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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunni Patterson: "We Made It!"



I have posted this before, but this needs to be viewed again and again. Because it's true. And true is as good as it gets.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We're Coming To Get Our Check."



This is a short clip that will help you to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot by an off-duty police officer to stop him from kicking off the Poor People's Campaign. At the time of this speech, the Campaign was gearing up to march poverty-stricken people -- of all skin tones -- across the country and right into Washington. The woman you see after the clip of MLK speaking is Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver adding her two cents worth.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Muddy Waters: "I Am The Blues"



When Muddy Waters sang that he was the blues, he was, of course, singing for all People of Color and most particularly, all Black people in the United States throughout its history. I can write about race and I can talk about race and I can teach about race. I can close my eyes and conjure up the nightmares of my childhood and my often disheartening and sometimes horrific treatment as a woman. I can look back on the sorrows that made me who I am. But I've never woken up Black in America and I can't sing, "I'm the blues."

After posting this, I'm going to post two more short videos over the next couple of days. All three are about the blues. The first is about being the blues. The second is about why Black Americans are still the blues. And the third is about how being the blues has turned Black Americans into the strongest people on earth.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Morris Dees: "We Should Call It What It Is"

From time to time, I read or hear about how some White people are perceived by some People of Color as having made a career out of fighting racism, benefiting economically or otherwise from their work which is seen as taking away from Black people who should be getting all the attention related to (and any benefits of) the struggle against White Supremacy. Indeed, Malcolm X once told a young White woman that there was "nothing" she could do to help his cause. But in his famous speech on "The Ballot or the Bullet" in 1964, he also said, "We will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on." Later, that same year, in a speech at Oxford University in England, he said, "And I, for one, will join in with anyone -- I don’t care what color you are -- as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth."

I've been paying attention to and supporting the work of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, for decades. Today, Dees sent out the following statement related to the continual and continuing attacks on President Barack Obama because of his skin tone. I think it states the case succinctly and I'm re-posting it here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speaking Truth To Power



Melissa Harris-Perry presented a segment on her television program recently featuring Tianna Gaines-Turner, a young Black woman who testified before a Congressional Committee on the struggle of living in poverty. Folks like Harris-Perry and Congresswoman Barbara Lee -- who are Black women, y'all, in case you still think it can't be done -- use their position and voices to empower others. Here's to speaking truth to power, no matter who you are. And here's to Tianna Gaines-Turner for proving yet again that ordinary humans, given the opportunity to step into the limelight, can shine like stars.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Shell Shocked"


A couple of months ago, I came across "Shell Shocked", a new documentary about African-American youth who are growing up -- and dying young -- in New Orleans. I checked out the trailer, ordered my copy immediately, and then sat on it for months while I was screwing up the courage to watch it.

I could tell by the trailer it had been well done. And I already knew what to expect since I live 45 miles from New Orleans and have taught literally hundreds of students who commute from there on a daily basis. I spend a good bit of time every semester, in fact, working my butt off to help shell shocked Black youth hang in there another day while they're trying to overcome the effects of their experiences, which are sometimes on-going.

Young men come into my office on a regular basis, shut the door, and weep as they wrestle with their pain and their feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and even terror that, despite their determination and their dreams, they won't live to graduate. Some, as they approach graduation, stress about younger brothers and sisters or come in to grieve the loss of yet another family member or friend.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Playing for Change: War/No More Trouble



A couple of weeks ago, a specialist put me on insulin injections four times a day. While the process of trying to stabilize this new reality is careening through my life on a physical, psychological, and emotional roller coaster, I'm often in odd states of one kind or another. It's making ordinary daily affairs (like blogging) a bit trickier than usual. In the meantime, one thing I'm clear on: there's too much injustice, too much cruelty, and way, way too much war. I'm gonna work at stayin' alive, y'all. Let's work together to make sure there's a world we can stay alive in. Shall we?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Mississippi Freedom Summer: Bob Moses on Reality Asserts Itself


Part 1

There's a new news source in Baltimore, Maryland, operating as The Real News. It appears to intend to become a formidable contender for our attention and they certainly got mine recently when they ran a series of film reports I knew immediately I must watch and share with you. The series is called "Mississippi Freedom Summer" and features Bob Moses, who was an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee back in the day, being interviewed by Paul Jay on his program "Reality Asserts Itself."

