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“If they come in the morning…”: Gaza and Black Solidarity

26 Nov

one.
I want to go outside.

When i was a kid, my parents would force my brother and I to leave the interior of the house to play in the backyard – whiffle ball, basketball, hide-n-go-seek, freeze tag – or ride bikes in order to give them some relief from our noise. Theirs was a commendable desire: for us to get fresh air, to see the sunlight, to play with other kids, to exhaust ourselves so that we might sleep. But we were crafty and did not necessarily appreciate such desire, existing on the edge between playing outside and ColecoVisions, Atari 2600s, Nintendos and Sega Genesis game consoles. On the horizon of such 16-bit fun, neither being outside playing nor inside gaming, were of much satisfaction, at least to me. So though we would gradually make our way to the back porch, quietly open the door and retreat to our room, I always desired more.

What I have discovered years later most emphatically, however, is that if there was a place to go, it was not necessarily reducible to the geographic lines of forced distinction, it was not, that is, based on the ability to be mobile. If there was an outside, it was based on how my brother and I would work and play together, how we would argue and fight each other. Outside, in other words, was a condition of imaginatory faculty. And what I learned from “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” Bob Ross’s “Joy of Painting” and the “Eyes on the Prize” series is that imagination is foundational to creating new worlds of inhabitation. To be outside while contained, to be outside through lodging oneself into interiors.

two.
The Black Panther Solidarity Committees in Germany was a local movement that emerged through noticing the vivifying force of blackness as resistance:

“The black power struggle is part of the struggle of all suppressed and exploited people. Their resistance struggle is also our resistance. This is why the American negroes do not need words, but guns. Only this language … Burn, Baby, Burn can be understood by the white ‘Herrenmensch.’” Berlin Komitee Black Power, “Solidarity demonstration for Black Power,” Flyer (1968).

Black Feminist Philosopher and Cultural Critic, Angela Y. Davis knows something about the inescapability of interiors, of being lodged into a system and structure that sought for her demise. But she also knows something about the power of voices, of speaking to other women behind prison bars, about enacting freedom through imagining new worlds. Davis became a particular figure for a local struggle for the Black Panther Solidarity Committees was that not reducible to Davis’s flesh; she became a figuration for the horizon of Black Power, what it can do and be in the world. The movement in Germany, and its struggling with and for Davis’s freedom, recognized the violence of theological-philosophical rhetorics that produce something like a political party, a nation-state, that perpetually marginalizes the “least of these,” sharing in antagonistic struggle against that violence. Black Power could not be contained in any one body but was a force that could be enacted and proliferated in various worlds through aesthetic practice, through enacting living in, but not being of, certain worlds. Attending to the local allows us to consider the conditions of our current moment, while not submitting to normative progress narratives.

“The struggle we are engaged in is international. We well know what happens in Viet Nam affects our struggle here and what we do affects the struggle of the Vietnamese people. This is even more apparent when we look at ourselves not as African-Americans of the United States, but as African-Americans of the Americas.”

This struggle for and with Black Power against imperialism was also important to Stokely Carmichael who, in 1967, argued that Black Power is concerned with internationalism, one that stands against marginalizing practices of these United States as a movement against colonialism and imperialist oppression. Engaged in internationalist struggle, any movement and resistance to colonialism and imperialism is a concern for Black Power, an articulation of Black Feminism and Womanism, an enactment of BlackQueer Aesthesis, producing change in various worlds of our inhabitations. Thus, the Black Power Committee in Germany participated in blackness as an interruptive force, seeking to reconfigure and reestablish modes of affinity and lines of resistance.

The concern for Angela Y. Davis’s abolition, the concerns Stokely Carmichael outlined in his speech, are aesthetic theories that disturb political economies and historical narratives that let state borders become the touchstone for radical difference that would have us misrecognize our interconnectedness. Their concern for others as a concern for self troubles the assumptive logic of racial exclusion, such that we can rethink the relation between, for example, the California Men’s Colony and the “open air prison” that is the Gaza Strip, or generally, any imposed set of statutory strictures. Black Power in its varied iterations compel a retooling of the concept of the “local,” where the local can now be the sociality that emerges as a response to moments of crisis – any decisive moment or staging, any critical occurrence or happening.

In her autobiography (1974), the section titled “Walls” describes Davis’s experiences being transported between, and sequestered in, California prisons awaiting trial for “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley.” Davis’s writing is an intellectual project about obstruction, about the meaning of being walled in and sequestered; but she does not stay there. The wall as obstruction also becomes the occasion for resisting, an occasion for thinking the possibility of opening even in the most horrific of conditions. She knows that walls and obstructions never eclipse the capacity to be otherwise, to change, to be inflected, to be, that is, outside. She knows that like Jericho, walls come down, that they disintegrate with time, with chance. Davis is in the tradition of Harriet Jacobs, of Henry “Box” Brown. That is, being boxed in, being in a “loophole of retreat” or being in a California prison could not take away the ability to cognize, to think, to engage in an intellectual project of the outside. The outside became that which is imagined as irreducibly social and resistant to enclosure. “The walls of my windowless cell were far too thick for [the people standing outside the prison’s] chants to penetrate. But I could feel them and I felt happy and strong because of them” (287). We might call what she felt, even on the inside, a moment of external insurgent feeling. That mode of insurgent feeling, we might say after Davis, is an illustration of the way “Walls turned sideways are bridges” (347). The sounds of chanting, the screams for justice, turn walls into bridges. But where can we go once the bridge is constructed?

three.
“Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!” Thus begins the 2011 Gazan Youth’s Manifesto for Change, and attention to this document is evermore urgent, it seems to me, because of the recent escalation of Israeli violence that resulted in more than 160 Palestinians, many of whom were civilians, even after the agreed-upon ceasefire. Often described as an “open air prison,” Gaza has roughly 1.7 million people living in roughly 140 square miles, making it “one of the most crowded places on earth.” Borders controlled with access in and out of Gaza limited, with access to water, food and medical supplies curtailed, all of the people in Gaza are being held hostage, are being punished for the mere fact of living. Civilian deaths are nothing more than figurations of “collateral damage” and the United States supplies Israel with much of its ammunition.

Gazan youth recognize their being pawns in a set of political maneuvers that do not have their best interests at heart, but only the furtherance of a capitalist productions of state power. Their Manifestor eight times say they are “sick” of the conditions in which they are existing, what Fannie Lou Hamer would call being sick and tired of being sick and tired. But if they are in prison, if they are held in confinement, let’s think a bit more with them about such sequestering.

“Jails are thoughtless places. Thoughtless in the sense no thinking is done by their administrations; no problem-solving or rational evaluation of any situation slightly different from the norm. The void created by this absence of thought is filled by rules and the fear of establishing a precedent (meaning a rule they had not yet digested)” (Davis 290).

