Sunday, July 05, 2015

Where I've Been Lately

Photo by Crystal Boatenreiter

Aside from my reports on the campaign to free Albert Woodfox, you haven't seen much of me lately. I've been here. Right here in front of my laptop with my fingers on the keys. Interminably. Dawn till dark. But I'm not blogging. I've been working feverishly on a mini-manual for managing diabetes. And I'm very nearly completely finished with the project.

I've been writing for publication my whole adulthood, but the kinds of things I write are not the kinds of things mainstream publishers are necessarily interested in. The times, they are a-changing, however! It is now possible with a very reasonable start-up fund to self-publish on Amazon.com using CreateSpace and make books available to the public they otherwise could not enjoy. I have three such book projects in the hopper more or less ready to go to press as soon as I can afford the basic set up fees. The $1600 I need to raise  will cover formatting and cover design, galleys, copyright fees, promotion, and shipping costs for all three books. And I'm already one-third there, so the first book manuscript (the one on diabetes management) will go to be formatted on Thursday.

It's entitled Your Life Isn't Over ~ It May Have Just Begun! and is an 85-page mini-manual for managing diabetes.  It's basically the book of tips, hints, and inspiration I wish I could have had when I was diagnosed myself seven years ago. Many diabetics don't even try to manage their disease because it seems so overwhelming. Worse, they think managing their diabetes will take all the fun out of life.  This book is intended to help them prove that neither has to be true. I've also now contracted with a young man I know to write up his own experience with managing insulin-dependent diabetes without health insurance while going to college full-time and working two jobs! I'll be adding his piece as an appendix to my book so that young people similarly struggling will know it can be done -- and how to do it. This is the cover photo:

Photo by Crystal Boatenreiter

The second book will be entitled: Why Am I Not Surprised? and is a compilation of some of my best essays on race and race relations in the United States -- taken directly from this blog.  If you haven't noticed before, it's had 420,000 hits over the past decade and has been read in nearly two hundred countries. My compilation will contain more than sixty essays unapologetically tackling a range of thorny topics, including how to better recognize the many manifestations of White Supremacy, how the Power Structure uses "race" to keep us dazed and confused about who the real enemy is, and how Whites can really be an ally to Black Americans and other People of Color -- in their own best interests. This is the cover photo:

Photo by Crystal Boatenreiter

The third book will be entitled: Reduced to Equality: My Odyssey to Renounce Racial Privilege ~ and Find Myself and is an auto-ethnography that uses my life to examine race relations in the U.S. from the sociological perspective. In it, I will outline, among other things, how I discovered after decades of fighting racial injustice and birthing a bi-racial daughter myself that my mother's ancestors were slaveholders of note in the early 1800's. This is the cover photo:

Yes. That's me front and center. Why am I not surprised?

Supporters have already raised enough to put the first book on Amazon by sometime the middle of July. But the second and third books, which are already written and ready to be formatted, still need their set up funded through GoFundMe. Anyone donating $25 or more will receive a signed copy of whichever of my books they choose after it becomes available. Anyone donating $50 or more will receive a signed copy of any two of my books after they become available. And anyone donating $75 or more will receive a signed copy of all three books after they become available. My goal is to have all three books on Amazon.com and in selected venues by November 1st or before.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Albert Woodfox: The Beat Goes On...


One of my students told me they saw this photo of Albert Woodfox and me on MSNBC last week while all the court news was breaking. I responded that I can't imagine anyone I'd rather appear on national television with than Albert Woodfox. The photo was actually taken in August of 2012, when -- for no reason we could come up with -- the Powers-That-Be suddenly decided we could have some pictures taken.

It hadn't been allowed before, even though others in the same visiting room were having them taken. And when I came back for my next visit, the "rule" had been changed again to not allow it. But on this particular weekend, acting like it was no big deal, they gave us the go-ahead and we jumped out there to grab the opportunity, never knowing until last week, it would put us together on prime time news.

Senator and Pastor Clementa Pinkney: From The Grave



May all People of Color be comforted in the knowledge that the act of killing this man and eight others at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, day before yesterday will fuel in millions of Americans an ever deepening commitment to root out White Supremacy and plant respect, love, and justice in its place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Vinne Paz: "Keep Movin' On"



Every cell of my mind and body has been focused on Albert Woodfox this past ten days. And I'm feelin' it. My hands are trembling, my glucose level is all over the place. I'm worried for him, still sitting in a closed front cell facing what he has to fear might be the last years of his life in solitary confinement. I'm distracted and depressed, which makes me ignore the seven piles of work -- some of it fairly important and much of it with due dates -- neatly arranged on the futon in my office at home. And the further behind I get, the more despair I feel about the issues that put me in this head in the first place.

