Effigies as Elegy for Lynching

Effigy:  an image or representation of something or someone hated.

Elegy: a mournful poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.

Life sized photos of lynching victims were hung at various places at UC Berkeley. A UC Berkeley spokeswoman called them effigies, and thought they were connected to the #BlackLivesMatter protests around the country.    http://www.techyville.com/2014/12/social-media/black-figures-hanged-in-effigy-at-uc-berkeley/

It is estimated that between the years 1882 and 1951, 4,730 people were lynched in the United States. 3437 of those lynched were Black people and nearly 1300 of those lynched were white people. http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/uni…

Any black person who challenged any white person was fair game to be lynched. Any Black person who did not display complete submissiveness to white people was subject to be lynched. Sometimes white people who had close connections to and equitable relationships with a Black person, or who took a stand for racial justice, was lynched to remind everyone else to stay in their place. As recipients of white privilege, white people were required to uphold and support the customs and routines of white supremacy.

Occupy.com recently published an article indicating that police in the United States kill a black man every 28 hours. (occupy.com/article/black-man-killed-us-every-28-hours-police). Darren Wilson, the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager who had his hands in the air saying “Don’t Shoot”, and New York Police officer Daniel Pantaleo who held an unarmed black man in a (banned by the department) choke hold leading to his death, are but two of a legion of police officers who have recently killed Black men with no accountability.   No one was ever charged in the racially motivated killings of the 4,730 people who were lynched between 1882 and 1951. Few if any of the police officers who have recently killed Black men face any charges for those killings.  A lynching is a lynching, whether in 1882 or in 2014 in New York City. A lynching is a lynching, whether by an out of control mob, or by out of control police. Whether locked in a chokehold or hung from a tree, a lynching is still a lynching.

I hope that the effigies at UC Berkeley were meant to announce: “Ding Dong, the Witch is dead!” The lynching period is over. The time when white people can kill Black people with impunity is receiving an overdue but rightful funeral song. Let those UC Berkeley effigies be an elegy declaring that the time when any people can be killed because they are hated or feared because of their race or any other social identify, by anyone, and especially by officers of the law, is dead!


Chief Justice Taney, Bill Cosby and the Verdict From Ferguson

Published November 23, 2014

The world waits for the decision from the Grand jury in Ferguson.  

Many of us will interpret the Grand jury decision as an answer to the question:  Is it still okay for a white man to shoot down and kill a black man, without provocation, in cold blood?  

Chief Justice Taney declared in 1856 (Dred Scott Decision) that African Heritage people “…had no rights or privileges but such as those who held power and the government might choose to grant them”.  In other words, Black people had no rights that white people needed to respect.  They had neither the right to life, to liberty or to the pursuit of happiness. 

One hundred fifty-eight years later, 20 minutes from the steps of the courthouse where Taney delivered his fateful decision, the Missouri Governor mobilizes the National Guard, the local police organize with terrorist gear, and the world goes on stand by to wait for the verdict.  Will the white man who shot unarmed Mike Brown down in the street, be held accountable?  Will he be brought to trial?

The common discourse that frames this watching and waiting has many historical parallels. One historical parrallel is the narrative that Black folks lives don’t matter, and can be taken by a white man at will.  Another historical parrallel is that Black men are monsters and must be treated as such. 

The media is consumed at the moment with accusations of rape leveled toward Bill Cosby.  I question what this particular manipulation of public opinion, consciously or unconsciously, aims to accomplish.  How does this manipulation of public opinion coincide with and support the historic view that Black lives don’t matter, and that Black men are monsters and must be treated as such?

Can it be that this media obsession is not, as some have suggested, “about the media … trying to assassinate another Black man [‘s] character”?  Might it be that the project in this case is larger and more far-reaching? Might this be part of the centuries old project of manipulating the public mind to create an image of Black men in general as “depraved, animalistic, and to be feared”?  The Bill Cosby mess has apparently been 16 to 20 years or more in the making.  Why did it explode just days before the Grand Jury is expected to deliver a verdict in Ferguson?  

