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Birmingham, 1963 to Detroit, 2010- The Tragedy of Bombed and Brutalized Black Girls

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm

America is not the world and if America is going to become a nation, she must find a way – and this child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents.  If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy.  ~ James Baldwin

I’ve been sitting in front of this computer screen for the last few hours waiting for my muse to push through my fingertips something worthwhile, even something profound, to say about the death of Aiyana Jones.  All I keep seeing is red- senseless blood spilled red, the red of rage, all sorts of red- but no answers. It has been this way every day since I learned of Aiyana’s last moments on this earth. I continue to sit, collecting articles and tears, hoping that I will be blessed with one of those moments of epiphany that will allow me to make sense of it all.  I’m shaking my head as I type this. I tell you, I have nothing. Well, almost nothing.

In asking the Divine for words to speak, I found words already spoken- a speech given by James Baldwin to teachers concerning “the self image of the negro child”.  All that I could think of was Black babies in that moment, and I sort of naturally turn to Baldwin for prescriptions of where and how we fail as the nation we pretend we want to be.  I’m sure none of this makes sense to you, but it is how my curious mind works.  In this beautifully and eloquently written speech, Baldwin makes the following statement about the murder of Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14).  These four little girls were murdered  in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, after a bible school lesson entitled “The Love That Forgives”, a talk designed surely to help children, and adults alike,  somehow understand how to live and love through the brutal, and obviously fatal, racism and hate of the Jim Crow south.

It is inconceivable that a sovereign people should continue, as we do so abjectly, to say, “I can’t do anything about it.  It’s the government.”  The government is the creation of the people.  It is responsible to the people.  And the people are responsible for it.  No American has the right to allow the present government to say, when Negro children are being bombed and hosed and shot and beaten all over the Deep South, that there is nothing we can do about it.  There must have been a day in this country’s life when the bombing of the children in Sunday School would have created a public uproar and endangered the life of a Governor Wallace.  It happened here and there was no public uproar.

Forty-seven years have passed since that dreadful church bombing committed by members of the local Klu Klux Klan, and the criminally negligent investigation administered by local police officers, who simultaneously adorned badges and white sheets.  Forty-seven years seem like an eternity, unless maybe, you are Black and poor.  If one fast forwards to the day Aiyana was burned and shot to death in Detroit, he or she may consider that time, region, and so called advancements in Blackness have not catapulted our struggle much at all.  Black girls are still being brutalized.  Many of our police systems still neglect to serve or protect us.  No one appears to be as outraged as he or she should be.  It is a reality that just makes me feel sad and hopeless.  I’m sorry that I don’t have a more ardent way of expressing my feelings; sadness and hopelessness is all I can muster.

In Birmingham, not one public official thought that the senseless murders of those beautiful Black girls were worth investigating, or avenging.  As a matter of fact, only one Klansman of the many involved, Robert Chambliss, was arrested- and that was more than 10 years after the murders. No accomplices or the police who impeded the shoddy investigation were ever charged.  This act of terror was only whispered about before being almost completely silenced and then forgotten.  In all of this, I wonder where Aiyana’s life and death will sit in the following days, months, years and decades.  What will our memory of her be?

The media is already making a case for us to sympathize with the Detroit Police Department and the officer who allegedly “mistakenly” shot Aiyana while tussling with the child’s grandmother (although this version of the story appears to be an imaginative cover-up and there may be video footage to suggest that shots were fired into the house before any such “tussle”).  We are not supposed to remember that the murder warrant was being served at the incorrect address (it was a two family home, the suspect was found in an upstairs unit).  We are supposed to believe that it was necessary for DPD to throw a flash bomb through the window of a home where they knew children may be sleeping at that midnight hour (the bomb is believed to have landed on Aiyana, burning her before she was shot to death) .  We are not to consider what the accompanying reality television videoing may have done to distract those officers from that very dangerous and obviously deadly S.W.A.T detail.  We should not acknowledge that there was no murder suspect or mass of weaponry found in Mertilla Jones’ home, regardless of her family’s alleged association with Chauncey Owens, the suspect. More personally, I am not to think of my own daughter Nailah, who frequently stays the night with my mother in what many consider an “unsafe” neighborhood in South Houston, TX.  Such pondering may create anger, and possibly demands for more accountability and humanity in the way that we seek to be respected, protected and policed as full human beings- as Baldwin notes in the aforementioned speech: “that is the crisis.”

The only important thing to consider in this case, as in the case of the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church, is if one changed the race of those who were murdered and the location of the murders, would the events and the outcomes be different? I believe they would.  If those four little girls were not Black and if they and their families had not chosen to worship at that Black church in that Black area of Birmingham- they very well may still be alive.  If Aiyana was not Black, and if her grandmother was not a resident of what the police considered a “bad area” where criminals go to “escape justice,” if the Joneses were not thought to be guilty first- she may be alive also.