When I drove up to the jail Friday, I was thinking, hoping, we might be driving away from the place with him in tow this time. But by the time I got there, the Appellate Court ruling had been announced. He will sit there until he is re-tried unless the State drops the case or a settlement is reached (the latter two so unlikely as to be pointless to consider). And several of the family members of the guard Albert was convicted of killing (without credible evidence and utilizing every White Supremacist trick in the criminal just-us book) were on hand putting on such a show for the media, you would have thought the guy just died yesterday instead of 45 years ago. Skip that the guard's widow released a 3-page statement Thursday calling the State a liar and begging them to drop the appeal.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty sorry for Albert and for all those in prison for their politics and for all those in prison generally and for all those who work so hard to support them, until I saw this music video today and was reminded that you don't have to have broken the law or gone to prison or pushed for social change to get hung out to dry in this country. When are we going to stop blaming ourselves and each other and refuse to move on? When are we going to realize that we look different and our lives don't all play out in the same way and some of us are doing better than others on the surface, but we're all in this together? When are we going to fight back?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Albert Woodfox: "They're Calling Me The Last Man Standing"


Five years and eleven months ago yesterday, I first laid eyes on Albert Woodfox. He was still in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola then, where he had been locked up in solitary confinement almost continually since April of 1972. I had been a prison abolitionist myself for thirty-eight years at that point, so it was not surprising that we found each other. Despite the 6 X 9 foot cell in which he had been held so long, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people around the world had already found him before me. But unknown to him, when he turned 62 in February, 2009, I threw him a birthday party and invited students on the Louisiana university campus where I teach to come.

As a sociologist and long-time activist, I consider it one of my principle roles to introduce students not only to what is really going on in the world so they can become conscious of social injustice, but also conscious of the option to develop a dedicated willingness to work for positive social change. A few came out and ate some cake and learned a little about Woodfox, but I had only been at the school for three semesters and this was hardly business as usual there as yet. Still, I thought it would only be appropriate to send him a short letter and tell him what we had done.

I didn't fully realize who he was until he answered that first letter, which I didn't really expect, though I had written many prisoners over the years and they always write back. It was then that I did what journalists do and looked the man up on the internet. Reading his whole story, I was stunned. Here was a real live Black Panther Party organizer and hero ninety minutes away from me, living in a cage at the whim of a States' Attorney with what seemed to be a remarkably personal vendetta against him. I was fascinated. I almost immediately decided this was too romantic not to be kismet.

Albert Woodfox, with humility and grace, declined the offer of my heart, recommending that I read The Prisoners' Wife, instead, a painfully honest book about how prison relationships can grind the soul. I read it, but I was insulted and suspected that he was not taking me seriously or that I had simply not met his standards in some way. I did not yet understand the effects of four decades of solitary confinement, but I came to. More importantly, I eventually came to know the extraordinary person that Albert Woodfox is.

In any case, I soon gave up the fantasy of being a political icon's love interest -- but not without some chagrin and more than a little embarrassment, which he kindly never mentions. And we became close friends. We have shared forty visits -- or more -- since then, even when they moved him from Angola to a smaller prison five hours away and cut the visits to a couple of hours each. I drove it in the pouring rain (which I loathe doing). I drove it when they put him behind a glass shackled to the floor (for no reason). I even drove it while we were arguing about gender issues for a while. And yesterday morning, I drove the ninety minutes to the Parish jail where he's been held in more recent months to share with him what could very likely be his last visiting day in prison.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Emily Lane: Albert Woodfox Remains Jailed As Legal Maneuvers Continue



Previously published at Nola.com/Times-Picayune:  

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's Office has filed a notice to appeal a federal judge's ruling calling for the release of Albert Woodfox, the last remaining imprisoned member of the Angola 3, [while] Woodfox...remain[s] in state custody in St. Francisville. Woodfox has been in solitary confinement in Louisiana prisons for more than 40 years related to the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. Courts have twice overturned his murder conviction, but the state is seeking to take Woodfox to trial for a third time in the 43-year-old case.

