I Almost Got Kicked Out of Macedonia Cinemark Taking Notes on This Movie, so, However Many Weeks Later, This is What I Thought About While Watching ‘Hidden Figures’

I live in a house located at the intersection of American Citizenship Avenue right before it turns into Black Woman Boulevard, where it crosses Motherhood Mount, right before it turns into Writers Way. It’s an exhausting place to live sometimes.

American is a ridiculously busy street where the traffic moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, and the drivers hop out of their cars frequently to argue out of frustration. Black Woman is less busy, but the cars move at lightning speed, so when they cross Motherhood and Writers, back onto American, they nudge the standing traffic, and everybody in those cars get all discombobulated. They start gesturing in their mirrors and talking shit out of their windows, and the occasional psychotic fool has been known to get out of his car with a gun in murderous overreaction. Motherhood is not as busy as Black Woman, but the drivers tend to get distracted by all the bright billboards with their didactic messages about how the road ought to be navigated. They make it so hard for the drivers to just trust themselves and fucking drive. Then, there’s Writers, which is lined on both sides by these massive lots where people can park for as long as they want to park; it’s hard to navigate because people are constantly pulling in and out of the lots and off and onto the street.

In other words, intersectionality is a fucking ass-kicker, and this is especially true, for me at least, with Trump in office, worrying the fuck out of me on every vector of my identity.

I feel obligated to write about him on this blog because I am an American and a mother – because I am black and a writer – but I also want – badly – to have times when I’m not thinking about what he is doing to this country.

I’ve figured out over the last couple of days that I have to make those times if I want them, then, because Trump’s governance is nothing but an abuser’s assault on America’s consciousness.

It’s deliberately relentless – designed to make it impossible for us to keep track of everything he is doing but at the same time caught in a reactionary cycle that keeps us too busy to plan a viable way to wrest his power back from him.

A few weeks ago, I did that. I made some time to enjoy my black mother writer self. I went to see “Hidden Figures” with my father, mother, and younger sister. I was moved, of course, by the story and the acting – they were excellent – and I saw in the themes of the film some things I thought that I would much rather put into a post than the next crazy thing Trump is doing.

I wasn’t lying in the title of the post; I did get so carried away with taking notes on the movie that I forgot about the rule against using cell phones in the theatre, and an usher came to my seat and told me that I would have to leave if I didn’t put my phone away.

I didn’t put it away, though; I turned down the backlight on the screen and finished doing what I needed to do. So here they are – my ruminations on “Hidden Figures” – minus this one I’m going to put right here at the head of the list, which is –

If white people would be the benevolent leaders of all these institutions they fight so hard to dominate, rather than acting from fear of losing their often undeserved or unearned leadership roles – fear of having their mediocrity exposed and/or their positions ascribed by it and not their privilege – they wouldn’t have to create fictional characters like “Al Harrison” or fictionalize the parts white people played in iconic situations like the one depicted in the film.

Moving on . . .

The movie is about tolerance and progress – the not-so-inexorable march of history – its actual capriciousness – its dependency on us to make it happen – but mostly it’s about sisterhood, and that was my first observation. This reflection here –

The absolute vitality of sisterhood among women cannot be overstated or exaggerated, especially if we are serious about overcoming gender oppression, which we fucking should be. Women are the only ones that truly understand how hard women have it in our society, so they are the only ones that know what aid to give women that are trying to be and do their best despite the entrenched sexism and misogyny in our culture.

Women have to commit to being sisters to other women, between and across secondary demographic lines, and they have to open up to the love and support that other women are able to offer them. This is mandatory, especially with that fucking pussy-grabbing . . . no . . . no . . . I said I wouldn’t write about him anymore in this post. I meant that.

Women – we can’t mistake “compassion” for projection. Remember the scene in which Janelle Monae’s character, Mary, is talking about becoming an engineer, and her husband is telling her not to pursue that goal because it’s impossible? It may have sounded like he was concerned and trying to steer her away from being hurt, but he was projecting his own limitedness onto her. Sad to say.

Our loved ones do this sometimes. They give advice that is based on their fears and aversion to struggle or disappointment. Or they pretend to be afraid for us when they are really afraid of us and what will happen if we grow or change while they remain the same.

No is your choice, not theirs. When Taraji P. Henson’s character, Katherine, needs, in order to do her assigned calculations, to see the redacted information that her white colleague keeps officiously blacking out in order to assert his “superiority,” she lifts the blacked-out (with Sharpie) sheets of paper up to the lights in her office ceiling so she can see the information he is trying to hide from her. She refuses to be blocked.

She could’ve taken his refusal to share the information as final, but she didn’t. He said no, but she said yes, and she figured out a way to get done what she needed to get done. She chose yes. We all either choose yes, or we choose no, in so many changeable life situations.

Numbers don’t lie in real life, either. Katherine says this time and again when her white male colleagues question her theories and calculations, and I’m saying that black people need to talk in terms of numbers with white people that seek to oppress or discriminate against us in the real world as well.

Black people in America have $1.1 trillion in collective buying power. We are 13% of the registered voting pool. That means that Big Business needs us. Politicians in danger of losing certain elections by narrow margins need us. We only receive 26% of the food stamps doled out in the US (whites receive 40%), and 62% of Obamacare enrollees are white while just 17% are black. That means that altering or ending these programs will hurt them more than it will hurt us. We are a force – a vital, productive part of this country and not some horrible drain. 

Complaining ain’t fighting. There’s a scene in the movie during which the three main characters, played by Janelle, Taraji, and Octavia Spencer, are hanging out, playing cards, and Janelle – Mary – is complaining that she can’t attend the engineering courses she needs to move up at NASA because they’re offered at a segregated white school. After a few minutes, Octavia – Dorothy – tells her to do something about the situation – sue the state for the right to attend the classes – anything – just stop complaining because she wasn’t accomplishing anything by complaining.

Complaining can feel revolutionary to people that have been historically silenced, or have silenced themselves, and I believe it is the first important step in personal politicization. But it’s only the first step – articulating your grievances. If you want to fix or change anything, you have to brainstorm, plan, mobilize, and do some strategic thing to fight the fucking power.

You have to either sacrifice or settle. Each of the secondary storylines illustrates this for us viewers. Katherine leaves the comfort of the segregated black female computer pool to work in a more highly powered, but hostile, white male pool so she is able to reach her full professional potential. Dorothy steals a book from the Whites Only section of the public library so she can teach herself computer programming and remain relevant after NASA transitions from using human computers to an IBM. Mary risks alienating her husband to take those engineering classes to which she finally gains entrance and become the first black woman engineer to work for NASA, and her decision connects directly with the next idea on this “list,” which is –

Take whatever chance you are able to get, especially if it will ultimately lead to the accomplishment of your goal. Don’t be so nitpicky that you select yourself out of an opportunity.

When Mary does go to court to gain entrance into those engineering classes, the judge only grants her entrance into the night classes, but Mary rejoices like she got full run of the entire school. She has fought as hard as she can and gotten her case the highest level of adjudication she can obtain, and she has been given a judgment that – while not earth-shattering – will allow her to become an engineer in the end. So she accepts the judgment. She doesn’t bitch or brood because it doesn’t provide the ideal circumstance.

At the start of the next scene, she’s right there, in the corridor of that segregated school, at the doorway to that unblocked classroom, ready to get it in.

Dorothy’s decision – to learn to program the IBM so she can stay on at NASA once human computers are phased out – teaches another cluster of lessons, too. Learn some shit if you want to come up on some shit. Know your shit if you want to be allowed to do some shit. And if you’re useful, you’re welcome.

Nothing beats being ambitious, knowledgeable, skillful, and effective when it comes to securing employment. Even the most discriminatory bastard – if he or she gives the slightest fuck about productivity or profit – will concede to someone that is black or a woman but excellent at getting shit done.

Because to hold someone back, you have to stay back with them. Next point. Really important one.

It sounds basic, but people forget this. They somehow think they can work full-time on sabotaging other people and still get their own shit done with adequate attention and effort.

But fear is a bitch and generally makes a bitch of those that practice it as an ethic. The movie illustrates this wonderfully, with the working relationships between the main characters and the white men with which they work.

The white man that supervises Mary encourages her to become an engineer so she can better help their team perfect the capsule in which John Glenn will eventually return to Earth after the first orbital launch, and that’s exactly what she does. The team figures out how to keep it bolted together despite the extreme temperatures to which it will be subjected upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Together.

In contrast, the white scientist that works with Katherine is so insulted that he is being forced to work with a black woman, and her job is to double-check his math, that he blacks out classified information on the printouts that he gives her. He argues with her every time she puts forth a suggestion about how they can successfully calculate the coordinates to launch and land the orbital ship, and he tries his hardest to bar her from informational briefings that would keep her equally as informed as the rest of the team working on the coordinates.

Now, never mind that Katherine knows analytic geometry – is the only person on the NASA complex that knows analytic geometry – and he doesn’t know analytic geometry, but the team desperately needs someone that knows analytic geometry. This fool, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), blocks Katherine at every available turn from being as efficient at her job as she could be if he would just leave her the-fuck alone. He is so afraid that she will formulate the coordinates before he can formulate them that he not only loses sight of the bigger picture, but he loses his own mathematical mojo. And the whole project takes longer than it needs to take, which undermines the credibility of the entire team in the eyes of the White House and military and puts the project in danger of being shut down.

Stafford plays so many stupid games that Kevin Costner – whose character Al Harrison is both their supervisor and the film’s requisite white savior – in order to save the project and get those coordinates – has to step in and singlehandedly desegregate the bathrooms, bump up Katherine’s security clearance, get her into the informational briefings with the military brass, and put Stafford in his place – behind the person with the chops to do the fucking math – and rightfully so.

Stafford’s behavior illustrates another truth, too. Greed very often trumps (Trumps) honor. Once Harrison stops Stafford from blacking out information on the calculation printouts, and Katherine is able to start checking the math and coming up with math of her own, she has to type up her math and put it into reports for Stafford to present in the informational briefings (this is before she can attend them). Each time she types up a report, she puts his name on and then hers since she is the one that has done the math. Each time he sees her name, Stafford insists that she take it off because “computers don’t write reports; engineers write reports.” This is a blatant theft of her knowledge. It’s an act of despicable fraud. But that doesn’t stop him. As I said – greed very often trumps honor.

Stafford wants the shine that he gets from entering into those briefings, seeming to have come up with “the answers.” He doesn’t care how debased the desire is or how indecent the method is by which he fulfills it. And, sadly, his character is not atypical.

And that brings me to my last little reflection. Dreamers need lovers. We need people that believe in and support us but also want us even after we have failed, which we will, over and over again.

Mary’s husband finally comes around after she gets into those night classes; he comes to her and tells her that he is proud and certain that she will make an amazing engineer. It is only then, in that moment, that we get to see how badly Mary wanted and perhaps even needed that sort of assurance from him. It is only then that she voices her own doubts about her ability, which is something that even the most ardent dreamer needs to be able to do sometimes, but in a safe space.

Dreamers need lovers, and I venture to say that lovers need dreamers, too. To inspire them to keep on opening and pouring out themselves, which is just as hard to do as building some imaginary thing out of thin air. Or harder.

I liked “Hidden Figures.” It was formulaic, sure, but it was well-done, wise, and wonderfully acted. I saw it twice, and I enjoyed it twice.

I took my Girlie, and she loved it. She left with stars in her eyes and hope for her future self beating in her chest. She told me that she really believes now that she can become a video game designer. So there you go.

Mission accomplished.

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Fathers, Fairy Tales, and Lies: Why We Can & Should Hold Black Male Celebrities Accountable for Their Crimes

I wrote this back in May of last year, but all the Bishop Eddie Long apologists I’m reading on Facebook brought it back to my mind and renewed its relevancy, at least to my thinking.

I will say the same thing here that I said on Facebook about some people’s refusal to be silent about the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Long in the event of his death:

You recount the mistakes to distill the lesson.

The black community should’ve held Eddie Long accountable for the wrongs he committed while he was still alive if so many of its members find it distasteful to indict a dead man.

But what the black community shouldn’t do–through its parochial responses to Long’s accusers–is continue to make the black community unlivable for sexual abuse victims or make it a safe space for sexual predators.

That–if you ask me–is a sin.

MRS

Even though I grew up in a household that was an approximation of the black middle class ideal, I still wanted to be a Huxtable.

I wanted more siblings than my one baby sister, who, at eight years younger, could do nothing but annoy the hell out of me; I wanted to live in a brownstone in the biggest and busiest city in the world; I wanted to have all four of my grandparents within walking distance and visit with them regularly; I wanted a mother who allowed my friends to come and visit our home every day after school; and I wanted a father just like Heathcliff.