Not one life is more valuable than another. One’s income, or complete lack thereof, place of dwelling, or absence of dwelling, victimizer of the oppressed or victim of oppression, should determine whether he or she lives or dies.  At some point in this nation’s history, as Jimmy pointed out, such questions would not have been considered. I’m well aware that such a moment of outrage may never have happened for Black Americans, as our story here begins with brutality.  Still, and this is what I believe Baldwin alludes to, it should have.  A human life, and above all the life of an innocent child, is a thing to be made safe .  As much as those who govern this nation, we are also somehow responsible that such a day no longer exists.  Rest in power Aiyana and all victims of brutal, fatal injustice.  May it not take another forty-seven years before we see the change that we deserve.

The Full Text of Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers” can be found here

Aiyana’s family speaks here

A brief but insightful discussion of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing can be found here

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Self Definition and the Slaying of Superwoman

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 at 6:42 pm

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ~ Audre Lorde

T and I have been the best of friends since sixth grade.  She used to sneak her mother’s fashion fair makeup to school and give me fushia lips and golden shimmery eyes.  I love her.  I got to rub her belly a few days ago. It’s big and full; she’s seven months into a pregnancy that she’s waited a long time for.  T will be an excellent mother. My own mother commented that she has “raised enough of other folks babies” to make that a reality.  She’s beautiful, and strong, and depressed.  We talked about the difficult relationship that she has had with her yet born son’s father.  She feels like a failure because she has given him so many chances, and he continues to disappoint her, but she can’t seem to let him go.  T is afraid, as she should be, of raising a child alone.  She also feels less than excited about the baby’s arrival, and feels guilt about that too.  I’ve been at that point, where the construct of Black womanhood comes crashing down, and one sits in the rubble of a lifetime of teachings wondering if any of those teachings hold truth.

My day came after the premature birth of my daughter and her lengthy hospital stay.  I wanted to be this perfect mother and wife, and so I somehow managed to do everything with little help and little regard for myself.  I had finally begun my graduate studies, bought a home, cooked, cleaned, diapered, worked full time, and performed my “wifely duties”.  I had become my mother, the super woman, and I wanted to die.  Since dying wasn’t an option, I settled for therapy.  I chose a therapist that was an older Black woman, because I needed to speak freely to a woman who had probably been where I was, and who wouldn’t tell me how what I was experiencing was life- so I shouldn’t complain (as this is what I was constantly being fed by my mother, aunties, cousins, and some friends).  I wrote a list of things I wanted to discuss with her.  I was prepared for it all, except when during my first session I relented that I felt like a slave.  The tears came, a heap of them, and I couldn’t look my therapist in the face.  I was ashamed.  Ashamed that I had come from such a wonderful stock of women, who had survived slavery and share cropping and all the atrocities that existed within those systems, and I could barely pull myself out of bed. They were midwives, church mothers, community organizers, womanists before womanism was defined…superwomen, and here I was complaining because I had no time to read and write.

I spoke of my grandmother, who bore eleven children, hauled meals to the fields, tended her personal gardens and livestock, made beds and cakes for church bake sales- probably all while pregnant.  I once asked my mother, who was somewhere in the middle of all those babies, how she knew when my grandmother was pregnant.  She told me, well sometimes she would lay across her bed with a cold towel on her forehead.  I don’t think I spoke for two whole days after that conversation.  I just didn’t have the words to explain my feelings as a woman in that moment, and I felt sad for her and for me.  My mother had traveled in my grandmothers footsteps, somewhat.  She only had three children, but scraped and struggled nonetheless.  I assumed it was my turn to be superwoman, but I didn’t want to be, and it made me want to hide.  My therapist told me that she was proud of me as she handed me more tissue.  She said that what we often don’t realize about our matriarchs as we construct these superhero stereotypes is that many of them were depressed, even suicidal.  They felt those same feelings of hopelessness that I was feeling.  She said that I felt like a slave, because, well, I was allowing myself to be treated as one, and that I deserved and needed to 1) define my own womanhood, 2) make time in my life to do the things that bring me joy and peace, and 3) thrive.  Those words connected me with my ancestral mothers and gave me power.  Peace to that woman and all women who allow a sacred space for full humanity- absent of the myth and lore that destroys us.