U.S. District Judge James Brady issued a ruling Monday (June 8), listing five "exceptional circumstances" in Woodfox's case that prompted him to grant the New Orleans native unconditional release, thereby barring a third trial…

Emily Lane: After 4 Decades In Solitary, Albert Woodfox' Release Ordered By Federal Judge



Previously published at Nola.com/Times-Picayune:

A federal judge in Baton Rouge has called for the unconditional release of Albert Woodfox, the only remaining imprisoned member of the Angola 3. For more than 40 years, Woodfox, 68, has been in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and other state prisons, for reasons related to the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. Woodfox has twice been convicted of Miller's murder, but courts later overturned both the convictions. U.S. District Judge James Brady issued a ruling Monday (June 8) afternoon calling for the unconditional release of Woodfox from state custody and barring a third trial of the murder charge.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Emory Douglas and the Art of the Black Panthers


Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers from Dress Code on Vimeo.

I've written more than a few words about the Black Panther Party since I first visited Albert Woodfox six years ago and I've met some pretty interesting people in the process. Brothers and sisters from another mother, some people would say. And it just keeps unfolding.

Having dinner with Angela Davis last fall when she was brought to speak on the campus where I teach, I was made to realize that it was only a couple of months after she was incarcerated back in the day that I found my way to a prison abolition collective that kicked ass nationally for a couple of years and affected the rest of my life. And I didn't even know who Angela Davis was at the time.

Last week, when I was honored to appear on the George Jackson University Radio show, it gave me an opportunity to do some reflecting on the past, present, and future of my beliefs and commitments. It's a process that continues. But suffice it to say (once more) that if you pay any attention at all, consciousness will getcha. And while not everybody is as open to Universal Truth as I can't seem to help but be, I was asked to speak just the week before to a totally different group on the topic of "Steadfast and Dedicated." I couldn't run if I wanted to.

While I figure all this out, though, and try to make a dent in the six different piles of work in my office at home, I want to let you know that the times,,,they are a-changing.

Stay turned.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sam Adler-Bell: "Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race"


There's been some talk around of late about "White fragility." The person that got the talk started is Robin DiAngelo, author of What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy. Some folks believe that DiAngelo is suggesting White fragility as an excuse for White Supremacy because it's been discussed as a legal defense for crimes against People of Color.

You know me well enough to know that I ain't buying any legal defense that lets White people off the hook for attacks of any kind against Black people. On the other hand, sociologists attempt to explain (not excuse) what they see. And I have said for years that White people have been very negatively affected by their being allowed to live in la-la land where their disease of White Supremacy is concerned. The condition DiAngelo calls "White fragility" could be one example of that.

"White fragility" doesn't mean people that look like me are delicate (in a good way) and need special protection or consideration. It means they are easily freaked out because of believing they're "special." (You've heard me talk about this before.) That's why I get student evaluations that say things like, "She makes White men feel bad about themselves..." And why I had one White male student stomp out of class two days in a row this semester. And why they warn each other not to take my classes: "White fragility."

Just for the record, the person who came up with this concept is not a sociologist. Still...I'm sure there are a number of folks that will find this interesting and I do believe it can be argued that living for centuries under White Supremacy has caused some White people to succumb to a condition -- whatever we choose to call it -- not unlike those dogs that have been bred for centuries to be tiny and have become as a result, in the process, high strung, yappy, and prone to pee all over the place when they get excited.

What follows is an interview wherein Robin DiAngelo explains what she meant.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

B.B. King & Friends: Night of Blistering Blues (1987)



The grades are in. The semester's over. I think I survived it. And B.B. King has gone to the ancestors. Time to chill just a minute before jumping in on this new to-do list with both feet. Wanna join me?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jonathan Odell: "How I Overcame My Soul-Crippling, Deep-South Addiction to Whiteness in 5 Easy Steps"





Previously posted on Alternet, 7/25/14.

