Race Based Terrorism in Charleston: Interrupt Targeting the People of U.S. South

Black people have been killed recently by white police (and other white people) in New York City, Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago, Utah, Los Angeles, and other places north, mid-USA and beyond.

These killings are different from the killings in Charleston in numbers only, not in intent or effect. All of those killings have terrorized people in the Black community, and made us fear for our safety, the safety of our families, and for the future of these United States. Many of us liken the atmosphere in the United States since the election of President Barack Obama and the rise of the tea party, with the fear engendered during the reconstruction era and the rise of the KKK.

I fear that the killings in Charleston provide new opportunity for white people in the north and other parts of the United States to point fingers at the people of the south of the U.S. as representing a special kind of racism.

That the confederate flag, symbol of rebellion, treason and racial hatred, flies over the state house in South Carolina, could lead some northern and other US’ers to point fingers at the South, and assume that racism in the south is different and special from racism in their own part of the United States.

As a Southern Black woman who has lived in the north of the United States for more than four decades, I want it understood that the racism of the north is not nicer, cleaner, better, or more tolerable than racism in other parts of the United States. White people of the North and other parts of the United States do not act out racism in a way that is more acceptable than racism acted out by white people in the South.

This is a good time to interrupt and heal the tendency or inclination to point fingers about racism at the people of the U.S. South.

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A World Without Racism…

A World Without Racism, a country without racism, a community without racism….

We get to hope for such a world, we get to believe that such a world is possible, and we get to act to achieve a world without racism.

We get to heal the fear that has been installed on us to keep us from acting on our belief that such a world is possible.

We get to express and heal our grief and outrage about the terrorist killings in Charleston, South Carolina. We get to notice and discharge our rage and terror; that the conditions that allowed this to happen, indeed, the conditions that predicted such an event, the conditions that almost insisted that such a thing happen, have been created in this country (the United States).

We get to be outraged that in the face of this act of terrorism (what else could it be called?), rooted in racism, that so many public leaders equivocate and seek to explain it away, to shift the focus, and to construct and bolster barriers that hinder the people of this country from facing racism and its terrible consequences.

The South Carolina terrorist who killed nine Black people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been shown draped in the confederate flag that, though long considered a symbol of racial hatred, is described by a Republican Presidential contender as “part of who we are”. This terrorist undoubtedly drew inspiration and courage from his state house that flies the confederate flag as mandated by South Carolina State law.

This terrorist undoubtedly draws inspiration and courage from a national conversation that allows and defends white people killing Black people (police and others) with impunity, if white people “feel fearful” of Black people. I imagine that this terrorist was emboldened by a national tolerance for public lynching threats directed toward the Black man who is President of the United States.

This terrorist is reported to have said that he wanted to start a race war. I say, let this act remind us of our humanness, our connection to each other, and our commitment to have a world without racism.

White People get to stand together, as white people, and heal the guilt, shame, outrage and fear, about the conditions that created or enabled this act of terrorism. White people get to speak up as white people and oppose racism. White people get to be visible in the world as white people in their call for ending racism, and their acting to create a world without racism.

Black People get to stand with all of our allies (People of the Global Majority and white people) to heal the indignation, outrage, exasperation and terror evoked by this act of terrorism. We get to speak up and act to create a world without racism.

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Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

Thoughts about murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo

I have been thinking about the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the response around the world to those murders. People are expressing shock and outrage. I am expressing wonder about their shock and outrage.

People are expressing shock and outrage about the murder of 12 people. I hold all human life as sacred, including the lives of people who do things that I find abhorrent. I fight for a society and a world that holds human life as sacred.  No one, including the State (or the police in cities in the United States), has a right to take a human life (I oppose capital punishment).  I hold human life as sacred, including the lives of those who have themselves taken a life, and alas, must also include people who say things that I don’t like.

People are using the idea of freedom as the basis for their expressions of shock and outrage. Freedom is a precious thing, worth fighting for.  Freedom is well worth the wrestle in our own minds and between our varied minds to determine what freedom means. Most of us are in agreement that there are limits inherent in the exercise of freedom.  I have a right to swing my fist and your nose has a right to not be hit.  There are limits attached to both sets of rights.

This brings me to the questions with which I want to wrestle:

  1. Does our freedom of speech include the right to hate speech?  Or only hate speech spoken, or written, by members of specific groups?
  2. Does freedom of the press include the right to publish hatred toward any group?
  3. All human life is sacred.  Are artists (cartoonists) lives more sacred than other lives?  The Islamic militant group Boko Haram killed upwards of 2000 people in Nigeria during the week of the 12 murders in Paris. 2000 children, women and men were murdered.  Are those lives less important than the 12 cartoonist whose lives were taken (not lost) in Paris?  Are their lives less significant and deserve less attention, mourning, outrage, commentary, because they are in Nigeria, not in Paris, and not in a magazine office, and might not be artists (cartoonists)?
  4. We assume that everybody makes decisions with an understanding of the probable and potential consequences of those decisions.  Who shares responsibility for the decision made by the editors to publish cartoons that had the possibility – even the probability- to end in violence?  We often make decisions to do what we consider the right thing, even when the potential outcomes can be terrifying. Are we then responsible for those terrifying outcomes because we made the decision that triggered those outcomes? Specifically, do the decision-making editors at Charlie Hebdo share any responsibility for the murder of their colleagues?

My mind keeps going to the many parallels that could be drawn from the response to the murders at the Hebdo magazine office.  The French Prime Minister has declared: “We are at War Against Radical Islam”.  Can you imagine the President of the United States, after the Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people were killed, or after the killings at Sandy Hook where 20 children and six adults were murdered, declaring, “We are at war against “angry white men”?  Or should such a declaration have been made after Columbine, or after …any one of many mass murders, including the shooting of Kent Sate students by National Guardsmen. 13 people were shot and killed at the University of Texas by a former Marine.  Should we declare war on former Marines?

I mourn for lives taken; for the lives taken at Charlie Hebdo and also for women killed by Islamic fundamentalists because they decide to drive a car, or get an education, or divorce their husbands.  I mourn for lives lost, because of poverty and disease and because western governments ignore and fail to respond to perceived and real threats to those outside the western world.

I gag at the racialized, hypocritical, hyperbole following the murders at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, by world leaders and other people who have seized this event as a way to push their own narrow, oppression based agenda.  I am wearied by the responses of people who consider the murders at Charlie Hebdo in a pitifully narrow frame,  and without the larger global context in which they occurred.

I remind others and myself that this is a good time to listen.  All sorts of people want and need to be listened to, as they share their fears, their trauma, (indeed their impulse to gag), and their grief, along with their hopes for a better world.

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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!

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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.

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The Madiba Lives

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2013

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.

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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

bjlove

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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

bjlove

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