When I was young, my father was a workaholic with ambitions of becoming the next Johnny Cochrane; he was gone most of the time, and, when he was home, he was still busy with work. He had his own father’s heirloom sarcasm. He wanted his daughters to be ladies even though our mother was raising us to be women. His expectations could loom higher than a Detroit skyscraper at times, but his temper could be as ugly as the Detroit River. He never spanked me once in my life, but he did smack me up a time or two with doctrine—the proxy hand of God—when he thought I was getting too out-of-control with my damned independent thinking and insistence on eking out my own identity.

He was a lot more complicated than Heathcliff Huxtable–less fun and way more demanding–and, since I had that TV image with which to compare him, I often found myself wishing my dad was less himself and more like a sitcom character.

I would fantasize about him reacting to me in the warm, goofy way that Heathcliff reacted to his kids, and I would feel a bit cheated because it was work being his daughter, and no one applauded for me as I did it.

Now, at 39, I realize that work was some of the most valuable that I’ve ever don–that he–my father–and I were building me into a decent, hard-working, and responsible person (with a wicked sense of humor, enviable taste in music, an elegant sense of style, and a deeply-rooted notion of fairness).

I understand now that navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up, and I wouldn’t be anyone close to the thinker, writer, teacher, mother, sister, or friend I am if I hadn’t been my father’s daughter–and mother’s daughter–first.

I also see–in thinking through why Heathcliff Huxtable was such an appealing character to me–what a juvenile concept of the “father” most of black people retain throughout our lives.

This is important to point out because I think it has a lot to do with why so many us, who love(d) Heathcliff Huxtable, are having such a difficult time accepting that Bill Cosby is a rapist that deserves to be punished for his crimes.

Rather than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, whispering to black people about what fathers are and are not, we have a fairy tale weighing on one shoulder and a pack of racist lies weighing on the other.

These two false images make it difficult for us to be realistic or real about our fathers and father figures.

The fairy tale is of the white father–a romanticized figure that is an amalgam of the Judeo-Christian God and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. This man–because of his social privilege and inherent moral superiority and intelligence–conferred by his whiteness–is the perfect father. He is always there for his kids; he always has to proper solution for their problems; he can provide for his children’s every need; and he never fails them. He is the polar opposite, conceptually, of the paradigmatic black father.

The lies on the other end of the binary are that black men are inherently bad fathers. That slavery stole the ability to parent permanently from them. That institutional racism bars them–across the board–financially, emotionally, and spiritually–from adequately supporting their children. That being the victims of oppression, suppression, deprivation, and violence makes them ineffective and even damaging.

Charles Blow of The New York Times does an excellent job of describing this manifold misconception: “[We believe],” he writes, ” . . . there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community ‘dysfunction.’”

Both of these mythoi–of the good white father and bad black father–conveniently–or inconveniently for black men–ignore the facts–which must be considered in order for black people to gain a more realistic–and serviceable–concept of the “father.”

The first is that, historically, many white men have failed spectacularly at parenting. See Joseph Kennedy, who had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized at age 23 without his wife’s knowledge or agreement, or Woody Allen, who had an affair with the adopted daughter—Soon-Yi Previn—of his long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow. They have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that white men in general are not automatically “better equipped” for parenting.

On the other hand, black men are more than just the “serial impregnators” portrayed in the racist mainstream media.

Though 72% of black women having babies are single mothers, this doesn’t mean that they don’t live with the fathers of their children. It actually means they aren’t married to them. Many still live with the fathers of their children. Only 55% of black children live in single mother households.

And even though a lot of black fathers don’t live with their children, about 2.5 million black fathers do live with at least one of their children.

Too, according to the CDC, black fathers–in and out of the home–provide more actual child care than white or Hispanic fathers. Yes–black men regularly feed their children their meals (78.2% black>73.9% white>63.9% Hispanic), dress their children (70.4% black>60% white>45% Hispanic), and read to their children every day (34.9% black>30.2% white>21.9% Hispanic). They are not all flailing or failing to fulfill their parental duties, despite what even a large segment of the black community maintains.

It is fair to acknowledge, too, that many of the black fathers that are missing from their children’s lives are missing because of factors related to institutionalization.

As reported in The Washington Post, “Incarceration [is an]  overwhelming [driver] of the gap [in the number of black women and men in the free population].

“Of the 1.5 million missing black men [out of 8 million] from 25 to 54 [the prime age span for fatherhood]–higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men . . . is behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men . . .”

These numbers prove that black men are not pathologically neglectful of their children.

Black fathers are still more absent from black homes than white fathers, but their patterns of abandonment can be linked to the historical legacy of slavery–how it has shaped today’s law enforcement and justice system, created genetic pitfalls for black people in terms of their health (which result in earlier deaths), and facilitated the demonization of black men in order to justify its reprehensibility.

Often, it is their internalized self-hatred–their own belief in their badness–that impels black men to leave their children alone–in the wrongheaded attempt to protect them.

Because black men struggle on a lot of levels to be present for their children at the same rates as nonblack men, and black people as a whole have a lot of misconceptions about how structural racism impedes parenting, the absences of black fathers lead many black people to cling to idealized father figures like Heathcliff Huxtable.

They set these father figures, usually found in entertainment, on pedestals because these men seem to have overcome whatever obstacles they needed to overcome in order to “get it right” for their children and co-parents (which are more often than not their wives).

Those that actually are or that just feel fatherless worship these figures in a sense, and this may be because one of the predominant figures in this improvised pantheon of imaginary surrogates is, in fact, the Judeo-Christian God.

Just listen to the way that many black religious leaders speak about God. They very liberally and munificently humanize Him. They do this because they know that so many black people suffer from an acute psychological sense of fatherlessness. They want to fix it, so they offer their congregants a God that is an eternal, omnipotent father.

They take that Biblical address, that ancient, enduring metaphor—“Our Father”—and literalize it–to effect some sort of spiritual healing from parental abandonment. They create a model of fatherhood that–while it may not shape the way that real black fathers do their jobs–shapes the way that the fatherless envision the role of the father. Then, celebrities, cultural icons, and imaginary characters like Heathcliff Huxtable do the same thing, but on a lesser level.

These famous “fathers” provide the fatherless with an unrealistic ideal that they attach to as “theirs” to fill the absence of an actual father. These “fathers” give the fatherless ridiculously high standards for what a father is, but, since they appear to meet these standards, they also inspire immense amounts of love and loyalty. It is this love and loyalty–and the painful prospect of losing yet another “parent”–that make it so difficult for people to accept it when father (or maybe it’s more apt to say “fatherly”) figures like Bill Cosby commit terrible acts.

Since so many black people do suffer from fatherlessness–or even from the idea that their “regular” black fathers are inferior–they do not want to give up their adoptive fatherly figures.

They do not want to face the fact that a character like Heathcliff Huxtable is a personage and not a person.

They want their fatherly figure to be innocent, or, if he cannot be innocent, they want him to be exempt.

So when their fatherly figure is put on public trial, these “children” argue that his positive contributions to society or culture or the black community must outweigh his crimes. They vilify his victims in order to lessen his culpability and depravity. They deny that his behavior is actually harmful, or, worse, they say that his victims are the ones doing the harm, by ruining the fatherly figure’s so-called legacy.

They make that same tired argument every time–that if Guilty Black Fatherly Figure were white, he wouldn’t be held nearly as accountable for his transgressions, as if that somehow justifies his transgressions. But the truth remains.

Despite how prevalent fatherlessness is in the black community, or how painful it is, we—the collective—cannot use it as an excuse to dismiss the crimes of our famous black men. Our imaginary “fathers” are no less responsible for their actions than our actual fathers. Fame, wealth, and talent–while they are rare–impressive–enchanting–still do not cancel out brutality, cruelty, perversity, or decidedly unchecked psychopathy.

The ugly truth is, then, that Bill Cosby is somnophiliac that–because he prefers to secretly drug women rather than gain their consent to have unconscious sex–has allowed the pursuit of his paraphilia to make him a rapist.

He has admitted on the record to drugging women and raping them. He has paid these women–by order of the court and on his own—as his atonement for raping them.

He has exploited his image as a fatherly figure, his power, and sexist stereotypes like that of the female groupie or gold digger to ruthlessly cover for his crimes.

He has been allowed and–yes–encouraged–by his wife, entourage, the Hollywood establishment, the legal system, the patriarchy, and, yes, the black community–that deifies him–to violate a group of 50 women–that we know of–between 1965 and 2008–without suffering any losses to his fame, wealth, reputation, or freedom.

And before any of you reading can make the reflexive argument that erroneously links the veracity of their accusations to how long it took certain of his victims to come forward on the record, let me let you know–

American culture and the nation’s justice system are criminally inhospitable to female rape victims, and this has a profound effect on their willingness to report their attacks.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police.

This is because when women are assaulted by a friend or acquaintance (neighbor, classmate, coworker, boss), they fear they will not be believed.

They fear retaliation from the accused, other people finding out they’ve been assaulted, being branded as a rape victim, and/or being disrespected and/or mistreated during the trial process.

They believe that the police will not do anything to help them.

They believe that they have a lack of adequate proof or evidence.

They have their own misconceptions about what actually constitutes rape and do not actually know or believe that they have been raped.

Men may not be able to relate to these reasons–or they might refute them in order to abstain from inverting and being implicated by them–but women–if we’re being honest–know that they are very real.

Too many of us have either been raped or molested and experienced these paralyzing fears or doubts firsthand, or we have imagined being raped or molested and projected these fears and doubts onto our imaginary selves and into our possible futures.

Another reason not listed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that women don’t report sexual assaults is the terrible lack of credibility attributed to them by certain principles of rape culture.

Patriarchal notions that men hold–about how desperately women want to please them, how deserving “promiscuous” women are of punishment, and how important maintaining a “good girl” image is to women–make it easy for men to believe that women are lying when women say they’ve been raped.

Men like this think women are so universally “afraid” of being typed as sluts that any and all of them would lie about having consensual sex–call it rape–to avoid retribution or requital for exercising their sexual freedom.

And these men hold to the unfortunate truth that some women have lied about being assaulted—they have falsely accused men to avoid shame, exact revenge, or hide infidelity.

In the case of Cosby’s accusers, we must also concede they were up against the unlikelihood that a woman that is a “nobody” would be believed over a cultural icon.

Look baldly at how his accusers have been treated, and it’s easy to see why so many of Cosby’s victims felt for so long that reporting him to the authorities would be pointless.

People conflate Cosby with Heathcliff Huxtable. They think Bill Cosby is Heathcliff Huxtable. And, as devotees of the character, it is impossible for them to imagine Heathcliff raping a woman. So they struggle with believing that Cosby is a rapist. Still, the numbers of victims—as well as Cosby’s own accounts of his encounters with them and court settlements to which he has agreed—make it impossible to ignore that Cosby is guilty of a pattern of illegal behavior for which he deserves to be punished.

It looks as if the same thing, unfortunately, can be said about legendary hip hop culturalist Afrika Bambaataa, who has been accused in the last couple of months by four men of sexually abusing them during the 1980s.

Allegedly, he showed them—as boys—pornographic materials then performed oral sex on them.

Along with assaulting them, he gave them shelter, food, and money when they needed it, and he maintained a “father-son” relationship with at least one of them into adulthood. That is—in fact—what the boys called him: “Poppy.”

It’s reasonable to assume that fatherlessness, shame, machismo, and a distorted sense of loyalty are what kept them from reporting their abuse until now.

Again, before those of you that are inclined start doing that victim-blaming “thing” we so often do when we hear that victims of sexual assault have waited to name their accusers, I want to go back to one really significant concept I brought up previously, and that’s loyalty.

I honestly believe that malformed and misdirected loyalty are what keep a lot of black people silent about the terrible things that other black people do to them or in their presence.

We have such a profound mistrust of law enforcement and the courts that we do not want to turn a supposed “brother” or “sister” over to them if we can help it.

So many of we black people refuse to report crimes committed against us by other black people—and we uphold our own abusers in a lot of instances—in order to show our racial awareness and solidarity.

We romanticize our victimization as a sacrifice of sorts, and we shame those that don’t adhere to this dysfunctional “code” of honor and silence. But this behavior is a throwback to the plantation and the inhumane treatment our ancestors often suffered when they didn’t cover and/or lie for each other.

As a people, we have to start moving past our past, in this sense. We either have to abandon this anti-“snitching” ethic and turn the offenders in our community over to the law, or we have to figure out our own ways to hold them accountable for their choices to damage others and refuse to seek help for their sicknesses.

I said it before—navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up. James Baldwin even said that loving someone—that act in itself—is a growing up.

It’s a process of shedding the pretty, pretend ideas we get from fairy tales, and the hyperbolic or fantastical ideas we get from lies, and embracing new ideas about ourselves—bolder concepts of ourselves—that protect and empower us, female and male.

And here are a few—

We can love Heathcliff Huxtable—what he represents—the will to father black children lovingly and joyfully—without reifying him.

We can admire Bill Cosby as an entertainer, philanthropist, actor, and producer without deifying him.