My time with T and my reflections on my own life somehow made me think of Lauryn Hill.  I remember when her MTV Unplugged album and video were released. It seemed that everyone hated it.  There sat Lauryn, acoustic guitar, baseball cap, raspy voice, broken heart.  She was so transparent and full of truth and beauty, as she literally sang her heart out.  I cried with her, I understood.  Many people didn’t understand, they refused to. How could a woman who had been the pinnacle of young Black womanhood sit there so broken, so confused, so different than the image that had been constructed for her?  I saw Lauryn in that moment, and even today, as brave and Nzinga warrior-like.  It takes courage to be bare. More courage to sit naked and  challenge the system that erroneously creates a standard that you will never measure up to.  People’s discomfort with her was not at all about Lauryn, but more about what they themselves were hiding from- what they refused to admit about themselves and their fellow hu(e)mans.  Hill’s I Get Out became my anthem.  On most days it says everything I want to but am not audacious enough to say.

I won’t support your lie no more
I won’t even try no more
If I have to die, oh Lord
That’s how I choose to live
I won’t be compromised no more
I can’t be victimised no more
I just don’t sympathize no more
Cuz now I understand

Black women are taught and expected to be strong, regardless.  There is no space for T’s heartbreak and doubt. There is no space for me to be a mother and a wife who wants her life to be more than those things.  There is no space for Lauryn to leave a successful music career to raise her babies and define her own ideas of success.  There are no spaces for regular Black women without an attached guilt- just spaces for superwomen- whomever they are.  I told T to take her time, that she could love her man for as long as her heart told her to- without judgment from me, much in the same way that my therapist told me that I could write this post instead of folding this waiting laundry- guilt free.  I also told her that it was okay to be afraid, and to even feel unsure and sad about her baby’s birth.  The best advice we can give each other as human beings on this earth is to say that we can be whatever and whomever we need to be in our weakest and strongest moments.  Black women in particular need to carve out spaces where simply being is enough, for our selves and for our sisters.  Somehow these musings are my contribution to Mental Health Awareness Month.  Our lack of the ability to define ourselves leads to the shadowy places where mental illnesses like depression sit, waiting.  Also, this Alice Walker quote , I have certainly been reading a lot of her lately, seems to fit, “Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.”  Let us actively choose who we are and who we will become with freedom and acceptance.  It may not end world wars, but it may end some internal ones. Ase.

Common, Latifah and Thick Snack Shrugs

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 2:14 am

Swagtastic, but at a price…

I have a mean swagger (fine I couldn’t think of a better descriptor)… A vain statement, possibly, but I’ve earned the right to say it.  I have lived outside the traditional standard of beauty since I was knee high to a grasshopper and have never failed to be reminded of this fact, whether it be from school mates, well meaning family members, or abusive boyfriends.  The first time I recall being called fat was in 5th grade, by one of the popular boys, I suppose if one can be popular in elementary school. Actually, I remember bringing those comments up to that boy once he became a man and decided that he loved women with curves like mine, upon him asking me out on a date.  He apologized by the way, however I still chose not to go out with him.  Actually, I have been called fat, chubby, big boned, thick, chunky, voluptuous, big fine, buxom, and more recently a thick snack ( a term brought to my attention by the lovely Huny Young whom I adore) to name a few terms. I wear all of them like beautiful scarves, or scars, I’m not certain which one exactly, but I wear them nonetheless. I would be remiss in not acknowledging that being assaulted with such adjectives has led to quite a few tears, some depression, and certainly many insecurities.  They have also led to an exceptional pursuit of knowledge (I suppose in response to being “unpretty”), a Cum Laude degree, a burgeoning writing career, and a mean-head held high-arched back walk.  I have had absolutely no choice but to accept myself and love myself, despite what society says I’m supposed to look like.  It was either self acceptance or misery, and “I love myself when I am laughing” (thank you Zora Neale), so I choose the former.

It all started on twitter…

For the reasons mentioned above, and for the mental illnesses that have sat beside them- you know the thoughts of suicide, bulimia, red pepper diets, promiscuity, et. al.- I am extremely sensitive about how unrealistic beauty standards affect women, and how we sometimes unconsciously perpetuate them. So, I admittedly have a few ruffled feathers after reading replies to this twitter post from Harry Allen today.  Harry and his tweeps were discussing Common and Queen Latifah’s new film “Just Wright” , where Latifah’s character and her best friend (played by Paula Patton) pursue the same man, who is played by Common of course.  Harry’s issue with the film appears to be that the pairing and the casting in general was ill chosen because 1) Comm is unconvincing as a professional athlete and 2) Latifah is unconvincing as a woman pursuing a heterosexual relationship.  However, my timeline offered a different reasoning as to why the film is “unbelievable”.  I immediately asked if the twitterverse was implying that Latifah wasn’t plausible as Common’s love interest because she was deemed as not being attractive enough to “win” his heart. After a few responses it appeared that most men, and a few women, agreed that Common (Scott) choosing Latifah (Leslie) over Paula Patton (Morgan) was unrealistic, which puzzled me for a moment because I find both women to be stunning.