Might it be that if the dominant discourse serves to reinforce a fearful image of Black men in the eyes and minds of white people, then the killing of Mike Brown, and other young Black men, can be perceived as completely justifiable?  The media might not consciously aim to destroy Bill Cosby.  It doesn’t have to.  Cosby might be collateral damage in a larger matter.  The media is doing what it has always done, orchestrating public opinion.  If the lesson is learned that any Black man, even jello-eating Father Huxtable, is to be feared (who wouldn’t fear a serial rapist?), and should be destroyed, then wouldn’t it be the case that white men (the shooters have mostly been men), especially those who wear badges, have a right – even an obligation – to shoot Black men when they get them in their line of sight? Why should a policeman in Ferguson be brought to task for doing what any scared white person would do?  Why should that policeman in Ferguson be punished for doing what common discourse requires of him?

Cosby participated in fostering the narrative that the lives of young Black men are without value, that they should be blamed for the difficulties that they show, and that they need to be brought to heel.  The current discourse might establish whether or not Cosby is a rapist.  Certainly any rapist should be exposed and punished. Whether Bill Cosby is a rapist or not deserves to be investigated. Might it be, however, that Bill Cosby is being brought to heel at this particular moment (he escaped this level of scrutiny for 16 plus years) to serve the larger purpose of bolstering a public image of Black men as fearful, King Kong like, and deserving to be struck down.  

If this image of Black men is sufficiently established in the minds of the white public, and others who have internalized the narrative that black men are to be feared and their lives don’t matter, then they can properly believe that the killing of Mike Brown was justified.  Might this media frenzy be about preparing the public for a possible failure to indict?

Meanwhile, the world waits for the verdict from Ferguson.


The Madiba Lives


The Madiba Lives

I danced in Trafalgar Square the day Nelson Mandela was released from Robbens Island.

After twenty seven years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement, Nelson Mandela was released.  The whole world rejoiced, and watched.

In prison, Mandela was a symbol of resistance to tyranny.  His life was a statement of willingness to sacrifice everything, personal freedom along with access to open air and sky, to state to the world how precious he thought freedom, and how deep was his desire to obtain it for himself and his people.

In freedom, Mandela became ‘The Madiba’.  His name, Mandela, became synonymous with “one who fights for liberation”, not only ‘one who resists oppression’.  He became a living mandate for freedom and for peace, for himself, and for the whole world which had become his people.  After twenty-seven years of unjust, sometimes inhumane confinement, he called for truth and reconciliation.  He called for humans, in South Africa and every where else, to reclaim their inherent love, care and connection. He became a living embodiment of humanity’s hopes and aspirations for a more just, peaceful world.

I was proud to proclaim my love for Mandela every chance I got.  It gave me a chance to reach toward the spirit and essence of who he was, and to see what parts of my own soul could try to be like him.

Mandela is dead.

The Madiba lives.

Forever, The Madiba Lives.


Love For Liberation

Liberation for our generation

People who hold out a vision of a world characterized by liberation sometimes upset us. Such a vision can remind us of our own expectations as young people and the disappointment and dismay we experienced as we let go of those expectations.

As young people, we held high expectations for our world. We expected to live in a world characterized by fairness, equity and justice. We expected to witness relationships, interactions, institutions and societies characterized by fairness, equity and justice. We were disappointed and dismayed to see so much injustice in the world around us. We were startled to witness a world permeated by vast differences in access to resources and quality of life.

When we expressed our expectations that people around us would intervene to make the world better, we were told that by those people nearest and dearest to us, our parents, teachers and faith leaders, that we were naïve and that as we became more “mature,” we would understand better why we must accept a world characterized by injustice. “That is how society has always been,” we were told, “and that is how it always will be.”

We learned to accommodate this view of society and accept an unjust society along with our inequitable relationships within that society as inescapable. We made the mental, emotional and intellectual adjustments necessary to live comfortably with ourselves in a society characterized by inequity and injustice. This assault on our integrity and sense of self was explained away by descriptions that made the targets of injustice responsible for that injustice.

When someone offers a vision of liberation, that a just and equitable world is possible and that we can create it in our lifetime with the resources that we have at our disposal, we respond in different ways. Sometimes we welcome the reminder and the challenge that a vision of liberation holds for us. Sometimes, this vision can upset the equilibrium that we created for ourselves when we abandoned that vision as young people. We made the mental, emotional and intellectual adjustments that we were told we had to make to live in societies characterized by injustice. Sometimes, the discomfort that ensues from having our equilibrium shaken causes us to lash back at the person who presents a vision of fairness, equity and justice. The reminder of the ideals and expectations that we abandoned as young people is sometimes painful to bear.

I invite each of us to imagine a world characterized by liberation.
I invite each of us to imagine liberation in our lifetime.
I invite each of us to imagine that we can help to make liberation happen.

Love for liberation