We can condemn Bill Cosby for raping those women without killing the image of Healthcliff Huxtable.

We can support a conviction of Bill Cosby’s guilt and maintain a sense of our highest and not our basest form of integrity.

We can condemn Afrika Bambaataa without indicting hip hop culture or erasing his contributions to the culture from its history.

We can support a conviction of his guilt.

We must.

Nothing can justifiably counterbalance wrongs like the ones Cosby or Eddie Long committed except confession, contrition, reparation, and rehabilitation.

So we cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood—this concept that black men cannot answer for their actions—if we want black men that ultimately inspire more than pity, mistrust, resentment, or fear in us. Or that can only truly be great when they are standing framed in our blind spots.

We cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood if we want to evolve into a culture that is characterized by more than its pathologies.

In order to grow out of the desperation of fatherlessness and demand what is actually attainable from our famous men–decency–we have to leave the childish notion that fathers are faultless behind us, once and for all.

We have to process the ugly truths about our fatherly figures. Topple them from their pedestals. Let them shatter and clean up the messes they’ve made.

This will help us to not only heal from their abuses, but it will help us to better appreciate our real fathers.

It will open us up to accepting that many of them are bending over backward, being their best for us.

 

Daily Prompt: Maddening

via Daily Prompt: Maddening

In his elegy to Barack Obama’s beatific presidency, “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates talks deeply and broadly about the President’s “innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people.”

These sentiments, he says, are undoubtedly what allowed Obama to go from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office in five meteoric years.

Coates writes, “By Obama’s lights, there was no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only ‘the United States of America.'”

By acknowledging America’s disgraceful history of slavery, Native genocide, and perennial waves of xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment, yet treating all of these things as “errors” caused by “misunderstanding”–the work of a “small cabal” rather than the mass of the country’s white citizenry and leadership–Obama was able to “emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people,”–according to Coates–and this is what won him America’s confidence, inasmuch as he gained it, and the majority of the electorate in 2008 and 2012.

According to Coates, Obama viewed the hearts of white people as innocent of the sort of maliciousness that would eventually elect Trump. Or I should say he views the hearts of white people as innocent, since he is still speaking about White America, even after Trump’s election, as if Trump’s election was not a deliberate move to grab the country back from his black-ass clutches.

Coates credits Obama’s forgiving view of whites to his family life growing up in Hawaii–the love, loyalty, and protection he received from his white mother and maternal grandparents.

“Obama told me” Coates writes, “he rarely had ‘the working assumption of discrimination, the working assumption that white people would not treat [him] right or give [him] an opportunity or judge [him][other than] on the basis of merit.”

Coates says that Obama admitted “[t]he kind of working assumption [that white people would misuse or abuse, discount or dismiss him solely based on his blackness] is less embedded in [his] psyche than it is, say, with Michelle.”

And Coates doesn’t denigrate Obama for this. In fact, he writes, “Obama’s embrace of white innocence was demonstrably necessary as a matter of political survival.”

By offering white people a trust that most black people cannot or will not, Obama was able to calm white people’s fears, at least superficially, that he would use the presidency to exact some sort of vengeance on White America or elevate Black America above a certain threshold, in turn threatening White America’s hegemony.

“At some level what the people want to feel is that the person leading them sees the best in them,” Obama told Coates during one of their many meetings during his administration.

And he was wholly correct in using this principle to explain his appeal to the white community, but only partially correct in using this principle to explain his appeal to the black community.

Because, Coates concedes, Obama could be “off” in the ways he conceptualized Black America’s problems and possible solutions to those problems.

“For much of his presidency, a standard portion of Obama’s speeches about race riffed on black people’s need to turn off the television, stop eating junk food, and stop blaming white people for their problems,” Coates writes.

Aspects of Obama’s legacy–the Affordable Care Act, the reinvigoration of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division–have only significantly benefited black people because black people were disproportionately affected by the complications with acquiring health insurance in this country or police brutality and murder, according to Coates.

Programs that are aimed directly as the black community, such as My Brother’s Keeper, are “conservative in scope” and do not deal with problems like the dropout rate among black boys or gang involvement or lack of employment holistically, by, say, combatting the redlining that keeps so many black people trapped in the poverty-stricken ‘hoods of America’s urban agglomerations.

Obama opposed reparations throughout his presidency despite the income, student debt, and employment gaps that plague black people in the US, even if they have college degrees.

He consistently and adamantly approached the job of engineering federal legislation with the idea that fixing what was wrong with the system for “everyone” would automatically fix what was wrong with Black America.

“Just play this out as a thought experiment,” he told Coates.

“Imagine if you had genuine, high-quality early-childhood education for every child, and suddenly every black child in America—but also every poor white child or Latino [child], but just stick with every black child in America—is getting a really good education. And they’re graduating from high school at the same rates that whites are, and they are going to college at the same rates that whites are, and they are able to afford college at the same rates because the government has universal programs that say that you’re not going to be barred from school just because of how much money your parents have.

“So now they’re all graduating. And let’s also say that the Justice Department and the courts are making sure, as I’ve said in a speech before, that when Jamal sends his résumé in, he’s getting treated the same as when Johnny sends his résumé in. Now, are we going to have suddenly the same number of CEOs, billionaires, etc., as the white community? In 10 years? Probably not, maybe not even in 20 years.

“But I guarantee you that we would be thriving, we would be succeeding . . . And suddenly you’ve got a whole generation that’s in a position to start using the incredible creativity that we see in music, and sports, and frankly even on the streets, channeled into starting all kinds of businesses. I feel pretty good about our odds in that situation.”

Coates bristles at this, logically:

“The thought experiment doesn’t hold up [he writes]. The programs Obama favored would advance white America too—and without a specific commitment to equality, there is no guarantee that the programs would eschew discrimination. Obama’s solution relies on a goodwill that his own personal history tells him exists in the larger country. My own history tells me something different.”

And this is what’s so maddening about this whole debate about whether Obama did enough for the black community as the first black President:

Black people’s own ungrounded optimism about what, if anything, Obama would do.

The tales of the obstruction with which so many of Obama’s executive efforts throughout his eight years in office were met are unprecedented and borderline epic, but they elide that core issue touched on by Coates–

That so many of those efforts were not to specifically improve conditions for blacks in the US.

Coates writes that “[o]nly Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.”

But did Obama have a blind spot when it came to white people, or was he feigning shock and disappointment as a way to stay out of the racial fray?

Tressie McMillan Cottom touches on this idea in her own Atlantic article, written in response to Coates’s, “The Problem with Obama’s Faith in White America.”

Cottom says that she, as a southern black person, and the majority of black people in America “know our whites.”

“To know our whites [she writes] is to understand the psychology of white people and the elasticity of whiteness. It is to be intimate with some white persons but to critically withhold faith in white people categorically. It is to anticipate white people’s emotions and fears and grievances because their issues are singularly our problem. To know our whites is to survive without letting bitterness rot your soul.”

So knowing your whites, as she describes it, is maintaining a healthy suspicion of the white mass based on history and experience while allowing for individual dealings with whites that prevent you from hating whites. It’s holding a overall negative attitude toward whites as the agents of institutional racism–the converse of the impersonal, procedural “hatred” whites have for blacks as the enemies of their hegemony and privilege–but tempering that negativity with enough forbearance and amenability to keep you alive.

Cottom concedes Coates’s claim that Obama’s “mistake” is that he thought he knew his whites. “I suspect, given Obama’s own words over hours of conversations with Coates that [Obama] believes he really does have some special insight into white people’s better angels,” she writes.

However, she argues for herself, “Obama’s faith in white Americans is not better insight into their soul where, presumably the mythical “racist bones” can be found.”

Cottom agrees with Coates, and Obama, that white people voted for him because of how positively he viewed them:

Yet, she claims that was not Obama’s doing. “White voters allowed Barack Obama,” she writes, “because they allowed him to exist as a projection of themselves.”

According to Cottom, Obama’s careful calibration of black identity–his gift for signifying black with his handshakes, oratory tics, musical taste, cultural references, Southside Chicago brown-skinned wife, et cetera, et cetera–inclusive rhetoric, and colorblind policy building may have been impressive to whites, but it wasn’t what won them over.

Obama’s biracial identity is what really “did it,” Collum claims.

The fact that Obama was half-white, and he was raised by white people, in a somewhat racially ahistorical (at least when it comes to the black-white binary) space like Hawaii, allowed white people to vote for someone “black” that wasn’t really black to them.

It allowed them to seem like erudite or enlightened people–through the act of casting a seemingly nonracist vote–but remain assured that the power of their whiteness would not be threatened if Obama was elected.

Obama doesn’t know his whites, Cottom argues. Because if he did, she writes, he would know the essential truth that “whiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity, against black lives, against reason, against truth, against facts, against native claims, against its own laws and customs.”

He proved that he does not recognize this truth when he insisted months ago that Trump couldn’t win the White House. So, Cottom concludes, his biracial identity didn’t imbue him with special insight; it just granted him “special” status among whites.

It elevated him above “regular” black people in the assumptive racial hierarchy in the white imagination, and that is what allowed white people to vote for him to be President.

Cottom posits that his biracial identity sabotaged him, too, in another sense, because “[n]ot only does one trapped between two sets of social norms understand each better, but he is often blinded to the ways in which they are in conflict.”

“Duality can breed insight but it can also breed delusions,” she writes.

Consequently, Obama operated out of a delusional view of white identity politics, according to Cottom.

The birtherism movement, the rise of the Tea Party and alt-right directly underneath his nose, the “whitelash” that buoyed Trump’s political ascendancy and fomented widespread racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in the wake of Trump’s election–these are all things Obama might’ve been able to predict–whose import he might’ve been able to calculate–whose effects he might’ve been able to counter–if not for his “incredible faith” and “improbably trust” in white people; Coates and Cottom agree on this.

They are both angry about his failures, though they view them in slightly different ways. I can see what they are both saying, and I agree Obama didn’t do anything that spectacular for the black community especially.

However, I don’t find Obama’s supposed failures as a President as maddening as they do. The disappointment that they both express in their articles is what is maddening to me, actually.

Because with all their talk about Obama knowing his whites (and all the effort they expend juxtaposing his racial concept and theirs), they’re acting like they don’t know their blacks.

Or I should say more aptly–Coates and Cottom are acting like they don’t know aspirant blacks, who often have very complicated relationships to the larger black community.

Aspirant blacks are those stunningly high achievers with those incredulous biographies. Those role models we hold up to black kids and say “See, s/he did it; s/he started from the bottom, now s/he’s here. If s/he can do it, you can do it.”

Oprah Winfrey is an aspirant black.

Jay-Z is an aspirant black.

Tyler Perry is an aspirant black.

Colin Powell is an aspirant black.

Shit, Ben Carson is an aspirant black.

The thing about aspirant blacks is–and we know this–they customarily cherry-pick when they are black, for whom they are black, and how black their performance of blackness is.

Coates touches on this when he highlights the part in Obama’s memoir when Obama writes, “I decided to become part of [the black] world.” When he recognizes that Obama made a choice to black identify.

“This is one of the most incredible sentences ever written in the long, decorated history of black memoir,’ Coates writes, “if only because very few black people have ever enjoyed enough power to write it.”

Black people are so accustomed to blackness being reviled that we admired Obama for choosing blackness when he didn’t necessarily “have to” since he is biracial, and he was given impressive enough credentials to live relatively inclusively in the white world.

We mistakenly thought his adoption of a black aesthetic and dialect–a black politic–meant he would also adopt certain values of black righteousness, collectiveness, and resistance.

Because we have a liminal identity, too–we “regular” blacks–that are not biracial. We are black and American (black biracial people are not not black; they have a triplicative identity–black, white, and American–minimally), so we have this illogical thirst for belonging, created by the loveless relationship we have with this country.

Because we have spent the majority of our history in this country beautifying our struggle, we have developed a talent for and habit of romanticizing it.

We think of ourselves as superior, in a sense, to whites because we have survived such horrendous experiences as slavery and Jim Crow without completely losing our compassion or empathy. We congratulate ourselves and draw a very unique sense of pride from the fact that we have never launched a full-scale violent revolt against White America. We tell ourselves it is our innate decency that has ultimately kept us from doing that.

And because we have a somewhat mythological view of ourselves as such skillful survivors, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine or believe that Obama wanted to be one of us “fully.”

Then, because we have been gifted with such magnanimous leaders throughout our history here, we believed that a black man would only become President of the United States so he could help us, if not exclusively, then principally.

In that, we ignored the fundamental truth about aspirant blacks: Their ambition is to save themselves from poverty, pathology, and dysfunction, first and foremost.

They want greatness, but that is because they are conditioned, as Americans, to conflate greatness with wealth, and wealth with safety. Not that they are wrong about the purchasable nature of safety in our culture.

