Luke, Caged: The Joy of Black Love and the Agony of Police Reform

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Lemme start this spoiler-filled review/hotpiece with the following caveat: I love superhero shows in general. Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage was good in most respects. While some reviewers worry about the conservative nature of Cage, you have to take into account that Power Man was no more going after “black-on-black” crime than Daredevil goes after “white-on-white” crime. By nature, superhero stories are inherently conservative in that they focus on the power of a select group of people fighting evil people (who tend to be poor, at least on the street level), rather than fighting evil structures, and rather than focusing the liberation and radical empowerment of the many. In this vein, LC is not any more so conservative than Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, and in many ways, much less so.

A few other thoughts I had while watching the series.

One, in the Black Lives Matter Age, there is a lot of talk about Black Death, particularly among fellow non-Black folks, but there is not so much talk about Black Life and what that means. The Harlem of Luke Cage, however, is unapologetically Black. It is breathing in the blues, jazz, hip-hop, sports-talk, trash-talk, barbershops, and shared history of Black people in Harlem and throughout the US. The show breathes love of Black people, Black business, Black culture, Black minds, Black ingenuity, Black sex (despite the awful coffee jokes). Black love. These are not just bodies in the street, but lived lives.

Add to the mix that the blackness experience is not singular here. Early on, we have three different perspectives for what it means to love Black Harlem in a White Supremacist Capitalist world: Cottonmouth’s with money, his cousin Councilwoman Mariah’s with political power, and Pop the Barber’s with interpersonal relationships (later we also hear from good-but-suspicious cop Misty Knight about protecting from bullies using the law, but, well…). Unlike later villain Diamondback, none of these characters is cartoonish in their perspectives. They all have redeeming qualities not only with their personalities, but also with their perspectives. They’re all trying with what they know and how they exceed.

Two, after the police conduct a racialized stop-and-frisk brutalization of Harlem youth culminating in one of them being beaten in an interrogation room, I felt abjectly cheated. There was no justice for Lonnie Wilson – who we mutedly met in the first scenes – despite his face being torn up and bloodied by the police. And while that one cop – a bad seed – was put on leave pending an investigation, the commanders and supervisors who ran and sanctioned this operation and who left this child alone in the hands of this violent man in a tight room were free to run about their day, making justifications for their racism.

Three, under the direction of Councilwoman Mariah Dillard at a rally in her nightclub, the BLM protests are completely undone. No, contrary to White imagination, they do not turn violent – at least in the sense of destroying property. Instead, politician-cum-underworld master “Black Mariah” turns their rage against the police force into one of empowering the police with even more deadly weapons. She reminds her audience that the real threat is not the police but Cage, whom in a bit of J. Jonah Jameson-inspired blurb she calls a superpowered “menace.” Councilwoman/gun-runner Dillard appeases the conscience of racist police by reassuring listeners that the police were merely shook up themselves because they too were afraid of LC. If only they had better weapons, the reasoning explicitly goes, they would leave us good people alone.

But that’s not how the police referred to the “blacks and Hispanics” of Harlem. “The good people in Harlem have no problem with me. Just the assholes.” But the police weren’t even shaking down known troublemakers (which should have been questioned anyway). Apparently, being a young black or brown male in Harlem makes you an asshole, worthy of being hurt. Blackness means not only should you be feared, but that you should fear.

By nature, superhero stories suspend disbelief. But only so far. We can never trust the physics put before us, but we want to follow the psychics – the characters’ believability – of these stories. We need to believe that these are human beings – that they are us in a world where Einstein and Newton are tossed out the window. The fact that these protesters sided with Mariah in arming rather than disarming the police was not just poor writing – it was a punch to the gut. Are people really this dumb? Can we bend realism that far?

Can a group protesting police brutality against black people really go to demanding that the police be given more resources for their victimization? And then I remembered that’s how most politicians are spinning the Black Lives Matter movement now – whether they support Blue Lives Matter laws or they tell protesters that they need to vote, not boo. Hell, compare what the neoliberal wing of the wider BLM movement did with Campaign Zero with the much more roots-deep Movement for Black Lives.

We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

Colonialism, Private Property, and Repairs

As several commentators have recently had to address reparations while the proliferation of white, male Bernie Sanders’ supporters talk over and for other groups (“Bernie Bros”), thought it may be time to have a discussion on what reparations could look like since many seem stuck on the notion of cash payouts. First, a primer on the relationship between race, class, gender, and property.

Race is a social construct made necessary for the wealth exploitation of racism, an invention of the colonizing West dating back at least to the Spanish explorations  exploitations of the New World and the Portuguese explorations exploitations of Africa. Racism was a necessity for the wealth building that would be the foundation of capitalism and the modern world, by which most of the world is still exploited vis a vis racism.

The legacy of the United States and other Western powers, as marked by none other than Marx, in regards to black and native people is one of severe wage theft and land plunder, buoyed by state-sanctioned murder. This is not a radical or new concept to anyone familiar with US history near the margins; this is the foundation of land grabs and reservations, chattel slavery and sharecropping, Jim Crow and mass incarceration necessary for American economic and military expansion. This is the legacy of colonialism and empire brought to a head.

This theft and murder did not end 150 years ago nor 50 years ago nor – despite a slowing – will it end anytime in the foreseeable future on its own. There is a necessity to correct the evils of police brutality and mass incarceration focused on black and brown people as well as the numerous schemes* to steal the labor, wages, property, and wealth of Native and Black people. To not correct and make right is to accept the evils of racism and exploitation through the course of American blood.

In a White Supremacist Capitalist system like the United States (or the rest of the West), we cannot come to terms with classism and wage theft without antagonizing racism.

