August 18, 2015 – Today I added two names and found this, listing the names (and when available, photos) of 100 unarmed Black people killed by police in 2014. In one year.
Last weekend I attend a rally in Seattle where Bernie Sanders was to speak. As you might have heard, some of Seattle’s Black Lives Matter activists staged a protest, following up on the recent action at Netroots Nation in Phoenix in July. At that event, Sanders had complained rather than choosing to listen to and empathize with the activists. (Joe Biden did a much better job dealing with the protest during his speech at Netroots Nation 2014, which by the way is a CONFERENCE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVISTS and there is a protest pretty much EVERY TIME a politician speaks, so why Bernie didn’t see that coming I’ll never know.)
Anyway, BLM takes the stage, and cue the angry white people in the audience and on every social media network criticizing tactics as though their opinions matter one whit to Black people when deciding how to shed light on the crisis of Black lives lost every day to police violence. Angry white people claiming, as the privileged always do when they don’t like the “timing” or target of a protest staged by marginalized people, that this action “did more harm than good to the movement” as if they have the first clue about what the actual goals of such an action might be (hint: pretty sure it wasn’t to make white people like them more). Angry white people announcing that, as a result of one action they don’t agree with, that they would no longer support BLM. From the boos and fuck yous and outright harassment of the activists by white people at the rally to the privilege displayed by white and non-black people since, this has been a stark reminder for me and others that “progressive” liberals just keep earning the “fauxgressive” label, and that as far as we’ve come, those of us who are not Black have so much work to do within our communities to make non-Black people aware that listening to Black people—really spending some time listening to their voices and lived experiences—is the only way they will ever come close to understanding their lives, their struggles, their pain, and how we benefit from the very system that oppresses them. It’s the only way we can ever begin to know what it is to live in this country ruled by white people.
And it’s the only way we can begin to get that while we have a job to do in this movement (see above), it sure as hell isn’t telling Black people what will and will not win us as allies. Allies in a fight to save black lives should not have to be won. If something BLM does makes you turn away from the entire movement, you were not an ally in this fight, and the movement loses nothing. If your allyship requires polite protest aimed only at targets you deem correct at times you deem appropriate, what kind of ally are you, really? (Hint: You’re not an ally.)
Bernie didn’t speak at the rally, but he wasn’t “forced off the stage.” He left after declining to engage with Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford and the organizers decided to end the event. Bernie chose to spend his time out among the mostly white crowd shaking hands and kissing babies. I saw him and thanked him for coming. He’d been smiling, but glanced at my chest where my Black Lives Matter button hung, and his expression changed.
I’ll probably write more on the BLM Bernie Sanders action and rebut some of the white fragility, derailment, etc. I have seen over the past week. For now, suffice to say that I support Black Lives Matter because I love and support Black people. The rally was uncomfortable once BLM took the stage, but the reactions of white Seattle “progressives” made me far more uncomfortable than the protest or the interruption to my plans. And here’s the thing: if we’re dedicated to working for racial equality, I believe we have to be ok with some discomfort in the service of change, and we have to support those Black people doing this work who are brave enough to take chances and make targets of themselves even if we don’t quite understand their choices, motives, or goals. It’s not about us. It’s just not.
July 27, 2015 – Yesterday I added six more names to this list. Today I added one more. Since I wrote this post, I’ve added several. All are unarmed Black people killed by police or who died in police custody under circumstances that have caused many to question the official story (and this list is not exhaustive by any means). Sadly, this doesn’t generally include the media, who report as fact whatever the police tell them and waste no time in smearing the victims. And it doesn’t include a lot of ignorant people who seem to think that “Contempt of Cop” is a capital crime.
News Flash: It’s not illegal to be rude to a cop. There is no law that says you must be courteous. A police officer does not have the right to detain or arrest a citizen for talking back, and if one chooses to do so and that citizen ends up dead at the hands of police, the fault does not lie with the victim because they should have been more polite. If police can’t keep from killing citizens because they’re pissed off that said citizens aren’t showing enough respect, the problem is with police culture, not disrespectful citizens. When police kill Black people at a rate of two per week in the United States, and when so many of those people are unarmed, the problem is racism in police culture, not Black people talking back, running away, or being terrifying lethal weapons in and of themselves. And when white people accept this state of things—worse, when we defend it—we are participating in maintaining white supremacy. We are perpetuating the very system that privileges whiteness and tramples non-white people underfoot. And those who lose their lives as a result of this system we benefit from? Their blood is on our hands.
April 30, 2015 – Another day has passed, and another officer of the law has gunned down an unarmed Black person. And still white people argue that “it’s not about black and white” and “we need to focus on the real issues.”