I am a Mississippian as well as my family’s most notorious drunk. But six years into sobriety, I discovered that alcohol wasn’t my only addiction. Even more insidious was my soul-crippling dependence upon whiteness. I couldn't get through the day without seven or eight stiff shots of feeling superior. That began to change when I decided to write novels about Mississippi. I knew very little outside the white-bubble in which I was raised, and therefore was blind to the story of nearly half the population. Only after interviewing hundreds of black Mississippians, listening to their stories, did I begin to fathom the immensity of the lie behind my superiority and the real cost of my addiction.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

LaSha: "On Baltimore"

I came across the following on Facebook this week. Of all the things I've read about Baltimore so far, this takes first prize in my totally unofficial non-competition process. I'm grateful to LaSha for giving me permission to re-post it here. 

On CVS:
I remember when People's Drug Store became CVS. My mother would give me a dollar everyday to spend after school, and on our way home, my sister and I always stopped at CVS. I loved SweetTarts. When I graduated and changed schools, there was no CVS near my new school. So I got my SweetTarts from the corner store.

When I changed schools, I got a new teacher and new friends. Really, they were just new versions of my old friends and teachers. Same problems, same love, same fears, just a new building. They were my community. Not CVS. I never went to CVS to feed my mind, soul or spirit, just my sweet tooth.

And when I watched CVS looted and burned on TV, not one tear did I shed -- maybe a little jealously since I couldn't be there to make off with some of those SweetTarts, but I digress. That drug store, that business, that symbol of capitalist greed, that place where they hire the people in the community and pay them $8 an hour while they exploit the fact that the people of that community have no place closer to buy groceries so they have to pay more or go without, that brick and mortar where they pump more narcotics than the boys from The Wire, where they don't offer cures but temporary soothing for dollars, where they take money from the people and give it to their shareholders without any reinvestment into the people who make it, that place meant not a fucking thing to me.

Unless with all the chips, toothpaste, prescriptions and cotton balls they're selling, they start giving away fucks free, watching CVS destroyed gave me no more pain than a piece of lint falling on my head.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: "Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement"




Charles E. Cobb (left) and Danielle L. McGuire

Originally published in The American Prospect.

On his first visit to Martin Luther King Jr.’s house in Montgomery, Alabama, the journalist William Worthy began to sink into an armchair. He snapped up again when nonviolent activist Bayard Rustin yelled, “Bill, wait, wait! Couple of guns on that chair!” Worthy looked behind him and saw two loaded pistols nestled on the cushion. “Just for self-defense,” King said.

In his new book, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, Charles E. Cobb, a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a visiting professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, explores what he sees as one of the movement’s forgotten contradictions: Guns made it possible. According to Cobb, civil-rights leaders recognized that armed resistance was sometimes necessary to preserve their peaceful mission. Guns kept people like King alive.

Danielle L. McGuire, an assistant professor of history at Wayne State University, argues that armed self-defense was also far more common for black women in the South than has generally been acknowledged. In her 2010 book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance, McGuire contends that the decision by women to combat sexual abuse and violence—sometimes with force—was one of the sparks that led to the modern civil-rights movement.

On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer [in 2014], McGuire and Cobb discuss the legacies of nonviolent resistance and community organizing—and how hidden histories complicate familiar narratives about the civil-rights movement.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Party for Socialism and Liberation: "Baltimore's Rebellion: What Happens to a Dream Deferred"


If the young people of Ferguson had not rebelled, Mike Brown’s name would have been forgotten. The town would still have the same mayor and police chief. The cops would still be fining and arresting Black people for every conceivable thing, including “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and even bleeding on police uniforms during a beat-down. There would have been no Justice Department investigations or presidential commissions. If the young people of Ferguson had not rebelled, the city would be, for most of the country, just another dot on the map; just another forgotten impoverished Black community.
Now the whole world knows Ferguson. The people who rose up declare their hometown with pride. And now the whole world knows Baltimore and they will remember Freddie Gray’s name.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Henry Louis Gates: "Did African-American Slaves Rebel?"



Posted previously on PBS and BayAreaIntifada 

One of the most pernicious allegations made against the African-American people was that our slave ancestors were either exceptionally “docile” or “content and loyal,” thus explaining their purported failure to rebel extensively. Some even compare enslaved Americans to their brothers and sisters in Brazil, Cuba, Suriname and Haiti, the last of whom defeated the most powerful army in the world, Napoleon’s army, becoming the first slaves in history to successfully strike a blow for their own freedom.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Albert Woodfox Waits


On April 8th, I drove up to the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center to visit Albert Woodfox, the last member of the Angola 3 to remain incarcerated. I have now visited this dear brother of mine in three different institutions over a period of six years and it is always painful, though the joy of seeing his face and knowing I have helped release him from his closed front cell for sixty celebratory minutes made it worth it.

