Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

911: What’s your emergency?

This is 911.  What’s your emergency?

I need help.  My community, my state, my nation is being overrun.

Overrun?  By whom, Ma’am?

Men and women carrying BIG guns like soldiers.  They’re driving armored cars and sometimes tanks.  Yes, I said tanks.  And they are wearing all black riot gear and..and….badges.

copld

If I say “police”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  (Cue Jeopardy music)

Once upon a time, I would have thought of public service.  Of bravery.  Of courage.   As a child (and, no, how long ago that was does not matter), I remember having fun interactions with police officers.  They were the “good guys” who passed out lollipops when they saw you at the playground.  They visited our schools with plastic badges and mini flashlights.  They encouraged us to “be good and stay out of trouble” with smiles on their faces.  We were allowed to sit in the police car, lights flashing and sirens blasting.  They made me feel …safe.

Here we are a few years later (yes, a few years) and that feeling of safety is nearly non-existent.  Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly aware of the fact that the world had changed in the few years it took me to grow up.  We’re not in Mayberry anymore, Andy.  The danger that they face is not imagined.  And, sure, I know that not all police officers are bad apples.

But, come on….

swat

Storm Troopers?  And tanks?  Really?

Beating and kicking a man after you’ve hit him with the stun gun?

Two officers stand over the motionless man and begin kicking him. A third officer drives up and attacks him.

That sounds more like brutality than bravery.

Excessive use of force in New Mexico..courage..or crisis?

Five officers gave chase, and when Lopez reached a fence and began to turn around, one of the officers fired three times, hitting Lopez once. The nonlethal shot put Lopez on his back, the report said, and the officer approached him and fired a fourth shot into his chest, killing him.

 I know it’s hot as Hades out there, but seriously?  Are they losing their minds??

All over the nation, our children are scarred for life.  Rendered sterile.  Because hoodies.

But don’t get too comfortable in your justifications.  Eight year old girls are deadly!

Our blackberry bushes and sunflowers must not be allowed to disturb the peace.

And whatever you do.. Don’t. Clinch. Your. Buttocks!

Is this what we are?  Who does this militarization help?

…a sheriff in Illinois was accused of lending the assault rifles, which he got through the 1033 program, to his friends.

…a firearms manager in North Carolina pled guilty to selling his on eBay.

…a county in Arizona acquired $7m worth of weapons and Humvees before giving them to unauthorized persons and attempting to sell them to boost their budget.

…in Mississippi, it took six years before federal authorities discovered that a state office, which was ineligible for the program, had received $8m worth of equipment, despite the fact that the Defense Department is supposed to review the program every two years.
 

As an American, I know we don’t want cops who resemble this…

funny cop

…but the statistics on police brutality and misconduct are appalling.  (Check out Radley Balko.)

Know your rights!  Also know that knowing your rights won’t always protect you.

So, yeah, dispatcher..that is my emergency.  That is everyone’s emergency.  Can you help us?

Or…Maybe Flava Flav had the right of it…911 is a joke in your town.  And mine.

Continue reading

How to be an “ally”

First of all, let me acknowledge that some have valid objections to the word “ally.” Not the idea, the word itself and the way many feel it’s been cheapened over time.

For sake of convenience, I shall use “ally” in this post though, with the hopes of reaching a broader audience.

We all have some benefits because of health, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This is also called privilege (which isn’t “bad”).   I’d venture that we all belong to a minority group,too.

Let “G” =  marginalized group.

Allies get down and dirty.

Allies constantly work to educate themselves on issues affecting G.

Allies educate others. It’s sad, say, that when I reported sexual harassment, the institution took the word of men over mine. “OH, MEN saw this happen so it must have occurred.”

As an ally, you should always challenge yourself. Recognize your limitations–you will and can never know what it’s like for G. (And that’s not good or bad, that’s just how it is.) 

Listen to members of G regarding their personal and institutional experiences of marginalization. Think about how your privileges (again, NOT a “bad” term) impact your life in a given situation and then just think about how it is for members of G. Multiply it by 10.