Pretty for a big girl…

In chatting with a friend about this twitter conversation,  I was confronted with a statement that made me pause.  She said, “But Latifah is just as beautiful as Paula Patton.  She’s really pretty for a plus-sized girl.” Full. Stop. Heart. Drop. I may have gone a little left on my sister-friend.  See, this is where those insecurities surface along with my common response to them, a flippant mouth.  Commenting that someone is attractive “for” “fill in the blank with dark, big, and otherwise not Beyonce”, is akin to saying that one is not really attractive at all.  That being said, one is either desirable or she is not, adding clauses is reductive and therefore not really complimentary at all.  This, of course, from the woman who has often been described as “pretty for a big girl”. I can speak on it. It is still hurtful, whether one acknowledges it or not.

The bite and the antidote…

Like a Black cop who racially profiles while on patrol and objects to being racially profiled while driving in plain clothes, I am also guilty of a bit of hypocrisy in mildly dissing Latifah.  After reading those tweets I thought, “as if a man isn’t capable of judging a woman on more than looks.”  Wait…what?  Me implying that Scott chose to date Leslie instead of Morgan, still maintains, somehow, that Latifah is less attractive than Paula, which is not the case.  The two women are certainly a different lovely, but lovely nonetheless.  I shared this observance with my girl Genine (@moreandagain on twitter), in response to this tweet from her.  Umph. I’m nobody’s consolation prize.  As a matter of fact,  I can recall telling a lover once, “Listen, if I’m not what you want, I’m what someone goes to bed and wakes up dreaming about. Let me find him. Don’t waste my time.” Extra, possibly, but I get it in exactly like that.  I’m not sure I even believed that statement when I spoke it, but by speaking it then, and many times since, it has become my affirmation, manifesto, and reality.

Get it how you live…

I wondered after those twitter conversations, how many of the men claiming that the pairing was implausible really wish they were strong enough to choose a Latifah over a Paula?  How many of these men are closeted thick snack lovers, dreaming of amply breast, hips, thighs and bottoms to get lost in?  I bet a lot.  As a matter of fact, trust me when I say more than they, or the model types they run around with pretending to desire, would like to admit to.  C’mon fellas, get it how you live.  In New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world, the locals use that phrase.  It is a term that translates to mean one should live guilt free, by their own devices, and in the moment.  I was waiting for one of my male followers to reply to me saying, in honesty, that he would have made the same choice as Scott. I haven’t received that reply, but I haven’t checked my direct messages either, as there may be a few replies hiding there *smirk*.  Yes, I used the word hiding because many men hide their true feelings and desires for women who are not the “dime prototype” as they can not fathom living outside the societal standard.  We love the comfort of boxes even if we pretend to abhor them.  It is unfair to expect a person you desire, care for, or love to live in a shadowy space because you lack the courage and strength to express that desire, care, or love openly and freely.  I’ve been hidden, it was so harmful that to this day if I have an inkling of a feeling that someone does not freely and openly desire or love me, I remove myself from the situation, even if it hurts me to do so.

*Thick snack shrug*…

In the end, I believe that the acceptance of the curves that make this sultry size fourteen has made me audacious.  I don’t love my body every day, but I do love it most days.  I also love it enough to spark conversations about body acceptance, and well, acceptance over all.  I don’t take issue with personal preferences on any level, but I have a problem with people being inauthentic.  I don’t agree that it is unbelievable for a man to love a woman who looks like Queen Latifah over a woman who looks like Paula Patton.  I also don’t believe that many people realize making such statements serves as justification for some woman somewhere to vomit up her dinner in an effort to look more like Paula.  As thoughts and words become things, we need to realize that it is rarely ever just harmless talk that we engage in, *thick snack shrug*.  I’ll keep on sashaying, converting the non-believers, and asking questions.  Here are a few as a matter of fact:

What are your thoughts on the idea that a Latifah could never end up with a Common?

What are you insecure about?

Have you been told that you are pretty for a __________?

How can we promote body acceptance, and acceptance over all?

(My friend Neens always asks questions at the end of her wonderful blogposts, which can be found here .  I Thought I’d give it a shot too.  After all, Zora says research is only formalized curiosity.)

The Malcolm X Principle

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2010 at 2:22 am

So apparently, everyone from German news sites, to Black men pedaling books, has the remedy to the issue of Black woman singlehood. It has become quite a market, this idea that Black women are desperate to mate and are unfortunate in doing so, apparently because they need “fixin”.  The latest ploy appears to be a book entitled, “The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find Good Black Men” by Jimi Izrael.  The premise appears to be that women want a balance of wealth, good looks, and success, amongst other things, and that we look for this special balance that doesn’t exist in real life.  I haven’t had an opportunity to read the book, and I won’t go into the manner in which books such as these are mercilessly damaging the esteem of beautiful women who imagine that, because they are single, there is something wrong with them.