They have outdone themselves this time. Home to only fifty or so prisoners, the building is dirty and old and reeks of a lick and a promise. Most of the prisoners appear to be on "work release," which means they have actual jobs one place or the other in St. Francisville, a town even smaller than the one I live in. And because of the minimum security level of the "institution," I actually ran into a prisoner taking out a bag of garbage -- outside the fence, across the street, and down a ways. Not the kind of place I'm used to seeing Albert.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Columbusing"



Yesterday, I posted that violence is not only as American as apple pie, but it's as White as the cotton picked by slaves and then by prisoners for the past four hundred years in what we call Louisiana. Today, I'll step aside and let Thomas Hill and Malachi Byrd tell you about another form of violence -- taking what ain't yours.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maybe We Need To Stop Acting White



You already know I quit blogging for months when  Ferguson blew up. And you already know why. But recently, I've begun to realize that something is happening to many of those whose views on life and power and race I most respect. I'm not sure what to call this X Factor I hear in their voices. But it resonates in my soul. And I don't know whether I'm more relieved that I'm not smoldering alone or more concerned about the greater implications of whatever is brewing inside us.

Actually, we are so bombarded by the consciousness of violence on a daily basis in this society, I sometimes worry I'm going to succumb to compassion fatigue and be found in a closet somewhere with my thumb in my mouth. Even if I'm not bleeding, I ache for those who do – all of them. And I’m hardly the only one.

So we're all on the same page here, right? We're all against violence. We abhor the shooting of a legislator, the killing of a little girl because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the heart-breaking homicides of one young Black male after another by other young Black males, military veterans returning from war only to commit tragic attacks on their own families, young people committing suicide at unprecedented rates. We hate all this, don't we? Of course, we do!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Aaron Hanlon: "Racism's Sinister Word Games ~ What a White Supremacist Talking Point Tells Us About Modern Politics"


Re-posted from Salon.com (3/20/15)
In a striking recent video interview, a Guardian reporter presses Pat Godwin, president of Selma, Alabama’s United Daughters of the Confederacy, on the question of whether viewers are right to assume Godwin’s expressed views are racist. Godwin replies, “Well, you have to define ‘racist’ to me. What is a racist?” Godwin’s subsequent comments demonstrate that her question is mainly rhetorical, a gesture meant to indicate that “racist” is too subjective a term to carry any weight, ever. For Godwin,
“The word ‘racist’ is, like I say so many times, is like beauty; beauty is in the eye…the eyes of the beholder. Well, if someone is defining racist or racism, it all depends on who’s defining it, because it’s their opinion. It’s their opinion. I’m a racist in the sense that I’m white, I was born white, I’m proud to be white, I believe in my race, I want to see it perpetuated, I want it to survive on this planet. I defend, protect, and preserve my white race.”
When the reporter turns to one of Godwin’s associates and asks him, “Are you racist as well?” he fires back programmatically: “Define racism.”

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Which Of These Is Not Like The Others...?





None of them. They're all the same. And they are not the problem.

The problem is White Supremacy. That's what puts men like these in uniforms and gives them permission to kill.

The solution to this problem is to dismantle White Supremacy.

This is not a complicated idea. But the process of doing it may be.

Wanna help?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Brit Bennett: "I Don't Know What To Do With Good White People"



Re-posted from Jezebel (12/17/14):

I don't know what to do with good white people.

I've been surrounded by good white people my whole life. Good white people living in my neighborhood, who returned our dog when he got loose; good white teachers in elementary school who pushed books into my hands; good white professors at Stanford, a Bay Area bastion of goodwhiteness, who recommended me M.F.A. programs where I met good white writers, liberal enough for a Portlandia sketch.

I should be grateful for this. Who, in generations of my family, has ever been surrounded by so many good white people? My mother was born to sharecroppers in Louisiana; she used to measure her feet with a piece of string because they could not try on shoes in the store. She tells me of a white policeman who humiliated her mother by forcing her to empty her purse on the store counter just so he could watch her few coins spiral out.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Federal Judge Goes On the Record About Lynching in Mississippi

Re-posted from National Public Radio:

Here's an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who in 2010 became the second African-American appointed as federal judge in Mississippi. He read it to three young white men [on Tuesday, February 10th,] before sentencing them for the death of a 48-year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Miss., one night in 2011. They were part of a group that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a truck, yelling "white power" as they drove off.