What you can imagine is most likely not even close to what members of G must endure, and often endure on a daily bases.

Be vigilant. When you’re at the store, wonder what this trip would be like if you were a member of G. Did the clerk listen to you or follow you around because of your skin color? Wonder about it at work: would I be promoted for the amount of work I put in or would I have to work a lot harder, often times for less pay?

Ponder which stereotypes are applied to you  now and what stereotypes would non-G folks apply to a member of G? To use race, one thing that’s always struck me as terrible is that white-skinned people aren’t called “white professionals.” White people are just doing what they’re “supposed” to be doing.

So why the term “black professional?”

Being an ally isn’t always comfortable and sometimes, you, as an ally, must draw the attention back to a member of G, say, if they’re making a damn fine point, etc.

Notice the diversity of groups to which you belong. All white? Why? No women speakers? Again, why?

Allies align themselves publicly and privately with members of target groups and respond to their needs. This may mean breaking assumed allegiances with those who have the same privileges as you.  Don’t underestimate the consequences of breaking these allegiances, and be sure to break them in ways that will be most useful to the person or group with whom you are aligning yourself.

An ally is not a rescuer. Members of G don’t need “rescuing”–that’s too Savior Complex. Work with us.

Be mindful that the G member you’re allying with could be at risk of a demotion or some form of retaliation. Be aware that the G member you may draw attention to (“X has a good point, why don’t you finish that idea for [whatever]?”) may not be delighted by your well-intentioned action. Explain and apologize. (Keep your explanation short, or you risk sounding like you’re preaching at the person.)

TALK about the fact you have privileges others don’t. Openly acknowledge this. And no, you don’t have to use the word privilege, since so many people shut down when they hear that term.

Being an ally takes personal growth, and with growth comes growing pains. If you say something supportive and a person of G responds negatively, pause and reflect. No one is perfect. Dig deep to the root and try to figure out if it was your delivery, you messed up, or they did.

Know what internalized oppression. Sometimes internalized oppression is like kudzu.

As an ally, share how oppression of G is something you may have inadvertently benefited from.  Let’s say you are running for office. A member of G has to think about public office more than you do. I mean, look at Sarah Palin. There’s plenty to dislike about her political views, but the media seems so focused on her hair/appearance. Same with Hillary and her “cankles.” That’s not cool.

Allies will make mistakes. Expect this. YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES.  You are learning, after all. Allies should help promote a sense of justice and inclusiveness.

Humor can be a method a survival, both for G and allies.

Feeling safe if not a realistic expectation; a good ally learns to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Again, growing pains. Allies understand that emotional safety is not a realistic expectation. Act to alter the too-comfortable when necessary.

(When I write, “feeling safe,” I mean more “KNOW your boundaries will be pushed, and some biases you may not be aware of may surface.” It’s very uncomfortable realizing you have a bias against something–but you can’t fix something you don’t know is broken.)

If you take anything out of this:

  • Educate yourself. It’s not the job of G to educate you, though listening to stories has helped me in the past. You can easily read stories online. Check out microaggressions. Read blogs of marginalized groups. Read the news and ask yourself questions via thought-experiment. (“If X was a member of G, would they really have gotten probation for rape? Denied bail for protecting their children?”)
  • LISTEN. I cannot emphasis this enough. LISTEN thoughtfully and with your full attention.
  • Accept that you will mess up, and then learn from it. Apologize. I’ve messed up, and I’ve learned. I’ve apologized.

And we then laughed about my gaffe.

This is by no means all-inclusive, so any ideas, suggestions, corrections are happily welcome in the comments.

Getting Real

First of all, I’d like to apologize to those of you who decided to follow me trusting I would provide you a relatively steady diet of food for thought. In this I have failed all of us.

It has been a while since I shared my thoughts with you, and even longer since I shared my life. But, well, sometimes things happen that push us to do that which we are loathe to do.