The prison is thoughtless, not because folks imprisoned lack thought, but because the administering of violence, the creation and maintenance of the conditions of confinement through brutality and punishment, lacks anything of problem solving, anything of recognition of something like humanity in the ones imprisoned. The Gazan youth claim: “There is a revolution growing inside us” and it is a revolution that allows them to keep heart despite the turmoil, the violence, the constant violation under which life exists for them. They conclude, offering the world what they desire: “We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace.”

What the youth document is an otherwise than philosophical-theological treatise, it is a critical practice of collective thought that emerged from the condition of feeling like a problem. Their Manifesto was a calling out into the world, a longing for sociality. The Manifesto does not offer a causal link to historical moments positing that theirs is a continuation and moment of progress. Rather, they offer an aesthetic theory about the concept of history itself through the performance of lament as Manifesto. They interrupt western philosophical-theological concepts of space and time through the present now, the urgent thrust, of their writing. The history their Manifesto performs is a theory of the commons similar to the Communist Manifesto and the Black Panther Party Ten Point Program. They offer a history that interrupts linearity of time and space through the set of demands as desires for the outside. Their history makes of their demands an urgently local concern for us all and we must be open to, vulnerable to, their longing.

four.
Empire and its continual marginalizing of the “least of these” – what the Occupy Movement calls the 99% – it appears after November 7, 2012, is having the Best Week(s) Ever! With the drone attack of Yemen and the Department of Justice’s defense of indefinite detention – “plaintiffs lack standing because there is absolutely no basis for concluding that they would be detained under the challenged military force authorization”; I still have not figured out if this is tautological or simply circular logic – election day, Obama’s conference call about the Grand Bargain two days after the election asserting that the social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security would likely be on the next episode of Food Network’s “Chopped” or the US’s unambiguous response to and support of Israeli strikes in Gaza, what we are noticing is the continued movement rightward of left-wing politics. The concern about complicity – how we participate, by paying taxes for example – is one that we must consider deeply. Just how can we resist, from our admittedly small spaces in the world, such practices that further entrench inequity into the fabric of our lives like Cotton?

Perhaps it is something like Harriet Jacobs and her inhabitation in a crawlspace for seven years; that the consent that she could not give she could, yet and still, withhold. We do not consent to the atrocities done in our name, in the name of a nation-state. In absence of having a “choice” about how tax dollars are utilized, how we finance war and thus, participate in it, withholding consent is the power that catalyzes movement. 

five.
I have never shared with my parents the names of men that have given me great, unfettered joy, the names of persons who have made my heart flutter and the pit of my stomach churn with butterflies. They do not know the names – nor the occurrences – of the smiles I have been given and returned, the hands held; but also the sadness. They do not know who first broke my heart, or the one who most recently captured my dreams. If I had joy to be shared, sadness to be released, it would secrete itself after having been carried, held within until I could find a clearing space to laugh, dance, weep. And upon finding out she would be released on bail – a victory won in the long struggle for her freedom – Davis withheld joy: “I laughed out loud. If I had been anywhere else I would have shouted, but there in the solitude of that jail I held my joy” (Davis, 330). The religious convictions of my parents do not steal my capacity for joy; rather, having joy in the midst of such doctrine makes the joy felt evermore difficult. I want to tell them how I saw him recently and wanted a lingering hug. But I cannot. Like Davis, if I could be anywhere else, if I could be outside, the held joy – as withheld breath – could be shouted. I search for a clearing.

The clearing is a space of open exposure, of vulnerability, even as it is a likewise space of protection. Can we create a clearing – as a mode of solidarity – for Gazans? Can we see the violence under which they suffer, which is part of the US Empire, as connected to our struggles here? How is the Gazan enunciation of youth concern a “local” issue? Martha and the Vandellas solicit us still, telling us that dancing in the clearing of streets is generative for new worlds, a critique of the world in which we exist. So to the streets we must go, to the outside, even if initially the exterior within our own minds. It is there where we can gather and join in solidarity with others.

Angela Davis edited a collection of essays while incarcerated titled If They Come In the Morning based on a heartfelt letter she received from James Baldwin while locked in confinement. That letter claimed that if we sit idly by and allow the violence of state power to violate whom it considers Other, it will likewise come to claim whatever “us” of which we claim to be a part. We breathe the same air, share the same earth, so what affects me will undoubtedly affect you. Instead of the temporal privileging of presentist accommodations, perhaps we should share in and celebrate the mutuality of shared vulnerability, shared joy, to be in relation to one another, to – along with the Gazan youth – “scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in.”

Let’s go outside.

CFC Plans for 2013: We Need Your Support!

20 Nov

Dear Family:

As we near the end of a stellar year at the CFC, we want to thank you for your steadfast support. This year we achieved many milestones. Because of your support, we have received over 1.7 million views to our blog.  In early August we reached over 10,000 Facebook fans, and to date now have nearly 12,000 likes on our Facebook page!  Three of our CFs were featured in Essence Magazine’s profile of 35 Young, Black, and Amazing Women under age 35.

You can see two of them post-photo shoot here.

We also have a committed group of followers on Tumblr and Twitter. And we are excited about the future!

We are now in planning mode for our 2013 blog cycle, and we need your support. Each year we plan our content and initiatives during a 3 day retreat in the North Georgia Mountains. This is also normally the one time of year that the majority of us are in the same room together, so it is also a time of reconnection, rejuvenation, revival, and re-visioning. This year, we’d like to spend some dedicated time reflecting on our mission, particularly the way our own privileges may show up in cyberspace. We take seriously the critiques from some of our readership and would like to think through ways of growing our critical edges even amongst ourselves.

Usually, we pool together our own personal resources to rent the cabin, pay for food, transportation (including airfare) and materials. However, after 2.5 years and nearly 2000 hours spent blogging three times per week on average, doing speaking engagements, conference calls, conferences, leading online activist campaigns and doing community work, sustainability and self-care have become key words for us.

If our labor of love has blessed you, inspired you, or uplifted you, please consider financially supporting us as we fund our 2013 CFC Planning Retreat and upcoming initiatives.  We would like to raise $3000 to fund at least 10 CFC Members to attend our retreat. That money covers the rental of a modest cabin, food for us to cook our own meals, transportation (including airfare and ground travel), and planning supplies. 

Here are just a few of the initiatives and goals we would like to accomplish next year:

  1. 2013 Crunk Feminist Collective Planning Retreat
  2. Launching a new CFC website with dedicated space for digital activism, digital pedagogies, and digital humanities projects
  3. Feminism 101 for Girls Saturday School
  4. Compiling and editing a CFC volume
  5. More Video Blogs
  6. A Speakers Tour to Cities, Universities, Feminist Bookstores and Community Spaces Near You

If every Facebook fan donates $1 we will be able to cover the expenses for all of our CFC initiatives! We know not everyone has even $1 to spare but if you can’t give, please signal boost, by spreading this post and asking friends to donate.