I don’t know that I identify at all with the single story that is being produced, displayed, projected, and shouted from the rooftops about Black women being beat into defeat by the S word.  As a matter of fact, many of the women I know are happily single, and if more knew the work that went into long term relationships and marriage, I gather there would be more names to add to that list. The fairy tell love story that we feed all women is a topic for another blog, space, and time.  For once I won’t go there.

However, on the anniversary of the assassination of one of the greatest leaders I have studied, regardless of race, I must interject that if I was to create a “type” list from which to measure potential suitors, Denzel Washington would not be the prototype.  No disrespect at all to the beautiful brother, but I want more, a lot more.  The man that we have come to know as Malcolm X means more to me, and most everyone I know, than words could truly express, which is an enormous feat for a writer. This considered, it is not actually his charisma, his ability to mentally and verbally dissect the dilemma of my people, his handsome smile, or his simple might that tops my list of characteristics to look for. My desires are much deeper.

Let’s begin with beginnings, with foundations, with the essence of brother Malcolm.  We must never forget that, possibly, had it not been for another of our exceptional leaders, Marcus Garvey, we would not have had the good fortune to know Malcolm X.  I would argue that Malcolm’s parents, who were Garveyites, instilled in him a respect for himself and his race that would have been difficult to produce from any other movement of that period.  Malcolm watched his mother and father battle for a true emancipation, one that had not come with the proclamation perpetuated in 1865.  That being said, I would like my future mate to have a strong foundation and understanding that we must work towards true freedom and equity, without limits and without a desire to fold.

Malcolm left his roots like a prodigal son after noting that fighting for freedom and justice saw his father murdered and his mother mentally and emotionally unstable as a result of her husband’s death.  He was, at various points, thought to be a bookie, a pimp, a thief, a narcotics dealer and a narcotics abuser, among other indecent things, I’m sure.  A low life for a high man, which unfortunately is sometimes how life plays out. But through his incarceration, and finding the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Malcolm evolved into what I can only describe as brilliance.  A phoenix of sorts, rising from the ashes of what this country, many times, forces Black men to become.  I desire that my mate be able to evolve, to grow, and to overcome adversity, as this life will surely be filled with it.

The dedication and loyalty that Malcolm showed his family and the Nation of Islam is, well, chilling.  The thought of it, many times, gives me goose bumps, not in an eerie way mind you, but in a manner of sheer astonishment.  It is often noted that as J Edgar Hoover and the FBI unlawfully tapped the conversations of Malcolm X, they never heard anything more than the brother solidifying thoughts and plans, and speaking with his wife about her and the children.  It’s true, there is footage available of Dr. King that reveals some philandering that we would not like to acknowledge.  Our leaders were human beings, in each and every sense of those words. And this is not to say that Malcolm was perfect, at various points his marriage to Betty Shabazz was in shambles, but over all he was purposeful, organized, and unrelenting in his passion, other qualities on my checklist.

The greatest lesson I have learned from the life of Malcolm X came from reading of his travels to Mecca to make Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam, and should be carried out at least once in every Muslim’s life.  Upon making Hajj, Brother Malcolm had to reconsider many of the things that he had been taught, and in turn had been teaching. Having one’s belief system challenged can be earth shattering, the courage to pick up the shattered pieces, renew, and rebuild, is another thing entirely.  El Hajj Malik El Shabazz did precisely that.  His break from the Nation was not merely a result of his contention with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, but also because there were tenants of the religion that, upon experiencing Hajj, he could not adhere to. This caused immeasurable strife and ultimately death, but he had to live and teach his truth.  The audacity of leaving what one knows is hindering one’s growth and beginning anew, this is what I desire in a partner.  Courage under fire; the ability to walk and lead in truth, although living a lie would be easy and comfortable. Yes.

So you see, my checklist does not at all include spaces for income levels, six pack abdominals, and “good hair”.  If I was to create a principle type by which I would measure the men I date, the list would not be centered around a famous actor.  I’ve always been one to jump at the sun you see, one to desire the greatest among whatever is being compared.  So I unequivocally choose Malcolm.  Let’s see a brother write that book while deciding to direct women on what they should look for in a mate.  Yup.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to celebrate the life and legacy our Black Shining Prince…

The great Ossie Davis eulogizes El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (audio/video) :

http://twurl.cc/2832

James Baldwin and Malcolm X debate being Black in America (audio, part 1 of 7)

http://twurl.cc/2833

Malcolm X discusses the white power structure at a roundtable disucussion.

http://twurl.cc/2834

The Pipe Dream of a Post Racial America

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2010 at 3:45 am

As I made coffee this morning I watched a segment on a national news station that discussed the plight of Black Farmers still trying to settle a discrimination lawsuit dating back more than a decade.  I look at that time in history and realize that this case is both too far to trust and too close for comfort.  The original case was settled in 1999, but the National Black Farming Association contends that more than 80,000 of their members missed the filing deadline.  These men and women are attempting to get what is owed to them, reparations for the racism they encountered at the hands of the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In reference to this case being settled originally a little over ten years ago, we must acknowledge that such discrimination being perpetuated in these recent times proves that racism is still a very integral and prevalent part of US culture and society.