I know that some who know me will not agree with what I am about to do, because you will consider it a commission of one of the deadliest of sins: the airing of one’s dirty laundry. I don’t see it that way. Regardless of outward appearances, I long ago came to the conclusion that my most likely mission in life is to be a warning to others: the quintessential “Ms. Don’t Bee.”  I have accepted – and even embraced – this as my lot in life.

You see, I have a son. I have a troubled son. And the only thing that keeps me from being 100% angry at myself right now is that he is adopted, and I did not birth him into this screwed up world that has no use for him past making itself feel better at his expense.

I could give you a lot of reasons for his being “troubled.” I could – and most likely would, were it not for my therapist – tell you that my son is troubled because I failed to be SuperMom. But the fact of the matter is that my son – my adopted son – was probably doomed from the start. He is the biological offspring of a veteran of the first Gulf War. He is the product of a toxic gestational environment: a  toxic environment created by the United States government. However, because of his demographic profile, it’s just easier to “Blame it on the Boogie.”  Because we all know that adopted babies are throw-aways, and African American adopted babies are the worst throw-aways of all. By definition, they have to be drug babies. Imperfect people. A drag on society. Pariahs.

It became apparent fairly early on that all was not right with Quen. He simply would not settle in. He was fussy and needy and had a persistent case of thrush and endless ear infections. And then the seizures started. And after the seizures, the medication to control the seizures turned him into an entirely different child.

I could recount all of our troubles in painstaking detail, but that would do no good. Suffice it to say that his toxic gestational environment has significantly impacted his central nervous system: a fact that the Veterans’ Administration refuses to acknowledge, my pretty expensive healthcare insurance refuses to address (or authorize treatment for), and the penal and mental health systems refuse to pursue. I can only commend them on their freedom to choose.

I could tell you, like I tell myself several times each hour of every single day, that Quen’s problems are my fault. I failed to be an adequate mother and advocate. But, realistically, no matter how hard and often I try to convince him that he should go right, I cannot over-ride his lying, damaged central nervous system telling him every minute of every hour of every day that he really does want to go left. And that liar has finally won out.

As I write this, my baby is sitting in the El Paso, TX County Jail. It’s not the first time he’s been there, but I fully intend for it to be his last. On November 12, 2013 he was sentenced to 30 days for evading arrest/detention. That’s it. And the worse part of it: he was arrested a full three days after he had been released from the same jail for other offenses.

I won’t post the copy of the the complaint here, because it’s not my place to disclose his private information. But I can tell you that the arresting officer claimed  he chased my son through a number of yards and over a number of fences because, while he was in search of an armed robbery suspect, he saw my son jay walk. Yup. My son ran across a street, outside of a designated pedestrian crosswalk, and that prompted a law enforcement officer to abandon his search for an aggravated armed robbery suspect to draw both his fire arm and his taser on my 5’9″, 150lb. son. Nothing but the Grace of God prevented that asshole from killing my boy.  And you know what the kicker is??? The only charge my son faced was evading arrest. You would think RoboCop would have at least had the presence of mind to write him up for jaywalking. And you would think the judge would have had sufficient presence of mind to question the entire situation. But no. Because, you see, ever since the people of America had the unmitigated gall to elect a black man as president, the national war on Black Men that had been previously partially underground went  all the way live. And since that fateful night in 2008, every person with brown skin has been made to pay the price in one way or another. And I, for one, am sick to death of it. Because, you see, if all of these ill-read, ill-bred buttheads had any awareness of the true history of this country which they so adamantly claim as their exclusive dominion, they would realize that the primary reason these United State of America is anything other than a barren wasteland is due solely to the exploitation of peoples of color. Europeans, inarguably, stole the land from the initial inhabitants, and then used the stolen and uncompensated labor of other people of color to improve that land. In fact, our current tenuous economic status continues to rely heavily on the  exploited labor of less-than-fully-documented people of color.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not racist by nature. I am, in fact, probably one of the whitest black people you will ever meet … with the possible exception of my children. But when I read that my child had a police officer’s weapon and taser drawn on him because he jay walked  over 1,700 miles away from me, I – as a 40% disabled veteran – have no choice but to ask WTF???!!! Where is the thanks for my service, or  – for that matter – his sacrifice? Where is the dignity that is implicitly guaranteed him as a U.S. citizen  as a part of his inalienable rights of  “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?” And, as long as I’m ranting, where is the logic in a Texas Hispanic law enforcement officer, whose ancestors have suffered centuries of indignities and discrimination, acting in the same, despicable manner … which I can only see as an excuse for those oppressors to further justify their past and continuing transgressions? I fail to comprehend how a country that vehemently declares itself to be a Christian nation consistently fails so miserable to adhere to one of the most basic and simplistic teachings of Jesus Christ, that being “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  While I have never been a large champion of the whole “turn the other cheek” mentality, I do believe that those of us in this country who have been subject to generational oppression have an obligation to – when afforded the opportunity – prove that “we are better than that.”  In my mind, when we find ourselves in  positions of power and opt to act with vengeance vice integrity, we only reinforce the wrong-minded mindset of our former oppressors that we were deserving of the treatment to which our ancestors were subjected.