Thanks for your support!
 
The CFC

the receipts: notes on voting abstention

12 Nov

one. 

I was defriended on Facebook this summer after a rather dramatic set of exchanges that took place publicly and I recently began to think about that defriending because I wanted to consider how mishearing and misreading were the grounds through which a purportedly critical analysis of my position was given and how that mishearing and misreading allowed the individual to feel good about himself once he finally clicked “unfriend.” Mishearings and misreadings are often foundational for argumentation, and though one’s argument may or may not, in fact, be correct, because of the straw man against which they contend, incongruity is often the result in such conversation. I reposted a status written by Mark Naison that argued, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of the person for whom people would vote into presidential office, that grassroots organizing must, of necessity, take precedence, given the economically unviable world in which we live:

‎”No matter who wins the next election, the US is likely to become a poorer, crueler country with leaders in every walk of life seeking to protect their own advantages while demanding sacrifice from those who work for them, or depend on the programs they offer. If there is going to be kindness, generosity and compassion, it is going to have to come from people ‘on the ground’ and be reflected in how they help one another when they are in trouble. [A]nd how they share dwindling resources.”

The individual that eventually defriended me responded by saying it was sad that I was cynical, that I should have hope and belief in the “political process” and that I should simply join Team Obama. I resisted a lot of his language because Naison’s assertion was not about the limited category that we call politics, as such. It was about how we will need to build coalitions with folks from all walks of life, how the hoarding and greed of the economically privileged class squanders resources for the “least of these,” making of us all dependent on one another. I was reminded of this exchange because of the urgency of Naison’s words ringing ever more true today: his words were a call to sociality, to being together with others that is likewise the condition of emergence for imagining a new world, a world wherein we share together in resources, wherein we share together in life and love through generosity and compassion.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Chicago Teacher’s Union held a strike that lasted seven days in September this year, teachers fighting for better wages, better work hours, medical and mental health staff for students, better accommodations, books on the first day of class and a reduction in the weight given to standardized testing for teacher evaluations. Many folks on the left agreed with the CTU’s position. And when a candidate for president in 2007, President Obama promised not only to support unionized labor, but to put on his comfortable shoes to march with unions for better labor conditions. However, the striking in Wisconsin and the CTU illustrates the ways Obama wanted nothing more than the CTU strike to end quickly and quietly. In other words, whatever the teachers would receive would be gained through their own collective organizing with no support from the one that once promised to be with them.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Occupy Movement, under the guise Occupy Sandy, is one of the primary means by which folks in New York City are receiving resources after Hurricane Sandy. The Occupy Movement was certainly dismissed by both major political parties, with the Republicans thinking the lament of the 99% vacuous and tantrum, with the Democrats attempting to coopt the critique of the current political economy by attempting to “Occupy the Vote.” Funny, then, how it has been the support given by the Occupy Movement that gathered quickly and rose to the occasion of the current crisis, delivering meals, clothing and medical supplies.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that Wal-Mart workers are calling for a strike, organized action against the superpower because of its varied, storied, many abuses of the workers there – everything from ensuring workers do not have schedules long enough to receive healthcare benefits, though forcing workers to labor extra “overtime” hours, to the general belittling and lampooning of workers as “stupid” and “dumb” by management. Similar actions are likely to proliferate rather than come to an end because we live in a world of economic collapse, the refusal to take Climate Change seriously during presidential electoral debates, the privatization of public services and the general assault of organized labor.

Indeed, if we are to thrive in the world, we will achieve this through collective organizing, by another politics, a politics that contends with and against simple assertions of “political processes.”

two.

(Trigger Warning: Lynching Image) 

Various reminders to “get out the vote” last week invoked the category of “ancestors” as the reason for such urgent action. It is, indeed, true that the history of suffrage movements in the US document various marginalized groups contending for the ability to vote in local, state and national elections, attempts to participate in the representational political form that is our republic. I was uneasy by the invocation of ancestors, of family members who once could not vote, as the reason why we must participate today. It is true that suffrage was, and is, held from peoples throughout the history of the US with violence and perpetual violation. The underside of such assertion was the implied critique that to not vote, to intentionally abstain, is mode of dishonoring the same past. But there were other ancestors, other modes of collective – and thus political – organization that did not desire the thing, we might say, was withheld them.

“‘Slaves and maroons from various plantations met regularly in the cipriere,’ Gwendolyn Mildo Hall writes, ‘Huts were built, with secret paths leading to them.  A network of cabins of runaway slaves arose behind plantations all along the rivers and bayous.’ Much of the social life of the city’s slaves became concentrated in the swamps where they could talk, dance, drink, trade, hunt, fish, and garden without supervision.  The settlements were hidden away, but they were also integrated with the life of the city.  Unlike in some places in the United States, these maroon communes had many women and children” (Disturbing the Peace, 62).

The ciprieré communities secreted from local plantations, maintaining a relationship to spaces from which they escaped, but established new patterns of behavior and aesthetic interventions for protection and peace. Setting traps, navigating the swamps, having sex, singing, raising children, eating – all these were aesthetic practices that always and likewise had to be forms of preparation. Maroons needed be ready at a moment’s notice for encounter with the political world of the exterior that would bear down on them and produce violence against them. Each practice, therefore, was a likewise preparation for the possibility of the threat of violation; each practice, thus, highlights the ways in which interventions always likewise have an aesthetic quality and theoretical underpinning. We might say that the CTU’s ability to organize quickly, that Occupy Sandy’s ability to gather and disperse resources at a moment’s notice, was but another figuration of the extrapolitical aesthetic practices of marronage, a way to be in worlds but not of them, a way to respond to needs as a critique of the institutional structures that create such need in the first place.

Michelle Wright writes about how “[m]ost of the Social Sciences and Humanities derive their standard notion of time from physics – specifically Sir Isaac Newton’s notion of time as a fixed constant, linear in its movement – physics itself abandoned Newton’s belief a century ago” (73). That which is considered space and time in Social Sciences and Humanities emerge from particular philosophical and theological movements. Such that interruption of an aesthetic practice offers a general critique of the normative political sphere, such that black power disturbs historical narratives and the ease with which ancestry is sometimes deified, such that blackqueer atemporality troubles binaries of rocking or mocking votes. The interruption that is black power, that is black feminism, that is the blackqueer aesthetic, also disassembles space as well. Such that it becomes increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to distinguish the Prison Industrial Complex and the general militarization of police power in cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Oakland in the elusive borders of something called the United States from the heightening of militaristic power that terrorizes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. 