Many may wonder why a city girl, finishing her Master’s degree, and looking towards her PhD would be concerned about these struggling Black farmers.  It’s because beyond my womanly pomp and circumstance, I am just a country girl- back woods, bayou raised, red clay dirt on my feet,  and blackberries straight from the bush in my mouth.  I’m proud beyond measure at my families ascension from enslavement to Cum Laude college graduates.  When I saw those farmers standing, far away from their southern fields, freezing in the Washington DC snow, I thought of my father who had to quit school in 6th grade to help his family share crop, and my maternal grandmother who toiled in the fields of her tenant farm while carrying most of her eleven children.  Also, I think of my uncles, still audacious enough to try and fare decently in this economy and place where global warming makes the return on crop harvesting little to none.  Mind you, my great grandmother was, as my mother often brags, pitch Black African and once enslaved.  They called her Ma’am Sweet. She spoke French and through her midwifery delivered almost every child in her Parish. I can see her instinctively mixing her herbs and attending her private garden, a harvest that she would use to feed her own family and would often share with the whites in the neighboring community.  I think of all the Black hands that raised the food, which has nourished this nation, and raised the cotton, cane, etc., which has built it and  I wonder if those hands might be shown decency and respect in the new year, decade, or century, that a people who have given so much and gotten so little, still somehow rising, could be treated with the basic humanity shown to others who have invested much less and received much more.

I also ponder where in a land that transcends race would a group of Black employees win an EEOC lawsuit against their former bosses who decided that, as a result of their race, they should be subjected to higher amounts or frequencies of radiation.  Welcome to Memphis Tenessee, land of Stax Records, the murder of Dr. King, and a nuclear power plant called…wait for this…RACE (Radiological Assistance, Consulting and Engineering).  From RACE, 23 Black employees filed a class action suit asserting:

white managers at RACE subjected African-American employees to excessive radiation exposure — more than their white co-workers. The company allegedly assigned black workers to the shop with radioactive waste while white employees worked elsewhere, and it manipulated the dosimeters that measure radiation exposure to mask the actual levels that black workers received. ~ Sue Sturgis southernstudies.com

The employees won the case, $650,000 divided between all of them, minus any fees they may have incurred.  It sounds like pennies, an obvious under-compensation, when one considers the damage that radiation exposure can cause. Being subjected to this poison not only increases the workers’ risks of diseases like cancer, but also affects the organs, even the reproductive ones, and the children they will produce or already have produced. We are speaking about a fate worse than lynching, where the savagery can potentially transcend your lifetime and trickle down your lineage- a sort of environmental apartheid that should be considered a criminal matter instead of a civil one.

Forward ever like the great champion of our people Marcus Garvey would often chant, let’s discuss briefly the incident where Chris Matthews commented that, after watching POTUS deliver a riveting State of the Union Address, he “forgot Obama was Black for an hour”.  There are a few aspects of this statement that upset me, with my first qualm being the idea that Matthews thought that he was paying Obama a compliment.  In other words, and as Matthews and others like him believe, it is an honor and a privilege to not have one’s blackness taken into consideration.  The thought of transcending, or better yet ascending, race automatically attributes one’s accomplishments to attempting to ascertain a standard of whiteness. It is after all how we measure our success, with whiteness I mean. As a matter of fact Frantz Fanon would contend that, “For the Black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.” I would argue that Fanon was not referring to the hearts of Black people but more so to the masks that many have to wear in order to be accepted in the larger society.  The White Privilege that perpetuates this destiny of whiteness, that makes whites believe that being a lighter complexion, or speaking without the use of Black English Vernacular makes blacks more white, less black, and the leaders of the Black race as a result, is the elephant in the room that no one wishes to address.  The idea that American culture wishes to assimilate my blackness into nothingness appears to be no cause for alarm.  I feel some kind of way about that…