Check out their biographies. So many of the aspirant blacks that we pedestalize came from abject poverty, hard conditions, and harrowing abuse. They become achievers because our society rewards achievers, and those rewards often come in the forms of opportunity and money.

Aspirant blacks do what they do to change their personal paradigm. They care about “the people” inasmuch as they need an audience or clientele to applaud what they are doing or buy what they are selling.

And I’m not condemning them for that. I’m just saying. We need to be realistic about how careful, strategic and/or incidental any help they give to the black community is.

Oprah and Tyler and all the rest of them do amazing and wonderful things for the black community, but what they are persistently careful not to do is identify too definitively or publicly with black rage or resentment.

We think of this as a strategy that helps them to secure and maintain a certain level of success, and it is, but we ignore that self-preservation, however it is necessitated, is still primarily for self.

I read every politically correct thing Coates quoted that Obama said about his white family and “reception” into the black community in their interviews, and, while I cannot say the man is lying, I know enough about America to know that he is expurgating.

I think Obama wanted to be President because he wanted to be President, but I also think he wanted to prove something. I think he wanted to be important and/or powerful, and that is generally the desire of someone that’s been made to feel unimportant and/or powerless.

I think black people could’ve come to that–they could’ve realized this man was not a savior or saint–way before 2012, when a lot of us began voicing our dissatisfaction or disappointment with Obama.

That is, if we were more honest about ourselves and the fact that we as black people can be just as opportunistic as anybody else can be.

We also could’ve come to that if we would be honest about our own impulses to assimilate to whiteness and gain white approval if not white “love.”

Just look at our own “ordinary” lives. Many of us, if we have gainful employment or are able to live relatively comfortable lives, modulate or mute our anger and/or resistance toward White America. We go along to get along.

Too, a lot of the black biracial people we know exploit the fact that they are half-white to gain improved or increased access to opportunity. We see this. We know this.

We know our blacks. We know that we are very often placated by even the most minimal increase in our level of material gain or improvement in our social status.

So why did we expect Obama to be some raging race warrior when he won the fucking presidency for God’s sake?

Why did we think that he would risk losing re-election or maybe even his life for our absolute loyalty and love?

And we made the fatal mistake that we always make–we were affectionate and supportive and accepting when we should have been exacting. We let him slide when we really couldn’t afford to, and he didn’t really need us to. Let’s be real here.

Black people regularly heard Obama say stuff like “I’m in a position to understand those essential parts of me not as separate and apart from any particular community but connected to every community,” and we ignored how it negated his racial specificity. How it subtly undermined the concept that he had any special allegiance to us.

We listened to him praise his white mother and maternal grandparents–as he had a right to–but ignored the fact that “[f]or most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives.”

We expected him to be one of us, but he is an aspirant black. Perhaps the most exceptional aspirant black in the history of aspirant blacks.

And one of the main things that they generally aspire for is to be “more” or “better” and not one of us.

When we elected Obama, and we expected him to “look out” for us on the other end, we conveniently forgot that a “black president would always be a contradiction.”

That’s exactly what Obama was, too. He was black, but he was “both.” He was ours, but he was theirs. He helped us, but not in the most urgent ways that we needed help.

Obama was maddening because he represented a very deep-seated hope black people have always carried to reach the governmental pinnacle.

He gave us spectacular optics and inspiration–but so much of what he did was, ultimately, cosmetic.

Daily Prompt: Flee

via Daily Prompt: Flee

Sometimes, I really do seriously think about leaving this place. America, that is. I look around at the mess that we have all collectively made of it, and I wonder if it can ever be improved upon in any real and permanent way. Sometimes, I think that it can’t.

But where would I go? I ask myself. In typical American fashion, I never became fluent in a foreign language when I was younger. I can barely remember anything from the seven years of French I took, from middle school to my sophomore year in college. I know a little about a few other countries and their cultures–France, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, South Africa–but not enough to navigate anyplace other than here effectively.

And, anyway, I don’t want to live in France. After the terrorist attack last year, “President François Hollande imposed [a] raft of supposedly temporary security measures within hours of the attacks, while the country was reeling from the bloodbath.”

According to Time Magazine, these new rules “allowed police to raid houses across the country for the first time during nighttime hours, and with little judicial oversight; place suspects under house arrest for months; ban street demonstrations; and monitor millions of people’s communications.”

I don’t need to move across an ocean to witness a government let its Islamophobia get the better of it when Trump will be in office in a month.

I don’t want to live in Australia, either. Apparently, anti-black bigotry is as common a problem there as it is here in America, and there is not even a  public conversation in which blacks can articulate their issues and experiences to a wide audience, not that a large percentage of white Australians seem interested in listening anyhow.

Racism is a problem in Brazil, too. Afro-Brazilians make up 53% of the population, but they are still subject to the same sort of unjustified police brutality that blacks experience in the US. Among other things.

Castro made the topic of racism taboo on political stage in Cuba by declaring that the Revolution had ended it with desegregation and socialized medicine and education; however, political leadership in Cuba, which is two-thirds black and black biracial, is 70% white. There is a racial economic divide in Cuba as tourism has led to the whitewashing of hotel and restaurant staffs, and the government has granted more economic support to white small business owners, who are more likely than blacks to have connections to the government or business connections outside of Cuba.

And, despite Trevor Noah’s rhapsodizing about the improved race relations in South Africa post-apartheid, Geoffrey York reported, in The Globe and The Mail, in 2015:

Twenty years after the death of apartheid, there are signs that racism is mounting a comeback – if it ever went away. In Cape Town, there are widespread reports that some restaurants and landlords discriminate against blacks, refusing to let them book tables or rent houses. The prejudice has become so blatant that one resident has gone onto Facebook to post a list of non-discriminatory restaurants, so that blacks know where to take their business.

In several notorious cases in comfortable middle-class suburbs, blacks were violently attacked by white residents who falsely accused them of being prostitutes or criminals. At least 16 such cases of racial violence have occurred recently in the Western Cape alone, according to one local court.

For their part, some whites see themselves as the victims of racial discrimination, because of South Africa’s policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment. Some claim they are victims of a “white genocide” because of the large number of murders of white farmers – although studies have found that the murders are mostly motivated by robbery, rather than racial hatred.

Some whites have even tried to rewrite history. One of the country’s most famous Afrikaner singers, Steve Hofmeyr, triggered a storm of outrage recently when he tweeted that “blacks were the architects of apartheid.”

A lot of my commenters over the last few days have wanted to know why I am so critical of black leaders when so many of them were so incredibly courageous and accomplished so many amazing things for us–their offspring.

My answer is that I am not necessarily critical of them; I am really just trying my hardest to think up a method or collection of methods to improve the condition of black people in America.

I am reflecting backward on what has worked (or has not) so I can extrapolate what might work for us next or now.

Because I don’t really want to leave this country. Obviously. This country is my home. My ancestors earned my right to exist here just like the bellicose, bewigged forefathers of my fellow white citizens earned theirs.

Plus, there is nowhere I can go where my black skin and/or American origins will not have a negative or complicating effect on how I am treated.

Even in Africa, ethnic diversity and tribalism make it extremely difficult for blacks to get along with each other, and imperialism has made many Africans every bit as westernized as American blacks are, as demonstrated by their willingness to be corrupt, violent, and oppressive in leadership.

So I cannot flee the burdens of my blackness there. Or anywhere.

I cannot flee my blackness itself. That is the bottom-line here. I cannot flee my blackness, and I don’t want to flee my blackness or, again, my country, despite how consistently and catastrophically it fails my people.

And, if I stay here, I cannot flee my fear for my future; I cannot flee the flaws and failures of our government; and I cannot flee the tragic knowledge that for all our heroes did for us, there is still so much left for us to do.

And I am so angry. I feel trapped by my allegiance not to Trump’s America, but my America.

Morrison wrote, “I am Beloved, and she is mine.” Well, I am America, and it is mine, just as much as anyone else’s. I want it on terms that are not just survivable or livable, but in which I can be whole, safe, and happy.

So I will not flee from working through my own thoughts and ideas of how to obtain those terms. I feel that is my duty as a black person and writer and feminist and teacher. I will not flee from sharing any thoughts or ideas I think might be helpful or allow me to connect with other people searching, like me, for something meaningful to do in response to our history and White America’s hatred.

I will not flee from venturing into miry philosophical or intellectual territory or unpopular territory or contentious territory, if it can get me to a more useful set of thoughts and ideas.

I will not flee from dialogue, no matter how heated, with other inspired, passionate, and thinking black people about how we can get to better psychical, communal, and economic spaces.

Hopefully, I will get to participate, in a massive group of us, in a movement that makes all those iconized black men and women of prior movements tip their hats to us from Heaven.

Hopefully. One of these days.

 

 

It’s Not Them; It’s Us: On Martin, Malcolm, Then, and Now

The last post I wrote for the blog, on Van Jones, got more traffic than any post I’ve ever written previously.

In two days, over 30,000 people viewed it, and a few dozen people even commented, which has also never happened before.

I read every single comment. I felt honored that people had taken the time to engage with my words; I appreciated the seriousness of that engagement; and I felt beholden to them because I could only imagine how busy they are in their lives. I wanted to show respect for their time, and I wanted to learn something from their responses, if I could.

Aside from one really rather unimaginative troll, every other person that commented was good-intentioned and gracious, and some were extremely generous in sharing their own information and ideas with me, which I found wonderfully helpful.

One was a little disgruntled about the idea that black people are still “arguing” over whether Martin or Malcolm established the “right” philosophical approach for our freedom fight; he said my post was just another in a long line of anticlimactic meditations on that question; but even that didn’t upset me. It did the opposite. It planted a seed.

I won’t put words into this commenter’s mouth. I won’t say he was angry or disappointed because he didn’t say he was angry or disappointed. But I’m not angry or disappointed that black people keep agonizing over Martin and Malcolm. That I will say.

I think we understand that determining why and how they–indisputably two of our most accomplished leaders–matter to us may be one of the most instructive things we can do as we continue to eke out existence in this insane nation of ours.

When I wrote about Martin in my last post, I wasn’t necessarily restaging the old debate about whether he made more sense than Malcolm or vice versa.

I was trying to say that because he is one of our sole models of impactful leadership with an international scale of influence, it is difficult for us to consider that perhaps his method of framing the problem cannot be our method of framing the problem.

Martin and the other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew the weak spots that they could exploit in their fight; they knew they could do their most meaningful work in the gap between how White America acted and how it wanted to be perceived in its various social and political quarters. They battered at White America’s façade of morality, progressivism, exceptionalism, and brilliance with rhetoric, protests, boycotts, and litigation, and they helped galvanize the Fed into passing landmark legislation, among other things they so courageously accomplished.

I posit, though, that we can’t do now what they did then. We can’t effectively galvanize enough ambitious or sympathetic or moralistic or punctilious white people in power to, say, stop Trump’s onslaught. Because Trump changed the paradigm with his campaign. He hobbled the Democratic party on one hand, and he revealed its deep ambivalence about us and correspondent inability to effectively address our needs on the other.

Post-civil rights, bald-faced bigotry lost a significant modicum of its currency in the culture. But Trump–and he was enabled by the Republican Congress, corporate media, and embittered mass of white people in America–he didn’t do it on his own–has managed to restore legitimacy to the sort of pathological blind whiteness exhibited by the most prominent old-school segregationists (think George Wallace).

And that might also be why black people–while brainstorming how we will survive in his America–have harkened back in our minds to Martin and Malcolm and how they handled their respective mantles of leadership.

They were fighting in the age of a much more open brand of institutional racism than we have ever faced, and I think we are hoping they can provide lessons on how to handle this cluster the white electorate has instigated for us.

That said, I do not think that one of those lessons is that we should extend some sort of olive branch to Trump supporters. I stand by that assertion.

Talk of love and peace from the most visible and vocal among us can lead others of us–particularly those inclined to complacency–to prematurely and confidently retreat from the fight we need to put up against the coming tide of oppressive and exclusionary change (back).

Another of yesterday’s commenters asked me what my approach is, then, to this fight. I don’t have a comprehensive plan, but my starting place is the acronym I spelled out in my last post.

I think we need to level with people about their bigotry; opt into confrontational political action aimed at definitive positive change; vote in every election, and especially the midterm elections; and educate ourselves using authentically journalistic and academic sources of information.

I also think we need to divest ourselves of the notion that we cannot effect change unless and until we have white help to do it.

If we’re going to love up on anybody, I say it needs to be the 1.2% of American Indians or 17.6% of Latinxes in the population, who share so many of our same grievances and may actually be willing to unite with us.

I do not love anyone or anything that does not love me. Black people in America are conditioned to love white people, and we do, as I said before. Our abundant agape love for them is what keeps our rage against them in check. They get enough of our love. And enough of our compliance. It’s enough already.

Fucking sheesh.

I guess I haven’t given much discussion to Malcolm in all of this. Maybe that will be another post at another time. Even I’m interested to see what that post will bring up.