So while it is true that abstention from electoral politics does not, of necessity, protect, attending to another ancestry, the history of marronage, perhaps presents us with other ways to think abstention-as-protection, where protection was not about the participation in, nor the replication of, the spaces from which enslaved folks escaped, but was about the desire to be left alone, to organize and care for one another without the imposition of the state. In our world, in our interconnected cyberculture, the local becomes ever more important and Occupy Sandy, as a figuration of ciprieré marronage, is an illustration of the quick, intense and intentional emergence of sociality to current local conditions. And maybe the local is all we have. 

three.

I was defriended last week on Facebook, either the day before or of Election Day, for reasons similar to the opening story. I posted writing by Summer McDonald about her decision to not vote in this year’s election. I was confused not by those antagonistic to a decision to not vote, but that people were upset about the audacity to declare the decision of abstention in the midst of all the enunciations of support for the red, blue, green or independent parties. I hadn’t read too many things declaring abstention as a choice, so I’m still waiting for receipts about why this limited group produced such a seemingly loud response. 

I have attended a church locally in Durham for roughly two years (and I will return once I get out of job market / finishing dissertation … heaven. lol), though I am a self-proclaimed agnostic. Something about the sociality of being together with others was, and is, important to me, though I oftentimes disagreed in some pretty huge ways with things being said. There was something about struggling with others, while struggling within myself, to make a new world inhabitable by more folks than just ones generally deemed acceptable. But sometimes, struggle is too much and lines are drawn in the sand. The first time I walked into a church in Durham four years ago, as I took my seat in the very back of the church, the pastor quickly began bespeaking the horrors and sinfulness of being gay. And I don’t even think I wore my rainbow headband that day. But I picked up my keys and walked out as quickly as I walked in. And one of the ministers, presumably, ran out after me to ask who I was and why I was leaving. “I’m a gay dude…but I’m ok with it. And your pastor is just wrong,” is what I told him to which he replied, “give me your number so we can talk about it later.” Gotta love the contradictions. 

As a cisgender gay dude that grew up in Pentecostal churches as a musician, songwriter, singer and preacher, I am well acquainted with heteronormativity, sexism and homophobia that run in a lot of religious rhetoric, such that I understand when other folks choose to abstain from participating in religious communities. For them, religious ritual does not counterbalance the at times violent rhetoric used to dismiss large groups of folks. For them, religious ritual is something that they find otherwise and elsewhere than the church … and in many ways, they create gatherings in spaces that are just as sustaining and important. I think I’d be justified in never going to another church in my life, and I’m ok with that. But I also get why people continue to go back, with hope. We need not denigrate either position, as both emerge from a desire to be and be together with others. I do not dishonor my parents, my former churches nor my old way of life when I use the queer theoretical ideas I learned in elite, private universities just because I learned them in those elite, private places. You do not dishonor your ancestry if you choose to live in the world in ways that honor what you believe allows you to stand in your truth, to be transparent in a world that would have of us all to be fearful and afraid. Rather, we honor folks when we engage them, even when we disagree loudly. 

Black Women Rock the Vote. Black Men Mock the Vote?: An Election Day Story

5 Nov

The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was the 2000 Gore-Bush contest. On Election Day, my mother called me and said simply, “I wanted to make sure you voted today. Your great-grandmother (born in rural North Louisiana in 1903) took great pride in voting. You do the same.”

  My great-grandmother Daisy, made sure that one of her granddaughters came during every Presidential election to take her to vote. Even though she didn’t walk well, because of a physical disability from her youth. Even though she signed her signature with an X.

 When I got to the polls adjacent to Howard U’s campus as I headed in to vote, I ran into an older man named Lawrence Guyot. He was gentle and called us eager young voters up to him one by one to explain that he was running for election to the City Council (I think) on the Green Party ticket. I obliged him politely, albeit probably a bit impatiently.

 And then I went in and cast my vote for Al Gore. I may even have voted for Mr. Guyot. I can’t remember now.

We all know how the story ended. The Supreme Court disregarded the will of the people in Florida and stole the presidency for George W. Bush.

And today, we find ourselves still reeling from the economic and geo-political results of that decision.

 

It would be years later, when I was in graduate school, before I came to know who Lawrence Guyot was. As director of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and as chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, he had literally been beaten and arrested for my right to vote. We know the MFDP because it put Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on a national stage, as the MFDP moved to unseat the state Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

 

When I walked in and cast my vote that day, there was literally someone there who had fought for me to be able to be there. And he brought along the presence of the ancestors, my great-grandmother, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others who understood the value of the vote.

The thing that staggers my mind today is how easily history had moved to forget Mr. Guyot. I think about how I didn’t even know his name until I was privileged enough to go to grad school, something most Americans will not do.

 I think about how easily the battles and struggles to get here are forgotten.

 We have re-learned this lesson this year as the GOP has waged a veritable war on Women’s Rights. And voting rights, too.

 

Despite these lessons, this history, I have seen a profusion of young radical brothers and old school radical cats declaring brazenly that they will not vote.

Over and over again, I saw in my FB feed, them reposting an excerpt from a 1956 W.E.B. Du Bois speech in which Dr. Du Bois declared:

 

“The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. … It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1956 

 

He could just as easily have been talking about 2012 as 1956. And yet, it was after he said this that Martin Luther King marched, that Fannie Lou Hamer got beaten, that Malcolm X demanded “the ballot or the bullet.”

 How do we reconcile our history of Civil Rights, our deep belief and investment as a people in the franchise with today’s legitmate disillusionments?

I know that many of us who tend toward the radical left in our politics cannot help but see the problems with the kind of imperialist, capitalist, deeply racist and patriarchal politics that continue to structure American society. We do not want to keep co-signing the madness for the sake of “tradition.”

And certainly, it goes without saying that President Obama governs just slightly to the left of center on his best days. On his worse days, he could be an actual Republican.

And yet, statistics show that in 2008, Black women were the single largest voter demographic of any group. Is it that Black women are politically naïve, that Black men are more politically visionary? Does Black women’s support for President Obama suggest a reckless disregard for life of people of color everywhere else?

Of course not.

It was Black women like Jessie Fauset and Anna H. Jones, who organized the Pan African Conferences that Du Bois is so famous for. It was Black women who started the International Council of Women of the Darker Races in 1922. It was Black women who started the Third World Women’s Alliance in the early 1970s. We have always had a global perspective.

 And unlike, Du Bois, (and James Baldwin and Richard Wright), we didn’t quit the country.  Sisters as wide-ranging as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Pauli Murray, and Angela Davis, have journeyed abroad, found racial conditions much more livable there, and still chosen to come back home and fight for the lives of Black folks in the U.S.

Black women have never had the luxury of disillusionment. While brothers have gathered in elite organizations and institutions to hash out Black people’s political future, to engage in a lot of intellectual dick politicking and pissing contests, sisters have done the community organizing and voting that has held the racial body politic together. We have voted for the candidates that would make sure we could have a job, put our kids in safe schools, and put food on the table.  

