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.

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

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

—Shirley Chisholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

The Politics Behind #ICanBeBoth

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

Enjoy.

 

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

–Zora Neale Hurston, Author

 

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

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

Hence “I can be both.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Current Narrative: The Case of Fred Barley, Casey Blaney, and White Saviorism

 

Picture this:

Barnesville, Georgia.  Summer of 2016.

A young man bikes a long distance to a college campus to register for the required courses associated with his major.  Unfortunately, incoming and current students are unable to move into the dorms until next month, so the man decides to camp on the campus grounds until he is able to gain access to housing.

The aspiring student lives in a tent with impunity until he is approached by two police officers responding to a call about someone camping on college property.  The man provides a candid explanation to the police, who are now so moved by his perseverance that they offer him adequate, but temporary shelter.  His story is then shared throughout the community and even across the country, which leads the student to receive support, resources, employment.  Of all the gifts received, however, the large sum of money donated to him through a crowdsourcing fundraiser that surprises him the most. The young man is grateful, humbled, and overwhelmed by the generosity and promises that the gifts received will not be wasted—especially the money.

Then, to his dismay, he discovers that the donation money is frozen due to the actions of a supposed ally with ill-intentions.

This is exactly what happened to Fred Barley, a 19-year-old Black homeless man of Conyers, Georgia.  About a few weeks ago, Barley used his little brother’s bike to ride six hours from his hometown to Barnesville to register for courses at Gordon State College.  Because the dorms were unavailable until August, the medical student decided to sleep on campus grounds in a tent until the dorms opened.  Struggling with unemployment, Barley searched for possible work within the area in hopes to find something to generate much needed income.  At night, he retreated to his tent equipped with two gallons of water and two duffel bags.

Barley did this until one Saturday evening when he was approached by two officers responding to a call about someone camping on school grounds.  When he explained to the police what he was doing and why, the two officers paid for a hotel room for him to reside in for a few days.  The wife of one the cops then posted Barley’s story on the Barnesville Community Facebook page.  Moved by his determination, kind strangers from all over the country donated to him the necessary commodities such as clothes, shoes, food, a car and other items.  In addition, Good Samaritans contributed money to Success for Fred, a GoFundMe campaign constructed and launched by Barnesville resident Casey Blaney.

Now Blaney was one of the people who read about the aspiring medical physician on the community Facebook page and decided to assist him.  Through her efforts, the  GoFundMe campaign ultimately raised over $184,000 within twelve days (which is beyond awesome).  Barley expressed gratitude to the public in a video upon hearing the good news, stating that the money wouldn’t go to waste. Though overwhelmed and obviously exhausted, he also displayed sincerity when stating that the funds would finance his education and housing expenses.

So it was a shock to all involved when Blaney froze the fundraiser, explaining the cause with this status in the Success for Fred Facebook page:

Casey Blaney 4

To counteract the accusation, Barley posted the following on his Facebook page:

Fred Barley

When I read the above message, I immediately recognized the hurt and honesty in Barley’s words. That alone earned Blaney’s accusation the side eye as the timing and lack of specifics raised fuchsia flags.   So I began investigating further, following new information while examining old articles and posts to get to the bottom of what happened between Blaney and Barley.

What I noticed first hand was Blaney’s consistent display of White Saviorism. Also known as the White Savior Complex, it is when White people literally use their resources to “rescue” people of color—usually impoverished Black youth.  This trope often rears its ugly head in Hollywood films such as Dangerous Minds and The Blind Side, but it is also common among White people who feel that their assistance is necessary in order for a disenfranchised group to thrive in society.

In the case of GoFundMe controversy, Blaney played the role of the White Savior who “rescued” Barley, a homeless young Black man with aspirations of becoming a doctor.  She recalled her initial meeting with Barley in the following Facebook post:

Casey Blaney

Casey Blaney 2

Casey Blaney 3

So according to Blaney, the student asked her and her husband to assist him in finding employment, which they have done.  She was going to walk away from the situation (and Barley) but decided that him having a job at the local pizzeria was clearly not enough.  So with that in mind, Blaney created the fundraiser because, as a good Christian, she felt compelled to bend over backwards on his behalf.

Keep in mind that Barley told her that he needed assistance seeking employment, asking for nothing else.  Though Blaney and her husband used their social capital to secure a position for him at the pizzeria, it was she who decided to go beyond Barley’s request.  Her resolve and the actions that followed are typical of White Saviors who believe that they know what is best for those they are supposedly assisting. On the surface, it looks like they are “going above and beyond” to support members of the disenfranchised.  But in reality the White Savior feels that the former is oblivious to their own needs.  By going beyond what was requested of her, Blaney overstepped her boundaries to the point of undermining Barley’s ability to advocate for himself, a clear example of paternalism.

Her depiction of Barley in the post was also something worth pointing out.  According to her account of their meeting, the young man was either soft-spoken as if ashamed or overly excited about her reaching out to him.  Blaney even shared that Barley wished to meet her family, seeming extremely eager to do so.  To me, her assessment of Barley resembled an offensive Black character in an Old Hollywood film: when distraught, he bowed his head and mumbled respectable words, but when grateful thanked the White woman for her kindness before breaking into a figurative song and dance.  That’s because Blaney’s description of him is not only offensive and overly dramatic, but deeply rooted in White superiority as it contributes to the narrative of the White Savior Christian saving a person of color from savagery and the latter expressing gratitude for it.