I waited until they were finished with the whole series so I could upload it all in one post. I don't know what you're going to do, but I had to watch all nine segments one after another because it's that good. It takes us back to 1964 and captures for us in the present a modicum of the tension the civil rights workers had to live in and with during those demanding times.

Friday, July 04, 2014

A Note To Flag Wavers On The 4th Of July

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your typical "patriot." I don't believe this country has been Numero Uno in any particularly positive way for a long time, if ever. I know what the reality of our unvarnished history as a nation has been and it hasn't been pretty.

On the other hand, I don't want to live anywhere else at this point in time. I like my creature comforts. I just don't think they're more important than life -- my own or anybody else's. I'm happy to pay my taxes. I do wish the government would spend my share on things that meet the needs of the population and address issues of human sustainability instead of trying to bully other nations (because it never ultimately works) or funding local SWAT teams to kick people's doors down unnecessarily.

So I'm pretty low key on July 4th. I don't even own a flag. And I despair of folks who fly them after dark, in the rain, and when they're tattered (all of which are blatant breaches of flag etiquette). I'm grateful I'm a U.S. citizen, but maybe being born into a dysfunctional family teaches you early on how to love an institution you really can't celebrate. And, anyway, I'm clear as a bell that the government is not the nation.

But many U.S. citizens (a goodly portion of which will be in the streets in one way or the other today) don't feel the same way I do. They'll be wearing red, white and blue. They'll be flying plastic flags from their car antennas. And they'll be singing "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of their lungs (no matter how far off key). This post is for them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

For Tonight and Forever: American [R]evolutionary Grace Lee Boggs


Last night, I got the opportunity to preview a film that debuts on PBS stations nationally tonight. The title is "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs" and it's only an hour and twenty minutes long, but it took me over two hours to watch it because I kept pausing the film to make sure I didn't miss a single minute while I was writing stuff down. Six pages of stuff. Not so much "notes" for this post as quotes I want to remember. "American Revolutionary" is more than a film; it's an experience. And Grace Lee Boggs is more than a 99-year-old revolutionary. She's a force of nature.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou: "The Master's House Is Burning -- bell hooks, Cornel West, and the Tyranny of Neoliberalism"


I'm not sure why, but many intellectuals make a lot of people nervous. In my not so humble opinion, intellectuals are not necessarily more intelligent than other people. In fact, I've known some who were not even particularly bright, if you know how to tell the difference. They just use bigger words or more complicated sounding reasoning because they learned how to do that and, in the process, developed an exaggerated perception of their ability to prove it -- without, unfortunately having anything worth saying to add to the conversation.

On the other hand, some intellectuals -- no matter how much they intimidate their listeners -- are not trying to and truly do have some knowledge to drop. bell hooks and Cornel West are two such intellectuals. Nevertheless, from time to time, for whatever reason, somebody who either can't or simply doesn't want to understand what they're saying tries to take a pot shot at something they've said. Last month, Truthout.org ran an op-ed piece by the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou addressing some criticisms against them and, in the process, not only clarified their ideas, but added a few of his own. I give you:

"The Master's House Is Burning: bell hooks, Cornel West, and the Tyranny of Neoliberalism"
by Rev. Osagyefo Sekou

Dee-1 on Jay, 50 and Weezy



Music, literature, food, clothing, and language (including slang) are all part of our shared and very popular culture. Pop culture bobs and weaves, shifts and changes, adds and subtracts, reaches back and jumps forward in all directions and constantly. And in doing so, it continually spins our human tale of woe and glory. Here's one man who believes it's time for us to take a hard look at where we are and where we maybe need to be instead.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diriye Osman: Why We Must Tell Our Own Stories


Somalia has appeared in the U.S. news often in the last year or so. When I read this essay by Diriye Osman, I knew immediately that my readers needed to see it, as well, to develop a better, more complicated, and more beautiful perspective on this culture and its diverse population and what at least one Somali writer has to share with us about the human condition there, here, and everywhere.

"Why We Must Tell Our Own Stories"
by Diriye Osman