We have clawed and struggled for every meager gain we have gotten in this democracy. And sisters have the broken nails and bloodied knees to prove it.

Far from being short-sighted, we have what Stanlie James and Abena Busia call visionary pragmatism.

 

I know it is not only Black men who have problems with President Obama. I know plenty of radical left sisters who are fed up with the utter ineffectiveness of a two-party system.  Black women, in fact, have a long history of defying the two-party system. Charlotta Bass ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party Ticket in 1952. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente ran on the Green Party ticket. And in this election a young sister named Peta Lindsay is running on the Socialist Party ticket.

And while I will be voting for President Obama, despite my varied disappointments, I can understand voting for a 3rd party candidate. But not voting is unconscionable.

Brothers can tell themselves that not voting is fine, because they by-and-large don’t have to worry about the cost of birth control. Good condoms cost what? $7 a pack. Birth control pills? $25 a pack with good insurance! Brothers by-and-large don’t do the care work in our communities. The care of the elderly is deeply gendered work.  So they can tell themselves that withholding their votes serves a greater good even though the choice to do so might make life a hell of a lot harder for the elderly folks they hold so dear, not to mention continuing to place an undue economic burden on women.

 

In many cases, I do believe in drawing lines in the sand. I do think we have to take a stand for what’s right, that sometimes doing what is convenient in the short run will short-circuit our ability to change things for the better in the long run. But as a Black feminist, a Hip Hop Generation feminist, I also fancy myself a both/and kinda girl.

 Can I hold in tension the fact that my vote simultaneously eases tax burdens and healthcare costs on the poor and the middleclass in the U.S. while also going to fund wars I don’t believe in and capitalist trade practices I don’t support? Can I hold in tension the fact that President Obama has arrested and deported more Brown folks than the Bush Administration, greatly expanding the operation and reach of the Prison Industrial Complex, while also being reminded that his is the first administration to reduce the crack vs. cocaine sentencing disparity that had disproportionate effects on communities of color?

 Can I hold in tension the fact that every single brother I know who says he’s withholding his vote in pursuit of a revolutionary future is an academic at a fairly elite institution?

Consider this recent editorial in the NYT as one such example of Black male academic disillusionment.

Though Professor Frederick C. Harris does go so far as to reject voting, he writes among other things: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites — from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members — have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.”

Professor Harris also decries the decline not only of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality, but also a decline in the Black prophetic tradition, particularly that, which grew out of the Black Church. While I agree with his critique of the ways that Black religious cultures have become depoliticized in the wake of the rise of the prosperity gospel, I continue to be totally disappointed by all these Black male academics who construct their notions of the best of Black political visions around a procession of Great Race Men.

 Of the paltry number of Black women mentioned, only Ida B. Wells is celebrated. Like many of his contemporary Blackademic male colleagues, Harris dismisses Melissa Harris-Perry as “all but an apologist for President Obama.” 

 Moreover, since it is Black women by-and-large who voted for President Obama, he reduces our political decision making to a desire solely to see a Black family in the White House. This assumes that we don’t see beautiful, functional Black families in our lives every day. Moreover, it shows a real myopic understanding of the political pressure put on Black women to maintain the Black family as a viable political and cultural institution, particularly while academic elites like Harris proclaim the decline of Black political leadership a la Harold Cruse. Even if it were true that Black women voted for President Obama solely out of a sense of loyalty to Black male race leaders –and there’s no denying that this is a part of our thinking, but not the whole of it—to dismiss that as a kind of fantastical naivete is to engage in a kind of willful ignorance about the ways in which racial patriarchy compels Black women’s loyalty to Black men, particularly when they are as impressive as President Obama.

 What I’m really trying to get at is this sort of Black male political and intellectual arrogance, this smugness with which Black men levy these political critiques and the ways in which Black women either disappear from the histories that undergird their perspectives or become  dismissed as unthoughtful apologists for a broken system.

But if your prophetic and political tradition starts with Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth, moves through Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell, takes a gander through Claudia Jones and Flo Kennedy, stops by the house of  Fannie Lou Hamer,  Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan and Fran Beale and doesn’t forget Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, bell hooks, Patricia Williams, Donna Brazile and all the nameless faces of sisters that can’t be named because they were never doing it for the spotlight, then it would be harder to see Black prophetic traditions as being in decline. It would be easier to see that what’s really in decline is a Great charismatic Race Man model of leadership. (You should check out Erica Edwards fabulous new book Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership for more on this point.)  And even though Black men know all the limitations of that model, in many ways the world of Black politics feels safer with Strong Men running it. We are in a world deeply in need not only of new political models but also new leadership models. And based on Black women’s long history of staying connected to the pulse of Black communities, I’d say that the places where Black women put their political energies are a good bet for all of us.

As for tomorrow, I’m sticking with the President. I hope you will, too.

 

 

Below feel free to share your thoughts on voting or not voting, how you do or don’t reconcile a radical politic with a choice to participate in tomorrow’s elections, or your general thoughts on Black leadership.

 

 

Mourning and Name Calling!

1 Nov

For some reason this week I have been visited by and/or reminded of people who passed away over my lifetime.  Their passing was sense-less so it hurt without boundaries or the protection provided by reason.

  1. Sharon was my stepmother and she was shot at my father’s work league basketball game while cheering for him in the stands.  She was 33 years old, a huge sports fanatic, she had big cheeks and my final memory is my 8-year-old self kissing her cheek good-bye at the funeral.
  2. Johnny was my friend from high school who committed suicide when he was a senior.  He was struggling with being successful at a predominantly white high school as a black male and being relevant in a predominantly black neighborhood.  He got caught stealing sneakers at a local retailer and hung himself with his Judo rope; he felt that he had dishonored his family.  A Judo champion on the yearbook staff and student government, a cutie pie, and smart.  He could not have been older than 17.
  3. Brandon was another friend from high school in the same senior class as Johnny.  He was shot breaking up a fight at a football game between two celebrated black schools (neither of which he attended).  He was an athlete, popular, cute, smart, great personality, and just plain nice.
  4. Cassandra, my distant cousin died suddenly alone in her home in her fifties.
  5. Stacy, an elementary school friend died last December.  She was missing for months before they discovered her body in the woods.  Her cause of death was ruled “hypothermia.”  I had reconnected with her and had dinner six months prior to her death.  She was quiet in school and a quiet adult.  She had a beautiful smile.