Speaking of which, Blaney mentioned her Christian faith a few times, stating that God prompted her to reach out to Barley in order to help him.  Again, this is the same rhetoric spoken by White missionaries traveling to Africa or other foreign countries to “save” the natives from their troubles.  To put it into context, Blaney acted like a missionary doing God’s work during her interaction with Barley, almost describing him as completely helpless without her aid, forgetting that he is a student capable of caring for himself despite his homelessness. She further employed her faith and religious practices to portray herself as a big hearted woman to her support network on Facebook, using the fact that she launched a fundraiser for a Black man to prove that 1) she is a good woman and 2) she is not racist, therefore making her Christ-like.

Blaney is actually no different from Leigh Anne Tuohy, the legal guardian of Michael Oher, the Black teen on which The Blind Side is based.  Suffering from the White Savior Christian Complex, she also came under fire in 2014 when she posted a picture on Facebook of herself with two Black teens.  She mistakenly assumed that the young men were struggling financially, so she took upon herself to approach them to assist (sounds familiar, right?).  The result was a shit storm of accusations of racism and illegalities regarding posting photographs of minors on social media without parental consent.  The Tuohy debacle only happened because, like many drunk on White Saviorism, Tuohy was primarily concerned with perpetuating her image as the kind-hearted,  God-fearing, colorblind Christian who adopted a Black teen who ultimately needed rescuing.  And because Oher required her assistance, then so did the Black teens she randomly encountered in a fast food restaurant.

The disregard of boundaries and erroneous assumptions on the part of the White Savior tends to lead to unnecessary controversy.  The unwilling participants involved are then placed in the awkward position to dispel the former’s supposed heroism on Facebook.  Thus the White Savior is either embarrassed (as in Tuohy’s case) or extremely resentful at the person they “helped” for attempting to exert their autonomy.  Blaney’s accusation came only after Barley declined her request to place the donated funds into a trust without the opportunity to choose his own trustee and attorney.  According to the Georgia state’s Trust Fund Laws, the receiver of the trust wouldn’t have been able to make any changes to the document without the permission of the trustee and settlor (the person creating the trust).  Since Blancy and her husband are relocating to Hawaii in a few weeks, it would be illogical for her to choose the trustee and settlor because she will no longer live in Georgia. And given that the $184,000 belongs to Barley anyway, recruiting his own attorney and settler was necessary to protect his investment.

So what’s the problem?

Here’s my theory:  Blaney wanted control over the student’s donations to fund her family’s move to Hawaii.  Because they’ve established a close relationship, she hoped he’d willingly comply with her requests to place the trust under her name. Doing so will allow her to either withhold the money from Barley or use it to manipulate him in some fashion.  Whichever the pendulum would’ve swung, Blaney would have positioned herself to take full advantage of this man’s current circumstances regarding lack of housing and low socioeconomic status.

Despite his circumstance, Barley is indeed a student entering his second semester of college, making him educated enough to understand the legalities associated with having a trust and recruiting a trustworthy trustee, settlor, and/or beneficiary.  And Blaney, the White Savior who constructed the GoFundMe campaign on his behalf (and out of the “kindness of her heart”), was not assigned any one of those positions.  Translation:  she wasn’t counting on this homeless Black boy using his common sense. The sudden swift of power and control both surprised and angered her, considering that “she is the reason why countless strangers so much as wrote his name on their checks.”

So since Barley gotten too big for his britches, Blaney did what any self-entitled White person would do:  employ her privilege, power, and social capital to undermine the student by alleging that he possibly fabricated his story to swindle otherwise kindhearted individuals out of over $184,000.  To conceal her true intentions, she took to Facebook to generate support from her fellow Christians and strangers alike:

Casey Blaney 6

As for Barley, he is placed in the position to defend himself against the sudden onset of accusations of fraud.

The infuriating part is that this nonsense occurred at a period where the lives of Black people (Black men and boys in particular) are at greater risk.  The Black Lives Matter movement placed many White people on edge and the latter are utilizing various industrial complexes (mostly law enforcement) to protect themselves. This “investigation” against Barley made him a target for White counterparts believing that he cheated them out of money.  Granted, the young man continues to generate countless supporters (one even orchestrated a Change.org campaign demanding GoFundMe to release the 184K to him), but Blaney’s accusation could make him yet another hashtag.

The good news is that Barley finally was awarded the donation money.  The attorneys on both parties reached an agreement due to lack of evidence supporting Blaney’s accusations.  But let’s be honest here:  She had no proof to begin with.  The fact that she didn’t even put up a fight confirmed my suspicion that she planned to steal the money—possibly to fund her family’s move to Hawaii.

When Fred Barley shared his story with the world, he thought he found an ally in a sweet hearted woman who bent over backwards to support his education.  What he encountered, unfortunately, was a White Savior who attempted to undermine his intelligence, disregard his autonomy, and assassinate his character.   Her incessant need to render Barley emotionally and spiritually feeble, and to keep up appearances on social media resulted in unnecessary drama that could have negatively impacted Barley’s future.