The speech is long; Reeves asked the young men to sit down while he read it aloud in the courtroom. And it's breathtaking, in both the moral force of its arguments and the palpable sadness with which they are delivered...A warning to readers: He uses the word "nigger" 11 times.

Monday, April 06, 2015

African American Policy Forum: Breaking the Silence



I thought I was going to post these various things in some kind of rational order, but after watching this video from the website of the African American Policy Forum, I see it's not going to be that kind of party. There is truly beautiful, truly important, truly well conducted work that is being done around the world every moment that we breathe. We each have our place in that world. My place, apparently, is to sometimes speak and sometimes listen; sometimes be on the stage and sometimes be in the audience or even providing the stage.

Watch this film. Then watch it again. And keep on watching it until you have no more tears left, until your sadness is overtaken by rage and your rage burns off like alcohol, leaving only the raw power with which we are all born, power that has been waiting all this time for us to understand from the depths of our souls that we do not need anyone's permission to feel it.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Well, Hello There. My, It's Been A Long, Long Time...


It's been almost five months since I posted here. I've laid low before since I started this blog over nine years ago, but not this low and never for this long. I make no apologies. What happened in Ferguson put me under the bus for a while. I was angry. I was depressed. I was frustrated. I was frightened for the young Black activists who were rising up angry (I remember what happened in earlier times and there is plenty to be frightened of). But I knew it wasn't permanent. I just didn't know when I would sit back down and write.

The fact is: the YouTube video I posted on November 17th featuring folks in Ferguson said so much so well, I didn't really have anything to add.

Yet here I am again. Finally. Hopeful that someone out there will hear me bumping around in the dark and turn the light on.

I've been saving things I found along the way to post when the time came to return and there are quite a few of them, actually. So I'll spend Spring Break cleaning out the closets, as it were -- going through the list of links, deciding which to delete and which to post as I first intended, setting the stage to become a more regular writer again.

But before I do that, I'm going to post a rant I saw on Facebook the other day. It was written by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (a pretty famous guy who teaches at Duke University and writes important books like Racism Without Racists when he's not posting rants on Facebook). Lest you worry that I'm poaching, I asked for and received his permission to present his words here before I did it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Oliver on the Nazi-fication of the Police in the United States



I am so furious and horrified about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, that I can no longer bear to follow the news. But John Oliver got me to watch this 15-minute clip by reminding me that one can tell the truth, make the power visible, and speak the truth to that power, all while making those in power look just as insane as they really are.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest in Peace, Michael Brown



Labi Siffre tells us why those cut down in their youth by run-amok "authority" figures must not die in vain. He came out of self-imposed retirement in 1985 to write and perform this song after seeing a South African film clip of a White soldier shooting at Black children.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Get On Up!



I woke up this morning already knowing I was going to see "Get on Up", the new James Brown movie that opened this weekend ("in a theater near you!"). When I read the backlash on Facebook against the movie for being made by White folks to the exclusion of Black film-making professionals other than the actors, I dismissed it, frankly. I get it. Believe me, I know there are Black professionals who can do anything a White person can. And I know Black folks are sick unto death of White folks making money from exploiting them in one way or another. It's gone from slavery to private prisons with sports and entertainment folded in for good measure. And I make it a  point to buy books and films written and produced by talented Black creators for just that reason. But I'm not going to disrespect the Godfather of Soul for anybody. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Anyway, while I was thinking about all this, I came across an essay by Kevin Alexander Gray entitled "The Soul Will Find a Way" (re-posted after the page break below). It was published several years ago on Counterpunch and it's about James Brown, but in order to do proper justice to the subject, Gray had to go deep and stay long. He wrote about growing up in a rural county in South Carolina (where Brown was also from). He wrote about being poor and Black. He wrote about love and violence. He wrote about funk and pain and glory. And by the time he cut me lose, I was limp and sweaty and remembering my youth.

See, the thing is I was born on top of a mountain in Southeast Kentucky to a pretty young woman with a knockout body and the newly returned soldier she married for his allotment check. Eventually, she told me she thought he would never come back, but life disappointed her that way many times as the years went by. And between the two of them, they made my life strange and sometimes hellish and what doesn't kill you makes you strong, they say.