While I feel I’m in mourning that came over me like a soft blanket, I also feel surrounded by many of my people surrounding me at once.  Daisy and Jack Davis were my older grandparents, both died in their nineties and celebrated a 70 year wedding anniversary.  Dot and Pappy were my younger “sharp-tongued” grandparents both died early of cancer but they sure knew how to Get Crunk! when the occasion required it.  Some I only knew through their words, lyrics, and offerings, but I feel them here with me.  Giving me guidance.  Holding me accountable.  Showing me my path.

ImageNina Simone (Waring Cuney)

“She does not know her beauty.  She thinks her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked under palm trees, and see her image in the river she would know.”

ImageLangston Hughes

I’ve know rivers.  I’ve know rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  My soul has grown deep like the rivers….  I’ve known rivers, ancient dusky rivers, my soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 

ImageOctavia Butler

All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.  The only lasting truth is change, God Is Change.

 

ImageAudre Lorde

Change means growth, and growth can be painful.  But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals.

 

ImageJune Jordan

Freedom is indivisible or it is nothing at all besides sloganeering and temporary shortsighted, and short-lived advancement for a few.  Freedom is indivisible, and either you are working freedom or you are working for the sake of your self-interests and I am working for mine.

I hear these voices talking me through my mourning.  When you are mourning, but can not identify the cause try name-calling and see if doesn’t help just a little.  Name-calling is recognition.  Recognize mourning and be at peace. 

Who are you mourning? Whose name will you call?

The Silliest Girl in Vagina Class, or Why Women’s Studies is Needed Now More Than Ever

29 Oct sue

In the past four years, I’ve developed a favorite pastime: taking advantage of all services covered by my tuition. To my delight, I discovered that my university offers free sexuality counseling. So after spending an hour with the local version of Dr. Sue, I was invited by my new sex therapist to join a three-week class called “I Heart My Vagina.” I signed up enthusiastically, imagining the types of yoni workshops I’d read about in books like Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot: Not Your Mother’s Orgasm Book.

Imagine my shock when I walked into a classroom full of undergrads with crossed ankles and nervous grins. I’d taken the DeLorean straight into my worst memory: middle school family planning class. In all fairness, I did gain some valuable information, my own speculum, free lubricant and the newest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. But since I was one of the oldest women in the class, I also spent a lot of time biting my lip and doing kegels as the freshmen reminded me that youth is wasted on the young. I’d now like to celebrate* the SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS by sharing some of the things she said that were too ridiculous not to write down:

On Being Woman
Dr. Sue: Let’s name one or two things we love about being women. We’ll go around the circle.
Gender Essentialist: Being emotional and loving.
Loud Religious Moralist: Using my body to bring life into the world and producing food with my own breasts.
Me (I am trying to avoid social constructs and stick to the body, but I end up looking like a pervert): I love having a clitoris, a body part designed exclusively for pleasure.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I like that you can wear jeans and skirts and not be gay.
Two women in 'I heart my vagina shirts"

On Gendered Intelligence
Dr. Sue: What you have in your hands is one of the most influential texts about women’s health. Our Bodies, Ourselves was the first American, comprehensive scientific text written by women, for women.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I’ve got a, like, question.
Dr. Sue: Yes?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Being that it’s written and published by women, is all the stuff in this book, like, accurate?

On Ovulation
(Dr. Sue has spent thirty minutes explaining the menstrual cycle…)
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Umm… question?
Dr. Sue: Go ahead.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Right after your, like, menstruation ends and you stop bleeding and stuff, is that when you can get pregnant?
Dr. Sue: There’s actually a likelihood of conception at every point in the menstrual cycle. There are, however, some days that you’re more fertile than others.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Well when is the day that you can most not likely get pregnant?

On Literacy
Dr. Sue: I’d like to do a study someday to see how students find out information about sexuality. Are you guys reading books or browsing the internet?
Me: I prefer books. I like to build subject libraries.
Modernist: I look things up on the internet. The information is just a click away and it’s free.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I, like, have noticed that I haven’t read much since starting high school. Like, after eight grade when you’re tired of reading your textbook for, like, homework and stuff and you just start to hate it. Do you guys ever feel like that?
Dr. Sue: Sometimes I have less time for reading than I’d like, but I’ve never had an aversion to reading.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: It’s not an aversion; it’s just something I don’t do. Like, if I have some extra time on my hands, I’d rather sleep.
Dr. Sue: Right.

On Abortion:
Loud Religious Moralist: Are there legal limits on the time that a woman has to decide if she will have an abortion?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: No. Not anymore.
Dr. Sue: Access to abortions past the first trimester varies by state.

On Surgery
Gender Essentialist: Why do women have C-sections instead of having babies the natural way?
Loud Religious Moralist: Yeah, like we’ve been doing it for five thousand years…
Dr. Sue: Or a couple million…
Loud Religious Moralist: Some say millions, God says thousands… But we’ve been having babies that way for a long time. Why surgery now?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Some people do it for beauty… no, wait…

On Sexual Ethics
Dr. Sue: This has been a fascinating class with a wonderful group! I’m so glad that you all signed up. Before we leave, are there any final comments or questions?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: My mother never talked to me about sex, so I thought that babies magically came out when you were married until I was in the eight grade. And, like, I’m a Christian and I’m just learning about sex so, like, my question is: wouldn’t the church say it’s bad to masturbate if you do it a lot?

* When I first wrote this post, I was making fun of the girl. But reducing the young girl to an object of ridicule only distances me from an earlier version of myself, a girl with less boldness than this character but equal misinformation. In twenty years, I may look at earlier writings and feel the impulse to make fun of myself. I hope I will be wise enough to celebrate this moment for what it is- a spot on a long journey. And I celebrate this girl because she was as bold as she was silly and she was courageous enough to show up each night.

Overcoming A-stigma-tism: (An Affirmation) For Blackgirls Who Have Considered Suicide When Closed Eyes Are Enuf

25 Oct

astigmatism: the inability to see clearly

stigma: a mark of disgrace or infamy

-ism: a suffix added to terms to reflect a symptom or ideology

“Sometimes you can’t see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others.”

I see you.

You are beautiful and you don’t even know it.

I mean it.

You are!

If no one has told you yet today, consider me the first.

Sometimes just hearing the words can make all the difference in the world.  I know what it feels like when no one tells you that you are beautiful.  I know how powerful those words can become when someone uses them against you… wielding them like a weapon used to keep you in line, threatening to destroy you with the silence that you feel so deep when the words stop being spoken.  “…with your fine self,” …”with your pretty self,” “with your ___________…”

The world stops telling blackgirls they are beautiful after while,

if it ever tells us at all

Mama doesn’t say it

either because she thinks you already know it

or because she is preoccupied with getting by

Daddy might not say it

because he is too busy calling out somebody else’s pretty

After elementary school, when you need to hear it the most

friends won’t say it

out of fear that your pretty might be prettier than theirs

In high school the words are hidden beneath innuendos that imply your pretty is conditional

But it’s not

By the time you are in your twenties you are so used to being presumed ugly that it is internalized

Looking back at myself, I had no idea I was a pretty blackgirl

I was too busy trying to be invisible

apologizing to myself &

overcompensating for what I thought was wrong (with me)

Don’t make that mistake, don’t accept the hype, don’t believe the bullish

Don’t let the absence of words cloud your vision or keep you from seeing (yourself) straight.