The real issue is institutional racism, and you’re damned right it deserves our focus. The issue is that our justice system supports white supremacy. The issue is that cop culture teaches that citizens are the enemy and that some citizens are less-than-human and at the same time more dangerous—deadly weapons in and of themselves, with the ability to Hulk out when the need arises.
The list below—which includes men and women, adults and children—keeps growing. And as it does, so does the “unrest” among citizens who wonder whether they’ll be the next name, the next hashtag.
Meanwhile, white folks lament property damage and wonder why everything has to be “about race.”
#ChristianTaylor #s #SandraBland #JonathanSanders #KindraChapman #KimberleeKing #NatashaMcKenna #TerrenceKellum #FreddieGray #CarolineSmall #ErvinEdwards #EricHarris #TamirRice #AiyanaJones #MikeBrown #JohnCrawford #RekiaBoyd #EricGarner #DontreHamilton #TonyRobinson #YvetteSmith #OscarGrant #ShellyFrey #TyreeWoodson #WalterScott #TanishaAnderson #RumainBrisbon #AkaiGurley #KajiemePowell #EzellFord #DanteParker #ShereeseFrancis #VictorWhite #TarikaWilson #KathrynJohnston #JordanBaker #JonathanFerrell #AlbertaSpruill #PearlieGolden #EleanorBumpurs #SeanBell #AmadouDiallo #LarryJackson #DeionFludd #KimaniGray #TimothyRussell #ChavisCarter #SharmelEdwards #TamonRobinson #KendrecMcDade #WendellAllen #ManuelLoggins #RamarleyGraham #KennethChamberlain #ReginaldDoucet #DerrickJones #StevenWashington #AaronCampbell #KiwaneCarrington #VictorSteen #ShemWalker #DeAuntaFarrow #HenryGlover #RonaldMadison #JamesBrisette #TimothyStansbury #OusmaneZongo #OrlandoBarlow #TimothyThomas #PrinceJones #MalcolmFerguson #StephonWatts
The other day in the train station I chatted with a Black man who joked that a problem in our station would be solved when the white people complained about it. We laughed and shook our heads and sighed. We both knew he was right on the money.
Wake the fuck up, white people. It IS about race. And it’s not going to get fixed until the white people complain. It’s not going to stop until we stop it.
Note: I am adding names to the hashtag list as I become aware of them.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
In a few days, I will celebrate my 50th year on this planet. I haven’t done as much as I guess I hoped I would by now. I have, on the other hand, survived a lot. And that’s why it’s especially important to me to make a big deal out of this nice, round number. It reminds me that I’ve reached an age my depression and anxiety made me fear I’d never see. It is a way of giving myself some credit for making it through and not giving up—for continuing to strive for wellness and to reach for a place where I will once again feel satisfaction with the way I am using the days I have on the earth. I’m not there yet, but I know that I deserve that, so I’m celebrating the fact that I can celebrate myself. And not insignificantly, I’m celebrating the fact that two years after a major trauma, I am able to celebrate my birthday again. This time of year will likely carry some weight of grief for some years, but I am taking this day back.
My birthday wish is honestly too big for words to encompass. The only word that remotely comes close to the thing I would most like to see in this world is LOVE. I have no wish for romantic love in my life—another thing to celebrate, I suppose, since every year up until age 41, I wished for that on every star and birthday candle and dandelion seed and though it was trauma that brought me to this place, I can focus my wishes elsewhere. The love I’m talking about is a more universal thing: THE thing that so many prophets and philosophers and poets have been trying to tell us all along. The thing that is very likely our only hope.
Big, right? It feels unattainable, but I don’t think it is. I believe that if we keep this word in our minds like a mantra, then it can’t help but make bad situations better. So my wish is that everyone reading this remember that word when anger and frustration flares up, not as a reminder to love your enemies necessarily, just as a reminder of what’s inside you that needs expressing out into the world and of what’s important—really important.
This is not the post I set out to write. I came here (inspired by a friend—thanks Britni!) to tell you about a few people and organizations I care about and suggest that you consider them in your holiday giving. But I asked myself what I truly wished for and wanted to answer authentically, so here we are, as close as I could come to putting my wish in a word: LOVE. A big wish, but a small ask. Keep it in your mind and in your heart.
AND if you could show some love to these people and organizations, I would be grateful. Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll thank you publicly. (Do let me know if you don’t want that!) Give whatever you can afford, though I do like the numbers $5 and $50, for some reason. And if you can’t give, please consider sharing this post.
Eric Garner’s family lost a father and a husband when a police officer used an illegal chokehold, killing Garner on video as he told officers again and again, “I can’t breathe.” The Garner family’s lives have been shattered. You can help ease the financial burden on the family by donating to this fundraiser (I have committed to $5 a month for 2015):
Johnetta and DeRay are Ferguson organizers, publishers of the Ferguson newsletter, and all-around badasses. You can help them stay fed and housed and support the work they do by donating to their PayPal account.