I learned early what women are for in Appalachia and the buried knowledge made me tough, as buried knowledge will. But I was too intelligent to be able to accept my lot in life and so I shut myself off from other people except on the most superficial levels. And in one way or another, I have spent most of my days on Earth in that space.

Though he was writing about Black folks, Gray's essay took me back to my roots because I'm a woman from Appalachia who discovered the Black community like an explorer looking for a land she had only heard of once in a lullaby. I've never understood it all. Why I felt so drawn to include and be included by those I was forbidden to know. Why I bulldozed the boundaries between us and walked out onto the dance floor with my Black partner in 1961 when I was barely more than a child. Why I felt more comfortable with Black folks than with "my own people." Why I wound up bearing a bi-racial child out of wedlock in my thirties. How and why I learned to cross the great divide DuBois called the Color Line until my soul belonged where my skin never could.

The cost has been great because I became one of the "regulars," and not always because I was wanted. Like the feral cat that keeps trying to run into the house when you open the door, I refused to take no for an answer. And I can't explain it.

"You're not really White," I've been told for decades. Black students tell me they come to sit in on my classes sometimes to "get in touch with their Blackness." Black student groups ask me to speak or sit on panels because, they tell me, "you say things that need to be said, but nobody else will say them." And my loneliness after accepting the hugs from one after another before I leave the building is palpable.

But I remember the moment in time when the lightening struck. I was seventeen and had been ushering for plays at the theater in our city so I could watch them for free. As a reward, we were offered the perk of ushering for the Dick Clark Show that was passing through town. The show was jam-packed with popular stars of the moment and as I sat in the dark mezzanine watching Paul and Paula, Gene Chandler, and The Ronettes, I was enjoying it all, but I was my usual reserved self. Until The Tymes, I think it was, came out and performed one of their hits and swung me out into the Universe never to return.

It wasn't their voices that did it. It was the dance routine. Four Black men moving in perfect synchronicity and from somewhere deep inside me, I suddenly felt a scream rip its way up through my body and burst from my open mouth. I lost my cool completely in a way that never happened again. I never forgot that moment and I never recovered from it. But I didn't really understand its significance until I read Gray's essay and then it all came together. Four men descended from Africa, down through four hundred years of pain and anguish that produced a strength so beautiful that it was grace incarnate in African-inspired choreography. And the spirit that brought them through the fire, bringing the music with them, reached out and touched the spirit in my soul.

Twenty years later, a Black woman I had just met told me she knew the minute she saw me that I had been "shocked by the culture." Today, as I read Gray's essay and watched Get On Up and reconnected with my own personal journey of music and dance, the celebration of life I felt encompassed all the kaleidoscope of feelings that take a human into the fullness of their being. I am grateful for whoever it is I am and I am endlessly grateful for the knowledge that I am not, after all, alone.

James Brown and Kevin Alexander Gray and millions of others living and dead walk with me. And I with them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anthony Hamilton: "Comin' From Where I'm From"



I'm posting this not because Anthony Hamilton is mega-talented (which he is) and not because all Black men have had exactly this experience (which they haven't necessarily) and not because I want to paint all women as disloyal and dysfunctional, with issues (which depends on a bunch of stuff, not the least of which is the patriarchal socialization with which we're all infected). I'm posting it because the emotions Hamilton is demonstrating here are about more and deeper than we want to think about.

White folks -- and even plenty Black folks -- want to bury this knowledge and pretend that "success" for Black men in America is just a matter of pulling their pants up and talking "proper" (White) English. It's way, way more complicated than that. And we all know it. Props to the Black men who keep on keepin' on. Somehow.

Change is constant. And nothing. lasts. forever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Angela Davis on Palestine, G4S, and the Prison Industrial Complex



With Israel's aggression against Gaza currently demanding our daily attention, here is a YouTube video of Angela Davis speaking in Great Britain last year about Palestine, G4S (a hyper-security enterprise operating now in 120 countries), and how both relate to the treatment of undocumented immigrants and the prison industrial complex. It starts out slow, but hang in there. I promise you that you won't be sorry.

The department and university where I teach are bringing Angela Davis to our campus to speak this fall and I, for one, am very excited at the prospect. She is one of my heroes for a range of reasons, has been for a long time, and continues to raise the bar for me as the years go by. I give you Angela Davis.