Don’t wait for a man, or a friend, or a father, or a stranger, or a woman you like to tell you

Tell yourself

And mean it

Pay attention to who you are, what you have overcome, what you have survived.

You are a remarkable, beautiful, precious genius!  Everything about you is wonderful.

You are just the way you are supposed to be

You are not a distortion or a mistake

You are loved.

And worthy of love.

And forgiveness.

Sometimes the stigma of so much pain and disappointment and worry and sickness and stereotypes and struggles and self-hate and sacrifice and lack and discrimination and blackness and femaleness and being different pass down

legacies of loss or shame

that weigh you down

but I have a remedy

for astigmatism (not seeing yourself clearly)

for the stigma (of past choices or limitations)

of feeling misunderstood

for the –ism that feels attached to everything you do

and everything you are

It’s a perception problem

You need a new lens

so you can see yourself

fully

differently

abundantly

beautifully

Stop in front of a mirror today

Open your eyes all the way

Don’t stop looking until you see it

Your capacity and possibility

Your mahogany-skinned beauty

Your charcoal eyes

Your frizzy/wavy/kinky/curly/straight hair

Your wide nose

Your luscious lips

The pot in your belly, the junk in your trunk

The marks that stretch from here to there

And the moles and marks that are uniquely your own

You are beautiful

And being beautiful-black doesn’t mean you have to be strong

But be awake

Be present

Be open

And be forgiving

Open your eyes

See yourself

& love yourself

in all your magnificence and fury

And when you do, and tears rush into an open smile

Show another blackgirl

How badass beautiful she is

Tell her ‘til she rolls her eyes at the ridiculousness of it all

When she doesn’t hear you, because she’s not used to the words,

Tell her again

Tell her ‘til she throws up her hands, shakes her head, and smiles in sweet surrender

to the fact that being all of who she is

is (and always has been) enuf

She’s Not Heavy, She’s Our Sister: Love Notes for Sharmeka

24 Oct
Dear Sharmeka,

I’m so sorry for what happened to you. I am sending you love. What happened to you has been a wake up call about the traumas of being multiply marginalized in this world. I hope you get exactly what you need.

So much love,

Moya


Dear Sharmeka,

Hey sis. I just wanted to reach out and let you know that I am thinking about you and sending you love and best wishes for a speedy recovery. What’s been going on with you, girl? Maybe you felt invisible, maybe you felt like you deserved this particular type of pain? I just don’t know. I do know that you are probably on the receiving end of a lot of anger and frustration, some of which has to do with your situation and some of which is connected to you simply because you’ve become a symbol of our decidedly not post-racial society. I hope you can find support, healing, and empathy as you move forward. And I hope that the rest of us can see your story as an opportunity to move forward in the world with a spirit of support, healing, and empathy.

Yours truly,
Susana

Sharmeka,

I feel like I know you.  You represent any number of blackgirls I see every day carrying pain that the world can’t see.  I wish the hopelessness you felt in a moment of self-demise could be retracted…that I could help heal what was broken…that you could see in yourself the beauty and majesty that was there all along.

Blackgirl to Blackgirl, I wish that self-hate crimes didn’t exist, that blackgirls didn’t feel the need to be so strong, and that the raced histories and legacies that frame the scenario you initially told were not so prevalent.  Truth is, I feel speechless around how to approach my disappointment and confusion in the staging of the incident.  Racial politics are complicated and our public dialogue needs to be shrouded in honesty.  The untruth you told jeopardizes the credibility of other blackgirls’ stories, myself included. I’m struggling with knowing how to hold you accountable and hold you UP at the same time.   But one thing I feel full voiced about is my unwavering support of YOUR WELL BEING.  I know how it feels to be overwhelmed with hopelessness and pain.  I know how it feels to be pushed in on all sides (multiple discriminations happening at once).  I know how it feels to hurt so bad that you want to hurt yourself.

My hope for you, moving forward, is that you get the support and help you need to be hopeful, whole, and at peace.

In solidarity & love,

Robin

Dear Sharmeka,

I wish everything about this story wasn’t true. I wish you were not lying in a hospital bed with scars that you will have to live with for your entire life.  I wish we didn’t live in a world that makes Black girls feel invisible. I wish the terror you felt on the inside didn’t feel like the terror of being ambushed while you walked in a park alone, a terror that so many Black women have felt and do feel everyday. I wish we could tell the truth about racism, so that we would be clear that your singular lie against the KKK in no way equates to the systematic reign of terror that they have perpetrated on Black women. I wish that broken and bruised black bodies weren’t the only credible forms of evidence in our fight against racism, since even the broken bodies frequently aren’t believed. I wish that sexism did not create a world in which Black girls’ bodies are collateral damage in the war on racism. I wish we knew better how to stay well in a world hell-bent on making us unwell.  I wish I could say that I didn’t feel anger and embarrassment when I found out that some parts of your story are apparently untrue. But then I wish we lived in a world where you could have told us your truths, your pain, and your struggle, and been believed.

I hope you are surrounded in love and support. I hope that healing is forthcoming. I hope you see someday the outpouring of care you received from all races of people. I hope that care is not so swiftly retracted. And I hope that anybody who would wish you harm, any opportunist who would equate your misguided act with a reverse ism of any sort, would think again and then take a seat.

You are not heavy. You are our sister. And we have your back.

Much love,

Brittney

My Sister Sharmeka,
I have spoken your name with my students at Spelman and in private send you love and affirmations. We recognized that your body was experiencing pain but now it seems there was much more pain than we could have recognized. I will continue to speak your name in love and to encourage others to try to understand and listen in hopes that no other black girl feels so silenced and invisible and alone that she experiences such pains.  I wish you peace and recovery but mostly I want you to be surrounded by many experiences of black girl love that crowd out the noise of black girl hate. You have sisters and brothers who are sending you fierce love but wanting you to know that you must be accountable for your choices. In these difficult times please remember to ask for what you need.

With so much love,
Sheri


Dear Sharmeka,

What can I say but I am sorry. I am sorry that you, your life and your story are being reduced to catchy headlines and two minute news clips.  I am sorry that, for many, you will become a symbol and cease to be a real person with needs and concerns.  Most of all, I am sorry that you are in pain, in any and every sense.  I am sending you love, healing energy and recognition.