Hopefully, my son will be on his way out of El Paso soon. Hopefully, he will realize that no good will come to him there; that the people he calls “friends” are not, and that them being Hispanic in a majority Hispanic town give them an advantage over him that not even true friendship could counterbalance.  I want him far away from there, where he can find some measure of self-respect and self-worth. Where he can escape the vicious cycle of hopelessness and helplessness in which he now lives. I want him to be able to hold his head high, knowing that he is a responsible, productive member of society, who has been endowed by his Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want him to understand that he, too, has a right to claim the American Dream, because his American-ness has been bought and paid for several times over with the blood, sweat, and tears of his ancestors and is not something that others can deny him or that he should thoughtlessly relinquish.

We Now Interrupt the Government Shutdown…

Since the blogosphere is filled with talk of the government shutdown, I don’t feel compelled to join the chorus. People who know me should not be surprised by this. Instead, I’d like to talk about something interesting I heard last night.

Okay, so I’m on my way home from my belly dance/flamenco night, listening – as usual – to NPR, when up came this very interesting story about our new Miss America,  Nina Davuluri (a little lengthy, but well worth a listen). No, I’m not a former or aspiring pageant girl. Sure, growing up in an all-female household, I watched all the pageants, but as a young child I never saw this as something that was possible for me, and as I got older, I failed to see the point. I still wish they would go back to the tank-style swimsuits, since it doesn’t appear that non-value-added segment of the competition will ever go away. But this year’s pageant has captured the attention of a lot of people – including me – because it wasn’t just a parade of vaselined-toothed, overly-coiffed “beauties” talking about world peace and the distribution of maps worldwide: it was about the very ugly reaction to the winner…and what that, in a larger context, means.

I did a little research on the pageant. The first Miss America pageant was held in 1921. Minus the 4 year hiatus from 1928 – 1932, we’ve had 88 years worth of Miss Americas. Of those, eight have been African American, with the first one, Vanessa Williams, being selected in 1984, fourteen years after the first African American contestant in 1970. Ms. Davuluri is only the second Asian American, along with Angela Perez Baraquio, in 2000. Rule Number Seven actually prohibited the participants of non-whites during the early years of the pageant. Into the 40s, contestants actually had to complete an ancestry questionnaire.  Clearly, this is no bellweather organization. As Nina pointed out in this interview, Miss America has always been about “the girl next door.” And, based on the reaction to her selection, it appears a fair number of people prefer to live next door to a caucasian, even a tattooed one.

I hesitate to say much more on the topic, as I feel I would become “preachy.” Instead, I invite you to listen to this piece and respond. What does the reaction to her selection really say about the state of our country in 2013? Is it simply “business as usual” in America that every minority has to have its turn in the discrimination barrel? Will this push us forward, or has it pulled us back? Is it an indicator or a manifestation?

Some say race is a social construct, and has no basis in reality. But for those have dealt and continue to deal with the kind of behavior displayed recently, it is very, very real. And – at least for me – it has become really, really tiresome.