Likewise, we cannot hope to defeat racism without confronting classism.

Indeed we also cannot address these concerns separate from sexism and gender.

We cannot center these concerns on the feelings of white men. We cannot understand the gravitas of these concerns without considering how they affect the Black and Native family and the ones directly affected by it due to their weight and responsibility – the women in these communities.

Not class over race but race as a tool of class with different strata depending on ethnicity and color. Starting as early as Reconstruction, Black people were made to be the permanent underclass of the United States, partially as a means of keeping the white masses in check. Natives are in a continual genocide-erasure, as a means of continuing to claim deed over the nation’s lands.

But I’m honestly more interested at this point in how reparations can work. To me, the notion of cash payouts makes little sense. The money is there, the money is gone – this is the fate for all poor people within a status-heavy consumer capitalist society. This is why lottery winners go broke within a few years. Poor people are exploited even with our wealth.

What does make more sense is community investments.

The following loose suggestions are based in large part on years of living in highly segregated Chicago and from hearing others. So there are a few biases here – some ideas are more thought out than others (ie, I don’t know nearly as much about Native communities), but the idea is to offer suggestions and begin to get the creative juices flowing. Feel free to add, think about, take, adapt in the comments and elsewhere.

Reparations for African Americans:

  • Land and property within African American communities given to those communities. This would include vacant lots, abandoned buildings, residential buildings. To be divided up according to community needs and desires.
  •  Grants for businesses within black communities, including lending institutions, grocers
  • Influx of black-owned and operated grocers provided by funds
  • Land and water set aside for urban farming purposes
  • Part ownership of all US-based banks, universities, and other institutions that profited heavily from slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, housing theft on the backs of Black labor and violence.

Reparations for Natives:

  • Full sovereignty of lands
  • Minority stake/ownership claims in all US corporations
  • Taking down of all Indian Mascotry in sports
  • Business and community investments

Reparations for Women:

  • Universal, unquestioned access to reproductive rights
  • Universal childcare
  • Comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual and gender justice training throughout schooling
  • Comprehensive domestic violence and abuse prevention training and resources
  • Laws protecting against gender wage disparity

Primarily though, the work of reparations is to repair and thus must be both of liberatory and solidarity actions in steps, goals, and outcomes. I believe that public works and public goods programs will lift all working class and middle class families, but proportionately the above. Minimum basic income would raise all out of poverty (with the exception of undocumented citizens at present rate of national conversation. Something else will need to be in place for their protections), but particularly for women and people of color as well as poor white people. Universal childcare will mostly positively affect mothers, but other parents as well.

It’s I think important to note that these gender and racial thefts are components of a wider scale plan and system against the overwhelming majority of people in both the United States and in the worldOxfam recently released a study showing that the world’s 69 richest people hold as much wealth as half the people in the world – that’s 3,500,000,000 people who collectively have as little scrape together as less than 70 people. And the wealth of those top 69 people has only increased in the last five years – by 42% – while the wealth of the lower 3.5 billion fell 41%. In 2015, for the first time, 1% of the world’s population owns more assets than the other 99%.

So the problem is widespread, but by reducing racism and sexism and making repairs to those who’ve been harmed by it, we can open up the doors for all to benefit.

 

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*Pay day and car title loans, check cashing stations, preventative childcare costs, prepaid phones, redlining, rent rates, gentrification, policing fees, cash bail – all unfairly and unduly targeting the black working class.

Do Black Lives Matter to Evangelicals? Show It.

There’s something oddly familiar about the way that Larycia Hawkins is being treated by White Evangelicals. An intelligent black, political person with a Liberation Theology backgrond and a funny (by Anglo standards) name makes statements in solidarity with Muslims. The result is that conservative White Evangelicals question her loyalty and fidelity to America and to Christianity.

The obvious counterpart is President Obama, the “Secret Muslim” and “Terrorist Sympathizer”. In Obama’s case, fortunately, his job did not rest fully on the whims of White Evangelicals – though they have made things harder for him, and for the rest of us. The major difference of course is that Hawkins actually promotes peaceful solidarity and has not sent in drone strikes that kill hundreds of Muslim children each year (Which means she automatically gets my vote).

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Dr Hawkins addresses media at her church over Wheaton College’s actions against her

Despite Evangelical rancor, Wheaton College is not firing Hawkins because she has said or done anything opposing or outside of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. The statement of faith is important to Evangelical concerns because it plays into the identity politics at its core – that what we believe about things is more important than what we do, who we are, how we can get along, how we treat each other. And so this document is central to Wheaton’s identity. And by way of measure, what was said in the document should be how Hawkins could understand herself to operate as a fully-engaged faculty member within the parameters of Wheaton. Within this framework, even if nudging just a bit, Larycia Hawkins and any other faculty member should be safe* from such scrutiny within the bounds of the established parameters. From the Chicago Tribune:

Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.

She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.

None of this is outside the parameters of the college’s SoF. But therein lies the problem. White Evangelicalism’s parameters are not just what is said, but what is implied and implicated as well particularly by its well-heeled backers.

  • Violence is God’s means to redemption.
  • Capitalism is God-ordained.
  • God blesses America.
  • Heteronormativity is God-ordained and LGBTQ people are under God’s attack.
  • European theology is superior to Black and Latin theology.
  • Abortion is the primary sin of America.

Liberation theology – which Hawkins espouses and which she was previously censured by the school for – is viewed as particularly suspect because it violates at least two, if not most or all, of the aforementioned rules. Hawkins was also previously under fire for desiring and even personally having friendly, non-antagonistic relations with LGBTQ people.