Brianna Wu is one of several women in the video games industry that has been targeted for relentless harassment by the scum that is GamerGate (all together now: “Actually, it’s about ethics in video games journalism!”). From her Patreon page:
I got into videogames to make video games – but right now the majority of my workweek is wasted on fending off BS from people harassing me.
Wu goes on to describe some of this harassment, which continues to be brutal. These people used her dead dog as a prop with which to torture her and her husband, Frank Wu. Brianna Wu is asking for help:
If you appreciate what I do, please chip in so I can hire some help with the Women in Tech advocacy I do. I need someone to help me with the medial parts of dealing with my attackers so I can focus on my work, making and shipping games.
*Trigger Warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault*
As some of you know, I’m pursuing closure in a thirty-year-old rape case. I have contacted a number of organizations that purport to help people like me, and Joyful Heart Foundation is the only one that reached out and offered to speak with me, hear my story, and provide knowledge and assistance as I navigate the legal system. I’m so grateful for that support.
“Joyful Heart began as a dream of helping sexual assault survivors heal and reclaim a sense of hope, possibility and joy in their lives. We have evolved into a national organization that is paving the way for integrating holistic approaches in treating trauma, transforming the way people think about, talk about and behave around the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and advancing public policies to ensure justice for survivors.”
Thanks for reading and helping me celebrate my 50th birthday.
8/23/2015 – In the two years since I wrote this post, racism—especially racism resulting in brutality and/or murder perpetrated by police (and police wannabes like George Zimmerman) or lethal neglect by same—has finally been recognized by many as the crisis it has been for as long as any of us have been alive and so much longer. Social media has been a big part of shining a spotlight on the issue—specifically Black women on Twitter, who have been responsible for creating trending discussions on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement created by three Black women after the Zimmerman verdict.
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Over the past two years dozens of Black men, women, and children have been murdered by police. And yet, fewer white and non-black people than I’d like have risen to the challenge to see outside their own gaze, their own experience, and attempt to truly gain an understanding of how our privilege blinds us to so much. Too many default to defensiveness, anger, and intolerance when faced with the truth that when they are not actively part of the solution to the problem they benefit from, they are the problem. The problem is white supremacy (not the ideology, but the system) and in the simplest and most general terms, it means the darker your skin, the harder life is going to be for you in the U.S.
I spoke with a white woman friend the other day who reminded me of a time when she and another friend of mine “fit the description” (something that happens to Black people regularly) of a couple who had just pulled off a robbery. She described how terrifying it was to see the cops coming toward her with their hands on their weapons, ready to draw in a heartbeat. And we talked about the tweet I read a year or so ago in which a Black man talked about how surprised he was to learn from his white friends that this was not something they experienced every time they encountered law enforcement. For him, that was just what cops did.
Below is what I had to say two years ago about the Zimmerman verdict. Below that are some words about what it means to be white in a country that treats white as the default and treats Black as less-than. And a challenge to white people sitting on the sidelines to actively work on shifting their perspective and hopefully, become part of the solution. Here’s another one: if you want to be part of the solution, talk to your white friends about this. Here’s one person’s advice on how to do that.
8/18/2003 – It’s past time I spoke about this. I’ve said previously that my words seem lost, but I’ve got to find some that describe the dark pit that opened up in me the day the Zimmerman verdict was announced. I’ve got to find words to talk about the fact that racism is my problem. Our problem. It’s not going away until every one of us says that to ourselves—claims it, takes it on as a very real part of ourselves and recognizes it to be a slow-growing cancer eating us alive.
I sometimes feel the need to assert that this blog is opinion first, and journalism second or third or maybe not at all. I do my best to be informed about the topics I’m writing about, but I have accepted the fact that I can’t know everything and sometimes I have to write from my heart. From my gut. I just have to write.
This piece is pure opinion. I don’t watch television. I’ve read about the case, but I can’t claim to know the nuances, and I certainly don’t know Florida law or what limitations the jurors were up against or anything like that. But there are things I know in my heart. In my gut. And I have to say them.
I believe Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. I believe George Zimmerman is a murderer. I believe that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. And I believe the circus that surrounded the trial—even viewed from afar by someone who doesn’t watch tv and catches up in dribs and drabs via social media and the web—points up in no uncertain terms the fact that the United States of America is in a crisis of racism that threatens to tear us apart.