I was really just bridging off my post about Van Jones here and the comments it got. I wanted to make some clarifications and addendums. I wanted to be responsible and reflective. I feel like I owe that to all the amazing people that took the time to come to the site and take what I had to say seriously.

Still, I will quote Malcolm now because he had a gift for incisive speech, and deep wisdom about America and the black community, and why reinvent the wheel when you can just roll out an existent one, am I right?

Malcolm said:

The newly awakened people all over the world pose a problem for what’s known as Western interests, which is imperialism, colonialism, racism, and all these other negative isms or vulturistic isms . . . [those in power] can now see that the internal forces pose [a] threat. But the internal forces pose [a] threat only when they have properly analyzed the situation and know what the stakes really are.

I’m not saying Van Jones doesn’t know the stakes or understand the situation. He understands enough. He knows what’s weighing on people’s minds. That’s why he’s talking about it.

It may just be he isn’t in a position to address the situation as realistically as it should be addressed since his platform is provided by a white-owned corporation, one, that is beholden to Trump for its last months of survival.

I don’t think I’d remain on that platform, if it were me. I think about Dave Chapelle and how he walked away from his show when he suspected the white network brass was laughing at him and not with him, and he was slipping into minstrel territory. I like to think I would’ve done the same thing, even with millions of dollars hanging in the balance, out of a sense of accountability and concern for legacy. But I digress.

Whether Van Jones was sincere or strategic, or he was right or wrong, the debate over whether blacks should seek what we need peacefully or with violence is an old one, but it’s still a valid one; it just needs to be more nuanced, as do our evaluations of Martin and Malcolm.

They were both great men, who did great things, and they are wonderful teachers and models, but they cannot be the architects of whatever movement we erect in this age to attempt to end our oppression because they are not of this age, and this isn’t their fight anymore.

It’s ours.

Love Deez Nutz, or Why Van Jones Is Wrong and Maybe Even a Bit of a Bullshitting Magical Negro, or Happy Friday from My Corner of Trump’s America–Whatever You Like–I’m Tired

One of the reasons that I dislike the way that black people deify Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that it makes a lot of us adopt a passive way of dealing with racism and racist white people that is really fucking unproductive.

MLK was a Christian minister. He advocated for nonviolent protest and civil disobedience because these principles aligned with Biblical doctrine. He strategically combined a political message and mission with ministry. But this isn’t a mandate. This is not the only or the “right” or at this point a proven way to effect change around issues of race in our society

As courageous, wise, and principled as MLK was, we can look at the racial climate in this country today and say–in all fairness–he might not have been as effective as we needed him to be.

Because he sought to change people’s minds. He sought to make the Masters of the Universe and their racist minion perceive black people as “good” and so deserving of equal rights and fair and decent treatment.

And I’m sorry, but his aim was off. There, I said it. Throw holy water at your screen if you feel impelled. Or smear it with anointed oil. It may sound like sacrilege, but appealing to white people’s spirits just wasn’t the way.

It makes sense that MLK would’ve opted for a nonviolent approach, though; he was a religious man; he was raised in the Jim Crow South where blacks were regularly terrorized; his protests were just one prong in the operation of the entire Civil Rights Movement; and King had no precedent to demonstrate to him that the changes he helped to make–without the threat of violent recourse for any reneging by the white establishment–wouldn’t last.

I am a 40-year-old black woman that has been educated academically and through experience in institutional and interactional racism. I’ve been treated like shit by the system and by individual bigoted people. America has given me a lot, but it’s taxed me a whole hell of a lot for that shit, and so I don’t feel like black people have overcome enough in the past 50 years to call the Civil Rights Movement anything more than an extremely valiant effort.

It achieved fractional victory, at best, and that is not a castigation of the men and women involved in it; it’s an indictment of America and whiteness and a recognition of just how entrenched bigotry–and particularly anti-blackness–is in both things.

I once sat in a class during my MA in which I was the only black person and the only student excluded from the class’s study group. Everyone included in the group was white, and that was everyone else in the class.

They never issued me an invitation, and they arranged meetings right in front of my face, across the discussion table where I was sitting, regularly. They wouldn’t even turn away or speak quietly or try to be discreet.

It wasn’t until I got an A+ on a paper, and the professor raved about me to them, that they finally even acknowledged my presence. Before that, whenever I would contribute to class discussions, they would fall silent and then pass right over what I said, onto another of their comments. Habitually, someone would repeat a point that I made earlier in class, and he or she would be praised for it as if he or she thought of it first.

After I got the A+, though, my classmates issued that invitation to the study group. They started listening when I spoke in class and asking me questions like I was a mini professor.

This led me to assume the only reason they hadn’t done these things before was they thought I was stupid, and I couldn’t think of any other reason for them to think that except that I am black.

I was enrolled in the same graduate program as them, which meant I had to have the same minimum GPA, same GRE score, and same number of bachelor level credits to gain admission. They’d heard me speak eloquent English in class and make really smart observations, so, in order to dismiss these things, they had to call on something other than logic. That would’ve been either belief or emotion.

I learned from this dumbass ordeal that bigotry is based in belief. It’s emotional, not factual or scientific. That is the reason that you can’t reason it out of people. But you can’t love it out of their asses, either. Sorry Van Jones.

And anyway black people shouldn’t be treated fairly by this society out of love or even respect. We should be treated fairly by this society because this society placed a mandate on itself to fucking treat us fairly.

How white people or anyone else feels about us is too capricious a determiner for whether we should, say, not get shot by police when we are unarmed and innocent of a capital crime, for which police can’t legally execute us anyway because that is not their fucking job.

White people don’t get the protections afforded them by the government or law enforcement because of how legislators or cops or judges feel about them. They get them because they are legally entitled to them, and it is easier for white legislators, cops, and judges to give them these protections because of cross-race effect.

But who cares? They can circumvent that shit if they need to, and they need to. They don’t need to be bribed; they need to be put on notice.

In the same way that so many millions of black people can harbor generational resentment of white people but still deal with them nonviolently, civilly, and productively, white people should be forced to deal with us the same way, even if they believe every single bullshit stereotype about us. It shouldn’t matter whether they “like” us or “love” us or not.

I can work with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can teach white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can share public space, transact business, cooperate with, and socialize with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worse among them all over the rest of them.

And so can millions of other black people. So do we all. Because if we ever did explode–whenever we do explode–we get eviscerated or incarcerated or fucking eradicated.

And since we do it, and white people rank themselves as better than us–they make all these adamant claims to superior intellect, morality, discipline, and wisdom–they should be able to do it, too. They should be able to interact with us without exploding their supremacist bullshit all over any of us, even if they fantasize about doing it the entire time.

So fuck using love as a weapon for fighting racism. Unless you’re going to make love into an acronym. Unless you’re talking about

Leveling with people about their bigotry;

Opting into confrontational political action aimed at definitive positive change;

Voting in every election, not just the Presidential election, so the political process can benefit the oppressed inasmuch as it can in America; and

Educating yourself about what the-hell the government is doing by reading real news and doing independent, academic research if necessary–yes–you should–knowing the shit that’s happening is that important–look at what just happened back in November. It was only a minute ago.

If you ask me, this is the only type of L.O.V.E. that’s going to get us–black people, Latinx people, Muslim people, Arab people, indigenous people, LGBTQIA+ people, undocumented immigrants–everyone Trump and his pack of dogs will be systematically attacking over the next four years–anywhere or anything.

The ruling class in America only cares about two things: preservation of power and access to money. So anything that doesn’t threaten these two things isn’t going to compel or impel them to do a damn thing.

You can come together and support these racist-ass politicians or “love on” your garden variety moneyless Trump supporter all you want; if you don’t inconvenience or obstruct them, they’re not going to change anything about the way they deal with you.

This ain’t Disney. This is the dog-eat-dog world of American imperialism. This ain’t Obama’s America anymore. It’s Trump’s.

Getting back to MLK–I often think that so many of these black men that pop up in the political arena echoing and aping him are really just looking for fame or glory–they are looking to be valorized or canonized like he was–not continue his work–not lead black people to viable solutions to our problems or help us make progress toward a more equitable America.

I think that they lack integrity–because they know that “love” is not a political strategy–it’s the way to heal personal relationships–they know race politics aren’t personal–they’re subconsciously vying for the affection of white people and using the fight against racism as a vehicle to gain legitimacy from white culture–they’re too cowardly to do something drastic and die (even just from the public eye) like real soldiers but for a worthy cause–that’s why they preach nonviolence and tell us to fight an actual enemy with what amounts to submission–but they’re still vain enough to want to be heroes.

They’re playing the role of the magical negro when they know better and could do better, if they wanted to.

In other words, they exploit the fight for civil rights to become media and/or Internet famous the way Tomi Lahren exploits the fight against civil rights to be Internet famous.

They’re all sound bytes and catchphrases and hashtags. They love the spotlight and hoopla and maybe even the drama, they love their paychecks and high profiles, but they don’t really love us. They can’t.

Because if they did, they wouldn’t tell us to bend over in a queue and take the establishment’s unlubricated dick with smiles on our faces.

They wouldn’t encourage us to funnel our light into their seemingly bottomless pit of narcissism and nihilism like it’s nothing or like we have an inexhaustible surplus.

MLK was the product of a specific moment in history. He was right for his era, and he earned his venerated appearance in the American narrative. I do not argue with that.

I admire him, and I appreciate him. I even forgive him his indiscretions, if that’s even my place. I think he is a tremendous model of leadership, even if he wasn’t our political messiah.

I am not writing to bash MLK, or Van Jones, or other supposedly woke, professional Uncles (or cousins in the case of Trevor Noah) because I guess selling hope or false wisdom is better than selling cigarettes or alcohol or crack or lottery tickets to poor, struggling black people.

I’m just saying–black people are already a love army. The fact that we haven’t attempted, at any time, on a wide scale, to burn this country to the ground for what it did and continues to do to us, despite how we have fought, labored, and died for it–and in it–and because of it–shows that we are filled with love for our fellow Americans.

Racist people’s selective blindness to that is an indication that they will only ever see what they want to see when they look at us, no matter what we do.

So we should stop putting on all these performances of “respectability” and “morality” for them and do something that will actually improve our condition.

We should love ourselves enough to fight for what we want, not roll over and beg like good little pets.

Daily Prompt: Anticipation

via Daily Prompt: Anticipation

I didn’t always know that black people had such a fraught relationship to the United States. When I was really little, it was simply my home country. A place to which I was proud to belong.

I never questioned that belonging, either. I learned–like most Gen-Xers–the Pledge of Allegiance before I even knew the definition of the word “allegiance”–I had to be three or four–and the words to “America, the Beautiful” before I understood that the country stretched far beyond the city of Cleveland to the east, south, and west.

I was a very blessed, very sheltered little black girl. I lived in a decent-enough neighborhood with my parents, who made decent-enough money to keep us decently enough.

My neighbors were all black like me. My classmates were all black like me. And even though my teachers were largely white, they were actually quite caring and nurturing. I didn’t attach any significance to the difference in our skin color, or have any concept of “racial identity” that arose from an experience of racial prejudice or hatred, until I was 11-years-old.

My fifth grade social studies teacher can be thanked for introducing the concept of blackness to me. Oddly enough. She was an older white woman that had tired of wrangling pubescent kids long before I landed in her classroom. To make her job bearable until she was able to retire, she eschewed with all the lecturing, and she showed us videos.

One of them–“Eyes on the Prize”–changed me irrevocably.

“Eyes on the Prize” is a 14-hour television documentary series produced by PBS, which painstakingly documents the Civil Rights Movement in America from 1954-1985.

Before I watched it, I had only a vague notion of my people’s history in this country.

I knew that we had been slaves, but I didn’t understand the exigencies of chattel slavery or inescapability of its implications. I naively thought that whatever worldview that had allowed the masters to buy, own, and beat my ancestors died with them, and I was thankful that I hadn’t been born a slave and never would be a slave.

I knew that blacks had struggled to gain legitimacy as citizens after emancipation, but I didn’t know about Jim Crow beyond the clichéd photos in my history texts of “Whites Only” signs on water fountains. I didn’t know about the decades of terrorism to which black people were subjected during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. I didn’t know about lynching. I didn’t know what had happened to Emmett Till or four girls that were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, who looked so much like sixth grade me.

I learned about Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair from “Eyes on the Prize.” I gained an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. I also experienced one of the most painful realizations of my life through that learning process.

I realized that America did not want me. It had wanted the labor of my ancestors long ago, to build itself up, when it could have that labor for free and procure it through violence, but it did not want the descendants of slaves as citizens, and it did not want to treat us with the regard and respect due our legacy.

America hated me, and the even worse irony of that fact is it hated me for being free.

At the same time that this idea was implanted in my mind, though, so was another one. A counterbalance.