But for the most part, these are the orthodox concerns of those who fund, not those who teach and inhabit, who are actually at the frontline of Wheaton. The same can be said with concern to the Black Lives Matter staging and unqualified support that happened at Urbana this past month as well, which the collegiate missions ministry InterVarsity Fellowship followed-up with a clarification/apology statement that muddied the waters of what solidarity should look like. The event itself was a major step forward for a White-headed Evangelical organization, in its declarative proclamation that Black Lives do Matter to God and thus should to all Christians.

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Black Lives Matter t-shirts worn by worship team members at the Evangelical Urbana Conference

But this declaration scared its donor base and so IVF had to reify its commitments to the Implied Statement of Belief. In doing so, IVF leaders had to clarify that they support black lives and the pre-born. But the most important message, the one that the donors needed to hear, is that the anti-abortion message is clear and without wavering. That the lives of (cis, straight) Black men and women are important to Evangelical institutions but do not trump the current Evangelical orthodoxy cause of fighting against abortion.

To answer John Inazu’s question in the Washington Post this last week, black lives will not matter to Evangelical institutions as long as they are captive to funding by anti-black, queerphobic capitalists. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they prioritize the police over their victims. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they are in an antagonistic posture against LGBTQ people of color. Black lives will not matter to them as long as Black Thought and Black Theology is seen as inferior and outside of orthodoxy.

 

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*I know this is all very unfamiliar with those of us from state and non-fundamentalist university backgrounds. However, this form of boundary-policing has been an essential aspect of fundamentalist praxis since The Fundamentals were released.

16 Things to Look Forward to in 2016, Chicago

Vigil for Bettie Jones last weekend. Jones was a Chicago grandmother shot by police for answering the door during domestic dispute as cops were shooting through her to 21 year old with a bat.

  1. Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. And not just for the Laquann McDonald cover-up but for hosts of things, some of which will be covered here.
  2. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez getting booted from office. She was part of the cover-up as well and has been extremely pro-police and pro-incarceration in ways that rival Daley and Giulliani’s pre-mayoral runs as SA’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if she also was planning on running for mayor of Chicago. You can’t use the full weight of the state’s attorney office to cover you any longer, Anita!
  3. Fewer jails. Jail and jail time, with or without prison, lead to time away from work, from the community, from family. Thus they work against communities of color and lead to cycles of poverty and high-crime, particularly where
  4. More restorative justice hubs. The amount of money that Cook County spends on incarceration contrasted with restorative justice – where the person who made an infraction works within the community to make amends and learn how to deal with issues that caused the problem in the first place – is beyond absurd. It is a fraction of a percent, at around $0.5 million to the jail’s $360 million and we need to at least double it the next year.
  5. End cash bonds. These unfairly restrict poor people, primarily those who are charged with petty crimes. Cash bonds put undue pressure on poor people – usually black Chicagoans – and the justice system, including crowding jails and tagging innocent people with guilty pledges so that they can go home. They then have an adverse affect on poor communities of color.
  6. Restore community mental health centers.
  7. Abolish Broken Windows Policing.
  8. Disband the current, corrupt, ineffecient, police-caping Independent Police Review Authority and make it truly independent.
  9. Establish proper, completely independent (no police, no police connections) oversight of the IPRA.
  10. Disarm the police. No shots. No tasers. They must learn to deescalate using actual tactics of deescalation.
  11. National gun control laws that make it nearly impossible to sell large amounts of guns – which are then smuggled into urban areas like Chicago and make it likely to end up in a shooting of
  12. Drastically increase violence intervention and prevention programs such as CeaseFire.
  13. Reorganize the Chicago Public Schools Board. It is run by capitalists and for capitalists.
  14. Fully fund publicly-controlled schools.
  15. Remove Chicago police resource officers from schools.
  16. Insert violence prevention programs and training for all staff at all CPS schools in order to equip students with violence reduction & prevention tools and embodied practice.
Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Police and Prison Abolition: Dreaming of a More Just, Less Violent World

Because Black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.

Huey P Newton (quoted in Bloom and Martin’s Black Against Empire)

To oppressed communities, the occupying army is never a liberator but only a powerful force of the empire that seeks to draw as many resources from the community as possible. In the era of neoliberalism, those resources tend to be of human capital. For various oppressed people within the United States, it looks similar. For Muslim and Near East, South-Asian people in the United States, they serve as intimate reminders of our War on Terror and the need to stockpile in the Military Industrial Complex. For Latin@s, it is the racialized threat of deportation, which extends in high-vulnerability times to more than just undocumented citizens – Latin@s in Anglo US are treated in ways similar to the orientalized Muslims. Native populations are still undergoing cultural and legalized genocide in order to lay claim to lands within the continent. And black Americans are inherently criminalized as a means of social and permanent-underclass control.

Human capital is capitalized through the Military and Prison Industrial Complexes as well as through managing and mitigating migration and migrant labor.

Early morning after Christmas, two black Chicagoans from the West side (just a couple miles from my residence and near where other family lives) were killed by police responding to a domestic dispute between a father and his nineteen year old son. The son – Quintonio LeGrier, an engineering student on leave from Northern Illinois University due to mental health issues – was carrying a bat and apparently threatening the father. The son was fatally shot, as was a downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, simply for opening her door. The father had called the police in an effort to get some help for his child, not accustomed to seeing him act in such a way.

LeGrier’s mother told media:

They did tell me he was shot seven times. That’s a bit much. That’s a bit much. I don’t take all of that. My son only weighed about 150 pounds. … Why do you have to be shot that many times? Why? If the police is trained in the field, then how, they’re just handling the situation by killing people?