With Love,

Whitney

Sharmeka,

Wellness is my wish for you: healing for the wounds that festered before the fire and the ones opened by the flame.

love,
jalylah

Resources:

When the Hoodies Are White: Justice4SharmekaMoffitt

23 Oct

Sharmeka Moffitt

On Sunday evening, Sharmeka Moffitt went to a local park in Winnsboro, Louisiana to “walk a mile and run a mile.” Sometime later, she was approached by three men in “white t-shirt hoodies” who doused her with flammable liquid and set her on fire. For good measure, they scrawled “KKK” and “nigger” on her car. Sharmeka was able to get to a spigot of water, put out the flames, and then call 911 for help. She is now in critical condition with burns to over 60% of her body at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport, LA.

As of late Monday evening, the local Louisiana authorities were still vacillating over whether or not to call this a hate crime. Part of their hesitancy stems from the fact that Sharmeka could not definitively identify the race of her attackers. 

The fact that the race of her attackers is being used as a gauge for this hate crime demonstrates the limitations of how we think about race and racism in this country. This Black woman was targeted and subjected to severe and life-threatening bodily injury for sport. Her perpetrators then thought they should punctuate their crime by scrawling hateful racially incendiary messages on her car. What isn’t hateful about that?

And what is with all the shock and bewilderment? Winnsboro, Louisiana is just about 60 miles from Jena, Louisiana, the site of the 2007 Jena 6 incident. I grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, about 75 miles from Winnsboro. As late as the late 1990s, the KKK marched in downtown Ruston, and my classmates bragged during class trips about having relatives who were high ranking officials in the terrorist organization.  Racially incendiary acts are commonplace in this part of the world. (Every damn part of the U.S. world) Like critical race theorists tell us, racism is not an aberration. It is part of the everyday, commonplace fabric of our lives. Before folks start decrying this act as an individual aberration of 3 sick individuals, perhaps we would do well to remember that their acts are symptomatic of the continued persistence of racism in this country.

Racism is like an autoimmune disorder. It attacks the body politic from the inside out, warring against itself, but frequently on the surface, things seem normal and healthy. We are only attuned to the problem when a flare up happens. But to continue to act as though the flare up is the disease is to engage in the most unhealthy and self-defeating form of denial there is. 

Then again, maybe it’s the hoodies. Selective historical amnesia being what it is, perhaps folks have come to believe that only Black men roam in public space under hooded covers threatening to do harm to other citizens.  Our rush into a postracial fantasy makes us too soon forget that white men, particularly rural Southern white men, are experts in terrorizing and policing racial minorities’ access to public space.

Even if it turns out that Sharmeka’s attackers are not white men, we should ask ourselves why her attackers would choose such a powerfully interpretive  historical narrative in which to play out their need to do harm to a Black girl’s body and personhood. Racism has a basic grammar, a set of rules, which we all learn to speak, having been immersed in it our entire lives. In a racist grammar, the subjects know that power is predicated on the ability to exercise violence (of various types) against a direct object, namely an innocent victim who bears the marks of the wrong skin color in the wrong time and place. 

And for all the folks who think Black women don’t use public parks for exercise because we want to maintain our hair styles, let this be an object lesson. Maybe Black women with modest resources who can’t afford to go to the gym  don’t use public parks because those spaces are unsafe. 

As of this point, the coverage of Moffitt’s attack has been minimal. I knew about it only because folks back home were posting info from local news sources. I guess it is left up to social media to convince the world yet again that violence against Black women matters. And I hope Black folks remember, too, that Sharmeka’s life deserves the same energy that we gave to the Jena 6 and to Trayvon Martin. 

Sharmeka, you are not invisible to us. We stand with you in your fight.

You can see updates on her story here.

Returning To My First Love

22 Oct

“Once you learn to read, you’ll be forever free”

Frederick Douglass

The idea that literacy is a type of freedom might seem clichéd or even a bit earnest and naïve. Still, it’s an idea that continues to resonate with me.

Mine is perhaps a typical story. As a kid, I had an almost insatiable appetite for books. Being a poor, chubby, black girl with glasses, I knew I wasn’t what others called beautiful and most didn’t expect me to be smart either. But in books I could escape into a world of beauty, love, fantasy, and adventure where I could imagine myself as a brilliant heroine who saved the day.

I spent a whole lot of time in libraries and I read everything I could get my hands on. I moved from children’s books pretty quickly, devouring everything from Harlequin romances, to V.C. Andrews’s novels, to high fantasy series, to classics of African American literature.  I always had a book in my hand—on the school bus, at lunch, even at the dinner table—and my mama really did not play that. But I think she realized that books were a lifeline for me and she let some things slide.

In time, my love of reading became a desire to teach and write. I wrote (bad) poetry, spunky short stories, and even a novel or two.  By the time I was in high school I wanted to spend my life talking about literature, language, and grand ideas. I got a couple of degrees in English and became a professor.

And then I stopped reading.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly stop reading. I read signs, recipes, memos, e-mails, and text messages. I read (and write) blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates.  I read student essays and exams, and articles about Toni Morrison. What I don’t do is read for pleasure.

Yes, I confess: I am an English professor who does not read for fun.

Oh, boo hoo. You are gainfully employed and you don’t get to read for fun? Get the @#$% outta here.

That’s my inner voice. She’s pretty crunk, clearly, and she does not suffer fools lightly or approve of complaining and survivor’s guilt.

But, real talk, between my Saturn Return, then work and life and all that goes along with it, I’ve been feeling like I’m running on empty. Self-care has been a struggle for me, something I think about and write about a lot. But this time felt different. Without achieving some sort of work-life balance I was not going to bend, I was going to break. I needed something different to restore me.

It couldn’t be the things that I’ve been doing. Not cooking, watching ratchet reality TV, or sleeping late. I had to return to the source and the site of so many of my best memories. It had to be reading.

I started reading at night before bed and I even got myself a Kindle.  Let me tell you, though, reading was really, really difficult. Try as I might, I could not quiet my mind. I would read a paragraph and then it would go something like this:

Did I respond to such and such’s email? When is the 18th? I should just go on ahead and pay that Sallie Mae bill. They don’t just want money, they want my first born. If I have the time to read before bed I should probably just grade those papers. Damn, I’m tired…

And on and on.

It was hard to read more than a sentence or two without being interrupted by my incessant multitasking brain. At some point it was actually painful to continue to be present in the moment and allow myself to let go and be free.

I am in the process of reprogramming my mind and my body, giving myself permission to indulge my own desires without feeling guilty. It’s a process, but I’m slowly returning to my first love.

Right now I’m reading, yes reading, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and it’s awesome. And I feel just a little closer to being free.

Fam, have you experienced this sort of struggle with being present in your own life? Share your experiences in the comments.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some classic R&B.

A tarnished ring on a tarnished chaaaaaaaain

Avant & Keke Wyatt, for the youngins

 

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