I don’t think Zimmerman woke up on the morning of February 26, 2012 with plans to find and murder Trayvon Martin or anyone else. But I do believe he was “on patrol”—out looking for trouble, and for George Zimmerman, a young black man walking in his neighborhood spelled it out in all caps. I believe that in the 911 clip most of us have heard at least once, George Zimmerman whispered not “fucking punks” as he claims, but “fucking coons.” And I believe that when Zimmerman stopped his truck, got out, and confronted Trayvon Martin, that Martin was probably terrified and very likely defended himself. Who the fuck wouldn’t? And maybe Zimmerman was in fear of his life at that point. Maybe he wasn’t. I know for sure that if he hadn’t had a gun in his hand, that boy would still be alive. I know for certain that if he had listened to the dispatcher who told him not to follow, that Trayvon Martin would never have felt the need to defend himself. I know that if George Zimmerman had not been the AGGRESSOR in this situation, no aggression could possibly have taken place between them. None. Because Trayvon Martin was not trouble in all caps or lowercase. In that moment, Trayvon Martin was a teenage boy on his way from point A to point B to enjoy a can of tea and a bag of candy. And in that moment, George Zimmerman was the boogey man—a guy following him. A guy who stopped his truck and got out and harassed him. A guy who shot him dead.
I’ll say it again in case I wasn’t clear: Despite what that jury found based on whatever broken excuse for a book of laws they’ve got down in Florida, I believe George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and I believe that racism led him to the choice do so.
George Zimmerman is a murderer. And a racist.
Now let’s talk about Rachel Jeantel. What more proof do you need that the default setting for media viewing is WHITE than the disgusting reactions to this woman as she took the stand and told her story. Self-styled critics took to Twitter to ridicule her speech and mannerisms. Some thinking themselves especially clever referred to her as “Precious.” Memes sprang up calling her “retarded,” and making Fat Albert jokes. When I searched for an image of her, it was difficult to find a shot that wasn’t a still grabbed from video in order to capture a strange expression and then use it to further the “retarded” narrative. And this is not the worst of it.
It’s tempting to write off these tweets and memes as representing a small segment of society that doesn’t really count–to label the people writing and making them as “just racists” as though the word describes other people—not people we know. Not ones we hang out with. And yet, if you pay attention, you don’t have to walk far to encounter someone who isn’t afraid to show that side of themselves to the people they trust, and from there, a couple of steps will land you face-to-face with someone who hears the things that person says and lets them pass even though they don’t agree. Turn around and you’ll find a child listening, absorbing. Follow that child outdoors and listen as she repeats the racist’s words to her friends.
It’s a virus in our heads, and we aren’t doing enough to fight it. I’m not doing enough. Talking to some teenagers recently about racism and privilege I found myself getting discouraged as their eyes glazed over, my words seeming to pass through them like atoms. But it’s them we need to reach. This fear of the Other is taught. Put a group of children together, and they may notice differences—may even ask questions about them—but the fear comes later. It’s learned. And it can be unlearned.
I remember when, as a child of three or four, a friend of my father’s came to visit. He was the first black person I’d ever seen, and I thought he was beautiful. I loved the way his smile seemed to shine so brightly–and he was always smiling. I asked my mother about some of the differences I noticed, and she answered, giving me no sense that my questions were wrong or made her uncomfortable in any way. But when I asked him why the palms of his hands were lighter than the rest of him, it was as though all the air went out of the room. My parents hissed something at me about being impolite, but the man just laughed. I was a child, and I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to understand.
As a white person, I believe it is my job to help end racism. People who say we should be colorblind miss the very important point that people are different in all sorts of ways and ignoring those differences honors no one. It erases cultures. It makes everyone white. Colorblindness is not the answer. Understanding and compassion are the answers.
I’m challenging myself to reach out and find ways to end racism in my lifetime. I’m working to increase my understanding and compassion around racism, and through that understanding and compassion, I hope to reach others. I’m talking to people about racism—especially young people. I’m becoming aware of the programming in my own head, noticing the white gaze through which I have learned to see the world and through which so much media and art is presented to us—presented as the norm, just as the male gaze is presented as the norm.
Guess what? They’re not. White isn’t “normal” any more than male is. Normal is a world full of people from all walks of life. Normal is cultures upon cultures, each one more fascinating than the last, and many of them living and thriving within the mostly white one some of us think of as the “norm.” Normal is pretty much anyone and everyone you meet when you walk outside your little bubble, put your smart phone away, and look around you.
There’s a world of color out there, and it’s time white people woke up and tuned it in. It’s time we actively took control of our gaze and shifted it to include everyone. I’m calling on all of you to challenge yourselves–notice the programming and change it. Help others to change theirs. We have to do it. We’re the only ones who can.
It’s worth noting that when I checked the WordPress thingy for related articles, one option was something about GZ’s “media lynching.” I seriously have no words. I keep typing and backspacing. Just…ugh.
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