The police cannot help. That is not their function or purpose. They are raised in a cop culture that treats them as hammers with every loose nail needing a violent solution. This is why they take down a fifty-three year old woman who pose no risk and a one-hundred and fifty pound teen with a baseball bat. They don’t second guess violent solutions because they are not trained to second guess violent and fatal resolutions when it comes to black lives.

LeGrier’s image held by his mother

Consider that, like the US and its military, nearly half of the general budget in Chicago goes towards the police. Consider also, according to the 2016 city budget, Chicago plans on releasing 319 officers from administrative work to directly police in “high crime areas” (p 12). For what purpose? What is a crime and who decides how to aid these communities?

The police are trained, but for what purpose? To police. To enforce borders. To minimize threats to the state and those it represents. In the United States, this threat is represented in the most intimate of ways not by white men who have caused most of the domestic and international violence in this country and through the world, but by the black population – those, as we know, forced into chattel slavery and substandard living conditions for the last four hundred years by the very white populations arming the police to intimidate, detain, and kill.

For the crime of policing – for the reasons of policing and the means of policing – we need reparations. African American and Native communities need recompense for the crimes of genocide, land-theft, chattel slavery and intentional bordering and how police have maintained these structures. Poor communities need recompense for wage and wealth theft and how the police have maintained these structures. But rather than make reparations, we are forced into racial and class policing, to keep us in line and keep the threat of blackness – which is to say the threat of resistance – at bay.

When we ask for accountability and control, we are given alternatives such as community policing, which acts as another way to police the community by training a small faction within – especially gentrifying areas – to police their own. Thus community members assist the police in restraining, detaining, reporting, and confiscating black and brown people.

CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, Chicago’s community & police organizing mechanism] is not an attempt to develop equal partnerships or to cooperatively address problems. They are efforts to police through the community, to enlist certain community figures and organizations to enhance the power and legitimacy of the police…

[C]ommunity policing is a misnomer. These programs result in neither democratic accountability of police agencies nor meaningful changes in police practices. Instead, they mobilize a small group of residents to provide a façade of legitimacy that allows policing to continue as usual. Community policing can result in more aggressive policing as “respectable” residents lobby to the officers to aggressively enforce low-level, nonviolent street crimes. (Counter-CAPS Report)

Rather than continue what does not work – arming and training a force towards violence and incarceration, aimed at poor and black citizens for the most petty of offenses – we need to reduce the police force by at least half and invest into making the community more safe, more whole, more responsive to its own needs. More livable for its own people.

Many of our problems are caused by the generational stigma of poverty and witnessing first-hand experiences of domestic and state violence. Children grow up with PTSD and have little recourse or guidance to deal with their anger in holistic means. Thus, survival becomes reactionary and even proactionary as several young people learn to strike-first or be killed. This is the state of detainment that we have become; not because Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with bad people without morals, but because our city deals with us immorally.

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Screengrab via Jason Berger. Acknowledgement to John W Brandkamp

A moral budget and a moral city hall would instead divest from the police and from our carceral systems. Instead of the armed and state-backed gang of police roaming the streets looking to escalate in order to terminate conflict, we should hire corps of counselors, clinicians, mental health workers looking to solve and reduce conflict. Job and skill training workshops that feed into actual jobs situated in the communities. Instead of divesting the communities through carceral justice, invest through schools and holistic, reformative justice. Turn empty lots into assisted living complexes, affordable fresh fruit stands, and health clinics built by and run by community members.

Yes, at first it’s going to cost more. It always does when there is generational trauma to pay back. But the investment far outweighs the daily toll of death and destruction.

This reinvestment is something we need to do because we’re human.

When White Christians Say #AllLivesMatter: #WeExpectMore

I believe that many white people, particularly white Christians, have good intent in saying “All Lives Matter” – after all, the argument goes, black people are human and are not the only oppressed people in the world. So “all lives” obviously covers theirs as well.

But All Lives is not the work of kinship. It is not acknowledging shared humanity in an honest way.

The US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are documents steeped in “all”-inclusive language, but they made provisions wherein black people are property of white slave-holders and Natives are pawned “savages” to be exterminated.

black-lives-matter

This is a world where Black people are treated

  • systemically,
  • habitually,
  • and economically

in private and public

in public schools and private homes

– and by the very state that purports to serve and protect them –

+ as less-than people,

+ as threats,

+ and as property.

The declaration that their lives do matter (and by extension, so do Native lives), that they too are human, and thus have volition and power and intelligence should never be trivialized nor violated.

To write on top of Black Lives Matter is to say that the phrase needs fixing, is to trivialize the work of activists and resisters. For white and other non-black people to (continually) do so is to say that the struggle of black people for their own survival is not good enough so we White people have fixed it for them.

This is not solidarity. This is not loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is harmful.

—————————

Note: This was originally a part of this response to the Gungor song, but I felt it didn’t belong there as Michael and Lisa were deliberate in not making their song say “All lives matter.” I decided to post this upon seeing the very great Austin Channing Brown having to explain why White Christians should not with the hashtag #WeExpectMore.

The Fight of Solidarity: Our Struggles Are Not the Same

  • Prologue:

There is little in the field of White worship (church) music that I can listen to anymore. Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton & New Breed, Kirk Franklin, Mavis and the Staples (tell me “Carry This Load” isn’t worship) is more along my lines. But I rather like Gungor. Their hit song “God Is Love” definitely declares that God is not a White man, that God is in fact not a man. That’s something that my eight year old daughter appreciates. I also appreciate a recent falling out with conservative Christians over Gungor’s open objection to the idea of eternal torture.