The idea that one day America would realize how mistaken it is about my people and welcome us to the proverbial table as citizens–

(if we are to hold to the tired symbol of American citizenship as a table to which white people can choose to welcome or from which they can dismiss Others–the American Indians, for example–Happy Thanksgiving, by the way).

I learned–and here it finally is–to anticipate the moment when America would somehow halt in all its racist lunacy and embrace black people as it rightfully should.

And I have done that. I have anticipated full, unequivocal acceptance into America as an American black person for thirty steadfast years.

Now, though, my hope is flagging, and I don’t think I have to explain in another detailed narrative why that is.

Anticipation can be life-giving, but it can also be crazy-making. Looking for something to happen that may never happen can provide you with years of hope, but it can also eventually fill you with bitterness and rage.

I am not bitter at having believed for so much of my life that America is a better place than it is. It allowed me to feel good about being an American and to feel somewhat safe existing here.

After this Presidential election, though, I don’t feel good about it anymore, and I don’t feel safe here anymore, either.

I can’t dredge up enough evidence to hope that things will get better when politics seem to be teleporting us backward, to the horrific times depicted in the earliest videos of “Eyes on the Prize.”

Sadly, what I anticipate happening to America now–and I admit that I do have a vivid imagination–as a writer and movie buff–is a devolution into some sick effigy of Nazi Germany, in which all people, outside of cisnormative, heteronormative whites of European descent, are openly persecuted if not “cleansed” from the proverbial fabric of the country altogether.

I wish I could anticipate a movement in which all of us that are not supported in Trump’s vision come together and fight for the America we deserve.

I wish I could anticipate the politicians that claim to be our champions taking bold action and saving the country rather than their own vain, cosseted faces for once.

I wish I could anticipate this entire experience ending like a nightmare that we have all somehow shared–as we might in a cheesy dystopian Hollywood movie with really obvious, unscientific plot devices like mass induced dreams–but I can’t.

History teaches me that Americans can be brave, but only up to a point; they can push for positive change, but only up to a point; and they can embrace healthy newness, but only up to a point.

And sadly that is the point at which they have to completely break down the way they think about things like democracy (arduous process, not free gift), difference (negotiable complication, not fatal cancer), connectedness (fact, not fiction), decency (action verb, not abstract noun), and responsibility (wonderful opportunity, not dreadful burden) and act in accordance with brand new, soul stretching definitions.

I don’t know what will happen in the weeks leading up to Trump’s slated inauguration. I know what I want. I know what I wish. Sadly, they don’t jibe with what I think will happen.

Anticipation of something revolutionary happening, like the emancipation of the slaves, to preserve this country in some workable semblance of its better self is mixed in with my other, darker emotions. The resentment. The anger. The fear.

But it’s just the faintest flicker of a flame.

I keep thinking of ways that I can feed it.

An Attitude About Gratitude: On Colin Kaepernick, Paul Finebaum, & What Black People Do Not Owe America

ESPN commentator Paul Finebaum has his panties in a bunch about what he perceives as Colin Kaepernick’s “attitude” toward America and the NFL.

He actually said the following during a panel discussion of Kaep’s refusal to stand during the playing of the National Anthem at games, in protest of police brutality against black people in America:

“I honestly have no idea where he’s coming from with all this. What really gets to me is the fact that he’s capable of doing something like that when this country, which he blatantly spit on, this country is what gave him the opportunity to rise to the stars and to be recognized and celebrated.

“What kind of man is capable of doing that and giving that sort of thanks to the very community that supported and admired him?

“Seriously, I still can’t get over the fact that he was that disrespectful.”

I’m going to take off my blogger hat for a second to address my first issue with this argument that Finebaum is making, and put on my English instructor’s hat. If you’ll indulge me.

And I’m going to say that Finebaum is conflating the American government with the NFL here, and that is a logical fallacy.

By refusing to stand while the National Anthem is being played, Kaep may not be “respecting” America the way that Finebaum thinks he should, but he is not disrespecting the entity that “gave him the opportunity to rise to the stars,” either. That’s the NFL.

When Kaep refuses to play a scheduled game, which he hasn’t done, or refuses to play when put on the field, which he also hasn’t done, then Finebaum can make the claim that he is disrespecting the community that has “supported” and “admired” him.

The current formation of his protest isn’t an affront to the NFL; it’s a demonstration against American law enforcement and a statement to the public that Kaep stands in solidarity with the black community against police brutality.

Because the playing of the National Anthem at football game is a patriotic tradition and nothing more; it isn’t a version of the oath the policemen take to do their job to the best of their ability; it doesn’t “belong” to the NFL exclusively; “respecting” it isn’t a contractual duty of NFL players.

In fact, it seems that respecting anything outside of winning games and making money isn’t a duty or concern of a rather sizable segment of NFL players, let the number of recent arrests of NFL players tell it.

Which is why Kaep’s concern for black lives and willingness to speak out against police brutality is so refreshing to so many of us.

But that’s another discussion. Let me get back to my exegesis of Finebaum’s off-key, anti-black bluster–

Conflating the nation and the National Football League allows him to appear to criticize Kaep for being “unpatriotic” when the real issue that Finebaum has with Kaep is he thinks Kaep is an ingrate.

Because if you want to be technical, about 70% of NFL players are black men, so it’s doubtful his protest is viewed as disrespectful, even within the professional football community.

The people in the NFL that have made the most fuss about Kaep exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, or free speech action, are the white male coaches and owners, who apparently feel, like Finebaum, that “[old school white officials] . . . were kind enough to allow black people to participate in all of [their] sports . . . but . . . somewhere along the line, the brakes went down the drain, and so now . . . [black people] are acting like [we] own [American professional sports], like [we] invented them as [our] gift to puny, feeble white people.”

Finebaum says that the NFL and NBA opened up professional play to black players to effect “greater cohesion and fewer incidents and racial tension” in American society, but, now, he says, blacks are “systematically pushing out white players . . . they’re acting like they were meant to play sports and nothing else” and “white people are being treated unfairly  and unequally” as a result.

I have to put on my amateur historian’s hat to dispute this–a ploy to make whites look like victims of the changing tide in the demographics of the NFL and NBA and not the agents of that change.

First, and I know how frustrating and tiresome this will be for all those people that want to pretend as if when slavery ended, it stopped having an effect on American culture, but, whatever, slavery is the reason that black people are here, in America, in 2016, dominating the professional athletic landscape.

Had slave traders not kidnapped and trafficked us, had plantation owners not bought and exploited us, we’d be in Africa, and I venture to guess whites would be lobbing these racist complaints about minorities in professional sports at Latinos or whoever else got stuck at the bottom of the social barrel in our absence.

However, the slave traders did kidnap and traffic us, and the plantation owners did buy and exploit us–some of them even bred us–and so here we are, black Americans, begrudged inheritors of this nation’s legacy of racial exploitation and racist denial.

We are the product of the evolution of our African forebears–that just so happen to be uniquely anatomically outfitted for certain sports.

According to researchers, we have shorter torsos and longer limbs with smaller circumferences, which produce higher centers of gravity, and that enables us to move our feet faster.

This gives us the obvious advantage in football and basketball, which may be why some of us feel or act like we are “meant” to play these sports, especially when the result is that we excel in both.

If you ask me, Finebaum seems more upset about that–the fact that black football players consistently outperform white football players–than he does loyal to America and defensive in the nation’s name.

Now, as far as the “official” integration of professional football goes, it had nothing to do with the magnanimity of white team owners or coaches. Naturally.

Before the 1940s, there was some integration in football, but it placed mainly indigenous players on professional teams; very few blacks played in the NFL, and, after 1933, the league developed a decidedly anti-black ethic that held until after WWII.

According to historians, in 1946, after the Rams moved to Los Angeles, members of the black print media got together and informed the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission that because it was supported with public funds, it had to abide by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision of the Supreme Court. This meant it could not lease the Coliseum to a segregated sports team, which put the black print media in a perfect position to exert pressure on the Rams to integrate.

So the black press began to campaign for Kenny Washington, one of the greatest collegiate football players in American history, to get a tryout with the Rams; they set the Rams up for a win-win situation.

And the Rams took the bait. When the Commission stipulated that the team would in fact have to integrate in order to lease the Coliseum, the Rams signed Washington on March 21.

This is how and why integration happened to the NFL–through legal necessity–to ensure the league’s continued monetary success.

So Finebaum is not just erroneous but disingenuous in his claim that white people let black people into the NFL to promote integration and racial harmony.

That was a supposed byproduct of what was actually a clear, coerced business decision for the sake of profit.

A decision that does amount to black people “gifting”–in a sense–modern professional sports to white people, regardless of what Finebaum says or thinks.

Our participation in their teams allowed these teams to continue to play when integration was stipulated, and it has perennially brought millions of black fans and billions of black dollars to the sport since the 1940s.

Our excellence in football and basketball in particular has made both of these sports American entertainment mammoths and won hundreds of mediocre white athletes incidental fame, fortune, glory, and championship trophies and rings by playing alongside of us.

As far as black people acting as if we aren’t supposed to do “anything else” but play sports–another ludicrous thing Finebaum said–that’s nothing but sour grapes and side-of-the-neck racism talking.

Because in this age, black people are appearing in the media just as often for academic achievement, business innovation, and freedom fighting as they are for winning fucking football games.

If Finebaum doesn’t see this, it’s because he doesn’t want to see it. And that’s his bigoted bad. Black people aren’t losing sleep over white people’s colorblindness to our accomplishments.

Black people are also not “systematically” pushing white people out of sports because only one team is owned by a black man, only five teams out of 32 have black coaches, and there were just seven black general managers in the League in 2015.

The white men that run the NFL are the ones pushing the white players out of the League by drafting black players. They are doing just what the leaders of the Rams did back in 1946; they are putting black men on their teams to continue to make money.

Since black players routinely outplay white players, they are more of a draw for fans; they increase teams’ chances at winning championships, and they bring the added benefit of making NFL teams seem “moral” and placating minority TV viewers and purchasers of game tickets and paraphernalia.

Finebaum is like a textbook Trump supporter in his refusal to see that: The people undermining the white players with which he so clearly identifies and empathizes are the NFL equivalent of the 1%.

Finebaum is also ignoring that Colin Kaepernick is the abandoned child of a white mother and black father that got adopted, raised by a white couple in two separate white enclaves, and still managed to grow into a record-breaking football player with a seemingly functional sense of racial identity.

I don’t know what it must have been like for him growing up, but I can’t imagine it was easy assimilating the myriad realities of being orphaned, adopted, and black in a white world as a young athlete, all at the same damn time.

Yet, he did it, and he made himself into a professional, accomplished football player to boot.

He got drafted and signed by the 49ers in 2012 as a culmination of all his effort. He didn’t win a sweepstakes or lottery. He played good ball, and the 49ers drafted him so he could play for them and help them win Super Bowls.

I suppose he should be grateful that he got the sundry opportunities that led him to become a professional football player, but he doesn’t “owe” America for that. After he started playing, and achieving as a player, he was earning them.

If you think about his arc in ethereal terms, you might say he owes God for his anatomy and talent, if anything.

If you think in more practical terms, you might say he owes the Kaepernicks for adopting and raising him and fostering his development as a football player. Indubitably.

But he doesn’t owe America, as I said, because that’s not how America works. America isn’t our hard-working father that broke his back to put us through college. America is a political entity.

We are granted certain freedoms, rights, and protections by that entity, and all we have to do to secure them is be or become citizens, stay on the right side of the law, and pay taxes.

We don’t have to stand up for the National Anthem or put our hands over our hearts during the Pledge or fly the flag from the eaves of our roofs or do any of that if we don’t want to. The Constitution doesn’t mandate that or make that a condition of citizenship or anything like that.

And even though these are long-standing social mores that many Americans regard as tributes to our founding fathers, our soldiers, and our police officers, for others they seem like a form of secular idolatry, and for others still observing these mores feels like bowing to an abusive master–saying “thank you” for undue oppression and discrimination.

Finebaum said several times during the ESPN panel on Kaepernick that black people in America are not oppressed, but he’s wrong. His statement is ahistorical, inaccurate, and emotive. It’s not based in fact.

Blacks in America remain victims of structural racism across the board, and, just because a few of us are famous or rich doesn’t mean that the rest of us are shiftless and wholly responsible for our own discrimination and disempowerment.

Exceptionalism has always elevated a small segment of the black population in this nation, and even the most famous and rich black people in America still have richer and more powerful white people that they answer to.

Well, except for maybe Oprah and Beyoncé.

And Olivia Pope. And Command.

All kidding aside, the idea that black people should be grateful to live wedged up under white hegemony and supremacy, just because this affords many of us the opportunities to still make money and live relatively safely, is–you know what I’m going to say here–oppressive itself. It’s racist.

It comes directly out of the white entitlement and resentment and fear of displacement and annihilation that have fostered Trump’s political ascendency.

Black people deserve all the same rights, freedoms, and protections as all other American citizens because we helped build America. We contributed to its greatness on all fronts, from art to technical innovation. We put in on this; we’re not indebted.

