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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

About these ads

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here
You can hide these ads completely by upgrading to one of our paid plans.

UPGRADE NOW DISMISS MESSAGE

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Center of Attention

 

“Center of Attention” is a piece I submitted to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology.  However, I don’t believe it was chosen and maybe that’s a good thing.  So I submitted it to the local B.L.A.C.K. (Building Leadership and Community Knowledge) newsletter Uhuru.  So will be published in the upcoming edition.  But I also wanted to publish it here for all the bigger people (regardless of gender) who are struggling with body image.  This piece is for y’all.

 

As a child, I loved summer.

No—I craved it.  For me, that meant homework, teachers, and early morning risings to board the pencil yellow bus were a distant memory for three months.  Until August, freedom was a luxury I savored for the most part—especially when I was permitted open space in the field behind my grandmother’s back yard.

The field was my go-to spot in the 1980s back home in Springfield, Illinois, where I was born, raised, and allowed to play as long as I was monitored by the older children.  When them, I played baseball, Tag, Track and Field in this area, my feet feeling the soft blades of grass between my toes.  It was one of the few places where my body wasn’t usually the focal point of negative attention.

You see, I was a fat Black girl—the only one in my immediate family—and I was often reminded of this.  Whenever I’d stuff food in my little mouth, family members stared at me with unspoken disgust.  My plump limbs were the punchlines for a variety of fat jokes made by cousins who displayed ill intent towards me.  When school was in session, I was called everything from “Hippo” to “The Ugliest Girl in School” both on the playground and the bus.  I also earned the reputation of eating more than my fair share of food during the lunch period.

It didn’t help matters that I was sexually abused by my aunt, who was a few years older than me.  Though she herself possessed a rotund frame, she made it a ritual to criticize me and my body because it didn’t resemble that of a cousin known for her physical attractiveness.  There were times when I studied my body while standing in front of the mirror, tilting my head to the side slightly and struggling to discover whatever flaw I had so I can rid myself of it.  I did this every day for as long as I remember, the little version of me not understanding what the problem was.  Why my body was such a flaw to everyone else.

As I grew older, I began covering my body with pairs of jeans and t-shirts—regardless of how much sweat dampened my forehead and everywhere else.  Never again did I wear a tank top or swimsuit outside of my grandmother’s backyard.  I wouldn’t dare to—especially with my cousins in town.  At this time, I was fat and enduring middle school, so my body was not only ridiculed but physically assaulted by peers on a regular basis.  On top of that, it produced a foul older because it harbored a bacterial infection I didn’t realize I even had.  I thought it was the result of taking cold showers instead of the hot ones my family couldn’t afford to pay for.  It took a gynecology visit to discover the truth, but until then I fantasized about having a body similar to the popular and much thinner girls.  I no longer wanted the extra layers clinging onto my bones.  I wanted it gone.

So when Spring drifted into summer, I didn’t enjoy it anymore.  I found myself hiding in my room, not wanting nothing to do with the outside world.  When I did engage in a summer activity, it was in shorts and t-shirt and even that was short-lived.  Eventually, the shorts were replaced by jeans that screened my growing thighs. There were periods where I was thin enough for people to notice—men especially.  But the weight eventually crept back on, despite the many times I stuck tooth brushes and writing utensils down my throat, the number of meals I forfeited, and the amounts of empty carbs I eliminated.

I carried decades’ worth of taunts within me well into my twenties and early-thirties, covering up my massive arms beneath thin cardigans, my legs with blue jeans or leggings.  The toxicity of the self-hatred I felt clung onto every muscle and layer of fat stored in my body.  There were periods when I wished I were a different person in another life.  With another body.

Fast forward to 27 years old and living in Rochester, New York.

I am over 200 pounds (though you wouldn’t think so just by setting your eyes on me). As I said before, I carried years of body-shaming messages within me, on my shoulders, and back.  In my mind.  I was still wearing autumn wardrobe throughout the summer, uncomfortable due the humidity, yet safe from taunts pertaining to my body.

One day, I was in the Downtown Rochester area, heading towards the Family Dollar to purchase something I needed.  I was wearing a cardigan over my black tank top as my tongue licked away the beads of sweat moistening my upper lip. The humidity was oppressive to say very least—so much so that even the shade failed to emit relief.  The only thought occupying my mind was getting to the store so I can enjoy the breeze of an air conditioner.

I was actually a few steps away from the Family Dollar’s entrance when I heard someone ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I slowed my pace until I came to a complete stop, looking for the owner of the voice I believed was addressing me. My attention settled on an older woman with sepia shaded skin standing at the convenient store next to my destination.  She stared back at me, confusion wrinkling her face as if she had never seen anyone like me.  Here we go, I assumed.

“A little,” I said, downplaying my discomfort with a shy smile. “I don’t like the way my arms look, though.”

The stranger’s expression on her face softened slightly as she sucked on her teeth.  “Girl, it’s eighty degrees!  It’s too hot to care about what your arms look like.”  She then walked away, leaving me to look on with a quiet shock at her level of bluntness.

Yet she was right.  According to the weather report, the highest temperature was going to be about eighty degrees—possibly much more so with the humidity.  Plus, the dryness of my lips indicated that I was becoming dehydrated and needed something to drink soon.  And my sweating wasn’t helping matters.  Reluctantly, I peeled off my cardigan and gave permission the sun to touch my arms. I swept my gaze around the open streets and sidewalks to catch any condescending stares from on-lookers, all the while clinging onto my cotton armor in case I had to hide again.  But the strangers only walked past me, solely focused on their own destinations and not paying me any mind.  If anything, I was an afterthought they avoided not out of disgust but because I stood in the middle of the sidewalk like a fool.

After my visit to Family Dollar, I started towards the St. Paul Street bus booth to board the next city bus heading home, water in hand, when I caught my reflection in a shop window.  I stopped and examined my frame—truly studied curvaceous hips, my thighs, my circular belly as I rested my hand on its center.  And then my eyes shifted to my arms—my untoned limbs constructed to cradle weeping children, embrace friends announcing the greatest achievement or most debilitating disappointment, arms associated with hands often prepared to either comfort or defend. I immediately noticed how the warmth brightened my skin, bringing out hints of orche and sun-kissed orange as a golden shimmer enhanced the beauty that is my melanin.

It’s too hot to care about what your arms look like.

The woman’s message seeped into my mind, into my spirit as my reflection and I admired one another, drinking in the attention we both craved and now received. This is my body, I thought as the toxicity of childhood derision bled from my pores and into an invisible pool at my sneakered feet before disappearing into the concreate. My body belonged to me and not the ones who critiqued it, mocked it, or used it for their own selfish gratification. These curves, these breasts, feet, hands, neck, stomach, and the inner workings orchestrated to preserve my existence and despite its imperfections and build, are mine.

And they are beautiful.