So I was a bit disappointed when I found the lyrics to a new song after someone brought up what they felt was some #AllLivesMatter erasure or derailing. And so I and a number of others asked some questions out loud.

I tweeted at Gungor not to gain notoriety or to punish the band or hurt their sales (if you think I can do that, thank you for having so much confidence in me I guess?), but because they are people who I believe will listen and whom I have faith in. During the course of our morning-long discussion on Twitter, I promised to write my thoughts out more coherently in a blog form[i]. The following is partly a reaction, but also contains many thoughts about White allyship of Black struggles and the problems of co-opting in efforts to assist that extend beyond this one song and this one group.

  • Logue:

“We Belong Together” – Gungor

We are better together

We are the day and night

Together we are stronger

We are stronger

We are better together

There is no real divide

The winter and the summer

We are stronger

All together

Every black life matters

Every woman matters

Every soldier matters

All the unborn matter

Every gay life matters

Fundamentalists matter

Here’s to life and all its branches

All together we are stronger

We belong together

 

I believe Gungor created this song as an attempt of solidarity – to show that they stand with and even personalize the Black Lives Matter movement and what it says and does. Solidarity is an action where diverse people join together around a common cause, specifically of liberation for an oppressed/marginalized/exploited people group (workers/strikers, indigenous people in the Philippines or Mexico, black Nigerian mothers and children).

Solidarity works best:

  • when we recognize both the commonality of all as well as the individuality and uniqueness of each;
  • when we are not flattened – when we don’t minimize what the represented group is going through as if we all were in the same boat;
  • when we can see the beauty of the person but also the particular ways that racism, misogyny, transmisogyny, classism, homoantagonism, bi-antagonism, ableism, ageism, etc, impact us on various spots and in various ways (ie, a white woman will experience sexism differently than a black woman who will experience it differently than a First Nations woman who will experience it differently than a Filipina transwoman).

Solidarity, then, understands the distinctions between real live experiences and their struggles and thus does not attempt to flatten them.

Industrial Workers of the World, published in Solidarity, 1917; Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology, edited by Joyce L. Kornbluh, Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 1998 via

Industrial Workers of the World, published in Solidarity, 1917; Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology, edited by Joyce L. Kornbluh, Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 1998 via

Towards the end of his blog explaining this song, Michael argues he didn’t want to wash away Black Lives Matter but wanted to add to it in order to expand sympathy for the movement. But yet, that is what effectively happened.

The unborn are not oppressed in ways similar to black people. In fact, even with “every woman matters”, adding “all the unborn matter” turns the song into a political declaration, one particularly anti-abortion. This then arguably comes at odds and undercuts the line before it where “every woman matters”. Anti-abortion rhetoric compares women who have abortions to murderers and justifies their harassment and even murder. A presidential candidate, Ben Carson, also a medical doctor, just likened abortion-seekers to slave-holders.

Fundamentalists as a class, in fact, tend to oppress children, women, and sexual minorities within their domains, and if can be, within their reach (Kim Davis, anybody??). They certainly oppress gay as well as lesbian, bi, trans, and queer people. So what is the point of putting them on the same list and saying that their lives matter the same if fundamentalist parents and churches are meting out (at times lethal) violence to LGBTQ people, as well as women+ seeking medical care for their bodies.

Herein lies the problem with the framing of the Otherization argument that Gungor tries to tackle in this song. They named groups they felt were Other-ized. But the problem is not one of feeling that the named group (whether it be fundamentalists or black people) are made fun of or not understood. That was never the intent behind #BlackLivesMatter, nor of solidarity. It is that specific people are harmed, are not allowed to live, are infantilized, are not given bodily autonomy, are hunted in the streets and at home, are incarcerated as a way of life.

That’s quite a different thing that thinking that a certain group of harassers is weird and mean.

 

To say that there is no real division between fundamentalists and the LGBTQ people they oppress is to say that the body does not matter. But Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ-freedom movement are specifically about the importance of the body: incarceration, sex, gender, rights, brutality, murder, hostility, acceptance for whom they are. To make the argument merely metaphysical is to remove it from an earthly, embodied plane of existence – to wait upon God or the cosmos or The Force to make things right.

Under faux solidarity, or forced teaming, we are not allowed to make things right right now because then we will be harming our fellow travelers. This is what this logic teaches. That by asserting rights to live and to be liberated from oppression, the oppressed cause divisions and that division harm us all. True liberation comes from the oppressors in the right time, this logic says.

This is not joining in the struggle, it is not aiding the oppressed. It is telling them that they must wait. And that does not work. It has never worked. Oppression does not relent out of the goodness of its heart.

Fauxlidarity is a philosophy and theology for and by slavers, bankers, and the heteronormative patriarchy. We need instead a praxis that focuses on the theology for and by the enslaved. A God that liberates her people and draws them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Not a God who merely promises land with milk and honey and warns against rebellion.

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

Black Lives Matter is a political, social, theological, and philosophical statement of moral resistance to the political epicenter of anti-black violence of a nation state that rests in and prospers on the blood and bodies of black and brown people. To rephrase it as a personalized philosophical statement is to ignore its power in the collective imagination. This imagination, already in action, is vital to build up a mass movement of people across divides who are willing to create polity changes that respect black life, that effectively takes swipe against the racist incarceration system and against agents of the state that seek to snuff out black life at the slightest provocation.

While it is a nice thought that:

Oceans from drops of rain

Everybody made the same

White folks, we need to talk about solidarity with the oppressed on their terms. We need to talk about intersectionality, for sure, and how we identify, and how power (politics) works within that field. We need to talk about how ideas are spread through theology, philosophy, music, social media, to imbalance or rebalance those power differentials, to work towards justice or injustice or a bit of both.

