioux tribal leaders unaware of the pipeline’s construction, but the tribe’s 1891 Treaty was violated courtesy of the state and federal government.  When the Sioux tribe filed a suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July, it was denied in September.  Unfortunately, the disregard of Native voices, their culture, and overall identity is all too normalized.  The Standing Rock Sioux reservation itself had been the result of an 1889 treaty violation. During the same period, tribal spiritual practices were under attack as government sanctioned security attempted to arrest those performing cleansing rituals on reservation property.  In the early 20th Century, Native children were abducted from their homes and forced to adopt Christian European conventions.  The list of atrocities against the Natives is extensive and rooted in White superiority—as is the history of racism and systematic oppression against Black people in regards to commodities.

 

  • Government involvement (or lack thereof)

The Flint water crisis and Standing Rock was supported by the federal government and that of their individual states.  As previously mentioned, city government officials made the decisions regarding the water supply switch.  Yet when investigators sent the Environmental Protection Agency reports on the Flint River’s contamination levels, the federal agency dismissed the results by declaring the water suitable for consumption. It took the controversy reaching a critical point and the mainstream media for the Obama Administration to finally intervene.  And it wasn’t like the federal and local government were oblivious the entire time.  Four government officials—including one from the Environmental Protection Agency—lost their employment due to their mishandling of the crisis.

In regards to Standing Rock, not only was the DAPL approved by the local government, but overseen by federal government factions such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.  The Army Corps of Engineers greenlighted the pipeline project and attempted to disregard the sovereignty of the Sioux tribe.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration did nothing to cease the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts, only intervening (to some degree) when physical safety of water protectors became jeopardized.

 

  • Violation of human rights

The human violations in both areas were considered two of the worst my generation had ever witnessed, resembling dystopian short films.

In Flint, generations of children under the age of five were unknowingly poisoned with lead, which caused significant neurocognitive damage.  Due to the high levels of lead in the Flint River, approximately 6,000 to 12,000 children tested positive for high levels of lead poisoning.  In addition, ten people lost their lives to Legionnaires’ Disease while 77 were affected.  Citizens were denied assess even to contaminated water due to their justifiable refusal to pay the water bill.  Both a local and federal state of emergency was declared, but only after the mainstream and independent media highlighted the controversy. Though they switched the water supply back to Huron Lake two years later, the residents still alleged that the water was unsafe.

In Standing Rock, water protectors were mauled by security attack dogs, shot with rubber bullets, tear gas bombs, bulldozers, and long range acoustic devices that potentially damaged the hearing of some of the demonstrators.  The brutality resulted in many water protectors getting seriously injured, causing permanent physical damage in some instances:  Protestor Sophia Wilansky’s left arm was amputated after she was shot with a concussion grenade.  Standing Rock frontliner Vanessa Dondun (also known as Sioux Z) permanently lost sight in her right eye after a tear gas container struck her in the face.  Were it not for the Facebook Live feeds or independent news blog publications, the inhumanity inflicted upon tribal members and protectors would had gone unreported.

 

The Flint water crisis and the North Dakota pipeline are examples of what occurs when the government disregards the people.  The industrial complexes supposedly designed to enforce democracy chose to negate complete accountability for the well-being of those harmed until the situation reached a critical point.  Meanwhile, the citizens affected were either gaslighted into believing the poison destroying their bodies was imaginary or severely brutalized for resisting.  Similar resistance campaigns like the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano Movement, the Red Power Movement and many others were spearheaded by people of color forced to protect their honor, right to basic needs, and to simply exist. Be that as it may, these efforts also made us resilient freedom fighters ready to defend what rightfully belonged to marginalized people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

It happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

On September 16, the Black community mourned another hashtag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  • Know Thyself

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

 

  • Unfriend and unfollow

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

 

  • Reach out to fellow comrades

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

 

  • Stay away from the damn “Comments” section

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

 

  • Disconnect from social media

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

 

  • Allow yourself to grieve

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

 

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