We’ve fought for it in every war in which our troops have been involved. We help pay for it with our tax dollars, and we help keep it running with our work and consumer spending.

We have died for America and in America since the birth of the nation (pun intended). We stick stubbornly, and some might say stupidly, to it, too, even though it betrays and abuses us time and again, no matter how we try to stop it.

We fucking love America. Yes, I said it. Black people love America. Enough though we want to fix it. So we can finally live decently in it.

Which is–and finally we can come around to it–the real reason Kaep is protesting. And Finebaum knows it.

Kaep is being an American in the textbook political sense. He is exercising a Constitutional right in the pursuit of guaranteed freedom.

Kaep isn’t ungrateful. He’s galvanized. He’s using his influence and affluence to help other black and black biracial people because he understands that by a stroke of bad luck, he can find himself a victim of police brutality or murder, even if he is a famous football player.

And if so-called attitude or gratitude is going to be located at the center of a national debate, then that debate shouldn’t be about one football player and his small form of protestation. It should be about how unjust the allowance of racist police brutality is to tax-paying citizens overall.

White people like Finebaum want to check blacks like Kaep for having attitudes because they think these black people should be grateful they were given a chance to become rich and successful.

But it’s really white people that should be grateful–that black people haven’t started raining more violence down on their cops–or ordinary white citizens–in answer to the violence they rain down on us.

Kaep’s protest is peaceful and legal and much more dignified than America deserves or a cretin like Paul Finebaum can appreciate.

But if he and his ilk are going to press the issue–if they’re going to insist on unflagging allegiance from black people, then they should work with Kaepernick to make America more amenable to blacks, not against him.

They might also work to swap out the anthem as well because not only is “The Star-Spangled Banner” difficult to sing, its back story is highly dysfunctional, and its lyrics are highly offensive.

Seriously. Google it. I’m not even kidding: The first verse has all that soaring imagery or whatever, but that that second, unsung verse is a doozy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do They or Don’t They?: On Black Lives, Fruitless Sacrifices, and What It Really Means to Be a Warrior

No.

No. No. No. No. No.

I will not.

That is all I could think when I finished reading the article on Feministing.com about Korryn Gaines.

No.

In the article, Jacqui German writes:

She loved her son enough to teach him not to be afraid, to know the truth of American anti-Black violence and stand decisively against it. She loved her children enough to model resistance as she believed and understood it.

And my mind screams “No!” in response.

Adamantly.

I don’t think that’s what she taught her son at all.

While I agree with Germain that Korryn should not be demonized for how she interacted with the police previous to her killing, or staging the standoff with police, or refusing to surrender to them, I don’t agree that she taught her son anything other than his mother was more willing to die than to do what she needed in order to remain here, in this life, with him.

We’re talking about a pre-schooler here–not a high school or college student capable of intellectualizing and contextualizing her actions as political.

Mother-child attachment lays the foundation for all other relationships a person forms throughout the rest of his or her life. It shapes the way in which people generally view relationships–as either winning or losing situations for them.

In the mother-child relationship, the mother can either function as primary caregiver and secure base from which the child can explore and to which the child can return for safety and comfort, or she can not.

When she does not, she gives the child a shaky or nonexistent psychological base for entering the world and other relationships.

You can’t tell your three-, four-, five-year-old “You let them know that they stole your mother” and make him or her unafraid.

By intimating that you can be taken from them, you do the opposite of making them unafraid; you terrify them.

Brutal truth about racism and armed resistance may be strategies that “black mothers throughout history in this country and across the globe” have utilized in their attempt to protect their children from racial violence and oppression, but, as we can see from not just Korryn Gaines’s narrative, but the current racial climate in the US, it doesn’t work.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work.

Respectability strategies–compliance, assimilation, aspiration, integration–don’t always work, either, in keeping us safe, but it is much more likely that Korryn would be alive today if she’d paid her traffic tickets, showed up to her court dates, and/or opted not to greet the police at her apartment door with a pistol grip shotgun.

I don’t say this to justify her killing. I say this to make a larger point.

The cops shouldn’t have killed her because she had documented developmental disabilities and brain damage that likely affected her perceptions and interactions, decision-making and planning.

White police have a traceable history of working through armed confrontations by white assailants–with or without mental issues–without killing them, and they should’ve done the same thing with Korryn.

I maintain that racism and sexism are what impelled them not to.

The fact that they were wrong doesn’t make Korryn “right,” however.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order to deserve not to be killed.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order for her death to be a source of outrage or cause for protest.

We don’t have to mythologize her in order to honor her.

We should honor her. She is another black person taken from us by senseless, racist violence. Her death is a tragedy.

But we shouldn’t mythologize her.

She isn’t a warrior.

She isn’t an example we should follow.

I’m sorry.

Korryn’s resistance is a slave’s resistance.

I say that because institutionalized racism was in its adolescence during slavery. It didn’t quite know what it was yet.

So the slaves couldn’t necessarily or intelligently extrapolate white people’s reactions to mass resistance efforts.

This is true, too, because slaves were kept isolated from each other, from plantation to plantation, city to city, and state to state. There was no Internet on which they could read daily news reports from all over the burgeoning US.

Masters and overseers were extremely careful about letting news of other slaves and their doings get back to their slaves, lest they be encouraged to run off or riot. Slaves often had no way of knowing what other blacks were experiencing because they weren’t largely literate, and they weren’t given access to papers or allowed to carry on correspondence.

(This is one of the reasons in slave narratives that so many of the writers were so disappointed by the so-called freedom they acquired in the North.)

Because slaves often lacked knowledge of how the lands around their farms or plantations were situated or populated, they lacked a sense of the distances between southern and northern populations, and they were overly reliant on things like the element of surprise and psychological shock factor; they were able to believe that a couple dozen or hundred slaves could effectively free a whole county.

Since mass resistance efforts were few and far between, considering how long slavery lasted, and the political background for the institution changed often, it was probably a lot easier than we think for slaves to assume that they’d chosen an opportune time to rise up.

Just about every mass slave rebellion or uprising in American history ended with blacks being executed or slaughtered by the dozens in retaliation, though.

Slave rebellion ended slavery in Haiti, but not here in America. The Civil War did that. A conflict that affected the economic structure of the white ruling class.

That said, I think slaves like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey and their conspirators and followers were willing to risk their lives in abortive rebellions because they were slaves.

Slavery was, to them, conceptually, worse than death, so they risked almost certain death for freedom.

We are not slaves. We are not as free as we should be or deserve to be–as we have a right to be–but we are not slaves.

I’m not diminishing the worth of their lives. Their lives were precious because they were human beings. They are precious to us because they borne our lives. I’m not measuring theirs against ours.

But I am saying that if and when we choose to live rather than die like Korryn, we’re making a much different choice than those slaves that remained in bondage, refusing to escape or rebel.

And I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t fight for that freedom to which we are entitled.

I am saying, though, that American is in the full-grown adulthood of institutionalized racism.

The police have gelled as the paramilitary arm of the capitalist government that keeps the POC and poor from essentially fucking up the infrastructure and money. Nothing more.

If each of us chooses to hole up in our houses with our unpaid tickets and unanswered court summonses, and our shotguns, they will choose to kick in each of our doors and shoot each of us and any of our children that get in the way.

It’s simply not a problem for them or their bosses. That’s what they’re all paid to do. Keep us under control.

So we can’t consider this sort of resistance as viable.

It won’t work.

And, honestly, at this point in our evolution as a people, we should value ourselves more than to put our lives on the line for little or nothing.

I just told my fiancé the other day: “I don’t want a white person to kill me. I don’t want them to have that. I want to die as much on my own terms as I possibly can.”

That’s freedom.

This is my life. I want every gasping, black-ass breath of it. I don’t want white people taking it, especially for something as trivial as unpaid tickets and court fees.

Korryn Gaines is gone. Her son is shot. Both her son and her daughter must grow up without their mother. They are five and one in the inimical grip of the American welfare system.

Has Baltimore changed the way it serves warrants because of that? Has Baltimore changed the way its police deal with those with developmental disabilities? Has Baltimore hatched a plan to change the way it trains its cops? Has Baltimore changed its policies on deploying its SWAT officers?

No, no, no, and no.

So it isn’t cruel or inaccurate to say she died for nothing.

She was, as we like to say, everything. Black. Beautiful. Strong. Passionate.

But she died for nothing.

Claude McKay wrote this poem back in the days of the Harlem Renaissance:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain . . .

I stop it there because even McKay had some remnants of martyrdom in his psyche, which is perfectly understandable for a man born in 1889.

But none of us was born in Reconstruction.

We are newer negroes than McKay and his cohort could’ve imagined.

Or are we?

We say black lives matter. But do they matter? If we trade them in for hashtags and Internet encomiums and nothing else?

Korryn Gaines antagonized the cops.

That’s not an accusation; that’s a fact.

She put a gun to the face of repressive authority and dared it to do something that she knew it could and would do.

For better or for worse.

It was her Second Amendment right to own the gun, but history, instinct, and common sense should’ve kept her from leveling it at those cops and risking her life and the life of her son.

Dying isn’t an accomplishment if it’s done in vain.

I don’t believe that acts of resistance like Korryn Gaines’s will ultimately yield us anything more than yet another wave of grief-stricken and morally outraged social media and Internet responses.

I don’t think that canonizing Korryn Gaines will galvanize us in a way that truly creates change.

And isn’t that the point of all of this?

Change?

If we’re supposedly fighting racism and oppression to end their hold on American culture and government, then why are we continuing to do it this way when it doesn’t work?

No. It. Doesn’t. Work.

To make symbolic points that have already been made?

To work up people’s emotions in order to do nothing appreciable with them ultimately?

To commit elaborate suicide in what we perceive as the face of inevitable loss?

What?

We like that word–“warrior.”

We use “warrior” to create a linguistic link to African history and culture.

But I think that we tend to blindly valorize African history and the continent’s various cultures in the same way we valorize violence and death.

When we call someone a warrior, we are signifying that his or her violent deeds are more important and purposeful, in our opinion, than someone else’s.

We want to be race warriors. We call those that we respect and wish to honor “warriors.”

But warriors don’t fight to become mere symbols of toughness. They don’t seek to become tragic drops in a historical ocean of blood.

I cannot and will not say what Korryn Gaines should’ve done when the police kicked down her door on Monday morning and trooped into her house with their guns and seemingly boundless authority.

But I will say that a warrior–if we’re going by the actual, historical definition–might’ve been more and better prepared than she was with just her shotgun and chest full of righteous rage.

Warriors aren’t fatalists or nihilists.

If we as black people seek to be warriors, we need to understand what it truly means to be warriors, so we know what we really need to do to fight the enemy, which is institutional whiteness (imperialism, racism, patriarchy, hegemony) and not necessarily white people.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

That means they concentrate on becoming experts in combat and warfare.

This requires study, instruction, and training.

This requires more than purchasing a gun and putting it in someone’s face.

This requires more than strapping on fiery rhetoric and outmoded ideology.

G’s lash out. They shoot everything they can before they get shot. They go out in a chaotic splash of meaningless violence and over-inflated subjectivity.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

Warriors exist in tribes or clans.

They move as a unit.

They use strategy, and they have each other’s backs.

One woman or man with one gun is not a tribe.

Tribes fight in formation.

(I couldn’t resist the reference. It’s the bad black feminist in me.)

Warriors fight to protect their people, lands, and culture. Not ideas or ideals or imagery or their own egos.

Warriors also have strict behavioral and ethical codes under which they live and fight.

I won’t claim to know anything about Korryn Gaines’s value system. I won’t defame her by saying she didn’t have a code of ethics or rules for how she behaved, but I do question the ethos of that code.

I remain deeply troubled by her seeming willingness to risk her son’s life in that standoff, and I wonder what exactly she wished to accomplish by having him there, in the way of such tremendous potential harm.

The Bushido Code, followed by Japanese samurai, is typified by eight virtues:

  • Righteousness
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Self-Control

Other virtues that were highly regarded within samurai culture were wisdom, fraternal respect, and filial piety or deep respect for family.

In a book titled Honour in African History–for those that want or need a diasporic reference–author John Iliffe explains that aristocratic and pastoral African warriors adhered to codes that stressed manners, self-control, reserve, and courage, among other things.

Muslim warriors in Africa, according to Iliffe, displaced the hero and “egotistical pursuit of personal reputation” in order to serve the Prophet. Christian Ethiopian warriors emphasized hand-to-hand fighting. However these codes differed, though, region to region, people to people, or religion to religion, honor was their universal objective.

Iliffe writes about the concept of “household” honor in addition to personal honor, which relates to defending and protecting family and community through conciliation and negotiation.

Yes, according to historical records, African warriors did negotiate with their “enemies” and make peace when it was possible and peace did not subjugate their people or their needs.

And what will we as black warriors do?