The issues facing Black people in the United States, however, are distinct from the problems facing White or second-generation LatinXs in the States. They are distinct from Desi people, Afghanis, Central Africans, let alone from fundamentalists.

And at the very least, it’s time for White pro-life Christians to stop comparing Black people to the unborn.

  • Epilogue

How to show that Black Lives Matters:

Trust them. Get involved locally in funding black communities (equitable, living wage jobs, investing fully in public education from K-Terminal Degrees, building health and mental health community centers, allowing property within communities of color to flow back to those communities) and defunding institutions that detain and defraud them (such as jails; militarized, unaccountable police; payday loan centers and banks with usury fees; for-profit education). If your community does not have a plethora of black voices, your state likely has several. If you’re in one of those states with few black people, recognize your state’s wealth is tied to theft from black and native peoples nonetheless.

But mostly, recognize that Black and Brown people are beautiful, full of life, intellect, will, survival, and love.

  • Post-Post Note:

Also worth noting is Dianna Anderson’s post on this song.

——–

[i] I’m over a month late in this response btw

#AllSheepMatter

Jesus said unto them:

“Take care that you do not despise one of these [oppressed] ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.  What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.

And the religious and political leaders answered:

But Jesus, All Sheep Matter!

What about the wolves, Jesus?

ALL Animals Matter, Jesus!

(adapted from Matthew 18, NSRV)

The Call Is Coming from Within the House!: On Disruptions and White Progressive Egos

I’ll be addressing four general problems within the Mainstream (and particularly clickbait-y electoral-focused) Progressive Movement (aka White Progressivism), largely based on some fractures exposed at a Social Security rally last weekend where Bernie Sanders was interrupted by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. With a few exceptions, these comments are not directed at specific people. We all have areas we can’t quite navigate around without much assistance. But right now it seems white progressives are not willing or able to be assisted even as their stated goal is equality and justice – it seems they are under the impression that because they agree with and vote alongside progressive issues that they have arrived and are doing all they can for People of Color. Yet, the causes of equality and justice & black and brown lives are more important than any one single person’s feelings and certainly more important than White Fragility or Male Ego, both of which have been informing the Mainstream Progressive Movement (MPM/WProg) as the fallout from the Sanders confrontation displayed.

  • On Controlling the Narrative in White Progressivism

In spaces that are dominated by White men, you can be guaranteed that there is an unhealthy dose of masculinity and whiteness. In these spaces, people of color, LGBTQIA people and women (and certainly those who inhabit the intersections) may not feel welcome to question the prevailing White male wisdom. Whiteness and Hetero-CisPatriarchy create triple-binds:

  1. They create atmospheres where those privileged by them believe that they are natural born leaders and filled with wisdom and logic;
  2. The privileged are so ingrained to believe that their reality is default that they cannot imagine those not them face an alternate existence and way of thinking;
  3. Those outside of these modes of privilege are not allowed to question their reality unless they have won tacit approval from white, cis males

Under this triple-bind, it becomes apparent that to question the ways in which White Supremacy works is to threaten white people who fall under the scope of said criticism. To criticize the racism of the Tea Party is offensive to those affiliated with the GOP. To criticize anti-blackness or silence of progressives is to threaten the kindheartedness of white liberals and leftists.

A repeated mantra lectured at black people is Senator Bernie Sanders has been working for black rights since before most Black Lives Matter activists were even born – as if this makes him immune to critique, as if he actually does more for black people than black people do themselves. A lot of white racists claim some aspect of Martin Luther King’s legacy. Charlton Heston marched with King as well but Malcolm didn’t. To be honest, most of Sanders’ presidential run up to this point has been colorblind and most of his anti-racist actions took place, well, before most Black Lives Matter activists were born. But Janet asks, “What have you done for me lately?

  • On Violence Against Women of Color in Progressivism

“The statement Black Lives Matter is a racist one in itself.” – comment on an anti-BLM progressive thread.

While statements such as this are not violent in and of themselves, they point to a general attitude among White people that does not take seriously the violence directed at black people from white-run political, judicial, and economic systems. In fact, key points that the Black Lives Matter protesters addressed in Seattle had to do with white liberals ignoring or even perpetuating acts of violence against people of color in Seattle (the occupation of Seattle on stolen Native lands, the building of new prisons in the county, Mike Brown’s murder-versary). For addressing these issues of violence against people of color in front of would-be progressives, the Black Lives Matter protesters were themselves met with violence from many of these same White Progressives (grabbing, throwing objects at). When the protesters shone light on the White racism coming from the audience, then the attacks from White liberals became much more vicious. Nearly every white progressive I spoke to or heard from in the last week took the statement from BLM about “White Supremacists” personally at least initially even though it was not directed at them personally nor even generally.

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

For many black women in the world and especially in the United States, it is hard to exist and resist the ways your existence is reduced. For when you do resist, you are policed. Often even met with police violence or threats of police violence, as the black women BLM protesters found when audience members yelled for the cops to taze them.

The other day, the progressive stalwart Salon published an article titled, “Feminists, We Have to Stand with Megyn Kelly – Even if We Disagree with Everything She Stands for.” A title like this makes light of what Kelly and white conservative women with platforms such as she actually does, melting her ultra-racist statements with a hefty platform on an incredibly influential station down to mere disagreements of opinion. Kelly’s racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism actually harms marginalized and oppressed people – particularly women of color and especially black women.