In a Post Racial America acceptance and tolerance are what the nation stands atop.  There, no one needs to discuss race at all.  It is a place of inclusion where every race and culture is celebrated, not a place where I sit wondering why Beyonce, Shakira and Jay Lo all look like the same woman although each is of a different culture and heritage.  What people like Chris Matthews and the makers of Loreal want us to believe and understand is that there are Whites, and then there are a small percentage of POC that need to blend and morph into an almost but not quite white being.  I don’t want to be some alien, forced to leave behind all of the people, stories and humble beginnings that make me who I am.  I fully understand that no one would forget that my nappy hair, brown skin, and red clay dusted feet define me as Black.  I don’t find a shame in my Blackness that makes me want to honor not being seen as such. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in her essay How Does It Feel to be Colored Me, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.”  This is my constitution. Accept all of me or none of me as you move past race dear America. I’ll be fine either way…

Dr. King, Haiti, and Extreme Social Activism

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 11:12 pm

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. ~ Dr. Martin Luter King, Jr. A Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I take time on Dr. King’s birthday, ever year, to re-familiarize myself with why he was such an exceptional leader, revolutionary, social activist, minister and man.  We all, I believe are well versed on his accomplishments in the Black American struggle for human rights, but I believe what makes him most remarkable is his keen ability to use his heart, mind and spirit to facilitate progress within that movement.  The document that most thoroughly explains and actualizes our need for social justice and , in my opinion, the idea that a deliverance of such justice can not wait, is his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

Dr. King’s letter was written in response to local clergymen in Birmingham’s attempt to paint him as an agitator because he organized non-violent demonstrations against segregation and violence towards Blacks in the city (and throughout the US, actually).  King’s letter speaks directly to this particular incident, but more so outlines a compassionate and coherent case for social activism and justice that can serve as a model for any human rights movement.

As I sift through the pages of the letter, I can not help but consider Haiti.  One section deals specifically with the “white moderate”, who according to King, sat idly by as Blacks were lynched,beaten, and mauled by police and attack dogs, with their only crime being a desire to live as women and men.  He also harshly criticized white ministers who, through their biblical scholarship and pledges to do God’s work, should have joined him in his fight for the ultimate show of morality, civility and liberty.  King was angered and saddened that people could be so callous towards and dismissive of such horrid human suffering.  Unfortunately, so also is the case in Haiti.

I may exchange the “moderate white” that King speaks of in his letter for the “moderate westerner”, because truly the humanity of the Haitian people have been dismissed even by American Blacks whose ancestors toiled, sweated, bled and died, ultimately so that the US government could find itself in a position to pledge 100 million dollars to help rebuild Haiti. Our pain sits at the cornerstone of this wealthy nation, and the suffering that many of us are witnessing through this Haitian earthquake coverage should not at all be lost on any of us. It should instead be a familiar cutting pain that we can trace back as far as the arrival of the first slaves in Jamestown or as close as images of floating dead bodies in NOLA after Katrina.  Actually, it should be a global pain that the human family feels collectively. Any person in the world who lacks compassion for the people of Haiti today demonstrates, as Joesph Conrad noted, a heart of darkness.

In speaking of dark hearts, King, in the letter, writes about weeping at the lack of human kindness Blacks were shown during the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately,  instead of weeping, I teeter totter between feelings of anger and disgust to those of nonchalance. Part of me is outraged at comments like those of Pat Robertson, a separate part is not at all surprised by those comments and even less surprised at the number of people who share Robertson’s world and social view.  I fully understand that we are all extremists, and also that, as Dr. King points  out below, we have to decide what kind of extremists we will be.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

So what say you exactly? How will you treat Haiti as you honor Dr. King?  Will you note that just as Blacks in the US during the Civil Rights Movement could not wait any longer to be treated as full human beings, so also can Haitians not wait to have their humanity recognized and respected.  Do not dismiss the suffering of a people because you choose to be a moderate westerner.  I dare you to be extreme and even more to be extreme for social justice.  If you can not lift bodies from the rubble, if you can not afford to donate, the least you can do is ensure that you take no part in the “poverty porn” that is being perpetuated on your TV screens.  People will say that Black and Brown people can wait.  But we can no longer wait for any of our people to be seen as more than wretched caricatures of hopelessness and despair.  Dr. King changed the world through his acts of extremism.  At the core though, he just wanted himself and his people to be seen in their flesh.   All any of us wants is to be visible, to be seen, that really is all.  Let us each do for our brothers and sisters in Haiti what the moderates would not do for Black Americans during the Civil rights movement.  We should stand up and stand beside Haitians as they battle for their lives and for their dignity, and be extreme in doing so.