That’s what I want to know.

In order for it to matter, we must do more than die with our guns gripped in our hands like flaccid dicks.

Freedom in the “hereafter,” again, is the victory of the slave.

We are only slaves if we remain bound to useless ideas about what will get us free.

“What else is left to try? What else can we teach ourselves and our children? What can we tell our kin to keep them safe?” Jacqui Germain asks.

I don’t know, but we know what doesn’t work. Nothing that our forebears did in the past has worked.

So we honor their efforts, of course, but we do something else. Something we’ve never done before.

And that ain’t dying.

I want to be clear.

I am not one of those complacent middle class black people that thinks we should just wait patiently for conditions in this country to change.

I don’t think we can “buy” change in exchange for respectable behavior.

I do think that there should be a revolution of American culture.

I think the federal government should mandate that every state and local government enact the six perennially suggested reforms to their police departments (community policing, de-escalation training and re-training, mock scenario and role-playing exercises, more racially diverse police departments, more open communication with media, more rigorous psychological screening of recruits) and cut off their grants if they refuse to comply.

I think there should be state-assembled tribunals to adjudicate on cases in which police officers are accused of using wrongful and/or excessive force or committing other crimes against the people.

I think these tribunals should be comprised of psychologists, criminologists, law enforcement experts and analysts, military experts and analysts, former and current police officers, local government officials, and community leaders.

I think that officers found guilty of murder or manslaughter should be barred from working in law enforcement and sentenced like civilians found guilty of these same crimes.

And I understand that the government will never “gift” the black community with reforms of this scale.

I understand that if we want them, we will have to fight for them.

We will have to war against this power structure that is so deeply invested in maintaining the capitalist, racist status quo.

War is not defined, though, as violent conflict.

It’s defined as “armed” conflict.

We have guns, but they have more guns. They have tanks. They have drones. They have bombs.

So what else do we have?

What else can we do besides rage?

Jacqui Germain gets that right in the end.

“The cycles of dashcam, body cam, and cell phone footage keep coming, relentlessly. The names of the deceased keep flooding in no matter what we do.”

So what so we do, other than hand our lives over?

What, new, can we do?

Armed resistance is seemingly futile.

Going out like G’s is still going out.

We can’t die our way to freedom. It’s clear.

We need our lives in order to enjoy it.

We need our children secure and sane, not scarred, if they are going to outlive our devastating history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mind Over Matter: On the Killing of Korryn Gaines

One of the most difficult things to teach students, as an instructor of composition, is how to avoid making sweeping generalizations in their writing.

Take abortion, for instance.

I’ve lost count of how many papers I’ve read with the thesis that “Women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions because having an abortion is taking the easy way out of being sexually irresponsible.”

This thesis ignores the facts that 1) many women get pregnant while using birth control methods that just happen to fail; 2) many women get pregnant as a result of rape or incest; 3) abortions can be physically damaging to women; 4) many women choose to get abortions because their pregnancies are threatening to kill them; 5) many women choose to get abortions because there is something drastically or even fatally wrong with the fetus; 6) abortions are costly and difficult to obtain under all of the new laws instituted by Republican leaders over the last few years; and 6) the shame and stigmatization that many women suffer after having an abortion can be emotionally and psychologically traumatizing.

Hence, abortion is not easy. It’s complicated. Like most things in life are complicated.

When students engage with issues dogmatically rather than critically, though, they often arrive at theses like this–theses that fail to engage with an issue in the whole of its complexity.

I think that many of us engaged in the struggle against police brutality–as admitted students of its history, sociology, psychology, and criminology–are doing the same sort of thing as we attempt to have a meaningful discourse about Korryn Gaines.

Yes, the killing of this poor young woman, and the shooting of her son, by Baltimore police, is yet another example of how law enforcement in America makes undue victims of black people.

However, this is not an instance in which the police killed an unarmed person for committing a minor infraction.

The conversation that we have about what happened to Korryn and how the police got it wrong shouldn’t be conducted in the same terms as the conversations that we’ve had about Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.

If anything, it should be more along the lines of the conversations we’ve had about Tamir Rice, but, even then, there’s more to Korryn’s situation than his.

But I understand the desire to keep the paradigm simple.

If we admit that a black person killed by the police might have done any tiny thing to incite the violence used against him or her, then we risk losing the argument that cops are disproportionately and excessively violent towards blacks.

However, if we don’t talk about situations like these in exact and accurate terms, then we risk losing that argument anyway, because we are undermining our credibility.

If we do not stick to facts and logical principles in our discourse about racism in law enforcement and police brutality, we make it that much easier for politicians and pundits to discredit and ignore us.

And the facts are these–

The police had access to court records that indicated that Korryn Gaines had suffered acute lead poisoning, and she had developmental disabilities and brain damage as a result.

This meant that she could not process her dealings with the police or court officials at the sophisticated level necessary to make sounder or safer decisions about how to handle herself.

Developmental disabilities, according to the CDC, include autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability (what we formerly referred to as mental retardation), and various learning disabilities.

Imagine someone with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or a severe learning disability trying to process all the media coverage of the recent spate of racist police murders.

Children often mimic what they see on TV and in movies, and it seems to me that Korryn Gaines was incredibly child-like in her thinking, as a result of her exposure to lead.

She thought she would fight fire with fire, and this would somehow save her from becoming another BLM hashtag whose murder would go unanswered.

Even though black people balk at others’ binary thinking about us, there is an oversimplified binary to which many of us subscribe when thinking about the type of black people we are–

You are either a punk–a disgrace to your people, both intimate and formal–or you are a G.

Punks walk away from fights. They pause to weigh the possible consequences of a confrontation and often decide that they are too risky, so they don’t engage.

They damn pride and ego and opt for safety. They use sensibility and justification to camouflage what many regard as weakness and cowardice. They are said to lack “heart.”

According to the G’s, they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that there is no winning if you fight The System, so they don’t.

They accept that they are powerless. They choose their lives over their prospective legend.

They don’t care what people say about them, only that people can continue to talk about them in the present tense. As in “He’s a punk.” Rather than “He went out like a G.”

G’s don’t walk away from fights. They don’t flinch at threats. They don’t care who has weapons or what those weapons are.

G’s are hard. They don’t turn their backs on anyone talking shit or getting in their faces. They may not start fights, but they certainly aim to end them.

The only adverse consequence they seem to consider when facing a confrontation is looking like a punk if they opt out of fighting.

They don’t allow fear to dissuade them from doing anything they think will gain them respect or make a point about who they are or what they value.

G’s will stake their lives on their pride or their ego. They fight for survival rather than opting out of a fight in order to survive.

Survival for them, though, is more metaphysical than physical. They care about surviving as a symbol or example, of strength or resistance, rather than living to see another fight.

They choose legendary status over the preservation of their lives.

Tupac was a G. Cleo in “Set It Off” was a G.

Past tense.

There is a miniscule grey area between these two archetypes, but it is a space in which most adult black people navigate.

From what I’ve seen, and read, punks and G’s are people that have experienced exceptional privilege and comfort or exceptional pain and loss. In either case, they’ve developed a skewed sense of how the world works and how they fit into it. If they are not very educated, or they are disabled, or they struggle cognitively, then they are less likely to enact their archetype with any sort of nuance. They are more likely to misunderstand how workable each of the archetypes is. They don’t get that a black person in American will be forced to fight to protect himself or herself, but he or she should do this fighting strategically and with more than brute force and weapons if he or she seeks to make a lasting impact or walk away with his or her life.

When I look at this shooting that just occurred in Baltimore, I can’t help but think of this binary. I can’t help but think that Korryn Gaines took a decidedly adolescent route to dealing with all of her interactions with the police and courts, and, then, when she was forced to be accountable, decided that she would go out like G.

I can imagine this young woman–with her mental capacity–watching all the news coverage of the BLM murders–reading countless tweets and IG and FB posts–and deciding that if the police ever came for her, she would be ready for them.

News reports that I’ve read have even included a link to one of Korryn’s 2015 social media posts, in which she bragged about acquiring the shotgun that she held on the cops on Monday.

“Hope they sending in clones,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m waiting tho [sic].”

This post doesn’t just convey Korryn’s intense distrust of the police and their willingness to use restraint–her expectation of excessive violence from police and fear of dying at their hands–all of which are perfectly understandable.

It conveys a profound miscalculation of what she could do to protect herself against the police as one woman with one gun. It conveys a deep flawed sense of what is justifiable, plausible, and ultimately in one’s one best self-interest.

It conveys, too, a profound miscalculation of just how deeply entrenched police training and procedure is in the preservation of cops’ lives and the extent to which cops’ racist attitudes can influence their actions.

Now, before anyone gets up in arms about victim-blaming, internalized racism or patriarchy, anti-feminism or anything like that, I want to be clear:

I’m not saying the cop was right to kill Korryn Gaines for the misjudgments and mistakes she made. I don’t believe that.

However, I’m not going to be generalize for the sake of making arguments or points that parallel those made in other discussions of other police victims.

I’m not going to say that the cop that shot Korryn should’ve waited for her to fire her gun before he fired his.

That’s just not realistic.

And I can’t say that I would’ve waited. Even with her son there.

I hate to that this is true, but it’s true. I wouldn’t have waited.

Self-preservation is among the strongest animal impulses, and humans are animals. We have a tremendous gift for objective analysis, but fear cancels out our ability to access that gift at its fullest capacity.

Whatever else Korryn did or didn’t do, she held a shotgun while she was or wasn’t doing it.

She presented a tangible and plausible threat to the lives of the cops inside of her apartment.

Yes, they had SWAT backing them, but I can imagine the cop that shot thinking, “What if they’re not fast enough? What if they miss, and she doesn’t? I don’t want to die.”

These are natural thoughts for someone to have when faced with an overwrought person wielding a weapon.

That said, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop could’ve waited for Korryn to shoot because that’s not an argument that can be won, really.

We can only make assumptions about the truth of the claim that Korryn threatened the police and the actual impetus for the cop’s decision to shoot.

We can’t say for certain how serious a threat to one’s safety a person can endure without making a move to protect him- or herself. That will always depend on the person.

So, no, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop killed Korryn in the same heedless way that the cops in Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota killed all the others.

There is the undeniable and very complicated mitigating factor of that shotgun, and it prevents us from defending Korryn in the same way that we defended Mike, Eric, Tamir, Sandra, Alton, and Philando.

I think the argument is that the cops knew, from court documents, that Korryn had developmental disabilities and brain damage, and they made a huge professional mistake in treating her like the “typical” assailant.

I think the argument here is that law enforcement needs to adopt different ways of dealing with people with different intellectual capacities.

I think the argument here is that they probably didn’t employ any alternate methods of dealing with Korryn Gaines, if they knew any, because she was black, she was recording the incident, she had a record, and she had a history of expressing anti-police sentiments on social media.

That’s where the racism and failure to effectively and fairly do their jobs entered into this situation–at the point where the cops’ knowledge of her background should’ve informed their interaction with Korryn.

I don’t know whether the cops dealt with Korryn like someone with a typical intellectual or cognitive capacity because they failed to do their research; they felt “stuck” to procedure; or they allowed racism, sexism, or some other discriminatory attitude to override their empathy or willingness to improvise a peaceful solution.

But I do believe that a white man or woman with Korryn Gaines’s same challenges would’ve been given the opportunity to talk with some sort of intervention specialist before he or she made the mistake issuing a death threat and inciting that cop to kill her.

And that’s the problem–that I can imagine the cops giving that sort of preferential treatment to a white man or woman, for having a psychological or psychiatric issue–not even a cognitive issue.

I don’t even have to imagine it;  there are actual instances in which cops apprehended, without killing, white people with toy guns or real guns and seeming disabilities or mental issues.

However, I can’t imagine them giving this same benefit of the doubt to a black person with a mental issue–putting themselves at risk to keep that person alive.

Tamir Rice wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt, and Korryn Gaines wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt. He was killed. She was killed.

And there’s only one absolute commonality in their situations. They were black suspects. They were more susceptible to racist profiling or stereotyping.

I can’t be sure, but it’s not implausible or improbable that the cops in Baltimore failed to exhaust their options in dealing with Korryn Gaines because they allowed their racist assumptions (that blacks are intrinsically defiant and combative and culturally anti-authority and anti-police) to override their factual knowledge about her particular case.

Nevertheless, in discussing the tragic shooting of Korryn Gaines, I think we need to be precise in saying that this is our grievance–

The cop(s) killed someone that couldn’t fully grasp the ramifications of what she was doing rather than helping her to remain safe, which is their job.

I don’t think we should “lump” Korryn in with the other victims of racist police murders because her case has some very singular, significant factors.

By playing past them, we miss the opportunity to hash out how mental illness or special needs put blacks at an even greater risk of becoming victims of police brutality and the opportunity to fight for interventions and solutions that will help sisters like Korryn and brothers with the same wild cards stacked against them.