Additionally, it leaves me wondering where White Progressivism was when Suey Park was receiving death threats for calling out the anti-Asian racism of Stephen Colbert, one of our heroes? Busy shredding her, ordering her to apologize to a megastar for daring to suggest (as a joke) that his show should be canceled. Something that was not going to happen ever became a such a threat to White Progressivism that progressives forced other Asian-American activists to throw her under the bus. Criticism of WProg from the marginalized left is such a threat to White Progressivism that people who claim to fight for equality for all have no problem using sexist, racist, condescending, and threatening remarks against women of color – to such a point where it endangers their lives.

Even more recently, Jennicet Gutierrez and Marissa Janae Johnson have experienced this violence from the very same White Progressives who claim to be helping them. At the Bernie Sanders rally, Johnson and her Black Lives Matter co-horts were met not just with heckling and boos, but with hands, with projectile, weaponized fruit, and with calls for the police to detain, arrest and taze the protesters. White Progressives were calling for state-sanctioned violence against the very activists who protest state-sanctioned violence while they cry that they already affirm the cause of those same activists.

It begs the question: does the MPM actually respects those it claims to champion because it sure hasn’t listened to them nor does it know what they demand in their own liberation? How many white progressives were calling for the arrest and deportation of Gutierrez for her interruptive statements on the health and well-being of (and violence against) detained, undocumented transpeople?

A fatal error of mainstream Progressivism is a lack of any sort of internal dialog and accepted critique. White progressives cannot believe that anyone from the Left would point out hidden (to them) racism. They argue that conservatives are the “true racists” and that any Liberal/Leftist is truly on “your side”. “We’re on your side” is a lie if the people saying that are ignoring you until you interrupt them and then want you jailed and hurt for interrupting them.

“Bernie marched with Dr. King before you were born!” is a common retort to the risk-taking action that Marissa Janae Johnson performed. If so, he should know that disruption is necessary and no politician is above criticism.

“You’re turning off potential allies!” Hey, we all have different points where we enter into solidarity, but if being criticized lightly (and not personally) hurts too much, maybe you’re not invested in black life to begin with. Black Lives Matter activists are turned on and called opportunists* for exposing lingering racism among liberals whose reception of BLM has been milquetoast to say the least.

But these same WProgs who claim that we should support racist white women for (rightly) calling out conservative misogyny will have no problem performing misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women), threatening women of color who question the lingering White Supremacy within the Progressive movement.

Is the Mainstream Progressive Movement tuned toward liberating movements against violence directed at women of color, or is it another avenue of this violence?

  • On Respectability Politics in Progressivism

Actions that disrupt are considered rude. Disruptive actions, however, are supposed to upset us and make us consider why we are upset. It’s a pain rising in the nerve center of the privileged and the oppressors.

White Progressives love to claim the victory, words, and work of the Civil Rights Movement. Or at least Respectable Martin Luther King, Jr. “What made MLK so great,” they say, “is that he was a responsible person who…” It’s funny because these dudes never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“. But moreso, they imagine a movement that never had need to disrupt people, businesses, and order; that never broke the law. That the whole movement was grounded in civil disobedience. And that disobedience was unruly, hurt businesses, was unlawful. Because the law was recognized by the CRM participants as being inhumane and immoral. As being specifically violent towards the lives of black people.

The law is recognized by Black Lives Matter participants and accomplices as being inhumane and immoral. In fact, it is the law and the practice of the law that is being targeted by the BLM movement. Legality and the exercise of it was used to keep black people from political, economic, educational, healthcare and housing power – elements that led to black death in absurd measures; under this rubric, not much has changed, even as the degree of violence has been reduced.

Respectability Politics is a tactic of White Supremacy, determining that people of color and women will never truly be able to confront White Supremacy until they have every last duck in row. If they disrupt the status quo, they need to go back in line. That violence committed to immigrant transwomen of color by cis men is not so bad when you consider that the TWOC acted outside of modicum (this according to a pro-gay magazine). This civility is the silence in which people of color are choking.

It was this civility and respectability that Marissa Jenae Johnson sought to confront with the power of the cross behind her. I Corinthians 1:18-25 says that the cross – a brutal state-sanctioned means of mass execution that James Cone likened to lynching of black folks and that we can compare to police and carceral violence against black and brown people in the United States – is foolishness to the powers that be in the world, to the established, to the empire, to the worldly. The cross is not respectable – it is solidarity with the oppressed, the suppressed, the marginalized, the lynched. To take our crosses upon us is not a light duty. This is what King recognized as he faced down the KKK, presidents, and the Chicago segregationalists; what Bree Newsome drew on and recited from while taking down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina; how Jeremiah Wright was speaking from when he condemned the United States of America for its empire-building.

Ms Johnson put it this way:

I am only as respectable as the cross.
I am only as apologetic as the cross.
I am only as concerned with worldy powers as the cross.
I am only as concerned about upward mobility as the cross.
I am only as neutral, as polite, and as comforting as the cross.
I am only as rational as the cross.
This is my offering. The Spirit convicts, directs, and affirms me.
But this shit is scandalous. That is the call of discipleship.
I live like the resurrection is coming and Christ is sovereign. It is utter foolishness. It is life.
I do not worship Caesar. I cannot partake in Babylon. I cannot serve two masters.
Believe, I have made my choice.
‪#‎narrowistheroad
‪#‎blacklivesmatter

Fuck your respectability. It is a matter of silencing. And silencing is death.

  • On the Need to Dismantle Outrage Politics in White Progressivism

The White Progressive Internet* accepts and even tolerates this overt racism and misogyny because veiled racism and misogyny is an integral component of the clickbait and outrage politics they need to fuel the consumer capitalism of advertising-run blogging. Consider how clickbait titles work, and how easier it is to engage an audience that already despises Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and especially Ann Coulter by using incredibly unflattering pictures to show them at very unfeminine views. Clickbait elicits and even welcomes any type of engagement – and that engagement easily, often and regularly turns misogynistic and transmisogynistic.