Dr. King’s Letter from  a Birmingham Jail:

http://twurl.cc/22ji

Haitians react to Pat Robertson’s ‘devil pact’ remark:

http://bit.ly/7tGGIL

For Ayiti

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when It’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it. ~ Edwidge Danticat

My heart has many compartments, sacred spaces for sacred people, and one of those spaces belongs to the people of Haiti.  I don’t love Haiti because I pity her, let me be clear about this so that there is no misunderstanding.  Haiti suffers with more pity and inaction intertwined than possibly any other place on this planet and my revolutionary spirit does not care much for those types of  bandwagons.  My love for her sits beautifully, poised  and majestic, eagerly recalling a freedom that somehow my heart knows more than two hundred years after she became free.  Yes, I celebrate her sons Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Alexandre Petion, but also every slave, every overseer, every African spirit who decided that our people were not chattel and were destined for liberation.  That spirit is still very much alive in her, despite and maybe because of all the hardship that she faces.  When I ponder Haiti, I ponder her with these feelings of love, respect, and adoration.

I wish that each of us could see her in this way.  But the truth is, the “first world” has never forgiven Haiti for daring to revolt and being successful at it.  We’ve all heard the stories,  Haiti is cursed because the “natives” practice “black magic”, as if the speakers’ religions don’t celebrate the birth and death of their Messiah with jolly bearded white men, bunnies, and sparkling trees. I know all to well about the privilege of finger pointing and victim blaming.  Vodun is the least of Haiti’s problems and the last reason for her misery.

Let us not go back past the Revolution. If you are reading this, I assume you know the horrors of colonialism, of slavery, of the breaking of bodies and spirits, this I’m sure would be an antiquated approach to our discussion- so I won’t bother with it.  We can begin with the boycott of the free nation, internationally organized, that began when Haiti won her independence from France in 1804.  And then there was that whole US occupation that you never read about, which lasted from about 1913 to about 1934 (also add in the US’ dominance over the island after World War II).  So yes, the humanitarian “aid” that you are told the US supplies to Haiti, if anything at all, is a quiet admission of wrong doing and a payment of reparations.  We can speak truth here, it is a safe place to do so.

We must also take into account that Haiti’s leadership, it’s rich and elite, have been greedy, never allowing the capital that does flow into the country to trickle down to its poorest citizens.  Education, also, is a very serious issue on the island with a reported literacy rate of around 53%.  It is understood that literacy creates a process of questioning and questioning leads to change.  Oppression and a lack of educational opportunities certainly hold hands,this is a familiar tool of the master.  However, Haiti has bigger challenges than miseducation. I would dare say that at the foundation of all of her problems is an insurmountable debt that began with France demanding Haiti “repay” him for making her a colony (as if France had not prospered enough from slave labor and stolen resources, which, I suppose, is another blog to write).  Additionally, during the Duvalier dictatorship (from 1957-1986) untold monies were stolen from the country, some estimate through audit that in the last few years of occupation alone more than 500 million went missing.  Imagine that amount multiplied in years.  The thought should make you gasp.  And we can not forget the ridiculous amount of debt owed to the Inter-American Development Bank, whose offices sit in Washington DC, the headquarters of your free world. Every penny that Haiti earns she owes, it is a tragic game that produces the single story you are seeing unfold on your local news stations- one of a poor, destitute, evil, and black Haiti that simply is not worth your compassion and care.  Yet there are still more contributing factors.  I would love to also discuss the impact of environmental factors like soil erosion, and more so the importing of products that stifle the efforts of local businesses in this post, but that is also a discussion for another time.  Our time is short, Haiti needs us, and the whys are less important than the what nows in this moment.

Natural disasters are natural, thus the name.  Does Haiti somehow have more than its share?  Who am I to determine the yes or no of that? What I will say is that the world has made it so that Haiti can not recover. Hearing of the way that the buildings literally crumbled after yesterday’s earthquake, speaks less of natural disasters and more of a failed infrastructure, simply to weak to withstand the pressure.  Those buildings, in my mind, represent my people there, and subsequently my heart, because they are suffering as they are.  Suffering is not new to the world, we see it all too often, but what constantly shocks and amazes me is the lack of compassion and empathy, the callousness that even other black people have towards Haiti.  It turns my stomach.

We have to realize that we are Haiti, as we are Zimbabwe, as we are Chicago.  We have to act now with vigor and earnestness, certainly, but we have to act again and again,  because as Edwidge Danticat noted, we can not only consider Haiti and other places like Haiti in these extreme times.  I humbly ask you to donate whatever you can to the nation that reminded you that you were once free and again could be.  I donated last night to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti organization, as I have in the past.  It matters not to me how you take action, just that you take it.  Let us put our hearts where our mouths are, and our money and our time and whatever other resources we may have to give.  Please.

Text ‘YELE’ to 501501 or visit http://www.yele.org/ to donate to Yele Haiti

Donate to http://www.americares.org/ as they specialize in earthquake relief & medical response as a result.