Capitalism – and particularly consumer capitalism – exists and thrives through exploitation. The easiest and fastest ways to make money is to exploit the most vulnerable, the least listened to, the most disrespected because they do not have as much power to call out the veiled attacks on them. In the progressive blogging world, any marginalized group who does not succumb to conventional progressive thought (in light of the triple-bind outlined above) is ripe to be called “crazy”, “stupid”, “blind” and any manner of ableist terms. But these insults are ok because they generate offense and offense generates hits and hits generate ad revenue from sponsors who are likely to exploit the poor and dark-skinned anyway.

Clickbait Progressive Blogging opens a vicious cycle that rewards mostly white men for being awful even as they claim to be superior (another factor of White Supremacy and Patriarchy) because they believe in equality and justice – even while they are practicing racial, sexual and gendered oppression in the name of their beliefs.

—————————————

*Among those who’ve tried it and end up in the “That’s pretty damn racist club” are progressive blogs such as RingofFireRadio, Progressive Secular Humanist (who apparently decided to attack her twice. Good form, White bros), Forward ProgressivesReverb Press, Fifth Column News

**Where is this money coming from? Who is paying activists?

Beauty for Ashes

Love’s in need of love today.[1]

Coming from an evangelical background, I’ve had these dueling tendencies. On the one hand, we were constantly admonished to “take everything captive”, to be aware of the Devil, who comes like a lion prowling for what he may devour. That we were to beware of the lusts of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life. We were fighting a war against sin. Sin became the center of discipline and Christian habits the way that older denominations focused on the Christian calendar. Sin and trying to avoid it became such an obsession that they actually captured the imagination and locked it in a dungeon.

On the other hand, there is love – the greatest commandment. It was what first drew me to Christianity and in the midst when nothing else made sense, passages like I Corinthians 13, I John 4, Romans 13, Galatians 5, Mark 12, and Matthew 22 kept me going, grounded me, pushed me and worked to define my Christian identity.

Since I have left the Evangelicalism fold, I’ve noticed that many of the old habits, but especially the centering of sin, are hard to kick. I refer to my state as post-Evangelicalism, because the ways of forming congregants take a pervasive and deeply embedded mental hold on us. Experience has taught me that post-Evangelicals are hardly fully free of those ways of thoughts because the patterns were established in our bodies and minds through regular, regurgitated practice.

This is troubling because it makes me look at the world through deficits. It becomes easy to look at myself and my kinfolk through problematizing lenses, rather than acknowledging us as whole, complex creatures. People who are fully lovely and complex and beautiful and maybe not so lovely. People who may be full of grace, generosity, grace, peace, anti-social tendencies, greed, intellectual curiosity, prowess, survivor skills, difficult histories, kindness, generosity, stinginess, power, tenderness, viciousness, pettiness, greatness…

Camera-Lens-03

Instead, I easily reduce people to the awful things that they experience. People thus become projects. Those who don’t conform White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy are thus reduced to victims of it.

But we are not merely victims.

When Dylan Roof, the White Supremacist terrorist, came to Mother Emanuel AME church – a church founded out of necessity to resist and openly fight White Supremacy and slavery; a church burned down by slavers as a result of a foiled slave revolt; a church that was underground for thirty years because it would not subject itself to white overseers in the most intense days of slavery – sat in the congregation while they were praying for an hour, enjoying their welcoming of him in their space. He later says he was grieved to the point that he was worried he couldn’t do what he set out to do.

But he did. He opened fire.

What must have gone through their eyes at this violent betrayal of their love.

And to hear victims’ family members saying now, to Dylan Storm Roof, “We forgive you.”

That is superhuman. It is often expected of victims to forgive their abusers, oppressors, murderers. But it shouldn’t be. It cannot be. That is not forgiveness but more violence, more abuse, more oppression, more murder.

But yet the Mother Emanuel AME Church has a history of surviving in a world of White Supremacy through the seemingly conflicting or at least contradictory spaces of both resistance and forgiveness.

This is not the norm nor should it be expected. It is not loving to expect that of people. But it is a testimony to their loveliness – in both the resistance and the extreme acts of forgiveness. For children to say, “I cannot hold my parent any longer, but I forgive you,” is a testimony not to what should be universal, but to a vivid imagination that clings to hope in the most violent of spaces. It is family trying to find ways to recognize, respect and continue the work that their lost ones stood for. It is a legacy of endurance and beauty.

—–

The beauty of Black, Indigenous, South Asian, East Asian, North African and Middle Eastern people, of differently-abled persons, of women, and of those outside the heteropatriarchal sexual/gender norms is based in their humanity. For myself as a Christian, it is in the bearing of God upon us all and the Spirit that flows in through us all. That must be the initial point. That God has Come By Us and resides in us. It becomes more evident under the suffering, but suffering does not make one more lovely – only the loveliness becomes more evident.

The Blues, Black Gospel, Salsa, hip hop: Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mahalia Jackson, Fred Hammond, Public Enemy, Bob Marley, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Fela Kuti, Celia Cruz, Stevie Wonder – these are testimonies of struggle and survival, but also of innate beauty and grace and ugliness.

To be brief, they are worthy of being loved because they are lovely. No one disputes that. And no one should dispute the loveliness of the subaltern.

——————————————————-

[1] I planned this as an essay to think through loving my neighbor before I woke up to the news of the Charleston massacre. That affected the shape of this, and the delay in presenting it, but hopefully the message is the same.